Friday, June 21, 2013

Mind and Cosmos roundup


My series of posts on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos has gotten a fair amount of attention.  Andrew Ferguson’s cover story on Nagel in The Weekly Standard, published when I was six posts into the series, kindly cited it as a “dazzling… tour de force rebutting Nagel’s critics.”  Now that the series is over it seems worthwhile gathering together the posts (along with some related materials) for easy future reference.

First there was my review of Mind and Cosmos for the online edition of First Things, wherein I described the respects in which Nagel’s position constitutes a return to something like the Aristotelian understanding of the natural world that the early modern philosophers thought they had overthrown for good.

Then began the series proper, entitled “Nagel and his critics,” wherein I responded to the most influential reviews of Nagel’s book.  Most of the critics approach Mind and Cosmos from the point of view of philosophical naturalism, but I also responded to some theist critics of Nagel.  The series had ten parts, with some supplementary posts along the way:

Part I: Here I present some criticisms of my own, noting how Nagel has needlessly opened himself up to certain objections and other respects in which his book could have been stronger.

Part II: Here I respond to the objections raised fairly aggressively by naturalist philosophers Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg in their review of Nagel in The Nation.  I argue that Leiter and Weisberg misinterpret Nagel, beg the question against him, and in other ways utterly fail to justify their dismissive approach to the book.

Part III: This post addresses the more measured response to Nagel presented by Elliott Sober in his review in the Boston Review.

Part IV: Here I comment on Alva Noë, who responded to Nagel at his NPR blog and who is, among Nagel’s naturalist critics, perhaps the most perceptive and certainly the least hostile.  (In a follow-up post I commented on some later remarks made by Noë on the subject of Nagel and the origin of life.)

Part V: This post responds to the very hostile remarks about Nagel made by John Dupré in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.  I argue that, like Leiter and Weisberg, Dupré has simply missed the point and failed to address Nagel’s position at the deepest level.

Part VI: Here I respond to the serious and measured criticisms of Nagel raised by Eric Schliesser at the New APPS blog.  (In a follow-up post I comment on Schliesser’s remarks about Alvin Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism,” which Nagel cites approvingly.)

Part VII: This post responds to Mohan Matthen, who reviewed Nagel’s book in a serious and measured way in The Philosophers Magazine and has also commented on it at the New APPS blog.

Part VIII: Here I reply to Simon Blackburn’s review of Nagel in New Statesman.  As I note in the review, Blackburn is fairer to Nagel than he is sometimes given credit for.

Part IX: Here I comment on a symposium on Nagel’s book in Commonweal magazine, which included pieces from philosopher Gary Gutting, biologist Kenneth Miller, and physicist Stephen Barr.  Unlike some other reviewers, these three are not writing from an atheist perspective.

Part X: In this final post in the series, I respond to some other reviewers writing from a theistic point of view -- specifically, Alvin Plantinga (who reviewed Nagel’s book in The New Republic), J. P. Moreland (who reviewed it in Philosophia Christi), John Haldane (who wrote on Nagel in First Things), and William Carroll (who commented on Nagel over at Public Discourse).

After the series ended, some further responses  to Nagel appeared, from philosophers Robert Paul Wolff and Philip Kitcher.  I replied to those in two further posts:

Man is Wolff to man


All of the criticisms of Nagel I deal with in the series are substantive even when polemical.  However, there has (needless to say) been much completely frivolous commentary on Nagel in the less sophisticated corners of the atheist blogosphere.  I responded to some silly remarks made at EvolutionBlog by Jason Rosenhouse here, with a follow-up post here.

Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos is an opposite bookend of sorts to Alex Rosenberg’s recent The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  Both Nagel and Rosenberg are naturalists, but both are also highly critical of their fellow naturalists -- who, Nagel and Rosenberg maintain, do not see the deep metaphysical problems afflicting the complacent materialism that prevails among contemporary philosophers (and among contemporary scientists in their philosophical moods).  What Nagel and Rosenberg disagree about is the prescribed remedy.  For Rosenberg, to be a consistent naturalist requires being a radical eliminativist -- denying the existence of intentionality and semantic meaning, the epistemic value of introspection, and so forth.  For Nagel, salvaging naturalism requires going to almost the opposite extreme of reviving the Aristotelian teleology that naturalists have for centuries been defining themselves against.

What is remarkable to me is how far Nagel and Rosenberg unwittingly recapitulate some of the central arguments of my book The Last Superstition (some of which are restated without the polemics in Aquinas).  As I have argued there and elsewhere, naturalism cannot in fact be salvaged.  It either collapses into Rosenberg-style eliminativism, which is (hard as Rosenberg tries to make it work) ultimately incoherent; or, in order to do justice to the aspects of reality that even many of Nagel’s critics acknowledge to be irreducible, is either transformed into the panpsychism of Whitehead, Chalmers, and Strawson, or entails a return to an essentially Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy of nature that is far more thoroughgoing than even Nagel is probably willing to accept.

Anyway, I have commented on Rosenberg at length in a long series of posts on his own book:


Questions about scientism and the mind-body problem are absolutely central to Nagel’s and Rosenberg’s arguments.  I have addressed those topics too in a number of posts, which are collected here:


81 comments:

Crude said...

What is remarkable to me is how far Nagel and Rosenberg unwittingly recapitulate some of the central arguments of my book The Last Superstition (some of which are restated without the polemics in Aquinas).

As someone who initially criticized you for some of those 'polemics', I just wanted to say - I no longer think my criticism has merit. In fact, I think your attitude towards those largely selectively targeted groups was not only justified and appropriate, it was necessary. I erred in criticizing it at the time.

Anyway, thanks as always for your posts.

Scott said...

Excellent series of posts, nice windup. Well done.

Syphax said...

Crude - I feel the same way, though partly it might be because it's been a while since I read it, and the effect has worn off.

Anonymous said...

I know it helps that E.F has a mind free from thought paralysing redutionistic fundamentalisms, (Aquinas uncharacteristically called the idea of a material first cause 'stultissimus' - most block-headed) but still, but is there a more valuable and prolific philosopher alive?

On the other side of the planet but I had a wee dram when John Henry Feser was born, excuse me if I have one more in celebration of another great work.

I think it's clear philosophy teachers deserve no trust if they can't follow E.F's writing.

Robert said...

A very interesting series of articles. Thank you for these, Dr. Feser.

My question, regarding the concept of teleology, in general, is this.

Is there a specific reason why one must consider teleology as fundamental as opposed to being an emerging property of complexity? In other words, is actual intent required at the most fundamental level and if so, why?

Scott said...

@Robert:

"Is there a specific reason why one must consider teleology as fundamental as opposed to being an emerging property of complexity?"

Generally and briefly, because in order for causes to produce effects, they must in some sense be "directed" toward those effects; if they weren't, there'd be no sense in calling them the "causes" of those effects at all. And suppose we try to explain such causality as "emerging" from something more fundamental. What sort of "emergence" could this be? If the emergence is causal, then we've assumed causality in our attempt to explain it; if not, then in what sense would it be "emerging" from anything rather than just appearing out of nowhere?

"In other words, is actual intent required at the most fundamental level and if so, why?"

That's a slightly different question, the answer to which depends in part on what you mean by "fundamental."

If you mean "physically fundamental," i.e., at the lowest level of the physical world—down through subatomic particles, quarks, to wherever it all "bottoms out" (if anywhere)—then no, teleology doesn't require "actual intent" (by which I take you to mean "conscious goal-seeking") at that level (although even such goal-directedness can be regarded as a kind of intentionality as long as we're careful not to think it must therefore be conscious intentionality; the current term for this sort of thing is "derived intentionality").[1]

If you mean "metaphysically fundamental," then according to Aquinas's Fifth Way, such derived intentionality or goal-directedness must depend on "actual intent" in order to exist at all—essentially because the existence of such teleology requires an organizing intelligence. Ed has recently summarized his argument on that point here, and of course you can find more on it in his book Aquinas.

----

[1] There may be (and I think there are) others reasons at least to suspect that there's a sort of low-grade consciousness or experience even at the bottom-most level of the physical world. The late Timothy Sprigge, for example, argued that "physical" entities are appearances only, the inner reality of which is experiential. On his view, the universe consists of innumerable centers of (proto-)experience, and "physics" is just the structure of its appearances. (If you're interested in a brief account of Sprigge's views, you can read a recent expository essay of mine here. Do not, of course, assume that my views are identical to Sprigge's.)

But even those little nuggets of experience needn't qualify as consciously goal-seeking, and at any rate a teleological account of nature doesn't strictly require them at all.

Robert said...

@Scott

Thank you for the reply. I'll take some time to digest the information you provided along with re-reading the argument that Dr. Feser presents in Aquinas.

Thanks again.

Scott said...

You're welcome. Others may of course elaborate on my short reply, correct it, or add to it.

Scott said...

I should also add that in describing the goal-directedness of unconscious physical entities as "derived intentionality" I was getting a bit ahead of myself. We can't justifiably call it "derived intentionality" until we know (as Aquinas's Fifth Way purports to show) that such teleology does derive from some other source.

I may also, from a Thomistic point of view, be incorrect (or at least out of sync with current usage) in applying the term at all to parts of the physical world that are not artifacts and that in some Thomistic sense have their final causes "built in" to them.

Either way, though, the point I'm making is just that according to Aquinas's Fifth Way, the sort of immanent final causation we find in the physical world is not itself consciously goal-seeking or intelligent and therefore owes its existence to an intelligent being. I think that counts as "deriving" its "intentionality" from God even if I'm stretching the term a bit from Haugeland's and Searle's original application of it.

At any rate I hope my main point (which doesn't depend on the precise meaning of that term) is tolerably clear.

Robert said...

@Scott

Generally and briefly, because in order for causes to produce effects, they must in some sense be "directed" toward those effects; if they weren't, there'd be no sense in calling them the "causes" of those effects at all.

Just one clarification.

Do you mean to say that accidents are directed as well?

Scott said...

@Robert:

"Do you mean to say that accidents are directed as well?"

I'm not sure which sort of "accidents" you have in mind in this context, but if you're using the term in its Aristotelian-Thomist sense, then sure, accidents can certainly have causal powers.

A dog has the substantial form of a dog. It also has lots of other accidental forms, at least one of which gives it the precise color of its hair and therefore its causal power to reflect light of certain wavelengths. That's not a very precise illustration but it should get the point across, at least if I'm understanding your question correctly.

Bilbo said...

Hi Ed,

I apologize for being terribly off-topic, but Ex-apologist has a working draft trying to refute creation ex nihilo, and I'm curious what you think:

http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2013/06/theism-and-material-causality.html

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not sure what kind of classical theism exapologist is talking about, seeing as the first sentence contains "It is constitutive of classical theism that there is a personal god who is also the creator of the universe..." (personal god = neotheism)

I'm pretty sure Thomist's will have something to say about his definition of material cause.

"The other technical notion in premise 2 is that of a material cause. The notion of material causality in play is (roughly) the Aristotelian principle according to which new objects are always made from other things or stuff. By ‘material cause’, then, I mean (roughly) ‘the things or stuff out of which a new thing is made’."

Thomism also incorporates things like "substance" and "prime matter" into its metaphysical account, and I don't think he mentions these.

Mr. Green said...

Bilbo: I apologize for being terribly off-topic, but Ex-apologist has a working draft trying to refute creation ex nihilo, and I'm curious what you think:

Well, I think he's throwing around jargon without understanding it. A material cause does not mean "pre-existing stuff". It means merely that a substance has matter, not that it "came from" matter. Perhaps he was misled by examples such as a sculptor making a statue out of some existing clay or marble or whatever. The examples are common because we creatures do have to use pre-existing matter to make anything. But one of the nice things about being God is not having human limitations. So all we can actually conclude from the points he raises is that building or making is not the same things as creation (in the strict sense of "creation out of nothing").

Timotheos said...

Hey Everyone,
I know this is off topic, but I’m having an issue with understanding the first way as presented in TLS\Aquinas. I accept that the argument demonstrates the existence of an unmoved mover. I’m having trouble, however, seeing how Dr. Feser shows that the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act. In the books, Dr. Feser makes this shift by saying that “to account for the reduction of potency to act in the case of the operations or activities of the hand, the muscles, and so on, we are led ultimately to appeal to the reduction of potency to act vis-à-vis the existence or being of ever deeper and more general features of reality” (quoted from Aquinas pg. 66). My problem is that I don’t know what Dr. Feser is trying to suggest here. If anyone could give an elaboration of this suggestion, I would appreciate it. I would also like to say Dr. Feser that both TLS and Aquinas were both very well written and illuminating books, and I look forward to any other books you plan on publishing.

Robert said...

@Scott

Re: June 23, 2013 at 10:48 AM

I am still trying to understand the logic that you are using, if you do not mind.

You ask:

"What sort of "emergence" could this be?"

An "emerging property" in the sense I mean to use it is analogous to the emergence of the property of wetness due to the combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, neither of which are, themselves, wet. In this case, neither the hydrogen, nor the oxygen by themselves cause the emergent property, it is the complexity of a specific combination, two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen atom along with, perhaps, a specific range of temperatures, pressures and the concentrated volume of the resulting molecules themselves, that results in the property of wetness. Again, a property emerging from complexity.

I am uncertain why you believe that it would be incorrect to say that wetness is an emerging property caused by complexity.

Finally, I am not sure how possibly assuming causality can be an issue, since that seems to be a requirement to conclude causality in the first place. In other words, how do you actually know that what you think is caused is actually caused? At some level, it seems to me, you must assume it.

Anonymous said...

What do we call properties that vanish due to complexity? For example, Hydrogen is highly combustible, but water is not. Sodium metal is highly reactive, but NaCl (salt) is not.

Scott said...

@Robert:

"An 'emerging property' in the sense I mean to use it is analogous to the emergence of the property of wetness due to the combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, neither of which are, themselves, wet. . . . I am uncertain why you believe that it would be incorrect to say that wetness is an emerging property caused by complexity."

And I am uncertain why you believe I believe that, as your original question was about not "wetness" but "teleology." Again, my point was that teleology is built into causality itself (in the "directedness" of a cause toward its effect), and that there's no sense in speaking of causality as emerging from something that doesn't already have it.

As you yourself put it, "wetness is an emerging property caused by complexity." Try that with causality instead of wetness and you'll see the problem: "Causality is an emerging property caused by complexity." If causality isn't there until it "emerges," then we can't use it to describe how the emergence takes place.

The bottom line is that causes, in order to count as "causes" at all, must have the their effects in some sense "built in"—as powers, potencies, or potentials, not as fully realized actualities.

Thus if C "emerges" from a combination of A and B, then the potency for C, the power to cause C, a "directedness toward" C, was already present in A and B. So we can't account for emergence itself without relying on the causality and the teleology it already involves.

In other words (and returning to your example): trying to explain causality as "emerging" from a combination of factors that are already causal is like trying to explain wetness as "emerging" from a combination of factors that are already wet.

(Hydrogen and oxygen do include wetness as a causal potential, but they're not wet themselves; there's no problem in calling wetness a property that emerges from their combination as long as we understand that much. Again, as you expressly say, we're acknowledging that such emergence is caused and therefore causal.)

"Finally, I am not sure how possibly assuming causality can be an issue, since that seems to be a requirement to conclude causality in the first place."

I'm not talking about "assuming" that causality is present in this or that specific case; I'm talking about "assuming" the very thing we were trying to explain as part of the explanation.

Again, your question was about why we can't regard the sort of teleology we find in unconscious nature as emerging from complexity. My reply is that if we try to explain such causality as "emerging" from something else, we'll find that haven't explained it at all: our proposed explanation already includes it.

rank sophist said...

Timotheus,

There must be a being of pure act because all motion is brought about by one entity's love of another. The prospect of a bone draws a dog to motion; an iceberg only melts because it loves the sun. However, one entity loves another only if it is in some way higher than itself--i.e. if it is more actual in some respect. And so an extremely actual entity can only be drawn by an even more actual entity, and so on.

When a dog moves for a biscuit, he is drawn to its act. It has something that he lacks. However, he can only be drawn to it if it is present to him ("related" to him) in some way. Likewise, the iceberg melts because the sun is related to it. In other words, unless one thing has already moved into a relation with another, no motion occurs. If there was no such thing as a purely actual Unmoved Mover, then how could any motion occur at all? There must always be a motion prior to every other motion, which means that there must always be something superior that draws the inferior. To say that there is no Unmoved Mover is to say that motion is impossible, because the second-highest moved thing would never be drawn to motion, which means that it would not move into a relation with other things. Hence either there is a purely actual Unmoved Mover or motion is an illusion.

Mr. Green said...

Robert: I am uncertain why you believe that it would be incorrect to say that wetness is an emerging property caused by complexity.

As Scott said, teleology doesn't have to be intentionality in the mental or conscious sense. It's broader than that, it includes any tending, not just in-tending. In other words, "acting a certain way" is teleology. In order for anything to "emerge", things have to act in certain ways, they have to have certain kinds of behaviour. (No complexity needed — even simple changes or simple becoming is covered by the meaning.) So "emergence" is a result of (or perhaps just a synonym for) final causality.

At some level, it seems to me, you must assume it [causality].

Nah, it's just a matter of being very general, so that any specific thing or event about which you might be mistaken is irrelevant. (You can find a good introduction in Feser's Aquinas, as well as various other posts here, of course.)

Scott said...

@Timotheus:

"I’m having trouble, however, seeing how Dr. Feser shows that the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act."

The passage you've quoted is actually from p. 75, and Dr. Feser's meaning is set out in the sentences immediately following the part you quoted.

Basically, his argument as I understand it is that the only conceivable end to the regress must be a being whose very existence doesn't depend on its being actualized by anything else, its existence being all that matters as far as terminating the regress is concerned.

I think what may be giving you trouble you here is that part of the argument isn't expressly stated: that a being that doesn't require any actualization at all in order to exist can't contain potencies of any kind, i.e., must be pure act. But I'll have to leave it to Ed (or others) to confirm or deny that point.

@rank sophist:

I think you've misunderstood Timotheus's question. He's not trying to understand the main unmoved-mover argument; he's trying to understand why the "unmoved mover" must also be immovable— rather than just being "unmoved" but perhaps containing some irrelevant potencies that happen not to be actualized. And it's specifically Ed's argument in reply to Scott MacDonald on p. 75 of Aquinas that he's trying to figure out.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

I thought he was asking about why, as he said, "the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act"--but you may be right. In that case, it should be said that, if the Unmoved Mover was not pure actuality, then it would not be the absolutely desirable cause of all motion. Likewise, if it moved, then it would have to be moved by desire for something more perfect than itself; and so on, until we reached a purely actual being again. I don't have Prof. Feser's Aquinas on hand right now, so I can't offer anything more specific than that.

Anonymous said...

Has Feser ever written anything in detail about pure act and "divine knowledge?" It seems like some facts can change, so would that somehow entail that God's knowledge would change? Is "knowledge itself" different from "God's knowledge?"

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I thought he was asking about why, as he said, 'the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act' . . . "

Precisely: immovable (and therefore pure act) as opposed to merely unmoved (but perhaps containing unactualized potencies irrelevant to the causal series under consideration). In the sentence before the one you quoted, Timotheus specifically says, "I accept that the argument demonstrates the existence of an unmoved mover" [emphasisd mine].

That's the very question at issue in the relevant passage of Aquinas. From p. 74:

"As Scott MacDonald suggests, it may be that a first mover of the sort whose existence is established by Aquinas's argument is one that is capable of motion even if, qua first mover, it does not in fact move. In other words, for all Aquinas has shown, a first mover may well have certain potencies which are not in fact being actualized, at least not insofar as it is functioning as the first mover in some series of efficient causes ordered per se. . . . [A]s long as it has [such potencies], it will not be something that can be characterized as 'pure act' . . . "

From there, Feser goes on to offer the counterargument that Timotheus is asking about.

Scott said...

@Anonymous:

"It seems like some facts can change, so would that somehow entail that God's knowledge would change?"

Not if God knows all times equally and eternally. To take a silly and deliberately imprecise example that's designed only to make the point: an eternal being can know both that It's raining on Tuesday and It's not raining on Wednesday without undergoing any change in knowledge.

Timotheos said...

@Scott:

Thanks for the response. You were right that I was asking why the first way ultimately proves the existence of an immovable mover instead of a unmoved mover. To be a little more specific with my problem, I don't understand why the explaination for how things change ultimately needs to explain how they get their existence. Let me show why. Suppose that God causes change in bodies by acting on an angelic substance (something that Aquinas certainly didn't belived could be ruled out). Now my question is this, if the angelic substance is the cause of the changes and existence of lower levels of reality, and the angelic substance is actulized to do this by the appetitive power of the unmoved mover, the unmoved mover doesn't per se cause the existence of things, but only per accidents as it causes the changes in an angelic substance. So as far as I can tell, the unmoved mover as proved in the first way is only showed to be the ultimate explanation of the changes in things and not their existence. But that is only as far as I can tell, which is not that far ;). Sorry about the misspellings, iPhones are terrible to type on.

P.S. I own an e-book version of Aquinas and not a physical copy, so getting the right page number can be a tricky matter. Sorry about giving you the wrong page.

Scott said...

@Timotheo:

"To be a little more specific with my problem, I don't understand why the explaination for how things change ultimately needs to explain how they get their existence."

It doesn't. Feser's point is that the unmoved mover at the head of the causal chain has to exist in order to serve as the termination of the regress. If its existence had to be actualized in turn by something else, the causal chain would extend back to that something else.

Scott said...

@Timotheos: I see I've been misspelling your screen name two different ways and I haven't gotten it right until this very post. Sorry!

Timotheos said...

@ Scott:

As I take it, the first way is suppost to establish the existence of a here and now opperating being of pure act. As such, the unmoved mover might not need a here and now opperating efficient cause, so it might prove the existence of a being of pure act if you trace the causality back in time, but that's not something Aquinas could have approved of. Perhaps you might say that anything that is a mixture of potency and act needs God to keep it in existance, but that seems to be the goal of the second way and not the first.

Maybe what Feser's trying to do is show that to account for the change of things you must ultimately show that something must here and now keep them in existance, since some changes are done by the here and now existence of gravity. If that's what he means, doesn't that open up the argument to the angel objection which I stated earlier, with the angel causing the existence of gravity lets say, while being brought to being the efficient cause of gravity, while not getting existence from the first mover, but only the actuliztion of its potency to cause the existence of gravity. Sorry for being so lengthy, but I wanted to be clear with what I meant, and again iPhone are terrible word processors.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"As I take it, the first way is suppost to establish the existence of a here and now opperating being of pure act."

You take it correctly.

"As such, the unmoved mover might not need a here and now opperating efficient cause . .  "

Let me try paraphrasing you in order to make sure I'm understanding your question correctly.

As I understand you, what you're saying is that you accept the argument as showing that some unmoved mover must exist here and now, but you don't see why this unmoved mover couldn't have been in turn actualized by something else earlier in time. It could be that the current unmoved mover was actualized already by something else—and ultimately by a being who is "pure act"—at some earlier time.

Now, I think this is the very point Feser is trying to address in the part of the argument you're asking about. What he's trying to argue, as I read him, is that if the unmoved mover's existence needed to be actualized by anything else, then it wouldn't really be the termination of the causal chain; something else acting here and now would have to be further back in that chain.

And your question, I take it, is how we know that this something else must be acting here and now rather than having just acted at some time in the past to cause the existence of the unmoved mover that is acting here and now.

Am I summarizing your question correctly?

(If I am, then I think the answer is going to involve the nature of per se causal series. But I think it's important to get your question clear before offering further answers—and besides, a clear summary of your question may make it easier for others to join in with their own replies. I hope they do, because there are plenty of people here who know this stuff better than I do.)

Scott said...

Also see p. 76 (where Feser is replying to a hypothetical objection from MacDonald): "[T]he existence of a thing no less than its activity involves (in everything other than that which is pure act) the reduction of potency to act[.]"

Timotheos said...

What I'm wondering is that if we haven't ruled out a unmoved mover having existential inertia, how can we prove that there must be an immovable mover without appealing to, say, the 2nd way to show that nothing can have existential inertia.

If all the first way requires to explain a change here and now is something that changes things without being changed, here and now, who is to say of it can't be changed later, or wasen't brought into existence sometime earlier? Feser seems to appeal to the need to explain why things change by what keeps some things changing those things in existence. So a chain of changers turns into a chain of efficient causes, which need a being of pure act to actulize the chain. But, my angel example seems to be a counter-example to this claim, since the chain of efficient causes is explained by a change in an angel directly caused by the unmoved mover, and not the creation of an angel by the unmoved mover.
I hope I have been clear enough, I'm not always that articulate.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"What I'm wondering is that if we haven't ruled out a unmoved mover having existential inertia, how can we prove that there must be an immovable mover without appealing to, say, the 2nd way to show that nothing can have existential inertia."

Yes, I think this puts the question clearly and more or less confirms what I took you to be asking. Basically you're wondering why the unmoved mover of any given here-and-now can't be something that perdures from some earlier time ("has existential inertia") and is less than "pure act" (though perhaps was originally created by a being who is "pure act").

So at bottom we seem to be talking here about whether there's a missing premise in Feser's argument as to whether anything that might not exist must be conserved in existence by some here-and-now efficient cause that can't fail to exist. Is that a fair statement, do you think?

Timotheos said...

Yes and No. You are correct that I'm wondering if the unmoved mover proved in the first way must be a being of pure act.

Feser makes an argument that the unmoved mover proved in the first way is an immovable mover. What I'm not sure about is how to interpret his argument.

If I take him to be arguing that the chain of changers and things changed must ultimately regress to the conservation of existence of changers, being kept in their existence by higher causes, until we reach a being of pure act, isn't my example of a angel who eternally exists keeping these things in existence while being caused to do this by an unmoved mover who may not be strictly pure act show this reading of feser to be wrong.

Or we could read feser to be arguing, like you seem to read him, that anything contingent must be kept in existence by a necessary being. My problem with that would be that his argument would just be the 3rd way, and that would make MacDonald's objection that the first way is parasitic on another argument correct, something Feser disagrees with.

We could also read him to say that anything that is a mixture of act and potency must be held in existence by a being of pure actuality. But this is just like the existential argument, which Feser equates with the second way, and again, MacDonald's objection would apply again.

Another possibility is that I just haven't interpreted Feser correctly yet, which seems to be the most probable.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"Another possibility is that I just haven't interpreted Feser correctly yet, which seems to be the most probable."

Okay. Well, at this point I think we've clarified your question as much as we can.

Again, in my view Feser's intended point is that the unmoved mover at the head of the causal chain has to exist in order to serve as the termination of the regress, and that if its existence had to be actualized in turn by something else, the causal chain would extend back to that something else rather than terminate at the allegedly unmoved mover. But (if that's correct) the basic question here seems to be how Feser justifies that premise of his argument.

I think at this point it will be best to open the discussion up to others, especially (if he wants to comment) Feser himself.

Scott said...

More precisely, I should have said (based on our further discussion) that "the causal chain would extend back to that something else, which itself would have to existent and be active in the here-and-now of the causal chain, rather than terminate at the allegedly unmoved mover."

Tony said...

It seems to me that the problem with an existential inertial being is that it is irrelevant to the basic thrust of the argument: in order for an anger to cause a change, it has to be moved to do so, because everything that moves another is either of such a sort that it receives "to move another" or does not receive it. We aren't saying that an angel does not receive it, so it is of the sort that receives it.

I think the point is that the only thing that can be "mover" without being "reduced to being mover" by another is something that is incapable of being in potency in that respect. By a separate line of reasoning, I suspect, it is impossible for a thing to be capable of being reduced to being a mover by another in ONE respect while also being utterly incapable of being reduced to being a mover by another - being an unmoved mover - in another respect. Anything that has perfect actuality in any one respect so that it does not receive to be a mover in that respect cannot be of such a nature as to be a moved mover in some other respect.

I am not quite positive how you prove the last point, off the top of my head. Perhaps it comes from the fact that the only true "perfect actuality" in even _one_ respect is that of pure actuality itself, i.e. in every respect.

Timotheos said...

Let me clarify what my angel example is suppost to illustrate. The angel in this example is NOT an unmoved mover, the angel is being directly caused by an unmoved mover to produce the existence of general levels of reality that then cause change. The point of the angel is to show that if we interpret feser to be saying to account for the change of things, we must account for the existence of general levels of reality, then the highest cause of this chain of causality might not be causing the existence of anything directly, but only by changing something that then causes something to exist. The way feser shows that the highest being in this chain of causality is pure act under this interpretation would to say that it is the higher members of the chain of causality are efficient causes, so they must be accounted for with a being who is not sustained in its being by anything else. But what I'm trying to illustrate is that this might not be true, the highest member of the chain of causality might only cause the first thing it acts on to only change and not to exist. I hope this clarifies what I mean a little bit, I'm finding it hard to explain my example without writing reams of sentences.
Now I know how Feser feels ;)

Ismael said...

Dear Dr. Feser, I cam by something quite ODD recently.

This mathematician, Philips Gibbs, who hosts the 'viXra Blog' wrote also this article:

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1369

Here he's a staunch Humean and argues against causality. He argues that time and causality (I presume he means mainly temporal causality) are just 'emergent properties'.


Reading the article and the reply to comments below, he states 'Emergence does not need a cause'.

I suppose he means a temporal cause (since he seems to argue against them), yet his Humean approach is very odd.

To say emergence itself is uncause is... nonsense. I do not disagree that TEMPORAL causality might be emergent (maybe time is an illusion etc etc... some quantum experiments seem to indicate that but it's very unsure: http://fqxi.org/community/articles/display/182 ).

Yet the idea that NO CAUSALITY WHATSOEVER exists is in itself absurd.

The very fact that change occurs (and it does) implies some sort of causal relation and not simply 'correlation'.


What also strikes me is that Science is based on some sort of causation, not merely 'unrelated correlations'.

The fact that two particles repel because of coulomb forces is not merely a correlation, but indicates some sort of causation as well.

Of course Gibbs argues that science should just drop the concept of 'causation' (or at least temporal causation).

What do you think?

Ismael said...

Dear Dr. Feser, I cam by something quite ODD recently.

This mathematician, Philips Gibbs, who hosts the 'viXra Blog' wrote also this article:

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1369

Here he's a staunch Humean and argues against causality. He argues that time and causality (I presume he means mainly temporal causality) are just 'emergent properties'.


Reading the article and the reply to comments below, he states 'Emergence does not need a cause'.

I suppose he means a temporal cause (since he seems to argue against them), yet his Humean approach is very odd.

To say emergence itself is uncause is... nonsense. I do not disagree that TEMPORAL causality might be emergent (maybe time is an illusion etc etc... some quantum experiments seem to indicate that but it's very unsure: http://fqxi.org/community/articles/display/182 ).

Yet the idea that NO CAUSALITY WHATSOEVER exists is in itself absurd.

The very fact that change occurs (and it does) implies some sort of causal relation and not simply 'correlation'.


What also strikes me is that Science is based on some sort of causation, not merely 'unrelated correlations'.

The fact that two particles repel because of coulomb forces is not merely a correlation, but indicates some sort of causation as well.

Of course Gibbs argues that science should just drop the concept of 'causation' (or at least temporal causation).

What do you think?

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"But what I'm trying to illustrate is that this might not be true, the highest member of the chain of causality might only cause the first thing it acts on to only change and not to exist."

And now I'm puzzled: why are you trying to illustrate that?

As I said quite a while back, nothing in the First Way (or in Feser's discussion of it) requires that the first member of the chain of causes account for the existence of any of the later members—only for the changes they undergo.

Feser's point in the passage you originally asked about is that the existence of the first member must not depend on being actualized by anything else. The argument has nothing whatsoever to do with the existence of successive members.

Ismael said...

PS: Dr. Feser, if you ever get the chance I'd like your opinion on Lee Smolin's new book: "TIme reborn"

A review here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/10/time-reborn-farewell-reality-review

Tony said...

The angel in this example is NOT an unmoved mover,

Yes, I got that. That's fine.

the angel is being directly caused by an unmoved mover to produce the existence of general levels of reality that then cause change.

I don't think that holds together very well. At least I am not seeing it. The angel doesn't create anything ab nihilo, so it isn't "producing" the existence of general levels of reality. As far as I understand it, only the Creator can create ab nihilo, every other agent must act on what is already in existence to draw forth and produce the actual from the potential.

Maybe this is putting the cart before the horse in order of the argument, but we really do know where we want to go here, and it isn't hypothesizing angels producing general levels of reality. The argument about the order of moved movers doesn't regard the existence of the moved as an issue, it regards the existence of the MOVERS as an issue. For every moved that is moved by another, its mover must exist (be actual) because its mover imparts the actuality to move it. But it's not the existence of the THING that is the mover that is chain, it is the existence of the actuality it holds by which it imparts moving to the moved, and which imparting is either received or not. The argument is not about the sheer existence of the baseball bat itself which thing is the mover moving the ball, it is about the baseball bat's movement, which is a received actuality and causality, which imparts moving to the ball. Because the baseball bat's movership is a received movership, it cannot impart moving to the ball without it receiving "to move the ball" from its own mover, the hand.

Yes, at each level the mover must be an existing thing, but the argument need not ask whence the THING exists, only whence its MOVING comes. Which is just what Scott said, too.

Timotheos said...

I understand that the first way is suppost to proceed from the change and not existance of things. That is why I was confused when feser appealed to the need to explain the operations of things by the actualization of deeper and more general levels of reality (which is roughly what he says in Aquinas). To me, that seemed to make no sense at all, since it is too easy to imagine a counter-example and it dosen't seem to follow from the first way. But I haven't come with any other ideas for what he could have meant, which is why I asked the question on this blog.

Timotheos said...

So, in other words, does anyone have a good explaination of what feser meant in Aquinas when he tried to show that the first way required an immovable mover to end its regress?

Timotheos said...

Also, sorry if I sound irritated or like a jerk. I'm not trying to be disrespectful, I'm just a little light on sleep (had to wake up early).

Robert said...

@Scott


And I am uncertain why you believe I believe that, as your original question was about not "wetness" but "teleology." Again, my point was that teleology is built into causality itself (in the "directedness" of a cause toward its effect), and that there's no sense in speaking of causality as emerging from something that doesn't already have it.


Yes, my original question was about emergent teleology.

I agree that teleology implies directedness, by definition, even a description of a certain type of causality.

I do not agree that causality necessarily implies teleology. So these two words are not interchangeable.

It seems that our issue is with the assertion that "there's no sense in speaking of causality as emerging from from something that doesn't already have it" when I am actually referring to teleology and not to causality itself.

I'll ask it this way.

Why can't a truly random chain of events in and of itself be causal in that the specific causal power (read directedness) of the chain does not result from any of the individual events themselves (read fully actualized individual events), but from the causal power of the randomly created (read non-directed) chain of events itself?

If that is more clear.



As you yourself put it, "wetness is an emerging property caused by complexity." Try that with causality instead of wetness and you'll see the problem: "Causality is an emerging property caused by complexity." If causality isn't there until it "emerges," then we can't use it to describe how the emergence takes place.


A semantic problem as I never said that Causality is an emerging property of complexity. Again you are interchanging words as if they are, in fact, interchangeable.


The bottom line is that causes, in order to count as "causes" at all, must have the their effects in some sense "built in"—as powers, potencies, or potentials, not as fully realized actualities.


That seems okay, as in the example above, it is the chain of events that contains the causal power to direct. A power not contained in any particular antecedent.

cont...

Robert said...

cont...


Thus if C "emerges" from a combination of A and B, then the potency for C, the power to cause C, a "directedness toward" C, was already present in A and B. So we can't account for emergence itself without relying on the causality and the teleology it already involves.


Even if this is true, it does not mean that therefore necessarily the causal powers of C are found in either A or B themselves. It is possible that only through the complexity created by the union of A and B do the causal powers of C come into existence at all. Which is exactly relevant to the question of emergent teleology.


In other words (and returning to your example): trying to explain causality as "emerging" from a combination of factors that are already causal is like trying to explain wetness as "emerging" from a combination of factors that are already wet.

(Hydrogen and oxygen do include wetness as a causal potential, but they're not wet themselves; there's no problem in calling wetness a property that emerges from their combination as long as we understand that much. Again, as you expressly say, we're acknowledging that such emergence is caused and therefore causal.)


Actually it's the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, itself, that includes wetness as a potential. And I did not mean to say that emergence is caused, I meant to say that teleology (directedness) emerges. Perhaps I was unclear.



"Finally, I am not sure how possibly assuming causality can be an issue, since that seems to be a requirement to conclude causality in the first place."

I'm not talking about "assuming" that causality is present in this or that specific case; I'm talking about "assuming" the very thing we were trying to explain as part of the explanation.

Again, your question was about why we can't regard the sort of teleology we find in unconscious nature as emerging from complexity. My reply is that if we try to explain such causality as "emerging" from something else, we'll find that haven't explained it at all: our proposed explanation already includes it.

June 24, 2013 at 8:21 AM


You are interchanging the words teleology and causality a bit too loosely, I think. Try substituting the word directedness with the word causality in your reply above.

My reply is that if we try to explain such directedness as "emerging" from something else, we'll find that haven't explained it at all: our proposed explanation already includes it.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"So, in other words, does anyone have a good explaination of what feser meant in Aquinas when he tried to show that the first way required an immovable mover to end its regress?"

Yes, and I've already given it to you. He means that the First Way requires the unmoved mover at the beginning of the series to be something that doesn't require its existence to be actualized by anything else, and therefore contains no potencies (i.e., is pure act). Anything that contains no potencies is not merely unmoved but in principle immovable.

There may be questions about what the precise steps in the argument are and whether they're justified, but there's really no serious question about whether that's what his argument is. Anyone who wants to check p. 77 of Aquinas can confirm as much easily enough.

@Robert:

There's no semantic problem here; I explained in one of my first replies why teleology presumes causality (a point that's even more obvious when you understand that teleology pretty much just is final causality). That's precisely why the fact that causality can't be regarded as "emergent" means that teleology can't.

And I'm not sure why you think that because A and B together cause C, therefore no relevant causality belongs to A or B. That's not a view of causality I've ever seen anyone defend, and you certainly won't hear it from Aristotelians or Thomists. The fact that (for example) an acorn needs both soil and water in order to grow pretty obviously means that each of those two factors plays a causal role: the soil has the causal power to engender growth in the acorn in the presence of water, and the water has the causal power to engender growth in the acorn in the presence of soil.

Again, and as clearly as I can state it: the reason teleology can't be said to "emerge" is that in order for anything to "emerge," teleology already has to be there. Paraphrasing Mr. Green's succinct statement, "emergence" itself is just a result of, and perhaps just is, final causality.

I think I've pretty much exhausted what I have to say on both of these subjects, so unless I have some brilliant new insight to offer, I'll probably bow out at this point and leave further replies to others.

Scott said...

One last point in reply to Robert:

"You are interchanging the words teleology and causality a bit too loosely, I think. Try substituting the word directedness with the word causality in your reply above.

My reply is that if we try to explain such directedness as 'emerging' from something else, we'll find that haven't explained it at all: our proposed explanation already includes it."

That substitution works just fine and doesn't alter the meaning I intended to convey. Same idea: if we try to explain "directedness" as an "emergent" property, we'll find that we have to assume that whatever it emerged from was already "directed" toward its production.

In all senses relevant to this discussion, teleology = directedness = tending to act in a certain way = final causality. Substitute at will.

Scott said...

And one last point in reply to Timotheos:

What I'm about to tell you is what Tony already told you, but I'm elaborating because I think I see the source of the problem.

"I understand that the first way is suppost to proceed from the change and not existance of things. That is why I was confused when feser appealed to the need to explain the operations of things by the actualization of deeper and more general levels of reality (which is roughly what he says in Aquinas)."

You provided the exact quotation earlier in the thread, but for convenience I'll reproduce it here: "To account for the reduction of potency to act in the case of the operations or activities of the hand, the muscles, and so on, we are led ultimately to appeal to the reduction of potency to act vis-à-vis the existence or being of ever deeper and more general features of reality." [Feser, Aquinas, emphasis mine.]

You seem to be misunderstanding the role of "existence" in this part of the argument. Feser is not saying (as you seem to take him to be saying) that each mover in the series has to account for the "existence" of the next level up. He's saying that the actualization at each level presupposes the "existence" of the mover below it.

That's why he goes on to say at once, "But the only way to stop this regress and arrive at a first member of the series is with something whose very existence, and not merely its operations or activities, need not be actualized by anything else."

Again, that's what Tony already told you, but my elaboration consists of applying his reply to your question about what Feser means in that specific passage.

Scott said...

Oops, meant to include "p.77" in that square-bracketed reference. I think everybody already knew that was where it was from, though.

Robert said...

@Scott

That substitution works just fine and doesn't alter the meaning I intended to convey. Same idea: if we try to explain "directedness" as an "emergent" property, we'll find that we have to assume that whatever it emerged from was already "directed" toward its production


I completely disagree.

The substitution does alter the meaning.

In fact, the only way I can understand the concept of directedness is through emergence. Whether, emerging from a completely non-directed accident of nature, or, if you prefer, emerging from intent.

This says nothing about causality itself, only something about a particular type (e.g. directed) of causality.

I suppose the actual issue we are having is my acceptance of non-directed causes as being another and equally valid subset (read type) of causality.

Scott said...

@Robert:

"I suppose the actual issue we are having is my acceptance of non-directed causes as being another and equally valid subset (read type) of causality."

I suppose so. A cause that isn't in any way directed toward an effect simply makes no sense to me.

Scott said...

And I've just had a little aha! with respect to Timotheos's question.

Timotheos, I'm not sure whether this is part of what you mean or not, but it seems to me that part of your question could be about why the First Way couldn't "bottom out" in a being that existed at the time of the causal series but yet whose existence had been actualized by some other agency at an earlier time.

So let's suppose the first mover at the present time were something whose existence required actualization by something else but was in fact actualized at some earlier time. In that case we'd still need to continue the causal series backward in order to account for its existence at all—which, by hypothesis, wouldn't have been actualized unless actualized by another. (Note that we're not assuming anything here about sustaining causes, contingency, or existential inertia, and we're not borrowing anything on any of the other Ways.) The regress still has to end somewhere in order for anything to exist at all, so eventually we have to reach a being of pure act.

Once we get there, we know that that mover exists at the present time, because a being of pure act can't go out of existence.

Thoughts, anyone? Have I missed the boat somewhere?

Timotheos said...

@Scott
That's exactly what my problem has been. Now I think your interpretation of the argument is powerful, but I'm not sure if Aquinas would accept it. The reason I'm not sure he would accept it is because we're staring to trace things backwards in time, and I'm not sure he would approve of that. But otherwise I think that clears things up immensely.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"That's exactly what my problem has been."

Glad to hear it. Let's give each other a little high-five here for having the patience to get to this point. (Seriously. It took some work on both our parts.)

"Now I think your interpretation of the argument is powerful, but I'm not sure if Aquinas would accept it."

I don't think Aquinas would accept it either, but then I also don't think my tentative version of the argument is either (a) exactly his or (b) in its logically final form.

One obvious problem (equivalent, or very nearly so, to what you've already said) is that Aquinas is concerned in the First Way with per se causal series, whereas my own argument appears to allow for the possibility that the per se series stops at some unmoved-but-not-immovable mover whose existence needs to be accounted for by causes that are prior in time.

I can think of two or three ways to take it from here but I think I'd like some input from some of the usual suspects first. Let's see whether anyone else has anything to say.

rank sophist said...

Scott and Timotheos,

The First Way doesn't require a chain of absolutely simultaneous causes. I doubt that Aquinas would even have understood that concept, since Aristotelian metaphysics don't allow for it. Change is what happens when two entities enter into a certain relation (the fourth category of being) such that one is able to take on a characteristic of the other. All the First Way says is that, when one thing moves into a change-relation with another, it must have been put there by something else. If a fire is cooking meat, then something had to have brought about the relation between the fire and meat; and that thing must have been moved into the relation with the fire and meat by something else. Likewise, the stick's presence against the rock must have been caused by something else. Aristotle traced this chain up to the influence of the highest spheres, and finally to the Unmoved Mover. If the Unmoved Mover did not cause the eternal motion of the spheres, then they would cease to move and entities here below would quickly stop being brought into relations with one another, thus ending all change. It's an ingeniously simple argument.

So, in response to Timotheos's example, one could say this. If an angel or (say) the Primum Mobile was cited as the cause of all motion below itself, one would still have to appeal to the Unmoved Mover. If the Primum Mobile was at any time placed into a relation with the here below (i.e. moved by another), then we would have to appeal to a higher mover still. But even an omnipotent angel, because of its composition, would have to be moved by a goal or purpose other than itself--which leads us back to the Unmoved Mover. Nothing that is not self-sufficient, immaterial, immovable and totally pure act can cause change solely through its own power, without reference to a higher goal or principle. The claim that an act/potency hybrid could cause change in others by itself is a bit like the claim that a broom could sweep by itself.

Robert said...

@Scott

Thank you for the exchange.


A cause that isn't in any way directed toward an effect simply makes no sense to me.


I can understand this within a certain metaphysical framework, but I am not sure how metaphysics alone can actually provide the correct answer to this question.

I suppose that it could be true, but sometimes there is a huge gulf of possibility between could be and actually is.

Anyway, thanks again for the stimulating discussion. It gives me a lot to think about.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"The First Way doesn't require a chain of absolutely simultaneous causes."

According to the argument as Feser is presenting it in the passage under discussion here, it most assuredly does. The argument is supposed to involve causal series ordered per se, in which "if any member higher up in the series ceases its causal activity, the activity of the lower members will necessarily cease as well. . . . Causal series ordered per se are paradigmatically hierarchical with their members acting simultaneously[.]" [Feser, Aquinas, pp. 70-71].

Now, that may be wrong, but it's most certainly what the argument we're discussing says; it's precisely that point that gives rise to Timotheos's question. We're not talking about what some other argument might have said instead; we're talking about what Feser has in mind in a part of his argument that comes shortly after the bit I've just quoted.

@Robert:

Thank you as well.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

On the other hand, if all you mean by "absolutely simultaneous" is "occurring at the very same durationless mathematical instant," then of course I agree; neither Aquinas nor post-Einsteinian physics would accept that sort of simultaneity. But it's still beside the point. The argument in question here does require all the causes in the series to be acting now, even if we have to understand this "now" as a sort of specious present rather than as a mathematical instant (as I think we do anyway on other grounds).

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"But even an omnipotent angel, because of its composition, would have to be moved by a goal or purpose other than itself--which leads us back to the Unmoved Mover."

Again, though, the argument under discussion here is Feser's, and Timotheos is specifically trying to understand why that specific argument switches from "operations or activities" to "existence or being" when Feser is replying to Scott MacDonald's objection. At this point in the argument it is the very existence of that hypothetical angel that is at issue, not its movement now that it does exist.

I know you said you don't have the book at hand, but we've reproduced the relevant passages in this very thread.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

We're not talking about what some other argument might have said instead; we're talking about what Feser has in mind in a part of his argument that comes shortly after the bit I've just quoted.

How are we supposed to understand what Prof. Feser is saying unless we appeal to Aquinas's actual argument? I'm not changing the subject, here; I'm just trying to explain what Prof. Feser most likely means by describing what Aquinas says. Similarly, it's helpful to appeal to Aquinas's real text to explain Prof. Feser's reductionist metaphor for the First Way, which would have been incoherent to Aquinas but which is helpful for explaining the argument to modernists.

On the other hand, if all you mean by "absolutely simultaneous" is "occurring at the very same durationless mathematical instant," then of course I agree; neither Aquinas nor post-Einsteinian physics would accept that sort of simultaneity. But it's still beside the point. The argument in question here does require all the causes in the series to be acting now, even if we have to understand this "now" as a sort of specious present rather than as a mathematical instant (as I think we do anyway on other grounds).

By the very fact that nothing is, as you said, capable of occurring in the "very same durationless instant", it is impossible for absolutely simultaneous causality to exist. If the process of one thing moving another is not timeless, then it automatically follows that all causal series extend back in time. But this does not mean that all causality is suddenly accidental. Like I said, if the spheres stopped moving, then entities would stop coming into relations very quickly, which would end all change. Thus it still fits the bill as a "simultaneous", per se series, even though it isn't absolutely simultaneous. Each member is still brought to motion by a past member that was in some way more actual, which was in turn brought to motion by another more actual member.

I know you said you don't have the book at hand, but we've reproduced the relevant passages in this very thread.

I know. And I explained why MacDonald's and Timotheos's argument (that there could be a first mover "capable of motion even if, qua first mover, it does not in fact move") makes no sense. Anything that moves other things must move them either by appeal to another or through itself. Only pure act can move through itself, because only pure act can cause motion without appealing to any goal higher than itself. Therefore, there cannot be a first mover with unactualized potencies--or whatever--that at one time was created by another. It's a flat contradiction: such a mover would have to move through itself, which is impossible. I personally don't understand why Prof. Feser switches to ontology to counter the objection, because it isn't necessary.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I'm not changing the subject, here[.]"

Yes, you are. Neither Timotheos nor I needs to be walked through the argument to an unmoved mover time and again. As Timotheos made clear in the first place, as I've explained, and as he's confirmed, his question is not about why there's an unmoved mover at the head of a per se causal series. His question is about why that mover must be not merely "unmoved" but immovable, as Feser argues it must be in response to an objection from Scott MacDonald (who says the First Way doesn't rule out a first mover that is capable of motion even though in fact unmoved).

If MacDonald's objection were sound, Aquinas would have failed to show that the unmoved mover was pure act. Timotheos is trying to work out what Feser says is wrong with MacDonald's objection, in order to see why Feser says Aquinas has shown that the unmoved mover is pure act.

So it's not only unnecessary but irrelevant to keep rehearsing the argument to a merely "unmoved" mover. We all get that part. The question is why, according to Feser, the unmoved mover has to be pure act, and all you've done so far is assert that it must be.

"I explained why MacDonald's and Timotheos's argument (that there could be a first mover "capable of motion even if, qua first mover, it does not in fact move") makes no sense."

Except that you did so by in effect dropping the hypothesis that the causal series was ordered per se, even though a per se causal series is precisely what's at issue in Feser's argument and his reply to MacDonald. It also happens to be what Feser says is at issue in Aquinas's argument, so I'd say that's a pretty serious change of subject.

"I personally don't understand why Prof. Feser switches to ontology to counter the objection, because it isn't necessary."

Then once again, you are indeed changing the subject, because Timotheos's question is precisely why Feser does that very thing.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I'm just trying to explain what Prof. Feser most likely means by describing what Aquinas says."

Except that you're clearly not doing any such thing with regard to the question at hand:

"Anything that moves other things must move them either by appeal to another or through itself. Only pure act can move through itself, because only pure act can cause motion without appealing to any goal higher than itself. Therefore, there cannot be a first mover with unactualized potencies--or whatever--that at one time was created by another."

This is a pretty good argument as far as it goes, as you yourself acknowledge, it isn't Feser's. You yourself say that you don't know why Feser switches to ontology at this point in his argument, so you're obviously not telling us what he "most likely means" on p. 77 of his book; you're telling us, at most, what you think he should have argued instead.

There's nothing wrong with that, but it would be more helpful if you distinguished between the two.

Scott said...

Oops. "This is a pretty good argument as far as it goes, but as you yourself acknowledge, it isn't Feser's."

rank sophist said...

Scott,

His question is about why that mover must be not merely "unmoved" but immovable

Which I have explained several times, now.

The question is why, according to Feser, the unmoved mover has to be pure act, and all you've done so far is assert that it must be.

You don't seem to be reading my posts. Let me explain this again. If something moves something else, then it must be drawn by a final cause other than itself. Its motion is therefore brought about by another (i.e. the final cause), as Oderberg confirms in his article "Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else"--an article that Prof. Feser has praised. The only thing that can cause change without relying on a goal higher than itself is pure and immovable act, since pure and immovable act--as the highest thing--contemplates only itself. It is therefore a contradiction to suggest that there could be an unmoved and yet potentially movable mover, because any potentially movable mover is by definition incapable of having itself as its own goal.

Except that you did so by in effect dropping the hypothesis that the causal series was ordered per se

And again you seem not to be reading my posts. I never denied that the causal series was per se. I simply said that per se causal series were something different from the metaphorical description used by many Thomists.

Then once again, you are indeed changing the subject, because Timotheos's question is precisely why Feser does that very thing.

No, it isn't. You were both talking about what Aquinas really intended. Here's what Timotheos said:

Now I think your interpretation of the argument is powerful, but I'm not sure if Aquinas would accept it. The reason I'm not sure he would accept it is because we're staring to trace things backwards in time, and I'm not sure he would approve of that.

And this was what you said in response:

One obvious problem (equivalent, or very nearly so, to what you've already said) is that Aquinas is concerned in the First Way with per se causal series, whereas my own argument appears to allow for the possibility that the per se series stops at some unmoved-but-not-immovable mover whose existence needs to be accounted for by causes that are prior in time.

Then you said:

Let's see whether anyone else has anything to say.

And so I thought that I would explain why an unmoved (and immovable) mover was necessary even without the switch to ontology, so as simultaneously to defuse the problem raised by Timotheos and the problem of being unfaithful to Aquinas's argument. Your aggressiveness toward my attempts to help remains a mystery to me.

rank sophist said...

Also,

You yourself say that you don't know why Feser switches to ontology at this point in his argument, so you're obviously not telling us what he "most likely means" on p. 77 of his book; you're telling us, at most, what you think he should have argued instead.

I don't claim to be able to read Prof. Feser's mind. Studying Aquinas's primary texts has made me realize that even seemingly straightforward language can have an unexpected meaning. All I know is that A) Aquinas argues X and B) Prof. Feser knows his Aquinas. From there, I apply a liberal dose of the principle of charity. I don't see why the switch to ontology is necessary; but, then, Prof. Feser may not even intend the argument that way. The book is a beginner's guide, after all: it uses friendly language and metaphors, and it doesn't get bogged down in the countless, extremely technical distinctions for which Thomism is notorious. Or, on the other hand, I could just be totally wrong, which has happened many times before.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I never denied that the causal series was per se."

I said you did so "in effect." What you expressly denied was that the causal series in the First Way had to be (absolutely) simultaneous.

According to Feser, the First Way is about causal series ordered per se, and such series are indeed simultaneous. I strongly doubt that you're saying Feser is wrong about what per se causal series are ("paradigmatically hierarchical with their causes acting simultaneously"). So if you're saying the only other thing that could make your statement pertinent—that the causal series in the First Way can be "spread out" over time in some relevant sense—you're in effect denying that the causal series in the First Way has to be ordered per se.

[Me:"The question is why, according to Feser, the unmoved mover has to be pure act . . . "]

"You don't seem to be reading my posts. Let me explain this again."

You don't seem to be reading the words "according to Feser." Let me rephrase. The original question, which is still at least partly unanswered and which you claim to be addressing ("I'm just trying to explain what Prof. Feser most likely means"), is what Feser means in the argument he makes on p. 77 of Aquinas that the unmoved mover has to be pure act.

Your own argument on that point is a welcome contribution to the discussion and I've already acknowledged that it has merit as an argument. My point is that you keep presenting it (and presenting it and presenting it) as some sort of summary of the portion of Feser's argument that posed a problem for Timotheos, even though you seem also to be aware that it's no such thing.

[Me: "Timotheos's question is precisely why Feser does that very thing."]

"No, it isn't. You were both talking about what Aquinas really intended."

Yes, it is. Here's Timotheos's question: "I’m having an issue with understanding the first way as presented in [Feser's books] TLS\Aquinas. . . . I’m having trouble . . . seeing how Dr. Feser shows that the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act. . . . My problem is that I don’t know what Dr. Feser is trying to suggest [in the portion of his argument on p. 77 of Aquinas."

Yes, in discussing possible answers to this question, we later talked about what Aquinas really intended, and I didn't say otherwise. But the question is exactly what I said it was.

I don't object in the slightest to your following the topic wherever it leads, taking side trails, following up on other thoughts and ideas, or whatever. But when you claim to be addressing Timotheos's question and you answer some other question instead, you are indeed changing the subject in the sense I meant—not, that is, somehow diverting the discussion generally, but answering a different question from the one you say you're answering.

"Your aggressiveness toward my attempts to help remains a mystery to me."

I apologize for sounding aggressive. I'm not, and I'm not trying to give you a hard time. I'm merely frustrated by your contradictory attempts to present your own argument as what Feser really meant while acknowledging that you have no idea why he "switches to ontology" in the very part of his argument that you claim to be trying to expound.

I don't expect you to read his mind. But reading his words would be nice, at least if you're going to try to tell us what he meant by them.

Glenn said...

Rank,

...on the other hand, I could just be totally wrong, which has happened many times before.

As a bystander, it doesn't appear to me that you have been totally wrong, only inadvertently off-base.

Timotheos had specifically said (with emphases now added),

"I know this is off topic, but I’m having an issue with understanding the first way as presented in TLS\Aquinas. I accept that the argument demonstrates the existence of an unmoved mover. I’m having trouble, however, seeing how Dr. Feser shows that the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act."

But perhaps in its eagerness to be helpful (which is a good thing), your mind skirted over a thing or two, and had you commenting as if Timotheos had only written the more general,

"I know this is off topic, but I’m having an issue with understanding the first way. I accept that the argument demonstrates the existence of an unmoved mover. I’m having trouble, however, seeing how the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act."

In light of the more general, albeit inaccurate, rendition of the issue raised by Timotheos, your comments in general make sense.

In light of the actual, specific issue raised by him, however, your comments, while still in general making sense on their own, miss the nub of what Timotheos and Scott have been discussing.

But I'm speaking as a bystander here, so maybe there is something I have overlooked.

Scott said...

@Glenn: You've nailed it as far as I'm personally concerned. I emphasize again that I apologize (to rank and anyone else who cares) if I seemed aggressive rather than merely frustrated.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

According to Feser, the First Way is about causal series ordered per se, and such series are indeed simultaneous. I strongly doubt that you're saying Feser is wrong about what per se causal series are ("paradigmatically hierarchical with their causes acting simultaneously").

We've already agreed that simultaneity doesn't exist in the necessary sense. (This is a point that Prof. Feser has acknowledged as well, if memory serves.) Which works, because essentially ordered causal series aren't necessarily simultaneous: they're just instrumental. That is, one thing only moves to the extent that it is moved by another, and no farther. What Prof. Feser said should be taken as an illustration. A real per se series operates along the lines of Oderberg's pizza example in the article I linked before, which is not simultaneous in the way we generally use that word. Nevertheless, the disappearance of pizza from Fred's mind would cause him to stop seeking it, just as the disappearance of Fred's soul would cause his body to stop seeking pizza, and the disappearance of his brain would cause his limbs to stop seeking it.

But when you claim to be addressing Timotheos's question and you answer some other question instead, you are indeed changing the subject in the sense I meant—not, that is, somehow diverting the discussion generally, but answering a different question from the one you say you're answering.

[...]

I'm merely frustrated by your contradictory attempts to present your own argument as what Feser really meant while acknowledging that you have no idea why he "switches to ontology" in the very part of his argument that you claim to be trying to expound.


I'll let Timotheos speak for himself, but it never seemed to me that he was interested in Prof. Feser's description as such--just with the First Way as he (Timotheos) understood it after reading Aquinas and TLS. This is why I have repeatedly attempted to explain the First Way in such a way that his concern is answered. Further, although I don't claim to understand exactly what Prof. Feser meant, I've been trying to put his statements and the argument itself into their proper context in hopes of clearing up confusion. I admit that I've probably caused more confusion than I've cleared up, but that wasn't my intention.

Glenn,

In light of the more general, albeit inaccurate, rendition of the issue raised by Timotheos, your comments in general make sense.

That's what I thought Timotheos was saying. I saw that he mentioned Prof. Feser's work, but I didn't think that he was interested in dissecting Prof. Feser's text in particular. I just thought he was only familiar with the argument from Prof. Feser's work, and so he was basing his question on his current knowledge. If this wasn't his intention, then I suddenly understand why my comments haven't been making sense to Scott.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"If this wasn't his intention, then I suddenly understand why my comments haven't been making sense to Scott."

Aside from the fact that Timotheos has confirmed it a couple of times himself, it's certainly what I took his intention to be. So I'm glad it's all becoming clear now. (And again, it's not that your comments haven't made any sort of sense; it's that they simply haven't addressed the point I thought was at issue.)

Sorry to have come across as antagonistic. Again, just frustrated because I've been taking Timotheos to be asking for an explanation specifically of Feser's argument and you've been offering an alternative (which is fine) instead of an exposition (which is what you appeared to be claiming to offer).

I call truce. ;-)

Scott said...

"This is why I have repeatedly attempted to explain the First Way in such a way that his concern is answered."

Which is a valuable thing, and I'm sure it's been helpful to Timotheos in its own right. I haven't objected at all to your explanation itself, only to its relevance to the specific argument on p. 77 of Aquinas. Timotheos has never has a problem with the main argument of the First Way—only with Feser's own step from the unmoved mover to the immovable mover.

Timotheos said...

Yeah, I'm a long time reader, but this is my first time to post, so I can see where rank sophist is coming from. Most people that haven't ever commented before are completely new to the material and make stock or downright stupid objections or questions. I'm familiar with thomism and feser, so my questions are a little more specific and technical.

Sorry for the confusion guys

Scott said...

Well, now that peace has officially broken out, let's see whether we can resume the (sub)discussion where it left off. Here's where we were:

I proposed the following argument. Suppose the first mover at the present time were something whose existence required actualization by something else but was in fact actualized at some earlier time. In that case we'd still need to continue the causal series backward in order to account for its existence at all—which, according to our supposition, wouldn't have been actualized unless actualized by another. The regress still has to end somewhere in order for anything to exist at all, so eventually we have to reach a being of pure act. And we know that that mover exists at the present time, because a being of pure act can't go out of existence.

Now, if that argument is sound, then one question is whether it actually amounts in some way to a reductio ad absurdum. Does the fact that this pure act exists at all times (indeed positively eternally) somehow show that our initial supposition of an unmoved-but-movable mover must have been incorrect and the per se series extends all the way to the pure act?

If so (or if there's some other similar argument/consideration that I'm overlooking), then it's possible that Feser's brief statement on p. 77 of Aquinas is an elided version of something along those lines.

So: does the existence of a being who is pure act somehow imply that that being must be at the head of every per se causal series?

Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

Mr. Green said...

Scott: According to Feser, the First Way is about causal series ordered per se, and such series are indeed simultaneous. I strongly doubt that you're saying Feser is wrong about what per se causal series are ("paradigmatically hierarchical with their causes acting simultaneously").

Per se causality can indeed be spread out over time (and conversely, causes that aren't per se might be simultaneous). They are "paradigmatically" simultaneous meaning "the easiest or most common or most self-evident" example, that's all. (Hence the irrelevance of objections that are periodically raised about "nothing really being simultaneous in physics", etc.) But that kind of example certainly is the most obvious way to get at the kind of causality in question.

>I’m having trouble . . . seeing how Dr. Feser shows that the first way requires an immovable mover, aka a being of pure act. . . .

A few thoughts: being an argument "from" motion, just means it starts from motion or change; where it ends up is an entirely different matter. Now, Thomas just stops his first argument when he reaches a First mover (which must be unmoved in the series or it wouldn't be first). He doesn't talk about unmovability; but then again, it's a brief summary, so it can't cover everything. Certainly once the question is raised we can follow it through; whether that counts as "implicitly" part of the First Way or as something extra.... well, it's purely a question of labelling — the philosophy doesn't care what you call it. (Feser does call it a "further question" on p. 74.)

Anyway, if something, however actualised, causes X, then it is in motion, because it changed from not causing X to causing it. Well, suppose this being exists outside of time (so it's only a "Cambridge change"): then there's no question of its being caused to exist at some point in the past — it simply either is or isn't; it "is" caused [in the eternal "now"] or it is eternally uncaused, which is to say, is Pure Act. But anything that is being caused to exist by something else is not the first cause in a per se chain, which I take to be the Profeser's point.

Timotheos said...

@ Mr. Green:

Well Thomas Aquinas probably would have considered showing that the unmoved mover was an unmovable mover just showing that the unmoved mover had some attribute. I'm pretty sure he knew the difference because the 16th question he considered in summa contra Gentiles was entiltitled "Is There Any Passive Potency In God?" (I'm assuming passive means unactualized in this context). In Summa Theologica, he assumes that once you have shown an unmoved mover exists, you've shown that an unmovable mover exists. I think he further considers the question briefly while he considers whether God is eternal or not.

That being said, the time based argument is interesting, the only problem I might be seeing is whether or not you exist in time really means you change (haven't really thought that objection through, just an intuitional worry).

I know in other places Feser has said that the first way dosen't rely on simultaneous causation, and that showing that causes and effects are simultaneous is a secondary worry. I just didn't know if they were a worry at this point in feser's presentation of the first way.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"I know in other places Feser has said that the first way dosen't rely on simultaneous causation, and that showing that causes and effects are simultaneous is a secondary worry. I just didn't know if they were a worry at this point in feser's presentation of the first way."

And they may not be. Feser seems to be saying (and of course I agree) that we can argue back to a pure act based on just the existence of the series. In that case, of course, simultaneity is perhaps irrelevant—even to a per se causal series, which, as both rank sophist and Mr. Green have said in different ways, is all about instrumentality rather than simultaneity.

(As you say, Feser himself has of course elsewhere agreed that "it is arguably possible at least in theory for there to be a per se causal series in which some of the members were not simultaneous" [emphasies his]—although his own counterexample involves nothing less than time travel, and he's careful to say that he's not saying it's really possible.)

The problem (and it's a small one) is just that the series of causes from pure act to any member of the series may not be "instrumental" in the sense required for a per se series.

Suppose, as in your own example, that somewhere down the chain of causes, A causes B to exist and then stops acting on B, but B continues to exist. The causal link between A and B is still part of the causal chain, but there still seems to be a break in the per se causal chain since at the time B is acting, it's no longer being actively (instrumentally) caused to exist by A. And I'm not sure whether Feser intends this in his argument.

It's also possible, of course, that I'm just missing something about the nature of instrumentality and the causal series is per se after all.

Either way, though, I think we've gotten at the main argument Feser is making in his reply to MacDonald's objection—namely that not just the operation but the very existence of any element of the series can be traced back to an immovable mover (pure act). Whether the causal series "is per se all the way back" doesn't seem to matter much to the point.

What do you think?

Scott said...

Oops: emphasies = emphases.

Timotheos said...

Well, if we start tracing causality backwards in time in a non-per se fashion, I'm not sure how we would distinguish the kalam cosmological argument (the philosophical ones) from the first way. Obviously there has to be a difference however, since Aquinas didn't think kalam worked. But, as you have stated, it seems like a non-per se causality chain is a possibility in the argument as you have left it.

I have a feeling that we're missing something crucial here, but something also simple and easy to miss. Perhaps Feser will just have to educate us (if he can ever find time in that type-A+ personality schedule of his).