Friday, January 4, 2013

Blackfriars Aquinas Seminar

Readers in England might be interested to know that on February 14 I will be speaking at Blackfriars, Oxford University, as part of the Blackfriars Aquinas Seminar.  The title of the talk is “Aquinas and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”  Information about the Seminar can be found here.

Very busy trying to meet a couple of deadlines and attend to some other matters at the moment, so posting may be light for a week or so.

453 comments:

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Eduardo said...

Blackfriars?

wait up you ain't black Doc!

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

yeah that was my daily joke, move along.

Anonymous said...

Choosing to spend Valentine's day doing the Lord's work instead of having a romantic dinner with the missus, now that's commitment!

MagicMarker said...

Will there be a recording?

Anonymous said...

Will you be posting a transcript of your lecture at some point?

Pedro Erik said...

Yeah, if possible post your lecture.

Samantha said...

Love your blog. It's one of my favorite blogs, after Faith and Heritage | Christ and The West.

If you are on twitter, you should follow Western Christianity, the best traditionalist Christian feed on twitter:

https://twitter.com/West_and_Christ

They have tweeted some of your articles here.

Anonymous said...

Please Professor Feser, if you can, find someone to record it the lecture or to record the transcript. I am sure many (myself included) would be grateful.

rank sophist said...

Glad to hear you're getting more international gigs. The message needs to be spread outside of America.

I hate to introduce another off-topic point, but I've had a worry recently that I'd like to express to the more advanced Thomists here. It concerns reproduction and efficient/material causality. According to Aquinas, all perfections pre-exist in efficient causes, while imperfections pre-exist in material causes. In the case of reproduction, this leads Aquinas to state that the male is the efficient cause and the female the material cause, and that all perfections in the resulting child are from the male. Obviously, we now know this to be false. Semen is not "corrupted" by menstrual blood to cause defects in offspring, but rather actualizes the ovum. The problem is that this plays havoc with Aquinas's idea that all perfections pre-exist in the efficient cause and imperfections in the material, because defects in the child can come from both the male and female. If the sperm is responsible for an imperfection and the ovum for a perfection, then how is it possible that efficient causes contain all perfections? The ovum clearly is not the only thing in this case that "tends toward corruption", which suggests either that there are two material causes in reproduction or that certain efficient causes contain pre-existent imperfections. Neither is acceptable, and the second undermines the Second Way.

So, am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, you should debate some of these New Atheists, especially Dawkins.

William Lane Craig is on Dawkins radar, and thus Dawkins assiduously avoids him. But you are not. You are like the Trojan Horse of Christianity. He will not expect much from you. Then you can slip past his defenses and destroy him from within.

Eduardo said...

Dear Anon above me.

Dawkins have already rejected to debate Dr Feser XD.
Dawkins will only debate creationists and people of the clergy XD.
that is how he rolls.

George R. said...

Eduardo,

Dawkins will not debate creationists. He did so once years ago and was humiliated. Since then, he has refused to debate them on the grounds that it gives creationism a respectability that he assumes it doesn't deserve.

He will debate clergy, however, provided that they are also evolutionists. This is because he believes that evolutionism is contrary to religion (a belief I share with him), and thus can expose his opponent as holding contradictory positions, and at the same time rest secure that no evidential challenges to Darwinism will be introduced into the debate.

Eduardo said...

I see, dawkins sounds more like a weasel XD.

Brandon said...

rank sophist,

I think we have to be a bit careful; strictly speaking on his Aristotelian account it is the menstrual blood that is the material cause and the semen that is the efficient: the two cook together, so to speak, and the semen forms the menstrual blood into an animal body. Any incompleteness (because that's all 'imperfection' means here) that arises from the matter here is only incompleteness with respect to the process of what was seen as the semen's activity, which was forming males -- the menstrual blood sometimes impedes this, and thus the only 'imperfection' for which the menstrual blood as such is responsible is the incompleteness in the process of becoming a complete male. Likewise, the only 'perfection' for which the semen is responsible is complete maleness.

This, of course, turns out not to be right at all; but once that's recognized, it follows immediately that we can't apportion the causal contributions the way Aristotle had thought: generation is not one acting on the other, so the efficient and material causes are simply not what they were supposed to be on the Aristotelian account. Because of that, I don't think the problem arises: the problem seems to come from assuming that if the facts of generation were entirely different from what the Aristotelian model supposed it would nonetheless still be the case that the male contribution would be the active force and the female contribution would be the material. But this is not true.

I'm a little unclear what you mean by saying that it's unacceptable for certain efficient causes to contain pre-existent imperfections; imperfections pre-exist in all efficient causes, because imperfections in this sense just means 'incompleteness' and obviously the incomplete thing in some sense pre-exists in anything in which the complete thing pre-exists. (This is why God can know defects, evil, prime matter, etc., in the divine ideas.) And obviously there will be cases where the efficient cause is itself in some way defective, which will affect whether the complete effect can derive from it; we see this in the case of sin (or incompetence, for that matter).

Brandon said...

strictly speaking on his Aristotelian account it is the menstrual blood that is the material cause and the semen that is the efficient: the two cook together, so to speak, and the semen forms the menstrual blood into an animal body.

This was misstated; it should be something like "it is through the material of the menstrual blood that the female provides the material cause, and it is through the instrumental cause of the semen that the male is the efficient cause". But the point is that everything is done by the semen and heat acting on the menstrual blood on the Aristotelian model, and our account of what is incomplete or complete has to take that into account.

Anonymous said...

This is because he believes that evolutionism is contrary to religion (a belief I share with him)

It depends what you mean by evolutionism. If by that you mean materialistic darwinism then I suppose they would contradictory to religion, namely Christianity.

If however, you mean that the idea of common descent for example (putting aside the darwinian nonsense and materialistic sophistry) is in some way contradictory to religion in general and Christianity in particular then absolutely not. There is no conflict there.

The only reason I would want to see Faser vs dawkins debate would be to see the latter humiliated. It would be nice to see the mindless GNUs whine about the failings of their idol. One must remember however, that dawkins is very much a laughing stock among many philosophical circles, including some atheistic ones, so inviting him to a debate would in some way give him credibility.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

This is off-topic but I would like to hear your opinion on one of Derrida's criticism (I remember you talking about his linguistic analysis and general literary theory a while back) of Plato.

One of the things he tries to do is inverse the essence/appearance distinction claiming that appearance is primary and then (according to the Stanford Encyclopedia) proceeds to reduce essence to being just in appearance. A quote from the Derrida entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy illustrates this:

So, in Platonism, essence is more valuable than appearance. In deconstruction however, we reverse this, making appearance more valuable than essence. How? Here we could resort to empiricist arguments (in Hume for example) that show that all knowledge of what we call essence depends on the experience of what appears. But then, this argumentation would imply that essence and appearance are not related to one another as separate oppositional poles. The argumentation in other words would show us that essence can be reduced down to a variation of appearances (involving the roles of memory and anticipation). The reduction is a reduction to what we can call “immanence,” which carries the sense of “within” or “in.” So, we would say that what we used to call essence is found in appearance, essence is mixed into appearance. Now, we can back track a bit in the history of Western metaphysics. On the basis of the reversal of the essence-appearance hierarchy and on the basis of the reduction to immanence, we can see that something like a decision (a perhaps impossible decision) must have been made at the beginning of the metaphysical tradition, a decision that instituted the hierarchy of essence-appearance and separated essence from appearance. This decision is what really defines Platonism or “metaphysics.”

What I get from this is that appearance is more fundamental than essence and essence is but one small part of essence. Isn't that problematic though?
I understand how the appearance of something can be part of its essence but how is it possible for an essence to be just part of appearance? Also it seems like he is treating the distinction are something arbitrary and tries to blur distinctions between sense experience and the operations of the intellect.

How do you think an Aristotelian or a Platonist should respond to this type of criticism?

I apologize if my questioning is confusing but I must admit, I am rather confused myself by Derrida's diatribe - which I'm trying to make sense of evidently.

Anonymous said...

I forgot the link...

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/derrida/

The discussion I am referring to is in the last 3-4 paragraphs of the page.

Eduardo said...

The crux is right there when the empiricist argument shows that essence and appearence are not oppositional, if the argument succeeds of course.

But I don't get it, why would essences be less valuable than appearences because I need appearences to identify essences???

Eduardo said...

Is jacques putting that appearences are like the Universe Group where essences are just one element of?

Or is he saying that appearences had to be the most fundamental layer of reality that humans can detect, due to the empiricist argument?

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

What I think he is trying to do is launch an assault on metaphysics and namely anything that can be considered universal/transcendental.

From my reading of the Stanford entry and some of his other work, it seems that he begins with an anti-essentialist doctrine (assumed not argued for) and then proceeds to force everything into immanent historicism.

The empiricism argument is not a very good one, since simply to say that because appearance is the first part of human experience (still living in Plato's cave) then that necessarily entails that it's more foundational than essence. That simply does not follow.

What he wants to do is to attack metaphysics as a whole and claim that it was simply an erroneous decision made by Plato to try and understand the essence of things instead of accepting the world of flux as all there is. Since appearance is the flux for him he needs to raise it above essence. So he says that it's only a part of appearance. Only then can he claim that thought about essence is a mistake.

I have a few arguments against this position but wanted to hear what Rank, yourself or any other interested party has to say first. It's no secret that a lot of Derrida's work is obscure, but I at least want to give him some benefit of the doubt.

George R. said...

Anon:
If however, you mean that the idea of common descent for example... is in some way contradictory to religion in general and Christianity in particular then absolutely not. There is no conflict there.

Oh, I absolutely agree with you, Anon. But I would even go further: not only is there no conflict between the idea of common descent and religion, but I would even go so far as to say that the former is, in fact, an inestimable boon to the latter. For who can be so blind as to deny that since the promulgation of this glorious doctrine of common descent we have entered into a veritable Age of Saints, where personal sanctity and moral probity have increased to hitherto unheard of proportions? And who among us has not witnessed how a young child upon being taught that he is descended from baboons is then immediately inflamed with such a love of God and all things holy that he has to be just about physically restrained from running off and joining a monastery?

Ah yes, how fortunate we are to be living in these blessed and enlightened times.

Eduardo said...

Anon

I see, so the crux is not on the argument but rather on his proposition that Plato had made a mistake while creating a metaphysics.

Well so his attack is some form of attack on interpretation of facts. That must be the heart of his proposition, that Plato have interpreted things wrongly. You see IF he was to use imperatives like over arching rules he would just be doing metaphysics too XD, so what he needs to do is say that Plato's inferencce is invalid while he pressuposing what he can experience is correct or most likely correct.

... something is afoot here! XD

Eduardo said...

George R.

That is Hilarious with a big H.

But George tell me, are the product of the past, or are you the product of is now?

If you are product of the past, how long into the past are you a product of?

Perhaps the problem IS METAPHYSICS, and not science or religion.

Jules said...

Its not that difficult to reply to that criticism of Plato.

You only have to put forward the argument that certain things we know are not reducible to the particular appearances. To use a stock example, every material triangle have a certain size, a certain color or is equilateral, isosceles, scalene, etc : but the essence of a triangle - triangularity - does not and we know some things about triangularity per se. So triangularity could not be reduced or identified with some 'appearence' of a particular triangle or the variation of various.

For more against it, just see the chapter against nominalism and for realism in TLS.

Eduardo said...

Errr top notch eh? XD

Anonymous said...

George,

Disparaging darwinian rhetoric in a sarcastic tone does nothing for you nor does it address my objection. You don't even have an argument it seems.

If you really think religion is at odds with common descent, then explain how and why that is the case.

Anonymous said...

Jules,

That's one of the arguments I had in mind, but it seems to me that Derrida is not just content to be an anti-essentialist but is also in the business of discrediting logic, reason, metaphysics and so on by an attempt to treat all of it as some form of language game.

Maybe I'm looking for a reductio as a response to Derrida, not just an illustration of the intelligibility and reality of universals. That and a criticism of his genealogical method, since he relies heavily on history.

Anonymous said...

I suppose he'll go the route of saying that it (evolution in general) is metaphysically absurd.

But give credit where credit is due, anon. George writes a lot of hilariously cranky stuff on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

Exactly. The problem is though that he eschews truth/falsity dichotomies so he usually tries to not make such proclamatory statements. He instead tries to deconstruct other people’s work by identifying and overarching theme and in a way uses it as a universal solvent to attack.

My specific issue here is in relation to subsuming essence under appearance by treating essence as a misappropriation of appearance. To me however, it’s glaringly obvious that appearance is but a manifestation of essence. I really want to take him seriously, which is why I am asking these questions. At least I am making an effort to understand what he is trying to say.

Glenn said...

People can be funny. They’ll scratch their heads and wonder, “How can the appearance be more fundamental than the essence?” And then trip over things like sarcasm, crankiness and arguments implied rather than explicitly stated.

Anonymous said...

Glenn,

No one tripped over the sarcasm (which I identified) or the crankiness (boring) or the alleged implied as you like to call it "argument of George.

The argument simply isn't there. Attacking the ideals of progress or the illusions of utopian immanence (as per the Enlightenment narrative) do not constitute and argument in favor of the thesis that common descent contradicts religion. Of course, George needs to tell us which religion that would contradict and which specific aspect of said religion it contradicts if it is to be meaningful.

If you think you have a good argument to present on his behalf to support his thesis by all means do so. But let us not degrade the discussion into gimmicks and one-liners.

PS. You are also more than welcome to comment on my Derridian aporia if you want. I certainly would like to hear as many perspectives as possible... It is after all an issue of hermeneutics.

Anonymous said...

Since George is a bit coy I will help him by explicating what little one can derive from his ramblings, namely that common descent is at least a hinderance to having good ethics. Or perhaps a more radical claim that the doctrine of common descent will necessarily lead to immorality.

Do you consider this a good argument then, Glenn? Would you defend it?

Eduardo said...

Anon

just in case you are in all 12 cilinders against George, it is good remember that George is religious and he is against Darwinism. The argument was straight up sarcasm because in a sense he is saying: "How come, knowing that we come from a baboon enhance anyone's religious side???"

The tendency is to feel that well... nihilism XD, after listening to the theory of evolution.

BUT, I think the problem is that we believe that whatever caused us or part of us to be what we are today defines us. But is it really so? Are we nothing more but a product of the past???

It seems that we have no trust in what WE are, but rather are more interested in what our infered rules tell us.

I feel like we ask the rocks: "Just what AM I?" XD

Eduardo said...

Anon

About Derrida, I kind of noticed something like that when they talked about Derrida before, but the thing is, what is the method that Derrida uses to de-construct other people's ideas???

Unless he found a way to create methods on the spot or to go around methodological approach...

My brain is bleeding from trying to avoid rules to infer anything XD.

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

"How come, knowing that we come from a baboon enhance anyone's religious side???"

It neither enhances nor hinders. Sure you can create some argument, much in the style of dawkins, who claims knowing about common descent would compel us to be more responsible towards animals since they are after al our "cousins" as he calls it. Therefore conclude that it would make us better patrons of the Earth. I never made that argument though nor is it pertinent to my objection.

The tendency is to feel that well... nihilism

That I can relate to, since I did feel that nihilism myself to some degree, but that was only because I took evolution to mean materialistic darwinism and because I simply don't know better at the time.

The problem is that once you allow the materialists to use darwinism as the gateway to proclaiming their faith, you've already lost. If you reject the philosophical babble and treat the aspects of the theory of evolution that are at least plausible then I don't really see nihilism at all.


BUT, I think the problem is that we believe that whatever caused us or part of us to be what we are today defines us. But is it really so? Are we nothing more but a product of the past???

I do not believe we are just a product of the past, nor do I like to treat humans as products.

As far as what caused us is concerned, then I really don't see what problem is. What problem would one see in being created by God in a day (if you want to follow Biblical literalism) over several billion years.

Does the fact that we may have a common ancestor with chimps make you feel any lesser about who you are or how you appreciate your life? It certainly has no effect for me. Either way, I'm happy grateful!

Eduardo said...

Anon

But see that is what George is trying to show you, that evolution is in a sense against religious beliefs.

About the nihilism of evolution, YEAH I agree to all that you spoke.

Personally to me, nah. It was the random(shit happens) way that people teach darwinism that always went bad under my radar XD.
But is just like I said at the end of my comment, we do tend to ask rocks what are we. You may feel glad to be here, because it is self-evident in a certain way, but some people don't think that, some people just think of the rules that we can infer from our experience as the Ultimate truth, and they tend to use then to analyse what they are.
Basically saying, I am agreeing to what you are saying but I want to restate what I think is the way most of us do things XD.

George R. said...

Anon:
"If you really think religion is at odds with common descent, then explain how and why that is the case."

I think you're onto me, anon. You've figured it out -- I don't have a leg to stand on. I might as well come clean.

Obviously common descent is not at odds with any religion whatsoever -- except, of course, for a few screwball, whack-job religions that still believe that God, you know, actually created things like animals and people. (I know, it's really hard to believe that there are still Kooks like that out there.) On the other hand, common descent is not at all at odds with any of the advanced, enlightened religions of today, such as Buddhism, New-Ageism, Scientology, and Vatican-II Catholicism.

But obviously the real reason why I'm opposed to common descent is just that I hate science. I admit it. It's all about hate. In fact, truth be known, I hate all knowledge in general. The idea that somebody out there somewhere may actually be learning something makes me purple with rage. I think all science books should be burned. I think everyone who scored higher than 1200 on their SATs should be put in a concentration camp. What other reason could I have for being against evolution? After all, evolution is obviously true. It's an observed fact. There's so much evidence for evolution it's ridiculous. I can't think of any off hand, but, believe me, there's plenty of it. Go ask Jerry Coyne. He'll tell you.

Eduardo said...

Hey George calm down.

Asking someone ta have any kind of relation with Jerry Coyne is like asking to do a contract with the devil XD.

I can see that soon this will turn into a debate about the hermeneutics of Genesis XD.


Anonymous said...

George R. why did God create human beings with bad breath (with no toothpaste), anuses (with no toilet paper), maladjusted eyes (with no optometrists), prone to severe genetic diseases, etc.? Why would he create people in such a way?

The theory of evolution makes more sense here.

Eduardo said...

Can't believe I will say that... but damn I know what the creationists say so I rather just go ahead and say it.

Two words: The Fall.

u_u hey don't give that look.

Anonymous said...

George,

When you're done talking nonsense let us know. If you are interested in engaging thoughtfully then state your argument so we can discuss it.


I don't understand why you're getting so defensive and sarcastic. You need to relax a bit.


PS. The maladjusted-evolution anon is not me.

Eduardo said...

Get names folks... damn it.

USE PROXIES if you people are concerned about safety.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

In efficient-material causation, it is the matter that limits the efficient cause. If there was no limitation, then efficient causes would produce things identical to themselves in cases of univocal causation. Hence, it cannot merely be femininity that is a defect of matter. You're correct that privation allows efficient causes to "cause" defects (I'd forgotten this point), but it remains impossible that the matter could provide a perfection that was not first present in the efficient cause, since matter is potency and thus passive. The material cause of reproduction must then be a passive, limiting principle that contains no perfection that was not first present virtually within the efficient cause.

You argue that, according to modern science, it is no longer the case that sperm is the active and the ovum the passive principle. But this obviously can't be true. The ovum can't act on its own: it has to be actualized. This means that the ovum must be the passive, limiting cause on which the sperm acts. Because all perfections exist in the efficient cause virtually, we are led to one of two equally absurd conclusions. First, we could say that the sperm contains the whole resulting individual virtually, which can't be true, because all children are composites of their parents. Second, and more repugnant, we would be forced to say that the traits given by the ovum are in fact inferior to the traits of the sperm, given that they are parts of the material half of generation that by its nature can only limit and impede the full actualization of an efficient cause. The traits given by the mother would be fundamentally inferior to those of the father.

So, you've corrected my mistake regarding the Second Way, but it's not clear that there's any non-ludicrous way to resolve the problem of efficient-material causation in the case of reproduction.

Anon who asked about Derrida,

I have never read Derrida's account of Plato's forms. I'll check it out and get back to you--but, from the sound of it, he's indulging an old nominalist trick.

seanrobsville said...

"I hate all knowledge in general. The idea that somebody out there somewhere may actually be learning something makes me purple with rage. I think all science books should be burned. I think everyone who scored higher than 1200 on their SATs should be put in a concentration camp. What other reason could I have for being against evolution? After all, evolution is obviously true. It's an observed fact. There's so much evidence for evolution it's ridiculous."

George, I've got just the place for you. It's called Imperial College London

rank sophist said...

Anon,

From my reading of the Stanford entry and some of his other work, it seems that he begins with an anti-essentialist doctrine (assumed not argued for) and then proceeds to force everything into immanent historicism.

This is an excellent summary of Derrida. I'm not sure I've ever read a better one. In any case, let me respond to the argument of his that you posted.

In deconstruction however, we reverse this, making appearance more valuable than essence.

This begs the question, for complex reasons. In order for deconstruction to be taken seriously, we must first accept Derrida's epistemological system that I've taken to calling "semiotic representationalism". It's what allows his deconstruction/historicism to get off the ground. (The details of semiotic representationalism are too complex to delve into tonight, so let's ignore that for now.) Suffice it to say that semiotic representationalism rests on the truth of two further theories: representationalism and Derrida's brand of semiotics. Both of these are, in turn, built on a nominalistic worldview and both presuppose the falsehood of essentialism. For Derrida to pull the destructionistic stunt of reversing the "hierarchy" between essence and appearance, he must first argue for nominalism against essentialism, representationalism against direct realism and semiotics (as he interprets that system) against intentionality. Only once he has proven essentialism false will he be able to deconstruct it, since to do otherwise would presuppose a large number of ideas without argument. Unfortunately, once he's disproven essentialism, he has no need to deconstruct it. So, this initial reversal is both fallacious and unnecessary.

Here we could resort to empiricist arguments (in Hume for example) that show that all knowledge of what we call essence depends on the experience of what appears. But then, this argumentation would imply that essence and appearance are not related to one another as separate oppositional poles. The argumentation in other words would show us that essence can be reduced down to a variation of appearances (involving the roles of memory and anticipation).

This relies on the truth of Hume's imagism, which Wittgenstein tore apart with his famous argument about the man on the hill. In essence, Wittgenstein showed that intentionality (final causality, basically) is always already within any image, and that it is impossible for an image without intentionality to have determinate content. Derrida sort of accepts a skeptical solution to Wittgenstein's argument: he bites the bullet on the issue of indeterminate content in images, which becomes the core of his semiotic theory. He tries to save the day with the historicist claim that all meaning is historical (invented, relative) rather than intentional. Unfortunately, this means that Derrida's own claims are also historical, which makes him the proverbial relativist who proclaims the truth of relativism. Unless you presuppose the objective, indisputable truth of semiotic representationalism (as he does), then everything Derrida says is self-refuting. At bottom, Derrida's whole body of work rests on a begged question and is therefore utterly circular.

rank sophist said...

On the basis of the reversal of the essence-appearance hierarchy and on the basis of the reduction to immanence, we can see that something like a decision (a perhaps impossible decision) must have been made at the beginning of the metaphysical tradition, a decision that instituted the hierarchy of essence-appearance and separated essence from appearance.

This is deconstruction at its laziest: a kind of free-associative pop history. After making his unwarranted reversal in an imagined hierarchy, Derrida travels back to the beginning of Western philosophy to hermeneutically "locate" his conclusion in the work of thinkers in ancient Greece. As far as I can tell, he offers nothing but his own opinion on this matter--no actual history. If one presupposes the truth of deconstruction, of course, then this relativistic move is not only allowable but necessary. The problem is that deconstruction isn't true, either. So we can ignore this part. Ignore the whole argument, in fact, because it's all tripe. Derrida is highly entertaining but extremely low on substance--the cotton candy of philosophers. Just make sure not to indulge too often or he'll rot your brain.

Anonymous said...

Hi Prof. Feser,

I live near Oxford and would like to attend the seminar, however, not sure if I'm qualified... I've read your TLS and Aquinas, would that be suitable preparation. Also, not sure if the seminar is open to the general public or only students, but I'll check with them.
Thanks for posting this, I'm a big fan of your work!

Glenn said...

If you think you have a good argument to present on his behalf to support his thesis by all means do so. But let us not degrade the discussion into gimmicks and one-liners.

Now you're tripping over succinctness and conciseness.

(Had I wanted to indulge in gimmicks or one-liners, I likely would have quoted Konrad Lorenz: "Man appears to be the missing link between anthropoid apes and human beings." (And if I did that, no doubt I also would have left unstated how personal sanctity and moral probity, e.g., might be (part of) the missing link between man and human beings.))

George R. stated that, "[Dawkins] believes that evolutionism is contrary to religion (a belief I share with him)[.]"

Part of your response included, "If however, you mean that the idea of common descent for example... is in some way contradictory to religion in general and Christianity in particular then absolutely not. There is no conflict there."

For some background as to why George R. might be inclined to think that there is, I suggest reading Is Richard Dawkins a bully?

Excerpt: "Simply put, Dawkins' book [The God Delusion] is a prolonged argument against religious belief. It promotes a scientific worldview as contrary to religious beliefs and argues that maintaining such beliefs in the face of the dominance of this worldview is nothing less than irrational."

If the book does indeed promote a "scientific worldview as contrary to religion", and if 'common descent' and 'evolutionism' are (part of) that promoted scientific worldview, then it would seem reasonable to hold that there is a basis for George R.'s assertion which may be taken as being sound.

Eduardo said...

Glenn

Is Richard Dawkins just making a social argument???

You know, the people with most value in oour society believe A, B and C so it is irrational to choose otherwise.

Or, Perceiving the world in X way is the rational way or the more rational way to perceive the world.

Eduardo said...

Alright so exactly what you people think is a rational position???

What produces a rational position?

What is the chracteristic of a rational position?

What is the method based on reason?

You know let's define it the best we can, just for the heck of it.

BTW, Dawkins is a determinist so he obviously had no choice but to delude himself into believing that we have anyway to choose to be rational but we can't XD, in his worldview anyways.

*I find this quite funny, because it makes anybody that is militant and determist automatically an idiot. How come I will be militant about something if I believe people can't change their minds about anything? It seems that we do it out of blind faith that argument MAY change people, but this ain't much different from mowst practices Dawkins condenms XD... In determinism the militant is a superstitious idiot!!!*

Anonymous said...

Glenn,

Now you're tripping over succinctness and conciseness.

Yet another facile, gimmicky one-liner. Irony. Wonderful.

For some background as to why George R. might be inclined to think that there is, I suggest reading Is Richard Dawkins a bully?

Excerpt:

"Simply put, Dawkins' book [The God Delusion] is a prolonged argument against religious belief. It promotes a scientific worldview as contrary to religious beliefs and argues that maintaining such beliefs in the face of the dominance of this worldview is nothing less than irrational."


This is precisely what I am contesting though. This ridiculous view that science is in conflict with religion.

My response is simple:

“Men who know very little of science and men who know very little of religion do indeed get into quarreling, and the onlookers imagine that there is a conflict between science and religion, whereas the conflict is only between two different species of ignorance."

-Robert Millikan

Why are you encouraging this type of ignorance? I am not required nor compelled to accept dawkins’ dogmatic rhetoric, simply because it’s false.

Are we to forgo critical thinking and the rejection of false dichotomies and take this angry atheist at his word?

Appealing to the wrongheaded culture wars of creationism vs evolutionism does not demonstrate a fundamental contradiction between common descent and religion (still waiting for an identification of the specific aspect of religion it contradicts). All that does is allow rhetoric to supersede reason (Hello, Mr. Derrida and the rest of the post-structuralist armada).

So simply put, your response not withstanding, it is quite clear that there is no real argument here.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Thanks for the analysis!

Derrida's epistemological system that I've taken to calling "semiotic representationalism".

I know about representationalism as a theory of perception/mind but I am not very well acquainted with Derrida’s brand of semiotics. Is it the idea that words obtain their meaning simply based on the difference with other words? Since they are devoid of intentionality then whatever it is they mean is based on other words, which eventually leads to an infinite regress. Is this pretty much it in a nutshell or am I missing something?

The thing that got me thinking about this reversal is that he consequently treats appearance not merely as such but also as some “origin” or “resource” out of which the essences are “cut out” giving it some sort of historical essence (as opposed to metaphysical). Here is the pertinent paragraph from the Stanford entry:

After the redefinition of the previously inferior term, Derrida usually changes the term's orthography, for example, writing “différence” with an “a” as “différance” in order to indicate the change in its status. Différance (which is found in appearances when we recognize their temporal nature) then refers to the undecidable resource into which “metaphysics” “cut” in order to makes its decision. In “Positions,” Derrida calls names like “différance” “old names” or “paleonyms,” and there he also provides a list of these “old terms”: “pharmakon”; “supplement”; “hymen”; “gram”; “spacing”; and “incision” (Positions, p. 43). These names are old because, like the word “appearance” or the word “difference,” they have been used for centuries in the history of Western philosophy to refer to the inferior position in hierarchies. But now, they are being used to refer to the resource that has never had a name in “metaphysics”; they are being used to refer to the resource that is indeed “older” than the metaphysical decision.

So it’s not just an inverse but rather the projection of appearance and the world of flux into some form of transcendental history (if I were to be a little creative with my terminology). Would you agree with this? Notice as well, that diferrAnce, his neologism is not that well defined and he claims is “neither a word or an idea”. He also denies any attempt to say what it is.

Glenn said...

Why are you encouraging this type of ignorance? I am not required nor compelled to accept dawkins' dogmatic rhetoric...

No one suggested that you are so required or compelled. And I haven't suggested that you should accept George R.'s position. You were wondering, or seemed to be, where he was coming from. I provided a little background which might to explain that. Yet you call this an encouragement of ignorance. Irony indeed.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

This relies on the truth of Hume's imagism, which Wittgenstein tore apart with his famous argument about the man on the hill. In essence, Wittgenstein showed that intentionality (final causality, basically) is always already within any image, and that it is impossible for an image without intentionality to have determinate content.

I must say I am not familiar with Wittgenstein’s argument. I have to read it.


This is deconstruction at its laziest: a kind of free-associative pop history. After making his unwarranted reversal in an imagined hierarchy, Derrida travels back to the beginning of Western philosophy to hermeneutically "locate" his conclusion in the work of thinkers in ancient Greece.

So basically, Derrida is doing the exact same thing about language (and essences), as nietzsche did with morality in Genealogy of Morals?

. Derrida is highly entertaining but extremely low on substance--the cotton candy of philosophers. Just make sure not to indulge too often or he'll rot your brain.

He does sound a bit off the wall and some of the things he claims are a bit incoherent but I just wanted to at least try to take him seriously before dismissing him.

One final question. By proposing his own view of hermeneutics, anti-essentialism and literary criticism, isn’t Derrida still guilty of creating a binary dichotomy with his view being a correct and the others’ being false? Is he not guilty of the very thing he seems to criticize in Plato and the tradition of metaphysics? These type of logical distinctions?

Glenn said...

...which might [help] to explain that.

Anonymous said...

No one suggested that you are so required or compelled. And I haven't suggested that you should accept George R.'s position. You were wondering, or seemed to be, where he was coming from. I provided a little background which might to explain that. Yet you call this an encouragement of ignorance. Irony indeed.


No, I was asking for an argument, which has not been forthcoming. I am well aware of the culture wars but thanks anyway.

Appealing to the ridiculous rhetoric of dawkins is not an argument. Accepting and/or appealing to such ignorant understandings of the relationship between science and religion, is an act of encouraging ignorance. Sorry.

This is the very attitude that serves to empower these types (coyne, dawkins, dennett, etc) in continuing their cultural crusade hiding behind empty "memes" that science is somehow at war with religion.

To be honest, I don't think this is going anywhere so let's just drop it.

Brandon said...

rank sophist,

It's entirely true that, all other things being equal, limitations whose ultimate source is intrinsic to the change itself derive from the material cause. It is also true, however, that in the ordinary course of events on the Aristotelian model, the only incompleteness due to the menstrual blood as such is incompleteness in the process of becoming a complete male, because it is the only incompleteness that is guaranteed by higher causes and thus is not a defect simply, but only relative to the semen's activity. Every other one can only be explained on a case-by-case basis, because they can be do to anything that contributes anything to the change.

Much more importantly, though, we need to keep in mind that the process occurs by instrumental causation: the semen and the menstrual blood are instrumental causes. Thus, although there can in some sense only be one material cause of the change as such (which is different from saying that material cause is only one thing), there are actually many material causes involved in the thing. The male could fail in some way as generator because of his own matter; the semen could fail in some way as instrument because of its own matter; and the same on the female side. Since the entire process is a material process composed of several different changes, defects can arise anywhere along the board.

On modern biology, it's true that the egg needs to be actualized, but only in the sense that everything in the process does, given that (1) it all takes place in material body and (2) it is all done by instrumental causation. If we were to put the discoveries of modern biology in the same terms as the Aristotelian model, we would have to say that modern biology has discovered that it is the egg, not the sperm, that is the primary instrument of generation, and therefore the female is primary agent in generation. In other words, it is the egg, not the sperm, that does what the Aristotelian model attributed to the semen. The sperm's basic functions are to get to the egg and provide material; it's still possible it might have some active role beyond that, but if so my understanding is that it's at present unclear exactly what it would be. The active instrument is the egg; the sperm provides the passive instrument (although, of course, it has to be active in motility to get to the egg).

Thus, when you say, "The ovum can't act on its own: it has to be actualized. This means that the ovum must be the passive, limiting cause on which the sperm acts," it is precisely here that you are going wrong, because you are forgetting to take into account instrumental causation. Instruments need to be actualized, but it does not follow from this that they are passive, limiting causes. The ovum must be actualized as an instrument; but as it happens it is an active instrument, indeed, easily the most important active instrument, not (as the menstrual blood was in the Aristotelian model) a passive instrument. Further, you are forgetting that the sperm is an instrument, too, and it also has to be actualized. In the Aristotelian model it received this actualization directly from the male in terms of an intrinsic active force for generation. If we start from scratch with Aristotelian materials, rather than starting with the Aristotelian model of reproduction itself, it is an open question whether the sperm or egg or both cooperating is the active instrument of generation. What we've discovered is that the instrument that clearly exercises the active role is the egg (and that it also provides most of the material, since the egg also provides the scene, so to speak, for the change). It's not even clear how much of an active role, if any, the sperm has in the process, and thus it is certainly the more plausible candidate for passive instrument. If anything, the egg actualizes the sperm. But even this might oversimplify the process.

Glenn said...

No, I was asking for an argument, which has not been forthcoming. I am well aware of the culture wars but thanks anyway.

If Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, then we all share in a kind of 'common descent' anyway. The point is that the problem isn't with the 'per se'-ness of 'common descent', but with all the things that tend to hitch along for the ride in its propagation. Sort of like the so-called marine fouling problem--the objections involved here are not with ships per se coming into port, but with the seemingly inevitable disruptive hitchhikers.

Daniel Smith said...

Anon: No, I was asking for an argument, which has not been forthcoming. I am well aware of the culture wars but thanks anyway.

It's interesting to me that one of the parallel discussions in this combox actually supplies the argument you're looking for.

The conflict - as I see it - between evolution and religion occurs when one tries to shoehorn current scientific knowledge into a religious doctrine or a metaphysical philosophy.

The discussion about Aquinas' views on reproduction (where he shoehorned the 'modern' (for his day) scientific theory - that semen, menstrual blood and heat make babies - into an argument for efficient and material causation) illustrates the problem succinctly.

Scientific knowledge is always tentative and is, as such, the most unreliable knowledge there is. It is a mistake, therefore, to attempt to mold any metaphysical or religious system to a current (tentative) scientific theory. We may, for instance, find some evidence tomorrow that totally wipes out the theory of common descent. All the people who made doctrinal or metaphysical compromises in deference to science would then (rightly) seem foolish.

Aquinas also held doctrinal and philosophical positions about life and creation based on the 'modern science' of spontaneous regeneration. He was wrong.

Better to stick with what we know.

That's my take on George R.'s argument.

Anonymous said...

Daniel and Glenn,

The point is that the problem isn't with the 'per se'-ness of 'common descent', but with all the things that tend to hitch along for the ride in its propagation

Exactly. Hold on to that thought for a second...

The conflict - as I see it - between evolution and religion occurs when one tries to shoehorn current scientific knowledge into a religious doctrine or a metaphysical philosophy.

Which is why I made the distinction in my original post. Here it is:

It depends what you mean by evolutionism. If by that you mean materialistic darwinism then I suppose they would contradictory to religion, namely Christianity.

So it's really only a problem when additional metaphysical beliefs are brought in or when one tries to create a metaphysical system based on a provisional scientific theory. In it and of itself, common descent for example is not the problem.

I agree with the rest of your post except for the fact that science is the most unreliable. You need a lot of qualifiers before stating that and in terms of prediction and control of physical things science is actually pretty accurate in its application but not always.

Eduardo said...

I think he meant, scientific knowledge is always up for grab, so it is inevitably very unreliable as "certain" knowledge.

But I think it doesn't have to be necessarily so XD.

Daniel Smith said...

Anon: I agree with the rest of your post except for the fact that science is the most unreliable.

Science is often viewed as authoritative and scientific knowledge as supreme. The problem with that is not so much with the method as it is with the data. Of all the empirical facts that can be known about the universe or even just the world we live in, mankind knows but a minuscule fraction.

Take, for example, the most studied species on the planet - homo sapiens. In spite of study dating back to prehistoric times, we are still barely even scratching the surface of all there is to know about the human body. Would you trust a doctor who only had 50 year old medical books on his shelf? 50 years from now, people will marvel at how limited our knowledge is today!

Sure science is good at engineering and the stuff WE make. But when it comes to understanding God's creations, science is largely in uncharted territory.

Anonymous said...

Science is often viewed as authoritative and scientific knowledge as supreme. The problem with that is not so much with the method as it is with the data. Of all the empirical facts that can be known about the universe or even just the world we live in, mankind knows but a minuscule fraction.

If you put it like that then I suppose our difference is merely terminological. The notion that scientific knowledge is supreme is what I call scientism, which is a self-refuting belief. It is a form of neuroticism if you want my honest opinion.

I am careful to make the distinction between science and scientism for that very reason. Science is but one of many ways of knowing about the physical world. That's all it is.

I completely agree that we only know a minuscule amount about the world. I also believe that with new discoveries arise new questions. The most glaring discovery to bring this about in our century is quantum theory. I neither see an end to this process nor do I think science will ever exhaust reality. I maintain that science is just a way of modeling things (and there can be contradictory/different modelings of phenomena within science itself without each one having an empirical advantage over the other).

Simply put, in my opinion, science is in the business of constructing models to describe relationships between various phenomena. Those models can be used for prediction, control and creation of artifacts (namely technology). Beyond that, science if it is to be relevant to humans must be grounded in a metaphysic that exists beyond the limited scope of science itself, so it essentially requires Philosophy to hold its hand as it travels through the alleys of society.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

It's entirely true that, all other things being equal, limitations whose ultimate source is intrinsic to the change itself derive from the material cause. It is also true, however, that in the ordinary course of events on the Aristotelian model, the only incompleteness due to the menstrual blood as such is incompleteness in the process of becoming a complete male, because it is the only incompleteness that is guaranteed by higher causes and thus is not a defect simply, but only relative to the semen's activity.

But if that's the case, then, if the change is not interrupted by any outside factors, it seems impossible for a female child to be born. If it was not for some external force causing a defect that led to a female child, then a male child should follow every time. That places female children on the level of other birth defects. You can't say that only one defect and no others have their source in the change itself. Either external factors determine all defects, or defects other than femininity can result from an uninterrupted change. It's impossible that all defects aside from femininity are external, and that, without any outside interruptions, only this one defect would still occur. If that was the case, then we would have to say that femininity was not a defect at all, but rather one of two contingent final causes within the efficient cause itself.

Since the entire process is a material process composed of several different changes, defects can arise anywhere along the board.

True enough. But then why does Aquinas consistently label femininity as a defect of the matter rather than as a privation of the efficient cause? If the menstrual blood is trying to "corrupt" the child into a female, then it seems that the menstrual blood is not a passive force but an efficient cause acting on matter. Matter tends toward corruption, but it doesn't imprint its own image on things. That's an efficient cause's job. The menstrual blood cannot be acting on the semen to create a female child--it can only degrade. So it's not particularly clear why Aquinas places the "fault" of femininity at the feet of the material cause rather than the efficient cause. That's on top of the issues I raised above regarding the coherence of blaming only one problem on the menstrual blood.

On modern biology, it's true that the egg needs to be actualized, but only in the sense that everything in the process does, given that (1) it all takes place in material body and (2) it is all done by instrumental causation. If we were to put the discoveries of modern biology in the same terms as the Aristotelian model, we would have to say that modern biology has discovered that it is the egg, not the sperm, that is the primary instrument of generation, and therefore the female is primary agent in generation.

The sperm is the act that causes the ovum (potency) to change, creating the substance of a zygote. The sperm is the efficient cause and the ovum the material. In what way is the ovum the "primary instrument", here? I honestly do not see how there's a metaphysical difference between the old science and the new.

rank sophist said...

In other words, it is the egg, not the sperm, that does what the Aristotelian model attributed to the semen. The sperm's basic functions are to get to the egg and provide material; it's still possible it might have some active role beyond that, but if so my understanding is that it's at present unclear exactly what it would be. The active instrument is the egg; the sperm provides the passive instrument (although, of course, it has to be active in motility to get to the egg).

Does the ovum act on the sperm at the moment of conception? No. Does it actively seek out and fuse with sperm? No. The sperm acts on the ovum. The sperm seeks out the ovum. The sperm is therefore the efficient cause.

Instruments need to be actualized, but it does not follow from this that they are passive, limiting causes. The ovum must be actualized as an instrument; but as it happens it is an active instrument, indeed, easily the most important active instrument, not (as the menstrual blood was in the Aristotelian model) a passive instrument.

The ovum does nothing after conception, because both the ovum and the sperm cease to exist. The zygote is the only thing that remains. Now, you are correct that the woman's body then efficiently aids the zygote in development, which perhaps undermines the metaphysics of the earlier model that relied on a "vital spirit" or whatever. It still does not solve the problem that I raised, though, which is that the traits received from the ovum would all necessarily be inferior to the traits received from the sperm. When one considers that traits such as bodily strength and intelligence can be received from the ovum without previously existing in the sperm, this is a blatant contradiction.

rank sophist said...

There's another point I'd like to mention. As this article on First Things summarizes:

"God desires that women be part of the universe, and He orders nature in such a way as to insure that they are produced."

This is indeed what Aquinas said, at least as I've understood it while reading his works. But it's another contradiction. If God really intended women, then they would be virtually within the efficient cause. God does not act through material causes, although he does create them (and prime matter). For Aquinas to hold both positions, he would have to accept one of three absurd conclusions:

1. God acts through material causes and thus through potency. This is impossible.
2. God directly wills female children, meaning that every female child is a miracle rather than a natural event. This is fails the test of common sense.
3. God intends corruption, which means that imperfection and even death are his doing. This fails the test of Ivan Karamazov.

All three are completely unacceptable and even theologically ruinous.

Papalinton said...

Daniel
"Scientific knowledge is always tentative and is, as such, the most unreliable knowledge there is.


This is spurious and egregious. It is not good practice to lower the bar of science simply to make theology/philosophy look good.

I am happy that you are not needing a heart by-pass operation as of this moment. Judging by your statement you would indeed be in an existential quandary right now deciding which course of remediating action to take; the laying on of hands and prayer or a by-pass operation.

Please don't share your ignorance with such blithe disregard for the truth.

Eduardo said...

"Please don't share your ignorance with such blithe disregard for the truth."

Follow your advice Paps and get lost.

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

Oh yeah, Daniel explained why he said that and IF you read it, everything becomes pretty clear why the use of the word. But Paps didn't replied to that because.... yeah you know being a completely worthless idiot is way more fun!

Oh yeah, don't forget that this behavior is throughly guided by his atheism, or as he said once it is informed by his atheism ... if what he said is true, Paps atheism sucks.

Anonymous said...

This is spurious and egregious.

Stop using words you don't even know the meaning of.

Judging by your statement you would indeed be in an existential quandary right now

Only a moron would misunderstand what Daniel has said to such a degree. Or the intentionally dishonest anyway.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

I know about representationalism as a theory of perception/mind but I am not very well acquainted with Derrida’s brand of semiotics. Is it the idea that words obtain their meaning simply based on the difference with other words? Since they are devoid of intentionality then whatever it is they mean is based on other words, which eventually leads to an infinite regress. Is this pretty much it in a nutshell or am I missing something?

You're pretty accurate, there. However, it goes far deeper than just language. Like the structuralists, Derrida sees all representation as collections of semiotic signifiers and signifieds ("this means that"). The difference is that, unlike the structuralists, Derrida realized that no definite meaning could exist in this system. Even the signifieds are revealed as signifiers, which signify other signifiers ("that means that means that means that means that"). Great as criticism of semiotics; lousy as the foundation for a philosophical worldview. Derrida accepted all of these conclusions (despite losing, in the process, the ability to argue for the truth of semiotics) and reduced meaning to his combination of hermeneutics and historicism. A signifier is nothing but its own history, which in turn is rooted in what he calls "history itself" or "arche-writing"--the conditions that he asserts all signifiers must meet in order to exist in history.

So it’s not just an inverse but rather the projection of appearance and the world of flux into some form of transcendental history (if I were to be a little creative with my terminology). Would you agree with this? Notice as well, that diferrAnce, his neologism is not that well defined and he claims is “neither a word or an idea”. He also denies any attempt to say what it is.

It's not entirely accurate. I believe that when Derrida refers to "appearance" as differance, he means "appearance" in the sense of "this entity appears to this other entity, which observes it". In that way, it's just another guise of the infinite regress of signifiers, because, under Derrida's Kantian representationalist philosophy, perception is always necessarily an event of "this means that".

As for the definition of "differance", it's true that it's the resource that metaphysics uses, but it's nothing more than the absence that "exists" between the cracks of writing. It's basically one of his millions of synonyms for "arche-writing": it's history itself, in his view. Here's something he says in Of Grammatology:

"[A]rche-writing, movement of differance, irreducible arche-synthesis, opening in one and the same possibility, temporalization as well as relationship with the other and language, cannot, as the condition of all linguistic systems, form a part of the linguistic system itself and be situated as an object in its field. (Which does not mean it has a real field elsewhere, another assignable site.)"

rank sophist said...

On the same page, he mentions "the necessity of the communication between the concept of arche-writing and the vulgar concept of writing submitted to deconstruction by it." That, in essence, is what differance is all about. It's the condition into which all history falls but which cannot be known to us because, as the condition, it must be exempt from its own rules. It's the "non-origin" of all meaning, being, knowledge, truth and so forth. Tracing and freeing up its movements is the work of deconstruction.

Derrida's arguments are actually very good if you accept their necessary preconditions of semiotics and representationalism. They only fall apart when you point out that he cannot, from his own system, offer arguments for the truth of either of these viewpoints. Basically, semiotics and representationlism are the conditions that Derrida's "history itself" always already falls into, just as historical objects always already fall into the conditions of history.

I must say I am not familiar with Wittgenstein’s argument. I have to read it.

Wittgenstein's argument appears in Philosophical Investigations. A very good analysis of it was published in Philosophy Now, which you may be able to access here: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&ved=0CEIQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fphilosophynow.org%2Fissues%2F83%2FHumes_Image_Problem&ei=X5_qUL7NDoWz0QHY0YDICg&usg=AFQjCNHcJWHm-URpiTnETn9L-k21g2rvtg&bvm=bv.1355534169,d.dmQ. (Direct links are blocked by a paywall, but the Google link works for me.)

The core of it is that representation, of itself, is always ambiguous. The only coherent answer is that representations gain their meaning from intentionality in some way. However, Derrida reduced intentionality to the status of a byproduct of pre-intentional arche-writing. The absolute best piece on Derrida's view of intentionality that I've read is the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard's "Predication as Originary Violence", which is available here: http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=51.

So basically, Derrida is doing the exact same thing about language (and essences), as nietzsche did with morality in Genealogy of Morals?

I haven't had a chance to read it, but I'd guess that the answer is in the affirmative.

One final question. By proposing his own view of hermeneutics, anti-essentialism and literary criticism, isn’t Derrida still guilty of creating a binary dichotomy with his view being a correct and the others’ being false? Is he not guilty of the very thing he seems to criticize in Plato and the tradition of metaphysics? These type of logical distinctions?

Yes. Derrida acknowledges this himself, and he claims that it's impossible to escape metaphysics entirely. What he does instead is "write under erasure"--the practice that he summarizes as writing and then crossing out, but then leaving the result for all to see. Essentially, he writes but acknowledges that his words are failures for this or that reason (use of binary oppositions, etc.). I believe that he stole this practice from the apophatic theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, who used it in a much better and more coherent way.

Charles said...

Rank and Brandon,

When talking about generation, Thomas accepts the principle that the agent intends to introduce its likeness in the patient. Therefore, when a female is produced, it is contrary to the intention of the agent, though not contrary to the intention of nature as a more universal principle. Modern biology, however, recognizes that the sperm determines the sex of the child to be born - so it seems the principle is confirmed without the need to appeal to a more universal cause. Also, the active/passive distinction is pretty tricky. If you can read the Latin, you'll find Cajetan's commentary on ST III.104- the article about whether the blessed virgin did anything active in the conception of Jesus- rather helpful. He points out that a) the generative power in both the male and the female is essentially active, but that b) in any motion there must be an agent and a patient. So it is only with respect to the moment of conception itself that one of the principles is active, the other passive. Now, the sperm seems to be the active part - it has its own principle of local motion (flagellum) whereas the ovum must be moved by cilia lining the fallopian tube; the sperm needs to break down the outer layer of the ovum and inject its own genetic material into it. This tells me that the sperm is active in the precise sense required. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

A signifier is nothing but its own history, which in turn is rooted in what he calls "history itself" or "arche-writing"--the conditions that he asserts all signifiers must meet in order to exist in history.

So what exactly does signifier signifies according to him? He surely can’t claim it signifies something about reality? So again all we are left with are signifiers ad infinitum without any way of “reaching out” to reality. Would you agree with that? Also, wouldn’t that reduce the speaking subject (including himself) to a collection of signifiers? So then who is it that speaks/writes when Derrida is putting forth his thesis?

That, in essence, is what differance is all about. It's the condition into which all history falls but which cannot be known to us because, as the condition, it must be exempt from its own rules. It's the "non-origin" of all meaning, being, knowledge, truth and so forth. Tracing and freeing up its movements is the work of deconstruction.

This is the part that confuses me. In regards to diferrance he also says that “it’s absence that is also presence” (apart from the logical contradiction). To me it seems like he is describing chaos here. The assumption of the unintelligible as his foundation that somehow, some homo sapiens are desperately trying to make “sense” of – albeit in vain – that cannot even be made sense of due to its peculiar, perhaps absurd nature. In a way the term difference reads like a chaotic chimera that overwhelms us. Would you say that is a correct reading?

Also, if diferrance is excepted from analysis (as per Derrida’s wish), wouldn’t that grant it a transcendental position? I can’t help to think that what Derrida does is try to use the categories of traditional theology (the most glaring one being the Unconditioned Condition – which are often attributed to the Divinity or God) and then applies them to his concept of difference and arch-writing. Assuming this is not a rhetorical ploy (and I wouldn’t put that past him) to except his concept from criticism (special pleading fallacy) then what it really is, is some attempt to divinize diferrance and historicism. Do you see it any differently?

Wittgenstein's argument appears in Philosophical Investigations. A very good analysis of it was published in Philosophy Now

Interestingly, after you mentioned Wittgenstein yesterday I googled the man on the hill argument and ended up reading the very article you are now suggesting in Philosophy Now!

The absolute best piece on Derrida's view of intentionality that I've read is the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard's "Predication as Originary Violence"

I really like Dallas Willard. A while back I read one of his diatribes on the problems knowledge creates for naturalism and really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading this one too.

I believe that he stole this practice from the apophatic theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, who used it in a much better and more coherent way.

I noticed that as well. He seems to have an affinity for the apophatic method.

Brandon said...

Rank,

Does the ovum act on the sperm at the moment of conception? No. Does it actively seek out and fuse with sperm? No. The sperm acts on the ovum. The sperm seeks out the ovum. The sperm is therefore the efficient cause.

Actually, the answers are yes and yes; the egg does actively draw the sperm in (and contrary to what used to be thought, can be much more picky than simply taking the first-comer, although the exact extent of this seems still to be unknown) and starts assimilating it, stripping it down for the materials, eventually destroying its mitochondrial DNA, etc. And it is the assimilation into the egg that is the actual conception, not the sperm's interaction with the membrane. The sperm's movement tells us nothing about the conception itself; the conception is a distinct change from the movement. And I don't think your argument makes much sense, anyway; it is like claiming that food acts on clams, not clams on food, because food travels to clams, not clams to food.

The ovum does nothing after conception, because both the ovum and the sperm cease to exist. The zygote is the only thing that remains. Now, you are correct that the woman's body then efficiently aids the zygote in development, which perhaps undermines the metaphysics of the earlier model that relied on a "vital spirit" or whatever. It still does not solve the problem that I raised, though, which is that the traits received from the ovum would all necessarily be inferior to the traits received from the sperm. When one considers that traits such as bodily strength and intelligence can be received from the ovum without previously existing in the sperm, this is a blatant contradiction.


To be sure, we call the fertilized egg a 'zygote', but (1) all current evidence is that it is the egg itself that actually does the work of conception itself -- it draws the sperm in and begins assimilating it; and (2) the zygote is itself a developing internal change of the egg as it begins assimilating the sperm, using means the egg already had. It's a process of the two becoming one, yes, since they begin to be indistinct in various ways almost at once, because the egg starts assimilating the sperm almost at once, but there is no more reason to regard the assimilation itself as instantaneous than to regard eating a sandwich as instantaneously assimilating food to the body. (This is arguably one point in which the modern view of conception is more like the Aristotelian view of generation now than it was even fifty years ago, because there's much more recognition that conception is a process involving multiple activities rather than one noncomposite action occurring at a single point in time, which became the dominant view in the nineteenth century.)

And, again, what you say necessarily follows doesn't actually follow at all when we consider that we are dealing with two instruments, each with its own matter, and each with its own active and passive aspects. The sperm is mostly just material for conception with an active motility to get it where it needs to be; the egg, on the other hand, is known to have both necessary material and means to act on the sperm. Defects can arise at any point due to the material of either instrument. This was true even in the Aristotelian model, because it's a necessary consequence of material instruments that they can have defects arising from their own matter. The defects in a sculpture can arise either from defects in the marble, or from defects in the chisel.

Brandon said...

If God really intended women, then they would be virtually within the efficient cause. God does not act through material causes, although he does create them (and prime matter). For Aquinas to hold both positions, he would have to accept one of three absurd conclusions:

1. God acts through material causes and thus through potency. This is impossible.
2. God directly wills female children, meaning that every female child is a miracle rather than a natural event. This is fails the test of common sense.
3. God intends corruption, which means that imperfection and even death are his doing. This fails the test of Ivan Karamazov.


There is a fourth, and it is Aquinas's actual view: generation processes are disposed toward females, in order to propagate the species, by higher-order or universal causes that govern the whole order of becoming; these, then, are the secondary efficient causes that are relevant to distinction of sexes. And it's a necessary part of the Aristotelian model, which attributes generation to males, females, and the sun. Thus there is no miracle and the action is through efficient causes. I'm not quite sure where you were going with (3); God obviously does will imperfections -- imperfection for Aquinas only means 'incompleteness', and there is no Ivan Karamazov problem with God willing that some particular changes be incomplete if it's for some genuinely higher end. But, in any case, Aquinas seems quite clear that females are not the result of corruption, but directly intended by higher ends, and thus are only incomplete relative to the natural terminus of the active force of the semen, which in the Aristotelian model tends toward the male. But the semen's active formation of the menstrual blood is merely one part of generation, and its end is a subordinate end within generation.

Jules said...

Anon,

if Derrida does not accept truth, logic and reason, then to bad for him. You should not debate bullshiters: Aristotle himself warned that a philosopher should not engage in a debate against a man who does not accept first principles.

Notice, also, that the very act of denying truth, logic and reason pressuposes them: for If you say that truth does not exist, then you must be affirming that, and not the opposite, and that must be true. So its a incoherent project from the ouset. The tip? Intelectually, discard it.

CJ Wolfe said...

Do you ever use the Blackfriars editions of the Summa Theologica, the ones that bust it up into 100 or so little volumes with modern commentaries? I do! I think they're actually quite useful and provide at least something on each nook and cranny of that massive work. So Blackfriars gets an A in my book, it's cool that you're visiting there

CJ Wolfe said...

P.S.- I read Fergus Kerr's "After Thomism" and thought it was outstanding. It really helped me understand some points regarding the place of grace in Aquinas' thought alot better, and that whole debate with de Lubac. It's really helpful that its chapters are divided by topic. That's another reason I highly regard Blackfriars

Daniel Smith said...

Anon: Simply put, in my opinion, science is in the business of constructing models to describe relationships between various phenomena. Those models can be used for prediction, control and creation of artifacts (namely technology). Beyond that, science if it is to be relevant to humans must be grounded in a metaphysic that exists beyond the limited scope of science itself, so it essentially requires Philosophy to hold its hand as it travels through the alleys of society.

Yes. I think we're losing sight of the argument I made though - that an attempt to accommodate current science can corrupt sound metaphysics and sound theology.

That's the conflict in a nutshell.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

the egg does actively draw the sperm in (and contrary to what used to be thought, can be much more picky than simply taking the first-comer, although the exact extent of this seems still to be unknown) and starts assimilating it, stripping it down for the materials, eventually destroying its mitochondrial DNA, etc.

What about Chris's comment?

Now, the sperm seems to be the active part - it has its own principle of local motion (flagellum) whereas the ovum must be moved by cilia lining the fallopian tube; the sperm needs to break down the outer layer of the ovum and inject its own genetic material into it.

This has always been my understanding. If it's actually false, and the ovum does indeed take the part of the "clam" in your example, then you're correct that it's the efficient cause. But that doesn't solve the contradiction I raised: it just relocates it. If the sperm is the material cause, then the traits it provides should be inferior to the traits provided by the ovum. A material cause can only tend toward corruption of the imprinted efficient cause: it cannot improve upon it. Yet, in the case of reproduction, the material cause can provide superior traits to the child than the efficient. How can this be reconciled with the underlying metaphysics?

To be sure, we call the fertilized egg a 'zygote', but (1) all current evidence is that it is the egg itself that actually does the work of conception itself -- it draws the sperm in and begins assimilating it; and (2) the zygote is itself a developing internal change of the egg as it begins assimilating the sperm, using means the egg already had.

There is no such thing as a "fertilized egg", because, at the moment of conception, a rational animal begins to exist. This rational animal cannot be a "developing internal change of the egg", because the change that caused it to exist was substantial; not accidental. Both the egg and the sperm vanished in the process. A zygote is merely an undeveloped rational animal, whose accidental forms have yet to reach maturity. And, again, even if the ovum is the efficient cause (which it may very well be, given your new argument), there is still a contradiction.

And, again, what you say necessarily follows doesn't actually follow at all when we consider that we are dealing with two instruments, each with its own matter, and each with its own active and passive aspects. The sperm is mostly just material for conception with an active motility to get it where it needs to be; the egg, on the other hand, is known to have both necessary material and means to act on the sperm. Defects can arise at any point due to the material of either instrument. This was true even in the Aristotelian model, because it's a necessary consequence of material instruments that they can have defects arising from their own matter. The defects in a sculpture can arise either from defects in the marble, or from defects in the chisel.

You didn't address my point. I said that the material cause in conception can provide traits to the offspring that Aquinas himself considered desirable. The problem is that this shouldn't happen. The material cause in conception can only limit or fail to take on the efficient cause: it cannot contain traits as good as or better than those provided by the efficient cause. It's a metaphysical impossibility, according to Aquinas. So why does it happen? Discussing active and passive instruments does not solve the problem.

rank sophist said...

There is a fourth, and it is Aquinas's actual view: generation processes are disposed toward females, in order to propagate the species, by higher-order or universal causes that govern the whole order of becoming; these, then, are the secondary efficient causes that are relevant to distinction of sexes. And it's a necessary part of the Aristotelian model, which attributes generation to males, females, and the sun. Thus there is no miracle and the action is through efficient causes.

So, you mean to say that the movement of the spheres determined whether or not a female child would be born? I haven't heard that one before. It does not seem compatible with the view that defects in the menstrual blood cause female children, though. (Perhaps the efficient actions of the spheres interfere with the matter?) It also seems to suggest that the spheres virtually contain femininity--which is strange but I suppose not technically impossible. This might solve a few of the issues I was having.

I'm not quite sure where you were going with (3); God obviously does will imperfections -- imperfection for Aquinas only means 'incompleteness', and there is no Ivan Karamazov problem with God willing that some particular changes be incomplete if it's for some genuinely higher end.

I didn't mean imperfection in merely the sense of someone, for example, choosing not to actualize one potential career path over another. That would be imperfection as "incompleteness" in the trivial sense, as you suggest. I was referring to imperfection as privation, which is how female children would be born under this system. A natural end would have to be impeded, resulting in a natural evil. Aquinas himself falls into this trap when he says that "the perfection of the universe requires that there should be not only beings incorruptible, but also corruptible beings; so the perfection of the universe requires that there should be some which can fail in goodness, and thence it follows that sometimes they do fail." He also writes in that same article (Ia q48 a2):

"Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed. Neither would avenging justice nor the patience of a sufferer be praised if there were no injustice."

All of these sentiments must be rejected on the grounds that they make God a tyrant who trades in evil for the sake of a "greater good". Aquinas's tendency toward this line of thinking is easily his biggest flaw.

But the semen's active formation of the menstrual blood is merely one part of generation, and its end is a subordinate end within generation.

What is it subordinate to? The spheres? It seems to me that it's the main cause, subordinate to nothing but interrupted by certain things.

Brandon said...

Rank,

I don't know what Chris you're referring to.

But that doesn't solve the contradiction I raised: it just relocates it. If the sperm is the material cause, then the traits it provides should be inferior to the traits provided by the ovum. A material cause can only tend toward corruption of the imprinted efficient cause: it cannot improve upon it. Yet, in the case of reproduction, the material cause can provide superior traits to the child than the efficient. How can this be reconciled with the underlying metaphysics?

The sperm and egg together the material, which is one of the reason why one needs both. There is no problem here.

There is no such thing as a "fertilized egg", because, at the moment of conception, a rational animal begins to exist.

You are assuming that there is a moment of conception; this is precisely what doesn't seem to be the case. Genuine conception requires several things to happen; they don't happen in a single moment, although, of course, they don't take a huge amount of time, either. The egg does not unite with the sperm instantaneously, quick as it is, and once the sperm is taken in, the changes required for it to be assimilated are not instantaneous, either. It's a very different process, but as I noted, we've been here before: in the Aristotelian model, conception isn't instantaneous, either, which is one reason the scholastics had difficulty with the Immaculate Conception, and one of the reasons for Scotus's brilliance, since he was the one who finally formulated the doctrine so that (among other things) it was abstract enough to apply regardless of the precise details of conception.

I said that the material cause in conception can provide traits to the offspring that Aquinas himself considered desirable. The problem is that this shouldn't happen. The material cause in conception can only limit or fail to take on the efficient cause: it cannot contain traits as good as or better than those provided by the efficient cause.

This only obscures the problem further, because this is wrong: the material cause, as such, limits, but that doesn't mean that the marble of the statue doesn't provide anything desirable, or that when you are making bread the quality of flour you start with contributes nothing positive to the bread you bake, or that eating vegetables can't make you healthier. And the reason, again, is that when we are dealing with flour or food or marble as the 'material cause', we are dealing with instrumental causes in act/potency relationships with each other, relative material causes, things that are not merely prime matter. And in the immediate process of conception, we are dealing only with instrumental causes interacting.

But in any case, it is simply irrelevant, because efficient and material causes aren't apportioned the way you are suggesting: the material for the change is obviously provided by both the sperm and the egg. And the egg also provides the instrumental efficacy, and perhaps also in some way the sperm provides a secondary instrumental efficacy. The only reason the Aristotelians apportioned causes the way they did was that they took it to be a simple process of active semen operating on menstrual blood; once you change that, as we must, the whole thing has to be re-thought from scratch -- you won't get something that looks like the Aristotelian model with minor adjustments, the way you keep suggesting. The egg doesn't just substitute in for menstrual blood or the sperm for semen, as the Aristotelians conceived of them.

Brandon said...

So, you mean to say that the movement of the spheres determined whether or not a female child would be born? I haven't heard that one before. It does not seem compatible with the view that defects in the menstrual blood cause female children, though. (Perhaps the efficient actions of the spheres interfere with the matter?) It also seems to suggest that the spheres virtually contain femininity--which is strange but I suppose not technically impossible.

Both masculinity and femininity pre-exist in the spheres understood as universal causes of generation, because both are required for generation. Aquinas has some discussion of this, if I recall correctly, in De Veritate q 5 art 9. And it follows directly from the fact that the generation of females is obviously not a mere matter of chance, since they occur regularly, not merely occasionally like freaks and monsters.

All of these sentiments must be rejected on the grounds that they make God a tyrant who trades in evil for the sake of a "greater good".

So you think that God does not will that anyone kill plants or animals for food, and that the Jews were incorrect that God instituted the sacrificial system in which animals were deprived of life for religious reasons? All of these are privations and natural evils in precisely the sense you are indicating.

What is it subordinate to? The spheres? It seems to me that it's the main cause, subordinate to nothing but interrupted by certain things.

If you're talking about the efficient cause the semen is subordinate to, it is subordinate immediately to the male, since the semen only has efficacy as an instrument of the male; and, farther back, as you say to the spheres. If you're talking about subordination of ends (which was what I had mentioned subordination for), the end of generating males, which is the end of the semen, is subordinate to the end of propagating the human race (which also requires the generation of females). Aquinas, and Aristotle before him, seem to me to be quite explicit about this. Anything else is not the Aristotelian model that Aquinas worked with, but something else entirely.

Anonymous said...

Jules,

if Derrida does not accept truth, logic and reason, then to bad for him. You should not debate bullshiters: Aristotle himself warned that a philosopher should not engage in a debate against a man who does not accept first principles.

Notice, also, that the very act of denying truth, logic and reason pressuposes them: for If you say that truth does not exist, then you must be affirming that, and not the opposite, and that must be true. So its a incoherent project from the ouset. The tip? Intelectually, discard it.


I agree with you. Having said that, I am still interested in understanding what they have to say for various reasons. One being, that it enhances my knowledge, irrespective of the fact that I disagree with their claims.

Ultimately I have rejected the post-modern thesis and do consider much of it to be incoherent. As far as debating specific individuals (nihilists, post-modernists, materialists etc) that's just the icing I suppose but that's not really why I am asking these questions.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

So what exactly does signifier signifies according to him? He surely can’t claim it signifies something about reality? So again all we are left with are signifiers ad infinitum without any way of “reaching out” to reality. Would you agree with that? Also, wouldn’t that reduce the speaking subject (including himself) to a collection of signifiers? So then who is it that speaks/writes when Derrida is putting forth his thesis?

I would agree with this, and so would Derrida himself. He denies that there's anything that could objectively be called "reality", because anything with that label is always already a representation--and so always already semiotic. As for people, it's the same deal. As Willard explains in that article I linked, Derrida is essentially a Kantian philosopher. The difference is that the noumena are replaced by arche-writing, the non-existent foundation on which all "writing" (representation, interpretation) is based. Anything that is known or perceived is always already semiotic, by the very fact that it has been perceived. That includes people. Willard also says that Derrida, in essence, claims that there is no such thing as "being" outside of semiotic history. This is why he is free to say that the conditions of history do not exist: by necessity, they do not fall into any categories knowable by us, and for us to know them would mean that they were represented, interpreted and historicized. That means that nothing we know can really be the conditions of history--we can't ever know arche-writing or differance. Again, it's a tragic twist on apophatic theology.

This is the part that confuses me. In regards to diferrance he also says that “it’s absence that is also presence” (apart from the logical contradiction). To me it seems like he is describing chaos here. The assumption of the unintelligible as his foundation that somehow, some homo sapiens are desperately trying to make “sense” of – albeit in vain – that cannot even be made sense of due to its peculiar, perhaps absurd nature. In a way the term difference reads like a chaotic chimera that overwhelms us. Would you say that is a correct reading?

I think you're pretty much on the money, although, technically, Derrida is not engaging in a logical contradiction when he says that differance is both present and absent. It's never both present and absent in the same way at the same time. Regardless, as David Bentley Hart has said, every post-modern philosopher has his own version of the "sublime"--the unformed form that cannot be comprehended by humans, but from which all being springs. It's very much a return to pre-Socratic theories of chaotic, eternal matter. The closest parallel to differance is Levinas' "Wholly Other", which is similarly unrepresentable, beyond being, totally unknowable and yet the ground of all. The ontology of Deleuze is somewhat similar as well, but a lot less interesting and a whole lot more involved.

rank sophist said...

Also, if diferrance is excepted from analysis (as per Derrida’s wish), wouldn’t that grant it a transcendental position? I can’t help to think that what Derrida does is try to use the categories of traditional theology (the most glaring one being the Unconditioned Condition – which are often attributed to the Divinity or God) and then applies them to his concept of difference and arch-writing. Assuming this is not a rhetorical ploy (and I wouldn’t put that past him) to except his concept from criticism (special pleading fallacy) then what it really is, is some attempt to divinize diferrance and historicism. Do you see it any differently?

No, that's pretty much how it is. By the end of his life, in The Gift of Death, Derrida had elevated differance to a nearly religious level of awe. It was almost indistinguishable from the Wholly Other. However, Derrida isn't guilty of special pleading with his idea of differance. If "reality" is semiotic and knowledge is representational, then differance follows by definition and must be exempt from its own rules. Meaning must have its root somewhere, even if it's in the non-origin of differance and arche-writing. Likewise, history has to have a ground, even if it's a non-ground. Derrida gives fairly convincing arguments to show that differance must be that ground. The fatal hole is in the presupposition of the objective existence of semiotics and representationalism--otherwise, even his historicism and relativism would not be self-refuting.

Anonymous said...

For those who are rich enough and bright enough to attend, the Oxford Univ tutorial system of learning is an incredible experience.

Years ago, I had a history prof who had a B.A. in Economics and a J.D.(law degree). After making a lot of money practicing law, he applied for and was admitted to the doctoral program at Oxford.

He never took a single course, as such. He read, met with his tutors, and essentially educated himself and wrote his dissertation. After four years, he could read Greek,Latin, French and German, wrote a 388 page dissertation, and knew, basically,(at least to us awed students) everything there was to be known about Greek and Roman history. He even knew more about classical phil than my phil profs.

I have never encountered else quite like him.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. Now there's only a few minor areas that I am still confused about. These are:

If "reality" is semiotic and knowledge is representational, then differance follows by definition and must be exempt from its own rules.

I understand why differance would follow by definition, I just don't quite understand why it would be exempt from its own rules. Why can't differance be yet another semiotic? Another representation? Another concept that would require to be contextualized historically? That's where I'm getting stuck.

Meaning must have its root somewhere, even if it's in the non-origin of differance and arche-writing.

This is another confusing part. What does it mean to say that meaning has its root (origin) in something that is non-origin?

Likewise, history has to have a ground, even if it's a non-ground. Derrida gives fairly convincing arguments to show that differance must be that ground.

My confusion here is the same as the above. How is history grounded in non-ground? Does he mean grounded in suspended animation, where even the suspended animation is subject to change, hence cannot be identified? But if that is the case, doesn't differance lose it's "arche" quality and become one of many changes?

Basically, I'm not questioning that differance is the "ground" but rather it's the exceptional status of differance that I don't see as a coherent conclusion. Unless of course he is merely appealing to the necessity of the act of grounding in metaphysics and then postulates the unintelligible (differance, arch-writing) as a something-we-don't-know-what that simply must be there (even though he doesn't know if it's there, what it is, or how it is to be understood). Is that how he means it?

dguller said...

Anonymous:

Basically, I'm not questioning that differance is the "ground" but rather it's the exceptional status of differance that I don't see as a coherent conclusion. Unless of course he is merely appealing to the necessity of the act of grounding in metaphysics and then postulates the unintelligible (differance, arch-writing) as a something-we-don't-know-what that simply must be there (even though he doesn't know if it's there, what it is, or how it is to be understood). Is that how he means it?

I’ve encountered a similar problem in Aquinas’ system. God is Pure Act, but the “Act” in Pure Act is not the same as the “act” in my actuality, for example. It is supposed to be analogous to my actuality, but not identical. This is necessary, because otherwise God’s actuality has nothing to do with my actuality, which would put God in the same position as Derrida’s differance. It becomes the necessary ground of my existence, and yet can have nothing to do with my existence, which is incoherent.

I’ve long argued here that there is a problem with Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy. It presupposes that it is possible for there to be two senses (or modus significandi) that have absolutely nothing in common qua sense and yet share the same referent (or res signficandi). But the fact that they both share the same referent means that they cannot have nothing in common, because having the same referent is something in common. Furthermore, I can think of no examples – other than God – in which the same referent can have different senses that have nothing in common qua sense. For example, the sense of “Morning Star” and the sense of “Evening Star” both share the same referent, and yet there are aspects of the senses of “Morning Star” and “Evening Star” that are identical, such as existing in above the horizon, being astronomical bodies, being best seen at night, and so on.

So, if the doctrine of analogy is flawed, then Aquinas’ Pure Act, amongst other things, is no different from differance.

Eduardo said...

Weird, I remember you guys talking about that... but you people get so carried away XD, that I feared to read all those ... HUNDRED of posts.

But that said, where you argued about that again dguller? I forgot what was the thread.

Eduardo said...

Was it Divine intellect thread... I think it was. 500 posts... 500.

Eduardo said...

Hey dguller

what if I slowly analyse that talk and then bring the best arguments in a new thread so we can further the discussion... we have new blood around, and you haven't been around for a while!

U_U I know it is because of me and Anon being sort of gloomy about atheism.

Anonymous said...

"Furthermore, I can think of no examples – other than God – in which the same referent can have different senses that have nothing in common qua sense."

Maybe God is singular in that sense.

Anonymous said...

I think Anglican philosopher Eric Mascall answered all those questions about God and analogy in his 1949 book "Existence and Analogy."

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Good to see you back again. I might take a stab at explaining the doctrine of analogy in a day or two, since I've learned more about it in recent months. Also, it's not at all original to Aquinas--it was a core feature of Christian thought for more than 800 years, I believe, prior Aquinas.

Brandon,

I don't know what Chris you're referring to.

Oops, I meant Charles.

The sperm and egg together the material, which is one of the reason why one needs both. There is no problem here.

How can two entities involved in a change both be material causes? Unless you mean to say that conception involves a large number of causes in which the ovum acts on the sperm and vice versa, what you're describing is a metaphysical impossibility.

This only obscures the problem further, because this is wrong: the material cause, as such, limits, but that doesn't mean that the marble of the statue doesn't provide anything desirable, or that when you are making bread the quality of flour you start with contributes nothing positive to the bread you bake, or that eating vegetables can't make you healthier.

First, none of these examples involve univocal causation, and so your comparisons aren't completely valid. Second, you've missed my point about material causes. High-quality flour will indeed contribute to bread, but only if the efficient cause involved in producing the bread puts it to use in the correct way. A privation-ridden efficient cause cannot leverage the flour's strengths, and they become inaccessible. There is no such thing as a material cause that contributes something better than what is actualized by the efficient cause. Hence, there cannot be an ovum that contributes better traits than those actualized by the sperm, or vice versa. That is metaphysically impossible. The only way out, it seems, is to say (as you seem to suggest) that conception involves efficient action on both sides of the aisle. Otherwise, it would not be possible for the ovum or sperm (depending on which is the material) to contribute traits superior to those of the efficient cause in this situation. Again, material causes limit and define: they do not improve.

I should add that, if both the ovum and sperm are efficient at different times, then Aquinas's views on women are left in tatters. They rest on the notion that man is act and woman potency, which is based on his further theory that sex difference exists for the sole purpose of reproduction. Hence, if men are defined by their active role in reproduction, and women their passive role, then it seems to follow that men are, as he puts it, "the nobler sex". Act is superior to potency, after all. However, if both sides are material and efficient in different respects with regard to reproduction, then it seems that dividing men and women into a strict dialectic of act/potency is impossible. He has other arguments for the opposition between men and women, but losing this one is a fairly big deal.

rank sophist said...

So you think that God does not will that anyone kill plants or animals for food, and that the Jews were incorrect that God instituted the sacrificial system in which animals were deprived of life for religious reasons? All of these are privations and natural evils in precisely the sense you are indicating.

The core distinction, here, is pre-fall and post-fall. Gen 1:29-30 make it fairly clear that animals were not meant to be eaten by man or by one another pre-fall, even though Aquinas denies this with a bald assertion and an argument from authority in ST Ia q96 a1. God later lifted this ban in Gen 9:3 following the introduction of death--permission contrary to his intentions for creation. That humans are allowed to eat animals without sin says nothing about God's will, because the natural evil of death was not supposed to exist in the first place. Isaiah 11:6-9 and Romans 8:18-23 plainly state that decay, violence and hostility, even in the case of creation generally, are contrary to God's plans. The issue of consuming plants pre-fall is a bit tricky, but less so when it is realized that eating from a plant does not necessarily result in its death, particularly in a pre-fall state. Seeing as plants had, at least at that time, the final cause of "being food" (again, see Gen 1:29-30), I don't see how this constitutes a natural evil. Plants would not be dying and would be fulfilling their teleological end (as it was then)--so where is the natural evil?

The issue of Jewish animal sacrifice is more complex. David Bentley Hart explains and defends it in The Beauty of the Infinite, but the exact details of his case slip my mind at the moment. As Hart has provided some of the most extreme modern endorsements of the view I'm discussing (particularly in the aforementioned book and The Doors of the Sea), he'd be the one to read for an account of animal sacrifice.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

Maybe God is singular in that sense.

Perhaps, and certainly God is singular in a number of senses, but his singularity is always the conclusion of logical arguments that are rooted in premises that are generally applicable. Even Aquinas’ discussions of analogy involve general terms, such as “health”, and he uses those discussions to ground his arguments about the doctrine of analogy. If it turns out that God is singular in such a way that has nothing to do with the examples that he typically cites in his Aquinas’ arguments involving analogy, then his arguments fail, because God is outside the general principles of the particular examples. And in that case, it is not an argument at all, and only a matter of special pleading and ad hoc reasoning, which is certainly no strong foundation for a theology.

Rank:

Good to see you back again. I might take a stab at explaining the doctrine of analogy in a day or two, since I've learned more about it in recent months. Also, it's not at all original to Aquinas--it was a core feature of Christian thought for more than 800 years, I believe, prior Aquinas.

Even better to see you back!

Eduardo:

Was it Divine intellect thread... I think it was. 500 posts... 500.

The last time I tried to make a formal argument was at: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2012/09/the-divine-intellect.html?commentPage=3 at October 24, 2012 7:25 PM and October 24, 2012 7:27 PM

Eduardo said...

Thanks xD.

Anonymous said...

dguller,

Lets not conflate the two topics for now. That final post of mine was the tail end of my confusion. Once Rank get's a chance to clear that up for me (so I can get it out of the way) we can jump on the doctrine of analogy.

Doing a tu quoque type response will not help me grasp Derrida any better.

rank sophist said...

I understand why differance would follow by definition, I just don't quite understand why it would be exempt from its own rules. Why can't differance be yet another semiotic? Another representation? Another concept that would require to be contextualized historically? That's where I'm getting stuck.

Think of it like this. History, considered as the totality of representation, has a ground. This ground is somewhat like a set of rules that history must follow. If a set of rules is subject to itself, then a vicious regress occurs. Therefore, the rules cannot be subject to themselves. Now, one might ask how Derrida knows that these rules exist if all thought and perception is representational/historical, and thus subject to the rules. He takes this into account. As Derrida makes fairly clear, his talk of "differance" is always already a representation, and so it cannot be a true glimpse at differance itself. There is no such thing as a true glimpse of differance, because to see it would mean to go beyond representation, which is to say beyond perception, thought or knowledge. To see it would be not to see anything. However, we know that history must have a ground, and we can work backwards to some extent to guess at what this ground might be. It is, though, Wholly Other and completely unrelated to us, as dguller said.

This is another confusing part. What does it mean to say that meaning has its root (origin) in something that is non-origin?

Differance is an absence rather than a presence. It's the "original absence". When one signifier defers its meaning to another, it's because there's a "hole" or an emptiness within the signifier that connects it to another. Derrida calls this hole the trace. Because the condition of all things is to be invaded by the trace, Derrida concludes that the trace (a concept basically interchangeable with differance and arche-writing) is the condition of history. Again, though, it's an absence rather than a presence, and so it's "nothing" rather than "something". Hence, it's a "non-origin".

Basically, I'm not questioning that differance is the "ground" but rather it's the exceptional status of differance that I don't see as a coherent conclusion. Unless of course he is merely appealing to the necessity of the act of grounding in metaphysics and then postulates the unintelligible (differance, arch-writing) as a something-we-don't-know-what that simply must be there (even though he doesn't know if it's there, what it is, or how it is to be understood). Is that how he means it?

More or less, yeah. It's like classical apophatic theology but without the doctrine of analogy, as dguller said. Differance is a sublime, unknowable nothingness beyond all comprehension, to which no name may coherently be attached. To speak of it, you have to write under erasure and acknowledge that everything you say is always already incorrect.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

Aquinas's argument for the doctrine of analogy is based on the principle of causality, the Neo-Platonic understanding of the good, the notion of esse and essence and the patristic tradition (particularly Pseudo-Denys). First, as you know, evil is ontologically non-existent. It is impossible for something actual to be evil: no ontologically real entity is evil. Hence, if something exists, it is good. Only actual things (good things) are capable of being causes. The only actual beings are substances and those things parasitic upon substances. As Aquinas argues, substances are combinations of esse and essence. (He does not presuppose God in this argument.)

Esse is "common being" and, considered as a totality (esse commune), it is identical everywhere. However, it is united to and defined by essence, which is always utterly different. An essence is that which marks a being off from all other beings--an untraversable distance. Esse always takes to essence in a unique way, but, because of its homogeneous nature, it is never wholly other. Every being, then, is a combination of difference (essence) and similarity (esse). This is the doctrine of analogy as applied to beings.

Now, as Aquinas argues, anything that is a composite of essence and esse must be caused by a non-composite being. However, as soon as the distinction between esse and essence is collapsed, we are left with something beyond logical deduction. Human knowledge is based on composition and division, which is only possible with composite beings. Hence, God cannot be known logically. Yet, as with Derrida, we know that existence must have a ground. The act/potency infinite regress, the necessity of connecting esse/essence, the existence of intentionality in non-mental beings and so forth all point to the existence of something, even though we cannot say what this thing is.

We know that something caused must be caused by something else, and that something can only be caused (in this case) when the cause contains the effect virtually. We also know that only good things exist. So, although the apophatic void beyond essence and esse cannot be known through logic, we know that whatever it is must necessarily be a more perfect unity of the goodness it causes. Exactly how perfect and how unified cannot be known, but this does not prevent us from applying what Hart calls the analogical interval. As Pseudo-Denys argues, we can apply labels to the apophatic Cause as long as these labels are only the best possible. We know that "good" and "highest" and "true" are some of the best labels, and so these may be applied to God. However, even as we apply these labels, we have to negate them. As Pseudo-Denys says:

rank sophist said...

"For this I pray: Timothy, my friend, my advice to you as you look for a sight of the mysterious things, is to leave behind you everything perceived and understood, everything perceptible and understandable, all that is not and all that is, and, with your understanding laid aside, to strive upward as much as you can toward union with him who is beyond all being and knowledge. By an undivided and absolute abandonment of yourself and everything, shedding all and freed from all, you will be uplifted to the ray of divine shadow which is above everything that is.

But see to it that none of this comes to the hearing of the uninformed, that is to say, those caught up with the things of the world, who imagine that there is nothing beyond instances of individual being and who think that by their own intellectual resources they can have a direct knowledge of him who has made the shadows his hiding place. And if initiation into the divine is beyond such people, what is to be made of those others, still more uninformed, who describe the transcendent Cause of all things in terms derived from the lowest orders of being, and who claim that it is in no way superior to the godless, multiformed shapes they themselves make? What has actually to be said about the Cause of everything is this. Since it is the Cause of all beings, we should posit and ascribe to it all the affirmations we make in regard to beings, and, more appropriately, we should negate all these affirmations, since it surpasses all being. Now we should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations, but rather that the cause of all is considerably prior to this, beyond privations, beyond every denial, beyond every assertion."

He goes on to comment that God "is made manifest only to those who [...] pass beyond the summit of every holy ascent, who leave behind them every divine light, every voice, every word from heaven". He also writes that "the holiest and highest of the things perceived with the eye of the body or the mind are but the rationale which presupposes all that lies below the Transcendent One. Through them, however, his unimaginable presence is shown, walking the heights of those holy places to which the mind at least can rise. But then [man] breaks free of them, away from what sees and is seen, and he plunges into the truly mysterious darkness of unknowing."

Because creation imitates God, which we know both philosophically and scripturally, we can apply every high label used for creation to God. However, we must apply these while negating them, in a sense writing under erasure. It's not exactly the same as Derrida's system, though, because it isn't a matter of saying "God is not that" (pure negation) but of saying "God is better than that" (qualified negation). God is prior to and superior to all affirmations and negations, but even saying this places inappropriate restrictions on his transcendence. He is better than being better than being better--and so on, forever. As Hart says, this means that we can speak of God without coming to an end, because every label falls short and must be expanded upon with a new one. Differance is an original absence, an original negation, but God is neither an absence nor a presence nor even a negation of these labels.

rank sophist said...

This last part is the doctrine of analogy as applied to God. Aquinas's "esse divinum" is nothing less than another divine name, ultimately apophatic and interchangeable with all of the others. While esse commune is connected analogically by the similarity of esse and the difference of essence, creation is connected analogically to God by 1) its status as a reflection of the divine good and 2) its infinite difference from that good. This satisfies the need for partial difference and partial similarity: we know that creation is a reflection of God (similarity), but we know that God is infinitely different from creation (difference).

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Thanks for all the help!

dguller said...

Rank:

As Pseudo-Denys argues, we can apply labels to the apophatic Cause as long as these labels are only the best possible. We know that "good" and "highest" and "true" are some of the best labels, and so these may be applied to God. However, even as we apply these labels, we have to negate them.

But this does not answer the problem. The labels and names that we apply to God must have some core meaning that is affirmed even after the negation, because otherwise, you are left with nothing at all. If you have to negate everything, including negation itself, then what are you left with? Nothing. Even worse, you are left with a game in which nothing sticks and everything is slippery, leaving you will the puzzling activity of saying absolutely nothing at all.

Because creation imitates God, which we know both philosophically and scripturally, we can apply every high label used for creation to God. However, we must apply these while negating them, in a sense writing under erasure.

Right. Well put. The problem is that imitation implies similarity, and similarity implies partial identity and partial difference. If creation imitates God, then there must be partial identity and partial difference between creation and God. This is problematic, because God has no parts, and thus he cannot be partially identical or partially different, and can only be totally identical and totally different, which negates similarity, and thus imitation. Furthermore, even if there could be a partial identity between God and creation, and we could both name and talk about it, then this would have to constitute univocal meaning, which negates Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy.

God is prior to and superior to all affirmations and negations, but even saying this places inappropriate restrictions on his transcendence. He is better than being better than being better--and so on, forever. As Hart says, this means that we can speak of God without coming to an end, because every label falls short and must be expanded upon with a new one.

But again, if one is always writing under erasure when one talks about God, then one isn’t ever actually saying anything, including saying that there is no end to talk about God. All of Aquinas’ terminology gets thrown out the window, because nothing actually sticks, and one can get no foothold whatsoever in one’s discussions about God.

Differance is an original absence, an original negation, but God is neither an absence nor a presence nor even a negation of these labels.

Right. As Derrida says, the surname of differance is khora. And khora is the receptacle of pure potentiality in Plato’s Timaeus, which stands in contradistinction to the Good. The Good is characterized by superabundant overflowing that spills over any conceptualization we can have, and thus is associated with God, whereas differance is a whisper, a trace, a hint that disappears as soon as it is examined. The Good is darkness where one is blinded by the light, and difference is darkness where there is simply no light at all.

dguller said...

While esse commune is connected analogically by the similarity of esse and the difference of essence, creation is connected analogically to God by 1) its status as a reflection of the divine good and 2) its infinite difference from that good. This satisfies the need for partial difference and partial similarity: we know that creation is a reflection of God (similarity), but we know that God is infinitely different from creation (difference).

Again, you are using words, and the question is how they can mean anything at all in such a context. For Aquinas, terms have meaning by virtue of their sense (or modus significandi) and their referent (or res significandi). Two terms are analogous if they have a different sense but the same referent. His argument is that any terms that we use to describe God must be rooted in our experience and understanding, and thus are tainted by our way of knowing, which means by virtue of composition and division, as you mentioned above. That is why the sense for us is necessarily different than the sense for God, and so even if the terms have the same referent, they necessarily must have different senses. For example, saying that “John is good” and “God is good” both refer to the source of goodness, i.e. God, and thus have the same referent, but the sense of “good” is different, because we can only understand a sense that involves composition and division, and thus cannot understand the sense of “good” when applied to God, and thus any knowledge must be analogical.

The problem is that for this account to make sense, it has to be possible for the same referent to have different sense that have absolutely nothing in common. This is because if they had anything in common, then when talking about that commonality, one is using a term with the same sense and referent, which is Aquinas’ definition of “univocal predication”. And Aquinas has good arguments for why this is impossible when it comes to God, primarily that it would severely compromise God’s utter transcendence, reducing him to this world in a profound way. So, it is absolutely paramount for this account to be possible at all, that different senses with the same referent have nothing in common.

My argument is that this is impossible. After all, the different senses share the same referent, and thus must have something in common, i.e. the fact that they share the same referent. Furthermore, even if you just look at the senses themselves, I cannot think of any non-divine example in which you have completely different senses and yet the same referent. There is always something in common between the senses. This certainly holds true with Aquinas’ favorite example of analogical predication, i.e. “healthy”. For example, saying that medicine is healthy and John is healthy, but refer to a person’s physical health, but the former does so indirectly by saying that medicine is the cause of a person’s physical health. However, notice that in both senses of “healthy”, there is the concept of “a person’s physical health”, and thus a univocal core of meaning.

Perhaps you can come up with an example that verifies this principle, but if you cannot, then it seems that we cannot conclude based upon our understanding of analogy that an essential component of our talk about God is true, and to endorse it would be an instance of special pleading and ad hoc reasoning.

∅☀∅☀∅☀∅ said...

If you have to negate everything, including negation itself, then what are you left with? Nothing. Even worse, you are left with a game in which nothing sticks and everything is slippery.

Sounds good to me! The real world is quite slippery, certainly at its best.

Eduardo said...

... Was that a sexual reference XD? ...

Eduardo said...

I find it awesome how Unspeakable-Name turned an equivocation into a joke xD.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

But this does not answer the problem. The labels and names that we apply to God must have some core meaning that is affirmed even after the negation, because otherwise, you are left with nothing at all. If you have to negate everything, including negation itself, then what are you left with? Nothing. Even worse, you are left with a game in which nothing sticks and everything is slippery, leaving you will the puzzling activity of saying absolutely nothing at all.

This isn't the case, because, as Denys says, God is "considerably prior" to dialectics between is and is-not. We know this much through logic. If there were a "being" capable of grounding a world of act/potency, esse/essence and so on, he would be considerably prior to all distinctions while simultaneously surpassing the goodness of every created thing. We don't have to talk about God directly to know these things. Rather, we say, "If there were such a being X as to ground esse/essence, then X would be infinitely better than creation but also indescribable in itself." These are logical facts taken from philosophical reasoning, which are independent of any apophatic/analogical discussion of God in direct terms.

Right. Well put. The problem is that imitation implies similarity, and similarity implies partial identity and partial difference. If creation imitates God, then there must be partial identity and partial difference between creation and God. This is problematic, because God has no parts, and thus he cannot be partially identical or partially different, and can only be totally identical and totally different, which negates similarity, and thus imitation.

You've brought out this argument before, but it doesn't hold water. God is prior to dialectics. All of church tradition affirms this. God is both singular and plural, the ground of both labels; and he simultaneously contains all of creation and remains uncomposite. Creation is similar to God because he creates it in his own image (ST Ia q45 a7), and because all things pre-exist within God virtually. Aquinas even uses the word "trace" to describe the divine image's appearance within creation. It's reversed Derrida, in many ways.

As you've argued, there is nothing incoherent about the idea of the Derridean trace in itself, and so I don't see how the trace of the Trinity is any different. Every created thing is always already invaded by the Trinity--the apophatic ground that we can only vaguely gesture toward. However, because the trace of the Trinity is not within the absences and negations of the world, but rather within every created goodness, it becomes possible to attribute to this apophatic ground terms derived from the goodness of creation. Derrida's trace appears only after the intelligible and good have vanished: the Trinity's trace vanishes only when we leave the intelligible and good.

rank sophist said...

Furthermore, even if there could be a partial identity between God and creation, and we could both name and talk about it, then this would have to constitute univocal meaning, which negates Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy.

Analogical does not mean "univocal and equivocal simultaneously". Creation is similar to God because it contains the Trinitarian trace, but different because God is considerably prior to binary oppositions. In the case of creature-to-creature analogy, it's true that we must say "X is similar to Y in this way, but different in this other way", while remaining clear and dialectical in the process. God, though, is the ground prior to all distinctions, and so it is impossible to use this exact process. Again, creation is always already Trinitarian and invaded by the image of God, and so it makes absolutely no sense to say that it is either totally the same or totally separate from God in any way. As I said before, creation is similar to God in that it is a reflection of the divine good (it contains the Trinitarian trace), but different in that God is infinitely prior to and superior to it. Your argument relies on thinking of God as one being among others, rather than as the original ground of being: a confusion of Being with beings, in a way.

But again, if one is always writing under erasure when one talks about God, then one isn’t ever actually saying anything, including saying that there is no end to talk about God. All of Aquinas’ terminology gets thrown out the window, because nothing actually sticks, and one can get no foothold whatsoever in one’s discussions about God.

This doesn't follow. We know A) that esse/essence, act/potency, etc. all have a ground; B) that this ground is necessarily beyond logic; and C) that this ground is necessarily greater than the combined total of all perfections. None of this is under erasure, because it's all based on creation rather than on God. We also know that God is not unknowable because he is a sublime nothingness, but because he is too intelligible to be known through logic. This, again, is from creation.

As Derrida says, the surname of differance is khora. And khora is the receptacle of pure potentiality in Plato’s Timaeus, which stands in contradistinction to the Good. The Good is characterized by superabundant overflowing that spills over any conceptualization we can have, and thus is associated with God, whereas differance is a whisper, a trace, a hint that disappears as soon as it is examined. The Good is darkness where one is blinded by the light, and difference is darkness where there is simply no light at all.

This, however, is not Christian tradition. Even some of the Neo-Platonists abandoned a firm dialectic between light/dark and order/chaos, but it was the church fathers who really placed God beyond the strictures of metaphysics. As Hart says (and as Aquinas agrees), God does not have non-being as his opposite. He also does not have potency as his opposite, since he created that as well. He grounds the notions of both "being" and "non-being", as well as the notions of act and potency. The power and transcendence of the Unmoved Mover and even Plato's Form of the Good pale in comparison to those of the traditional Christian God, although certain conceptions of the One come reasonably close. (The One, though, always maintains a certain "tragic distance" from creation, as Hart says.)

rank sophist said...

The problem is that for this account to make sense, it has to be possible for the same referent to have different sense that have absolutely nothing in common. This is because if they had anything in common, then when talking about that commonality, one is using a term with the same sense and referent, which is Aquinas’ definition of “univocal predication”.

Again, your confusion here rests on thinking of God and the Trinitarian trace not as an "always already" but as "elements among others". That doesn't work. All being was made in the divine image, and so it must be always already similar to God: analogy works differently than when you're comparing one creature to another. It is incomprehensible even to imagine "a being that is not like God".

After all, the different senses share the same referent, and thus must have something in common, i.e. the fact that they share the same referent. Furthermore, even if you just look at the senses themselves, I cannot think of any non-divine example in which you have completely different senses and yet the same referent.

That's because analogy works differently in the case of the divine. It isn't special pleading to say this any more than it is to say that differance must operate under different rules than history.

dguller said...

Rank:

This isn't the case, because, as Denys says, God is "considerably prior" to dialectics between is and is-not. We know this much through logic. If there were a "being" capable of grounding a world of act/potency, esse/essence and so on, he would be considerably prior to all distinctions while simultaneously surpassing the goodness of every created thing. We don't have to talk about God directly to know these things. Rather, we say, "If there were such a being X as to ground esse/essence, then X would be infinitely better than creation but also indescribable in itself." These are logical facts taken from philosophical reasoning, which are independent of any apophatic/analogical discussion of God in direct terms.

But wouldn’t you agree that for a proposition to have meaning, its content cannot also be “considerably prior” to “dialectics between is and is-not”? All talk about God involves propositions, and those propositions must have meaningful content. How can you have meaningful content that is beyond “is and is-not”? The only way that I can think for this to work is if you have different kinds of being – say, being1 and being2 -- and to say that something is beyond “is and is-not” actually means that something is1 beyond is2 and is2-not. But then being1 must be similar to being2, and the whole set of problems begins anew.

You've brought out this argument before, but it doesn't hold water. God is prior to dialectics. All of church tradition affirms this. God is both singular and plural, the ground of both labels; and he simultaneously contains all of creation and remains uncomposite.

Again, there are different senses to these terms. God is singular in lacking any real distinction, but he is plural in having infinite virtual distinction. And this just shows that his being operates according to the LNC, and thus cannot be “prior to dialectics”, but rather is limited by dialectics since he cannot do what is impossible, although “limited” has connotations that are certainly false here.

Creation is similar to God because he creates it in his own image (ST Ia q45 a7), and because all things pre-exist within God virtually. Aquinas even uses the word "trace" to describe the divine image's appearance within creation. It's reversed Derrida, in many ways. 


Again, you have to define “similar”. There are places where Aquinas and Thomists define “similarity” as partial identity and partial difference, and if that is your definition, then saying that God is similar to creation, irrespective of whatever arguments and doctrines have endorsed that view, is logically impossible. Like I said, if you want to say that God has no parts, then the whole idea of partial identity and partial difference, which themselves presupposes composition, cannot be applied to God. Furthermore, if you want to say that it could, then you ultimately have to conclude that the partial identity, when explicitly talked about necessarily must involve univocal predication and meaning, which Aquinas says is impossible.

dguller said...

As you've argued, there is nothing incoherent about the idea of the Derridean trace in itself, and so I don't see how the trace of the Trinity is any different. Every created thing is always already invaded by the Trinity--the apophatic ground that we can only vaguely gesture toward. However, because the trace of the Trinity is not within the absences and negations of the world, but rather within every created goodness, it becomes possible to attribute to this apophatic ground terms derived from the goodness of creation. Derrida's trace appears only after the intelligible and good have vanished: the Trinity's trace vanishes only when we leave the intelligible and good.

I agree with you for the most part. My argument with you – at least, one of them – was that the very criticisms that you leveled against Derrida are also applicable to Aquinas. Derrida’s system requires necessary impossibilities and so does Aquinas’. My examples were (a) prime matter, which God must have some idea of, because it has defining properties, but cannot possibly have any idea of, because it lacks form, and all definitions of any kind presuppose form; (b) the Beatific Vision, which requires that God himself be limited by the human intellect, which is impossible; and (c) the doctrine of analogy, which necessarily involves similarity (as you rightfully mentioned), but which cannot possibly involve similarity without univocality, which would severely compromise God’s utter transcendence, as Aquinas well realized.

Analogical does not mean "univocal and equivocal simultaneously".

You are correct. Analogy has elements of both, but cannot have the totality of both at the same time. After all, univocality requires the same sense and referent and equivocation requires different sense and different referent. Analogy requires different sense, but the same referent. There is no option that involves the same sense, but different referent.

Creation is similar to God because it contains the Trinitarian trace, but different because God is considerably prior to binary oppositions. In the case of creature-to-creature analogy, it's true that we must say "X is similar to Y in this way, but different in this other way", while remaining clear and dialectical in the process. God, though, is the ground prior to all distinctions, and so it is impossible to use this exact process.

It might be helpful if we defined our terms. Here are mine:

(1) X is identical to Y iff X has everything in common with Y
(2) X is similar to Y iff X has something in common with Y
(3) X is different from Y iff X has nothing in common with Y

If these are acceptable, then it seems that you are arguing that creation is similar to God, because creation contains “the Trinitarian trace”. My question is whether “the Trinitarian trace” can be given meaningful content. Does it have a sense? Does it have a referent? The referent is clearly God, but what is the sense? The sense must be rooted in our human experience, and the further question is whether our sense of that term has anything in common with God’s sense.

In order for Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy to hold, our sense of the term must have nothing in common with God’s sense of the term, because if there was something in common, then we can certainly talk about that commonality with the same sense and referent as God’s understanding of the term, which would necessarily mean a univocal meaning. And the problem is that this also means that God’s transcendence is compromised, which was the main justification that Aquinas made in rejecting univocal meaning when applied to God. So, something has to give.

dguller said...

Again, creation is always already Trinitarian and invaded by the image of God, and so it makes absolutely no sense to say that it is either totally the same or totally separate from God in any way.

Right! And yet that’s the only way to say it under Aquinas’ system. Due to God’s metaphysical simplicity and lack of composition, he has no parts, and thus cannot be partly anything, which means that he is either all or none. And yet, he cannot be either all or none, as you just said. So, it’s a necessary impossibility.

As I said before, creation is similar to God in that it is a reflection of the divine good (it contains the Trinitarian trace), but different in that God is infinitely prior to and superior to it. Your argument relies on thinking of God as one being among others, rather than as the original ground of being: a confusion of Being with beings, in a way.

My argument does not make such a presupposition. I understand that Aquinas grounds his doctrine of analogy upon his metaphysics and ontology, but his philosophy of language and epistemology undercut his metaphysical and ontological claims. It has nothing to do with the ontological difference at all, but rather with his definitions of “univocal”, “equivocal” and “analogical”, as well as some definitions of “identical”, “similar” and “different”. Once you accept them, then you necessarily have a problem from the linguistic and epistemological end of his system.

This doesn't follow. We know A) that esse/essence, act/potency, etc. all have a ground; B) that this ground is necessarily beyond logic; and C) that this ground is necessarily greater than the combined total of all perfections. None of this is under erasure, because it's all based on creation rather than on God. We also know that God is not unknowable because he is a sublime nothingness, but because he is too intelligible to be known through logic. This, again, is from creation.

My question is whether there is a logical contradiction between saying that (a) all meaning depends our human understanding and interpretation (i.e. our modus significandi) and what our understanding and interpretation are supposed to be about (i.e. the referrant as res significandi), and (b) we can talk about something beyond our human experience and understanding. I see a contradiction, and thus if the conclusion of a logical argument leads to something beyond our conception, then that conclusion is semantically empty by virtue of its lack of an accessible sense, even if it still has a referent.

dguller said...

This, however, is not Christian tradition. Even some of the Neo-Platonists abandoned a firm dialectic between light/dark and order/chaos, but it was the church fathers who really placed God beyond the strictures of metaphysics. As Hart says (and as Aquinas agrees), God does not have non-being as his opposite. He also does not have potency as his opposite, since he created that as well. He grounds the notions of both "being" and "non-being", as well as the notions of act and potency. The power and transcendence of the Unmoved Mover and even Plato's Form of the Good pale in comparison to those of the traditional Christian God, although certain conceptions of the One come reasonably close. (The One, though, always maintains a certain "tragic distance" from creation, as Hart says.)

Again, the question is whether saying that p is beyond all human comprehension also implies that p is meaningless. To talk about a “ground” beyond everything that we know about reality compromises all our logical deductions about this ground. It is like a reductio that consumes itself. If your argument leads to a ground beyond all grounds, a “non-ground”, then are you really saying anything at all, or only superficially seeming to say something? Given Aquinas’ philosophy of language, I would argue that the lack of sense in such a conclusion makes it meaningless, even if it has a referent. Unfortunately, our only route to the referent is through the sense, and thus no sense, no access to a referent. In this case, it would mean no access to God.

Again, your confusion here rests on thinking of God and the Trinitarian trace not as an "always already" but as "elements among others". That doesn't work. All being was made in the divine image, and so it must be always already similar to God: analogy works differently than when you're comparing one creature to another. It is incomprehensible even to imagine "a being that is not like God".

Again, there is an impossible tension between the necessity of an exclusively analogical understanding of God and the necessity of an underlying univocal understanding of God, based upon Aquinas’ own terminology. In other words, in order to preserve both God’s transcendence, as well as our ability to talk about him at all, given that utter transcendence, is for the doctrine of analogy to be true. However, given his philosophy of language, there is a necessary underlying univocality that grounds his doctrine of analogy, at least the linguistic component of it.

I would concur with Duns Scotus on this point, although I argue this position in a different way than he does. Remember, my claim is that it is impossible for the same referent to have two senses that have absolutely nothing in common. At least, they have the same referent in common, but going further, I don’t think that there is a single example, other than God, of a single referent have completely different senses without nothing in common. If you can find one, then the principle would be validated. I don’t think that you, and unless you can, then Aquinas cannot use our ordinary forms of analogical reasoning to apply to God, because all God talk would violate his own conditions of meaningful utterances.

dguller said...

That's because analogy works differently in the case of the divine. It isn't special pleading to say this any more than it is to say that differance must operate under different rules than history.

But that is like saying that although in the world, a square has four sides, with God, a square can have three sides. There are definitions here that must hold both for God and for creation. To be able to talk about God, our language must be both analogical, and have both a sense and a referent (i.e. God). According to Aquinas, if any of these components is missing, then you are not talking about God at all. The problem is that if his definitions of “analogy” and “univocal”, and “modus significandi” and “res significandi” are valid, then either analogy reduces to univocality, which would falsify a key Thomist doctrine, or our talk about God literally has no valid sense, even if it has a valid referent, which would make it meaningless, which would falsify a key Thomist doctrine. You cannot have it all, I think.

rank sophist said...

But wouldn’t you agree that for a proposition to have meaning, its content cannot also be “considerably prior” to “dialectics between is and is-not”?

There is no such thing as a proposition that signifies God in the strict sense. Any proposition about God, such as "God is Wisdom", is a divine name. Even the name "God" does not refer to God in himself, but rather to a certain compilation of metaphysical and scriptural notions derived from creation. As Eckhart said, "I pray God to rid me of God." God is always already superior to any description or divine name, even to the statement that he is superior to those descriptions--and even to that statement, and to this one, onward forever. So, again, our propositions about God do not really speak about God, but rather about a roughly-made idol (to put it bluntly) that must immediately be effaced via further elaboration, as Hart argues. That idol is the entity signified by our discussions of God, although we know through both scripture and philosophy that it is not God in himself.

All talk about God involves propositions, and those propositions must have meaningful content. How can you have meaningful content that is beyond “is and is-not”? The only way that I can think for this to work is if you have different kinds of being – say, being1 and being2 -- and to say that something is beyond “is and is-not” actually means that something is1 beyond is2 and is2-not. But then being1 must be similar to being2, and the whole set of problems begins anew.

As I said, discussion of God is meaningful in that it is directed toward an endless chain of idols who each surpass the previous in excellence. As Hart argues, all of creation is in fact a series of idols (he calls them symbols) to God, just like the divine names. So, you're absolutely correct that our propositions do not discuss God in himself. Further, the process of discussing God is by nature a non-vicious infinite regress--and so you're also correct that we would have to continue talking about a higher kind of being over and over again without end. This is non-vicious because we know on firm grounds that God exists and is the source of all perfection and being, and so necessarily can only be described through constant revision inspired by our knowledge of those things possessing the Trinitarian trace.

rank sophist said...

Again, you have to define “similar”. There are places where Aquinas and Thomists define “similarity” as partial identity and partial difference, and if that is your definition, then saying that God is similar to creation, irrespective of whatever arguments and doctrines have endorsed that view, is logically impossible. Like I said, if you want to say that God has no parts, then the whole idea of partial identity and partial difference, which themselves presupposes composition, cannot be applied to God.

What's impossible is the idea of a creature that is not always already partially similar to God, in the sense that its "being1" is a reflection of his "being2" which is a reflection of his "being3" and so on. Again, as you seem to forget, this system is based on the idea that the Trinitarian trace is always already present in every contingent being. A contingent being that is not in some way like God is a logical impossibility. God is the backdrop against which all things play out--not a being among beings whose features can be measured against the features of other beings. Hence, when we say that God is similar to beings, what we are really saying is the following:

1. Created things have a ground.
2. Created things took on, in a disparate and imperfect fashion, traits of this ground.
3. Therefore, we can examine created things to guess at the nature of their ground.

If the Five Ways succeed, then 1 is certain. 2 also follows from logic, even if it remains impossible to describe the original traits that were mimicked by creation without an infinite regress. If that's the case, then 3 follows and the doctrine of analogy holds.

I agree with you for the most part. My argument with you – at least, one of them – was that the very criticisms that you leveled against Derrida are also applicable to Aquinas. Derrida’s system requires necessary impossibilities and so does Aquinas’.

I don't recall making that argument against Derrida's system. Rather, my concern has always been with showing that Derrida undermines his own premises (semiotics and representationalism) with differance, making it impossible for any of it to even get off the ground. This is not a "necessary impossibility", but rather a fairly elementary case of self-refutation. In any case, if you agree with my case about the Trinitarian trace (as you seem to above), then you have acknowledged the truth of the doctrine of analogy.

rank sophist said...

If these are acceptable, then it seems that you are arguing that creation is similar to God, because creation contains “the Trinitarian trace”. My question is whether “the Trinitarian trace” can be given meaningful content. Does it have a sense? Does it have a referent? The referent is clearly God, but what is the sense? The sense must be rooted in our human experience, and the further question is whether our sense of that term has anything in common with God’s sense.

I am arguing that creation is similar to God. The meaning of the term "Trinitarian trace" is the same as that of "God", which results in it being infinitely deferred through elaboration. The Trinitarian trace is the presence of God, and so it must follow the same rules. This does not mean that God is identical to creation. As in Derrida's system, the trace is the condition of history, but historical objects are not reducible to the trace: they accumulate around it. So, for example, created things have esse, which is proper to them alone; but esse itself, as a created thing, is always already invaded by the Trinitarian trace, whose own meaning is (again) an infinite regress. Esse has a meaning of its own, as a secondary existent, but it also has another, higher meaning because of the presence of the Trinitarian trace. What exactly this higher meaning is must be subject to deferral through elaboration.

Right! And yet that’s the only way to say it under Aquinas’ system. Due to God’s metaphysical simplicity and lack of composition, he has no parts, and thus cannot be partly anything, which means that he is either all or none.

Actually, he's neither all nor none. The idea of "all" and the idea of "none" play out against the backdrop of God, who grounds both and is limited by neither.

My question is whether there is a logical contradiction between saying that (a) all meaning depends our human understanding and interpretation (i.e. our modus significandi) and what our understanding and interpretation are supposed to be about (i.e. the referrant as res significandi), and (b) we can talk about something beyond our human experience and understanding. I see a contradiction, and thus if the conclusion of a logical argument leads to something beyond our conception, then that conclusion is semantically empty by virtue of its lack of an accessible sense, even if it still has a referent.

It isn't semantically empty, because the terms that we employ ("good", "true", etc.) all have objective meaning derived from creatures. We compile these objective meanings into an infinite series of idols, none of which are God in himself. Hence, you have a sense and a referent, even though the result is only a bunch of failed attempts to describe the fullness of God's goodness and transcendence.

But that is like saying that although in the world, a square has four sides, with God, a square can have three sides.

No, it isn't. A square with three sides is a logical contradiction, while saying that God plays by a different set of rules could, at best, be called special pleading.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

This is non-vicious because we know on firm grounds that God exists and is the source of all perfection and being

By that you mean Thomas argument from change and his argument from degrees of perfection or do you have something else in mind?

Or do you simply mean the totality of all arguments/explorations of God in general?

rank sophist said...

By that you mean Thomas argument from change and his argument from degrees of perfection or do you have something else in mind?

Or do you simply mean the totality of all arguments/explorations of God in general?


I was referring specifically to the Five Ways, which include both of the arguments you mentioned, and to Aquinas's "existential argument" that works from the essence/existence distinction. (Gilson and Prof. Feser argue that this latter argument is in fact that Second Way, but I'm not entirely sure.) dguller and I have a long history of arguing on this blog, so I just took it for granted that he knew what I was talking about.

Anonymous said...

dguller and I have a long history of arguing on this blog, so I just took it for granted that he knew what I was talking about.

Yeah, I've read some of your marathon discussions in the past and I'm quietly observing this one since the doctrine of analogy is another topic I am interested in.

I've been trying to come up with a good analogy to use for practical purposes when discussing the doctrine of analogy with laymen and I haven't quite found one to my satisfaction yet. In other words, what would the doctrine of analogy be analogical to? That is to say the doctrine of analogy is to God what __________ is to __________ .

Does that question make sense? Do you think there is a practical example I can give or is the doctrine of analogy unparalleled in that regard?

It would help me explain this better to people and would probably help me understand it better myself. At least that's what I'm hoping.

dguller said...

Rank:

There is no such thing as a proposition that signifies God in the strict sense. Any proposition about God, such as "God is Wisdom", is a divine name. Even the name "God" does not refer to God in himself, but rather to a certain compilation of metaphysical and scriptural notions derived from creation. As Eckhart said, "I pray God to rid me of God." God is always already superior to any description or divine name, even to the statement that he is superior to those descriptions--and even to that statement, and to this one, onward forever. So, again, our propositions about God do not really speak about God, but rather about a roughly-made idol (to put it bluntly) that must immediately be effaced via further elaboration, as Hart argues. That idol is the entity signified by our discussions of God, although we know through both scripture and philosophy that it is not God in himself.

But you are not meeting Aquinas upon his own terminology. I am not talking about Christian theology in general, but about Thomism in particular. According to Thomism, for a term to have meaning, there must be a mode of signification (or modus signficandi), which can be associated with the mode by which a thing is understood and presented to the mind, i.e. the sense, and a thing that is signified (or res significandi), which is its referent. If you are correct in that “God” does not refer to God himself, then he word “God” has no referent, and thus no sense, and thus is meaningless, which must be incorrect.

It would be better to say that although the referent is stable and firm, because the referent is God himself, the sense is what is flawed and limited by virtue of being apportioned to the human mind, which is simply structurally incapable of understand God as he is in himself, which would have to be the modus significandi in which he is presented to himself in his intellect. Since our understanding of God must be deficient when compared to God’s own understanding of himself, then the sense of “God” for us must be different from the sense of God to himself. That is supposed to be why our understanding is analogical, according to Aquinas, because that is the reason why there must be different senses to the terms that we use to refer to God as compared to creation.

I understand that other theologians think differently, and may not agree with Aquinas’ formulation, but that is the one that I am focusing upon. I haven’t read Hart yet, and will comment on his version after I have. For now, I am hoping to show you that Aquinas’ construal of the linguistic aspect of his doctrine of analogy severely undermines his theology and metaphysics by necessarily requiring univocality at the heart of his analogy, which compromises God’s transcendence.

dguller said...

What's impossible is the idea of a creature that is not always already partially similar to God, in the sense that its "being1" is a reflection of his "being2" which is a reflection of his "being3" and so on. Again, as you seem to forget, this system is based on the idea that the Trinitarian trace is always already present in every contingent being. A contingent being that is not in some way like God is a logical impossibility. God is the backdrop against which all things play out--not a being among beings whose features can be measured against the features of other beings.

But the problem is still how you can claim that God is fully in “every contingent being”. After all, as we discussed before, “fully” has to imply the absence of any residual elements. If a glass if full, then there is the absence of any residual space. If a person is fully conscious, then there is the absence of any residual unconsciousness. How can you say that God is fully present in contingent being X, and yet still have something extra available to be present in contingent being Y? That seems to be a contradiction in terms, unless you have an idiosyncratic definition of “fully”. Again, the issue is that with a metaphysically simple being, there is no partiality whatsoever, but rather either all or nothing. Both are highly problematic. If God is totally and fully present in X, then (a) by definition, God cannot be present in Y, because there is nothing left over to be present in Y, and (b) God would have to be actually present in X in his totality, which would mean that a finite being possesses/contains/limits an infinite being. If God is not present at all in X, then X cannot exist. So, again, you have a system riddled with necessary impossibilities.

Hence, when we say that God is similar to beings, what we are really saying is the following:



1. Created things have a ground.

2. Created things took on, in a disparate and imperfect fashion, traits of this ground.

3. Therefore, we can examine created things to guess at the nature of their ground.



If the Five Ways succeed, then 1 is certain. 2 also follows from logic, even if it remains impossible to describe the original traits that were mimicked by creation without an infinite regress. If that's the case, then 3 follows and the doctrine of analogy holds.


I’ll grant all of that, but it does not help your case. Assume that God and created beings share a commonality C. C can be the “traits of this ground”, if you like. Next, look at the following sentences:

(1) God has C
(2) Creation has C

Is C univocal or analogical between (1) and (2)? Aquinas would say that C would have to be analogical, which means that C has the same referent in (1) and (2), but C has a different sense in (1) and (2). And that makes sense, because C in (2) is comprehensible to us within our limited and finite understanding, whereas C in (1) is incomprehensible and beyond our limited and finite understanding. So, the sense of C in (1) must be different from the sense of C in (2). The problem, as I’ve been repeating, is that if the sense of C in (1) is different from the sense of C in (2), then the sense of C in (1) has nothing in common with the sense of C in (2). And that is clearly false, because the sense of C in (1) has the same referent as the sense of C in (2), and thus they have something in common. Furthermore, for the sense of C in (1) to be different from the sense of C in (2), then one would have to demonstrate the validity of the principle that the same referent can have two utterly distinct and different senses that have absolutely nothing in common. Unless you can demonstrate this key principle, the entire argument is question begging and involves special pleading.

dguller said...

Notice that it is completely irrelevant whether there are metaphysical and ontological justifications for your position. The metaphysics and ontology are supposed to underlie and ground the linguistic and epistemological components, and yet the linguistic and epistemological components end up swallowing the metaphysics and ontology, because you cannot even talk about the metaphysics and ontology, because it all presupposes the validity of analogy, which is completely suspect on Aquinas’ own terms. I have no problem if you say that Aquinas was wrong here, and Hart is correct. I haven’t read Hart, and so I don’t know if you are right, but at least that would be a defensible position. But if you actually read Aquinas’ explanation of analogy, then you’ll see that it just doesn’t work.

I don't recall making that argument against Derrida's system. Rather, my concern has always been with showing that Derrida undermines his own premises (semiotics and representationalism) with differance, making it impossible for any of it to even get off the ground. This is not a "necessary impossibility", but rather a fairly elementary case of self-refutation. In any case, if you agree with my case about the Trinitarian trace (as you seem to above), then you have acknowledged the truth of the doctrine of analogy.

What is the difference between a “necessary impossibility” and an “elementary case of self-refutation”? To me, they are the same thing.

Actually, he's neither all nor none. The idea of "all" and the idea of "none" play out against the backdrop of God, who grounds both and is limited by neither.

Then how can you say that God is “fully” anything, if he is “neither all nor none”? Again, you are helping yourself to words with meaning, and then draining them of meaning, but pretending that they still mean something.

It isn't semantically empty, because the terms that we employ ("good", "true", etc.) all have objective meaning derived from creatures. We compile these objective meanings into an infinite series of idols, none of which are God in himself. Hence, you have a sense and a referent, even though the result is only a bunch of failed attempts to describe the fullness of God's goodness and transcendence.

But what fails? The sense or the referent, or both? If the sense fails, then we cannot even refer to God, because all reference is through sense. If the referent fails, then we aren’t even talking about God at all, and so if all we talk about are “idols”, then God vanishes into nothingness.

No, it isn't. A square with three sides is a logical contradiction, while saying that God plays by a different set of rules could, at best, be called special pleading.

It is a logical contradiction, if the rules contradict one another when applied to God versus when applied to creatures. Say that an analogy between A and B presupposes X, Y and Z. Furthermore, say that X, Y and Z are operative when comparing creatures A and B. However, say that when comparing God and creatures, Z is absent. It necessarily follows that there cannot be an analogy between God and creatures, because analogy requires Z, which does not work in this context. If you further argue that analogy still works, then you have a contradiction, because you have an analogy and yet cannot have an analogy. That’s what I meant. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not parts, but degrees?

rank sophist said...

Anon,

I've been trying to come up with a good analogy to use for practical purposes when discussing the doctrine of analogy with laymen and I haven't quite found one to my satisfaction yet. In other words, what would the doctrine of analogy be analogical to? That is to say the doctrine of analogy is to God what __________ is to __________ .

Does that question make sense? Do you think there is a practical example I can give or is the doctrine of analogy unparalleled in that regard?

It would help me explain this better to people and would probably help me understand it better myself. At least that's what I'm hoping.


The doctrine of analogy is tough to explain, but one way to put it is by saying that creation imitates God in the way that an effect imitates its cause. For Thomists, one thing can only cause another if it already in some way contains its effect, and so all effects are by necessity similar to their causes. Aquinas typically gives the example of "health" being in medicine, even though medicine is not healthy.

dguller,

But you are not meeting Aquinas upon his own terminology. I am not talking about Christian theology in general, but about Thomism in particular. According to Thomism, for a term to have meaning, there must be a mode of signification (or modus signficandi), which can be associated with the mode by which a thing is understood and presented to the mind, i.e. the sense, and a thing that is signified (or res significandi), which is its referent. If you are correct in that “God” does not refer to God himself, then he word “God” has no referent, and thus no sense, and thus is meaningless, which must be incorrect.

Thomism follows Christian theology in general on the doctrine of analogy and on apophaticism. No part of Aquinas's system drifts away from either. I mean, come on: he cited Pseudo-Denys 2,500 times, and Meister Eckhart said that his theology was a mere repetition of Aquinas's. Hart, too, just repeats that same tradition. It's all of a piece. Here's what Aquinas says about the practice of divine naming:

"Since according to the Philosopher (Peri Herm. i), words are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things, it is evident that words relate to the meaning of things signified through the medium of the intellectual conception. It follows therefore that we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it. Now it was shown above (12, 11, 12) that in this life we cannot see the essence of God; but we know God from creatures as their principle, and also by way of excellence and remotion. In this way therefore He can be named by us from creatures, yet not so that the name which signifies Him expresses the divine essence in itself."

In other words, we compile effigies out of good traits witnessed in creatures. These effigies do not express God in himself, but, because God is always already present in all goodness (a fact prior to divine names), they serve as symbols for God. Now, when I say that they serve as symbols for God, the "God" I'm predicating is yet another symbol and a compilation of metaphysical ideas, and so it must be effaced with this statement. And then that statement must in turn be effaced, because it too fails to get at the true transcendence and perfection of God. And so on. Again, Eckhart's formula must be applied on loop forever.

So, basically, divine names do not signify God in himself in terms of propositional content; but, as God is prior to all propositional content and the source of goodness, names that strain to describe the highest good are always already symbols of God. God's presence is the facticity of existence, in other words, that is always already presupposed by the existence of "creatures as their principle, and also by way of excellence and remotion".

rank sophist said...

It would be better to say that although the referent is stable and firm, because the referent is God himself, the sense is what is flawed and limited by virtue of being apportioned to the human mind, which is simply structurally incapable of understand God as he is in himself, which would have to be the modus significandi in which he is presented to himself in his intellect.

God cannot be the referent except as the factical (to use a somewhat distorted version of Heidegger's term) condition of goodness, because, as Aquinas says, a name only possesses intentionality to the extent that it is imbued with a concept from a mind. But God's essence cannot be the literal referent, because it is incomprehensible; and so the literal referent must instead be an idol created by the mind. Again, though, God is always already present in these names as their facticity, insofar as they signify goodness. Hence, to repeat myself once more, we must efface one idol with an even more elaborate replacement in a never-ending attempt to describe God.

I understand that other theologians think differently, and may not agree with Aquinas’ formulation, but that is the one that I am focusing upon. I haven’t read Hart yet, and will comment on his version after I have. For now, I am hoping to show you that Aquinas’ construal of the linguistic aspect of his doctrine of analogy severely undermines his theology and metaphysics by necessarily requiring univocality at the heart of his analogy, which compromises God’s transcendence.

Hart cites Aquinas's treatment of the divine names very favorably in his work. They don't think differently on this issue, even if they use different words to describe their ideas. Aquinas's texts are bone-dry, academic stuff that take no poetic license; Hart's style is more in the tradition of Pseudo-Denys and Gregory of Nyssa. However, both men use the same points of reference and make the same arguments.

But the problem is still how you can claim that God is fully in “every contingent being”. After all, as we discussed before, “fully” has to imply the absence of any residual elements. If a glass if full, then there is the absence of any residual space.

You're begging the question again. God's presence is the factical ground of both "is" and "is-not", and God himself is neither. To assume otherwise is already to presuppose the conclusion that God is not the ground of existence, which is unargued. To make your case, you'd first have to explain why God is not always already presupposed by ontic being, which would mean refuting all of the Five Ways.

Again, the issue is that with a metaphysically simple being, there is no partiality whatsoever, but rather either all or nothing. Both are highly problematic. If God is totally and fully present in X, then (a) by definition, God cannot be present in Y, because there is nothing left over to be present in Y, and (b) God would have to be actually present in X in his totality, which would mean that a finite being possesses/contains/limits an infinite being. If God is not present at all in X, then X cannot exist. So, again, you have a system riddled with necessary impossibilities.

Only, again, if you beg the question. To suppose that God is trapped in a binary opposition between one/many or all/none is already to discount the entire purpose of Christian theology, which is to show that God is prior to and the very possibility of all of these distinctions. There is no such thing as a "totality of God", because to discuss "totality" is already to think of God in limited terms based on creation, all of which God transcends.

rank sophist said...

I’ll grant all of that, but it does not help your case. Assume that God and created beings share a commonality C. C can be the “traits of this ground”, if you like. Next, look at the following sentences:

(1) God has C
(2) Creation has C


If you grant my argument above, then you've already lost. You've admitted that the Trinitarian trace (divine image) is the facticity of existence, which means that you admit the impossibility of comparing God and creation in the way that you're attempting to here. All that's necessary for my case to be made is that the Trinitarian trace is indeed the condition of existence: once you've taken this step, the actual details of what this trace entails--the endless loop of Eckhart's maxim--do nothing to undermine the logical coherence of the doctrine of analogy.

Is C univocal or analogical between (1) and (2)? Aquinas would say that C would have to be analogical, which means that C has the same referent in (1) and (2), but C has a different sense in (1) and (2). And that makes sense, because C in (2) is comprehensible to us within our limited and finite understanding, whereas C in (1) is incomprehensible and beyond our limited and finite understanding.

You're considering God in separation from his parts, which once again shows that you're thinking of him as a being rather than as Being. Further, as I've said repeatedly, we cannot discuss God in himself. Nor, given what's already been said, is it necessary to do so to establish the doctrine of analogy.

Notice that it is completely irrelevant whether there are metaphysical and ontological justifications for your position. The metaphysics and ontology are supposed to underlie and ground the linguistic and epistemological components, and yet the linguistic and epistemological components end up swallowing the metaphysics and ontology, because you cannot even talk about the metaphysics and ontology, because it all presupposes the validity of analogy, which is completely suspect on Aquinas’ own terms.

Metaphysics and ontology do not presuppose the validity of the doctrine of analogy. Distinctions between form/matter, act/potency, esse/essence and so forth are all based on purely logical and empirical considerations. None of them presuppose God. However, God seems to follow necessarily once these distinctions are accepted. And, given the type of God that follows, we know that he cannot be known in himself. The doctrine of analogy follows from all of these points: it does not ground them. Unlike Derrida, Aquinas does not rest his case on sloppy presuppositions and unexamined prejudices.

Then how can you say that God is “fully” anything, if he is “neither all nor none”? Again, you are helping yourself to words with meaning, and then draining them of meaning, but pretending that they still mean something.

God is fully in everything because the Trinitarian trace is the condition of existence, prior to any dialectic or language.

rank sophist said...

But what fails? The sense or the referent, or both? If the sense fails, then we cannot even refer to God, because all reference is through sense. If the referent fails, then we aren’t even talking about God at all, and so if all we talk about are “idols”, then God vanishes into nothingness.

We already know that God is the ground of these idols and of goodness generally, and so his vanishing into "nothingness" (or "no-thing-ness") is not a problem but a necessary consequence of the system. As Pseudo-Denys said, God in himself is found when one "breaks free of them ['the holiest and highest of the things perceived with the eye of the body or the mind'], away from what sees and is seen, and [...] plunges into the truly mysterious darkness of unknowing". God in himself transcends even the boundary between transcendence and immanence, in Hart's words. He transcends transcendence itself. The reason that this total otherness does not end in the "tragic distance" of post-modernism (again, to steal from Hart) is that, as we've established, the facticity of the Trinitarian trace is present in all good, intelligible, beautiful and noble things "as their principle". Unlike with Heidegger or Derrida or Levinas, the facticity of Thomism is not primordial emptiness, but is rather goodness. Hence, the Trinitarian trace and God are at an infinite remove from comprehension, just like with differance; but they are always already visible in every good thing, while differance is utter negation that appears only once we've left behind the intelligible, beautiful and good. This allows us to use analogy to create an infinite series of idols to bridge the gap between our vision of God's immanence and the "truly mysterious darkness" of his transcendence.

It is a logical contradiction, if the rules contradict one another when applied to God versus when applied to creatures. Say that an analogy between A and B presupposes X, Y and Z. Furthermore, say that X, Y and Z are operative when comparing creatures A and B. However, say that when comparing God and creatures, Z is absent. It necessarily follows that there cannot be an analogy between God and creatures, because analogy requires Z, which does not work in this context. If you further argue that analogy still works, then you have a contradiction, because you have an analogy and yet cannot have an analogy. That’s what I meant. Any thoughts?

Again, your argument rests on a begged question: the notion that God's presence is not the facticity of being. Only if you presuppose this is it possible to say that God and creation must be placed in this sort of dialectic. Once you accept that the Trinitarian trace is always already within being as its principle, as you did above, the doctrine of analogy (as I have described it in this combox) necessarily follows.

Anonymous said...

The doctrine of analogy is tough to explain, but one way to put it is by saying that creation imitates God in the way that an effect imitates its cause. For Thomists, one thing can only cause another if it already in some way contains its effect, and so all effects are by necessity similar to their causes. Aquinas typically gives the example of "health" being in medicine, even though medicine is not healthy.

Oh, so in the case of medicine we could say it contains the effect virtually, whereas in the case of a torch lighting up a bonfire it would contain it eminently, right?

I think I read Feser making that distinction in Aquinas, If I'm not mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

These effigies do not express God in himself, but, because God is always already present in all goodness

When we talk about goodness in this sense, i.e. we derive God's perfection from the goodness of created things, what does the word good denote? Does it mean the actualization of the final ends of things? As in the which actualizes its final ends is that which is good? Or do we mean something else?

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Sorry to be bombarding you with all these questions but there are a few holes (or missing links) in my understanding, which I am trying to fill by asking.

In connection to my previous question about goodness...

the facticity of the Trinitarian trace is present in all good, intelligible, beautiful and noble things "as their principle"

If you don't mind, can you elaborate a little on that? Specifically on what that principle is and also to how I were to prove that to a layman. I'm assuming it has something to do with the Five Ways (I think you mentioned that earlier), I'm just having a bit of trouble going from the Five Ways to the beautiful and the intelligible (the good I suppose I can demonstrate using the Forth Way - degrees of perfection?). Even so, I'm a little unclear about how to utilize the word good in the correct way... The subject of my previous question that is.



rank sophist said...

Anon,

Oh, so in the case of medicine we could say it contains the effect virtually, whereas in the case of a torch lighting up a bonfire it would contain it eminently, right?

I think I read Feser making that distinction in Aquinas, If I'm not mistaken.


He does discuss the virtual distinction in that book, although only (tragically) in passing. It's like pulling teeth to find in-depth analyses of the virtual distinction. In any case, I think that containing something virtually is the same as containing it eminently, in that it pre-exists "by another mode" in the efficient cause. This only works, though, in cases of non-univocal causation. A torch lighting a bonfire is univocal causation, because both involve burning objects. Medicine causing health is equivocal causation, in that the cause produces something that is different in kind than itself. In the same way, everything that God produces differs in kind from himself: never in degree only.

When we talk about goodness in this sense, i.e. we derive God's perfection from the goodness of created things, what does the word good denote? Does it mean the actualization of the final ends of things? As in the which actualizes its final ends is that which is good? Or do we mean something else?

I'm using the word in its Neo-Platonic sense, which equates being with goodness, truth, beauty, nobility and so forth. Aquinas understands the good both in this way and in the way you're describing--the teleological good propounded by Aristotle. However, Aristotle, as great as he was, confused "beings and Being" (in Heidegger's terms), in that he reduced "being simply" to the ten categories and never went beyond them. With his essence-existence distinction, Aquinas corrected this mistake with help from Neo-Platonism and the church fathers. Nothing like this distinction appears in Aristotle, and it's the reason why Aquinas was able to introduce a proper ontology and a truly Christian understanding of the good into Aristotelianism.

So, when it's said that we derive God's goodness from the goodness of creation, this means that the existence (or esse) of created things, which is the first and purest good of creation, may be examined in all of its disparity to find the imprint of God's goodness. As Aquinas says, even rocks are like God in their own way--Pseudo-Denys uses the example of a worm, in one of his texts. Even the most repulsive thing in existence possesses esse, and so is made in the image of God. In keeping with Neo-Platonism and the church fathers, Aquinas argues that evil does not really exist in the ontological sense, but is rather a privation: a lack of good, and so a lack of being. He also expands the teleological good with the Neo-Platonic good, showing that it is in fact derivative of the original good of existence; and the combination of these two ideas allows him to speak of variations in truth, beauty, goodness, nobility and so forth in creation without thereby committing himself to the absurd notion that certain things have "more being" than others. (dguller and I have discussed this very issue at length before.)

rank sophist said...

If you don't mind, can you elaborate a little on that? Specifically on what that principle is and also to how I were to prove that to a layman. I'm assuming it has something to do with the Five Ways (I think you mentioned that earlier), I'm just having a bit of trouble going from the Five Ways to the beautiful and the intelligible (the good I suppose I can demonstrate using the Forth Way - degrees of perfection?). Even so, I'm a little unclear about how to utilize the word good in the correct way... The subject of my previous question that is.

You're correct that this is based on the Fourth Way, although it's also from scripture, Aquinas's "existential argument" and the writings of the church fathers. It also relies on the concept of the "interconvertibility of the transcendentals"--something that I originally learned from dguller. The general idea is that good, truth, beauty, being and nobility (among a few others, I think) are all different names for the same thing. Further, according to Aquinas (and others), entities are only intelligible insofar as they have being, which is the first thing recognized by the intellect in its act of knowing. Being and intelligibility go hand-in-hand, which, given the above, also means that goodness, beauty and suchlike go hand-in-hand with intelligibility. Now, the entity that is greatest in being, beauty, goodness, etc. will also be the greatest in intelligibility. That entity is God, who is incomprehensible to us not because he is unintelligible, but because he is too intelligible as a result of his limitless being (ST Ia q12 a1). Since God creates all things in the image of his own unlimited being and intelligibility, he is the principle of intelligibility, beauty, goodness and the rest.

dguller said...

Rank:

In other words, we compile effigies out of good traits witnessed in creatures. These effigies do not express God in himself, but, because God is always already present in all goodness (a fact prior to divine names), they serve as symbols for God. Now, when I say that they serve as symbols for God, the "God" I'm predicating is yet another symbol and a compilation of metaphysical ideas, and so it must be effaced with this statement. And then that statement must in turn be effaced, because it too fails to get at the true transcendence and perfection of God. And so on. Again, Eckhart's formula must be applied on loop forever.

You seem to fall prey to the same self-refuting aspects of relativism. You make absolute statements and then state that you cannot make absolute statements. You say that “God is always already present in all goodness”, and then say that you aren’t actually talking about God, but only symbol of God. But you can’t even say that, because to say that “God” is a symbol of God means that you must be able to definitively refer to God, which you admit is impossible, and so you have “God1”, which is a symbol for “God2”, which is a symbol for “God3”, and on and on forever without any end or termination point. It would be exactly like your apt criticism of Derrida’s semiotics, because there is nothing but a never-ending stream of signifiers without any termination in a signified. To avoid equivocation here, there must a common core that is sustained in all these symbols, and that common core, in order to be meaningful must have both a sense and a referent, or else you are literally saying nothing at all, and just playing a shell game.

So, basically, divine names do not signify God in himself in terms of propositional content; but, as God is prior to all propositional content and the source of goodness, names that strain to describe the highest good are always already symbols of God. God's presence is the facticity of existence, in other words, that is always already presupposed by the existence of "creatures as their principle, and also by way of excellence and remotion".

But again, you are referring to something when you say that “God’s presence is the facticity of existence”, and that God is the “ground”, and so on. If you deny that you can possibly refer to God, then what exactly are you denying the ability to refer to? To say that you cannot refer to X is already to refer to X, at the very least to be able to deny the capacity to refer to X.

dguller said...

God cannot be the referent except as the factical (to use a somewhat distorted version of Heidegger's term) condition of goodness, because, as Aquinas says, a name only possesses intentionality to the extent that it is imbued with a concept from a mind. But God's essence cannot be the literal referent, because it is incomprehensible; and so the literal referent must instead be an idol created by the mind. Again, though, God is always already present in these names as their facticity, insofar as they signify goodness. Hence, to repeat myself once more, we must efface one idol with an even more elaborate replacement in a never-ending attempt to describe God.

I disagree, and so does Aquinas. He writes that “when the intellect attributes being to God it transcends its own manner of signifying, attributing to God that which is signified but not the mode of signifying” (DP 7.2 ad7). He does not dispute that the divine names have a proper referent, i.e. God, but only disputes our mode of signification, i.e. the way that we understand and experience the referent is bound to be deficient and imperfect due to fundamental inability to conceive of a metaphysically simple being, as well as other reasons. As I have been saying, Aquinas makes a distinction between our way of understanding X and our ability to refer to X, saying that the former is deficient when it comes to talking about God, but that the latter is just fine, which contradicts your viewpoint. So, we can refer to something that we find incomprehensible, according to Aquinas.

Hart cites Aquinas's treatment of the divine names very favorably in his work. They don't think differently on this issue, even if they use different words to describe their ideas. Aquinas's texts are bone-dry, academic stuff that take no poetic license; Hart's style is more in the tradition of Pseudo-Denys and Gregory of Nyssa. However, both men use the same points of reference and make the same arguments.

I’ll defer to you about that, but I’ll only respond by saying that I’d be curious to note Hart’s definition or conception of “analogy”. Aquinas’ is very clear, as far as I understand it. To say that X is analogous to Y means that X and Y are partially the same and partially different. When it comes to saying that creation is analogous to God, the part that is the same is a common referent, i.e. God’s properties as the source of creation’s properties, and the part that is different is the expression of those properties in a deficient and imperfect fashion in creation versus an exemplary and perfect fashion in God. That translates into those common properties having different modes of signification (i.e. senses), but the same thing signified (i.e. referent).

You're begging the question again. God's presence is the factical ground of both "is" and "is-not", and God himself is neither. To assume otherwise is already to presuppose the conclusion that God is not the ground of existence, which is unargued. To make your case, you'd first have to explain why God is not always already presupposed by ontic being, which would mean refuting all of the Five Ways.

Then you have to explain what you mean by “fully” in a way that does not include “is”, “is-not”, “all” or “none”. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible, and so you are not really saying “fully” at all, but perhaps something else related to it.

dguller said...

Only, again, if you beg the question. To suppose that God is trapped in a binary opposition between one/many or all/none is already to discount the entire purpose of Christian theology, which is to show that God is prior to and the very possibility of all of these distinctions. There is no such thing as a "totality of God", because to discuss "totality" is already to think of God in limited terms based on creation, all of which God transcends.

I’m only focusing upon your claim that God is “fully” in each creature. I’d like to know what you mean by “fully” without using any of the distinctions that you’ve stated cannot be applicable to God.

If you grant my argument above, then you've already lost. You've admitted that the Trinitarian trace (divine image) is the facticity of existence, which means that you admit the impossibility of comparing God and creation in the way that you're attempting to here. All that's necessary for my case to be made is that the Trinitarian trace is indeed the condition of existence: once you've taken this step, the actual details of what this trace entails--the endless loop of Eckhart's maxim--do nothing to undermine the logical coherence of the doctrine of analogy.

Remember my claim. I’m arguing that Aquinas’ system is like Derrida’s in that it contains necessary impossibilities. I’ll grant you that what you say is a necessary conclusion of clear premises, and thus are necessarily true. I’m approaching from the other direction by arguing that they are simultaneously impossible. I’ve given arguments for their impossibility, and you are not directly engaging with them, but rather are focusing upon their necessary truth, which is not the issue. You seem to think that just because they are necessarily true, that they cannot therefore by also impossible. That is precisely Derrida’s project of deconstruction, i.e. to destabilize stable structures by finding openings and cracks in their foundation. I believe that I have found cracks, residual elements, fragments and such that simply cannot fit within the system, and yet are absolutely necessary for the system to work at all.

You're considering God in separation from his parts, which once again shows that you're thinking of him as a being rather than as Being. Further, as I've said repeatedly, we cannot discuss God in himself. Nor, given what's already been said, is it necessary to do so to establish the doctrine of analogy.

Let’s break it down. Take the following statements:

(1) God is good
(2) John is good

How do we understand “good” in (1) and (2)? The first thing to note is that “good” has both a sense and a referent in both (1) and (2), as does every term in our language. If the sense and referent are the same in both (1) and (2), then the meaning is univocal. If the sense and referent are different in both (1) and (2), then the meaning is equivocal. If the sense of “good” in (1) is different from the sense of “good” in (2), but the referent of “good” in (1) and (2) is the same, then the meaning is analogical, according to Aquinas. That’s the definition of “analogy”, according to him.

dguller said...

And what that means in the above scenario is that “good” ultimately refers to God as the source of goodness in both (1) and (2), but that goodness manifests itself in different ways whether it is in God or in creation. In God, it is a direct part of his metaphysically simple essence, and in creation, it is a byproduct of God’s goodness as indirectly manifested in creation. These differing modes of expression of goodness -- directly in the case of God and indirectly in the case of creation -- mean that our mode of understanding and signifying goodness will be different when it comes to God and creation. The former result in the latter, and thus the epistemological and linguistic aspects of analogical understanding (i.e. the senses of the terms, which are our understanding of the terms), directly follow from the metaphysics and ontology (i.e. the referents of the terms, which are the ontological ground of the terms).

Given that situation, one can ask whether the sense of “good” in (1) can actually be different from the sense of “good” in (2). That depends upon what you mean by different. I’ve endorsed the following definitions, which you’ve yet to comment upon:

(3) X is identical to Y iff X has everything in common with Y
(4) X is similar to Y iff X has something in common with Y
(5) X is different from Y iff X has nothing in common with Y

To say that the sense of “good” in (1) is different from the sense of “good” in (2) means that they must have nothing in common. The problem, as I’ve said, is that they have the same referent, which means that they must have something in common, and thus be similar rather than different. But even more important, I do not think that there are any examples in which a common referent and term can have senses that have absolutely nothing in common, other than when talking about God. If I am right that it is impossible for a common referent to have completely different senses while sharing the same term, then there is absolutely no support for this part of Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy. And if it is impossible for two senses with the same referent to be completely different, then they can only be identical or similar. If they are identical, then you univocal meaning, which is impossible with regards to talking about God. If they are similar, then there are parts of the senses that are identical, and those parts can be talked about in a univocal fashion. Thus, all analogy presupposes univocality, which is impossible in Aquinas’ system, and yet is necessitated by it. A necessary impossibility.

And remember, we cannot know God directly, and thus everything that we know about him must be deduced based upon our experience and understanding of his creation. If you cannot find any justification in our experience and understanding of his creation to justify the principle that two senses can have the same referent, and yet be utterly different and with nothing in common, then it is utterly baseless. To continue to endorse a baseless principle is special pleading, pure and simple, and if it turns out that Aquinas’ system has such a baseless principle as the foundation of one of its core doctrines, then the system itself has a hugely significant loose thread, to say the least.

dguller said...

God in himself transcends even the boundary between transcendence and immanence, in Hart's words. He transcends transcendence itself. The reason that this total otherness does not end in the "tragic distance" of post-modernism (again, to steal from Hart) is that, as we've established, the facticity of the Trinitarian trace is present in all good, intelligible, beautiful and noble things "as their principle". Unlike with Heidegger or Derrida or Levinas, the facticity of Thomism is not primordial emptiness, but is rather goodness. Hence, the Trinitarian trace and God are at an infinite remove from comprehension, just like with differance; but they are always already visible in every good thing, while differance is utter negation that appears only once we've left behind the intelligible, beautiful and good. This allows us to use analogy to create an infinite series of idols to bridge the gap between our vision of God's immanence and the "truly mysterious darkness" of his transcendence.

But you didn’t answer my question. When we are talking about God, what fails, the sense and/or the referent of our terminology about him? The only reasonable option is to say that the sense fails, and that is Aquinas’ option, because the sense of the term is our understanding of it, and our understanding of God’s essence is infinitely insufficient. But unless there is something in the sense that allows us to reach the referent, i.e. God, then we are actually missing him entirely, which seems to be your position. And the problem is that a term without a referent is a meaningless term, and thus all your talk about God, including your claims that we cannot talk about God, are meaningless and empty.

Again, your argument rests on a begged question: the notion that God's presence is not the facticity of being. Only if you presuppose this is it possible to say that God and creation must be placed in this sort of dialectic. Once you accept that the Trinitarian trace is always already within being as its principle, as you did above, the doctrine of analogy (as I have described it in this combox) necessarily follows.

I think it would be helpful if you explained your understanding of what “analogy” entails. So, when you say that X is like Y, what do you mean?

dguller said...

And here’s Wippel supporting my definition of “analogy”:

“Thomas refers to a term as predicated analogically when it is applied to things which differ in intelligible content, but which are attributed (or ordered) to one and the same thing” (Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, p. 569).

So, there it is.

Furthermore, Wippel writes that “the intelligible content corresponding to an analogical term is partly the same and partly not the same when that term is applied to different analogates. Simply to describe the intelligible content as diverse would run the risk of reducing analogous predication to pure equivocation. Simply to describe it as one and the same would reduce analogy to univocity” (Wippel, p. 570). What he calls the “intelligible content” is what Aquinas calls ratio, and Rocca has written that “the medieval contrast between ratio and substantia is equivalent to Frege’s famous distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung, sense and reference” (Rocca, Speaking the Incomprehensible God: Thomas Aquinas on the Interplay of Positive and Negative Theology, p. 293 n.9).

What this means is that I am actually right that Aquinas must endorse the view that in an analogy, the senses must be similar to one another, in addition to having the same term and referent. We can formalize the situation a bit with the following:

(1) God is good
(2) John is good

“Good” in (1) and (2) must have a term, a sense and a referent. The term is “good”, the sense is S, and the referent is R. So, we can rewrite it as follows:

(3) God is (“good”, S1, R1)
(4) John is (“good, S2, R2)

Where S1 is the sense of “good” in (1), S2 is the sense of good” in (2), R1 is the referent of “good” in (1), and R2 is the referent of “good” in (2). For the analogy to hold, R1 must be identical to R2, and so we can just say

(5) God is (“good”, S1, R)
(6) John is (“good”, S2, R)

We can now focus upon S1 and S2. According to Aquinas, S1 must be similar to S2, which means that S1 is partly the same and partly different from S2. That also means that S1 and S2 have parts, or sub-components. We can call flesh out the parts as follows:

(7) God is (“good”, {S1a, S1b, S1c}, R)
(8) John is (“good”, {S2a, S2b, S2c}, R)

Where {S1a, S1b, S1c} is the set of parts of S1 and {S2a, S2b, S2c} is the set of parts of S2. Now, according to Aquinas, some of those parts must be identical and some parts must be different. Say that S1a is identical to S1b, whereas S1b, S1c, S2b, and S2c are all different. What then stops us from focusing exclusively upon S1a and S2a, which are basically the same sense, which we can label S. From that we get the following:

(9) God is (“S”, S, R)
(10) John is (“S”, S, R)

Where “S” is the term for the common sense S, and the referent remains the same. What you clearly see is that (9) and (10) have the same term, the same sense, and the same referent, which is univocal.

rank sophist said...

You seem to fall prey to the same self-refuting aspects of relativism. You make absolute statements and then state that you cannot make absolute statements. You say that “God is always already present in all goodness”, and then say that you aren’t actually talking about God, but only symbol of God. But you can’t even say that, because to say that “God” is a symbol of God means that you must be able to definitively refer to God, which you admit is impossible, and so you have “God1”, which is a symbol for “God2”, which is a symbol for “God3”, and on and on forever without any end or termination point.

That is exactly my position, as well as Hart's position, Eckhart's position, Gregory of Nyssa's position, Pseudo-Denys's position and, almost without question, Aquinas's position. There is a big flaw to modern Thomist scholarship: it divorces Aquinas from the tradition that he was summarizing. As Hart says, "So, now that Gilson and others who so enormously exaggerated Thomas's originality no longer dominate Thomist scholarship, we may certainly, if we wish, retreat from Thomas's exquisitely refined terminology to earlier moments in the continuous tradition of Christian ontology that he was interpreting--to the Cappadocians, or Augustine, or Maximus, above all to Dionysius the Areopagite". Aquinas must always be placed in this continuity and his texts interpreted as variations on a theme, rather than as radically original stand-alone works. Allow me to remind you for the second time that Aquinas cites Pseudo-Denys 2,500 times. He rarely, if ever, disagrees with him in those citations. Let me also remind you that Meister Eckhart was one of Aquinas's earliest major followers.

The idea that anything may be predicated of God without reservation is post-Scotist modern theology. It has no precedent in the mainline tradition. The better, more traditional view results in the infinite regress I have described above, which is non-vicious. But let's consider your alternative--that something may be said of God absolutely, for the sake of your definition of analogy. Let's say it's some aspect of esse. Now, in God Without Being, Jean-Luc Marion (a modern Thomist) comments that esse divinum is so unimaginably different than esse commune that God might be said not to exist. The ultimate conclusions that he draws from this have been heavily criticized by Hart, but the idea of itself--that God might be said not to exist--is fairly traditional. Just look at the Pseudo-Denys quote from before:

"[L]eave behind you everything perceived and understood, everything perceptible and understandable, all that is not and all that is, and, with your understanding laid aside, [...] strive upward as much as you can toward union with him who is beyond all being and knowledge".

God is beyond all being--different in kind rather than in degree from all esse. Aquinas makes a similar comment in response to objection 3 of ST Ia q12 a1, which argues from Pseudo-Denys that "God is not something existing". Aquinas responds:

rank sophist said...

"God is not said to be not existing as if He did not exist at all, but because He exists above all that exists; inasmuch as He is His own existence."

Aquinas reaffirms that esse divinum is so utterly different from esse commune (being as we know it) that God cannot even be said to exist except in a qualified way. In that same article, he comments in response to an objection regarding the infinite distance between man and God:

"Proportion is twofold. In one sense it means a certain relation of one quantity to another, according as double, treble and equal are species of proportion. In another sense every relation of one thing to another is called proportion. And in this sense there can be a proportion of the creature to God, inasmuch as it is related to Him as the effect of its cause, and as potentiality to its act; and in this way the created intellect can be proportioned to know God."

In case you were unaware, the "analogy of proportion" is one of Aquinas's main types of analogy. What do proportion and its concomitant analogy require? That creation be related to God, but not the other way around--something we've discussed in the past, which Aquinas explicitly describes in De potentia. Once again, Aquinas has returned to the same argument I keep making: the analogy between God and creation is ontological first, meaning that it is always already present. He also, clearly, denies that anything may be said of God and creation in the way you're talking about, because esse divinum is infinitely distant in kind from esse commune and so cannot even be said to exist as that term is understood by us. All we know is that creation has a cause, and that creation has a relation to this cause, and that every good trait in creation must necessarily be derived from a more original goodness that defies description.

It would be exactly like your apt criticism of Derrida’s semiotics, because there is nothing but a never-ending stream of signifiers without any termination in a signified.

This is not my criticism--it's Derrida's own conscious belief. Hart appropriates Derrida's terminology in The Beauty of the Infinite to describe the tradition of analogy, and I'm basing my usage on his.

To avoid equivocation here, there must a common core that is sustained in all these symbols, and that common core, in order to be meaningful must have both a sense and a referent, or else you are literally saying nothing at all, and just playing a shell game.

Not at all. The real ontological connection between creation and God is the ground of all analogy, and it's there before we've even described it. The analogy is always already present prior to its being spoken. It's prior to propositional content or "meaning" or what have you. You've already admitted all of this by granting me my argument from before. All that's left is to understand how we can describe the analogy that begins in ontology, and, for that, one needs only to look at the Pseudo-Dionysius or Eckhart passages I've quoted in this combox. There is little chance that Aquinas deviates from these, regardless of modern readings of his ideas. There is, in fact, no chance of it, given ST Ia q13 a2.

rank sophist said...

In this article, which addresses the question of whether a name may be applied substantially to God, Aquinas rejects the total negation of Maimonides' theology, which seems essentially to position God as the Levinasian Wholly Other. He also rejects the idea that God is called good merely because he causes goodness. Neither of these positions, though, were held by any of the men I'm citing. Aquinas writes:

"For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (Question 4, Article 2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun."

In other words, the spoken analogy is once again ontological first, and the names that we apply to God signify God in terms of facticity. They do not signify him propositionally or absolutely. We compile traits from creatures that always already signify God, and so the idols (divine names) we make also always already signify God. As Pseudo-Dionysius says:

"Since it is the Cause of all beings, we should posit and ascribe to it all the affirmations we make in regard to beings, and, more appropriately, we should negate all these affirmations, since it surpasses all being. Now we should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations, but rather that the cause of all is considerably prior to this, beyond privations, beyond every denial, beyond every assertion."

By ascribing a good to God in the affirmative and then effacing it with an even higher affirmation, we can bridge the infinite gap between God's immanence and transcendence. Every idol compiled out of creaturely traits always already signifies God, and negating it with more affirmation signifies God even further--but in terms of the factical "always already", rather than in ontic propositional terms. I do not believe that an analytic philosopher could ever adequately describe the doctrine of analogy as it applies to God, because the focus of analytic tradition is so overbearingly ontic. Hence the failure of so much modern analytic Thomist scholarship to explain the doctrine of analogy.

rank sophist said...

But again, you are referring to something when you say that “God’s presence is the facticity of existence”, and that God is the “ground”, and so on. If you deny that you can possibly refer to God, then what exactly are you denying the ability to refer to? To say that you cannot refer to X is already to refer to X, at the very least to be able to deny the capacity to refer to X.

I didn't say that you can't refer to God, but that you always already refer to him prior to meaning or propositional content. You cannot refer to him propositionally, because propositional content is ontic by necessity. There is no such thing as a propositional statement about God. Hence, when I use the term "God", I am referring to an idol with a certain factical connection to God. Insofar as "God" is a divine name that stands for a collection of the highest creaturely traits, it always already suggests God's glory. We know that the factical connection is there because of the argument about ontology that I made earlier, which you granted me. All that's left is to continue effacing each usage of "God" in an infinite chain of affirmation.

I disagree, and so does Aquinas. He writes that “when the intellect attributes being to God it transcends its own manner of signifying, attributing to God that which is signified but not the mode of signifying” (DP 7.2 ad7). He does not dispute that the divine names have a proper referent, i.e. God, but only disputes our mode of signification, i.e. the way that we understand and experience the referent is bound to be deficient and imperfect due to fundamental inability to conceive of a metaphysically simple being, as well as other reasons.

That line of Aquinas's is more clearly interpreted along the lines described above, which place it in the context of several ST articles and Christian tradition generally.

I’ll defer to you about that, but I’ll only respond by saying that I’d be curious to note Hart’s definition or conception of “analogy”.

For Hart, as for Aquinas and everyone else, analogy is ontological rather than epistemological or linguistic. Even divine names relate to God ontologically and factically rather than ontically. What I've summarized in this combox is Hart's understanding, as well as the understanding of Christian tradition.

Then you have to explain what you mean by “fully” in a way that does not include “is”, “is-not”, “all” or “none”. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible, and so you are not really saying “fully” at all, but perhaps something else related to it.

This is because you're still stuck looking at it on a totally ontic level. I am referring to ontology--the factical presence of God prior to propositional content. If the Trinitarian trace is the condition of being, then God is always already present in every being regardless of our ability to comprehend that presence.

I’m only focusing upon your claim that God is “fully” in each creature. I’d like to know what you mean by “fully” without using any of the distinctions that you’ve stated cannot be applicable to God.

As I said, I was referring to the ontological presence of God with that statement. When I say "fully" in this case, it does not mean the same thing as when I say "fully" in the ontic sense of a full glass.

rank sophist said...

Remember my claim. I’m arguing that Aquinas’ system is like Derrida’s in that it contains necessary impossibilities. I’ll grant you that what you say is a necessary conclusion of clear premises, and thus are necessarily true. I’m approaching from the other direction by arguing that they are simultaneously impossible. I’ve given arguments for their impossibility, and you are not directly engaging with them, but rather are focusing upon their necessary truth, which is not the issue.

I'm focusing on the core of the matter, and, as a result, the argument technically ended with your admission earlier about ontology. None of your other arguments are relevant once you've granted that. All you're doing is repeating church tradition--stuff Aquinas believed himself. Of course we cannot describe God in ontic terms. Of course language is regressive when it's applied to God. These facts do not undermine the independently grounded knowledge about God's relationship to ontology, which allows all of our regressive and faulty affirmations to signify God.

To continue to endorse a baseless principle is special pleading, pure and simple, and if it turns out that Aquinas’ system has such a baseless principle as the foundation of one of its core doctrines, then the system itself has a hugely significant loose thread, to say the least.

I don't think it's necessary to respond to your long argument about signification point-by-point, because it's all been undermined by your prior allowance that God's presence is the factical condition of being.

But unless there is something in the sense that allows us to reach the referent, i.e. God, then we are actually missing him entirely, which seems to be your position. And the problem is that a term without a referent is a meaningless term, and thus all your talk about God, including your claims that we cannot talk about God, are meaningless and empty.

"[W]ords are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things" (ST Ia q13 a1). Yet, the idea in question is a mental conglomeration of attributes taken from creatures. Hence, talk about God refers to this conglomeration of attributes. God is always already signified by divine names because of his ontological presence in the attributes used to create such names, and so our affirmations refer to him while simultaneously not referring to him--although not, of course, in a contradictory way.

I think it would be helpful if you explained your understanding of what “analogy” entails. So, when you say that X is like Y, what do you mean?

There are multiple types of analogy used by Aquinas, but, of course, the one involving God and creation is different by necessity than the others. Since I've already explained above what it means, I don't think I'll repeat myself here.

Where “S” is the term for the common sense S, and the referent remains the same. What you clearly see is that (9) and (10) have the same term, the same sense, and the same referent, which is univocal.

What you have done is shown that modern Thomist scholarship has once again dropped the ball. This is very impressive in terms of logic, but it brings you no closer to refuting Aquinas.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

you always already refer to him prior to meaning or propositional content.

This reminds me of Paul Tillich's argument that all thought presupposes God. So human thought, irrespective of its intentional content, always attests to God's eternal act.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Even divine names relate to God ontologically and factically rather than ontically

Do you mind making the distinction between ontic and ontological? I have been using these terms interchangeably thinking that they are equivalent.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

Do you mind making the distinction between ontic and ontological? I have been using these terms interchangeably thinking that they are equivalent.

Not only are they not equivalent, they are roughly opposite terms. Mind you that I'm using them in the ways they're generally used by continental philosophers (like Hart), who base their own usage on that of Heidegger. Anyway, "ontic" relates to beings. It's the realm of "concrete, specific" entities, in the words of Blackwell. As I was saying in that line you quoted, propositional content of itself is always ontic by necessity, because it always refers to "concrete, specific" things. "Ontology", at least as I'm using it, relates to Being. This is the condition and the very possibility of concrete entities, and so it's always already present prior to any ontic consideration. It also, by its nature, cannot exist except within a being. In some ways, Aquinas agrees with Heidegger's famous formulation, "[B]eing is always the being of a being." One key difference is that Heidegger's ontology is completely immanent, in that Being and beings are the only things that exist. For Aquinas, Being is esse commune and beings are substances; but there is another thing (or "non-thing"), esse divinum, that transcends and grounds both. As with Christian tradition generally, Aquinas argues for a conception of God that is both utterly immanent in Being and beings and completely transcendent of it.

dguller said...

Rank:

The idea that anything may be predicated of God without reservation is post-Scotist modern theology. It has no precedent in the mainline tradition. The better, more traditional view results in the infinite regress I have described above, which is non-vicious.

First, I don’t want to dispute historical accuracy and traditional authority with you. My goal is to understand whether the traditional account is true or false, not how strongly it was held and for how long and by whom.

Second, it is possible that Scotus, and others, may have found significant problems with the traditional account, and so we should focus upon the reasons and arguments that were offered, rather than the pedigree of the individuals offering the arguments.

Third, whether the infinite regress in question is vicious or not, the issue is whether it allows one to say anything about God. If the only conceptions that we can have in our minds are inaccurate representations of God that are nothing short of idols, and if those representations and conceptions have nothing in themselves that is isomorphic with God, then we cannot talk about God at all.

Our representations are the means by which we refer to reality, and if our representations lack any isomorphic similarity with reality, then they cannot represent reality at all. You yourself provide a quote from Aquinas that confirms this: "[W]ords are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things" (ST Ia q13 a1). If God is beyond all representation, then we cannot refer to him at all, because our representations are the lenses through which we accurately refer to reality.

God is beyond all being--different in kind rather than in degree from all esse.

But this raises another interesting problem. How can we be similar to something that is different in kind rather than in degree? How can we be imperfect exemplifications of perfect divine ideas, for example, if perfection did not exist in a continuum between imperfect and perfect? I mean, to say that X is more A than Y implies that there are degrees of A and that X and Y exist on different points of a continuum of A-ness. If X is off the chart of A-ness while Y is on the chart of A-ness, then one cannot compare X and Y on the basis of A-ness at all. If A-ness exists perfectly in X, and then Y is just a secondary manifestation of A-ness, then one can compare X and Y, but then it is a matter of degrees. So, if God is different in kind, then similarity is impossible, because there is nothing in common between God and creation.

dguller said...

Yet, the idea in question is a mental conglomeration of attributes taken from creatures. Hence, talk about God refers to this conglomeration of attributes. God is always already signified by divine names because of his ontological presence in the attributes used to create such names, and so our affirmations refer to him while simultaneously not referring to him--although not, of course, in a contradictory way.

But then you contradict yourself. You say here that our signifiers about God are ultimately just signifiers of other signifiers, never actually reaching of concluding in a signified. As you say, “talk about God refers to this conglomeration of attributes”. You then proceed to talk about God himself, and not just our mental representation or signification of him, by saying that “God is always already signified by divine names”. Here, you have stepped outside the signifiers and are talking directly about the signified, i.e. God, which was something that you just said was impossible, because you would have to be talking about an idol of mental representation, which was precisely your critique of Derrida. Derrida would have to take a stand outside the system of signifiers in order to ground his system in a truthful and objective fashion by reaching the signified, but he had already declared that precise act to be impossible, which completely undermined his semiotics. I see no difference here. You are simultaneously saying that we must remain within a boundary, and then at a moment of convenience, leaping beyond the boundary that was impossible to cross only moments ago. Either you cannot go beyond the boundary, or you can go beyonf the boundary. You cannot do both without contradicting yourself.

There are multiple types of analogy used by Aquinas, but, of course, the one involving God and creation is different by necessity than the others. Since I've already explained above what it means, I don't think I'll repeat myself here.

Do you disagree with my definition of “analogy” when it comes to comparing God and creation? Again, it is that when comparing God to creation, the terms used are the same, and the referent is the same, but the senses of the terms cannot be the same, but rather are similar instead. The senses cannot be the same, because the divine qualities are transcendent and utterly different from the qualities of creatures, and thus our mental representations and understanding of those qualities cannot be the same, given that they are rooted in the qualities of creatures.

the analogy between God and creation is ontological first, meaning that it is always already present.

I am talking about how we can talk about this ontology, even within the ontology. Given how the human mind works, and how it understands the world, and how it uses language, how can we talk about God? Our knowledge and language begin with the world, even if the world begins with God with respect to metaphysics and ontology. I want to know how you go from the latter to the former.

dguller said...

He also, clearly, denies that anything may be said of God and creation in the way you're talking about, because esse divinum is infinitely distant in kind from esse commune and so cannot even be said to exist as that term is understood by us. All we know is that creation has a cause, and that creation has a relation to this cause, and that every good trait in creation must necessarily be derived from a more original goodness that defies description.

But how can we know that “creation has a cause”? “Cause” has a meaning within the world that we understand and experience, and thus its applicability and meaningfulness must also remain within that world. To take them out of that context would be like talking about the time before space-time existed. It seems like you are saying something, but you are actually saying nothing at all. If you want to say that there is a transcendent reality that is “infinitely distant in kind” from us, and that we simply cannot form any mental representation or understanding of, then you cannot use the concepts of causality, change, actuality, potentiality, existence, and so on, all of which are rooted in our world, not in what is beyond it.

So, if you are using an argument based upon premises whose very meaning depends upon the way the world works, then if you end up in a conclusion that takes you beyond the world in which those words get their very meaning, then you have ended up in a conclusion that actually says nothing, especially if you want to say that the conclusion has taken you to a transcendent aspect of reality that is beyond our conception and understanding, which also makes it beyond our ability to speak about. After all, “words are the signs of ideas”. No ideas, no words for those ideas.

Not at all. The real ontological connection between creation and God is the ground of all analogy, and it's there before we've even described it. The analogy is always already present prior to its being spoken.

That’s true of all genuine analogies. Saying that John is like a lion in that he is brave is true as long as John is actually brave and lions are also brave, even before it is uttered in an analogical statement.

All that's left is to understand how we can describe the analogy that begins in ontology, and, for that, one needs only to look at the Pseudo-Dionysius or Eckhart passages I've quoted in this combox. There is little chance that Aquinas deviates from these, regardless of modern readings of his ideas. There is, in fact, no chance of it, given ST Ia q13 a2.

Exactly. Given that ontology, what theory of mind and language justifies our ability to talk about that ontology, specifically the ground of all existence that is completely beyond our intellectual and cognitive capacities? How does one talk about something that is completely invisible to one’s mind? There would have to be something present to our mind that would correspond to God for any God talk to be possible.

dguller said...

By ascribing a good to God in the affirmative and then effacing it with an even higher affirmation, we can bridge the infinite gap between God's immanence and transcendence.

But here is where things get tripped up. Say you ascribe a creaturely good G to God, and then negate it. There are two kinds of negation, which correspond to whether G in a creature and God is different in kind or degree.

If G is different in kind, then the negation does not lead to a higher affirmation, but leaves us with nothing at all. For example, we will agree that a rock is different in kind from a human being, and to say that a human is not a rock does not mean that a human is just a higher rock, but rather not a rock at all. Similarly, if God is different in kind, then negating G of God cannot mean that God is just a higher kind of G, but rather is not-G, period, full stop.

If G is different in degree, then the negation can lead to a higher affirmation, because you can say that God’s G is superior and better than a creature’s G, but the ranking of superior and inferior, better and worse, perfect and imperfect, are all in a continuum with God at the pinnacle. Unfortunately, you have said that God is different in kind and not degree, and thus this option is not available. All you are left with is the negation that leaves you with nothing at all, and not a higher affirmation.

Every idol compiled out of creaturely traits always already signifies God, and negating it with more affirmation signifies God even further--but in terms of the factical "always already", rather than in ontic propositional terms.

First, I think that’s mistaken. When I talk about my wife, I am only talking about my wife, and not her sister, her mother and her father. True, all of these individuals are part of who my wife is, but just because I’m talking about her does not mean that I am simultaneously talking about all these other people. Similarly, just because whenever I talk about a creature, that creature necessarily has properties that are dependent upon God and manifest God by expressing his divine ideas, does not mean that when I am talking about a creature that I am talking about God. When I talk about God, I talk about God.

Second, how do you know if every negation and subsequent higher affirmation “signifies God even further”? Remember, “God” is an idol, and we can never reach God. In fact, I can’t even say that I can’t reach God, because that would be referring to God himself, which I cannot do. All I can say is that there is a limit to the kind of idolatrous representation that I can conceive of. There is no getting closer to that which is infinitely far away. Even saying that he is immanent is just a cognitive idol to be discarded. Everything that you say about God must be tossed aside, because nothing ever even comes close, and so the best thing to do is to keep silent, because all words dishonor him by falling infinitely short of reaching him.

I didn't say that you can't refer to God, but that you always already refer to him prior to meaning or propositional content.

I’ve already made my objection to this idea. Just because X is implied by statements about Y does not mean that all statements about Y are also about X.

dguller said...

You cannot refer to him propositionally, because propositional content is ontic by necessity. There is no such thing as a propositional statement about God. Hence, when I use the term "God", I am referring to an idol with a certain factical connection to God.

But don’t you see that you can’t even say that you are “referring to an idol with a certain factical connection to God”, because that is yet another cognitive idol!

Insofar as "God" is a divine name that stands for a collection of the highest creaturely traits, it always already suggests God's glory. We know that the factical connection is there because of the argument about ontology that I made earlier, which you granted me. All that's left is to continue effacing each usage of "God" in an infinite chain of affirmation.

That assumes that the meaning of the terms in the argument have remained constant. As I said above, if the meaning of the words in the Five Ways have changed from the beginning to the end to the arguments, then the conclusions are invalid, because for an argument to work, there can be no change in the meaning of the terms involved, or else a fallacy of equivocation has occurred. If all the terms in the premises are essentially abstractions from the created universe – e.g. act, potency, essence, existence, form, matter, perfection, and so on – and if the conclusion has resulted in something beyond the created universe, then these words should lose their sense and meaning. That’s the consequence of the never-ending effacement of terms as mere idols infinitely distant from the true God.

For Hart, as for Aquinas and everyone else, analogy is ontological rather than epistemological or linguistic. Even divine names relate to God ontologically and factically rather than ontically. What I've summarized in this combox is Hart's understanding, as well as the understanding of Christian tradition.

But there is a path from ontology to epistemology and linguistics. We use words, and those words represent ideas, which represent reality. There must be some account for how we can use words that correspond to no ideas, and yet still represent reality. After all, we are talking about God, and there must be some explanation for how we can do this given the ontology that you described. You are ignoring a key middle step in the equation. Ontology is one thing, our ability to think and talk about ontology is another.

I’ve described Aquinas’ explanation as saying that words have senses, which are just the cognitive manner that referents are signified or represented in our minds, and the referents themselves. As I have argued, given Aquinas’ own ideas involving sense and reference, it is impossible for us to talk about God unless there is a univocal core to our mental representations of him, which would fatally compromise his transcendence. Simply repeating your ontological claims does not refute this claim in the least, because we are not talking about ontology and metaphysics, but rather philosophy of mind, epistemology and linguistics. Again, the question is how, given the ontology, one can think and talk about that ontology. If the ontology is necessary, but it is impossible to talk about that ontology, then the system is irredeemably compromised.

dguller said...

This is because you're still stuck looking at it on a totally ontic level. I am referring to ontology--the factical presence of God prior to propositional content. If the Trinitarian trace is the condition of being, then God is always already present in every being regardless of our ability to comprehend that presence.

Yes, because our minds and our language, which are the means by which we think and talk about God, are the focus of my arguments, and they are necessarily ontic. Furthermore, they are the means by which you can ever hope to reach anything ontological, and so neglecting this aspect of the equation puts your entire ontology in question, because you not explained how you can even be talking about your ontology in a meaningful fashion. So, I think your criticism misses the mark.

As I said, I was referring to the ontological presence of God with that statement. When I say "fully" in this case, it does not mean the same thing as when I say "fully" in the ontic sense of a full glass.

What is the “ontological” meaning of “fully”? I still don’t understand.

I don't think it's necessary to respond to your long argument about signification point-by-point, because it's all been undermined by your prior allowance that God's presence is the factical condition of being.

I think that it is necessary, because I think it shows, given Aquinas’ own ideas, as corroborated by contemporary Thomists, that his epistemological and linguistic doctrine of analogy either allows us to talk about God, but at the price of his transcendence, or prohibits us from talking about God at all. Analogy must reduce to either univocity or equivocation. Furthermore, to say that “God’s presence is the factical condition of being” presupposes that this proposition is meaningful, prior to its being true or false. If you were correct, a proposition would be meaningless, but refer to something true. A meaningless statement does not refer to anything at all.

There are multiple types of analogy used by Aquinas, but, of course, the one involving God and creation is different by necessity than the others. Since I've already explained above what it means, I don't think I'll repeat myself here.

What is Aquinas’ explanation of the epistemic and linguistic underpinnings of his doctrine of analogy? Does it differ from mine? If it doesn’t, then how do you refute my argument that his own terms and conditions refute his doctrine of analogy?

What you have done is shown that modern Thomist scholarship has once again dropped the ball. This is very impressive in terms of logic, but it brings you no closer to refuting Aquinas.

So Wippel and Rocca don’t know what Aquinas was talking about? Only Hart is to be trusted? Hm. I should get around to reading his books then! ;)

Glenn said...

dguller,

...
(5) God is (“good”, S1, R)
(6) John is (“good”, S2, R)

We can now focus upon S1 and S2. According to Aquinas, S1 must be similar to S2, which means that S1 is partly the same and partly different from S2. That also means that S1 and S2 have parts, or sub-components. We can call flesh out the parts as follows:

(7) God is (“good”, {S1a, S1b, S1c}, R)
(8) John is (“good”, {S2a, S2b, S2c}, R)

Where {S1a, S1b, S1c} is the set of parts of S1 and {S2a, S2b, S2c} is the set of parts of S2. Now, according to Aquinas, some of those parts must be identical and some parts must be different. Say that S1a is identical to S1b, whereas S1b, S1c, S2b, and S2c are all different. What then stops us from focusing exclusively upon S1a and S2a, which are basically the same sense, which we can label S. From that we get the following:

(9) God is (“S”, S, R)
(10) John is (“S”, S, R)

Where “S” is the term for the common sense S, and the referent remains the same. What you clearly see is that (9) and (10) have the same term, the same sense, and the same referent, which is univocal.



1. Let Set S1 contain {s1a, s1b, s1c}.

2. Let Set S2 contain {s2a, s2b, s2c}.

3. Nothing stops us from focusing exclusively upon the intersection of Set S1 and Set S2.

4. Let Set S = the intersection of S1 and S2.

5. Since s1a and s2a are identical, while s1b s1c, s2b and s2c are all different, it follows that Set S contains {s1a, s2a}.

6. But s1a and s2a are, as already said, identical, so Set S actually contains only {sNa} (where N = 1 or 2).

7. It somehow is now supposed to follow that any relation between Set S1 and Set S2 can only be--indeed, must be--univocal.

To put it another way,

1. Let Set A contain {5, 6, 7}.

2. Let Set B contain {5, 8, 9}.

3. Nothing stops us from focusing exclusively upon the intersection of Set A and Set B.

4. Let Set C = the intersection of Set A and Set B.

5. Since the 5 in Set A and the 5 in Set B are identical, while the 6, 7, 8, and 9 are all different, it follows that Set S contains {5, 5}.

6. But the two 5s are, as already said, identical, so Set C actually contains only {5}.

7. It somehow is now supposed to follow that any relation between Set A and Set B can only be--indeed, must be--univocal.

To put it yet another way,

1. Let Compound Name A = Schoenberg.

2. Let Compound Name B = Schoendiest.

3. Nothing stops us from focusing exclusively upon the first part of each compound name.

4. Let Name S = that part of Compound Name A and that part of Compound Name B which are identical.

5. Since the first part of Compound Name A is Schoen, and the first part of Compound Name B likewise is Schoen, it follows that Name S is Schoen.

6. It somehow is now supposed to follow that Compound Names Schoenberg and Schoendiest are not names regarding which it may be truthfully said that they are similar but not the same, but in fact are names which are identical, i.e., they are one and the same name.

(cont)

Glenn said...

You see... you are taking things which you define as being similar but not the same ('S1' and 'S2', e.g.), and substituting them with one single thing ('S', e.g.), and then claiming that the original differences are irrelevant because they can be--indeed have been--replaced with one single thing.

Now, you can do anything you want to; sure. Except perhaps expect people to accept as credible the (unspoken) claim that the original things remain unchanged when in fact you have changed them. (Actually, you can expect this as well--it's just that you can't realistically expect it, as it isn't likely that people will conform to the expectation.)

You haven't shown that that which is claimed to be analogical between two things which are similar but different is really, or really boils down to, something univocal. No. What you have done is shown that you can subtly change the things themselves which are spoken of so that only that which is univocal can be posited (or so that whatever is posited must univocal).

Or so it seems to me.

dguller said...

Glenn:

But s1a and s2a are, as already said, identical, so Set S actually contains only {sNa} (where N = 1 or 2).

Right.

It somehow is now supposed to follow that any relation between Set S1 and Set S2 can only be--indeed, must be--univocal.

For Aquinas, every term T has both a sense S (or, ratio, or modus significandi) and a referent R (or substantia, or res significandi). Now, take the following statements:

(1) X is P
(2) Y is P

P in (1) has a term T1, a sense S1, and a referent R1, and P in (2) has a term T2, a sense S2, and a referent R2. So, you can rewrite (1) and (2) as:

(3) X is (T1, S1, R1)
(4) Y is (T2, S2, R2)

This allows us to formalize Aquinas’ definitions of univocal, equivocal and analogical.

(5) P is univocal between (1) and (2) iff T1 = T2, S1 = S2, and R1 = R2
(6) P is equivocal between (1) and (2) iff T1 = T2, S1 =/ S2, and R1 =/ R2
(7) P is analogical between (1) and (2) iff T1 = T2, S1 =/ S2, and R1 = R2

(Note that when I write “=/”, I mean “is not identical to”)

So, if I can show that in all cases of (7), there must ultimately be a level of analysis that corresponds to (5), then I have shown that analogy ultimate reduces to univocity.

The next set of definitions that I use are:

(8) X is identical Y iff X has everything in common with Y
(9) X is similar to Y iff X has something in common with Y
(10) X is different from Y iff X has nothing in common with Y

Now, according to my reading and the citations that I made above, Aquinas endorses the view that although S1 and S2 cannot be identical (i.e. (8)), they cannot also be different (i.e. (10)), but rather must be similar (i.e. (9)), which means that S1 and S2 must have something in common.

If you can grant me the above definitions and premises, then I think that my conclusion follows. After all, if S1 is partially identical to S2 and S1 is partially different from S2 – which is what “having something in common” means – then we can divide S1 and S2 into their component parts, and once you have done so, you can focus upon the parts of S1 and S2 that are identical. Those senses must also have referents that are identical, because it makes no sense to say that two senses are identical, but have different references. And if we can also affix a common term to those sub-senses, then you have a situation in which (5) applies, and you must call it univocal.

dguller said...

You see... you are taking things which you define as being similar but not the same ('S1' and 'S2', e.g.), and substituting them with one single thing ('S', e.g.), and then claiming that the original differences are irrelevant because they can be--indeed have been--replaced with one single thing.

But that argument would destroy all forms of univocal predication. Take the following:

(11) John is running
(12) The lion is running

I think that you will agree that “running” in (11) and (12) is univocal, because it has the same term, the same sense, and the same referent between (11) and (12). If you argument above is correct, then anyone could reply that the sense of “running” in (11) is actually not the same as the sense of running in (12), because the former is associating with a person running with two legs and the latter is associated with an animal running on four legs, and you cannot claim that “the original differences are irrelevant because they can be – indeed have been – replaced with one single thing”.

You haven't shown that that which is claimed to be analogical between two things which are similar but different is really, or really boils down to, something univocal. No. What you have done is shown that you can subtly change the things themselves which are spoken of so that only that which is univocal can be posited (or so that whatever is posited must univocal).

The weakest points in my argument are:

(13) Is it truly possible for the human mind to focus upon the sub-senses in question that are identical between S1 and S2? I think that it is possible, even if we cannot imagine it. We also can discuss perfect triangles even though we inevitably have imperfect triangles in mind, because that is simply a quirk of the human mind that does not compromise our ability to discuss abstract universals, for example. Similarly, just because our minds always bring along the entire S1 whenever we think about S1a, for example, that does not mean that we cannot think about S1a at all, but rather we end up bringing all of S1 to mind when thinking about S1a.

(14) Could the partial identity between S1 and S2 in an analogous relationship be solely due to their identical terms and referents, which would leave their senses completely different (i.e. 10)? I don’t think that would be possible, because our language is rooted in this world, and so the rules for its use must be rooted in this world. And in this world, I can’t think of any examples in which two terms have the same referent, but have senses without absolutely nothing in common in themselves qua senses. I’ve asked Rank a few times to supply some examples, but he hasn’t quite yet. Perhaps you can. Even Aquinas’ favorite example of analogy, i.e. “healthy”, does not have completely different senses qua sense between “Medicine is healthy” and “John is healthy”. So, unless you can come up with a non-divine example, then you are simply begging the question, engaging in special pleading, and placing a bit of ad hoc reasoning at a key position in the Thomist system.

Or so it seems to me.

Does the above help elucidate my position a bit better?

dguller said...

Rank:

As I was saying in that line you quoted, propositional content of itself is always ontic by necessity, because it always refers to "concrete, specific" things.

Just to clarify, propositional content also refers to abstract entities, which are not concrete. But that doesn’t affect the point you are making.

One key difference is that Heidegger's ontology is completely immanent, in that Being and beings are the only things that exist.

Except that in Heidegger’s ontology, whenever Being discloses itself to Dasein, it also hides. Every concealment necessarily contains a withdrawal, and thus there cannot be a perfect and full presence of Being to Dasein. But I may be wrong about that.

rank sophist said...

Our representations are the means by which we refer to reality, and if our representations lack any isomorphic similarity with reality, then they cannot represent reality at all. You yourself provide a quote from Aquinas that confirms this: "[W]ords are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things" (ST Ia q13 a1). If God is beyond all representation, then we cannot refer to him at all, because our representations are the lenses through which we accurately refer to reality.

You're thinking of "representation" in its post-modern sense, which is not at all what Aquinas had in mind. Aquinas was, in fact, a direct realist. The forms of things really enter our minds and we gain quidditative knowledge through the medium of these forms. When Aquinas says that "ideas are the similitude of things", he means that the intentional forms within our minds--the same forms, in a different mode, present in substances--point toward the essences of the things in question. Language is imbued with accidental forms based on those in the mind. As a result, "we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it" (ST Ia q12 a1), because language refers to forms that in turn refer to quidditative knowledge. (Aquinas's theory of thought is, of course, far more complex than this, what with its allowance for "beings of reason" and the ability to cognize esse. We'll leave that aside for the present discussion.) But we can't have quidditative knowledge of God without God's direct presence in the intellect, which cannot occur outside of death or mystical vision; and, even then, his name would be as infinite and incomprehensible as himself.

In ST Ia q12 a2, Aquinas writes, "Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him." Again, the issue returns to ontology. Our linguistic conceptions of God are parasitic on our intellectual conceptions, which in turn are parasitic on the objective exterior world. Divine names represent God because they are built on a prior, ontological representation of God. Hence, it follows that, if creatures contain the Trinitarian trace in their ontological makeup, so do divine names. If this is true, then everything I've said follows.

But this raises another interesting problem. How can we be similar to something that is different in kind rather than in degree? How can we be imperfect exemplifications of perfect divine ideas, for example, if perfection did not exist in a continuum between imperfect and perfect?

You've once again gone back to speaking of God in ontic, analytic terms. This is futile. If the Trinitarian trace is our facticity, then it's always already presupposed by these ontic arguments you keep making.

rank sophist said...

Here, you have stepped outside the signifiers and are talking directly about the signified, i.e. God, which was something that you just said was impossible, because you would have to be talking about an idol of mental representation, which was precisely your critique of Derrida.

My criticism of Derrida is that his system leads semiotics and representationalism themselves to be relative and historical, undermining the entire case he builds out of them. But God is not the equivalent of semiotics or representationalism in the system I'm describing; rather, to complete the allegory, he would have to be something like differance. Because the Trinitarian trace is the condition of being, all being always already signifies God, prior to signification proper. All other signification is derivative of this original kind.

If this is true, then I have not stepped outside of "the text" when I refer to God--no more than has Derrida when he talks about differance. Anything I say about God always already represents God because of its ontological source, which is presupposed in any ontic statement. However, just as Derrida acknowledges that the "differance" he's referring to is not really differance in itself, which has always already invaded the word he uses for it, I acknowledge that no instance of the word "God" really refers to God himself in terms of its ontic "meaning". Even the notion of "God himself" does not refer to him; and neither does this further statement, nor this one, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one--and so on. There is nothing self-refuting in this, because our knowledge of the Trinitarian trace is grounded on logic and observations independent of attempts to describe God. Unlike with differance, the impossibility of describing God does not undermine the premises that were used to posit God's existence in the first place.

Do you disagree with my definition of “analogy” when it comes to comparing God and creation? Again, it is that when comparing God to creation, the terms used are the same, and the referent is the same, but the senses of the terms cannot be the same, but rather are similar instead. The senses cannot be the same, because the divine qualities are transcendent and utterly different from the qualities of creatures, and thus our mental representations and understanding of those qualities cannot be the same, given that they are rooted in the qualities of creatures.

After reading up a bit on the interpretations of Aquinas's version of analogy, I can't say that you're absolutely out of line in your assessment, at least in terms of modern scholarship. I can say that your version is incoherent if we place Aquinas in the context of the wider tradition of analogy, though--which reveals, I believe, most modern interpretations of Aquinas's statements to be fundamentally misled. In my opinion, again, this is because of the ontological poverty of analytic philosophy, where most Thomists reside. In Real Essentialism, even Oderberg bemoans the fact that "contemporary ontology has lost the conceptual resources to explicate fundamental features of reality." What Oderberg most likely does not realize is that this is a problem with analytic philosophy specifically rather than philosophy generally, thanks to the efforts of Heidegger to restore ontology's place at the table in the continental tradition. Any coherent explanation of analogy must take ontology (and thus the "always already") as its ground, as Christian tradition did and almost certainly as Aquinas did. Only then can we make sense of it or of Aquinas's comments.

rank sophist said...

Our knowledge and language begin with the world, even if the world begins with God with respect to metaphysics and ontology. I want to know how you go from the latter to the former.

As I said: if the world contains the Trinitarian trace, then so do our knowledge and language. This is a necessary consequence of Aquinas's direct realism.

But how can we know that “creation has a cause”? “Cause” has a meaning within the world that we understand and experience, and thus its applicability and meaningfulness must also remain within that world.

Now you're starting to argue from the right angle. If you want to beat my case, then you have to show that the Five Ways and thus the Trinitarian trace are incoherent. Saying that what I've presented here makes the idea of a "cause" meaningless is a good move.

But it isn't going to work. Aquinas understood this himself when he wrote in DP 3:3, "We must accordingly say that creation may be taken actively or passively. Taken actively it denotes the act of God, which is his essence, together with a relation to the creature: and this is not a real but only a logical relation." In other words, to say that God causes something is merely logical: a being of reason, an idol created by the mind. When we say that God "causes" things, what this really means is that we have seen effects. We know that all creation is an effect because it is contingent, and so it cannot be grounded in itself. This does not mean that creation was caused because, as Aquinas clearly says, this denotes the act and therefore the essence of God and so is just an idol. As he concludes in DP 3:3, "Consequently creation is really nothing but a relation of the creature to the Creator together with a beginning of existence." Hence, "Creator" and "Cause" are divine names as well.

To take them out of that context would be like talking about the time before space-time existed. It seems like you are saying something, but you are actually saying nothing at all.

The Five Ways argue that the contingency and insufficiency of creatures make it impossible for creation to be a self-contained, self-propelled entity. At no time do they presume to say anything absolute about God.

If you want to say that there is a transcendent reality that is “infinitely distant in kind” from us, and that we simply cannot form any mental representation or understanding of, then you cannot use the concepts of causality, change, actuality, potentiality, existence, and so on, all of which are rooted in our world, not in what is beyond it.

This is true, in part. As Aquinas says, God cannot be called a cause in absolute terms. But you've forgotten a key point: the arguments are all based on creatures and never take leave of them. When I say that God is present through the Trinitarian trace, I'm not saying that God resembles creation. The resemblance is completely one-way: creatures to God. Anything less would be a double-grounding--onto-theology. However, this does not prevent us from using the principle of causality to argue for God's existence or for the existence of the Trinitarian trace. Why? Because we know that effects resemble their "cause", even when "cause" is used apophatically. It is impossible for an effect not to resemble its cause; and, since we know effects, we can grasp vaguely at their apophatic ground by affirming of it all of the best traits of being. The principle of causality applies to all contingent things, and, because contingent things are clearly in potency, there must be something prior to them that is neither potency nor act but for which act is a better analogy than is potency.

rank sophist said...

Given that ontology, what theory of mind and language justifies our ability to talk about that ontology, specifically the ground of all existence that is completely beyond our intellectual and cognitive capacities? How does one talk about something that is completely invisible to one’s mind? There would have to be something present to our mind that would correspond to God for any God talk to be possible.

"Correspond to God"--that sounds like creation.

If G is different in kind, then the negation does not lead to a higher affirmation, but leaves us with nothing at all. For example, we will agree that a rock is different in kind from a human being, and to say that a human is not a rock does not mean that a human is just a higher rock, but rather not a rock at all. Similarly, if God is different in kind, then negating G of God cannot mean that God is just a higher kind of G, but rather is not-G, period, full stop.

In ontic terms, you're absolutely right. But we know for a fact that creation resembles God, and that the best aspects of creation (esse being the highest) are closer to God. This knowledge is grounded in ontology prior to the argument you just made, and so it's untouched. As a result, it follows that ascribing to God the highest aspects of creation and then negating them with even higher affirmation is proper.

First, I think that’s mistaken. When I talk about my wife, I am only talking about my wife, and not her sister, her mother and her father. True, all of these individuals are part of who my wife is, but just because I’m talking about her does not mean that I am simultaneously talking about all these other people.

Considering that your wife's sister, mother and father are not the facticity of her being, that comes as no surprise. Once again, you've reverted to the ontic when the topic is ontological.

Similarly, just because whenever I talk about a creature, that creature necessarily has properties that are dependent upon God and manifest God by expressing his divine ideas, does not mean that when I am talking about a creature that I am talking about God. When I talk about God, I talk about God.

You can't talk about God. I think we've already established that much. The "God" to which you're referring is an idol and not the real deal. But it remains true that there are better idols and worse idols, since some attribute higher things to God than others. This, again, is an ontological, factical, "always already" situation in which God is never signified in himself but only indirectly by virtue of his presence in every created good. Christian tradition and Aquinas himself affirm that all things always already represent God and more specifically the Trinity simply through the fact of their existence (ST Ia q45 a7). Your ontic counterexamples aren't even about the same issue--they're like unintentional red herrings.

rank sophist said...

Second, how do you know if every negation and subsequent higher affirmation “signifies God even further”? Remember, “God” is an idol, and we can never reach God. In fact, I can’t even say that I can’t reach God, because that would be referring to God himself, which I cannot do.

All true. It doesn't end in the conclusion you think, though.

All I can say is that there is a limit to the kind of idolatrous representation that I can conceive of. There is no getting closer to that which is infinitely far away.

There is no limit to saying "God is better than being better than being better". That can go on for an infinite amount of time. And it is necessarily true that each "better" gets closer to God's essence, in the sense that it signifies him more fully than the previous example. There is, obviously, no end to this process; but the notion of infinity does not negate the ideas of "less perfect" and "more perfect". The situation is paradoxical but not false, just like with Hilbert's Hotel.

Even saying that he is immanent is just a cognitive idol to be discarded.

This is not true, because God's immanence is prior to and the ground of all idols. It's the factical condition of being itself: it cannot be grasped, but it is always already there. This, again, is established on independent grounds.

Everything that you say about God must be tossed aside, because nothing ever even comes close, and so the best thing to do is to keep silent, because all words dishonor him by falling infinitely short of reaching him.

Everything we say must indeed be tossed aside as faulty, but your second conclusion does not follow. There is a very long tradition of Christian thought aimed at explaining why God's creation out of love requires that we recircle love back to him; but, because this is a minor point in the current discussion, I would rather not go head-long into it and digress from more critical matters. Suffice it to say that Hart himself takes up this issue for an extended period of time in The Beauty of the Infinite, while building on the work of church fathers who said similar stuff.

Just because X is implied by statements about Y does not mean that all statements about Y are also about X.

This only works if you're comparing ontic-to-ontic. The analogy of God and creation does not work this way, by necessity of the unique connection of creation to God.

But don’t you see that you can’t even say that you are “referring to an idol with a certain factical connection to God”, because that is yet another cognitive idol!

I'm fully aware of this. Again, it's regressive but not self-refuting.

That assumes that the meaning of the terms in the argument have remained constant. As I said above, if the meaning of the words in the Five Ways have changed from the beginning to the end to the arguments, then the conclusions are invalid, because for an argument to work, there can be no change in the meaning of the terms involved, or else a fallacy of equivocation has occurred.

The terms have remained constant, though. We know for a fact that creation is in potency to its reception of esse. Hence, it receives it from some other source. Now, all effects resemble those things from which they receive their attributes. Therefore, they would have to resemble anything prior to creation against which creation is in potency. There is no fallacy of equivocation here. I could provide similar defenses of every one of the Ways, but I don't think that's going to be necessary.

But there is a path from ontology to epistemology and linguistics. We use words, and those words represent ideas, which represent reality. There must be some account for how we can use words that correspond to no ideas, and yet still represent reality.

The words do correspond to ideas, in that the ideas are a direct realist encounter with the outside world that represents God.

rank sophist said...

I’ve described Aquinas’ explanation as saying that words have senses, which are just the cognitive manner that referents are signified or represented in our minds, and the referents themselves. As I have argued, given Aquinas’ own ideas involving sense and reference, it is impossible for us to talk about God unless there is a univocal core to our mental representations of him, which would fatally compromise his transcendence. Simply repeating your ontological claims does not refute this claim in the least, because we are not talking about ontology and metaphysics, but rather philosophy of mind, epistemology and linguistics.

My contention is that your intepretation of Aquinas's theory of sense and referent is wrong. I'm aware that it's not original to you (you cited some heavy-hitters to back it up), but that does not make it any more coherent when placed in the tradition that Aquinas was building from. It's also incoherent when you actually look at Aquinas's ontology. My recent reading about Aquinas's analogy has shown that your view is common but not universal, and that some writers have in fact argued that Aquinas has no systematic theory of analogy. Given the wider tradition, which is so regularly ignored by Thomists and analytic philosophers, what Aquinas actually meant when he spoke of analogy is fairly clear. That's the focus of my argument. I have no interest in debating the finer points of ontic signification with you, because I have no doubt that you're correct about the univocal core of such theorizing--particularly since I saw quite a few people in the literature saying that same thing.

Yes, because our minds and our language, which are the means by which we think and talk about God, are the focus of my arguments, and they are necessarily ontic. Furthermore, they are the means by which you can ever hope to reach anything ontological, and so neglecting this aspect of the equation puts your entire ontology in question, because you not explained how you can even be talking about your ontology in a meaningful fashion.

It's possible to talk about ontology because of Aquinas's direct realism. There is no subjective/objective dialectic in Thomist thought, because Thomism is not representational. It's the same with Heidegger: we know being because being is always already part of any knowledge, without any representational distance. This is also why Thomists are so favorable toward externalism and Wittgenstein, even though they don't accept them in their entirety. In my opinion, one of the most revealing things that Prof. Feser has ever written was his argument that early modern philosophy (starting with Descartes) reversed the original order of ontology and epistemology to make the latter primary. It's because of the primacy of ontology that I'm able to make these comments about it.

What is the “ontological” meaning of “fully”? I still don’t understand.

Here's what I'm trying to say. God is present in all things "as their principle", in Aquinas's words. He is always already in all things by virtue of his granting them esse at every second. Anywhere that God acts, he is, since God's actions are his own being. In the act of creating and sustaining esse commune, God himself is present everywhere. Hence, as Prof. Feser himself wrote awhile back, "He is, as the Muslims say, 'closer than the vein in your neck.'" This is what I meant by "fully present".

rank sophist said...

Furthermore, to say that “God’s presence is the factical condition of being” presupposes that this proposition is meaningful, prior to its being true or false.

Nothing is illicitly presupposed in that statement, because it's built on the, again, independently grounded, independently reasoned conclusions of the Five Ways. If those are true, then that statement is indeed true before it is true.

So Wippel and Rocca don’t know what Aquinas was talking about? Only Hart is to be trusted? Hm. I should get around to reading his books then! ;)

I don't mean to say that Wippel and Rocca are incompetent. I'm only familiar with Wippel, but he's an unimaginably learned Thomist. But the doctrine of analogy is not an issue of Thomism: it's an issue of Christian tradition. On this topic, I would take Hart's word over that of any Thomist. Today, Thomists are generally Aristotelians who defend Aquinas by citing the Greeks. This works perfectly most of the time, but, on major theological issues, it can lead to confusion and errors. To understand Aquinas's doctrine of analogy, it isn't enough to consider his theory of language through the lens of Aristotle. You have to look at the Christian half of Aquinas's heritage, where the doctrine of analogy was originally developed. That's the only way you're going to make any sense of it.

rank sophist said...

Except that in Heidegger’s ontology, whenever Being discloses itself to Dasein, it also hides. Every concealment necessarily contains a withdrawal, and thus there cannot be a perfect and full presence of Being to Dasein. But I may be wrong about that.

You're correct, I believe. Heidegger was the first to criticize the metaphysics of presence, so his idea of being is pretty different from that of Thomism. It's also, if you take Hart's criticisms seriously, pretty incoherent. An important but deeply flawed thinker.

Glenn said...

dguller,

A stalk of broccoli consists of a 'tree top' and a 'trunk'. I can show that the 'trunk' of any stalk of broccoli can be severed, and thus 'prove' that a stalk of broccoli ultimately reduces to its 'tree top'. And I can show that the 'tree top' of any stalk of broccoli can be chopped off, and thus 'prove' that a stalk of broccoli ultimately reduces to its 'trunk'. Interesting. I guess. In either case, however, I have ostensibly claimed to have 'proven' that an unaltered something is in fact nothing more than what it is after it has been altered (i.e., 'reduced').

So, if I can show that in all cases of (7), there must ultimately be a level of analysis that corresponds to (5), then I have shown that analogy ultimate reduces to univocity.

Possibly in that particular line of reasoning for that particular example. But you'd have to show that that particular line of reasoning is the only line of reasoning which is possible for all examples, i.e., in all cases.

Other than personal predilection, what might be the justification for allowing that one can strip out differences so that one winds up with what is the same without any difference, while simultaneously disallowing that one also can strip out similarities so that one winds up with what is different without any similarity?

If a good case can be made for the claim that analogy ultimately reduces to univocity, then so too can a good case be made for the claim that analogy ultimately reduces to equivocity. It is simply a matter of which of what is similar and what is different is focused on to the exclusion of the other. In either case, one is left with something other than what one started out with.

dguller said...

Glenn:

A stalk of broccoli consists of a 'tree top' and a 'trunk'. I can show that the 'trunk' of any stalk of broccoli can be severed, and thus 'prove' that a stalk of broccoli ultimately reduces to its 'tree top'. And I can show that the 'tree top' of any stalk of broccoli can be chopped off, and thus 'prove' that a stalk of broccoli ultimately reduces to its 'trunk'. Interesting. I guess. In either case, however, I have ostensibly claimed to have 'proven' that an unaltered something is in fact nothing more than what it is after it has been altered (i.e., 'reduced').

But the stalk is not severed, but remains part of the broccoli. And yet, we can still talk about the stalk of broccoli just fine. Imagine someone told you that you cannot talk about the stalk of broccoli on its own, but rather must always simultaneously talk about the tree top, as well. You would clearly and rightly say that this person is wrong by proceeding to talk about the stalk and ignore the tree top, even though the whole broccoli requires both.

Same thing with the point that I’m trying to make. Aquinas argues that in an analogy, it is impossible just to talk about the partial sameness and just the partial difference, because you have to always talk about the sameness-in-difference. My response is to show that you can talk about the partial sameness separately from the partial difference.

Possibly in that particular line of reasoning for that particular example. But you'd have to show that that particular line of reasoning is the only line of reasoning which is possible for all examples, i.e., in all cases.

That is why I kept my analysis on a symbolic level. You can fill in the variables as you like, and the outcome should not be affected. Certainly, you are free to find a single non-divine counter-example.

Other than personal predilection, what might be the justification for allowing that one can strip out differences so that one winds up with what is the same without any difference, while simultaneously disallowing that one also can strip out similarities so that one winds up with what is different without any similarity?

You can certainly do that, too. It depends upon what you are focusing upon. I focused upon the univocal sameness rather than the equivocal differences. I actually think that you could make the case that analogy depends upon having both a univocal component and an equivocal component, depending upon which component you are focusing upon. Aquinas, on the other hand, argues that analogy has neither a univocal component nor an equivocal component, and that the sub-analysis that I have been engaging in is impossible. Simply showing that it is possible refutes his thesis.

If a good case can be made for the claim that analogy ultimately reduces to univocity, then so too can a good case be made for the claim that analogy ultimately reduces to equivocity. It is simply a matter of which of what is similar and what is different is focused on to the exclusion of the other. In either case, one is left with something other than what one started out with.

You are right that I am misusing “reduces” here. What I mean is that analogy necessarily has a component that can be analysed in a univocal fashion, which Aquinas says is impossible. Since I seem to have done so, he would have to be wrong here.

dguller said...

Rank:

You're thinking of "representation" in its post-modern sense, which is not at all what Aquinas had in mind. Aquinas was, in fact, a direct realist. The forms of things really enter our minds and we gain quidditative knowledge through the medium of these forms. When Aquinas says that "ideas are the similitude of things", he means that the intentional forms within our minds--the same forms, in a different mode, present in substances--point toward the essences of the things in question.

I know all that, which is why I wasn’t talking about a Kantian representationalism. By “representation” I just meant whatever is inside our minds that corresponds to what is outside our minds. The bottom line is that our ability to refer to external things is via internal thoughts, which are isomorphic with the external things via the shared form, albeit in a different modality. If there was nothing present within our minds that corresponded to what was outside our minds, then we could not think or talk about it at all. That’s all my point was. If our mind did not have the form of dogness, then we could not talk about dogness. If God cannot be present in our mind in any way, then we cannot think or talk about God.

But we can't have quidditative knowledge of God without God's direct presence in the intellect, which cannot occur outside of death or mystical vision; and, even then, his name would be as infinite and incomprehensible as himself.

Well, we’ve already had an extensive conversation about that subject. I still contend that Aquinas’ doctrine is impossible, because once a form has been received by an intellect, it has moved from act to potency, and all reductions of act to potency involve limitation of act. If the beatific vision requires God’s essence to be received by a blessed intellect, then it follows that God himself is received by the intellect by virtue of the fact that God’s essence is identical to his esse, and then God himself must be reduced from act to potency, and thus be limited, none of which is possible for Pure Act. So, on Aquinas’ own principles, his doctrine of the beatific vision is impossible.

In ST Ia q12 a2, Aquinas writes, "Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him." Again, the issue returns to ontology. Our linguistic conceptions of God are parasitic on our intellectual conceptions, which in turn are parasitic on the objective exterior world. Divine names represent God because they are built on a prior, ontological representation of God. Hence, it follows that, if creatures contain the Trinitarian trace in their ontological makeup, so do divine names. If this is true, then everything I've said follows.

First, what is this “prior, ontological representation of God”? How does this representation present itself to the human mind? It cannot be a form. It cannot be a principle of reason. It cannot be a mental image. So, what is it? A trace, you say? How do I represent a trace that is unrepresentable?

Second, just because a thought of X bears a mark of Y does not mean that my thought about X is simultaneously a thought about Y. Only my thought about Y is a thought about Y. My thought about X is a thought about X, even if X depends upon Y for its existence. For example, I can think about my mother without also thinking about my father, even though she could not be my mother without my father’s prior sexual activity. (BTW … eww).

Third, just because something is a necessary underpinning of a thought does not mean that it is a part of the thought itself. My mental image of a dog depends upon complex neurobiological pathways, and yet none of those pathways are referred to in my mental image about a dog. It is about a dog, and not about the material underpinnings of that mental image.

dguller said...

You've once again gone back to speaking of God in ontic, analytic terms. This is futile. If the Trinitarian trace is our facticity, then it's always already presupposed by these ontic arguments you keep making.

You yourself used the term that we are different from God in kind and not degree. Are you now saying that that statement is also ontic? Or perhaps he is neither different in kind nor degree? Perhaps those are yet another set of idols that radically misrepresent God, and thus should not even be used? And if so, then why did you use them? And if they are valid, then why can’t I discuss the implications of whether God is different in degree versus different in kind, because there must be some implications, or else you never would have used them.

My criticism of Derrida is that his system leads semiotics and representationalism themselves to be relative and historical, undermining the entire case he builds out of them. But God is not the equivalent of semiotics or representationalism in the system I'm describing; rather, to complete the allegory, he would have to be something like differance. Because the Trinitarian trace is the condition of being, all being always already signifies God, prior to signification proper. All other signification is derivative of this original kind.

But the question remains how you can truthfully say that God is the trace that already signifies God prior to all signification? You would have to have an idea of God as such a trace, and that is precisely what is declared impossible due to his being beyond being in the sense of being in excess and overflowing being. (Again, one is in darkness, because one is blinded by too much light, and the question is how you could see the light while being in blinded darkness and not able to see anything? You would have to say that you could see the light while in darkness, which is impossible.) If all our ideas of God are idolatrous misrepresentations of God, then we cannot have any idea of God at all, because even saying that an idol is a misrepresentation presupposes that we know what an accurate representation would be, which we do not know. And remember, for us to have any idea of X, we have to have the form of X, and yet we cannot have the form of God in our intellect at all (although I know that you disagree with regards to the beatific vision). No form of X = no idea of X = no sense of X = no referent of X = no talk about X.

If this is true, then I have not stepped outside of "the text" when I refer to God--no more than has Derrida when he talks about differance. Anything I say about God always already represents God because of its ontological source, which is presupposed in any ontic statement.

But you have, because your terms do not have any referents, given that all referents can only refer to beings, and neither God nor differance are beings at all – both are beyond being, after all – the former because he is too powerful and overwhelming to be a being, and the latter because it is too weak and inadequate to be considered a being. In order to refer to God or differance, one would have to be able to refer to that which is beyond being, which is declared to be impossible, because all of our understanding and conceptualization is rooted in being (i.e. esse commune = ontic being) and thus any transcendence of esse commune unmoors our language from its bearings, leaving it adrift and disconnected. To talk about that which is beyond being, one must be able to step outside being and into a higher (or lower) context, which is impossible, because anything that we can conceive as a higher (or lower) context is just another mode of being, and thus becomes an idol of esse commune instead of a truth of esse divinum (or differance).

dguller said...

Even the notion of "God himself" does not refer to him; and neither does this further statement, nor this one, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one--and so on. There is nothing self-refuting in this, because our knowledge of the Trinitarian trace is grounded on logic and observations independent of attempts to describe God. Unlike with differance, the impossibility of describing God does not undermine the premises that were used to posit God's existence in the first place.

How can you have something “grounded on logic and observations” when the content of those ideas is empty? If logic results in a conclusion about X, and X has no sense or referent, then the conclusion is about nothing at all. It is self-refuting, because you are trying to talk about something that you cannot talk about. It would be better to just keep silent about God, because one cannot talk about God, which is more honest and authentic than speaking about God. Every time you speak, you commit idolatry, which you cannot even say, because an idol of God still refers to God, which is impossible. You are trying to hit an unhittable object, and yet pretending that you have hit it.

After reading up a bit on the interpretations of Aquinas's version of analogy, I can't say that you're absolutely out of line in your assessment, at least in terms of modern scholarship. I can say that your version is incoherent if we place Aquinas in the context of the wider tradition of analogy, though--which reveals, I believe, most modern interpretations of Aquinas's statements to be fundamentally misled.

The problem is that I can provide quotes by Aquinas to support my interpretation. You would have to show that when Aquinas is talking about ratio and modus significandi, he is not talking about the sense of a term, and when he is talking about substantia and res significandi, he is not talking about the referent of a term. Even more difficult, you would have to show that these terms actually have nothing to do with his doctrine of analogy. But if my interpretation is on the mark, and my argument flows from this interpretation, then you have to address it head on, rather than simply saying that it must be wrong.

Any coherent explanation of analogy must take ontology (and thus the "always already") as its ground, as Christian tradition did and almost certainly as Aquinas did. Only then can we make sense of it or of Aquinas's comments.

Again, the question is, given the truth of that ontology, what is the explanation for how the human mind can think about and talk about that ontology? Aquinas has an explanation, but it completely undermines key tenets of the ontology, making God either totally immanent (through univocity) or totally transcendent (through equivocation). So, can you make sense of Aquinas’ explanations and whether there is a way to avoid my conclusions other than “they must be wrong”?

As I said: if the world contains the Trinitarian trace, then so do our knowledge and language. This is a necessary consequence of Aquinas's direct realism.

First, just because X contains Y does not mean that our thoughts about X and our talk about X is also about Y. Our talk about X is just about X, and if we were to shift our thinking or speech towards Y, then it will be about Y. When I am talking about the sun, I am not simultaneously talking about the solar system, even though it is a key part of the sun’s existence.

Second, Aquinas’ direct realism still has mediating parts between us and the world, but is direct, because of a reliablism that the whole system works as God intended in a reliable fashion to connect us with the world. If there are aspects of the world that simply cannot be internalized into the mediating parts, then they cannot show up to our minds at all.

dguller said...

Now you're starting to argue from the right angle. If you want to beat my case, then you have to show that the Five Ways and thus the Trinitarian trace are incoherent. Saying that what I've presented here makes the idea of a "cause" meaningless is a good move.

Yay!

But it isn't going to work.

Crap!

Aquinas understood this himself when he wrote in DP 3:3, "We must accordingly say that creation may be taken actively or passively. Taken actively it denotes the act of God, which is his essence, together with a relation to the creature: and this is not a real but only a logical relation." In other words, to say that God causes something is merely logical: a being of reason, an idol created by the mind.

If describing God as a cause is an idol of the mind that has no genuine relation to reality, then that is a problem, which I’ll go into next.

When we say that God "causes" things, what this really means is that we have seen effects. We know that all creation is an effect because it is contingent, and so it cannot be grounded in itself. This does not mean that creation was caused because, as Aquinas clearly says, this denotes the act and therefore the essence of God and so is just an idol. As he concludes in DP 3:3, "Consequently creation is really nothing but a relation of the creature to the Creator together with a beginning of existence." Hence, "Creator" and "Cause" are divine names as well.

Here is something that I simply cannot understand. There are terms that are fundamentally relational in nature. If X is larger than Y, then Y is necessary smaller than X. There is no sense to saying that X is larger than Y, but Y is not smaller than X. Similarly, it makes no sense to say that X is the effect of Y, but Y is not the cause of X. It is built right into the nature of effect to be actualized by a cause, and if you say that there is an effect without a cause, then you have contradicted yourself, much like saying that there is a square with three sides. The only conclusion is that creation is not an effect, because no cause, no effect, and no effect, no cause. And if creation is not an effect, then it has no need for a cause at all, which completely undermines the argument.

Furthermore, if all of this is true – or “true” – then all arguments based upon principles of act and potency cannot apply to God, because once they try to, they become idols that are not about God at all, and thus saying that God is Pure Act is not about God at all, but just a fiction created by our mind. In fact, Aquinas was being facetious in his Five Ways, because when he concludes each argument with “and this is what people call ‘God’”, he was basically saying that his proofs do not demonstrate the existence of anything, except a mental aberration, a psychological quirk of our intellect. He was engaging in a transcendental – rather than a transcendent – form of reasoning! And that means that the entire account is an incoherent mess. His arguments are supposed to demonstrate truths about ontology, but end up just showing certain inclinations of the human mind to create fictions for itself, which are not grounded in reality, and thus his metaphysics is ultimately about psychology. But the psychology is grounded in the ontology, which is grounded in the psychology, and on and on, in a vicious regress.

The Five Ways argue that the contingency and insufficiency of creatures make it impossible for creation to be a self-contained, self-propelled entity. At no time do they presume to say anything absolute about God.

But they do have a positive and affirmative core, i.e. God as Pure Act and Esse Subsistens, from which all his other properties flow.

dguller said...

This is true, in part. As Aquinas says, God cannot be called a cause in absolute terms. But you've forgotten a key point: the arguments are all based on creatures and never take leave of them. When I say that God is present through the Trinitarian trace, I'm not saying that God resembles creation. The resemblance is completely one-way: creatures to God. Anything less would be a double-grounding--onto-theology. However, this does not prevent us from using the principle of causality to argue for God's existence or for the existence of the Trinitarian trace. Why? Because we know that effects resemble their "cause", even when "cause" is used apophatically. It is impossible for an effect not to resemble its cause; and, since we know effects, we can grasp vaguely at their apophatic ground by affirming of it all of the best traits of being. The principle of causality applies to all contingent things, and, because contingent things are clearly in potency, there must be something prior to them that is neither potency nor act but for which act is a better analogy than is potency.

But see what you just did? The principle of causality involves causes and effects, not “causes” and effects. Once you have put “cause” in quotation marks, you have abandoned the principle of causality, because you are no longer talking about causality, but rather “causality”. And since we have no idea about what “causality” entails due to its apophatic nature, we cannot infer anything about it. Again, these terms have meaning within our world as the context that grounds their content, and once you have left our world behind, you have left all meaning behind, as well, leaving empty terms with neither sense nor reference, and yet you continue to pretend that they still meaning something like their original meaning. Saying that “there must be something prior to them” uses the concept of “priority”, which must also be a fictional figment of our minds rather than something true and real, because it is nothing but an idol. Every time you try to shoot an arrow at the moon, it ends up falling to the ground, and yet you pretend that you have hit your target.

The entire project undermines itself by undermining its ability to even state its truths in a coherent fashion. It utilizes principles and concepts that are rooted in our world, and then pretends that they still apply in a transcendent world while denying that they can possibly apply there, saying that any ideas and concepts about that transcendent world are necessarily fictions of our minds that do not refer to anything at all, because all reference is rooted in our world.

"Correspond to God"--that sounds like creation.

What I mean is that there must be an idea that is present to our mind that refers to something else. There is something in our mind that when we think about it actually ends up referring to something else. For example, when I think about a dog, I have the thought about a dog present to my mind, and that presented thought refers to a dog. If there is nothing present to our mind regarding God in this way, then there is nothing in our mind that corresponds to God, and thus we can have no idea or concept of God at all.

You keep referring to the underlying machinery of our thought when I am talking about our thought itself. Even if you were correct that God must be present as a trace within the machinery of our thoughts to make them possible at all, it does not follow that we have a specific thought about God. Furthermore, even if God is necessarily present in all our referents as their immanent sustaining activity, it does not follow that our thought about our referents is necessarily about God, as well.

dguller said...

In ontic terms, you're absolutely right. But we know for a fact that creation resembles God, and that the best aspects of creation (esse being the highest) are closer to God. This knowledge is grounded in ontology prior to the argument you just made, and so it's untouched. As a result, it follows that ascribing to God the highest aspects of creation and then negating them with even higher affirmation is proper.

We do not know this, because to know this, the principle of causality must apply to God, and it cannot apply to God, because God is not a cause, but rather is a “cause”, which is an empty concept.

Considering that your wife's sister, mother and father are not the facticity of her being, that comes as no surprise. Once again, you've reverted to the ontic when the topic is ontological.

Why does that make a difference? They are necessarily present in all my talk about my wife as part of what constitutes my wife’s identity, and yet I clearly do not think about them when I think about my wife. The point is that X can be constitutive of Y’s very identity and existence, and yet I can simultaneously think about Y and not think about X, because of the nature of my mental intentionality. My thoughts about Y are about Y, and my thoughts about X are about X.

This, again, is an ontological, factical, "always already" situation in which God is never signified in himself but only indirectly by virtue of his presence in every created good. Christian tradition and Aquinas himself affirm that all things always already represent God and more specifically the Trinity simply through the fact of their existence (ST Ia q45 a7).

Again, this ultimately comes down to incoherence, because you keep talking about what you cannot talk about, and you keep thinking about what you cannot think about. You cannot even say that God is “ontology, factical, ‘always already’”, because all of these terms do not refer to God at all, but rather to mental fictions that devastatingly fail to reach God at all. You are talking about ideas in your head that do not correspond to anything outside your head. It is all signifiers with no signified. All idols, and no God.

Your ontic counterexamples aren't even about the same issue--they're like unintentional red herrings.

Why is it that Aquinas is allowed to make ontological conclusions based upon ontic phenomena, but I cannot?

There is no limit to saying "God is better than being better than being better". That can go on for an infinite amount of time. And it is necessarily true that each "better" gets closer to God's essence, in the sense that it signifies him more fully than the previous example. There is, obviously, no end to this process; but the notion of infinity does not negate the ideas of "less perfect" and "more perfect". The situation is paradoxical but not false, just like with Hilbert's Hotel.

First, you can’t bring in Hilbert’s Hotel, because it is an ontic phenomena, and thus cannot be used to elucidate ontology.

Second, Hilbert’s Hotel has a definite reference, i.e. the hotel itself, even if its rooms are infinite, which makes it further unlike God, or “God”, or “‘God’”, or …

Third, the problem is not with infinity per se. I can talk about an infinite number of dogs, an infinite number of rooms, and so on. I cannot talk about an infinite God, because he is incapable of being represented by my mind at all, except via grossly inadequate mental fictions.

dguller said...

This is not true, because God's immanence is prior to and the ground of all idols. It's the factical condition of being itself: it cannot be grasped, but it is always already there. This, again, is established on independent grounds.

No, it is not. You cannot say that God is immanent, because you cannot say anything about God at all, including that he is immanent and transcendent. In fact, he must transcendent immanence and transcendence! Again, you keep saying something that you cannot say.

Everything we say must indeed be tossed aside as faulty, but your second conclusion does not follow. There is a very long tradition of Christian thought aimed at explaining why God's creation out of love requires that we recircle love back to him; but, because this is a minor point in the current discussion, I would rather not go head-long into it and digress from more critical matters. Suffice it to say that Hart himself takes up this issue for an extended period of time in The Beauty of the Infinite, while building on the work of church fathers who said similar stuff.

How can you love God when you don’t even know what God wants from you, because you don’t know anything about God. Anyway, I’ll leave this issue alone until I’ve read Hart.

This only works if you're comparing ontic-to-ontic. The analogy of God and creation does not work this way, by necessity of the unique connection of creation to God.

This move still seems illegitimate to me. Your ontological conclusions are rooted in ontic premises. And yet when I try to make ontological conclusions based upon ontic premises, you always object. Why can’t I do the same thing when Aquinas says that no potency can be actualized except by something actual? After all, that is certainly true of ontic phenomena, but how can you conclude that it is also true of ontological phenomenona?

The terms have remained constant, though. We know for a fact that creation is in potency to its reception of esse. Hence, it receives it from some other source. Now, all effects resemble those things from which they receive their attributes. Therefore, they would have to resemble anything prior to creation against which creation is in potency. There is no fallacy of equivocation here. I could provide similar defenses of every one of the Ways, but I don't think that's going to be necessary.

I’ve already addressed this above. The principle of causality cannot apply to God, because God is not a cause, and so all the conclusions about God that flow from this principle are null and void.

The words do correspond to ideas, in that the ideas are a direct realist encounter with the outside world that represents God.

Again, thinking and talking about beings does not necessarily mean that you are also thinking and talking about being. Sure, being is presupposed by beings, but when you talk about being, then you are referring to being, and when you are talking about beings, you are referring to beings. Otherwise, our words would never have any definite content, because everything ultimately is connected to everything else, and so each word would be about everything at the same time, making language impossible.

My contention is that your intepretation of Aquinas's theory of sense and referent is wrong. I'm aware that it's not original to you (you cited some heavy-hitters to back it up), but that does not make it any more coherent when placed in the tradition that Aquinas was building from.

Similarly, just because you cite major Church Fathers to justify your position does not make it “any more coherent”. Also, it would be more helpful if you could detail where my interpretation goes wrong. I just can’t see where.

dguller said...

It's also incoherent when you actually look at Aquinas's ontology.

That’s the whole point! Given Aquinas’ ontology and his theory of mind and language, one cannot talk about fundamental ontology (i.e. God)! Unless you can show where I go wrong, this is a huge problem for Thomism in which his epistemology and linguistics deconstruct his ontology, making it literally unsayable and meaningless.

My recent reading about Aquinas's analogy has shown that your view is common but not universal, and that some writers have in fact argued that Aquinas has no systematic theory of analogy.

Like who?

Given the wider tradition, which is so regularly ignored by Thomists and analytic philosophers, what Aquinas actually meant when he spoke of analogy is fairly clear. That's the focus of my argument. I have no interest in debating the finer points of ontic signification with you, because I have no doubt that you're correct about the univocal core of such theorizing--particularly since I saw quite a few people in the literature saying that same thing.

If what he meant was clear, then why the dispute? Furthermore, if he had no systematic theory of linguistics and mind that accounted for how it is possible for the mind to think about and talk about fundamental ontology, then is that because he could find no such theory within the principles of his system? Or maybe because he simply left it unfinished, even though he makes dozens of references to the account that I have used? Finally, when you say that Aquinas has no systematic theory of analogy, then are you referring to whether he prioritized analogy of proportion or not? I’ve read those debates, but they are entirely peripheral, and do not touch the account that I have mentioned.

It's possible to talk about ontology because of Aquinas's direct realism. There is no subjective/objective dialectic in Thomist thought, because Thomism is not representational.

Aquinas’ direct realism does not mean that external entities do not impact the mind in order to facilitate knowledge and understanding. There is a mechanism in place that makes such knowledge possible, and it involves the isomorphism between intelligible forms inside the mind and forms within external entities, amongst other things. This mechanism usually works just fine, because it is reliable, given the fact that God is trustworthy and has designed it to be allow us to have knowledge of the world. So, one would have to explain, given this series of cognitive mechanisms that mediates our knowledge of the world, how one can use it to understand fundamental ontology, which ultimately comes down an utterly transcendent ground of all being that is inconceivable and incomprehensible.

dguller said...

Here's what I'm trying to say. God is present in all things "as their principle", in Aquinas's words. He is always already in all things by virtue of his granting them esse at every second. Anywhere that God acts, he is, since God's actions are his own being. In the act of creating and sustaining esse commune, God himself is present everywhere. Hence, as Prof. Feser himself wrote awhile back, "He is, as the Muslims say, 'closer than the vein in your neck.'" This is what I meant by "fully present".

What is the difference between God being fully present and just present? You seem to want to say something more by adding the adjective “fully”, and that’s what I don’t understand. Sure, we are fully present to God in his knowledge and sustaining creative activity, which is what the Qur’an is referring to, if you agree with traditional commentators. But saying that God is fully present in us? That makes no sense to me, because “fully” must imply an entirety and totality without any residual leftovers, which makes no sense when applied to God. There are no other meanings of “fully” that I’m aware of, especially ones that make no mention of “all” or “none”, because they would be incoherent, much like a “triangle” without any mention of “sides”.

Nothing is illicitly presupposed in that statement, because it's built on the, again, independently grounded, independently reasoned conclusions of the Five Ways. If those are true, then that statement is indeed true before it is true.

But the Five Ways are based upon the meaningful content and truth of premises that are fundamentally ontic, because they are rooted in the activity of beings, and not Being itself. Once you have left the ontic framework, you have left the meaningful content and truth of the terms involved. It would then follow that all the Five Ways establish is that our understanding has a limit, beyond which lies incoherence and meaninglessness. Once we get to conclusions involving Pure Act, Subsistent Being Itself, and so on, and its properties, we have left those terms without any meaningful content, and thus empty of any truth values. They are effective examples of mental illusions and tricks that seem to be meaningful, but are actually meaningless. As you yourself said, we have no idea what those terms actually mean, other than as fictional representations of our minds that do not correspond to anything at all.

dguller said...

I don't mean to say that Wippel and Rocca are incompetent. I'm only familiar with Wippel, but he's an unimaginably learned Thomist. But the doctrine of analogy is not an issue of Thomism: it's an issue of Christian tradition. On this topic, I would take Hart's word over that of any Thomist. Today, Thomists are generally Aristotelians who defend Aquinas by citing the Greeks. This works perfectly most of the time, but, on major theological issues, it can lead to confusion and errors. To understand Aquinas's doctrine of analogy, it isn't enough to consider his theory of language through the lens of Aristotle. You have to look at the Christian half of Aquinas's heritage, where the doctrine of analogy was originally developed. That's the only way you're going to make any sense of it.

Like I said, I don’t know the entire Christian traditional understanding of analogy. I’ve read quite a bit about Aquinas’ elucidation of analogy from the aspect of his theory of mind and meaning, and it is clearly in tension with his fundamental ontology, basically undermining it and making it incoherent, as you yourself said. You are trying to save Aquinas by imputing to his words things that betray their clear meaning. It’s certainly possible, but I prefer to take his words at face value, especially since they are precise and analytical, rather than loose and poetic. The most plausible explanation that I can think of to resolve this situation is that Aquinas was dead wrong on his doctrine of analogy, and for the reasons that I and others have described, but that perhaps the Christian traditional understanding of analogy can plough on without problem. To that, I don’t know.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, one of the most revealing things that Prof. Feser has ever written was his argument that early modern philosophy (starting with Descartes) reversed the original order of ontology and epistemology to make the latter primary.

I've had this discussion with another professor and he said the same thing to me. The retreat of the modernists from ontology to epistemology is partly responsible for all the epistemological conundrums facing modern philosophy.

Which leads to the unfortunate outcome that one does philosophy not to understand the world around him but to figure out a way - and consequently justify it - of escaping from his own mind. This reversal's logical conclusion is epistemological nihilism.

I for one, am glad I no longer think like that.

Glenn said...

dguller,

If some sense of a word means 'this' over here, and another sense of it means 'that' over there, then clearly the senses are not univocal. Nonetheless, and strictly speaking, one can (find some way to) talk about the two senses in a, as you put it, "univocal fashion". But this does not establish an actual univocity anymore than speaking nicely of a mean person establishes that that person actually is a nice person.

"...when anything is predicated of many things univocally, it is found in each of them according to its proper nature... But when anything is predicated of many things analogically, it is found in only one of them according to its proper nature, and from this one the rest are denominated." (ST Q16 A6)

dguller said...

Glenn:

If some sense of a word means 'this' over here, and another sense of it means 'that' over there, then clearly the senses are not univocal.

True.

Nonetheless, and strictly speaking, one can (find some way to) talk about the two senses in a, as you put it, "univocal fashion". But this does not establish an actual univocity anymore than speaking nicely of a mean person establishes that that person actually is a nice person.

If univocity is defined as a comparison in which two predicates both have the same term, the same sense, and the same referent, then it absolutely does establish an actual univocity. Again, this is the linguistic definition of univocity, which is parasitic upon the ontological definition of univocity, which you cite below.

"...when anything is predicated of many things univocally, it is found in each of them according to its proper nature... But when anything is predicated of many things analogically, it is found in only one of them according to its proper nature, and from this one the rest are denominated." (ST Q16 A6)

Right. In an analogy, one analogate has the primary meaning and referent, and the other analogate has the secondary meaning that necessarily is relative to the primary meaning and referent. For example:

(1) Medicine is healthy
(2) John is healthy

The primary meaning of “healthy” is contained in (2) and refers to the physical health of an organism. The secondary meaning of “healthy” is contained in (1) and involves something that causes the physical health of an organism. You can see that the secondary meaning of “healthy” necessarily contains the primary meaning of “healthy” and ultimately refers to the same referent, but with a different sense, because the secondary meaning contains the primary meaning plus something else.

The bottom line is that the primary meaning and referent is present in both analogates, but in different ways. In the primary meaning and referent, it is present in a total, perfect, complete and proper fashion, and in the secondary meaning, it is present in an incomplete, imperfect and relative fashion. As he writes in the same quote that you cited: when something is said of many analogically, “it is found according to its proper meaning (propria ratio) in only one of them, from which the others are named” (as translated in Rocca, p. 152).

None of that changes the fact that the same meaning and referent is present in both analogates, as the primary meaning and referent in one, and as part of the secondary meaning and referent in another.

Black Luster said...

Kind of off-topic, but I'm looking for some clarification. Is "healthy" an accidental property of organisms? After all, a sick cow is still a cow.

Also, does the God of classical theism have accidental properties?

Anonymous said...

Kind of off-topic, but I'm looking for some clarification. Is "healthy" an accidental property of organisms? After all, a sick cow is still a cow.

The way I understand it is that when we way that a cow is healthy we refer to the fact that its form was instantiated well, whereas an unhealthy cow denotes the corruption of the form.

dguller said...

BL:

Kind of off-topic, but I'm looking for some clarification. Is "healthy" an accidental property of organisms? After all, a sick cow is still a cow.

That would make it an accidental property, I think.



Also, does the God of classical theism have accidental properties?

No, this is impossible. Accidental properties are properties that can change even though the substance that they belong to remains the same thing. For example, a red ball can become a blue ball while still remaining a ball. With regards to God, he is Pure Actuality, which means that he has no potentiality whatsoever, and thus cannot have accidental properties, either.

BenYachov said...

God has Intellect.

Man has Intellect.


Both God & Man Know except God knows infinitely and the form of God's intellect is inexplicable and unlike Man's in it's form.

Medicine is Healthy in that it is the maintainer of human Health as God is the originator of being.

Something like health is found in medicine even thought we can't say Medicine itself has a healthy heart rate.

I don't see the problem other then dguller believes God being inconceivable and ineffable somehow renders talk of God meaningless.

But if God where conceivable He wouldn't be God & what would eb the point of Him?

Cheers.

Glenn said...

dguller,

>> If some sense of a word means 'this' over here, and another
>> sense of it means 'that' over there, then clearly the senses
>> are not univocal.

> True.

>> Nonetheless, and strictly speaking, one can (find some
>> way to) talk about the two senses in a, as you put it,
>> "univocal fashion". But this does not establish an
>> actual univocity anymore than speaking nicely of a mean
>> person establishes that that person actually is a
>> nice person.

> If univocity is defined as a comparison in which two
> predicates both have the same term, the same sense,
> and the same referent, then it absolutely does
> establish an actual univocity.

It sounds to me like you're saying that "if univocity is defined as a comparison in which two predicates both have the same term, the same sense, and the same referent", then to speak of the two different senses of a single word in a 'univocal fashion', i.e., as if they were univocal, "absolutely does establish an actual univocity".


- - - - -

A hypothetical conversation:

Bill: Andy asserts that 4+4=8. He further asserts that, since 4+4=8, 4+4<>12.

Carl: If I can show that at some level of analysis 4+4=12, then I will have shown that Andy is wrong.

Bill: Really? This I have got to see. Okay, go ahead.

Carl: Using base 6, 4+4=12. Ergo, Andy is wrong.

Bill: Hmm. 12 base 6, however, actually is 8, and actually is not 12.

Carl: You're talking base 10 quantities. In that sense you do make a halfway decent point. But I'm talking symbols. And in this sense, I have shown that, at some level of analysis, and contrary to Andy's assertion that 4+4<>12, it is indeed the case that 4+4=12. So, notwithstanding your halfway decent point, I have shown that Andy is wrong.

Glenn said...

Ben,

But if God where conceivable He wouldn't be God & what would eb the point of Him?

There is a comfort, of some kind, in knowing that no matter how swollen a human intellect may become, it is still a puny thing.

BenYachov said...

Glenn,

You just summed up in 25 words why I love Classic Theism & deeply hate Theistic Personalism with the fire of 10,000 suns.

dguller said...

Glenn:

I'm afraid I didn't follow what you wrote. Sorry.

dguller said...

Ben:

It’s not just that God is inconceivable and incomprehensible. It’s that I can’t see any way that Aquinas can account for how we can talk about God in a meaningful fashion within his philosophy of mind and language, given his ontology and metaphysics.

If you take his definition of analogy seriously, then there are implications that follow from it, and one of those implications is that the senses of the analogates must be similar – not identical (i.e. univocal) or different (i.e. equivocal) – which means that the senses involved must be partly identical and partly different. It follows that those senses have parts that combine to form the whole sense, and thus have sub-senses. Some sub-senses must be identical and other sub-senses must be different. When you focus upon the identical sub-senses, they must have the same referent, because all identical senses have the same referent, and if you give these sub-senses the same name or term, then you have a situation within the heart of an analogy where there is the same term, the same sense, and the same referent, which is Aquinas’ definition of univocal meaning. (Certainly, as Glenn pointed out, if you focused upon the different sub-senses, then you would end up with an equivocal component.)

So, if analogy is the only way for humans to know anything about God, then there must be a core univocity that is identical in God and in creation, but this very thing is impossible, because God is radically unlike anything in creation, given that creation is made up of composite and finite entities, and God is a simple and infinite being, which necessarily makes all univocity impossible. Thus, what is necessary to know God at all – analogy – is also impossible when it comes to God.

BenYachov said...

But I can't conceive of your objection.

>So, if analogy is the only way for humans to know anything about God, then there must be a core univocity that is identical in God and in creation,

I see no reason why I can't say God knows vs I know even if I can't conceive of what it is like for God to know other then conclude via His Nature what He knows is infinitea and that He in effect must know.

I can conceive that the power "to know" is in God but I can't conceive how it is in him.

>but this very thing is impossible, because God is radically unlike anything in creation, given that creation is made up of composite and finite entities, and God is a simple and infinite being, which necessarily makes all univocity impossible.

Well I can conceive there are an infinite number of whole numbers and I could count each individually upward without ever stopping in theory(barring death or the end of the Cosmos and the usual natural impediments).

But I can't conceive each individual whole number that exists simultaneously or all the whole numbers at once.

Via some analogy I can know this this to be so thus why not with God?

dguller said...

Ben:

I see no reason why I can't say God knows vs I know even if I can't conceive of what it is like for God to know other then conclude via His Nature what He knows is infinitea and that He in effect must know.

You have to provide some account for how your words can mean anything that refers to God. Aquinas has an account that involves names or terms, senses (= ratio = modus significandi) and referents (= substantia = res significandi), which I am using in my argument. Perhaps you object to his philosophy of mind and language? If so, then tell me where he goes wrong. If you accept his account, then you have to explain to me how my definitions are wrong. If you accept the account and my definitions, then you have to critique the inferences that I have drawn from them. That is the proper way to refute my argument. Just saying that you “see no reason why” is not good enough.

Well I can conceive there are an infinite number of whole numbers and I could count each individually upward without ever stopping in theory(barring death or the end of the Cosmos and the usual natural impediments).

Right.

But I can't conceive each individual whole number that exists simultaneously or all the whole numbers at once.

Right, but you can still refer to the infinite set of whole numbers at once, and that referent has a clear sense in your mind, even if you cannot imagine every whole number at once. The problem with God is that there is no sense that is in your mind at all, because God is inconceivable and incomprehensible due to the fact that our minds operate on a finite and composite basis whereas God is infinite and simple, and thus simply incapable of being present as he is within our minds.

rank sophist said...

For the sake of your sanity and mine, please read the entirety of this post before responding. I spent probably five or six hours in total on this, and certain points from the beginning are clarified only partway through or at the end. The exponential expansion of these responses, as a result of our method of answering-while-reading, is starting to wear me down.

If God cannot be present in our mind in any way, then we cannot think or talk about God.

Thank you for repeating what Aquinas says in ST Ia q12 a1 and basically everywhere else in all of his writing. Maybe now we'll start getting somewhere.

So, on Aquinas’ own principles, his doctrine of the beatific vision is impossible.

I already explained why your interpretation was off the mark way back when, and I am fully satisfied in my understanding of the Beatific Vision; so I don't really feel like dredging this one up again. It's too complicated and off-topic.

First, what is this “prior, ontological representation of God”? How does this representation present itself to the human mind? It cannot be a form. It cannot be a principle of reason. It cannot be a mental image. So, what is it? A trace, you say? How do I represent a trace that is unrepresentable?

First, the Trinitarian trace is present in the ontic relation (category #4, as you'll recall) that stretches from creation to God (DP 3:3). Second, it appears at a deeper, ontological level within created things by necessity of their representation of and resemblance to whatever created them (ST Ia q45 a7). Much of this deals with esse, which is above the ten categories. As Aquinas says in that latter article, "Such a representation is called a 'trace': for a trace shows that someone has passed by but not who it is." You can find his list of elements that the Trinitarian trace confers in that article, although keep in mind that pretty much every commentator has phrased them differently and has had unique selections.

As to your question of how we recognize it: it's present in all things. We recognize it by recognizing any form or esse. By cognizing anything good, we always already cognize the Trinitarian trace. It comes along for the ride, signifying that "someone has passed by but not who it is". Honestly, I'm not sure why this was even particularly mysterious. It's kind of obvious given Aquinas's direct realism.

Second, just because a thought of X bears a mark of Y does not mean that my thought about X is simultaneously a thought about Y. Only my thought about Y is a thought about Y. My thought about X is a thought about X, even if X depends upon Y for its existence.

Only when you're comparing beings to beings. Compare beings to their principle and it's a whole different ballgame. All created goodness is already about God simply by virtue of its containing the Trinitarian trace: it is very literally a symbol of God. Hence, when you abstract created goodness and consider it in itself, your thought always already symbolizes God. The more perfect the goodness, the more accurate the symbol. Honestly, this is the only coherent way to understand Aquinas's talk of sense and referent. The sense relates to the ontic baggage necessarily attached to every known thing, while the referent contains the factical presence of the Trinitarian trace that is in every created goodness, and that always already refers those things to God. Every divine name is compromised by ontic baggage, but, because of the Trinitarian trace within created goodness, these names always already signify God. Hence Aquinas's statement in ST Ia q13 a3 that the created goodnesses applied to God via divine names "belong properly to God, and more properly than they belong to creatures".

rank sophist said...

This seems to me wholly compatible with both Aquinas's writings and Christian tradition, while not resulting in a reduction to univocity or equivocation.

You yourself used the term that we are different from God in kind and not degree. Are you now saying that that statement is also ontic? Or perhaps he is neither different in kind nor degree?

It would have been better to say that we're different from God in kind rather than that God was different from us in kind. My mistake.

But the question remains how you can truthfully say that God is the trace that already signifies God prior to all signification? You would have to have an idea of God as such a trace, and that is precisely what is declared impossible due to his being beyond being in the sense of being in excess and overflowing being.

God is not the Trinitarian trace. You've collapsed a distinction that I've been trying carefully to preserve. If God were the Trinitarian trace, then something like pantheism would follow and the trace itself would be uncaused. That's absolutely not the situation. This is why I was a bit hesitant to use a full-blown Derrida analogy, because Derrida's system is immanent (the trace and differance are ultimately interchangeable) while Aquinas's features both immanence and transcendence. There is no one-for-one counterpart of God in Derrida's system: this is why I said "something like differance"--I didn't want to commit myself too thoroughly to a loose analogy. I was just trying to explain why my criticism of Derrida did not apply to Thomism.

The Trinitarian trace is the factical condition of being by which being symbolizes God: it is present within all things by virtue of their existence. It is ultimately inseparable from the beings it appears in: I have highlighted for the sake of clarity. It is not God's presence itself (pure immanence), but is rather the immediate effect of that presence, which shows that God is always in creation without being creation. It makes no sense to say that the Trinitarian trace in itself is unrepresentable, because, as the factical condition of all being, it is representation itself. It's the ontological representation always already presupposed by every ontic representation. Through it, God is always already represented by creation.

So, no; you don't have to have an idea of God already for the Trinitarian trace to work. It is, as Aquinas says, the sign that "someone has passed by but not who it is".

If all our ideas of God are idolatrous misrepresentations of God, then we cannot have any idea of God at all, because even saying that an idol is a misrepresentation presupposes that we know what an accurate representation would be, which we do not know.

How is that presupposed? We know that an idol is a misrepresentation independently, in that, as effects, we cannot be a good as the "non-cause" (in analogical rather than purely negational terms) from which we came. Further, you can repeat that our idols don't represent God all you like, but you're just begging the question until you refute the existence of the Trinitarian trace in the beings from which our ideas gain their meaning.

rank sophist said...

But you have, because your terms do not have any referents, given that all referents can only refer to beings, and neither God nor differance are beings at all – both are beyond being, after all – the former because he is too powerful and overwhelming to be a being, and the latter because it is too weak and inadequate to be considered a being.

I think we need to get a bit clearer with our use of "referent", because the Thomistic use and the semiotic use are nearly opposites. In semiotics, the referent is the thing ontically signified by a signifier. Under Thomism, at least in terms of God-analogies, the referent is an ontological element of creation. And, insofar as these ontological elements contain the Trinitarian trace, our statement is directed toward God. Because semiotics is purely ontic by necessity, it is impossible to talk about God being a referent in that system without reducing him to the ontic level. This is why I have been saying that God is always already signified (the referent) prior to ontic signification--something that all ontic signification always already contains. Semiotics and Derrida make it easier to talk about analogy in modern language. In terms of Thomistic signification, though, it's better to say that God is the referent of the referent, insofar as a referent is always an ontological element that contains the Trinitarian trace.

Again, as long as the Trinitarian trace is the factical condition of being, it follows that creation is a symbol of God. From this, it follows that a referent (in the Thomistic sense) will always already refer to God by virtue of its existence.

In order to refer to God or differance, one would have to be able to refer to that which is beyond being, which is declared to be impossible, because all of our understanding and conceptualization is rooted in being (i.e. esse commune = ontic being) and thus any transcendence of esse commune unmoors our language from its bearings, leaving it adrift and disconnected. To talk about that which is beyond being, one must be able to step outside being and into a higher (or lower) context, which is impossible, because anything that we can conceive as a higher (or lower) context is just another mode of being, and thus becomes an idol of esse commune instead of a truth of esse divinum (or differance).

Your reasoning here is pretty solid. However, you've made a few mistakes. Firstly, esse commune is not ontic but is rather ontological. God has no analogate in Heidegger's ontico-ontological divide: he is beyond it. For Thomism, the ontic is being as it manifests itself in beings, through the ten categories; and the ontological is the realm of esse, which is above the ten categories.

rank sophist said...

Secondly, and far more critically, you have just found the big difference between traditional Christian theology and modern philosophy. Hart hammers on this point constantly. The difference is that modern philosophy has no concept of analogy, which reduces people like Derrida to placing their supra-logical concepts into a realm of "tragic distance" and total negation (and negation of negation). That's what you conclude above. The same is not true of Christian theology, which uses analogy to convert distance from tragic to beautiful, in that the gap between God and creation can be traversed via infinite affirmations. This is the direct result of the Trinitarian trace, which always already refers creation to God. So, again: until you defeat the notion of the Trinitarian trace, none of your other arguments hold any water.

How can you have something “grounded on logic and observations” when the content of those ideas is empty? If logic results in a conclusion about X, and X has no sense or referent, then the conclusion is about nothing at all. It is self-refuting, because you are trying to talk about something that you cannot talk about. It would be better to just keep silent about God, because one cannot talk about God, which is more honest and authentic than speaking about God. Every time you speak, you commit idolatry, which you cannot even say, because an idol of God still refers to God, which is impossible.

It isn't idolatry any more than the existence of anything at all is idolatry, since the idols are compiled out of existing things that are always already idols.

And it is not self-refuting to say that logic leads us to a conclusion that is beyond comprehension. Why would it be? Further, the Five Ways do not lead us to conclusions about any being X, because, as with all analytic logic, any X is necessarily ontic. Analytic philosophy (particularly after Frege) has forgotten the difference between beings and Being in a more extreme manner than did any of the Greeks. The Five Ways tell us that all things are contingent and not self-sufficient, and that they are caused to exist by a non-existent non-cause (which is, by logical necessity, impossible to describe or comprehend) whose trace remains in creation. It's that simple. I see no contradiction in saying that the ground of act/potency must be something that cannot be known.

The problem is that I can provide quotes by Aquinas to support my interpretation. You would have to show that when Aquinas is talking about ratio and modus significandi, he is not talking about the sense of a term, and when he is talking about substantia and res significandi, he is not talking about the referent of a term. Even more difficult, you would have to show that these terms actually have nothing to do with his doctrine of analogy. But if my interpretation is on the mark, and my argument flows from this interpretation, then you have to address it head on, rather than simply saying that it must be wrong.

I think my interpretation of Aquinas's argument is backed up by his own writing, as I've attempted to show above. In fact, given the tremendous problems that ensue from the majority of modern readings--stuff that Aquinas himself would have been pretty stupid not to have seen--, I'd say that mine is to be preferred. It makes perfect sense with Christian tradition and with the statements Aquinas makes in the ST, DP, SCG and elsewhere, while most of the other readings I've seen simply do not. They toss out Aquinas's careful distinctions between God and creation, reducing the entire system to onto-theology.

rank sophist said...

First, just because X contains Y does not mean that our thoughts about X and our talk about X is also about Y. Our talk about X is just about X, and if we were to shift our thinking or speech towards Y, then it will be about Y. When I am talking about the sun, I am not simultaneously talking about the solar system, even though it is a key part of the sun’s existence.

This shows that you still aren't thinking of God in the proper way. You could not talk about God in terms of direct intentional content unless God was an intelligible species in your passive intellect. Unlike with the sun, you cannot ever mean God in the intentional sense. Hence, any "God" discussed in intentional terms is always already an idol. However, insofar as the referents (Thomistic, not semiotic) of your words in turn refer to God, you will always already be talking about God regardless of your intentional content. This rule applies to nothing else--not even to esse. That's because of God's completely unprecedented relationship to creation as a result of his creating it from nothing and sustaining it so that it does not return to nothing. Your counterexamples do not undermine this.

Second, Aquinas’ direct realism still has mediating parts between us and the world, but is direct, because of a reliablism that the whole system works as God intended in a reliable fashion to connect us with the world. If there are aspects of the world that simply cannot be internalized into the mediating parts, then they cannot show up to our minds at all.

As the condition of all things, the Trinitarian trace is going to be internalized into the mediating parts simply by virtue of anything at all being internalized into them. That's how facticity works.

There are terms that are fundamentally relational in nature. If X is larger than Y, then Y is necessary smaller than X. There is no sense to saying that X is larger than Y, but Y is not smaller than X. Similarly, it makes no sense to say that X is the effect of Y, but Y is not the cause of X. It is built right into the nature of effect to be actualized by a cause, and if you say that there is an effect without a cause, then you have contradicted yourself, much like saying that there is a square with three sides.

These are no more than assertions. The principle of causality leads to a "non-cause" by logical necessity. Nothing else could truly ground it. If the law of causality had at its top a "supreme cause", then Heidegger's onto-theological critique would apply. There would be a double-grounding between creation and creator, in which they define each other. Logically, this leads us to one of two conclusions. First, it could mean that the creator is self-grounded, which is the same as saying that he is self-caused: either pure nihilism or a contradiction, depending on your point of view. Second, it could mean that both creation and creator are grounded in some third thing, which in this case would be the law of causality. But that would in turn lead us to ask what grounds the law of causality, and the critique would begin again. Only a non-cause is capable of doing the job.

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