Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Body movin’, mind thinkin’


The human body is the best picture of the human soul.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

We recall that John B. Watson did not claim that quite all thought was incipient speech; it was all incipient twitching of muscles, and mostly of speech muscles.

W. V. Quine, “Mind and Verbal Dispositions”

We're getting down computer action
Do the robotic satisfaction

Beastie Boys, “Body Movin’”

To perceive a human being behaving in certain characteristic ways just is to perceive him as thinking.  There are two ways to read such a claim: Quine’s and Watson’s reductionist way, and Wittgenstein’s anti-reductionist way.  The Beastie Boys, of course, were putting forward a computational-functionalist variation on Quinean behaviorism.  (OK, not really.  Just pretend.  It’s a better quote than any I could have gleaned from a functionalist philosopher.)

To understand the difference between these two ways of tying thought to behavior, consider the following analogy.  There is a sense in which, at least for a speaker of English, correctly to perceive the following string of marks just is to perceive a sentence, and thus it just is to perceive something with meaning:

(1) The cat is on the mat.

It would be absurd to suggest, however, that the marks’ meaning, and thus its status as a sentence, is entirely analyzable in terms of the physical and chemical properties of the marks -- the size, shape, and color, of the marks, the chemical composition of the screen or paper and ink on which you are reading them, and so forth.  There is no relevant physical or chemical difference between the string of marks in question and the following, different string of marks:

(2) Ѳ/^◊¬¤—ĦΔſ/љℓ

(2), of course, has no meaning and is not a sentence at all.  The reason (1) is a sentence and (2) is not -- the relevant difference between (1) and (2) -- is that in English there is a set of conventions according to which marks like those in (1) count as letters and words, and letters and words arranged in just the way the marks in (1) are arranged express the proposition that the cat is on the mat.  There are no such conventions associated with (2).

When we correctly perceive (1) as a sentence, we are bringing to bear our knowledge of English.  But we are not doing so consciously, at least not in the usual circumstances.  Except in unusual cases (when trying to read very bad penmanship, say) we aren’t consciously thinking something like: “Hmm, now that first mark looks like a ‘t,’ the second like an ‘h,’ the third like an ‘e.’  I infer that that is the word ‘the,’ since there is a convention in English of using a set of marks that looks like that for the definite article.  Turning to the second set of marks, the first looks like ‘c,’ the second…”  We don’t first identify the physical properties of the marks and then, in a separate act, attribute a meaning to them.  We just see the set of marks, all at once and in an instant, as a sentence asserting that the cat is on the mat.  The physical and semantic properties form a kind of unity, phenomenologically speaking.

This is the spirit in which Wittgenstein takes it to be the case that to perceive a person’s body just is to perceive his or her soul.  In particular, correctly to perceive certain movements in the facial muscles just is to perceive worry, fear, or joy; correctly to perceive a certain pointing motion with the arm just is to perceive an intention to call our attention to something; correctly to perceive a certain tightening of the muscles and to hear a groan just is to perceive pain; and so forth.  The claim is not that these mentalistic descriptions are reducible to a description of the bodily motions.  The claim is rather that the mentalistic aspect and the bodily aspect form a kind of unity, just as with the sentence. 

The position expressed by Quine, Watson, and other reductionists is very different.  Go back to the sentence analogy.  Suppose someone suggested that the meaning of a sentence is reducible to its physical and chemical properties.  In particular, suppose he said that the meaning of (1) was entirely reducible to what could be said about the shapes and size of the marks, the chemical structure of the ink or surface of the computer screen, etc.  If such a reductionist were to hold that correctly to perceive the string of marks that makes up (1) just is to perceive it as a sentence, his claim would have a very different sense than when I made that assertion above.  He would be saying something like this: If you learn to see (1) the way you see (2) -- as a string of mere shapes having a certain size and color -- the meaning of (1) is entirely reducible to that.  He would in effect be saying that (1) in fact has no more meaning in the usual sense than (2) does, but that we should redefine the “meaning” of a sentence so that it is just a matter of having certain physical and chemical properties.  And to learn to see all sentences this way would be to learn to see them the way you see (2).

This is, in effect, what Quine, Watson, and others would have us do vis-à-vis bodily behavior.  We are, first, to come to see bodily behavior as mere motions stripped of the meanings we usually see in them -- to see facial expressions, arm and leg movements, etc. as nothing more than muscles flexing, limbs changing position in space, and so forth.  We are to see them, in other words, as essentially just more complex instances of the kind of movements we see in a weather vane, a piston, a boulder rolling down a hill, billiard balls knocking into one another, etc.   And then we are to redefine “thinking” and other mental activity as nothing more than such de-mentalized bodily motions.  To learn to see all human behavior this way would just be to learn to see it as no more meaningful or reflective of mentality in the usual sense than the motions of billiard balls, boulders, pistons, etc. is.  It would be to learn to see in it “thought” only as redefined -- as an especially complicated series of motions or tendencies toward motions. 

Hence the bizarre suggestion that all thought is really just the “incipient twitching of muscles.”  A natural retort to this claim would be that it entails that someone pop dancing, or even just having a seizure, must be engaged in very deep thought indeed.  Of course the reductionist will respond by defining thought in terms of the specific kinds of motions we usually associate with thought -- making such-and-such marks on paper, rubbing one’s chin, etc.  But this is no more plausible than reducing sentence meaning to certain specific kinds of shapes. 

Wittgenstein is sometimes misunderstood as a kind of reductive behaviorist because while he is very keen to avoid the sort of reductionism associated with Watson and others, he does not have the metaphysics necessary to make it clear exactly how behavior and mentality are related if not in a reductionist way.  The correct metaphysics is, of course, Aristotelian: In a smile, grimace, frown, or gesture, the bodily behavior is the material-cum-efficient causal side of a single action of which thought is the formal-cum-final causal side. 

As a philosophical exercise, though, or even just for laughs, it is worthwhile trying to see a sentence as just a string of marks or noises, and trying to see human thought as if it were just “body movin’.”  It can’t be done consistently, but the Beastie’s tune helps.  I prefer the album version myself, but the video is too classic not to post:

62 comments:

Peter Wicks said...

Years ago I came across the story that Sidney Morgenbesser once said to B.F. Skinner "Let me see if I understand your thesis. You think we shouldn't anthropomorphize people?"

Many of the lines attributed to Morgenbesser are doubtful, but I once mentioned the line, along with my doubts about its authenticity to a senior philosopher. It turned out that he knew both men and he assured me that Morgenbesser really said it.

PatrickH said...

"...Wittgenstein takes it to be the case that to perceive a person’s body just is to perceive his or her soul."

Thanks for reminding us all that we need to specify all the time and everywhere that the person may be male or female!

Man, the spread of feminist-derived mutilation of language like that into bastions of clear writing like Ed's blog is depressing. I'm not even saying Ed did that deliberately. It's becoming unconscious. Well, at least he's not sunk as far as the otherwise admirable Father Robert Barron, who quite deliberately butchers that most beautiful and significant of Christian koans--"God became man that man might become God"--into "God became a human being so that human beings might become God". I lost a great deal of respect for Father Barron after I heard him say that. I hope and pray Ed doesn't wander down that futile PC path to hell.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks, as always, for a thought-provoking post. I would, however, have to respectfully take issue with the following statement of yours: "In a smile, grimace, frown, or gesture, the bodily behavior is the material-cum-efficient causal side of a single action of which thought is the formal-cum-final causal side." You make a similar claim in a 2010 post on the interaction problem, where you write that in the act of typing a blog post, "the neuromuscular processes are by themselves only the material-cum-efficient causal aspect of a single event of which my thoughts and intentions are the formal-cum-final causal aspect."

What I find problematic about such an account is that it doesn't address the issue of what the efficient cause of my hand movements and (going further back) my neuronal firings is. If it's some physical event on the input side (incoming sense data acting on the brain) then you're back with physical determinism. But if it's some non-physical event (such as a decision to move my fingers), then of course, it's legitimate to ask how a non-physical event can cause (in the efficient-causal sense of "bring about") bodily movements.

I wrote a couple of posts on the interaction back in 2011, in response to yours: "Why I think the interaction problem is real" (at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/why-i-think-the-interaction-problem-is-real/ ) and "How is libertarian free will possible" (at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/how-is-libertarian-free-will-possible/ ). I'd very much appreciate your comments.

Anonymous said...

@PatrickH

........

I think you're over reacting.

Anonymous said...

Good post and I get the point, but one shouldn't be too loosey-goosey with the term "perceiving pain." Obviously to perceive pain and to perceive SOMEONE ELSE in pain are very, very different things. One can never perceive "pain" qua "pain" in someone else, one can merely infer from behavior that pain is occurring elsewhere in the world. Also, as with any behavior, one can be deceived; a person may act like they are in pain, or act like they finding something humorous, when in fact they are not. But, I don't think this changes the point of the post. Still, worth mentioning.

Anonymous said...

The reductionism of Quine or Watson is prima facia absurd, but I'd argue naturalists tacitly find error with reductionism anytime they speak of thought or meaning at all. For if what we call thought is nothing more than the neuro-physio reactions of the brain as is asserted by the reductionist, why is it so meaningful when employed in its traditional, non-physical sense as well? Why do naturalist philosophers belabor making arguments meaningful or about A,B, or C if meaning and intentionality (non-physical descriptors) don't really exist seperate from the material brain? Shouldn't reductionists spend less time writing about fictional concepts and more time analyzing brain states as the latter are what make up thought, meaning, and intentionality anyway?

I'm with you Patrick. But at least the good philosopher didn't use the grammatically repugnant "they" to refer to a singular man.

--GW

Edward Feser said...

Peter,

That's classic Morgenbesser. Hadn't heard that one before. Thanks for the anecdote.

Patrick,

Take it easy. That I've got no truck with PC is something I've made clear before:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/10/copy-editors-and-political-correctness.html

Vincent,

The way you frame the issue implies that the decision and the neural activity are two competing candidates for efficient cause. But that's just what I deny. I maintain that they are two aspects of a single efficient cause, just as the meaning of a sentence and its physical realization are two aspects of one thing.

Anonymous said...

"But if it's some non-physical event (such as a decision to move my fingers), then of course, it's legitimate to ask how a non-physical event can cause (in the efficient-causal sense of "bring about") bodily movements." <-- I think this only becomes a problem for those who have restricted causation to physical agents or to physcial processes. ~ Mark

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for your reply. Now, however, I really am puzzled. I hope you can help me out.

1. You maintain that a decision and the neural activity that accompanies it "are two aspects of a single efficient cause, just as the meaning of a sentence and its physical realization are two aspects of one thing." But that seems to contradict what you argued in "Some brief arguments for dualism, Part I" at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2008/09/some-brief-arguments-for-dualism-part-i.html , where you wrote: "Thoughts and the like possess inherent meaning or intentionality; brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, and the like, are utterly devoid of any inherent meaning or intentionality; so thoughts and the like cannot possibly be identified with brain processes." Precisely. A thought and a brain process are two distinct events, not one.

2. Your illustration of a sentence doesn't seem to help anyway, as the intentionality of marks on paper is derived and extrinsic, being imparted by external agents.

3. I always understood Aquinas as teaching that man is one being, but with two radically different kinds of operations: material acts, which relate to particulars (i.e. acts of vegetative, sensitive and locomotive faculties); and immaterial acts, which are formal and relate to universals. For Aquinas, acts of reasoning and understanding, voluntary intentions and free choices are immaterial acts. Neuronal firings, on the other hand, are bodily, material acts. (More precisely, a neuronal firing is the first stage of a bodily act, which terminates in, say, a raising of the arm.) This seems to be what Fr. John O'Callaghan argues in "From Augustine's Mind to Aquinas' Soul" at http://www2.nd.edu/Departments//Maritain/ti00/ocallagh.htm . Dr. Oderberg says the same, when he writes: "The exercise of rationality, however, is an essentially immaterial operation." Moreover, Aquinas seems to teach that immaterial acts of will cause bodily movements - e.g. he writes that "the will as agent moves all the powers of the soul to their respective acts, except the natural powers of the vegetative part, which are not subject to our will" (S.T. I, q. 82, art. 4).

You, on the other hand, seem to be saying that the exercise of reason and/or free will is a single act which has both a formal aspect (insofar as they have inherent meaning) and a material aspect (as a brain event). In other words, neurons are not moved by prior, immaterial acts of will. To me, your position sounds like neutral monism: you maintain that the decision and the neural activity are "two aspects of a single efficient cause."

4. In any case, I would argue that your view, that an act of will and a neuronal firing are two irreducibly distinct aspects of one and the same event, is a self-contradictory one. Here's why. Ask yourself this: what is the efficient cause of this formal-cum-material act?

Here's the problem. One and the same event (or act) cannot have a single efficient cause which operates in a wholly deterministic fashion and a single efficient cause which is not bound by deterministic laws. But most neuroscientists would say that neuronal firings are wholly deterministic processes: each firing is determined by a prior event in the nervous system. But if the event E which is physically realized as a neuronal firing is also an act of will (as you maintain), and if that event is wholly determined, then my act of will is determined too. Nor will an appeal to probabilistic causes help, as acts of will are non-probabilistic events. In short: once you say that a decision and a neuronal firing are one and the same event, you have to explain how neuronal firings can avoid being either deterministic events or random, probabilistic events. And the only way to do that is to invoke some kind of top-down causation. In other words, Thomism has its own interaction problem. At least, that's how it seems to me.

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser, you say that the decision to move and neurons firing are different aspects or abstractions from the action of one substance.

Now, I think I understand how that is true. The behaviour of neurons as part of that system in an action by that system is an incomplete understanding of the total action.

My question is whether the neurons are themselves substances, and if there are, whether we might not still have to speak of a higher-order substance (the system) affecting the behaviour of a lower-order substance.

ingx24 said...

Vincent,

To my understanding (and Thomists here can correct me if I'm wrong about any of this), Thomism rejects the idea of a bottom-up account of substances altogether. For most scientists, everything in the physical world is made of the same kinds of particles behaving the same way, and the characteristics/behavior of a macroscopic object is the sum of the characteristics/behavior of its constituent particles. But Thomism rejects this whole picture outright. For Thomists, everything in the world is an irreducible whole with its own unique characteristics and abilities, just as fundamental as most scientists take an electron to be. Furthermore, Thomists claim that the behavior of a macroscopic object is not just the sum of the behavior of its constituent particles: each entity has an "essence" or "form", in virtue of which it is directed toward certain ends or goals as a "final cause" which determines how it will behave. This is radically different from how modern science typically sees the world, informed as it is by the "mechanical" philosophy of Galileo, Descartes, and the like.

I'm not a Thomist myself (I'm a naughty little Cartesian dualist and agnostic regarding the existence of God), but I've read a lot of Feser's blog and feel like I have at least a rudimentary grasp of what Thomists believe. Again, if I'm wrong about anything I've said, Thomists here should feel free to correct me.

Anonymous said...

If will and neurons firing are two aspects of the same efficient cause, and the firing of neurons is either determined or random, doesnt it follow that no person has the power of contrary choice? Wouldnt this contradict the argument that neuroscientific research cannot in principle disprove the existence of free will? (I agree with Vincent, by the way, that LFW is the only meaningfully free will). --Patrick CF (not H)

Brandon said...

Vincent, you said,

One and the same event (or act) cannot have a single efficient cause which operates in a wholly deterministic fashion and a single efficient cause which is not bound by deterministic laws.

But nothing prevents one and the same efficient cause from having a single activity that has deterministic and nondeterministic aspects or features. And this is the direction we are going if we are talking about free will.


Nor will an appeal to probabilistic causes help, as acts of will are non-probabilistic events.

I am baffled by what you mean by this.

rank sophist said...

Vincent,

What I find problematic about such an account is that it doesn't address the issue of what the efficient cause of my hand movements and (going further back) my neuronal firings is.

They don't have an efficient cause. You're thinking in terms of mechanistic/deterministic causality. Thomism considers the final cause to be the cause of motion: efficient causality is simply what "effects" this motion, and it can be intrinsic to the mover (in the case of self-movers).

Vincent Torley said...

Rank Sophist,

Neuronal firings are physical changes. Hence according to the logic of Aquinas's First Way, they must have an efficient cause.

Brandon,

When I wrote that acts of will are non-probabilistic events, I meant that we cannot meaningfully speak of the probability that I will abstain from over-eating (say). That depends on my free choice. In that respect, acts of will are unlike micro-level quantum events.

Even if a cause can have both deterministic and non-deterministic features, as you suggest, it is impossible for its efficient cause to be both wholly deterministic and wholly non-deterministic - which is what would follow if an act of will were one and the same act as a neuronal firing.

img24,

You are right to say that Thomism rejects reductionism. Nevertheless, it is the common understanding of scientists (I've emailed some of them on this topic) that neuronal firings are movements which are wholly determined by neuronal inputs (barring the odd out-of-the-blue quantum blip, which these scientists argue has no bearing on free will anyway, as it's random). That's just the way that nerve cells work. If this picture is wrong, then we're not just saying that the mechanistic philosophy of nature is wrong. We have to say that contemporary physics is wrong too, and that there is a new kind of causation called top-down causation, which prevents neurons (but not, say, billiard balls) from functioning in a deterministic fashion. That's an empirical prediction. I'm prepared to put my neck on the line and describe how I think this top-down causation might work - see my posts on libertarian free will that I linked to above. However, I think Thomism is still very coy about the mechanics of free will.

rank sophist said...

Vincent,

Neuronal firings are physical changes. Hence according to the logic of Aquinas's First Way, they must have an efficient cause.

Aquinas's First Way is an argument from final causality, so no. This is a common misinterpretation of Aquinas's position, but it's a misinterpretation nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

"Coy" is right, Vincent. You've put your cards on the table, but a Thomist model of libertarian decision-making is nowhere to be found.

I just went to the fridge for a beer. Within a Thomist framework and consistent with our contemporary knowledge of neuroscience, what happened when I made that decision?

Most importantly, on Thomism, could I have not gone to the fridge for a beer?

--Patrick CF

rank sophist said...

Patrick,

"Coy" is right, Vincent. You've put your cards on the table, but a Thomist model of libertarian decision-making is nowhere to be found.

I just went to the fridge for a beer. Within a Thomist framework and consistent with our contemporary knowledge of neuroscience, what happened when I made that decision?

Most importantly, on Thomism, could I have not gone to the fridge for a beer?


It's not uncommon for Thomists to have Banezian determinist leanings that would be unpopular if made known, so it's no surprise that responses are often coy. Determinism is the dark secret of much Baroque and modern Thomism. It is not, however, what Aquinas really believed.

Aquinas believed that the will is the final cause of the intellect: it is an appetite that tends toward this or that good. The only absolute mover of the will is God, because it's God who draws all beings to motion as a final cause. If God didn't draw all things, then nothing would move. Our wills are free with regard to decision-making about temporal affairs, though. For example, you could choose to get a beer. This occurs through the practical reason, a combination of intellect and will that allows us to consider our options.

If you stop to think about it, every decision that we make is a matter of weighing options. Our choice depends on what seems better to us at that time, for whatever reason. You had to weigh getting a beer against not getting a beer, and you decided that getting a beer was better. You could have chosen differently if you had magnified the reasons not to get a beer: it's a pain to get up; you might spill it on yourself; you've already had five (not to suggest that you have!); and so on. But you focused on the positive reasons and so your practical reasoning ended in you going to get a beer. That's all there is to free will.

Vincent Torley said...

ranksophist,

I would have to respectfully take issue with your claim that Aquinas' First Way is an argument from final causality. On Aristotle's view, only when we get to the movement of the first heaven do we need to invoke this kind of causality to explain its motion. Ordinary movements (such as neuronal firings) still require an efficient cause, to account for their transition from potency to act, and a thing as movable is moved by contact with an efficient cause, or a mover:

"We can define motion as the fulfilment of the movable as movable, the cause of the attribute being contact with what can move so that the mover is also acted on. The mover or agent will always be the vehicle of a form, either a 'this' or 'such', which, when it acts, will be the source and cause of the change, e.g. the full-formed man begets man from what is potentially man." (Physics 3.2; 202a)

rank sophist said...

Vincent,

You've misunderstood Aquinas's and Aristotle's position. From The Philosophy of Aquinas (page 39):

The efficient cause does not make the final cause be a final cause; it is merely a means, perhaps one among many, to the attainment of that goal, whose specification and value make no reference whatsoever to its efficient causes. By contrast, though this is a bit harder to see, the goal is what causes the efficient cause to be actually productive. What causes a jogger to jog, in fact, is the goal sought. It is, to be sure, an independent fact about jogging that it produces health, but its actually producing health on any given occasion is evidently just the goal of the jogger--more exactly, the subordinate goal of doing something today, right now, to become healthy.

Motion is caused by final causality. I also recommend this Wikipedia section (it's essentially just a bunch of academic quotes) on the topic, which clarifies that the argument for the Unmoved Mover is, indeed, an argument from final causality. See also Dudley's Aristotle's Concept of Chance, page 273.

George R. said...

Rank sophist is right. The final cause is the principle of all motion.

Brandon said...

Vincent,

When I wrote that acts of will are non-probabilistic events, I meant that we cannot meaningfully speak of the probability that I will abstain from over-eating (say). That depends on my free choice. In that respect, acts of will are unlike micro-level quantum events.

But we obviously can speak of the probability that I will abstain from over-eating. For instance, if I have such-and-such habits, it is highly probable that I will freely choose to abstain from over-eating. If I have such-and-such other habits, it may be highly probable that I will freely choose to over-eat. Your claim would seem to require that free will is inconsistent with virtue or vice, which make it probable (without being determining) that I will act in such-and-such ways. Perhaps you have some very specific conception of probability that you are implying here?

Even if a cause can have both deterministic and non-deterministic features, as you suggest, it is impossible for its efficient cause to be both wholly deterministic and wholly non-deterministic - which is what would follow if an act of will were one and the same act as a neuronal firing.

I see no such implication; you will have to develop this point. If we assume the act of will to be the non-deterministic aspect of the act and the neuronal firing to be the deterministic aspect, (1) this implies nothing about whether its efficient cause is itself deterministically or non-deterministically caused, and (2) only implies that any total efficient cause of the activity will be neither wholly deterministic nor wholly non-deterministic in its activity, but (trivially) the kind of efficient cause which can have acts that have both deterministic and non-deterministic features. What licenses the repeated switch to "wholly"?

Brandon said...

It's not uncommon for Thomists to have Banezian determinist leanings that would be unpopular if made known, so it's no surprise that responses are often coy. Determinism is the dark secret of much Baroque and modern Thomism. It is not, however, what Aquinas really believed.

That Aquinas is not Banezian is certainly true, but Banezians explicitly reject determinism, claiming that God premoves the will non-deterministically. This is universal among Banezians. The worry is not that Banezians are determinists but that their view does not provide the adequate ground for non-determinism about the will that they claim it does, and, if you accept the Molinist argument, is not only inadequate, it is inconsistent. There are no major Thomists, Baroque or otherwise, who are determinists; the most that can be said is that there are a number whose rejection of determinism is not well-grounded in terms of their own principles.

tazmic said...

rank: "If you stop to think about it, every decision that we make is a matter of weighing options. Our choice depends on what seems better to us at that time, for whatever reason. You had to weigh getting a beer against not getting a beer, and you decided that getting a beer was better. You could have chosen differently if you had magnified the reasons not to get a beer: it's a pain to get up; you might spill it on yourself; you've already had five (not to suggest that you have!); and so on. But you focused on the positive reasons and so your practical reasoning ended in you going to get a beer. That's all there is to free will."

Saying things would be different if things were different is true of determinism and far from 'all there is to free will'.

It would be good to see Thomist arguments for free will that clearly distinguish themselves from those attached to the metaphysics of a Cartesian ego.

Maybe that could also move the debate from its possibly misplaced obsession with decision making.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

That Aquinas is not Banezian is certainly true, but Banezians explicitly reject determinism, claiming that God premoves the will non-deterministically.

I'm fully aware of this. I think they're deluding themselves. (I also think the Molinists are deluding themselves, for what it's worth.)

tazmic,

Maybe that could also move the debate from its possibly misplaced obsession with decision making.

There is no such thing as free will outside of decision making. Thomism does not use a libertarian model--that was invented later by the voluntarists.

You are free to make up your mind on any subject of practical reason, and there is no way to predict with perfect accuracy what your decision will be. Nothing temporal outside of yourself has the ability to move your will necessarily.

Brandon said...

I'm fully aware of this. I think they're deluding themselves. (I also think the Molinists are deluding themselves, for what it's worth.)

Then stop calling them determinists. Being mistaken in how not to be determinist is worlds away from actually being a determinist.

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

Nothing temporal outside of yourself has the ability to move your will necessarily.

If this is true, and (per Dr Feser) a "decision and neural activity" are "two aspects of a single efficient cause," then the following should also be true:

Nothing temporal outside of yourself has the ability to move your neurons necessarily.

And this is, in principle, empirically falsifiable, right?

--Patrick CF

rank sophist said...

Patrick,

And this is, in principle, empirically falsifiable, right?

The motion of our neurons is determined top-down by our decisions, since form comes before matter. The brain could be thought of as the efficient "means" that our final cause of thought employs, like a tool used by a carpenter. Obviously brain damage and suchlike can corrupt our matter and make normal thinking impossible, just like corroded tools make carpentry impossible. But it would be a non sequitur to derive from the premise "tools can be corroded" the conclusion "tools run the show". Our intellect and will are higher than the tools that they employ, and so they remain free even if those tools are corrupted.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the response, and I have at least some grasp on what you're saying. I'm definitely better off now than yesterday, but I still have to ask: Is that a "no?"

Like, if we find that we can explain neural activity empirically in terms of other physical processes--whether these processes are predictable or random--wouldn't that mean that a person lacked the power of contrary choice with respect to any particular decision?

--PCF

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon,

In response to your suggestion that an act may have partially deterministic and partially non-deterministic causes, I'd like to quote from Elizabeth Anscombe's Causality and Determination:

"Ever since Kant it has been a familiar claim among philosophers, that one can believe in both physical determinism and ‘ethical’ freedom. The reconciliations have always seemed to me to be either so much gobbledegook, or to make the alleged freedom of action quite unreal. My actions are mostly physical movements; if these physical movements are physically predetermined by processes which I do not control, then my freedom is perfectly illusory. The truth of physical indeterminism is then indispensable if we are to make anything of the claim to freedom." (1971, p.26.)

If you suggest (as Ed does) that an act of will and a neuronal firing are two aspects of one and the same event, then you have a problem. An act of will is something that typically produces movement. But if movement in the body is entirely caused by neuronal signals, and neuronal signal transmission is a deterministic process, and if signal transmission from motor neurons is the product of incoming signals from sensory organs, then my bodily movements are (ultimately) entirely determined by my sensory inputs. Freedom doesn't get a toehold here. If you want to uphold freedom, then you'll have to either maintain that neuronal signal transmission isn't always a deterministic process, or that movement in the body caused by something in addition to neuronal signals. Interactionist dualists take the second option, but Ed isn't an interactionist. The first option is empirically false if we look at individual neurons in isolation, so if you want to uphold free will, you would have to say that large assemblages of neurons (such as the brain) have top-down non-deterministic properties. That's another way out, but my point is that you are still going to have to describe how this top-down causation works. There's no escaping the "nitty-gritty."

Re probabilistic events: while we can sometimes say that a particular person will probably over-indulge if tempted to do so, the probability is not mathematically calculable (e.g. 86%); it is simply a (non-binding) judgment based on that person's track record. (And of course, people don't always behave as we expect them to.) Quantum events do however have precise mathematical probability distributions. For that reason, we cannot speak of them as being free. Freedom must rather be a top-down constraint on quantum events; it cannot come from the bottom up. That was my point.

rank sophist said...

Patrick,

Like, if we find that we can explain neural activity empirically in terms of other physical processes--whether these processes are predictable or random--wouldn't that mean that a person lacked the power of contrary choice with respect to any particular decision?

No. For one thing, that line of thinking falls victim to the argument from reason, which proves the impossibility of any purely physical mind.

I should have been a bit clearer in my last reply, though. Brains, as material things, are in a constant state of change. This has been recognized since ancient times. But, then, any material tool will be in this same state of change. The motion of the atoms of your hammer does not prevent you from freely using your hammer to pound nails. Similarly, the random changes in your brain do not prevent you from using it to think. You're still thinking of this in terms of a mechanistic and reductionistic conception of matter, in which lower level events "fix" higher level events. That simply is not how A-T works. (By the way, the correlation of neurons and "areas" of the brain to thought is shaky at the best of times, since it relies on highly questionable frequentist probability calculations. Neuroscience, like evolutionary psychology and the rest, is largely pseudoscientific right now.)

Vincent Torley said...

ranksophist,

Thanks for the links in your last response. It is of course true that all movements have a final cause, and that (as George R. points out) the final cause is the principle of all motion. I'm not denting that.

It is also true that Aristotle's Unmoved Mover was supposed to move the spheres via final causality, rather than efficient causality. However, this assumes that the first heaven, the outermost sphere of fixed stars, is moved by a desire to emulate the prime mover. But as Aquinas points out in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book I, chapter 13, para. 31, if we drop the animistic assumption that the first heaven is capable of having desires, then it too requires an efficient cause: "if the prime mover is not held to be self-moved, then it must be moved immediately by something absolutely unmoved." In addition, the causal chain in Aquinas' First Way (hand->stick->stone) is undoubtedly an efficient causal chain, as Aquinas explicitly acknowledges in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapter 38, paragraph 13. Also, in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapters 28/29, para. 18, Aquinas speaks of "efficient or moving causes," and in his Commentary on Aristotle's Physics Book VIII, Lecture 23, para. 1169, Aquinas speaks of the First Mover's "efficient causality of motion."

In his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapter 32, para. 6, Aquinas speaks of the will as an efficient cause in voluntary agents: "For, if the will be perfectly equipped, the power acts at once, unless there be a defect in it; at the will's command the movement of a limb follows immediately, if no defect exists in the motive power carrying out the movement."

Aquinas also states in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapters 80/81, para. 15, that "the will is a power employing no organ, as neither does the intellect," so Ed's identification of an act of will with a neuronal firing (as two aspects of one and the same act) sounds decidedly un-Thomistic to me.

FZ said...

"Neuroscience, like evolutionary psychology and the rest, is largely pseudoscientific right now.)"

Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say "pseudoscientific." But metaphysically misguided? Sure. That's what Bennet and Hacker realized.

rank sophist said...

Vincent,

It is of course true that all movements have a final cause

You don't understand. It would be more true to say that all final causes have movements. Movement is started by final causality and continued only by final causality.

But as Aquinas points out in his Summa Contra Gentiles Book I, chapter 13, para. 31, if we drop the animistic assumption that the first heaven is capable of having desires, then it too requires an efficient cause: "if the prime mover is not held to be self-moved, then it must be moved immediately by something absolutely unmoved."

This is because the first heaven was considered by Aristotle to be ensouled, i.e. alive. It was therefore capable of immanent causation, like birds, insects, humans, dogs and so forth. But even non-living beings exercise "spontaneous", "uncaused" powers at every moment.

Further, note that almost all of your references are to the SCG. This work, as Lonergan discovered, was part of a transition in Aquinas's way of explicating God's method of causality. Earlier works had described God's causality of motion as a matter of providing and sustaining the capacity for motion; it was not until the SCG that he started using new language, after he discovered a way of synthesizing Christianity with the Aristotelian cosmology.

the causal chain in Aquinas' First Way (hand->stick->stone) is undoubtedly an efficient causal chain

What drives the hand is a final cause, which also drives the stick, which also drives the stone. But this cannot go on to infinity, or else there would be no goal to reach. Hence there is an Unmoved Mover who pulls all things to himself through his sheer perfection, since all motion is the inferior drawn up toward the superior.

In his Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, chapter 32, para. 6, Aquinas speaks of the will as an efficient cause in voluntary agents: "For, if the will be perfectly equipped, the power acts at once, unless there be a defect in it; at the will's command the movement of a limb follows immediately, if no defect exists in the motive power carrying out the movement."

He never, at any time, refers to the will as an efficient cause. This is because it is not an efficient cause. It's a final cause. Since final causes directly bring about the motion of efficient causes, the will brings about the motion of our decision making.

I've already had this argument with Sobieski, though, so I don't feel like retracing my steps. If you want to see what happened last time, see our exchange in this combox.

PatrickH said...

@rs: Thanks for the elucidation of final cause in re: First Way. I've always been intrigued by STA's definition of motion as the "drawing" of something from potency to act. At one point he uses educere - to draw or lead out i.e. to move as mover, to move in the active sense; and next "reduci" - to be drawn or led back - to be moved, to move in the passive sense.

I've never understood why he used that particular word (in its active and passive voices) in his definitional statement in the First Way as to what motion itself is. Now, I think I do.

Vincent Torley said...

rank sophist,

May I ask you two simple questions? First, how do you understand the difference between efficient and final causes? Second, why do some effects require efficient causes as well as final causes?

When I see you asserting that "what drives the hand is a final cause, which also drives the stick, which also drives the stone," I have to wonder why you posit efficient causes at all. If (as you say) final causes are capable of moving not only hands, but also sticks and stones, and if this is not an efficient causal chain, then what need to we have of efficient causes? Why not say that any object can start moving at any time, without any efficient cause, because it's being driven by its telos?

If a match were to burst into flame, you'd look for an efficient cause. Ditto if an engine were to start firing. But when a neuron starts firing, you say there's no efficient cause? Incredible! (I might add that no modern scientist would agree with you.)

BTW, here's what Aquinas says about the above chain:

"For, according to the philosophers, it is impossible to proceed to infinity in the order of efficient causes which act together at the same time, because in that case the effect would have to depend on an infinite number of actions simultaneously existing. ... [I]t is accidental to Socrates' father that he is another man's son or not. But it is not accidental to the stick, in moving the stone, that it be moved by the hand; for the stick moves just so far as it is moved." (SCG II 38.13) Moreover, Aquinas also says that "subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God." (ST I, q. 2, art. 3)

Taken together, these passages imply that: (i) the hand moving the stick is an efficient cause; (ii) it is a first mover; (iii) God is a first mover in the same way as the hand; hence (iv) God is an efficient cause of movement.

I think this answers your claim in your exchange with Sobieski that "there is no passage in Aquinas in which it is asserted that God is the first efficient cause in the order of change."

Judging from your exchange with Sobieski, you seem to think that final causes "draw" while efficient causes "push", and you regard pushing as mechanistic. I think you have a problem here with your overly narrow conception of efficient causation. You can make an inanimate body move without pushing it. Aquinas teaches that angels move the heavenly bodies simply by exerting their intellects:

"Also, if the separate substances move the heavenly bodies, as the philosophers say, then whatever results from the movement of the heavenly bodies is attributed to those bodies as instruments, since they move in being moved, but is ascribed to the separate substances which move them, as principal agents. Now, separate substances act and move by their intellect. Hence, they are actually causing whatever is effected by the movement of the heavenly bodies, even as the craftsman works through his tools." (SCG II, 99.4)

If angels moving other bodies by means of exerting their intellects is a clear-cut case of efficient causation, then a fortiori, the same must follow for the will's moving the body: "the will as agent moves all the powers of the soul to their respective acts" (ST I, q. 82, art. 4); "at the will's command the movement of a limb follows immediately" (SCG II, 32.6). Goals, or final causes, don't "command".

I'm afraid I really can't see why you would object to the idea of God's making bodies move, by exerting His will. Nor can I see why you object to the idea of my making my neurons move, by exerting my will.

rank sophist said...

Vincent,

Why not say that any object can start moving at any time, without any efficient cause, because it's being driven by its telos?

Telos is always a goal for something. Unless a substance has a certain relation (the core accident of causality) with another, it cannot be drawn to achieve this or that effect. For example, an iceberg must have a certain relation with an object that emits heat if it is to melt. It won't melt in isolation: it has to be pulled to motion by something else. Likewise, that entity must be pulled to motion, and so on.

If a match were to burst into flame, you'd look for an efficient cause. Ditto if an engine were to start firing.

But any efficient cause that struck a match would be preceded by a final cause that put the efficient cause into motion. So, really, what you would be looking for was an agent that used a certain means to bring about the match bursting into flame. The efficient cause could be, say, the movement of fingers; but these fingers would be brought to motion by a prior final cause. The efficient cause is simply a description of the means used by the final cause to achieve an end.

(I might add that no modern scientist would agree with you.)

I could not care less what modern, mechanistic scientists have to say about the structure of causality.

But it is not accidental to the stick, in moving the stone, that it be moved by the hand; for the stick moves just so far as it is moved."

But why does the hand move? Final causality. And why does the stick move? The final causality of the hand.

Moreover, Aquinas also says that "subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God."

And what puts efficient causes to motion? Final causes. Therefore we have God as a prior final cause to every efficient movement.

Aquinas teaches that angels move the heavenly bodies simply by exerting their intellects

This is utterly irrelevant to the topic at hand, though. Aquinas makes no mention of efficient or final causation in that passage.

If angels moving other bodies by means of exerting their intellects is a clear-cut case of efficient causation

It isn't.

the same must follow for the will's moving the body

The will is the appetite of the intellect. How can an appetite be an efficient cause? Unless you mean to suggest that the will is an ungrounded, spontaneous efficient cause?

Charles said...

Rank,

Your understanding of final causality can hardly be said to be that of St. Thomas, if it's intelligible at all. None of the five ways concludes to a final cause - when Thomas demonstrates that God is the final cause of the universe (Ia.6.2), he appeals to God as prime agent cause and uses that fact as the means of demonstration. In the question on whether intellect moves the will or vice versa (Ia.82.4) he says that the intellect moves the will by way of final causality whereas the will can move the intellect by way of agent cause. Every appetite, and even every natural inclination has the notion of agent cause. Moreover, the final cause "moves" other things only in a metaphorical sense, both according to Aristotle and St. Thomas. To say that the final cause "draws" or "pulls" is just as mechanistic as the notion of the efficient cause as "pushing". At any rate, you really need to be clearer about what you think final causality is and show how what you think differs from the Thomist commentatorial tradition's account, and how what you claim is consonant with the thought of St. Thomas himself.

rank sophist said...

Charles,

Your understanding of final causality can hardly be said to be that of St. Thomas, if it's intelligible at all.

As I told Vincent, you should read Lonergan's article and my argument with Sobieski if you want details. My understanding is much closer to Aquinas's than that of the post-Suarezian scholarship that turned Thomism deterministic.

None of the five ways concludes to a final cause

Except that the First Way is simply Aristotle's argument for the Unmoved Mover, who moves substances by way of final causality only.

In the question on whether intellect moves the will or vice versa (Ia.82.4) he says that the intellect moves the will by way of final causality whereas the will can move the intellect by way of agent cause.

Now that I think about it, this is correct. The will is moved by the end, and so it would have to be a kind of efficient cause. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this new way of reading Aquinas on causality, so please forgive any mistakes I make along the way.

Every appetite, and even every natural inclination has the notion of agent cause.

Indeed, because they are brought to motion by appetitable objects, i.e. final causes.

Moreover, the final cause "moves" other things only in a metaphorical sense, both according to Aristotle and St. Thomas.

This is a falsehood conjured up by closet mechanists in the early modern period. Final causality is the principle of all motion in traditional Aristotelian thought. I have already provided sources for this above. I would appreciate it if you could back up your claim with sources as well--and not ambiguous primary sources, but clear and concise secondary sources.

To say that the final cause "draws" or "pulls" is just as mechanistic as the notion of the efficient cause as "pushing".

If something is pushed, then it is pushed to a definite end through a definite means. If something is drawn, then it is drawn to a definite end through a contingent means.

At any rate, you really need to be clearer about what you think final causality is and show how what you think differs from the Thomist commentatorial tradition's account, and how what you claim is consonant with the thought of St. Thomas himself.

I've done so in the past and I have no interest of doing it again. Like I said to Vincent, you can read my argument with Sobieski if you're interested.

Daniel Smith said...

Charles: None of the five ways concludes to a final cause

Not even the 5th way?

William Dunkirk said...

The Beastie Boys!? I'm more worried about that than the apparent acquisition of a Feminazi habit of mind manifesting itself in the Professor's writing. Perhaps it's the Beastie Boys who are to blame for this.

Brandon said...

Vincent,

An act of will is something that typically produces movement. But if movement in the body is entirely caused by neuronal signals, and neuronal signal transmission is a deterministic process, and if signal transmission from motor neurons is the product of incoming signals from sensory organs, then my bodily movements are (ultimately) entirely determined by my sensory inputs. Freedom doesn't get a toehold here.

Again, you are simply shifting everything over to talk of 'wholly' without explaining why. Acts of will produce changes only in the sense that some changes are acts of will; or, to put it in other words, that the complete explanation of the change requires recognizing the change itself as an act of will. Thus all you are saying is, "If everything that happens in the brain is wholly the activity of wholly deterministic causes, where is the room for free choice among alternatives." And obviously there isn't, ex hypothesi -- it's just been stipulated in the scenario that there are no alternatives anywhere in the first place. But this isn't what you claim to be arguing; you claim to be raising a problem for a view in which the relevant activity is already taken to be only partly deterministic, and thus partly not. Now, on the assumption of free will lots of things will have be partly deterministic, partly not, assuming that anything in the world is deterministic; in Aristotelian terms this will be because of the constraints of material necessity. So, granted free will, it's simply not a problem that some activities are partly deterministic and partly not; that's true on any account of free will. What your argument requires, though, is either (1) an inference from the latter to the impossibility of free will, which will problematize every account of free will; or (2) a reason to think that in fact that the 'partly not' part can't get into the description at all, without simply stipulating that it can't. I don't see this anywhere in your argument.

There is no top-down nondeterministic causation, so that there is some separate non-deterministic act that has to enter into a separate deterministic process somewhere; it's rather that the purely deterministic accounts are incomplete in the first place, only covering part of the activity -- maybe a very, very important part, but, as Ed says, it only covers the activity insofar as it is under material constraint, and thus only a part.

Charles said...

Daniel,

The fifth way concludes to a supreme governing intelligence by means of agency for an end. The middle in the demonstration is that the activity of ordering to an end is proper to intelligence. If you want to see proofs that establish, as their conclusion, that God is the/a final cause, look to the questions on God's goodness and providence in the 1st part of the summa, and God as ultimate end in the prima secundae.

Rank,
Although Aristotle, in the physics and metaph. speaks of the unmoved mover as "moving" by way of final causality, Thomas himself does not see the causality of the unmoved mover as only by way of final causality. As it stands, the first way could be hashed out either in terms of final or efficient causality. The essential thing about the first way is that it concludes, by means of the nature of motion/change, to a first and simple cause in whom there is no division of act and potency. It does not essentially rely on a particular theory about how the mover moves other things, whether by efficient or final causality.

As for the final cause being a metaphorical mover, this is explicit is Aristotle (gen et corr. 324b14). The reason for this is that to call the final cause the mover is to confuse efficient and final causality. So although the end is a cause, indeed the cause of all the causes, its causality need to differ in essence from agent/efficient causality. A puller, just as much as a pusher is an efficient cause.

The traditional commentators, who I follow since I have no reason to believe that the true meaning of Thomism was lost with the death of Thomas only to be rediscovered in the 20th century by means of magical glasses and gold tablets, maintain that the final cause has its reality as a physical cause as a kind of intentional likeness in the appetite of the agent that inclines the agent to its suitable object. Here's how Warren explains it in his article "Nature as a Purposive Agent" in The New Scholasticism:
"It may strike us as paradoxical that in explaining how the end moves the agent, we must first deny that final causality is any motion at all, except metaphorically speaking. Because the efficient cause is most familiar to us, and its causality consists in action, we are prone to identify causality with action. This tendency is made use of to explain the notion of 'causality from the end,' which we say is something-like-a-motion, a metaphorical motion. In truth, there is no motion involved; the end causes simply by attracting the agent to love and desire it. And the end influences the agent to desire it by, as it were, 'breathing' its goodness upon it without any real action being entailed.
But to deny the final cause any real action is not to deny it any real causality. The end has a real influence (and is therefore a real cause) on the agent, for it determines the agent to operate...Further, the agent is determined to produce that definite effect only because that effect has the nature of a good...In sum, the whole causal influence of the end consists in overcoming the agent's 'indifference to act' by coaxing it to act for a definite goal. This the end does in virtue of its goodness which attracts and incites the agent to desire it."

George R. said...

The middle in the demonstration is that the activity of ordering to an end is proper to intelligence .

Charles, it’s always good to see someone else here that knows that final cause implies intelligence.

Thomas himself does not see the causality of the unmoved mover as only by way of final causality .

True, Thomas correctly thought that the unmoved mover was also an efficient cause. But since the mover always moves for the sake of an end, the final cause is always the principle of the motion.

As for the final cause being a metaphorical mover, this is explicit is Aristotle (gen et corr. 324b14). The reason for this is that to call the final cause the mover is to confuse efficient and final causality .

I disagree. The final cause is not a metaphorical mover, but rather it is the real cause of all motions in general, whereas the efficient cause is the cause of specific motions. For example, if we assume that efficient cause A moves mobile object B, that B is moved at all is because of the final cause. On the other hand, that B is moved in such and such a way at such and such a time is because of A.

So although the end is a cause, indeed the cause of all the causes, its causality need to differ in essence from agent/efficient causality .

This is true.

rank sophist said...

Charles,

As for the final cause being a metaphorical mover, this is explicit is Aristotle (gen et corr. 324b14). The reason for this is that to call the final cause the mover is to confuse efficient and final causality.

I checked the passage you cited, and it is extremely vague. So vague that I read it 3-4 times and still was not entirely sure what he was saying. And your interpretation seems to directly contradict the one presented in The Philosophy of Aquinas, which I posted above to Vincent. How can you reconcile the two?

In sum, the whole causal influence of the end consists in overcoming the agent's 'indifference to act' by coaxing it to act for a definite goal. This the end does in virtue of its goodness which attracts and incites the agent to desire it.

This is exactly what I was saying. The final cause draws efficient causes to motion. It is therefore the cause of all motion, and the means by which God causes motion. To return to the hand-stick example, the efficient motions of the hand occur solely because of the final cause that drew them out, and likewise for the stick. This is what I meant by "pulling" in contrast to "pushing".

Charles said...

George R.,

I would still have to say that the end cannot be a mover in a proper sense, since motion is from the mover but in the moved and thus the mover is first and best understood in terms of agent causality, whereas the end is the raison d'etre of the mover as such, and consequently also of the motion existing in the mover. So even if we talk about the end as "mover" it's by an improper analogy with the reality on which we first impose the name. Moreover, though I agree that the end is a real cause, I do not see any reason why it must be only a universal cause as you seem to propose. Rather, the end is the cause not just of motion in general, but each natural thing has its own intrinsic final cause which determines its activity.

Charles said...

Rank,

In the section of de gen, Aristotle is talking about movers as originating generation. In the section in question, agent, mover and active power are basically synonomous. He then tacks on this phrase:

"The active power is a 'cause' in the sense of that from which the process originates: but the end, for the sake of which it takes place, is not 'active'. (That is why health is not 'active', except metaphorically.) For when the agent is there, the patient becomes something: but when 'states' are there, the patient no longer becomes but already is-and 'forms' (i.e. lends') are a kind of 'state'."

He is taking pains to distinguish what belongs to a mover from what belongs to the causality of the end. Unfortunately, there is poverty in our language to talk about the end as cause, and so we tend to transfer terms used to designate agent causality which is much more comprehensible. Thomas talks about this poverty of language in Ia.37.1:

"For as when a thing is understood by anyone, there results in the one who understands a conception of the object understood, which conception we call word; so when anyone loves an object, a certain impression results, so to speak, of the thing loved in the affection of the lover; by reason of which the object loved is said to be in the lover; as also the thing understood is in the one who understands; so that when anyone understands and loves himself he is in himself, not only by real identity, but also as the object understood is in the one who understands, and the thing loved is in the lover. As regards the intellect, however, words have been found to describe the mutual relation of the one who understands the object understood, as appears in the word "to understand"; and other words are used to express the procession of the intellectual conception--namely, "to speak," and "word." Hence in God, "to understand" is applied only to the essence; because it does not import relation to the Word that proceeds; whereas "Word" is said personally, because it signifies what proceeds; and the term "to speak" is a notional term as importing the relation of the principle of the Word to the Word Himself. On the other hand, on the part of the will, with the exception of the words "dilection" and "love," which express the relation of the lover to the object loved, there are no other terms in use, which express the relation of the impression or affection of the object loved, produced in the lover by fact that he loves--to the principle of that impression, or "vice versa." And therefore, on account of the poverty of our vocabulary, we express these relations by the words "love" and "dilection": just as if we were to call the Word "intelligence conceived," or "wisdom begotten.""

Vincent Torley said...

ranksophist,

Thank you for your post. I'll respond briefly to your comments.

You write:
And what puts efficient causes to motion? Final causes. Therefore we have God as a prior final cause to every efficient movement.

I don't dispute this. All I'm saying is that God is an efficient cause of motion, in addition to being a final cause.

You seem to have a pronounced aversion to the idea of God's will "pushing" things, which you regard as anthropomorphic. Yet you're quite happy to speak of God's will as "pulling" things, which is equally anthropomorphic.

You also write:

How can an appetite be an efficient cause? Unless you mean to suggest that the will is an ungrounded, spontaneous efficient cause?

God's will is the ultimate efficient cause of things existing, so obviously there's at least one case where an appetite acts as an efficient cause. As for the human will, I hold that it is a basic fact about human nature that whenever I decide to move my arm, my decision causes neurons in the supplementary motor area of the brain to move, which in turn activate the relevant area of the motor cortex which activates arm movements. Don't ask me how this happens: that's just the way God made me. If you think that sounds vague, then I'd say your own account is far vaguer: you seem to believe that whenever I want something (e.g. food) that I need to reach out for, the relevant neurons in my brain, without any efficient cause acting on them, make my arm move in such a way that I pick up the thing what I need.

BTW, Aquinas himself acknowledges that whereas the intellect's conception of the goal is as a final cause of the effect produced, the human will acts as an efficient cause, in S.T. I, q. 19 art. 4 ad 4: "Even in us the cause of one and the same effect is knowledge as directing it, whereby the form of the work is conceived, and will as commanding it, since the form as it is in the intellect only is not determined to exist or not to exist in the effect, except by the will." "Determining something to exist or not exist in the effect" is, by definition, efficient causation. That's what the human will does, according to Aquinas.

In response to my claim that Aquinas teaches that angels makes heavenly bodies move by exerting their intellects, you reply that it isn't clear whether Aquinas is talking about efficient or final causation. But Aquinas says that "they [angels] are actually causing whatever is effected by the movement of the heavenly bodies, even as the craftsman works through his tools" (SCG II 99.4). Craftsmen working through their tools is a classic case of efficient causation: Aristotle and Aquinas repeatedly use it to illustrate the concept.

You write:

The efficient cause is simply a description of the means used by the final cause to achieve an end.

I disagree with you here. First, you are assuming that every efficient cause is a means - i.e. an instrumental cause. Aquinas says exactly the opposite in his Second Way: "it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God." Second, not every final cause is a conscious agent. Sometimes the final cause of my actions is an inanimate object (e.g. some money or food that I want) or an abstraction (e.g. health), in which case it is incapable of using any means to achieve its end, as it can't select anything. Only free agents can do that.

To sum up: I don't deny the ultimate priority of final causes. But final causes still require efficient causation to make things happen. I think I'll leave it there.

Finally, I hope Ed will acknowledge that any Thomistic account of action has to address the question of how my will causes my neurons to fire, in a way that avoids determinism.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon,

Thanks for your post. I fear we are talking at cross purposes. You write:

Thus all you are saying is, "If everything that happens in the brain is wholly the activity of wholly deterministic causes, where is the room for free choice among alternatives." And obviously there isn't, ex hypothesi -- it's just been stipulated in the scenario that there are no alternatives anywhere in the first place.

It isn't I who is arguing that everything that happens in the brain is wholly the activity of wholly deterministic causes; that's what neuroscientists claim. If you don't believe me, go and ask them. Their conception of how neurons work is a wholly deterministic one. I'm surprised that you aren't aware that that's how they think. (Some of them throw in a bit of chaos as well, when they talk about stochastic processes, but that doesn't help explain things, as free and random are very different concepts.) But the actual process of signaling is conceived as a deterministic one. Here's a paper which illustrates my point: http://faculty.cua.edu/ahmed/Research/Pub/Conference/naecon93_1.pdf .

My question is: given this deterministic conception of how neurons work, how do we explain free will? It's a question that Thomists need to answer. They can't just bury their heads in the sand and pretend it's not there. If you want to preserve free will, then you have to assume that neurons in the brain have non-deterministic top-down properties, or that the will can act on the brain. Either way, you'll be asserting something that's at odds with contemporary science.

I quite agree with you that if the cause of our actions is conceived of as partly deterministic and partly non-deterministic, then there wouldn't be a free will problem. But that isn't the modern scientific conception. Scientific explanations of how things work have been wholly deterministic since the mid-eighteenth century. That's just a fact. Quantum physics hasn't changed that; all it does is throw in a few glitches at the bottom level which may (occasionally) stop things from working properly. Modern science, to this day, still has no room for free will. I'm prepared to bite the bullet and say that modern science is empirically wrong. What I'd like to see is Thomists doing the same thing. They're quite happy to accuse scientists of being metaphysically wrong, but they're still scared to tell scientists that they're empirically wrong. Until they do that, scientists will disdain the very notion of "free will".

George R. said...

Charles writes:

“So even if we talk about the end as "mover" it's by an improper analogy with the reality on which we first impose the name.”

Your reasoning seems pretty good, but there’s a problem: if the final cause cannot properly be called a mover, how cannot it be said that all motion depends on an "Unmoved Mover Who is God", as is argued in the First Way? For if only the agent is properly called the mover, it would seem that once you’ve arrived at the agent you’ve arrived at the first mover. Of course, you could then go on to show that the being of the agent depends on God, who is Being Itself. (In fact, I believe that is Ed Feser’s position.) But that would be simply reducing the First Way to the Second Way and admitting that the First Way cannot stand by itself.

Brandon said...

My question is: given this deterministic conception of how neurons work, how do we explain free will?

The answer is that it is absurd to try. It seems to me to be quite straightforward: If the neuroscientists in question have established (1) that sensory stimuli are the complete and adequate, and also deterministic, causes of neuronal activity; and (2) that the neuronal activity is complete and adequate, and also deterministic, cause of human behavior; then it follows that there is no free choice among alternatives, because all alternatives are removed from the situation. There is no room for any possible account of free choice if they have actually established this. Adding in nondeterministic causes of any kind wouldn't do anything, by hypothesis. If they have not established this, then the most they have established is a partial account, and the most they can claim is partial determinism. It does not follow at all that they are "empirically wrong" -- if they are being careful, they may indeed be right about everything they are talking about. It just follows that it is unreasonable to treat a partial account, however empirically right, as if it were a complete account.

In point of fact, I think you are excessively generous with the neuroscientists in question, and treating heuristic simplifications and speculation based on a sense of analogy as "the scientific view". In this sense it's like all the people who claimed that "science" proved determinism because of Newtonian physics, when in fact one can prove that there are Newtonian-possible situations, like Norton's dome, where Newtonian physics literally cannot identify a deterministic answer -- even leaving aside, of course, the fact that Newtonian physics left some things out. The notion that Newtonian physics was deterministic was an illusion caused by people extrapolating very simple cases. There's no reason to go around encouraging people who claim that "science proves determinism" when it's clear enough that what they actually mean is "when I look at the science I get a general sense of determinism"; and telling them that they're right and that this is "how scientific explanations have worked since the eighteenth century" is doing exactly that, besides being obviously false. (Two of the most important neuroscientists of the twentieth century, Sherrington and Eccles, are on record making claims utterly opposed to this conception of history.) I'd rather you bite the bullet and point out that (1) their explanations are incomplete and (2) their history of science is wrong to the point of stupidity; that is what is relevant to determinism. They could be as right as rain, and still be incomplete; they could be as right as rain, and still can't pull determinism out of 'how scientific explanations work'. Their failure is logical, not empirical.

Anonymous said...

I could be starting to understand things now, but might just be misunderstanding in a new way.

Vincent's question is,

given this deterministic conception of how neurons work, how do we explain free will?

I've been thinking more about Dr Feser's original reply, that

the decision and the neural activity . . . are two aspects of a single efficient cause, just as the meaning of a sentence and its physical realization are two aspects of one thing

If the metaphysical is prior to the physical, which I think is the consensus around here, this makes sense, and makes looking for some free-will physical mechanism (or interaction therewith) a non-sequitur.

If, per RS, all acts (and corresponding efficient causes) are drawn toward their final causality, it doesn't matter if we can describe empirically those efficient causes in deterministic, probablistic or random terms as interactions of physical bodies.

If the will is free by definition (a deductive or revealed metaphysical truth), then God moves/pulls/pushes/whatever the will toward its own free determination by means of whatever efficient causes.

Tell me if I'm being stupid.

Patrick CF

reighley said...

Definition bot asks :
Time for somebody to reify the term "free will" a little better.

Some points of order :
a great deal of hay is made about the supposed determinism of the scientific worldview regarding this subject but I think that is a red herring.

(1) Actual scientific models don't really seem to me to fit this world view. Naturally the variables are controlled and the noise is averaged out, but there are always variables and noise. No scientific model ever fully determines its subject. What we are talking about is a sort of scientific model "in principle", which rather defeats the purpose of the thing.

(2) It is not clear to me that my actions being fully determined in the future by a set of variables now means eo ipso that I do not have free will. For instance I can say for sure that I am going to get up and go to work on Monday morning, unless acted upon by some external force. Does that mean I lost some free will when I accepted the job?

(3) What sort of will is not a free one? It seems to me that final cause plays a more significant role in this debate than determinism does. Biological systems, like the brain, usually do have a purpose (mostly keeping the organism alive). Is my desire to stay alive a case of an "unfree" will?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

Thanks for your comment. I am in full agreement with your claims that: (i) scientific explanations of how neurons function are (in fact) incomplete; and (ii) Newtonian physics doesn't actually entail determinism in all possible cases. (I'm aware of the case of Norton's dome.)

What I would however add is that neurons, insofar as they have been studied in isolation, do in fact function deterministically, when propagating signals. Consequently, if you want to uphold free will, you need to maintain that some mysterious non-deterministic behavior emerges when they come together to form a human brain, or that non-material processes (e.g. acts of will) move the neurons in the brain.

While Norton's dome actually demonstrates remains the subject of controversy. See this paper: http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/wuthrich/philphys/FletcherSam2010Man_Dome.pdf . The example is an ideal, hypothetical one. A physicist could still argue that these examples are not relevant to our own cosmos. In any case, the problem remains: the introduction of genuine randomness into a system doesn't shed any light on human freedom is possible. We need top-down causation for that.

I think I'll stop there. Thank you for the exchange of views.

Vincent Torley said...

Patrick,

A quick response: please read Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles III chapter 85 paragraphs 12-15. Hope that helps. Bye.

Charles said...

George,

Good point. I would say that the first way, as it appears in the Summa, is dealing with an analogical notion of motion from the get go, and so includes any kind of change that is found even in immaterial beings. The key to the proof is the reduction of potency to act required by any change, and so we arrive at a first unmoved mover who is pure act. The question of whether it is formal, final, or efficient causality that this being who is pure act exercises is left unanswered, at least within the narrow parameters of the proof. Seems to me a good argument could be made that the conclusion of the first way could be used to support any and all of the options. So I think that the first way can be "reduced" to the second, but has a more general content than the second.

Alan said...

Vincent:

To expand on neurons and neurologists, the issue of determinism is a question of control. Neurologists ‘know’ they can make a nerve fire, as they know they can cram charged electrodes into a frogs’ leg and make it twitch. That is very minimal control, akin to driving a car from the seat of a bulldozer. The frog, on the other hand, can make that leg propel the frog a particular distance in a particular direction. The frog has orders of magnitude more knowledge of control than the neurologist.
What the neurologist can tell you that the frog cannot is that every neuron has multiple inputs and multiple outputs. Every input has an adjustable threshold, every output has a variable signal strength. Each of these parameters is adjusted several times a second in every neuron of every living beast. A few of the many factors which affect the levels of the parameters are: time of day, diet, hydration levels of several separate fluids, time since last stimulation, intensity of last stimulation, the climate, your mood, proximity of menstruating females (for humans, perhaps other mammals as well), phase of the moon even the color of the room you are in or the underwear you are wearing.
To ascertain the deterministic status of neurons, you need to monitor and/or control for all of the appropriate variables. That technology does not exist at this time.
As Brandon and others have pointed out, claims of deterministic neurons are decidedly premature.

Anonymous said...

Is a breathing, ingesting, excreting body separate from the universe? Or are all events and processes evidence that the body is not separate, and not absolutely separable from the Very divinity in Which it is appearing.
There is no absolute separation. No absolute separation between any apparent human individual and the universe, or between any apparent human individual and any other human and non-human individual.

When you are not thinking and ths creating difference, you are no different from a grasshopper or a blade of grass or a tree. You are the same. You are in the same state. It is not merely that non-human are like human beings, or that some non-humans are especailly like human beings. The fact is that EVERYTHING - all beings, every one and every thing altogether - is spontaneously arising as an apparent modification of the Divine Conscious Light. Thus, there is not, in Reality, the slightest difference between a human being, a dog, a tree, and a wall - not the slightest. There is not the slightest difference between you and the space in which you are apparently sitting. There is, in fact, no difference of ANY kind. There is NO difference. It is not that difference needs to be removed. Difference IS NOT. Difference is something being superimposed by you.

That is what the ego does. Including the religious ego with all of its philosophy and metaphysics, whether old or new.

Glenn said...

There is, in fact, no difference of ANY kind. There is NO difference... Difference is something being superimposed by you. That is what the ego does.

a) Ego does other things, too.

For example, it strongly urges one to eat a delicious plum rather than a pellet of plutonium.

Now, if you ignore such an urge on the grounds that it is nothing more than an obtrusion of ego, i.e., an ignorant superimposition, you may soon have all the proof you need to convince others that, truly, you're no different from other forms of inanimate matter.

b) And if there is no difference of ANY kind, then it follows that there is no difference between what you say and a pile of horse manure.

c) But I'll be (ahem) charitable**, and allow that there is something meaningful you mean to say, while suggesting that it might have been better conveyed had you more clearly delineated it.

- - - - -

** Actually, I wasn't not being uncharitable; just blatant. (You can see the difference, yes?)

Brandon said...

Hi, Vincent,

I would normally give you the last word on something like this, but your final argument leaves too many points that really do need to be addressed, because they are assumed while being precisely the issue.

The example is an ideal, hypothetical one. A physicist could still argue that these examples are not relevant to our own cosmos.

All examples in Newtonian physics are ideal, hypothetical examples; applying Newtonian physics always required abstracting from real details that were recognized to be there. This was in general recognized by physicists in the Newtonian era, and it follows from the very way in which Newtonian physics is applied. To do Newtonian physics in such a way as to account for all extant forces would be to turn every single applied physics problem into a massive and insoluble n-body problem. Newtonian physics is only capable of application at all because as long as one makes the problem sufficiently local, everything else can be put in the 'acceptable margin of error' box.

The point applies to the deterministic neuron case; all such a case would imply is that if you are local enough in your formulation of the problem, or are dealing with Alan's sledgehammer-cases where all other possibly relevant factors can be ignored as relatively tiny, a deterministic model will get you right answers within an acceptable margin of error. That could mean that it is deterministic; it could also mean that nondeterministic factors are falling into the margin of error for some reason (too small at this level to be noticeable, too overwhelmed by experimental factors required to get a clear answer, or even too occasional to be treated as distinguishable from experimenter's error); or it could mean that neurons are deterministic in isolation but have latent nondeterministic capabilities that only come out with certain kinds of interactions; or any number of other things. As Alan notes, the factors requiring that we recognize a healthy margin of error are already known to be quite considerable. Furthermore, we already expect neurons to be model-able in deterministic terms, regardless of whether they actually are -- if they have anything to do with thought at all they have to do lots of things quite reliably. Before we even consider the question of whether neurons are really deterministic or not we know that it is highly likely that lots of features of neurons can be modeled as if deterministic, within a reasonably tight margin of error, due to their being things that neurons have to reliably do. Far from being some astounding discovery that you can have a pretty handy deterministic model of an isolated neuron, it's what you'd expect regardless. (Whether the handy deterministic models in question are adequate for absolutely everything you are trying to understand about neurons, of course, is something we'd have to show. That would be surprising, even if neurons are deterministic, because even good models usually ignore things that can sometimes be significant.) Again, no top-down causation has to enter in anywhere (although it may be one of the possible explanations): all that is required is recognizing that the account is partial, not complete.

However, while establishing randomness wouldn't clarify free will, there is no reason we would expect it to. Free will is clarified by one's account of free choice, not by an account of neurons, and certainly not by an account of neurons in isolation. It also does not follow, however, that the determinist can just wave off reasons for thinking that the deterministic model is incomplete in the first place. Nor does it follow, as some people try to make it out that randomness cannot possibly have anything to do with free will; randomness of any sort wouldn't be free will but at best an incidental byproduct of it, but one would have to rule that out before claiming that the randomness had nothing to do with free will.

Turgonian said...

This is a really interesting discussion. Is there a book that deals with the Thomist interaction problem?

Scott said...

@Turgonian:

You might start with Ed's previous posts here and here.

(Hey, "Maimonides" is one of my Captcha entries!)