Friday, January 25, 2013

Mumford on metaphysics


In another in a series of excellent interviews with contemporary philosophers, 3:AM Magazine’s witty and well-informed Richard Marshall talks to analytic metaphysician Stephen Mumford.  Mumford is an important and influential contributor to the current revival of interest in powers and dispositions as essential to understanding what science reveals to us about the natural world.  The notion of a power or disposition is closely related to what the Scholastics called a potency, and Mumford cites Aristotle and Aquinas as predecessors of the sort of view he defends.  Mumford’s notion of the “metaphysics of science” is also more or less identical to what modern Scholastic writers call the philosophy of nature.  But Mumford’s interest is motivated by issues in philosophy of science and metaphysics rather than natural theology.  The interview provides a useful basic, brief introduction to some of the issues that have arisen in the contemporary debate about powers.

Some comments on the interview: Mumford cites Bertrand Russell as a great thinker from whom one can learn much even if one largely disagrees with him.  I agree with that assessment (where Russell’s serious philosophical work was concerned, anyway -- his popular writings on religion, morals, politics, etc. are awful), and I wrote my doctoral dissertation in part on Russell.  I would qualify some of the specific points Mumford makes, however.  The early Russell famously rebelled against the neo-Hegelian monism that dominated British philosophy in the late 19th century, in favor of a metaphysics of radically discrete objects.  He famously suggested that for Hegel the world is like a jelly -- one continuous blob, as it were -- whereas for Russell himself the world was like a bucket of shot, countless disconnected individual bits.  

Mumford gives the impression that dispositionalism -- which affirms an interconnectedness between things insofar as dispositions tend toward their manifestations (e.g. brittleness tends toward breaking) -- entails a return to something like the monism Russell rejected.  But I think that is not correct (and I’m not sure Mumford would actually take it that far).  Instead of comparing the world to either jelly or buckshot, we might compare it to a museum full of paintings that represent each other from different points of view.  The paintings are discrete objects (unlike the Hegelian jelly) but not radically independent (unlike Russell’s buckshot) insofar as they point beyond themselves to each other.  The Aristotelian conception of the world, anyway -- which, in fairness, Mumford himself may not be entirely committed to -- is a middle ground between monism (whether Hegelian, Parmenidean, or what have you) and radical metaphysical individualism (whether Humean, Ockhamite, or whatever).

Mumford might not be entirely happy with the painting analogy, though, since he indicates that he disagrees with George Molnar’s idea that powers exhibit a kind of intentionality insofar as they are “directed toward” their manifestations, and he favors instead the notion of what he calls the “dispositional modality, between pure necessity and pure contingency.”  Here (with qualifications) I would side with Molnar.  I also am wary of Mumford’s rejection of the division of properties into categorical and dispositional, which seems to threaten to lead to a metaphysics of pure potency devoid of act, to use the Scholastic language.  (These are issues I’ll be dealing with in some forthcoming work on causation.)

Mumford also unfavorably compares Wittgenstein to Russell.  I agree with Mumford’s reservations about Wittgensteinian method, but I think that Wittgenstein is nevertheless of great significance for metaphysics (despite Wittgenstein’s own intentions!) insofar as his work constitutes a powerful critique of reductionism, scientism, and related notions.  I would say that Wittgenstein’s position points in the direction of something like an Aristotelian conception of human nature, even if he would himself never have taken it in that direction.

These disagreements notwithstanding, Mumford is always interesting and the interview is well worth reading.  Mumford makes some wise remarks about science, noting that “physics largely consists of a mathematical representation of reality: usually an artificial portion of reality in a model.  Reality should not be mistaken for that mathematical representation.  The world is not a number, nor an equation.”  (This is a theme I have addressed many times, such as here and here -- Mumford, who is a fan of comic books, might especially like the first of those posts.)  The joke Marshall cites from the book Mumford co-wrote with Rani Lill Anjum nicely parodies the clueless scientism that permeates so much of contemporary intellectual life.

71 comments:

Scott said...

I share his respect for David Malet Armstrong. If you're going to be a naturalistic metaphysician, that's the way to do it.

Thursday said...

Bertrand Russell was the stupidest man on the planet, except for mathematics.

(I exaggerate for effect.)

Anonymous said...

Off topic to Prof. Feser -- given the lengthy and intricate discussions that happen here (of which you should be proud) you might want to consider turning on threaded comments, which is a relatively new blogspot feature.

Anonymous said...

we might compare it to a museum full of paintings that represent each other from different points of view. The paintings are discrete objects (unlike the Hegelian jelly) but not radically independent (unlike Russell’s buckshot) insofar as they point beyond themselves to each other.

I thought this was a Christian blog, but the above recalls the Hindu story of the Net of Indra.

Scott said...

"I thought this was a Christian blog, but the above recalls the Hindu story of the Net of Indra."

As well as Hegel's concrete universal.

Scott said...

"(I exaggerate for effect.)"

You certainly do. Lord Russell was not in any way stupid.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a Christian blog

Not really. It's a philosophy blog with a big focus on Natural Law, but that's not exclusively Christian by a longshot. There's certain some Catholic themes which come up, but you don't have to be a Catholic to accept natural law, Aristotileanism, or even theism.

Daniel Smith said...

I'm still wrestling with the idea of "intrinsic powers", "dispositions", "natures", etc. in light of the Fifth Way. It almost seems a concession to naturalism to consider such things as totally internal. The Fifth Way, as I understand it, makes the case that the nature of a thing cannot come from the thing itself (the arrow does not move towards the target because of its own nature). The Fifth Way makes a direct appeal to God from nature. Aristotelian "intrinsic powers" add a layer that I don't think should be there.

I hope this makes sense to someone besides me!

Brandon said...

The Fifth Way makes a direct appeal to God from nature. Aristotelian "intrinsic powers" add a layer that I don't think should be there.

It seems like this position would require occasionalism.

BenYachov said...

>You certainly do. Lord Russell was not in any way stupid.

Let's agree to disagree.

But I would contend his TeaPot argument was very stupid and I am not alone.

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2008/11/russells-teapot-does-it-hold-water.html

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/08/gutting-dawkins-and-russells-celestial-teapot.html

Speaking from personal experience I read WHY I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN as a freshman in college.

Russell's claim Jesus was morally inferior for killing a fig tree was just stupid.

His claim Jesus was morally inferior for sending Legion & his fellow demons into a herd of Pigs(where they drowned) instead of the Abyss had IMHO a touch of the heads I win tales you lose mojo.

I told my then professor "Well if Jesus sent Legion into the Abyss when he begged to be sent into the Pigs then Russell would merely have said Jesus was cruel and merciless to Legion".

He just looked at me & shrugged.

So Russell was a genius at math & did well with professional philosophy. Outside of that he was useless.

Anonymous said...

Ludwig Wittgenstein sometimes shot his mouth off in summary judgment of men of very high caliber. He once remarked to M. O'C. Drury, "Russell's books should be bound in two colours: those dealing with mathematical logic in red -- and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue -- and no one should be allowed to read them." (Recollections of Wittgenstein,* ed. R. Rhees, Oxford 1984, p. 112.)

via http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/12/the-wit-and-wisdom-of-bertrand-russell.html

Daniel Smith said...

Brandon: It seems like this position would require occasionalism.

It seems that the alternative leads to Deism.

So where are we?

Daniel Smith said...

More correctly, I guess: Where was Thomas Aquinas?

What did he mean when he said this?

"Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer."

Was Aquinas an occasionalist?

Brandon said...

Aquinas is very anti-occasionalist; not only does he think it inconsistent with Aristotle, he thinks it's inconsistent with the Christian doctrine of creation as well, not even counting the fact that he would have associated it with specifically Islamic theology. He attacks it specifically in a number of places, including ST 1.105.5.

Deism would require that the operation of intrinsic powers be independent of, rather than distinct from but dependent on, divine action, whereas denying that things have intrinsic powers is equivalent to denying that their actions are actually due to them in any sense (since for them to be doing the action they'd have to have the power to do it). I'm not really sure what the puzzle is about the Fifth Way here: the argument is that nothing could cause at all without having some kind of disposition to an effect, but that disposition to effects ultimately requires an intelligence.

Edward Feser said...

Daniel,

That's a false alternative. Aquinas's position is precisely a middle ground between occasionalism and deism. I've addressed this issue several times here on the blog, and in my YouTube Steubenville lecture too. As it happens I've been planning to write up a short post on the topic anyway, which I'll put up soon.

Daniel Smith said...

Thanks Brandon and Dr. Feser for the replies.

I know I've been like a broken record on this issue but there's just something about it I can't quite wrap my head around.

I do understand that God does not cause all actions (otherwise God would be the cause of all evil).

I also understand that God is absolutely required at the root of any chain of causation.

I guess my problem is in reconciling the two.

I'm really, really, REALLY looking forward to your post on this Dr. Feser. And, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't there also a paper on the Fifth Way in the works also?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Daniel,

Yes, I've got forthcoming a long paper on the Fifth Way, which develops and defends it in much more detail than I have elsewhere and along the way addresses all sorts of related issues. I wrote it some time ago, but academic publishing being what it is the anthology it is set to appear in is taking forever to come out. When I have some solid information about that I will announce it.

Jules said...

I do understand that God does not cause all actions (otherwise God would be the cause of all evil).

It seems that the God of Classical Theism causes all actions, including the actions of sin. Feser himself says that God causes free actions, for example (see pg.150 of his book Aquinas).

Daniel Smith said...

I just read and reread the passages in Aquinas and I did not get that at all.

As I understand Feser understanding Aquinas: God is the cause of free will and each human the cause of his/her own choices. He gives us the ability to choose between good and evil but doesn't force us toward either. So God is not the cause of sin.

Glenn said...

How 'bout this (re opening up the'middle ground')?

1. Aquinas contra deism:

o [A] thing is said to preserve another 'per se' and directly, namely, when what is preserved depends on the preserver in such a way that it cannot exist without it. In this manner all creatures need to be preserved by God. For the being of every creature depends on God, so that not for a moment could it subsist, but would fall into nothingness were it not kept in being by the operation of the Divine power, as Gregory says (Moral. xvi). ST 1 Q104 A1

2. Aquinas contra occasionalism:

o The effect which proceeds from the middle cause, according as it is subordinate to the first cause, is reduced to that first cause; but if it proceed from the middle cause, according as it goes outside the order of the first cause, it is not reduced to that first cause: thus if a servant do anything contrary to his master's orders, it is not ascribed to the master as though he were the cause thereof. In like manner sin, which the free-will commits against the commandment of God, is not attributed to God as being its cause. ST II-I Q79 A1

Daniel Smith said...

The thing about free will is it doesn't really apply to the Fifth Way - which is based on 'mindless' things.

The Fifth Way specifically says that mindless things can not act for an end unless directed by a mind.

The conclusion: "Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God."

I guess I'm hung up on "directed".

He's not arguing that all things are sustained in existence therefore: God. He's arguing that mindless things act for an end therefore: God.

Daniel Smith said...

I just found this (which clarifies Aquinas' thoughts a bit for me):

The natural necessity inherent in those beings which are determined to a particular thing, is a kind of impression from God, directing them to their end; as the necessity whereby an arrow is moved so as to fly towards a certain point is an impression from the archer, and not from the arrow. But there is a difference, inasmuch as that which creatures receive from God is their nature, while that which natural things receive from man in addition to their nature is somewhat violent. Wherefore, as the violent necessity in the movement of the arrow shows the action of the archer, so the natural necessity of things shows the government of Divine Providence. ST 1 Q103 A1

The statement about man's impression upon the arrow being "in addition to" the arrow's nature, contrasted with God's giving the actual nature helps me.

Glenn said...

Looks like you're getting warm.

Question: What is Aquinas doing when he first presents the Fifth Way?

Daniel Smith said...

He is arguing that the existence of God can be proven.

Glenn said...

Exactly. In arguing that the existence of God can be proven, he is responding to a single, specific question--"Whether God Exists".

So, what I'm wonder is whether the difficulty you have been encountering may have less to do with understanding the idea of "intrinsic powers", "dispositions", "natures", etc. in light of the Fifth Way, and more to do with your attempt to understand actually being an attempt to understand the Fifth Way in light of "intrinsic powers", "dispositions", "natures", etc.

My reason for wondering this is because the Fifth Way isn't offered in an attempt to elucidate those ideas, but to contribute to answering (or arguing for an affirmative answer to) the single, specific question of whether God exists.

Daniel Smith said...

Yes, that is all true, but IF those other things undermine the argument presented in the Fifth Way...

Glenn said...

What other things? "intrinsic powers", "dispositions", "natures", etc? How might they undermine the argument that God exists? Without God, they don't exist. :-)

Anyway, it seems that you are actually a lot closer to understanding than you seem to be giving yourself credit for. And no doubt the short post that Dr. Feser'll be putting up soon will shed a great deal more light on the matter.

Daniel Smith said...

My issue is all about the argument.

The fifth way argues directly from final causes to God. My concern was: if final causes don't directly point to God but only indirectly point to Him, then the fifth way has no power.

Does that make sense?

Glenn said...

A step would have to be removed from the argument before it could be said to argue directly from final causes to God. But then you'd have a question-begging argument. And a non-question-begging argument is, if not more persuasive, then certainly more rational.

Daniel Smith said...

Well I agree about that. I think I'm getting it (I just hope it sticks!!)

Thanks Glenn.

BenYachov said...

Today the 28th is the feast day for St. Thomas Aquinas!!!!!:-)

Christian said...

Hello Dr. Feser,

I just wanted to wish you a happy feast day of St. Thomas! I know the Angelic Doctor would be proud of your work I know I for certain appreciate it!

George R. said...

And no doubt the short post that Dr. Feser'll be putting up soon will shed a great deal more light on the matter.

I wouldn't put any serious money on that, Glenn.

Ed's doctrine on teleology is rather obscure, because he overemphasizes its immanent component and neglects the importance of the extrinsic. Until both the intrinsic and extrinsic are presented, and their relationship to each other explained, I'm afraid Daniel is going to remain confused about this issue.

Jules said...

Daniel Smith,

Sorry, but I have to disagree with you.

As I understand Feser understanding Aquinas: God is the cause of free will and each human
the cause of his/her own choices. He gives us the ability to choose between good and evil but doesn't force us toward either.


This is partially true. Each human is the cause of his/her own choices but as a secondary cause. Please keep in mind that the act of free will is also an act of change, and every change involves a passage of potency to act. But as long no potential can actualize itself, we need to trace back this series of movements to their first mover, i.e., something that is pure actuality, namely, God. So unless you give god-like qualities to humans, treating them as prime movers, you have to say, in Thomism, that God is the cause of the act of sin.

Let’s Thomas Aquinas speaks for himself:

“(…)Every movement of secondary causes needs to be caused by the first mover(….)But God is the first mover regarding all movements, both spiritual and material(…). And so, since acts of sin are movements of free choice, we need to say that such acts as acts come from God”. (Thomas Aquinas, De Malo)

So we have these premises:

(1) Choosing involves changing;
(2) Changing involves actualization of a potential;
(3) No potential can actualize itself;
(4) Every actualization must rests on a being who is Pure Act;

Which one you will deny? (OBS.: The above Is not a syllogism).

So God is not the cause of sin.

Notice that I said is that God is the cause of the act of sin, not the cause of sin. Traditionally, those are considered different answers.

Daniel Smith said...

Jules:
So we have these premises:
(1) Choosing involves changing;
(2) Changing involves actualization of a potential;
(3) No potential can actualize itself;
(4) Every actualization must rests on a being who is Pure Act;
Which one you will deny?


I would not agree with #4 the way it is stated. There is a lot going on with causes per se and per accidens, direct and indirect, etc. that gets papered over there.

Daniel Smith said...

George R:
Ed's doctrine on teleology is rather obscure, because he overemphasizes its immanent component and neglects the importance of the extrinsic. Until both the intrinsic and extrinsic are presented, and their relationship to each other explained, I'm afraid Daniel is going to remain confused about this issue.

You know I think you've hit the nail on the head there. Just when I start to wrap my head around it, Ed says something that gives me the impression that he doesn't think teleology has an external component.

Daniel Smith said...

Jules: Notice that I said is that God is the cause of the act of sin, not the cause of sin. Traditionally, those are considered different answers.

If you are arguing that God gives us the ability to sin, then I have no argument with that.

Glenn said...

George,

Ed's doctrine on teleology is rather obscure, because he overemphasizes its immanent component and neglects the importance of the extrinsic. Until both the intrinsic and extrinsic are presented, and their relationship to each other explained, I'm afraid Daniel is going to remain confused about this issue.

This is a good point, and easy to see.

At the same time, I don't see that he's merely or solely interested in advancing his doctrine on teleology, but also, to put it loosely, desirous of AT gaining some traction with non-theists. Couple this with the fact that he not uncommonly catches flak from non-theists for his presenting the intrinsic component, and the extrinsic component getting short shrift may make some sense.

Anonymous said...

The really big challenge for believers is to now pick up Aquinas's Fifth Way argument and substantively prove the existence of a God beyond a reasonable doubt [a la criminal law level of certainty] or even on the basis of probability [a civil action level of certainty].

Until that is achieved, Aquinas's God will remain a hypothesis, a paper tiger.


When you bring me empirical proof, beyond reasonable doubt, that:

a^b is a 'transcendental number', for algebraic a ≠ 0,1 and irrational algebraic b

(Hilbert 7th problem)

The MATHEMATICAL proof we have already.

Now show me beyond reasonable doubt, with an empirical experiment that it is so :P

Until that your request is a paper tiger.

Edward Feser said...

Glenn (quoting George, who was responding to Daniel) wrote:

”Ed's doctrine on teleology is rather obscure, because he overemphasizes its immanent component and neglects the importance of the extrinsic. Until both the intrinsic and extrinsic are presented, and their relationship to each other explained, I'm afraid Daniel is going to remain confused about this issue.”

This is a good point, and easy to see.

On the contrary, it is not a good point, and only shows how muddled and obscure George’s own position is.

For one thing, the problem Daniel has had with my position in the past is that he could not see how teleology could be both intrinsic or immanent to natural substances (as it must be for anyone who, like Aquinas, accepts Aristotle’s distinction between natural substances, which have substantial forms, and artifacts which have merely accidental forms), while at the same time ultimately deriving from God (as Aquinas’s Fifth Way argues). But now George himself tells us that teleology has an “immanent component” and an “extrinsic component” – in other words, he says exactly what I have always said and exactly what Daniel has found puzzling, without explaining why Daniel should be less puzzled by his view than mine.

(In fact there is nothing more mysterious here than there is in the fact that natural objects are true, secondary causes even though they also ultimately derive their causal power from God as first cause. To deny this would entail occasionalism – and to deny that final causes are immanent in one sense while also ultimately deriving from God is a final-causal analogue of occasionalism, and in fact entails the other kind of occasionalism too, as I explained in my Steubenville YouTube lecture.)

For another thing, the fact that I have developed and defended the Fifth Way at length in two books and elsewhere makes it nothing less than bizarre that George should claim that I have “neglect[ed] the importance of the extrinsic” aspect of natural teleology or failed to “present” it. And I have, contrary to what George says, in many posts, in my Philosophia Christi article on teleology, and elsewhere explained the relationship between the two aspects of natural teleology.

What George has never done is to explain exactly how he can both (a) acknowledge, as he rightly does, that natural teleology has an “immanent” aspect as well as an extrinsic aspect, while at the same time (b) treating natural objects as if they were artifacts -- as he needs to do in order to defend ID -- which entails that they have accidental rather than substantial forms, which in turn entails that they have only extrinsic teleology.

He has never done so because he cannot do so. He wants to be a Thomist – which is why he affirms that there is an “immanent element” to teleology – and yet his fanatical Captain Ahab-like obsession with Darwinism has also made him keen to defend ID at any cost, which is why he wants (as ID does) to treat natural objects as if they were complex artifacts a la Paley’s watch.

There is no way to square that circle. And the point, as I have said many times, has nothing whatsoever to do with Darwinism per se. If George wants to attack Darwinism from a Thomistic point of view, fine, knock yourself out, George. What he cannot consistently do as a Thomist is to treat natural substances as if they were artifacts. That is simply incompatible with the Aristotelian nature/art distinction, the doctrine of substantial form, and the idea of immanent teleology.

Daniel Smith said...

Wow, I really started something here!

I'm glad we're having this conversation though. Perhaps that's my problem too - having come to Thomism from an ID background.

I don't have any trouble seeing natural objects as God's artifacts. I guess I don't understand how God could give anything an "accidental form" anyway - I mean it's God so...

It seems to me that the standard "rules of artifacts" (or whatever) shouldn't apply to God. If God creates an artifact, He gives it its form - period.

The whole "accidental vs. substantial form" distinction seems a bit irrelevant to me given my background.

Apparently it's a big deal to Thomists though so I need to understand it.

I guess the question is - why can't an artifact, created by God, have a substantial form?

And:

Do all artifacts - even those created by God - only have accidental forms?

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: It seems to me that the standard "rules of artifacts" (or whatever) shouldn't apply to God. If God creates an artifact, He gives it its form - period.

It's not a "rule", it's just what the term means. Artifacts don't have "a form, period" because an artifact isn't a thing — that is, not a substance, a thing-in-itself.

A crowd is not "a thing"; it's just a bunch of people who accidentally happen to be together. Each person making up the crowd is a substance, with a single substantial form (and various accidental forms on top of that), but the crowd is just an "artifact", the accidental grouping of a bunch of substances. (It may be more obvious in that the people are separate from each other, but even gluing some people into a big ball would not make a new substance; it would be some (human) things glued together.)

Similarly, a machine is a bunch of pieces strapped or bolted or welded together. Most of what we can make falls into this category, since we do not have the power to create new substantial forms out of nothing. Of course, God has set up nature so that certain causes naturally have the effect of bringing a new substance into being (such as any time a plant or animal or human being is conceived, be it in the normal way or in a lab). But the bottom line is that an artifact is not a single substance itself, but rather a collection of things that are substances; and thus it doesn't makes sense to talk of its having a substantial form.

Edward Feser said...

Daniel wrote:

I guess the question is - why can't an artifact, created by God, have a substantial form?

If what you have in mind are the usual sorts of examples -- watches, machines, etc. -- then the notion that such a thing might have a substantial form is like the notion of a round square -- it isn't really coherent. (Other "man made" things like breeds of dog, babies, water synthesized in a lab, etc. are not like this. They are not "artifacts" in the relevant sense since their principle of operation and teleology is intrinsic and are thus in the relevant sense "natural.")

The crucial distinction is between that which has its principle of operation intrinsic to it -- as an acorn, just by virtue of being the kind of thing it is, has an inherent tendency to grow into an oak -- and that which has it imposed from outside -- as the parts of a watch do, since there is nothing in the nature of bits of metal which gives them any tendency to tell time.

If you don't see the difference, I would suggest that you are probably falsely supposing it to be more high-falutin' than it is. It is supposed to be blindingly obvious -- and I would suggest is indeed blindingly obvious in ordinary contexts. (As Aristotle says, to try to prove it would be absurd, since it's more obviously true than any argument one could give for -- or against -- it.) Everyone knows that there is a difference between watches, etc. on the one hand and acorns, etc. on the other. They only start to doubt it when they think there is something philosophical at stake (just like they only doubt free will, perception, etc. when they start philosophizing about it).

These remarks are not meant as criticism -- I'm just emphasizing that the distinction is not meant to be anything but something obvious and familiar from everyday life.

Now the difference between something which has an inherent tendency toward some end or operation -- as an acorn has -- and something which does not -- as the parts of a watch do not -- is (for present purposes) more or less the difference between something with a substantial form and something with only an accidental form. Hence in answer to:

Do all artifacts - even those created by God - only have accidental forms?

The answer is Yes. A watch miraculously caused to exist directly by God is no more a natural object that a watch made by Seiko. And a natural object made by God -- as every single natural object is insofar as it is sustained in being by God at every moment -- has a substantial form rather than an accidental form. There is no such thing as a genuine stone, tree, or cat (as opposed to say a movie prop or a robot) that has only an accidental form.

George R. said...

Ed writes:

But now George himself tells us that teleology has an “immanent component” and an “extrinsic component” – in other words, he says exactly what I have always said and exactly what Daniel has found puzzling, without explaining why Daniel should be less puzzled by his view than mine.

Unfortunately, Ed, your doctrine on teleology remains obscure, notwithstanding the fact that it's true that you have always maintained that there is an extrinsic component to it. For your emphasis has always been on the immanence of teleology, whereas the truth is that what is immanent in the teleological system is rather the effect of the teleological principle rather than the principle itself. I, on the other hand, have always maintained that teleology is primarily and in the truest sense extrinsic to natural things, and is only intrinsic as a cause is in its effect.

One of the bad consequences of your view is that it causes confusion in the distinction between the teleology of the thing and the nature of the thing. People get the idea that you’re saying that the teleology and the nature are the same thing. After all, the teleology is immanent, and so is the nature; teleology ultimately depends on God, and so does the nature; teleology directs a thing toward an end, and so does the nature. So what‘s the difference between the two? It seems to me that a more careful distinction has to be made.

As I see, there are three components of teleology:

A) the inner directedness of the thing toward an end
B) the end toward which it is directed
C) the director

Now we both agree that A is immanent. We also agree that C is extrinsic, and this is God. But it’s B that has been lost in the shuffle in your explanations. And what is B? Why, it’s nothing other than the final cause itself, the true principle of all teleology, for it is the cause of causes, as Thomas taught; and it is B that is emphatically extrinsic with respect to that of which it is the final cause. In short, B is the principle, and A is a mere effect of that principle. Therefore, the final cause is not immanent in things in the true sense, only in a certain sense, to wit, as a cause is in its effect.

Now to put this in concrete terms, consider how, say, a spider is directed toward web-making. We know that a spider is in its nature directed toward web-making. Therefore, the principle of teleology in this case is not the inner-directedness of the spider toward web-making, but rather “web-making” itself, and it’s the latter that is the cause of the former. In other words, web-making is the cause of the spider. . . but not of course in reality, where the spider must be the cause of web-making, but only in the intentional order. Therefore, the final cause, the principle of all teleology, can exist only in a mind. This is why I say that those who hold that teleology is completely immanent in nature, like Nagel, are promoting a “teleology” that is not merely incomplete but also quite unintelligible.

Glenn said...

Glenn (quoting George, who was responding to Daniel) wrote:

For the record:

In quoting George, I was quoting something George had said to me, not to Daniel. While it is true that Daniel had quoted George before I did, and that I had subsequently quoted George in the same way that Daniel had, it is also true that Daniel's quotation of George was taken from George's response to me.

Edward Feser said...

George,

It seems you are making the same mistake in interpreting my views that Marie George made in her Philosophia Christi response to my teleology article. I responded to her here, and explicitly affirmed the difference between A and B:

http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=83&mode=detail

Of course, I don't expect you to have read everything I've written. However, IF you are going to make sweeping claims about what I've said on some subject, then you should first make sure you've read what I've written about it.

Anyway, none of this is relevant to the question at hand. As I understand him, what has puzzled Daniel about this subject is how A can be immanent while having God as its ultimate source. But you and I agree about that. Hence there is nothing in your views that should be any less puzzling to Daniel than what I have said. Hence you have no basis for claiming that Daniel's puzzlement (and that of others with the same concerns) is somehow due to deficiencies in my presentation of Aquinas's position.

Jules said...

About my exchange with Daniel on free will,

I would not agree with #4 the way it is stated. There is a lot going on with causes per se and per accidens, direct and indirect, etc. that gets papered over there.

Elaborate please. Are you saying that the change of the human act does not happen in a essentially ordered way also? Remember that the Aristotelian Cosmological Argument can be grounded from the observation of any change, which obviously would include human acts.

If you are arguing that God gives us the ability to sin, then I have no argument with that.

I'm not arguing that at all. In fact, I'm just trying to clarify the "Thomistic" position that you guys seems to adopt on this blog on its internal coherence, because the observation of the late American philosopher Roderick Chisholm seems right to me:

"(...)we should remind that it also conflicts with a familiar view about the nature of God-with the view that St. Thomas Aquinas expresses by saying that 'every movement both of the will and of nature proceeds from God as the Prime Mover'.³ If the act of the sinner did proceed from God as the Prime Mover, then God was in the position of the second agent we just discussed- the man who forced the trigger finger, or the hypnotist- and the sinner, so-called, was not responsible for what he did" (Roderick Chisholm, Human Freedom and The Self).

Your position seems to be that God give the ability to act and from this every human acts as a 'independent' being/cause, not being moved by God anymore. Well, that seems incompatible for me with the foundations of Aristotelian philosophy of nature that Aquinas uses to construct his philosphy, so this is why I have a doubt about the internal coherence of this notion.

Daniel Smith said...

In your response to Marie George you say:
when I wrote that “the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it,” I would have thought it obvious that I was merely speaking elliptically.

The problem I (and perhaps others) have is that we don't see that as obvious.

As an example: Glenn's explanation and A,B,C example really cleared things up for me as to what precisely is intrinsic and extrinsic re: teleology. Sometimes your explanations just confuse me more. Maybe it's because Glenn and I have similar backgrounds as far as ID, or maybe it's because you say things like “the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it” and just expect us to know that you are speaking 'elliptically'.

I'm sorry for nit-picking. I hope you take this as constructive criticism from someone who wants to understand but keeps getting genuinely confused.

I do understand the idea of substantial form vs. accidental form better now than I did before but I'm still wondering about this:
A watch miraculously caused to exist directly by God is no more a natural object that a watch made by Seiko.

It would seem that the only reason this is true is because it is a watch - a known man-made artifact. But what if it wasn't a watch? What if God fashioned, from non-living parts, a self-replicating biological organism? How would we know an artifact from a substance in that case?

Daniel Smith said...

Jules: Your position seems to be that God give the ability to act and from this every human acts as a 'independent' being/cause, not being moved by God anymore.

You seem to view every cause as direct and nothing as indirect. That's your mistake.

Well, that seems incompatible for me with the foundations of Aristotelian philosophy of nature that Aquinas uses to construct his philosphy, so this is why I have a doubt about the internal coherence of this notion.

I think it's pretty clear that you don't understand Aristotle or Aquinas. Their writings are full of distinctions like the ones you're ignoring (or are unaware of). You might want to understand the positions of Aristotle and Aquinas better before you declare them to be lacking in internal coherence.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Daniel,

If the status of what George labels B (the end toward which a thing is directed) has been one of the questions you've had about my position, I'm glad that that has been cleared up. However, as far as I can recall your main objection has always been that you had trouble seeing how it could be true both that what George calls A (a thing's directedness toward an end) is immanent and that God directs things toward their ends. Are you saying that you are not in fact confused about that much? If not, great. But if so, then the issue has nothing necessarily to do with my exposition, since the claim in question is one that George says he agrees with me about.

Anyway, I know you are not nit-picking but raising honest questions. And as I said before, my comments about Aristotle presenting the nature/art distinction as an obvious one was in no way meant as a criticism of you. I didn't mean "This is obvious, Daniel, why are you nit-picking?" What I meant was rather: "Aristotle intends this as a distinction that doesn't require any fancy background metaphysics to see, but is just calling to mind something common sense is familiar with; hence it is possible that your difficulty with it might rest on the assumption that he must be saying something more controversial and high-falutin' than what appears at face value."

Re: your question about the watch vs. the organism, a key point to keep in mind is that for the Aristotelian, what a thing essentially is does not depend on its origin, and can be known without knowing its origin. Hence, as I have explained in other posts, the key distinction is not really between man-made things and naturally occurring things, but rather between things having substantial forms and those having only accidental forms. And the difference there has to do with whether a thing and its parts have an inherent tendency toward some end or not.

Hence an organism is a paradigm example of a true natural substance because it and its parts to inherently tend toward certain ends -- namely the survival, and flourishing, and reproduction of the organism -- whereas a watch is a paradigm example of a non-substance because it does not have qua watch such an inherent tendency.

Now of course watches are man-made and their parts have their function imposed by us, whereas organism occur in the wild, but that is a secondary point. A random pile of stones might also occur in the wild, but qua pile it has no substantial form but only an accidental form; while a domesticated dog, though it exists only because human beings have interfered, is still a natural substance with a substantial form.

I would say that the "nature vs. art" distinction is a loose way of putting things which in most cases tracks the deeper distinction insofar as the paradigm cases of things with substantial forms are things that occur without human interference and the paradigm cases of things that have only accidental forms are man-made things. But there are, as I have said, man-made things that are nevertheless natural substances (water synthesized in a lab, cloned animals, etc.), and naturally-occurring things that do not have substantial forms and thus are not true substances (piles of rocks or dirt, beaver dams, etc.)

Similarly, whether God directly makes something is not what determines whether or not it is a true substance (e.g. organisms, water) or instead only a collection of parts which do not have a substantial but rather only an accidental unity (e.g. watches, piles of stones) -- any more than whether something is a triangle or a circle depends on whether God made it or we made it. What determines all that is rather the nature of the thing itself.

Glenn said...

Daniel,

Maybe it's because Glenn and I have similar backgrounds as far as ID,

Hey... I haven't any background in ID, and don't know why it might be thought that I do.

That aside, I'm glad you're finding certain points to be clearer now, however and by whatever means.

Daniel Smith said...

Sorry Glenn, I was meant George R.

Daniel Smith said...

Ed: If the status of what George labels B (the end toward which a thing is directed) has been one of the questions you've had about my position, I'm glad that that has been cleared up. However, as far as I can recall your main objection has always been that you had trouble seeing how it could be true both that what George calls A (a thing's directedness toward an end) is immanent and that God directs things toward their ends. Are you saying that you are not in fact confused about that much?

Yes. "B" was the missing link in my mind for understanding that issue - the "target" to Aquinas' "arrow". I now understand that it is the aiming of the arrow towards the target that requires a mind - not the actual shooting of the arrow. Direction vs directedness, etc.

Hence an organism is a paradigm example of a true natural substance because it and its parts to inherently tend toward certain ends -- namely the survival, and flourishing, and reproduction of the organism -- whereas a watch is a paradigm example of a non-substance because it does not have qua watch such an inherent tendency.

I do understand the distinction you are making. But the creation of man is an example of God taking an existing substance (mud, dust, slime), refashioning it into a something else (a human being), and giving it a new substantial form at the same time.

For me, this says that God is able to do that. Essentially my view it that all substantial forms come from God - whether he throws something together from other parts (man) or creates ex nihilo (the Earth).

Glenn said...

George,
It seems you are making the same mistake in interpreting my views that Marie George made in her Philosophia Christi response to my teleology article. I responded to her here, and explicitly affirmed the difference between A and B:
http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=83&mode=detail


Hmm.

1. Functioning as a red herring in the reply is the fact that on the very same page as the sentence she complains about I explain that the Aristotelian notion of final causes concerns "inherent goal-directedness," "inherent tendency," and "the end or goal towards which a thing naturally points."

The reason why this is a red herring is because Marie did not 'complain' about something having been said to the contrary.


2. The fourth paragraph of the article to which Marie responded reads in part as follows:

The thinkers who founded modern philosophy and modern science rejected [the Aristotelian and Scholastic] picture of nature. In particular, they rejected the notions of substantial form, of matter as that which takes on such a form, and of a final cause as an inherent end or telos of a thing. Of Aristotle's four causes, only efficient cause was left in anything like a recognizable form (and even then the notion was significantly altered, since, as we shall see, efficient causes were regarded by the Scholastics as correlated with final causes). Material objects were reconceived as comprised entirely of microscopic particles (understood along either atomistic, corpuscularian, or plenum-theoretic lines) devoid of any inherent goal-directedness and interacting in terms of "push-pull" contact causation alone...

If (as is intimated by the red herring) it is reasonable to expect that a reader will take away from this that the Aristotelian and Scholastic picture of nature included natural things having an inherent goal-directedness, then it is equally reasonable to expect that a reader will take away from it that the Aristotelian and Scholastic picture of nature included natural things having an inherent end or teleos.

Marie was economical, if not charitable, in not 'complaining' about this reinforcement.

3. The explicit affirmation in the reply is: Strictly speaking, what is inherent is only the pointing, tendency, or directedness itself, and (obviously) not the end that is pointed to.

Well, then, the explicit affirmation constitutes an agreement with the point of Marie's first criticism (which, as she points out at the end of that criticism, does not involve "passing judgment on whether it is necessarily inappropriate and misleading to use the expression 'intrinsic teleology'", but simply that "it is not accurate to say that the goal of a natural substance, as such, is inherent to it").



If George R's comments have been unwarranted, it is difficult to see where they have been anywhere near as unwarranted as it has been striven to make them appear to be. (Though, admittedly, it might have been better had 'obfuscatory' been used in lieu of 'obscure'.)

Glenn said...

That readers may judge for themselves (on the off chance anyone might actually care about this dead horse):

1. Excerpt from Dr. Feser's Article
2. Excerpt from Marie George's Response
3. Excerpt from Dr. Feser's Reply


1. Excerpt from Dr. Feser's Article

Teleology's controversial status in modern philosophy stems from the mechanistic conception of the natural world, which early modern thinkers like Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Boyle, and Locke put in place of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature that featured in medieval Scholasticism. Following Aristotle, the Scholastics took the view that a complete understanding of a material substance required identifying each of its "four causes." Every such substance is, first of all, an irreducible composite of substantial form and prime matter (irreducible because on the Scholastic view, substantial form and prime matter cannot themselves be understood apart from the substances they compose, making the analysis holistic rather than reductionist). The substantial form of a thing is its nature or essence, the underlying metaphysical basis of its properties and causal powers; it constitutes a thing's formal cause. Prime matter is the otherwise formless stuff that takes on a substantial form so as to instantiate it in a concrete object, and apart from which the form would be a mere abstraction; it constitutes a thing's material cause. That which brings a thing into existence constitutes its efficient cause. And the end or goal towards which a thing naturally points is its final cause.

As the last sentence indicates, the notion of a final cause is closely tied to that of a telos and thus to the notion of teleology. But the adverb "naturally" is meant to indicate how the Aristotelian notion of final cause differs from other conceptions of teleology. For Aristotle and for the Scholastics, the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it, something it has precisely because of the kind of thing it is by nature. It is therefore not to be understood on the model of a human artifact like a watch, whose parts have no inherent tendency to perform the function of telling time, specifically, and must be forced to do so by an outside designer. For example, that a heart has the function of pumping blood is something true of it simply by virtue of being the kind of material substance it is, and would remain true of it whether or not it has God as its ultimate cause.

The thinkers who founded modern philosophy and modern science rejected this picture of nature. In particular, they rejected the notions of substantial form, of matter as that which takes on such a form, and of a final cause as an inherent end or telos of a thing. Of Aristotle's four causes, only efficient cause was left in anything like a recognizable form (and even then the notion was significantly altered, since, as we shall see, efficient causes were regarded by the Scholastics as correlated with final causes). Material objects were reconceived as comprised entirely of microscopic particles (understood along either atomistic, corpuscularian, or plenum-theoretic lines) devoid of any inherent goal-directedness and interacting in terms of "push-pull" contact causation alone...

(cont)

Glenn said...

2. Excerpt from Marie George's Response

Feser maintains that for Aristotle "the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it." Aristotle indeed sees the ordering to an end of an artificial thing to be imposed on it from without (by humans or other animals), whereas the ordering to an end of a natural thing follows upon its form. However, it is not the end itself which is inherent in the natural thing, but rather the inclination or tendency to the end. If being down inhered in a rock or being up inhered in fire, then each respectively would always have to be down or up, and they would never need to move to their proper places. Final causes can inhere in a natural thing, as is the case of health, which is the "that for the sake of which" living things eat; but it is not essential that they be such. According to the A-T tradition, what is inherent in natural things are "natural inclinations" or "natural appetites" for certain determinate ends. Without passing judgment on whether it is necessarily inappropriate and misleading to use the expression "intrinsic teleology" to express this ordination, my point, again, is that it is not accurate to say that the goal of a natural substance, as such, is inherent to it.


3. Excerpt from Dr. Feser's Reply

George takes issue with my statement that for Aristotle, "the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it." To this she replies that "it is not the end itself which is inherent to the natural thing, but rather the inclination or tendency to the end." This is an odd bit of nitpicking. Naturally, I agree with George; being down (to use one of her examples) is not in the stone itself, but is rather the end toward which the stone tends. Indeed, on the very same page as the sentence she complains about I explain that the Aristotelian notion of final causes concerns "inherent goal-directedness," "inherent tendency," and "the end or goal towards which a thing naturally points." Strictly speaking, what is inherent is only the pointing, tendency, or directedness itself, and (obviously) not the end that is pointed to. Hence when I wrote that "the end or goal of a material substance is inherent to it," I would have thought it obvious that I was speaking elliptically. Certainly this minimally charitable reading might at least have been considered by George before putting fingers to keypad. In any event, though she makes much of this "criticism," it plays no role in her subsequent discussion.

Daniel Smith said...

I need some clarification here.

Can man give anything substantial form?

Or is substantial form wholly dependent upon God?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Daniel,

As I've said, human beings are involved in making all sorts of things with substantial forms -- synthesizing water in a lab, making new breeds of dogs, or even just having babies.

In answer to your earlier point, yes, when God takes dust and makes a man out of it, He gives it a new substantial form. Just like when we take oxygen and hydrogen and get water out of it in the lab, the matter loses the substantial form of hydrogen and oxygen and takes on the substantial form of water.

Again, the origin of a thing is not what is essential to the question whether it has a substantial form. So I'm not sure why you seem to be asking "Could human beings make something with a substantial form?" or "Wouldn't God have given this thing a substantial form?" Being man-made or directly made ex nihilo by God does not by itself have anything to do one way or the other.

Edward Feser said...

Glenn,

I'm not sure what you think you're up to -- some kind of gotcha game, I guess. But what I said above was that had George R. read my reply to Marie George, he would have seen that I there explicitly affirmed that there is a difference between the directedness toward the end (intrinsic to a thing) and the end itself (external to a thing). And the citation you give shows that that is indeed what I said there.

Whether Marie George herself was being uncharitable in her reading of my "Teleology" article -- I think so, but I wasn't even getting into that here -- is another question, and irrelevant to my remark to George R.

Glenn said...

Dr. Feser,

Yes, that is certainly true--the citation I gave shows that that is indeed what you said in your reply to Marie George.

The citation given by George R a little more than 18 months ago on June 16, 2011 likewise shows the same thing--which is why George R then did not say that Marie's criticism clarified the truth, but that it was helpful in clarifying the truth, its helpfulness being in the eliciting of your subsequent, explicit affirmation.

The source of Daniel's confusion, in part, seems not to have been due to prior non-exposure to that explicit affirmation (he had had exposure to it when George made his citation (here)), but due to, for him, an unresolved juxtaposition of both that explicit affirmation and the earlier explicit affirmation, each of which seemed to be quite contrary to the other.

I'll suggest that the most important thing here is that someone who has wanted to understand a particular point, has made an effort to do so and has asked for help, now has the understanding he desired.

Daniel Smith said...

Ed: As I've said, human beings are involved in making all sorts of things with substantial forms -- synthesizing water in a lab, making new breeds of dogs, or even just having babies.

I'm getting more confused by the minute! These are all things that already have forms - water, dogs, babies. We are not really making new forms are we? Maybe I just don't understand what a substantial form is. I associate substantial form with final cause. Maybe that's my problem. I think of it as "that which determines what a thing is for and how it behaves".

In answer to your earlier point, yes, when God takes dust and makes a man out of it, He gives it a new substantial form. Just like when we take oxygen and hydrogen and get water out of it in the lab, the matter loses the substantial form of hydrogen and oxygen and takes on the substantial form of water.

But that seems to imply that we could just throw the ingredients of a 'human being' together and synthesize one - like we do water. I thought God created the substantial form 'man' ex nihilo when he made man out of dust? I assumed (in that instance at least - if not in all instances) that God alone can create a substantial form.

Again, the origin of a thing is not what is essential to the question whether it has a substantial form. So I'm not sure why you seem to be asking "Could human beings make something with a substantial form?" or "Wouldn't God have given this thing a substantial form?" Being man-made or directly made ex nihilo by God does not by itself have anything to do one way or the other.

What about the origin of the form? I understand that man - throwing together things with their own forms - only gets an accidental form. It seems though that God sets up the forms in the beginning and determines what things are 'about'. Thus a "man" is this, this and this. That's not something we can decide. It seems like something that only God can do.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Daniel,

Let's try this. Go back to my standard example of the liana vines. The vines have an inherent or built in tendency to sink roots, take in nutrients, grow, etc. They do not have an inherent tendency to function as a hammock. They also do not have an inherent tendency to grow into a shape that looks, specifically, vaguely like the letter "S." If one such vine should do so, it would be the result of chance.

Now, for a thing to have inherent tendencies of the sort in question (sinking roots, taking in nutrients, etc.) is just for it to have them by virtue of a substantial form, and for the directedness or teleology associated with the tendencies to be immanent. And for a thing to exhibit a non-inherent pattern like the vines' hammock-like structure or "S" shape in the examples in question is for it to have an accidental form and a directedness or teleology that is at best derived or even just "as if" (to borrow some language John Searle uses in the context of discussing intentionality). That is to say, the hammock-like shape or "S"-like shape could have come about through someone's deliberate interference (derived teleology) or instead just by chance ("as if" teleology -- i.e. it's "as if" someone made it look that way for a purpose, but no one did, in the case where it was just a chance growth pattern). Either way, the pattern in these cases is not intrinsic to the vines, not an outcome of any built-in tendency.

Now, notice that the key distinction here is between what results from an inherent tendency and what does not. The question of whether some accidental pattern was imposed by an external agent is secondary -- in some cases this might be the source, but in other cases the pattern might result from chance. What matters to whether something is a substantial form, in either case, is whether the outcome flows from something within the thing in question (the vines, in this case).

This is important to emphasize, because you seem to keep focusing on who made this or that as if it were relevant. It isn't. And for that reason, it also isn't quite right to speak of anyone "making" substantial forms -- not even God. No one "made" it the case that having the substantial form of a liana vine would involve sinking roots, taking in nutrients etc. -- as if having the substantial form of a liana vine could have involved something else instead. That's like saying that someone decided that 2 would be an even number. No one "decided" either thing, not even God. Not because there's some limit on God's power, but because there's no sense to be made in the first place of "making" the substantial form of a liana vine involve some other kinds of activities, any more than there is such a thing as "making" the number 2 an odd number.

In short, you seem to be treating substantial forms as if they were accidental forms that God happened to be the one to make. But that's precisely what they are not. God doesn't "make" them any more than He "makes" the laws of logic or any more than He "makes" it true that 2 + 2 = 4. To assume otherwise is to be committed to an essentially voluntarist-cum-nominalist conception of God -- which is of course precisely what the Thomist rejects.

God does, of course, make the things that have the substantial forms, but that doesn't entail that He makes the forms themselves in the relevant sense, any more than the fact that he makes things that follow the laws of logic entails that He "makes" the laws of logic. "Making" a substantial form is like "making" a law of logic -- neither notion makes sense, because both notions falsely assume that the things in question (the substantial form of a thing, a law of logic) could in principle have been other than they are. The whole point is that they could not have been.

Daniel Smith said...

OK, so I think I (almost) get the fact that substantial forms are not "made".

But (and here's where I lose it), didn't God "decide" what ends things would be directed toward? Isn't that the whole point of the Fifth Way? When God made the vine, he decided that it would have roots that seek nutrients and leaves that soak up sunlight, etc. - correct? As Aquinas says; things behave "not fortuitously but designedly". IOW, the form itself has an extrinsic goal or end imposed upon it.

Or am I getting two things - forms and ends - mixed up?

Kiel said...

Daniel said:
OK, so I think I (almost) get the fact that substantial forms are not "made".

But (and here's where I lose it), didn't God "decide" what ends things would be directed toward? Isn't that the whole point of the Fifth Way? When God made the vine, he decided that it would have roots that seek nutrients and leaves that soak up sunlight, etc. - correct? As Aquinas says; things behave "not fortuitously but designedly". IOW, the form itself has an extrinsic goal or end imposed upon it.

Or am I getting two things - forms and ends - mixed up?


ProFeser said earlier:
Hence, as I have explained in other posts, the key distinction is not really between man-made things and naturally occurring things, but rather between things having substantial forms and those having only accidental forms. And the difference there has to do with whether a thing and its parts have an inherent tendency toward some end or not.


Perhaps an exercise for Daniel and myself, if I may. Please someone, shoot me down and correct me if I get this wrong or if I mislead you. I'm also learning and cannot guarantee the correctness of my exercise.

I, (the efficient cause) have decided to use pixels (the material cause), arranged in a set of symbols (the formal cause) for the end or purpose of communicating an idea or concept to you (the final cause): أ. مثلث, المثلث آلة, المثلث الغرامي

Hopefully, for the sake of the exercise, you've no idea what the symbols mean. You cannot know know because the symbols have no immanent ability to communicate their meaning due to their accidental form.

Now, I (the efficient cause) have decided to use some other pixels (the material cause), arranged in another set of symbols (the formal cause) for the end or purpose of communicating an idea or concept to you (the final cause): △

You know what this symbol means because triangularity is immanent to the symbol itself by virtue of its substantial form (and perhaps combined with one or more accidental forms?). The symbols have an ability to communicate the intended meaning - triangularity - inherently.

(Turns out, at least according to one web site, the Arabic I pasted above is a translation of the English word "triangle".)

Perhaps now I am starting to address your question. Triangularity is an abstraction distinct from all others and it is a contradiction to say that triangularity could have been something else, such as circularity because triangularity is necessarily triangularity and circularity necessarily circularity. It makes no sense to say God could have made triangularity circularity and circularity triangularity because they are totally different abstractions. There is no possible world - it is totally inconceivable and incoherent - to have a triangular circle. Substantial forms, such as triangularity, are a specific type of abstraction distinct from others existing eternally in the eternal intellect of God.

In the Fifth Way, Aquinas uses the analogy of an archer directing an arrow at the target. Ignoring that Aquinas places God as the archer in the analogy, imagine that the archer was only a type of being which by virtue of its substantial form could only shoot arrows at one and only one type of target. It would be to speak of a different type of being with a different substantial form (with different, immanent teleology) if the supposed archer was directing an arrow at some other target. God's omnipotence is the power to do only what is possible, not contradictory.

It is late for me. And, I'm a philosophical hack (being 99% self taught and all). I really hope this is not erroneous for your sake and makes some sort of sense. And please, for the sake of truth and justice, if I'm wrong, someone please tell Daniel (and also me!).

Kiel said...

You cannot know know because the symbols have no immanent ability to communicate their meaning due to their accidental form.

Due to their lack of accidental form, rather. Maybe I should quit.

Daniel Smith said...

Kiel: Triangularity is an abstraction distinct from all others and it is a contradiction to say that triangularity could have been something else, such as circularity

That makes sense re: triangularity. And I can see the truth of it within the framework of mathematics: 2 cannot be 3 and etc.

But I don't see how that applies to the rest of the natural world. You are essentially saying that there is no other possible universe. If I understand your example, a substantial form is a logical necessity. Thus,for God to make anything other than what he has made would be illogical or contradictory. And I think that's not correct for most things; they could have been different - they could have pointed to other things.

Then again, I'm the confused one here so I could be all wet!

Kiel said...

But I don't see how that applies to the rest of the natural world. You are essentially saying that there is no other possible universe. If I understand your example, a substantial form is a logical necessity. Thus,for God to make anything other than what he has made would be illogical or contradictory. And I think that's not correct for most things; they could have been different - they could have pointed to other things.

I'm not sure if I understand what you mean when you say: "Thus,for God to make anything other than what he has made would be illogical or contradictory." I didn't mean to say this. I meant to say that God cannot create a being with a substantial form directed towards a final cause and create another being with the same substantial form but then re-direct it towards an uncharacteristically distinct final cause. I hoped the example would show that this is incoherent because it is like saying it is possible for God to create a circular triangle.

I did not mean to suggest that there is no other possible worlds; what is possible is whatever is not a contradiction.

The Good Professor in his book Aquinas (bottom of page 11 to 12) says that for the Aristotelian, the potentiality of a natural being is grounded in its nature (i.e.: the substantial form).

Perhaps you're thinking of teleology like a property of substantial form as opposed to teleology being inherent or intrinsic to substantial form. As Aquinas has said, final cause is the cause of all causes. Perhaps it'll help to look at substantial form vis-a-vis final cause explicitly.

If a natural being A looks in every way identical to some other natural being B and being B has some different disposition or final cause to being A then being B has a different nature (substantial form).

For example, if you saw what looked exactly like a stone but it suddenly moved away from you as you came closer to it (naturally moving like an animal would move, as opposed to moving artificially, say, by a prankster), it would be contradictory to assert what you saw was a stone because it is not in the nature of a stone to haul ass when you come near one. Common sense would identify it as a different type of being - which means a being instantiating a different substantial form.

Beings are distinguished by the final causes of their nature/substantial form.

Again, please someone strike me down if I am sprouting error.

Kiel said...

Interestingly enough, I was just finished watching Prometheus where it suggested humans were the result of genetic engineering. That is, humans are artefacts or artworks created by aliens.

I thought that was especially interesting in light of our current conversation and my comments. Perhaps I understand Daniel's question better now. If we re-program our material cause so we can bring about different final causes, we obviously become a different sort of being. Would this be an example of transubstantiation?

Can a being loose substantial form and become only accidental form?

Sometimes philosophy does my head in.

Daniel Smith said...

Kiel: I meant to say that God cannot create a being with a substantial form directed towards a final cause and create another being with the same substantial form but then re-direct it towards an uncharacteristically distinct final cause. I hoped the example would show that this is incoherent because it is like saying it is possible for God to create a circular triangle.

OK, that makes sense now. I misinterpreted your example. I agree that God can not take the same substantial form and, in two individuals, direct it towards contradictory ends.

Perhaps you're thinking of teleology like a property of substantial form as opposed to teleology being inherent or intrinsic to substantial form. As Aquinas has said, final cause is the cause of all causes. Perhaps it'll help to look at substantial form vis-a-vis final cause explicitly.

That's where my confusion sets in. This goes back to George R's comment at January 31, 2013 at 7:01 AM - specifically "B" of his A,B,C example - which really clarified the final cause for me.

The final cause - the end to which a thing is directed - is extrinsic not intrinsic. So God determines what ends things should have and gives things 'a substantial form' directed toward those ends. The form is immanent but the end is not. So teleology is a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic properties.

So, when it comes to forms I get a bit confused. I understand that a substantial form is immanent - that is it is 'of the substance'. Yet, God ultimately determined what form a thing should take. So substantial forms are based on decisions made by God.

To go back to Aquinas' arrow; the direction the arrow takes has nothing to do with the nature of the arrow - rather it owes its direction completely to the archer. The nature of the arrow, its substantial form, is necessary for the flight however - the archer could not get the same results with a wet noodle - but it does not determine the direction of the arrow.

The essence of the Fifth Way is that only a conscious mind can set goals or determine direction for inanimate matter.

That brings us to the question of artifacts vs. natural substances. When God made man, he took the dust of the earth - something with its own substantial form - and formed man out of it (like an artifact). But then he 'breathed the breath of life into him' and created a new being - a new substantial form. So God is able to take existing substantial forms, mold them into something else, and give them new substantial form.

Man cannot do this. Man can only give things accidental forms.

So, the line between artifact and natural substance is blurred with God but set in stone with man. For God can create a new substantial form while man cannot. The substantial form of a thing then, is something set by God and accidental forms are imposed on artifacts by man - or other forces.

It would be nice if some of the Thomists around here would jump in and help clarify some of these things for us but I think this thread has been abandoned. That's just the nature of Blogger - it doesn't really highlight new posts in old threads so, unfortunately, I think we're on our own here.

Mr. Green said...

HI, Daniel. I'm not quite sure whether this addresses the right problem, but you say the difference between artifact and substance is "blurred" for God, so perhaps this will help. When a bunch of things are combined, there are two possible kinds of results: that you end up with a bunch of things, i.e. a collection of substances (an artifact); or else you end up with a single new substance (and the original substances are gone). You can never have both, because artifact basically means "several substances together", and there will always be either one or more than one. Obviously, God cannot make one substance that is several substances any more than He can make a circular triangle (to use Kiel's example).

What God can do is go above and beyond the normal causal possibilities, that is, the causal options that are open to us. For example, if you want to walk on water, you can do so by taking advantage of its causal properties and freezing it. Frozen water naturally (because of the kind of substance it is) becomes hard. God however, does not have to freeze the water first, because He can override the "laws" of nature. Now man can make artifacts, like a pile of stones by putting some stones together in the right way to make a pile. We can also make substances, like water, by putting some oxygen and hydrogen together in the right way. God, on the other hand, could make water out of anything; He could take some helium and change it into water... although "change it" isn't quite right here; when the oxygen and hydrogen become water, the substances of oxygen and hydrogen no longer exist, so they are not there to be said to have changed; rather, they go out of existence and the new substance of water comes into existence, and likewise if God replaced some helium with water.

Something similar applies to God's forming Adam out of the mud of the earth. Now, this passage in Scripture might simply be a way of telling us that Adam is a material creature. Although possessing an intellect and will, he is not an angel who merely "appears" with a body (as angels sometimes do); nor is some kind of Platonic or Gnostic spirit who "drives" a body (that is not part of him, any more than your car is part of you). Adam's physical body is part of what he is. But let's suppose that Genesis is speaking more literally than that; does that mean that Adam could be an artifact built out of mud? The answer is no, for Adam is not a statue made out of mud, but a human being made out of flesh and bones. So even if God literally scooped up a handful of mud and began forming it into Adam's shape, at some point that matter was transformed — literally, its form changed — into the matter of a human body. At that point, it stopped being an artifact (a shaped pile of muddy molecules) and started being a single human substance. Any mud-form (mud is probably an artifact itself, being composed of a "pile" of water and dirt, or something like that) was driven out and replaced by the new, single, solitary human form. God does not need the natural setup, because He can cause anything directly; but any human God makes has to be a single substance because on the Thomistic view, that's what a human is.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green,

Thank you for that clarification re: God, artifacts and natural substances.

I see now that an artifact is a classification - not necessarily related to a means of production.

That said, I'm trying to understand substantial forms and immanent teleology in light of the Fifth Way - which says explicitly that teleology in mindless things is extrinsic - dependent upon the mind of another. Aquinas makes it clear that he means all natural substances and that he means God.

For that reason, I tend to lump the final cause and the substantial form into one thing because I classify all things via a mind/matter division.

To my understanding, a mindless material universe would be completely formless and void (if it could even exist) for, without a mind, there is no form. So, for me, the substantial form is mind-dependent (as opposed to matter-dependent) in that it is the result of God having imposed his direction upon matter (which ultimately has no direction of its own).

Thus, the fact that hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water is ultimately due to a decision God made when he designed hydrogen and oxygen. But... (and this is the immanent part) God does not have to make that decision anew every time hydrogen and oxygen combine because he has designed hydrogen and oxygen to have those qualities immanently. (Although he sustains those qualities in existence - thus, if God goes away - those qualities go away as well.)

Am I anywhere near close? Gosh I hope so because my head hurts!