Monday, November 12, 2012

The Incompetent Hack


You might recognize the name of atheist blogger Chris Hallquist, who styles himself “The Uncredible Hallq,” from an earlier post.  I there characterized him as “unliterate” on the grounds that while he is capable of reading, he does not bother to do so.  (Hallquist had egregiously misrepresented something I had written in an earlier post, and made some silly and false remarks about what was and was not covered in my book Aquinas while admitting that he hadn’t read more than 15 pages of it.)  But it seems that was not quite right.  It may be that, like Otto in the movie A Fish Called Wanda (to borrow an example I used in The Last Superstition), Hallquist does read; he just doesn’t understand.
 
A case in point is provided by a recent post by Hallquist about my defense of Aquinas’s First Way (one of a series of rants about yours truly, as it happens).  Hallquist quotes some material from pp. 70-72 of the Aquinas book concerning the nature of essentially ordered or hierarchical causal series, the paradigm illustration of which is a stone which is being moved by a stick which is being moved by a hand.  He then suggests that physics shows that the motion of the stone is not really simultaneous with or dependent upon that of the hand.

The problem with this sort of objection is well-known to my longtime readers, since I have already addressed it here on the blog several times.  As I wrote in a recent post on the relationship between modern physics and arguments like Aquinas’s:

[W]hen a physicist illustrates a point he is making by asking us to imagine what we might experience if we fell into a black hole or rode on a beam of light, no one thinks it a clever response to point out that photons are too small to sit on or that we would have been ripped apart by gravity long before we made it into the black hole.  Such “objections” would completely miss the point.  But it would similarly miss the point to insist that Aquinas is refuted by the fact that there is a very slight time lag between the motion of a stick and that of a stone it is pushing (as one hostile reader of this blog used to point out obsessively a few years back, as if it were a fatal objection).  For nothing in Aquinas’s argument rides on the question of whether the motion of a stick and that of the stone it is pushing are strictly simultaneous, any more than it rides on a hand’s really being a “first” or non-instrumental cause in the relevant sense (which it obviously is not since the hand itself is moved by the arm).  The example is intended merely as an illustration to jog the reader’s understanding of abstract concepts like instrumental causality and conserving causality.  And as I have argued in several places, once the homely examples in question give us a grasp of these concepts, as well as of concepts like that of the actualization of a potency, we are on the way to seeing that even the sheer existence of a thing from moment to moment (never mind its local motion) requires a sustaining cause. (For more on how properly to understand the causal claims made in arguments like the First Way, see this post, this post, and my [American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly] article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways”…)

But Hallquist needn’t have read these posts or the article to see the problem with his objection.  He only needed to pay attention to the context of the passages from Aquinas that he quotes.  For just prior to those passages, I had written:

As Rudi te Velde has suggested, some critics place too much significance on the physical details of the examples Aquinas gives in the course of the proof, failing to see that their point is merely to illustrate certain basic metaphysical principles rather than to support broad empirical or quasi-scientific generalizations.  (p. 68, emphasis added)

And immediately after the passages he quotes I wrote:

Given their essentially instrumental character, all causes in such a series other than the first cause are referred to by Aquinas as “second causes” (“second,” not in the sense of coming after the first but before the third member of the series, but rather in the sense having their causal power only in a secondary or derivative way).  It is worth emphasizing that it is precisely this instrumental nature of second causes, the dependence of whatever causal power they have on the causal activity of the first cause, that is the key to the notion of a causal series per se.  That the members of such a series exist simultaneously, and that the series does not regress to infinity, are of secondary importance.  As Patterson Brown and John Wippel point out, even if a series of causes ordered per se could somehow be said to regress to infinity, it would remain the case, given that they are merely instrumental causes, that there must then be something outside the entire infinite series that imparts to them their causal power.

Whether or not the series of causes per accidens regresses infinitely into the past, then – and again, while Aquinas believed that it did not, he didn’t think this could be proven through philosophical arguments – a causal series per se existing here and now, and at any moment we are considering the matter, must necessarily trace back to a first member.  But strictly speaking, even the hand in Aquinas’s example doesn’t count as a first mover – the example is intended merely as a first approximation to the notion of a first mover – because it is itself being moved insofar as its activity depends on the motion of the arm, the flexing of certain muscles, and so forth.  To understand the way in which such a series regresses and how it does and must terminate, it is crucial to remember that for Aquinas, motion or change is just the reduction of potency to act.  So when we talk about one thing being moved by another, which is moved by another, etc., in a causal series ordered per se, this is shorthand for saying that a certain potency is reduced to act by something whose potency is itself reduced to act by something whose potency is itself reduced to act by… and so forth.  (pp. 72-73, emphasis added)

The actual situation, then, is this.  Examples like the hand pushing the stone etc. have (like the physicist’s examples of riding a beam of light or falling into a black hole) no significance other than as loose illustrations of certain abstract concepts -- in this case the concepts of instrumental causality, the actualization of potency, and the like.  The actual physical details are completely irrelevant, just as the fact that you’d be torn apart if you fell into a black hole and the fact that a photon is too small to sit on are completely irrelevant to the points the physicist is trying to make.  And just as it would be silly to harp on the impossibility of riding on a photon or surviving a fall into a black hole as proof that a certain physicist hasn’t gotten his physics straight or that he doesn’t care about the actual empirical facts, so too is it silly to harp on the physics of the local motion of sticks and stones as proof that Aquinas, Feser, et al. haven’t gotten our physics straight or that we don’t care about the actual empirical facts.  For the point the Thomist is making isn’t a point about physics in the first place, but about metaphysics (more precisely, it is a point about the philosophy of nature -- I explained the difference and the relationship between natural science, philosophy of nature, and metaphysics in the post cited above).

Now, given the concepts illustrated by these examples and other theses argued for independently -- such as the Aristotelian hylemorphist thesis that everyday substances are composites of form and matter, and the Thomist metaphysical thesis that they are composites of essence and existence -- I argue that whatever the fundamental natural substances that exist at any given moment turn out to be (fermions and bosons, or whatever) they will as composites of form and matter and essence and existence necessarily depend for their very being at that moment on a purely actual conserving cause.  The physical and other details of this or that case of local motion or efficient causation (sticks, stones, Hallquist’s spring example, or whatever) do not at the end of the day matter at all for purposes of the argument.  For whatever those details turn out to be, they will all involve the operation of some bottom level of natural substances which will be composites of form and matter and essence and existence, and anything that is composite in these ways will depend via instrumental causality on that which is not composite in these or any other ways.  For its very existence will at any instant be merely potential apart from its actualization by that which is pure actuality and thus does not need to be actualized by anything else.  (For interested readers, I explain all this in a more streamlined way than in the Aquinas book in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” -- more streamlined insofar as, unlike the Aquinas book, the article did not have to address various secondary exegetical questions concerning the meaning of Aquinas’s own texts.)  

Now Hallquist anticipates the objection that he is simply confusing metaphysics and physics:

“But!” Feser will insist. The laws of physics can’t possibly matter here, because we’re talking about metaphysics! 

But his only response is merely to assert, without any argument whatsoever:

Except they do matter.  Feser just doesn’t understand physics well enough to see that.  And worse, his lack of understanding of physics leads him to imagine that as a philosopher, he knows that philosophical arguments are the way to determine whether he needs to know any science to do his philosophy, and the philosophical arguments have proven he doesn’t need to know any science, so he can be sure that anyone who tries to explain to him that he has his science wrong (and that this matters) is philosophically ignorant.  That’s not a hole Feser can dig himself out of without learning more science, but he’s convinced there’s no reason for him to do that.

It seems like a rather nice example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

End quote.  Of course, what is actually going on is that Hallquist is just shamelessly begging the question, since whether the matter really is one of physics rather than metaphysics is precisely what is at issue.  And of course, it is Hallquist whose ignorance and pigheadedness are painfully manifest.  For to show (rather than merely assert) that the issue is really scientific rather than metaphysical, he’d actually have to study and refute the metaphysical arguments put forward by Thomists, and that (as we know from his willingness to dismiss a book based on the perusal of a few pages) is precisely what he refuses to do.  To paraphrase Hallquist:

“But!” [Hallquist] will insist. The [claims of Thomistic metaphysics] can’t possibly matter here, because we’re talking about [physics]! Except they do matter.  [Hallquist] just doesn’t understand [Thomistic metaphysics] well enough to see that.  And worse, his lack of understanding of [that metaphysics] leads him to imagine that as [a guy who has read some Wikipedia entries about physics], he knows that [scientific] arguments are the way to determine whether he needs to know any [metaphysics] to do his [pop science based atheist apologetics], and the [pop science] arguments have proven he doesn’t need to know any [Thomistic metaphysics], so he can be sure that anyone who tries to explain to him that he has his [metaphysics] wrong (and that this matters) is [scientifically] ignorant.  That’s not a hole [Hallquist] can dig himself out of without learning more [metaphysics], but he’s convinced there’s no reason for him to do that.

In short, like other New Atheist types, Hallquist is guilty of exactly the sort of intellectual vice of which he accuses others.  In particular, he has so fallen in love with the dogma that theists just haven’t “learned the science” that he thinks that merely reasserting the dogma amounts to arguing for it.  Call it the “Hallquist effect.”

Hallquist’s inability to understand what he has read is also evident from a more general criticism he raises against me:

[O]ne of my main issues with [Feser] is that his main substantiative [sic] thesis ends up being that Aquinas has been widely misunderstood... which is actually completely boring if you understand history of philosophy. Any time a philosopher gets famous, there end up being a lot of disagreements on what he intended to say, and since not everyone can be right it follows that the philosopher is widely misinterpreted.  What would be interesting, and where Feser is lacking, is actual arguments that Aquinas was right…

Compare William Lane Craig.  Craig is a horrible person in more ways than one, but at least when he presents Kalam, he tries to present an argument for the existence of God and doesn't waste time doing anything else, and especially doesn't devote all his time talking about how philosophers have misunderstood al-Ghazali and are terrible people for having done so.

End quote.  Most readers can no doubt see all the many things wrong with this, but since Hallquist cannot I suppose I have to spell it out.  

First, while it is indeed a general theme of my work that “Aquinas has been widely misunderstood,” that is hardly my “main substantive thesis.”  Anyone who has actually read The Last Superstition or Aquinas knows that they are concerned to show that Aquinas’s arguments for God’s existence, the immortality of the soul, and the natural law conception of morality are not only misunderstood but are in fact essentially correct.

Second, such readers also know that the correctness of Aquinas’s views in these areas is in fact something that I argue for.  That Hallquist asserts otherwise shows either that he has not in fact read my work, or has serious reading comprehension problems, or is simply dishonest.  It is true that in Aquinas the form of the defense amounts to something like: Here are Aquinas’s arguments; here are the reasons to accept the metaphysical premises that they rest on and to judge that the conclusions really follow; here is why various objections to the arguments rest on misunderstandings or otherwise fail.  Since the book is about Aquinas rather than me, that seemed a natural way to proceed.  And why Hallquist thinks this doesn’t amount to giving “actual arguments that Aquinas was right,” I have no idea.  Perhaps he thinks that every time someone gives an argument, he ought to do so in the first person and explicitly in his own name and to set out each step in bold caps: “I, Edward Feser, hereby give the following argument for CONCLUSION XPREMISE 1 reads as follows…” or some such.  Given some of his own strange literary antics, Hallquist should hope for his own sake that his readers are not as robotically literal-minded as he is.

Third, why Hallquist thinks it is “boring” to point out that Aquinas has been widely misunderstood I also have no idea.  Surely he would agree that it is important correctly to understand what a writer says before rejecting his arguments?  (Maybe not.  As we’ve seen several times now, he certainly does not bother to try to get my views right before criticizing them.)

Fourth, it is not true to say that I accuse all of those who have misunderstood Aquinas of being “terrible people for having done so.”  For example, I think Anthony Kenny and J. L. Mackie get Aquinas wrong in various respects, but I have always treated their work with respect, because I think they do at least try seriously to engage his arguments.  Writers like Dawkins, by contrast, misinterpret Aquinas in ways that would be obvious to anyone who has done the minimal homework, while simultaneously dismissing those arguments with an arrogance that more learned critics like Kenny and Mackie would never exhibit.  (And contrary to what Hallquist insinuates, the errors in question do not amount to mere matters of interpretive disagreement of the sort that surround the work of any famous philosopher.  For example, that Aquinas was not trying in the Five Ways to prove that the world had a beginning in time is not open to debate, especially given that he famously wrote a whole book against the claim that this could be proved.   That Aquinas did give arguments for the various divine attributes is also not open to debate, as anyone who has bothered to read just the table of contents of the Summa Theologiae knows.  And so forth.)

Fifth, the reason Craig does not go on about how people have misinterpreted al-Ghazali is that before Craig revived the kalam argument, almost no one in contemporary philosophy of religion was even talking about al-Ghazali.  Hence there are no widespread misunderstandings to rebut in the first place.  Aquinas’s arguments, by contrast, have always been a standard topic of discussion in the modern philosophy of religion literature, even when they are cited merely briefly to dismiss them.  There are, accordingly, a large number of misunderstandings that any defender of the arguments is going to have to call attention to.  (And of course Craig is not “a horrible person,” but that goes without saying.)

Sixth, a normal person would think that the most important question here is whether my charge that Aquinas’s modern critics have generally misunderstood his arguments is true.  Hallquist seems strangely uninterested in that question.  But of course, if these critics have misunderstood Aquinas, then their reasons for rejecting his arguments are themselves called into question.  That means that a serious atheist will have to revisit the arguments and try to find some way of rebutting them that doesn’t rest on misunderstandings.  But like the teenager who says “You’re always going on about that!” when challenged on his drug use, Hallquist would rather complain about a charge than actually answer the charge.  

So, as we saw in my earlier post on Hallquist, his modus operandi is to dismiss what an opponent has written while admitting that he hasn’t even read it; shamelessly to distort what the opponent has written when he does bother to read it (the straw man fallacy); and to dismiss the opponent’s arguments en masse as a “transparent post-hoc rationalization for bigotry” (ad hominem).  And as we’ve seen in the present post, to this bag of sophistries Hallquist now adds: complaining about an opponent’s tendency to raise a certain objection rather than answering the objection (red herring); asserting without argument that physics is relevant to evaluating Aquinas’s First Way, when whether that is really the case is precisely what is at issue (begging the question); and, of course, the inability to understand plain English.  To paraphrase Wanda’s words to Otto, to call Hallquist an incompetent hack would be an insult to incompetent hacks.

96 comments:

rank sophist said...

But like the teenager who says “You’re always going on about that!” when challenged on his drug use, Hallquist would rather complain about a charge than actually answer the charge.

That is absolutely brutal.

PhilR said...

I'm absolutely on board with the A-T approach here - what does intrigue me though is what the relationship between A-T discourse and science should properly be. Physicists like Stephen Barr are wary of the possibility of using A-T categories in explaing modern science but I don't know of any writers that put forward workable alternatives. Any suggestions out there?

Alcuinus said...

This is my first time writing here after a long career as a silent reader of this blog. I'm completing a Master's degree on Philosophy and I'm deeply interested on the a-t approach to philosophical matters and scholastic theology in general.

PhilR asks what should be the relation betwen modern science and thomism. I just finished reading Anthony Rizzi's The Science Before Science and it addresses this question in a very understandable manner. Rizzi is a phisicist with an outstanding grasp of thomism. I fully recommend his book to clear any doubts about modern science, thomism and the mutual compatibility of both.

PhilR said...

@Alcuinus
Thanks for the tip - I'll give it a go.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I've just been reading your post. I think it's fair to say that Hallquist's criticisms of your recent book Aquinas are unfair. However, Hallquist read The Last Superstition before he read Aquinas, and in The Last Superstition you do say the things that Hallquist (incorrectly) accuses you of saying in Aquinas. I can supply chapter and verse.

1. Simultaneity of arm, hand, stick and stone in Aquinas' illustration for the First Way. In TLS, you insist that they are indeed simultaneous. On page 94 you write:

"Consider once again the hand, stone, and stick. The stone, as I have said, moves only insofar as the stick moves, and the stick moves only insofar as the hand moves.... But of course, in fact the hand is not really the first member of the series at all. It moves only because the arm moves it, and the arm and hand together move only because the relevant muscles flex, which in turn is due to the firing of certain neurons. That is to say, the hand's potentiality for motion is actualized by the arm, and the arm's potentiality for motion is actualized by the muscles, and the muscles' potentiality for motion is actualized by the nerves, and again, all of this is simultaneous."

2. Cause and effect must be simultaneous in an essentially ordered causal series. On page 92 of TLS you write:

"Here we have an 'essentially ordered' causal series, and we have one precisely because the cause in this case is (unlike the girlfriend's request) simultaneous with the effect."

On page 93 you write:

"But things are very different with essentially ordered series. These sorts of series paradigmatically trace, not backwards in time, but rather "downward" in the present moment, since they are series in which each member depends simultaneously on other members which simultaneously depend in turn on yet other members, and so on."

3. The need for an essentially ordered series of causes to be finite and to terminate in a first member (as opposed to an unmoved cause Who stands above an infinite series of essentially ordered causes, as you suggest could be the case in Aquinas). On page 95 of TLS you write:

"How far can it go? Not that far, actually; certainly not to infinity. For what we have here is an essentially ordered causal series, existing here and now, not an accidentally ordered one extending backwards into the past. And an essentially ordered series, of its nature, must have a first member."

You then illustrate with the example of a series of freight cars, which requires a caboose to pull it, and you conclude: "As with the railway cars and the paint brush, this series too must terminate in a first mover which moves all the others, indeed moves through all the others."

4. The First Way proves the existence of a First Cause of change, rather than a First Cause of being. On pages 95-96 of TLS you write:

"Now a first mover in such a series must be itself unmoved or unchanging; for if it was moving or changing - that is, going from potential to actual - then there would be something outside it actualizing its potential, in which case it wouldn't be the first mover... That a stone is moved by a stick, then - and more generally, that things change at all - suffices to show that there is and must be a first Unmovable Mover or Unchangeable Changer."

Nothing here about a First Cause of being!

Ed, it seems to me that you changed your interpretation of Aquinas' First Way.

Whatever Hallquist's faults and failings may be, I think it is only fair that you point out to him that you have changed your interpretation of Aquinas' writings (and substantially improved your understanding of physics) during the time since TLS was written.

Best wishes,

Vincent

Anonymous said...

"So, as we saw in my earlier post on Hallquist, his modus operandi is to dismiss what an opponent has written while admitting that he hasn’t even read it; shamelessly to distort what the opponent has written when he does bother to read it (the straw man fallacy); and to dismiss the opponent’s arguments en masse as a “transparent post-hoc rationalization for bigotry” (ad hominem)"

Standard 'Hallq' procedure indeed. He did and does the same with WL Craig... and then he pretends Craig takes hiom seriously and debates him.

Halq also has written a book where he tried to prove the resurection is false... and that book is right there with the worst parts of Dawkin's writing...

Anonymous said...

Hallq accusing someone else of the Dunning-Kruger effect is hilarious. Dunning-Kruger is characteristic of most of the Gnu movement (as it's composed primarily of people with IQ's only one or two standard deviations above the mean, which is a subset of people especially prone to developing an inflated sense of importance and intellectual ability), and scientists and amateurs making confident asseverations about metaphysics via cliched scientistic books and blogs would seem to be felicitous examples.

Anonymous said...

@ Vincent Torley

Yes, but Edward Feser is not quoting Aquinas there, but explaining the two types of causations, per se and per accidens, with some easy examples.

The causation 'per accidens' is like a domino effect, A causes B, B causes C and so on and if A disappeared after causing B, it will not impede B causing C.

The 'per se' causation is different, like the hand moving the stick moving the stone.

It does not really matter is the action is actually simultaneous, what matters is tha if the hand disappears the stick and stone stop moving, i.e. if A causes B and B causes C and A is removed than also B and C disappear.


The word 'simultaneous' that Feser uses I think it's a way of saying: it is not time related. It's not necessarily a temporally correlated event.

As Feser himself says:
"some critics place too much significance on the physical details of the examples Aquinas gives in the course of the proof, failing to see that their point is merely to illustrate certain basic metaphysical principles rather than to support broad empirical or quasi-scientific generalizations"

Indeed the 'physical' examples are often lacking when trying to describe something abstract.

Besides I do not see Feser rejecting the idea that per se causes occur simultaneously... but as Feser explains:

"The physical and other details of this or that case of local motion or efficient causation (sticks, stones, Hallquist’s spring example, or whatever) do not at the end of the day matter at all for purposes of the argument. "

which, however do not make physics irrelevant as Hallq thinks.

The same goes for “gedankenexperiment”: the actual physicality or even the feasibility of the experiment (although tied to physics) is not relevant, what is relevant is they concept in the end.

Having read both TLS and Aquinas I see no changing in how Feser presents Aquinas ideas, although in Aquinas he’s a bit more detailed I think.

Vincent Torley said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for your post. You write that you "do not see Feser rejecting the idea that per se causes occur simultaneously." But if he still believes that the hand is the per se cause of the stone's movement, and if he now allows that the movement of the hand is not simultaneous with the movement of the stone, then he must now believe that the per se causes in a causal series don't have to be simultaneous, after all.

You also say that the important difference between the per accidens and the per se cases is that in a per se series, if the first cause is removed then the instrumental causes will also disappear. But if Ed still maintains that the hand is the per se cause of the stone's movement, then that isn't true. Allow me to explain why.

If it makes sense to say that the hand is the per se cause of the stone's movement, then it also makes sense to say that in a game of billiards, the hand moving the cue stick is the per se cause of the movement of the ball it hits, which in turn is the per se cause of the movement of the ball it hits, and so on, until we get to the movement of the last ball, which falls into the hole, because the billiards player has skillfully planned it that way. In both cases, the reason why we feel inclined to say that the human agent is the per se cause of the resulting effect is that: (i) he planned it to occur; (ii) if he hadn't planned it, the effect wouldn't have occurred; and (iii) although the effect wasn't simultaneous with the causal action, but temporally subsequent to it, nevertheless the agent, in his mind's eye, envisaged the effect, making it mentally present to him. Compare this with the case where a freak gust of wind hits the cue stick resting on the table, causing it to bump a ball, which in turn bumps another ball into the hole. No-one would call this a per se causal series, even if the stick moved the balls in an identical fashion to the way in which the billiards player used the stick to move the balls. Again, in Aquinas' example, if the hand in question were a dead man's hand, and it was still holding a stick, which in turn moved a stone, I think we would grant, in view of the small time lag, that it was not a true per se causal series, but an accidental one. So the existence of an intentional agent with a planned effect present in his mind is key here.

Now let's imagine that the billiards player is playing a very long range game of billiards, not with balls but with large round asteroids which he blasts into inter-stellar space, causing them to hit other asteroids, which in turn fall into some black hole, because he has planned it that way. Each move in the game takes decades, because of the vast distances involved. The game has already been going on for hundreds of years, and it's common for a player to die before he finds out whether his shot actually hit the asteroid he ultimately intended to hit, causing it to fall into the black hole. (If he dies, another team-mate takes his place in this long-running game.)

Now in this case, it is clear that even if we remove the first cause (i.e if the player who hit the shot dies), the subsequent effects will still occur. The asteroid may still fall into the black hole. But in that case, if this is a per se causal series, then it is NOT true to say that if the first cause is removed, the instrumental causes will also disappear.

But if this ISN'T a per se causal series, then neither is the billiards case, and if that isn't per se causal series, then why should the hand moving the stick moving the stone be one?

Eduardo said...

But Vincent have you actually removed the first-cause? or does the first cause is necessary no matter what even though the human that began the interestellar pool game is dead ?

I think the words might be making us mislead ourselves. What exactly does simultaneous mean in the context of Aquinas argument ?

Eduardo said...

But wait, isn't potency and actuality meant to be part of the constitution of Being?

Black Luster said...

Dr. Feser, you should just write a post ENTIRELY on the Law of Conservation of Momentum. I think many people both here and on Hallq’s blog mistakenly bring it in to the conversation when it is not relevant (Though I don't understand it perfectly either). It’s just like you said, the hand-stick-rock is an illustration designed to help ease people into the subject. It’s not the argument itself. When one understands the concepts clearly, I don’t think any physical illustration would even be required after that point. The same exact way that when physicists talk about riding photons; they intend it as way to help laypeople understand, without needing an entire physics degree. I think it is safe to assume that in scientific/journal publications and amongst peers, physicists don’t talk much about riding photons because they know how it ACTUALLY works.

Anonymous said...

Vincent Torley: "But if Ed still maintains that the hand is the per se cause of the stone's movement, then that isn't true."

As far as I can tell, he maintains no such thing. His entire point is that the physical example is an illustration of a metaphysical concept, intended only to get the idea across. It doesn't matter if the physical example turns out to be wrong, as long as it does its strictly pedagogical job.

DNW said...

"Whatever Hallquist's faults and failings may be, I think it is only fair that you point out to him that you have changed your interpretation of Aquinas' writings (and substantially improved your understanding of physics) during the time since TLS was written."


Good lord, is this notion of fair meant to be taken seriously?

Hallquist the Troll hasn't properly read the Feser book which forms the subject for the criticism.

Hallquist misrepresents what he admits he has only negligently read.

Torley however, asserts that Feser has in another and earlier book, which Hallquist has apparently not read and is not referring to, made remarks regarding the doctrines of Aquinas - the voice Feser there adopts or the context of which I cannot comment upon - which in Torley's view could be construed in such a way so as to be subject to Hallquist's criticisms.

Therefore Feser should, on Torley's view and in the interest of fairness, redirect Hallquist's criticisms to a more plausible target within the Feserian corpus.

If this is a fair description of what is being mooted, then it's fair to say that the panting masochism of some people leaves me absolutely stupefied ...

Martin said...

Victor Torley,

You said:

>Now let's imagine that the billiards player is playing a very long range game of billiards, not with balls but with large round asteroids which he blasts into inter-stellar space, causing them to hit other asteroids, which in turn fall into some black hole, because he has planned it that way.

First of all, as Feser has said, the purpose of the illustrations is simply to show the basic principle that if A is entirely dependent upon B, and B is dependent on C, and C on D and so forth, then there must be something that is not dependent on anything. Something that can "hold up the whole stack, so to speak. It's to illustrate an abstract concept, and endless nitpicking over the physics misses the point.

But secondly, what you are talking about is the law of inertia. Something hits an asteroid, and the asteroid moves without anything else moving it until it in turn hits something else.

But Feser addresses the law of inertia in Aquinas. I summarize the answers here on my blog.

>Compare this with the case where a freak gust of wind hits the cue stick resting on the table, causing it to bump a ball, which in turn bumps another ball into the hole. No-one would call this a per se causal series

Of course it's a per se causal series, with the caveat about the law of inertia mentioned above and answered by Feser. The question is: what is moving the ball? Not the other ball, because balls can't move themselves. Not the cue stick, because cue sticks can't move themselves. Not the wind, because air can't move itself. And so on.

The only possible answer to the question of what is pushing the ball is: something that can push without having to be pushed by anything else.

An unpushed pusher.

James Chastek said...

Dr. Feser,

Hallquist is saying that the non simultaneity of causes effects the proof in a fundamental way, rendering it false; and you respond that the non- simultaneity of causes fails to fundamentally change the proof, leaving it true. I think I have a middle position, or at least another one, namely that the non-simultaneity of causes does effect the proof fundamentally, (that is, it makes the conclusion formally and strictly false) but the falsehood is easy to remedy by supplementation.

If no causes are simultaneous, then we cannot conclude from the existence of motion to the fact that a first mover exists, but only to the fact that a first mover has existed. So either we have to say that the point of a cosmological proof is to prove that God has existed, or we need to supplement the proof with a short argument that if a Pure Act has existed, it must always do so. I think the first possibility is a dead-end, but it might have some value. The second possibility is preferable. Michael Augros follows out this second possibility in his "Ten Objections" article, though he doesn't draw attention to the fact that he is supplementing the proof to get it to reach the right conclusion.

Hallquist is right in a way he doesn't recognize: a series of essentially subordinated causes no more proves God exists than my copy of "Sic et Non" proves that Abelard exists, even though my copy falls under the author as his instrument. Now it is not hard to show that the Prime Mover is different from Abelard in a way that means the former still exists while the latter doesn't, but logical rigor demands we show this, and that we make it an integral part of the First Way as such.

(N.B. This sort of supplementation might be simply built into the structure of the Third Way.)

James Chastek said...

(pt. II)

As I read your response to Hallq., you are saying that there really are simultaneous causes, just not physical ones; i.e. the First Way is implicitly speaking about the complex existence of things in their dependence on the simple existence. I agree that one can prove the existence of God (the simple existence) from a complex existence, but I don't think it can be made implicit to the First Way. What you are describing is the act of creation/conservation, but Aquinas is clear that this is not a motion. The argument from motion deals with the transition from a potency not under act to a potency under act, but the act of existence is not something that terminates such a transition.

Your approach to the First Way strikes me as more the approach of Avicenna, who distrusted physical proofs and sought to reformulate them in purely metaphysical terms. I think that purely metaphysical proofs work just fine, but I don't think this is what we should read Aquinas as giving. The physical facts mattered to him, and all the indications from his texts suggest that if the physical facts showed that there were no simultaneous causes that he would have just slightly retooled his proof as opposed to saying that he never meant to found it on physical facts.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

Like Hallquist, you tend to quote selectively. I especially like the ellipses in the quote under your point 4, which leaves out a passage which completely undermines said point (as we'll see below). Not that I think you did this deliberately, but man is that sloppy.

There's no change from TLS to now, and what I say above has nothing to do with having "substantially improved [my] understanding of physics" because the point never had anything to do with physics in the first place. I also have never said that simultaneity is completely irrelevant. I just said that it's not as fundamental as instrumentality is. And it's not relevant in the way people like Hallquist suppose.

As I make it clear in TLS, when we start with something mundane like the motion of the stick and stone -- by which notions like instrumental causality, act/potency, etc. are introduced -- we find we are led to the conclusion that the motion of these things presuppose their existence at any moment. That's the point of all the stuff at p. 94 of TLS about how the motion of the stick, movement of the hand, firing of the neurons, etc. presupposes in turn the molecular structure, the atomic basis of the molecular structure, weak and strong forces, etc. And it's why I make it explicit at p. 96 -- and here's the part you left out -- that:

For notice that, especially toward the “lower” levels of the series we were considering – the nervous system’s being actualized by its molecular structure, which is in turn actualized by its atomic structure, etc. – what we have is the potential existence of one level actualized by the existence of another, which is in turn actualized by another, and so forth. To account for the actualization of the potential motion of the stone we had eventually to appeal to the actualization of the potential existence of various deeper levels of reality. But then the only way to stop this regress and arrive at a first member of the series is with a being whose existence does not need to be actualized by anything else.

See? I explicitly said in TLS that the First Way leads to a cause of the being or existence of things.

What you, Hallquist, and others fail to see is that all the stuff about hands, stones, etc. is, as I present the argument, only significant insofar as it leads us to see that the sheer existence of a thing at any instant requires actualization. And it's at that point that instrumentality and simultaneity converge. Farting around with whether the stick and stone move simultaneously is neither here nor there, for what matters is that for either of them even to exist at any moment, there must be a purely actual actualizer of its existence at that moment. The local motion of the stick and stone drops out as irrelevant, like a ladder you don't need once you've gotten to the top. Or to change the analogy, going on about the physics of the stick and stone is like worrying about whether the stock on a rifle has got scratches on it after the bullet has already left the barrel and hit its target.

"Panting masochism" indeed!

James Chastek said...

I said Avicenna when I should have said Averroes.

Vincent Torley said...

Certain readers have accused me of nitpicking. Let me get one thing straight. Nowhere, whether in his latest post, or in his book Aquinas, or in The Last Superstition, does Ed say that the hand-stick-stone example is not a case of a per se causal series. He does indeed say in Aquinas that the hand is, strictly speaking, not the first mover because it is moved by the muscles in the arm, but he never says that the series is strictly speaking a per accidens series, rather than a per se series. Indeed, he says the opposite in TLS, pages 92-93, where he writes:

"The stone, and the stick itself for that matter, only move because, and insofar as, the hand moves them; indeed, strictly speaking, it is the hand alone which is doing the moving of the stone, and the stick is a mere instrument by means of which it accomplishes this. The series is 'essentially ordered' because the later members of the series, having no independent power of motion of their own, derive the fact of their motion and their ability to move things from the first member, in this case the hand" (pp. 92-93).

DNW writes:

"Torley however, asserts that Feser has in another and earlier book, which Hallquist has apparently not read and is not referring to, made remarks regarding the doctrines of Aquinas - the voice Feser there adopts or the context of which I cannot comment upon - which in Torley's view could be construed in such a way so as to be subject to Hallquist's criticisms."

DNW evidently doesn't realize that Hallquist read and reviewed TLS back in 2009. See here: http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/2009/02/25/review-of-edward-fesers-the-last-superstition-part-i-morality/ . Ed knew about this in 2010. See here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2010/02/speaking-from-ignorance.html?showComment=1266191157973#c8506857857422283559

or see http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2010/02/speaking-from-ignorance.html and scroll down.

Hallquist didn't buy Aquinas until 2011. See here: http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/2011/07/18/so-i-bought-edward-fesers-aquinas-a-nonreview/ .

I think it's fair to say, then, that Hallquist's previous reading of TLS may have (legitimately) colored his reading of Aquinas. At any rate, I've identified no less than four points on which Ed reverses himself, between the first book and the second. A man's certainly entitled to change his mind, but if he's a philosopher, he should tell people that he's changed it, for the sake of courtesy and for the sake of clarity. That was my whole point.

Martin contends that an "unpushed pusher" is moving the ball in the case where a freak gust of wind hits the cue stick resting on the table, causing it to bump a ball, which in turn bumps another ball into the hole. That may be so, but that's not the causal series I was considering. Martin's is a two-term per se causal series: God pushes the ball. Fine; I can live with that. My question concerns the series: wind->cue stick->ball A->ball B. Is that a per se series?

Eduardo asked if I've removed the first cause in my interstellar billiards game. Well, I didn't remove him before he hit the ball, but then I couldn't do that for either per se or per accidens causality. However, I did remove him after he hit the ball, but before the ball hit its target. That sounds more like a per accidens series, where the father dies before his son begets a grandson.

I think Dr. Chastek's comments are very pertinent. The simultaneity question matters, and it affects the proof in a fundamental way.

Peace.

Edward Feser said...

Hi James,

Yes, I read the argument from motion in something like the way you refer to in your second comment, though I am not the only Thomist to do so. (See footnote 16 in my ACPQ article "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" for some references.) Not every Thomist would read it that way, but I have in any case always been more interested in the question of whether a certain argument is correct than in the question of whether all of its details can be attributed to Aquinas himself. Accordingly, and as I emphasize in the ACPQ article, I think the Five Ways need to be read in light of their development within the ongoing Thomistic tradition rather than as museum pieces, frozen in place in the form in which they were left in the Summa Theologiae.

(Other readers should take note that this particular disagreement within the Thomist camp does not in any way affect anything I've said about the widespread misunderstandings of the Five Ways. You can reasonably dispute whether Aquinas in the First Way was or should have been concerned with the being of things or only their changes. You cannot reasonably dispute whether he was trying to show that the world had a beginning in time, whether he tries to derive the divine attributes, etc. The errors of Dawkins et al. are not mere matters of interpretive disagreement, any more than someone who characterized Nietzsche as a theist or Hume as a Thomist would merely be putting forward one possible interpretation of their views among others. In all these cases we have a failure to get even the fundamentals right.)

Anonymous said...

Vincent Torley: "[i]Nowhere[/i], whether in his latest post, or in his book Aquinas, or in The Last Superstition, does Ed say that the hand-stick-stone example is [i]not[/i] a case of a [i]per se[/i] causal series."

I imagine that's because it doesn't matter whether it is or not.

He's said repeatedly, both explicitly and by implication, that it doesn't make a lick of difference to his point if it turns out on closer physical analysis to be a [i]per accidens[/i] series. What part of "pedagogical device" are you failing to understand here? Look at the moon, not the finger.

Anonymous said...

(Oops, sorry about the bad tagging in that last post. I'm too accustomed to IMDb.)

Edward Feser said...

Vincent writes:

Certain readers have accused me of nitpicking.

"Doing what Hallquist does" would be more like it -- in particular, quoting selectively, and opting for an uncharitable reading when a charitable one is obviously available.

Yes, I talk about simultaneity in TLS re: the stick and the stone, because for the specific purpose at hand -- introducing the notion of instrumental causality -- they are close enough to simultaneous to make the point. In the same way, in his latest post Hallquist writes:

Now suppose you are very fast and slick, so that you can be pushing the stone along one instant (using the spring), and the next instant have taken your hand away so quickly it may as well have been instantaneous, leaving the spring momentarily in contact with the stone.

Get that? "May as well have been instantaneous," even if strictly speaking it is not. And that's fine for the purposes of spelling out Hallquist's example. I don't begrudge him that much. Where he goes wrong is in thinking the example, once spelled out, is at all relevant to the basic point of the Argument from Motion as I've presented it. A charitable reader would not say "What's this 'may as well have been' stuff?"

In the present case, you could have taken the passages from TLS you cite and concluded "What Ed meant there must have been that the simultaneity is close enough for the purposes of introducing the concept of essentially ordered causes series." And indeed, everything I've said since TLS is perfectly consistent with such a reading, especially since (as I've shown) in TLS itself I make it clear that what I really think the argument leads to is the need for an actualizer of the existence of things. But for some strange reason you opted instead to read them as marking a shift in my position.

Again, "panting masochism" indeed.

Martin said...

Vincent,

> That may be so, but that's not the causal series I was considering. Martin's is a two-term per se causal series: God pushes the ball. Fine; I can live with that. My question concerns the series: wind->cue stick->ball A->ball B. Is that a per se series?

I already answered you above: yes. Keeping in mind the answers to inertia objection, the series works like I said:

Ball B can't move itself, so what is moving it? Ball A. But wait! Ball A can't move itself either, so what is moving it? The cue stick.

And so on. The only possible conclusion is that Ball B is being pushed by an unpushed pusher, via the wind, cue stick, Ball A, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hallquist appears to be, colloquially speaking, a numpty.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

It looks like we've cross-posted each other. The reason why I didn't quote the passage on page 96 which you quoted was that I didn't read it as saying what you intended. I read it as arguing that the actualization of one level depends on the actualization of a lower level. In other words, the F-ness of level 1 (the nervous system) depends on the G-ness of level 2 (constituent molecules), which depends on the H-ness of level 3 (constituent atoms), and so on, until we get to level N (God), whose Z-ness doesn't depend on anything else. I certainly didn't read the passage as saying that the existence of level 1 is caused by the existence of level 2, which is caused by the existence of level 3, and there were two reason for that.

1. Causing x to be F (i.e. to exist under a certain form) is not the same thing as causing x to exist, full stop.

2. As I understand Aquinas, he teaches that it belongs to God alone to maintain things in existence: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1045.htm#article5 . So any ordered series involving things being maintained in existence would be a two-term series.

Also, Ed, you yourself characterized the First Way on page 91 as an argument "which showed that the very existence of change requires that there be a first unchanging changer of everything that changes, which analysis reveals is identical to God as usually understood." And on page 96, after the passage you quoted, you concluded: "That a stone is moved by a hand via a stick, then - and more generally, that things changed at all - suffices to show that there is and must be a first Unmovable Mover or Unchangeable Changer." You also described this Being as "Pure Act." But nowhere on the page did you call explicitly him the First Cause of the existence of things. If that was your meaning, then I apologize for mis-reading you, but I really do think readers could be forgiven for having missed this vital point (buried deep in one paragraph on one page) in your discussion of the First Way in TLS.

On page 98 you describe the Unmoved Mover as "that which sustains the entire world in motion from instant to instant." Nothing here about existence.

Later, on page 99, you write:

"To show that an Unmoved Mover exists, then, is to show that there is a single being who is the cause of all change. Himself unchangeable, immaterial, eternal, personal (having intelligence and will), all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good. It is, in short, to show that there is a God." Again, there's nothing here about God's being the Cause of things' existence.

As I read TLS, the Second Way is about existence. The First Way is about change. What both ways have in common is that they both get you to a Being Who is Pure Act.

I shall stop here.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent writes:

The reason why I didn't quote the passage on page 96 which you quoted was that I didn't read it as saying what you intended... I certainly didn't read the passage as saying that the existence of level 1 is caused by the existence of level 2, which is caused by the existence of level 3...

Really, Vincent? Even though what I wrote in the passage in question was:

[W]hat we have is the potential existence of one level actualized by the existence of another, which is in turn actualized by another, and so forth.

Give me a break.

You'll happily quote a passage from TLS to try to back up Hallquist's reading of the book, but you refrain from citing a passage that rather obviously backs up my "reading" of the book -- you know, me, the author of the frickin' book. In that case there is for you no need to consider all the textual evidence.

Well, you've got balls, I'll give you that.

As to the other passages you now cite, yes, of course I take the Unmoved Mover to be the explanation of motion, since when we start with the local motion of things we're led to their existence and from there to the Unmoved Mover. How does that tell against the claim -- again, explicitly made in the book -- that the Unmoved Mover is the cause of the existence of things?

But what the hell do I know? I only wrote the thing...

DNW said...

Feser writes:
"Hallquist had egregiously misrepresented something I had written in an earlier post, and made some silly and false remarks about what was and was not covered in my book Aquinas while admitting that he hadn’t read more than 15 pages of it. "

DNW then writes in part:

"Torley however, asserts that Feser has in another and earlier book, which Hallquist has apparently not read and is not referring to, made remarks regarding the doctrines of Aquinas - the voice Feser there adopts or the context of which I cannot comment upon - which in Torley's view could be construed in such a way so as to be subject to Hallquist's criticisms.

Therefore Feser should, on Torley's view and in the interest of fairness, redirect Hallquist's criticisms to a more plausible target within the Feserian corpus.

If this is a fair description of what is being mooted, then it's fair to say that the panting masochism of some people leaves me absolutely stupefied ..."


Torley writes in part, addressing the fairness of my surmise as to what it is that is being mooted,

"DNW evidently doesn't realize that Hallquist read and reviewed TLS back in 2009. See here: http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/2009/02/25/review-of-edward-fesers-the-last-superstition-part-i-morality/ . "


Torley is correct that DNW has not read Hallquist's review of "The Last Superstition" written back in 2009. Which, would reduce to the fact that 2008's "The Last Superstition" is a book which Hallquist had read, but was not, or should not have been, referring to as "Aquinas". Whereas Feser's 2009 "Aquinas", is a book which Hallquist has admittedly not read or read properly, but which he was referring to as if he had: presumably, on the basis of having had read the other earlier book and unconsciously projected that material into the Aquinas book, which he had, or more likely by his own admission had not, actually read.

And Torley's fairness point seems to be that Feser should, in essence, grant Hallquist a Mulligan. Because he, Torley, has discovered apparent descriptive discrepancies between an account of "The First Way" in "The Last Superstition" which Hallquist had apparently read, and that found in "Aquinas", which Hallquist had not properly read, but purported to address as if he had.

Got it. Or at least what is expected.

Glad I'm not a Thomist.

dd said...

James Chastek,

"I said Avicenna when I should have said Averroes."

no, it was indeed Avicenna, not Averroes. the latter even criticized Avicenna, saying that his proof wasn't demonstrative. as far as he was concerned, the only demonstrative proof for God's existence was the one Aristotle gave at Bk.VIII of the Physics.

as for Avicenna, he is said to have made statements such as these about the argument from motion:

"[...] it is vile to proceed to the First Reality by way of movement and by way of the fact that It is the principle of movement."

and again:

"It is distressing for me that faith in the reality of the First
Principle, and in the reality of Its being one, should be proceeded
to by way of movement and the unity of the moved world."

dguller said...

Ed:

As to the other passages you now cite, yes, of course I take the Unmoved Mover to be the explanation of motion, since when we start with the local motion of things we're led to their existence and from there to the Unmoved Mover. How does that tell against the claim -- again, explicitly made in the book -- that the Unmoved Mover is the cause of the existence of things?

I think that what Vincent is trying to say is that the First Way specifically deals with change from potency to act, and thus would not be applicable to creation ex nihilo, which is not a transition from potency to act at all, because non-being is not potential being. And it would require creation ex nihilo to sustain the existence of reality, and not just the change from potency to act, which is just the transformation of one state of existence into another state of existence, but does not account for the fact of existence at all.

That is one reason why Aristotle argued for an eternal universe, i.e. because there is something actually happening now (i.e. act causing potency to change to act), there necessarily must always have been something happening (i.e. pure act). And thus, creation ex nihilo would have been literally incoherent to Aristotle.

Seraphim32 said...

Dr. Feser,

I am a long time reader, first time poster. I have recently been engaged in an argument with a Mormon friend of mine related to the cosmological argument, and if you are willing to take a look, I would love to get your response to his objections. Here is the argument, in brief:

"If we hold that God creat[ed] the universe, and therefore that the universe has not always existed, it logically follows that there was a beginning -- a before and after. That is a logical sequence that God finds himself creating. We have God before he initiated the Big Bang, and God after He initiated the Big Bang. He's not in a state of eternally creating the Big Bang. The problem with a static God is that He doesn't do anything. The problem with the God of the universe is that He's always doing things. The God without parts or passions that lay outside time and space doesn't strike me as the same being who dropped by Jesus' baptism to clearly state: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The passionless God does not get "pleased." He certainly doesn't enter into time to drop in and vocalize: "I am well pleased." How do we know this? Because we're told 400 years later that it's philosophically impossible. This is all just too much for me. The whole picture and purpose. Philosophical abstractions of this nature, when they hit a certain level of dissonance with scripture, do little to stir my soul.
The God of scripture is dynamic and present, not removed from time and passionless. I may lose arguments with my God, but so would Jesus."

Anonymous said...

Seraphim32,

Perhaps you can also go over Feser's old posts, concerning neotheism vs classical theism. "Classical Theism Roundup," "Is [the] God [of classical theism] dead?" and "Who wants to be an atheist?"

Edward Feser said...

Hi dguller,

Well, there are two questions here:

1. Does the First Way or some reasonable reconstruction of the First Way entail that there is a purely actual cause of the existence of things?

2. Did Feser claim in TLS that the First Way or some reasonable reconstruction of the First Way entails that there is a purely actual cause of the existence of things?

You are addressing question 1, but Vincent was addressing question 2. And his answer was "No" even though the correct answer -- as I should know better than anyone else, since I wrote the thing -- is "Yes." And I showed from the text of the book itself (lest anyone claim that I am somehow less-than-ingenuously changing my story now after the fact -- which is what Vincent was accusing me of in his oh-so-polite way) that that is what I said in TLS.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent (and dguller),

By the way, I should add for Vincent's sake -- since he's so keen on fairness, careful attention to the text of TLS, etc. -- that the footnote (note 16, on p. 279) to the crucial passage he neglected to quote reads as follows:

[Scott] MacDonald, cited above, suggests that such a move from focusing on the motion of things to focusing on the existence of the things doing the moving makes the argument from motion “parasitic” on another kind of argument from God’s existence (such as a First Cause argument of the sort I’ll be stating next). As MacDonald realizes, even if this were true, it wouldn’t mean that the argument from motion fails, but only that it isn’t really as distinctive an argument as it might seem at first glance. But I don’t think what MacDonald says is quite right. As Kretzmann and McInerny (also cited above) have noted, if the point of the argument from motion is to explain motion, and to explain motion requires explaining the existence of the things doing the moving and the way in which factors outside them contribute to their ability to move, then a focus on the existence of moving things is quite naturally going to be a part of any argument from motion. Furthermore, from an Aristotelian point of view the explanation of motion or change is fundamentally about explaining the transition from potentiality to actuality, and even at those stages in which it is the existence of moving things rather than their motion that the argument focuses on, explaining this transition is always what is in view.

End quote. So, in this footnote from TLS I explicitly addressed the question of whether the argument from motion involves the explanation of the existence of things (as opposed to merely their changes) and I explicitly defend the claim that it does.

But perhaps Vincent will now find some other way of arguing that I don't really understand (or am not honestly representing) what I wrote in my own book. Got to be "fair" to the serially incompetent and intellectually dishonest Hallquist, after all...

George R. said...

Ed, would you say that God is the Principle of all motion per se, that is, He causes all motion by His being mover? Or would you say, rather, that He is the Principle of motion only per accidens, that is, He causes motion by His being the cause of the existence of all movers and mobile objects?

You seem to hold the latter position, but I hope not. It's clearly erroneous.

Edward Feser said...

George,

As I've said on the blog many times (and in the YouTube lecture too), my view, like Aquinas's, is concurrentism (the view that God must concur with all secondary causes) rather than mere conservationism (the view that God maintains things in being but that they have independent causal power -- which is what you seem to want to attribute to me). Anyway, that's not the topic under discussion here, so it's not something my remarks should be interpreted as addressing.

TheOFloinn said...

IIRC, the medievals were quite aware of the question of first and last moments. That is, a potential is not actualized instantaneously. If Socrates changes from white to black, is there a last moment at which is he white and/or a first moment at which he is black. This may be applied to the local motion of the stone: is there a last moment at which the stone is at rest and/or a first moment at which it is in local motion?

It sounds to me as if Mr. Hallquist is confusing "simultaneous" with "instantaneous." If we consider Whitehead in his Principle of Relativity, there are no instantaneous "moments" in which two things might happen. Real physical things are "events" covering a finite expanse of time. Instantaneous is a mathematical fiction that enables us to use the differential calculus to model motion.

Further, well before the stone budges off its X-Y coordinates, it is in molecular motion due to the stick. Apparently, the fact that the stick cannot move forward while the stone remains at rest is not enough for some people and some vague hand is waved at 'overcoming inertia.' But all that means is that there are intermediate actualizations between the stick and the rock. (Presumably, the stick compresses momentarily -- woo hoo!)

Thirdly, Mach's Conjecture holds that inertia is the net effect of all gravitational influences acting on a body. If for all practical purposes the universe is radially symmetric, the attraction in all directions is equal, so nearer and larger bodies matter more. The asteroid struck by the cosmic cue stick will move along a geodesic on the space-time manifold determined by the distortion in the field of Ricci tensors caused by the presence of mass.

In Mathematics and the Unexpected, Ivar Ekeland points out that in billiards anyone attempting a seven-ball cannon would need to take into account the gravitational attraction of the spectators around the billiards table!

IOW, the inertially moving body is still being moved by another; viz., the other bodies distorting the tensor field.

Anonymous said...

Tensor? What is this "tensor" you speak of?

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: However, I did remove him after he hit the ball, but before the ball hit its target. That sounds more like a per accidens series, where the father dies before his son begets a grandson.

Nope. The question is one of instrumental or derived causality. A billiard ball does not have of itself the power to roll itself into a pocket. It has the potential to so roll, if it caused to do so, i.e. by something else. Balls don't just spontaneously jump into pockets, they have to be pushed by sticks or blown by the wind or pulled by gravity or what have you. A man does beget his son by his own power: he does not need something else external to cause him to beget. Well, there are some biological details we're glossing over, such as the need for a mate, but he certainly doesn't need his father to cause anything; once Isaac exists, it matters not what Abraham does, or did — Abe might have begotten him, or maybe Melvin begot him, or maybe God created him fully grown; that is an irrelevant accident of history — as long as he exists as a man, he can go on to beget Jacob.

Now the reason for bringing up the example of cue hitting ball is to illustrate what kind of causality we're interested in. Not the kind where Abraham might no longer exist, or might never have existed in the first place, regarding Isaac's begetting of Jacob. Rather the kind where a ball does not roll along the pool table unless something has actualised its potential to do so. Normally, we think, in our foolish naivety, of such causality as being simultaneous — the ball moves right as the stick hits it. That physics does not actually work that way is neither here nor there; if you understand what kind of causality that would be if it did happen, then the illustration was successful. If the physics-loving pedant retorts, "Do you mean the kind of causality that occurs when a cue compresses as a pressure wave travels along it over a finite span of time, blah blah blah?", then the answer is, "Yes, of course, if you're so smart you should have figured that out." In real life, of course, even pedants ignore such negligible physical effects. I am quite confident that when Steven Hawking is playing pool with his physics buddies, he doesn't stop to calculate the time it will take for the impact to propagate along his cue and through the ball. He just hits the flipping thing.

Arthur said...

I'm not even sure it's a good idea to pay trolls like Hallq much attention, professor Feser. It may be fun to knock them around, but no-one (least of all Hallq) learns much in the process.

But hey, it's up to you what you do with your own blog.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Let me say one thing up-front: I hadn't actually bothered to read Hallquist's comments on your book when writing my earlier posts. Judging from reading your leading article, I imagined Hallquist's comments were along the lines of criticisms of your book that were made by Onebrow a while ago, and that Hallquist was a "techie" with a strong science background but a rather weak philosophy background. When I finally decided to actually read his articles, I was shocked to find that they were rambling pieces that lacked argumentative rigor. Honestly Ed, I wouldn't bother responding to stuff like that. It doesn't merit your attention.

By the way, thanks very much for directing me to the footnote in your book on p. 279. That certainly proves that you "explicitly addressed the question of whether the argument from motion involves the explanation of the existence of things (as opposed to merely their changes)" as you put it in your post. And in any case, I'm not a disciple of Dan Dennett, who denies the existence of intrinsic intentionality. You're the author; you know what you meant.

So I withdraw my assertion that you changed your interpretation of the First Way on that fundamental point, between writing TLS and Aquinas. What I will say, though is this. Only an extraordinarily attentive reader would notice that you argued in TLS that the First Way was an explanation of the existence of things as well as the fact that they change. Please hear me out.

When I write my posts, I use devices like italics, bold print, short paragraphs and lots of pictures, to get people's attention and maintain their flagging concentration. I get very tired reading through text, text, text, text and more text, so I try to break it up, because I imagine that most people are like me. Highlighting is important.

Most people read only the first two sentences of a paragraph, and skim through the rest. They get "text fatigue." And who can blame them? They don't read footnotes, if they can possibly help it, because the text in a footnote is even more "scrunched up."

The claim that the First Way deals with the existence of things as well as change is a philosophically controversially one. It's big news. If I wished to champion this claim in TLS, in a way that readers would notice, then I would have done it like this.

1. Write a heading - e.g. "Why the First Way explains the existence of things, as well as change."

2. Begin a new paragraph with a sentence or two, outlining my claim, e.g. "I maintain that Aquinas, in writing his First Way, wasn't simply concerned with explaining change. What his argument really aims to show is that anything whose existence is in some way potential, cannot possibly qualify as the Unmoved Mover, because only a being whose existence is fully actualized can serve as an Ultimate Explanation of change. The first Mover, then, must be self-existent."

3. Reiterate the point - e.g. "I realize that many expositions of the First Way treat it as nothing more than an argument for an Unmoved Mover; here's why I think they're wrong."

It's called salience.

Instead, you embedded your "existence claim" in the middle of a paragraph on pages 95-96, whose opening sentences led me to believe that you were simply trying to argue that the First Mover was unmovable, as opposed to self-existent. Now do you see why I didn't notice what you were trying to say?

By the way, Ed, we still need you to adjudicate on a question. Are you now claiming that (i) the causes in a per se causal series don't need to be simultaneous, and therefore the hand-stick-stone example is still a valid one, or (ii) that they do need to be simultaneous, and therefore the hand-stick-stone is technically not a per se series? I imagined you were now arguing for (i), but some readers appear to believe you mean (ii). Who's right?

Anonymous said...

Vincent Torley: "By the way, Ed, we still need you to adjudicate on a question. Are you now claiming that (i) the causes in a per se causal series don't need to be simultaneous, and therefore the hand-stick-stone example is still a valid one, or (ii) that they do need to be simultaneous, and therefore the hand-stick-stone is technically not a per se series? I imagined you were now arguing for (i), but some readers appear to believe you mean (ii). Who's right?"

Those aren't the only two logical possibilities, but IT DOESN'T MATTER. There isn't any "are you now claiming" about it, as though Prof. Feser has possibly changed his mind about something. Again, the hand/stick/stone example is an illustration, intended to get the point across and nothing else. Once you understand what a per se series is, you don't need to worry about the physics of the illustration.

Eduardo said...

Well I guess I see the concept and why the models that match quantum experiments are irrelevant, but something tells me that there is a desire to look into things happening to confirm the example,mand the models of quantum machanics kicks in and denies that example at first look at least.

It seems that I have missed Vincent talking about my comment but I guess hendidn't get what I meant. The man will hit the next asteroid even he is dead, it doesn't matter, he started the game and the input of his actions into the system will remain even after his death. that is why I asked you if you have REALLY removed the guy... Yeah I screwed the message.... I meant have you removed him of the picture at all? Or have you removed him off the picture by constraining your thinking in a certain time span?

Martin said...

Vincent,

The point of the analogy is as an illustration of an abstract concept:

A's causal power comes from B, but B's causal power comes from C, and so on.

So there must be something X that gives without having to get, otherwise nothing would be happening in the first place.

Edward Feser said...

Arthur and Vincent,

Yes, Hallquist is a dolt, which is why I almost always ignore the childish (and perhaps attention-seeking) things he occasionally posts about me. But in this case he raised an objection (about the physics of the motion of the stick) that even a serious, scientifically-educated but philosophically ill-informed critic might mistakenly think has force. So I judged that it was worth responding to that. Calling attention to some of Hallquist's recent idiocies along the way was a "bonus."

Edward Feser said...

Vincent writes:

Let me say one thing up-front: I hadn't actually bothered to read Hallquist's comments on your book when writing my earlier posts... When I finally decided to actually read his articles, I was shocked to find that they were rambling pieces that lacked argumentative rigor.

That's supposed to excuse you, Vincent? In fact it only makes it more mystifying why you were so quick to judge that I had been unfair to Hallquist!

Nor do your remarks about my style excuse you. Your opening shot was to tell us how you were going to "supply chapter and verse" from TLS to show that I had changed my position between that book and Aquinas. That's the confident language of someone who presents himself as having done his homework, and knows the text well enough to back up such a bold charge. And as I have now demonstrated, you did not do your homework.

George R. said...

Frankly, I see no reason to concede that the hand-stick-stone movements are not simultaneous in the movement under consideration, even if the individual movements of the hand, stick, and stone do not precisely coincide; for there could be other movements taking place besides the one under consideration. The hand moves before the stick? So what? That’s not the movement we’re talking about. The stone moves after the stick stops? Again, so what? Something else is moving it, that‘s all. None of this changes the fact that in the hand-stick-stone movement under consideration the hand, stick, and stone are moving simultaneously.

TheOFloinn said...

The original argument is in present progressive: it is spoken from the tense wherein the stone is already moving. Whatever other invisible motions (e.g., compression) that intervene have already happened.

"Simultaneous" is not "instantaneous" in any case.

Vincent Torley said...

Ed,
You write: "And as I have now demonstrated, you did not do your homework." In my opening post, I pointed out four points where I thought you'd changed your interpretation of the First Way since writing TLS. Three of those points still stand, and you haven't answered them:

1. In TLS, you insist that the arm, hand, stick and stone in Aquinas' illustration for the First Way are indeed simultaneous: "The stone, as I have said, moves only insofar as the stick moves, and the stick moves only insofar as the hand moves.... [T]he hand's potentiality for motion is actualized by the arm, and the arm's potentiality for motion is actualized by the muscles, and the muscles' potentiality for motion is actualized by the nerves, and again, all of this is simultaneous" (p. 94). In a recent post you contradict this: "nothing in Aquinas's argument rides on the question of whether the motion of a stick and that of the stone it is pushing are strictly simultaneous." But IF the causes in an essentially ordered series have to be simultaneous, and IF in fact there are NO real-world examples of 3 or more objects simultaneously moving each other, then Aquinas’ argument from MOTION is irrelevant.

2. Do the causes in an essentially ordered series have to be simultaneous? In TLS you write: "Here we have an 'essentially ordered' causal series, and we have one precisely because the cause in this case is ... simultaneous with the effect" (p. 92). In an essentially ordered series, "each member depends simultaneously on other members which simultaneously depend in turn on yet other members, and so on" (p. 93). But in a recent post you contradict this: "That the members of such a series exist simultaneously, [is] of secondary importance." It’s NOT. The question of simultaneity has bearing on whether a per se causal series requires a first member.

3. Does an essentially ordered series require a first member? In TLS you write: "an essentially ordered series, of its nature, must have a first member" (p. 95). But in the recent post you write: "that the series does not regress to infinity [is] of secondary importance." It doesn't matter if the per se causal series explaining my existence doesn't have a first member? That's a HUGE change, Ed. It also contradicts what the vast majority of Thomist scholars have taught. Here's Copleston:

"When Aquinas talks about an 'order' of efficient causes he is not talking of a series stretching back into the past, but of a hierarchy of causes, in which a subordinate member is here and now dependent on the causal activity of a higher member ... We have to imagine, not a lineal or horizontal series, so to speak, but a vertical hierarchy, in which a lower member depends here and now on the present causal activity of the member above it. It is the latter type of series, if prolonged to infinity, which Aquinas rejects. And he rejects it on the ground that unless there is a 'first' member, ... a cause which does not depend on the causal activity of a higher cause, it is not possible to explain the ... causal activity of the lowest member... The word 'first' does not mean first in the temporal order but supreme or first in the ontological order."

You paraphrase Brown and Wippel as saying that "even if a series of causes ordered per se could somehow be said to regress to infinity, it would remain the case, given that they are merely instrumental causes, that there must then be something outside the entire infinite series that imparts to them their causal power." That's nonsense. You can stand above a horizontal series, but you can't stand above a vertical one.*

Ed, like you I hold that God co-operates with each and every member of a "vertical" per se series. But I also maintain that a per se series has to have a first member. Deny that, and you undercut the arguments for God's existence.

Eduardo said...

The particle that carries the force could be considered to move the other particle as soon as it is absorved, so that is simultaneous.

Like I said before, define simultaneous and the problem gets half done!

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Back again. In my original post, I alleged that you contradicted yourself on a fourth point (Is the Unmoved Mover a Cause of change or a Cause of being?) and you proved that TLS refers to Him as both: even the nerves in a first mover's hand have to be kept in existence by their constituent atoms and molecules, as you write on pages 94 and 96.

Here's my problem: that's un-Thomistic. If Aquinas had believed (like Scotus) in a hierarchy of forms, then indeed he could have held that the lower level forms maintain the higher-level ones in existence, and that the atoms and molecules in my hand maintain the neurons in existence. But Aquinas maintained that each human being has but a single form. There's no possibility of A maintaining B maintaining C in existence, because A, B and C share a common form: the soul. In any case, with the parts of an object, it's simply absurd to say that the smaller parts maintain the larger parts in existence, when the larger parts are made out of the smaller parts. If A maintains B in existence, then A and B must be distinct entities.

Even if Aquinas had maintained that the lower-level parts of my hand maintain the higher-level parts in existence, that still wouldn't establish your claim that "whatever those details turn out to be, they will all involve the operation of some bottom level of natural substances." That won't be the case, unless we get to a point where matter is indivisible - Democritus' atoms. But Aristotle and Aquinas rejected Democritus' atoms: they held that matter was infinitely divisible. So we'll never get to the bottom. That's fatal to your case.

I should also add that "A presupposes B" and "B explains A" are not equivalent. Not all of the various conditions of a thing's existence are things which actually maintain it in existence. My existence presupposes that of the ground I'm standing on, but the ground doesn't maintain me in existence. It merely holds me up.

So when you write that "the motion of these things presuppose their existence at any moment," that doesn't help your case. Existence doesn't explain motion as such. Even God's existence does not explain the motion of things. The only thing that can explain motion is some sort of operation. In God's case, that operation is His timeless activity of thinking about the things that are moving and willing them to move.

In short: I think that converting Aquinas' argument from motion into an "existence proof" is a lazy, modern reading of it. What we should be arguing instead is that the Newtonian "bedrock" action of an object's moving at a constant velocity is insufficient by itself to explain the changes we see in the world, because it fails to account for objects' causal powers. Moving at a constant velocity is not exercising a power, as such. Neither is merely existing.

Btw: Just came across an article by Sean Carroll that you might want to respond to, Ed: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/08/11/what-can-we-know-about-the-world-without-looking-at-it/

BenYachov said...

VT's, Carrol's, and Hallquist's cognitive and conceptional inability to distinguish between a metaphysical description of the nature of being vs a mechanistic physical description from physics never ceases to amaze me.

>In TLS, you insist that the arm, hand, stick and stone in Aquinas' illustration for the First Way are indeed simultaneous: "The stone, as I have said, moves only insofar as the stick moves, and the stick moves only insofar as the hand moves.... [T]he hand's potentiality for motion is actualized by the arm, and the arm's potentiality for motion is actualized by the muscles, and the muscles' potentiality for motion is actualized by the nerves, and again, all of this is simultaneous" (p. 94).


Do you even realize Feser is talking about "arm, hand, stick and stone" as it exists as an Act of "arm moves hand moves stick etc"?

Act potency distinction? Motion in the metaphysical sense is potency in act?

HELLO!!!!!!!

Or like philosophically illiterate idiots like Carrol do you understand motion to strictly and solely mean physical movement from point A to point B and NOT act in potency?

Because the Act of "arm moves hand moves stick etc" is clearly simultaneous as Act & clearly an essential series since to remove any one element causes the specific series Act to cease to exist as such.

Why is this hard?

Martin said...

BenYachov,

>Why is this hard?

Because to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his ideology depends upon him not understanding it.

The ideology here not necessarily being naturalism, but rather all-theistic-arguments-are-easy-to-beat-ism.

BenYachov said...

Martin

With VT it is the need to defend post enlightenment Mechanistic ID "Theism" at all costs.

Even thought IMHO is more likely then not leads to Atheism.

Anonymous said...

Dear Vincent,
As TheOFloinn pointed out, the hand, stick, and stone do move simultaneously - 'a hand pushing a stone' is different from 'a hand beginning to push a stone that had been at rest' -, so your objection on that point doesn't really get off the ground at all, does it?

Dear Dr. Feser,
It seems, and I wonder if it's worth noting, that Aquinas believed that there is a time (tempus medium) between any two instants. Thus if you are referring to the end of rest and the beginning of motion (say, of a stone) Aquinas would not even have said that these are simultaneous. Cf. ST III.75.7 ad 1: "there must of necessity be a mid-time between every two signate instants [e.g., end of rest and beginning of motion] in connection with that change." This follows, it seems, from the fact that the two instants designate a before and an after and time just is the measurement of change in terms of before and after. Likewise there will be a time between the instant before the stick contacts the stone and the instant after it has contacted the stone. So even if physical details about simultaneity did matter, Aquinas would still not need to be updated on this particular point.

-David

Anonymous said...

Alpha decay is an interesting thing. A heavy, unstable nucleus is potentially a lighter nucleus and an alpha particle. The decay process seems to have no external cause. From Wikipedia:

“Alpha decay, like other cluster decays, is fundamentally a quantum tunneling process. Unlike beta decay, alpha decay is governed by the interplay between the nuclear force and the electromagnetic force.”

IIRC, protons and neutrons are held together by nuclear forces, but the protons are repelled from one another due to electrostatic forces. If my understanding is correct, quantum tunneling “provides” an “opportunity” for an alpha particle to escape the nucleus, and once the “opportunity” is present, the electrostatic forces between protons will cause the alpha particle to escape. Is this an instance of “self-actualization?” Is a nucleus a “self?” Or can we think of it as a potential alpha particle in motion (emission/radiation) which is actualized by quantum tunneling and repulsive electrostatic forces?

BenYachov said...

>As TheOFloinn pointed out, the hand, stick, and stone do move simultaneously - 'a hand pushing a stone' is different from 'a hand beginning to push a stone that had been at rest' -, so your objection on that point doesn't really get off the ground at all, does it?

To put it simply they are two different Acts. Or they are not the same Act.

It's not hard.

BenYachov said...

VT, Carrol, and Hallquist,

You guys are one big giant fallacy of equivocation.

Oh and VT you are killing me!

Killing me I say!

Killing me.

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: IF the causes in an essentially ordered series have to be simultaneous, and IF in fact there are NO real-world examples of 3 or more objects simultaneously moving each other, then Aquinas’ argument from MOTION is irrelevant.

They don't have to be. They really don't. The "stick moves only insofar as the hand moves" regardless of temporality. Did you read my previous reply at 9:48? Did you read the original post here — because Ed linked directly to an article dealing with simultaneity (with an amusing illustration involving temporal portals). There are various causal series one might imagine; the one relevant to the First Way is the kind one thinks of when imagining a hand moving a stick moving a rock simultaneously. That is merely one kind of example. If you are confused about whether I am talking about a "knight" or a "night", I can clarify by saying, "I mean the kind of knight who slays fire-breathing dragons." It doesn't matter whether there ever really was a knight who slew a fire-breathing dragon, nor even whether fire-breathing dragons did or could exist. The example is enough to tell you that I did not mean "night", and that is all that matters.

It doesn't matter if the per se causal series explaining my existence doesn't have a first member? That's a HUGE change, Ed. It also contradicts what the vast majority of Thomist scholars have taught.

It isn't a change. You yourself actually quote Copleston saying, "The word 'first' does not mean first in the temporal order but supreme or first in the ontological order." You can, at least hypothetically, have no numerically first cause (because the series is infinite or circular); but you do have to have one that is logically or causally "first".

"... that there must then be something outside the entire infinite series that imparts to them their causal power." That's nonsense. You can stand above a horizontal series, but you can't stand above a vertical one.*

So stand to the left or right of it!! You do understand that "horizontal" and "vertical" are figurative descriptions, right? The point is that the series can be infinite in one way but not in another. Aquinas even uses an example (in the SCG, I believe) of a carpenter using an infinite number of hammers to build something. The infinity — supposing it to be possible — hardly disposes of the need for a carpenter. When he says that one can't proceed to infinity, he means in order to get around the need for a ontologically "first" mover. You can put infinities in all over the place, if you want to allow their possibility, but they won't satisfy the need for the "first" cause.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

Word of advice: A quick "Yeah, guess I spoke without thinking, sorry" would:

(a) save you lots of time, and I'm sure you've got other things to do. I know I do.

(b) be less likely than your current "keep digging" strategy is to make you look worse.

Vincent Torley said...

Ed,

I was wrong (as I've already admitted) in claiming that you changed your mind on the question: Is the Unmoved Mover a Cause of change or a Cause of being? I'm sorry. There. I said it. I would greatly appreciate it if you'd kindly admit that you've changed your mind (hardly a hanging offense for a philosopher) on the other three points I discussed. Fair's fair.

I'll keep this brief, and focus on the biggest one: the need for a per se series of causes to have a first member. I believe that denying this point aids and abets atheism.

Per se causes aren't just conditions for the occurrence of the effect; they explain the effect. You can't have an infinite regress of per se causes, because an infinite regress of explanations explains nothing.

Aquinas knows of only two kinds of causes: per accidens and per se. For Aquinas, Divine causality is per se. It's not some new third kind of causality. That's why it makes no sense to say God's causality is neither horizontal nor vertical, as Mr. Green proposes. God is at the top of a finite vertical chain, but He also works in co-operation with each member of the chain.

Here's why I think that allowing an infinite series of per se causes abets atheism. Imagine an atheist philosopher-physicist reads your work and says to you, "I think you're right about composite & contingent things requiring a cause. I also accept your point that things tending towards ends require an intelligent cause. But I'm still an atheist. I think our universe is like a Russian doll: it's inside a bigger multiverse, which is inside an even bigger supermultiverse, and so on. Intelligent beings in the multiverse made our universe and maintain it in existence with its laws. Intelligent beings in the supermultiverse keep the multiverse in existence, and so on. Each level is higher, simpler and more integrated than the one below it, but there's no perfectly simple top level - just an infinite regress. And if you ask me: "Is the whole ensemble of universes contingent?", my answer is that we cannot speak of the ensemble. We can only say that a thing exists within some context - e.g. There is a man in this room. Because there's an infinite regress, there's no larger context within which we could situate any ensemble, so the question of what explains its existence doesn't arise, as we can't even say it exists."

If you allow an infinite regress of per se explanations, then it's pretty hard to refute a smart-aleck atheist like this guy.

Finally, a per se cause has to be simultaneous with its effect, because anything which is no longer present when an effect occurs is incapable of explaining that effect. In the hand-stick-stone case, the hand's movement is simultaneous with that of the top end of the stick, and the bottom end's movement is simultaneous with the stone, but the top end cannot simultaneously move the bottom end. The stick is really a very long series of atomic dominoes.

There now. I'm done. Peace, Ed.


Anonymous said...

Vincent Torley: "If you allow an infinite regress of per se explanations, then it's pretty hard to refute a smart-aleck atheist like this guy."

Yes, I think in general you'll find that it's hard to refute someone once you've conceded his premise.

George R. said...

Vincent is making some good points.

IMO, I think Ed ought to clarify a few issues:
1) Whether all motions require per se causes, and if so…
2) Whether all per se causes of motion are simultaneous. Also…
3) Whether God must be a per se Cause of all motion, and if so…
4) In what way is He a per se Cause of all motion?

And lest one think I’m asking so many questions that it would require too much time and effort to answer, I’ll answer my own questions according to how I believe they should be answered:
1) Yes.
2) Yes.
3) Yes.
4) As the Final Cause thereof.

David said...

Vincent:
"And if you ask me: "Is the whole ensemble of universes contingent?", my answer is that we cannot speak of the ensemble."

And if I point out to you, "Au contraire - we can and are speaking of the ensemble..."?

Daniel Aledo said...

Sometimes I wonder whether using such illustrations are even worth going through all the hassle of explaining that the metaphysics pressuposing them are the real point that matter.

I think a lot of internet ink would be saved if one cut the middle man like Scotus and Suarez did and went straight to the metaphysical demonstration.
At least it would save a lot of explaining what movement, the man and the stick really mean to the scholastics.

Reading through the article and the posts I almost felt Professor Feser red-faced at the incompetence of mankind. We wouldn't want you to have a heart attack just yet, sir. no that I think you're old, I'm sure than when asked you tell people you just turned 25... and have been 25 for a decade. ;-)

David said...

George R., FWIW, here's how I'd answer your questions:
1)No. (Accidental motions require only accidental causes.)
2)No.
3)Yes.
4)Anything that moves must exist and God is the efficient cause of everything that exists.

Crude said...

Intelligent beings in the multiverse made our universe and maintain it in existence with its laws. Intelligent beings in the supermultiverse keep the multiverse in existence, and so on. Each level is higher, simpler and more integrated than the one below it, but there's no perfectly simple top level - just an infinite regress.

Kindly inform the atheist that he's not an atheist, but a pagan-theist, and that you're glad to see him abandon his atheism.

Daniel Smith said...

Vincent Torley: If you allow an infinite regress of per se explanations

I thought Ed's position was that there cannot be an infinite regress of per se explanations?

As for the difference between series per se and per accidens: it might help to think about it in terminus...

Does the father dying cause the son to die? No. The son can keep on living regardless of what happens to the father. It is a series per accidens.

Does the hand stopping cause the stone to stop? Yes. The stone will stop moving because the hand stopped moving (even if not instantaneously). It is a series per se.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Daniel Smith,

It seems that Ed now allows that there could be an infinite regress of per se explanations. In his post he wrote:

"It is worth emphasizing that it is precisely this instrumental nature of second causes, the dependence of whatever causal power they have on the causal activity of the first cause, that is the key to the notion of a causal series per se. That the members of such a series exist simultaneously, and that the series does not regress to infinity, are of secondary importance. As Patterson Brown and John Wippel point out, even if a series of causes ordered per se could somehow be said to regress to infinity, it would remain the case, given that they are merely instrumental causes, that there must then be something outside the entire infinite series that imparts to them their causal power."

That was the passage that I objected to. Precisely because per se causes aren't merely conditions for their effect, but actually serve as explanations of that effect, I maintain there must be a first member of the series. All explanations have to end somewhere. I don't know why anyone would want to look outside a series of explanations for something that gives them their causal power; what you really need to do is identify the terminus of the series: the first member, or the Explainer that needs no further explanation.

You ask: "Does the hand stopping cause the stone to stop?" No. If the stone is rolling along a perfectly smooth surface, it need never stop, once it has started moving. Nor does the stone need a hand to start it moving; it simply needs the tip of a stick to hit it. The tip of the stick would still produce the desired effect even it had been moving steadily towards the stone from all eternity. Anyway, I don't want to harp on about the stick; as Ed said, it's just an illustration.

Daniel Smith said...

Vincent Torley: You ask: "Does the hand stopping cause the stone to stop?" No. If the stone is rolling along a perfectly smooth surface, it need never stop, once it has started moving. Nor does the stone need a hand to start it moving; it simply needs the tip of a stick to hit it. The tip of the stick would still produce the desired effect even it had been moving steadily towards the stone from all eternity. Anyway, I don't want to harp on about the stick; as Ed said, it's just an illustration.

And, if the conditions you describe were part of the illustration, it would not be an illustration of a per se causal series. That's the whole point!

You have to unwire your "scientist brain" and wire in your "philosopher's brain" to see this though!

Edward Feser said...

It seems that Ed now allows that there could be an infinite regress of per se explanations.

I never said any such thing. Precisely because even in such a (for the sake of argument) infinitely long series the causes would all be instrumental, there would have to be some non-instrumental cause outside the series. That means that the series of explanations does terminate, in this non-instrumental cause.

As I've said I don't know how many times now, "first cause" in the context of a per se causal series does not primarily mean "the cauae coming before the second, third, fourth, etc." but rather "something with underived causality." The point is that created causes have no inherent causal power but are all "secondary" or derivative causes, which requires that there be a "first" or underived cause. That is why the length of the chain of derivative causes -- or for that matter, whether that chain loops around in a circle -- is not to the point.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Ed,

In regard to that:
I've encountered the argument that there is no such thing as a "chain" of causality - that every event has multiple causes, that each of those causes has its own multiple causes, and so on exponentially, and that they all wrap around and are interconnected (like a spider web). Is your statement about the need for an external first cause relevant to that argument as well?

Thanks!

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: For Aquinas, Divine causality is per se. It's not some new third kind of causality. That's why it makes no sense to say God's causality is neither horizontal nor vertical, as Mr. Green proposes.

Actually, I was simply pointing out that if you want to distinguish God's causation from some (so-called) "vertical" causes, then you have to call it something else. Or call the other causes something else; the vertical/horizontal thing is just a picturesque metaphor. If you turn a map on its side, you can't insist that north is still at the top. But really, I don't think the "vertical" image is helpful when it comes to positing an infinite chain, because we cannot picture an infinity regardless of whether it's horizontal or vertical.

Intelligent beings in the multiverse made our universe and maintain it in existence with its laws. Intelligent beings in the supermultiverse keep the multiverse in existence, and so on. [...] If you allow an infinite regress of per se explanations, then it's pretty hard to refute a smart-aleck atheist like this guy.

As Crude says, welcome to theism (of the polyistic variety). But it is nothing more than smart-aleckery, because so far we have only the formal structure of a hypothetical superdupermultipleverse that could exist. That doesn't explain why it does exist: I'll return to the traditional example of a locomotive engine pulling boxcars. Boxcars do not pull themselves, even an infinite number of them. I don't see why God couldn't create a train of infinitely many boxcars, but to make them start and stop, you'd still need some kind of an engine. I don't see how your infinitely-nested universe example in any way avoids that.

Finally, a per se cause has to be simultaneous with its effect, because anything which is no longer present when an effect occurs is incapable of explaining that effect.

George R. said the same thing. We've gone from suggesting that no per se chains are simultaneous to saying all of them are! Which is clearly incorrect. A hypothetical causal chain could be simultaneous, if the laws of physics allow it. It is claimed that the actual physics that God chose to create does not allow such a thing. The reason why that doesn't matter is because, while the example of simultaneous causes is more obvious to the imagination, non-simultaneous causes can equally well be per se. To say it has to be "present" simply begs the question.

In the hand-stick-stone case, the hand's movement is simultaneous with that of the top end of the stick, and the bottom end's movement is simultaneous with the stone, but the top end cannot simultaneously move the bottom end. The stick is really a very long series of atomic dominoes.

But the whole chain is a series of per se causality — the dominoes in between just as much as the dominoes at either end. And since a chain of dominoes does not fall all at once, clearly simultaneity is not needed. The toppling middle dominoes are not merely accidental events, as though they could tip over under their own power.

Since we are concerned with a metaphysical principle, it will apply regardless of the particular laws of physics of this universe. The particles at the end of your fingertip could move simultaneously with the particles in the tip of the stick (with the subsequent movements delayed across time). Or we could have different laws of physics where the hand, stick, and stone really do all move instantly and together. Or we could have physics that never has any simultaneous motion: where the tip of your finger moves at time t₁ and the tip of the stick does not start moving until time t₂ (when your finger tip has stopped). There is nothing impossible about any of these scenarios; it's a question for science to determine what kind of physical laws actually apply to the real world. The underlying principles of causality remain the same.

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: It seems that Ed now allows that there could be an infinite regress of per se explanations.

Since it seems he always allowed that, I guess he does "now". And he's allowing it hypothetically, from what I've seen; that is, there may be other reasons why such an infinite chain is impossible, but if we focus only on the nature of per se causal chains, merely having an infinite number of steps is not a problem in and of itself.

Precisely because per se causes aren't merely conditions for their effect, but actually serve as explanations of that effect, I maintain there must be a first member of the series. All explanations have to end somewhere. I don't know why anyone would want to look outside a series of explanations for something that gives them their causal power; what you really need to do is identify the terminus of the series: the first member, or the Explainer that needs no further explanation.

I don't understand your distinction between "condition" and "explanation", but I suspect that's a terminological quibble. Of course there is a "first" cause in the series, i.e. a logically or causally primary effect. If your problem is that you are watching the infinite number of boxcars pass in front of you, and you cannot get to the "first" one numerically, then you are counting the wrong thing. The prime cause is not "outside" the series in the sense of being outside of the causal chain; it is outside of the numerical sequence that you are trying to count. That is no more a problem than it is that the engine pulling boxcars is "outside" the set of boxcars.

Perhaps consider it this way: suppose you are looking at the engine, with an infinite number of boxcars behind it. The engine is clearly "first", so there is no problem. But what if you are in the middle of train, with boxcars infinitely stretching out on both sides? Still no problem: let's add an engine by converting one of the boxcars (stick a jet engine on its roof). Now count our makeshift engine as "one", the boxcar to its left as "two", the one to its right as "three", the second-from-left "four", the second-from-right "five", and so on. But really, the point is not to enumerate the causes in the chain but to work back until we can work back no further, i.e. until we hit an unmoved Mover. The size of the chain is a red herring.


"Does the hand stopping cause the stone to stop?" No. If the stone is rolling along a perfectly smooth surface, it need never stop, once it has started moving.

Eh, it's clear from the context that Daniel wasn't referring to that sort of motion. The point of the example is not to see if we can come up with any other possibilities why a stone might move when a stick is nearby. The point is to think of a case where the hand IS moving the stick IS moving the stone. (You can think of it all as simultaneous because that's the way everyone including physicists do think of such an event in real life, or if you really want to, think of it with nanoscopic delays.)

The only way to object would be to claim that it is impossible — not just according to the laws of physics as we know them, but impossible in principle, in any world, with any laws of physics — for a stone to move insofar as it is being pushed by a stick that moves insofar as it is being manipulated by a hand. Since we all accept that the hand really is somehow in some sense (at some time, immediately or not!) causing the stick to move, and the stick really is moving the stone, then the rest of the argument falls into place, and there must be a prime Mover.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: [...] every event has multiple causes, that each of those causes has its own multiple causes, and so on exponentially, and that they all wrap around and are interconnected (like a spider web).

My reaction is to ask why we should consider this a separate argument. Sure, in real life instead of chain-links we have chain... mail(?!), but the principles at work are still the same. The boxcar is not only being pulled ahead by the engine, but also being pulled down by gravity. That obviously doesn't change the need for the engine.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

At last we are making progress! You wrote:

"As I've said I don't know how many times now, 'first cause' in the context of a per se causal series does not primarily mean 'the cause coming before the second, third, fourth, etc.' but rather 'something with underived causality.' The point is that created causes have no inherent causal power but are all 'secondary' or derivative causes, which requires that there be a 'first' or underived cause. That is why the length of the chain of derivative causes -- or for that matter, whether that chain loops around in a circle -- is not to the point."

On the question of whether 'first cause' in the context of a per se causal series means 'the cause coming before the second, third, fourth, etc.' or 'something with underived causality,' I would agree that the latter meaning is primary, but I would also argue that unless a first cause is the one before the second, it cannot be an underived cause.

You write that "the length of the chain of derivative causes -- or for that matter, whether that chain loops around in a circle -- is not to the point." I think it is, because if we allow circular per se causal chains, then we destroy the very notion of an explanation, and in so doing, undercut the possibility of arguing to God.

Foe example, if A is a per se cause of B, which is a per se cause of A, then we are saying that A is explanatorily prior to itself. That statement makes no sense, even if we additionally suppose God to be standing outside the causal circle, keeping both in existence. If we allow that a thing can be prior to itself as an explanation then we end up destroying the very notion of an explanation.

The same goes if we consider an infinite chain. Even if each member of the chain is kept in existence by God, an infinite chain is still an infinite regress of explanations. Such a regress explains nothing. But if it explains nothing, then there is no per se causal chain in the first place. It would therefore follow that the thing to be explained must depend on God and God alone.

But if we allowed that an infinite regress of explanations could explain something, then that would invite the question: what need do we have of God, then?

Call me old-fashioned if you like, Ed, but I consider it theologically dangerous to grant, even for argument's sake, the possibility of an infinite or circular chain of per se causes.

I hope I've clarified my meaning, Ed. Cheers.

Vincent Torley said...

Mr. Green,

Just a couple of quick comments, as I'm a little rushed for time.

1. Earlier, I argued that a per se cause has to be simultaneous with its effect, because anything which is no longer present when an effect occurs is incapable of explaining that effect. You replied that to say the cause has to be "present" is question-begging.

OK, what about this syllogism?

(i) In order to count as an explanation of an effect E, a per se cause must be capable of interacting with E.

(ii) Anything which is spatio-temporally removed from E is incapable of interacting with E.

(iii) Therefore anything which is spatio-temporally removed from E is incapable of being a per se cause of E.

By "spatio-temporally removed from E" I mean "located at a point in space or time which is some distance from E." Premise (ii) trades on the metaphysical intuition that action at a distance is impossible. (Even Newton thought so.) Of course, God is not "spatio-temporally removed from E" as He is outside space and time.

2. Re the infinite series of boxcars: I'm afraid the popular intuition that it needs a caboose at the front is mistaken. If you don't believe me, ask a physicist. If the track is not perfectly smooth, then the car in front of car X needs to continually be tugging X, in order to stop it from slowing down. But it takes a very small but finite time for a tug at the front of X to be felt at the end of X, and to be conveyed to the car behind X. So we're back with a "dominoes example" again. Just as the generation of fathers and sons could theoretically go back to infinity, so too could the series of tugs by cars further up the chain. Therefore you could have an infinite series of boxcars in front of X. Of course, that would be a per accidens series.

If on the other hand we supposed the track to be frictionless, then car X wouldn't need anything in front of it to pull it along, anyway. It would just keep going forever at the same velocity.

Vincent Torley said...

Mr. Green,

In answer to another question of yours, I would in fact claim that it is impossible in any physical world for A to be moved by B, which is moved by C, where A, B and C are all part of a per se causal series. Such series can only be two layers deep, because of the spatio-temporal contiguity requirement. I'd also say that as regards per se causes of existence, we can only go two layers deep: only God can maintain a thing in existence. Thus we should never find a per se causal chain in any world of depth greater than 3 (where we conflate chains of being and becoming).

Of course it would be ridiculous to deny that the agent's hand moves the stone by moving the stick, in Aquinas' example. In the order of intentions, causal chains of movement can be as long as we like, and they need not be simultaneous.

From an agent-centered perspective, a causal chain of becoming may be very long and simultaneity need not hold. But if we start at the other end and look at the thing moved (the stone), then from an object-centered perspective, it is never necessary, or possible, to go back more than one step in the physical realm, in order to explain its motion. Of course, God's causal activity lies behind the physical mover's action, so that makes two steps. Additionally, God's causal activity is also concurrent with the physical mover's action.

Anonymous said...

I think the totality of comments in response to this post can be summed up by the phrase: "OH SNAP!"

E.H. Munro said...

I think the totality of comments in response to this post can be summed up by the phrase: "OH SNAP!"

I was more thinking along the lines of "How the hell can people miss something so easy to grasp?"

Mr. Green said...

Hi, Vincent:
On the question of whether 'first cause' in the context of a per se causal series means 'the cause coming before the second, third, fourth, etc.' or 'something with underived causality,' I would agree that the latter meaning is primary, but I would also argue that unless a first cause is the one before the second, it cannot be an underived cause.

Is that not always true in a trivial sense, though? That is, either there is an underived cause or there isn't. If there isn't, then the series can't get off the ground. If there is, and we want to count stuff, then that cause is by definition number one. Where we go from there, or what other ways one might arrange the elements of the series for counting them according to some other criterion doesn't matter (in this context).

If we allow that a thing can be prior to itself as an explanation then we end up destroying the very notion of an explanation.

Well, it could be "prior" to itself in different ways, e.g. by one part being prior to another part. Consider two playing cards leaning against each other: card A is the cause of card B's not falling down, and vice versa. The symmetry makes a "circular" event, but that isn't a problem.

Such a regress explains nothing. But if it explains nothing, then there is no per se causal chain in the first place. It would therefore follow that the thing to be explained must depend on God and God alone.

There's a big difference between "does not explain everything" and "explains nothing". An infinite regress does not obviate the need for a Prime Mover any more than any secondary cause obviates the need for the Primary Cause.

(i) In order to count as an explanation of an effect E, a per se cause must be capable of interacting with E.

Either trivially true or false. If "interaction" just means causing something, then it's true by definition, but doesn't tell us anything about what that causation consists in. If it doesn't mean that, then I'm not sure what it does mean.

(continued)

Mr. Green said...

(ii) Anything which is spatio-temporally removed from E is incapable of interacting with E.

Again, true by definition or false. I would consider something's spatio-temporal position to be defined by the location of its (possible) effects — that why God is everywhere; not because He is "in" space or time at any particular point, but because His power extends everywhere and everywhen. Conversely, if you mean that in a sense in which the earth would be "removed" from the location of the moon, then it's false, even for our actual laws of physics, because the earth and the moon interact gravitationally. (No, I don't think that action at a distance is impossible. Certainly not as a metaphysical necessity, and even in our actual world, it would make physics unnecessarily "spooky".)

If on the other hand we supposed the track to be frictionless, then car X wouldn't need anything in front of it to pull it along, anyway. It would just keep going forever at the same velocity.

Sure — which in the example as usually given, is zero. In a given boxcar's frame of reference, it will remain at rest unless and until a force accelerates it. The car's continued inertial motion (relative to some external frame of reference) is a red herring. Boxcars don't accelerate by themselves, and that's why the causality required is per se. Accelerating is not something the boxcars can do whether or not an engine applies some force; it is thus the engine that is the source of the motion, and one boxcar transmits this force (by tugging on the next) instrumentally. (So it is like falling dominoes: the initial push from your finger is what topples the first domino, and thus indirectly topples all the rest; the dominoes do not have the power to topple themselves, as though the finger-push were an accidental action that merely happened to coincide with the dominoes' toppling themselves regardless.)

I'd also say that as regards per se causes of existence, we can only go two layers deep: only God can maintain a thing in existence. Thus we should never find a per se causal chain in any world of depth greater than 3 (where we conflate chains of being and becoming).

Since only God can create (or conserve), there will not be any intermediate causes of existence; but that is not the case with motion (that would deny secondary causes). I'm not sure about your "agent-centred" and "object-centred" view, but your seem to be talking about something different from Aquinas's idea of efficient causes that work in an essential chain, as surely they do (again, unless we opt for occasionalism or something like that). The point isn't that we need to go back more than one step to explain the motion of the stone directly, but that whatever caused that motion in the previous step must itself have been caused to move in turn, until we hit an unmoved Mover. But my hand really is moving the stick is moving the stone.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Mr. Green,

Thanks very much for your reply. I'd like to deal with your cases, but in a different order.

1. The infinite series of trains. You write: "Boxcars don't accelerate by themselves, and that's why the causality required is per se. Accelerating is not something the boxcars can do whether or not an engine applies some force; it is thus the engine that is the source of the motion, and one boxcar transmits this force (by tugging on the next) instrumentally." Thanks for making the example clearer: I see now that acceleration is what needs to be explained.

The verb "accelerate" can be a transitive (vt) or an intransitive (vi) verb. The fact that a boxcar N doesn't accelerate (vi) by itself only proves that something (namely the car in front of it, N-1) must be accelerating (vt) it. However, it doesn't follow from this fact that something else (namely the car in front of that one, or N-2) must be accelerating N-1.

Not only is N-1 is accelerating (vt) N, but N-1 is itself accelerating (vi). However, N-1's accelerating (vi) is not the action whereby it accelerates (vt) N. N-1 accelerates (vt) N by virtue of the fact that it has a causal power to attract (vt) N, and it exerts this power by transmitting a message to N, via force-carrying particles. (At the subatomic level, it's an electrochemical power of attraction, transmitted by photons emitted by the car's constituent protons and electrons.) Also, N-1's acceleration (vi) is not simultaneous with its acceleration (vt) of N; it occurs very slightly beforehand, as electrical forces take a finite time to transmit through space.

N-1's power to electrochemically attract and accelerate (vt) N is not derived from N-2, but is intrinsic to it, by virtue of the electrical charges in its constituent subatomic particles (protons and electrons), so on a physical level, the regress stops here. Of course, one can legitimately ask why N-1's attractive power suddenly increased, causing N to subsequently accelerate (vi), and one might explain that fact in terms of an electrochemical message sent to N-1 slightly earlier by the constituent particles of the boxcar N-2, causing N-1 to accelerate (vi). But my point is that N doesn't care about that message. It only cares about the message it got from N-1, via the photons it absorbed from it.

The point I'm making, in plain English, is that accelerating (vi) is like receiving a message, whereas accelerating (vt) is like transmitting a message. The causal series is not per se, because each car in the series has an inherent active capacity to transmit a message. The last car in the series acts upon the message it gets from its neighbor, N-1.

Now let's get back to the train. In a finite series of boxcars, the burning of fuel (say, coal) in the engine imparts energy to the engine's mechanical components, causing them to accelerate and turn around, which in turn makes the locomotive's wheels move. In essence, all this is just the sending of messages, and we need a first one because the sudden acceleration (vi) of the engine's components is a fact which requires explanation, in terms of the fuel being burnt. But in an infinite series, the acceleration (vi) of each car can be explained in terms of the (electrochamically transmitted) message it gets from the car in front of it, and there is nothing to prevent a message from going back to infinity, without an original sender. (Think of an infinitely long game of Chinese whispers.) So as far as I can tell, an infinite series of boxcars is possible, as far as the laws of physics are concerned, and there is no need for an original locomotive.

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

1. More on the infinite series of boxcars. Whether such a series is metaphysically possible is something about which I have an open mind. But if it isn't, then any argument establishing that fact would also establish the impossibility of an actual infinite. In other words, it would be a kalam style argument.

2. Sertillanges' brush. In my opinion, this is not like the infinite series of boxcars. Whereas boxcars have an inherent capacity to transmit electrochemical signals, the parts of a paintbrush don't have an inherent capacity to transmit the highly specified information about precisely which way the brush should move, while the Mona Lisa is being painted. That information isn't inherent to matter; it has to come from a mind, in the long run.

3. Action at a distance. I agree that God (whose power extends everywhere) is not spatiotemporally removed from anything. However, the reason why I consider action at a distance to be metaphysically impossible is because to say that A is distant from B is simply to say that B requires a message from A in order to be updated as to A's status. Action at a distance at the same time both affirms ("action") and denies ("at a distance") that such an update occurs. I can only make sense of it by supposing A to be somehow proximate to B, on some level (e.g. wormholes) - but then, it's not at a distance any more, is it.

5. The two cards. We need to be careful here. Card A is (partly) responsible for card B's not falling over, and it keeps B from falling over by pushing B. However, its power to push B is inherent to it, by virtue of its mass. A's power to push B is not explained in terms of B, so there is no causal circle.

6. Hand-stick-stone. You write: "But my hand really is moving the stick is moving the stone." There's something funny about that sentence. It needs a "which": "the stick, which is moving the stone." Once we put it like that, we can see at once that the stick's movement of the stone can be treated separately from the hand's movement of the stick. A stick has an inherent power to push a stone. Ordinarily it won't do this, but if something (it doesn't matter what) brings it into contact with the stone, then it will push it. The boxcar example proves that we can go back to infinity in the series of movements, because this is not a per se series: it's just a transmission. So the stick requires no original agent's hand.

Now, you can say that "But my hand really is moving the stick and thereby moving the stone," precisely because you (as an agent) know how messages are transmitted between bodies, and you use the stick to achieve your end of moving the stone. So from your perspective, the stick is an instrument whereby you move the stone. My point is only that the stick doesn't care about that: it moves (vi) wherever it is moved (vt).

Anonymous said...

Is it more correct to say that the boxcars have the powers to move AND be moved, or that they have the power to move (other things) WHEN moved?

And say that the boxcars have the power to Transmit the message, does it follow that they have the power to Produce the message?

David said...

Hi Vincent,
I think that the way you've put this is unnecessarily obscure. You wrote:
"The point I'm making, in plain English, is that accelerating (vi) is like receiving a message, whereas accelerating (vt) is like transmitting a message. The causal series is not per se, because each car in the series has an inherent active capacity to transmit a message. The last car in the series acts upon the message it gets from its neighbor, N-1."

In even plainer English: The point you're making is that accelerating (vi) is like receiving a message (i.e., being the effect of a cause), whereas *causing acceleration* is like transmitting a message (i.e., acting as a cause). You claim that the causal series is not per se, because each car in the series has an inherent active capacity to transmit a message (i.e., to be a secondary cause). You say that the last car in the series acts upon the 'message' it gets from its neighbor, N-1 - in other words, the last car's acceleration is caused by the causal power of its neighbor N-1. But of course if N-1 is not the locomotive then it has only secondary causal power, which must be derived from the primary causal power of the locomotive, since the series of causes is indeed per se, since the 'inherent active capacity' you refer to is in fact only *active* in virtue of the locomotive.

David said...

"Action at a distance at the same time both affirms ("action") and denies ("at a distance") that such an update occurs." - Surely not? It affirms and qualifies, not affirms and denies.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I'll keep this brief. I can't see any relevant difference between the acceleration of the boxcars and that of the dominoes. (The only physical difference is that whereas the dominoes move their neighbors by pushing them, the boxcars move their neighbors by pulling them.) Readers seem to agree that a series of dominoes is a per accidens series, and that as far as Aquinas is concerned, such a series could go back to infinity. If a series of pushes could go back to infinity, then so could a series of pulls.

Now I admit that this has some odd implications. Imagine a rope which is infinitely long in both directions, and imagine that this rope is tied round people's waists, at intervals of one meter, so that the human beings constitute a chain of dominoes. You're standing somewhere in the chain. Suddenly you get knocked over by an approaching cascade of toppling people. You feel rather cross, but your neighbor assures you that the rope is infinite, and that there was no-one who started the process. No sooner has he finished explaining this than you get knocked over by a cascade of human dominoes, this time from the opposite direction. Once again, your neighbor tells you it's no-one's fault. The cascades continue from left and right all day long, and every time, you are told: "It's nobody's fault."

What does all this prove? Clearly the example is physically possible: no laws are broken. If you want to argue that it's metaphysically impossible, then I see only one way to do so, in this case: you'll have to argue that there cannot be an actual infinite, and that the foregoing example (like Hilbert's hotel) constitutes a reductio ad absurdum for the notion of an actual infinite. But if you take that line, then you'll have to allow that kalam-style arguments work (which Aquinas didn't). That would be a philosophically interesting result, but it goes beyond the First Way, and shows that many other arguments can be used to demonstrate God's existence.

Black Luster said...

One difference between the domino series and the father-son series:

In the domino series, all the members of the series are "fixed." In other words, all the dominoes in the series exist simultaneously.

In the father-son series, the members of the series are not "fixed." They are coming into existence and going out of existence.

Does this distinction have any ramifications?

Black Luster said...

Wait, since when is a domino series per accidens? Each domino depends on the previous one in order to move.

Scott said...

Black Luster: "Wait, since when is a domino series per accidens? Each domino depends on the previous one in order to move."

But not on the ones before the previous one. If you had a long row of dominoes, pushed over the first one, and went along picking them up as they fell, it wouldn't keep the rest of them from continuing to fall. The first domino doesn't need to go on doing anything in order for the last domino to fall; each domino has its own causal power to bring about the fall of the next one.

Scott said...

Black Luster: "Does this distinction have any ramifications?"

Not in this context; each series is per accidens, and the continued existence of each domino after it topples its successor is irrelevant to the falling of the later ones in the series. The dominoes don't disappear after they fall, but if they did, that wouldn't stop the rest of them from falling.

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: I can't see any relevant difference between the acceleration of the boxcars and that of the dominoes. Readers seem to agree that a series of dominoes is a per accidens series

Do they? I said that both series are comparable because they are both examples of per se causality.


The point I'm making, in plain English, is that accelerating (vi) is like receiving a message, whereas accelerating (vt) is like transmitting a message. The causal series is not per se, because each car in the series has an inherent active capacity to transmit a message.

That is per se: as Anonymous pointed out, the boxcar has in itself the power to transmit the "message", but not to produce it in the first place. Thus the message-producing cause is a necessary or essential part of the causal chain as a whole, as opposed to being an accidental add-on to the chain. (The colour of the boxcars or whether it's raining, and so on, are part of the causal chain insofar as they are part of whatever actually happens during this whole locomotive event, but they are accidental rather than essential as far as the locomotion is concerned because they have nothing to do with producing and transmitting the "message".)

there is nothing to prevent a message from going back to infinity, without an original sender.

Nothing to prevent it if the message actually exists. That existnece will be rather tricky without an original sender, which is the whole reason why simply saying, "... and so on to infinity" is not a sufficient answer. Now, I would argue that an infinite series of accelerating boxcars is possible because God could create the whole setup "in progress", i.e. with the message built-in. But that simply means that God is the "original sender", even though there is no "original" or "first" sender in the physical chain.


2. Sertillanges' brush. [...] the parts of a paintbrush don't have an inherent capacity to transmit the highly specified information about precisely which way the brush should move, while the Mona Lisa is being painted.

But that is exactly like the boxcars. Perhaps the locomotive "message" is too simple or boring to avoid taking it for granted. (But that it too must trace back to a mind is the point of the Fifth Way, right?) A boxcar can't accelerate by exchanging virtual photons with itself, it needs some further cause to actualise its potential for locomotion.

(continued...)

Mr. Green said...

3. Action at a distance. [...] Action at a distance at the same time both affirms ("action") and denies ("at a distance") that such an update occurs.

And here I agree with David: it affirms and qualifies, not denies. If we allow that "distant" just means that any cause must be mediated in some sense, then the question is whether that mediation (sending a message, etc.) can be instantaneous or not. Now given our laws of physics, instant effects may be impossible (according to relativity... QM is another story), but there is certainly nothing metaphysically impossible about that.

5. The two cards. We need to be careful here. Card A is (partly) responsible for card B's not falling over, and it keeps B from falling over by pushing B. However, its power to push B is inherent to it, by virtue of its mass. A's power to push B is not explained in terms of B, so there is no causal circle.

Not quite... A's power to hold up B is explained in terms of its mass (to be pulled down by gravity), the gravity acting on it, its electromagnetic forces (to push against B and frictionally against the tabletop) — and its position! Putting card A on the other side of the room will not help to hold up B. And A's position is itself being (partly) caused by B's holding it where it is.

6. Hand-stick-stone. You write: "But my hand really is moving the stick is moving the stone." There's something funny about that sentence.

Well, it's grammatically unconventional, which was of course a deliberate rhetorical choice to draw attention to the interplaying causes. Certainly we can focus on the stick and stone and ignore the hand's role in all this; but the fact remains that the stick cannot jump up on its own and starting pushing things around. Its pushiness is coming unavoidably from the action of the hand (or some hand-substitute).

A stick has an inherent power to push a stone. Ordinarily it won't do this, but if something (it doesn't matter what) brings it into contact with the stone, then it will push it.

"Ordinarily it won't do this" means that the stick doesn't have the power to push. It has the potential to push (because of its nature as a solid object (i.e. one which can exchange virtual photons, etc. etc.)). But that potential is not actualised by the mere existence of the stick: something else must be added (e.g. an accelerating hand that actualises the stick's potential to be pushed at one end, which eventually results in its pushing [something else] at the other end). That "something (it doesn't matter what)" is precisely the per se or essential cause we were looking for.

Ismael said...

I think Chris Hallquist states himself he is "unliterate":

Hallquist own words (ironically):

""I refuse to apologize for not having read more theology, in the sense of the writings of people like Haught and the people he admires. That’s because they frequently don’t even try to write clearly. My typical experience when picking up their books is to first notice they are using words in ways I am not used to. Then I start skimming to try to find the section where they explain what they mean by their words (sometimes there are legitimate reasons for using words in unusual ways). Then I end up closing the book when I fail to find such a section.""

(From Chris Hallquist, on his blog on Patheos Atheist Channel, August 30, 2012).



Like saying: do not read difficult books!

Just read books for "beginners", because people cannot evolve from 'ignorance' to 'being competent', I guess.


This is a gripe I have with Amazon reviewers as well. They 'knock' a book just because "It's hard" and "not for everyone".



Anyway, confessing that he cannot understand what he readss and then makes himself important by criticizing it any way seems indeed like a rather nice example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.