Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Midwest Studies in Philosophy


My article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument” appears in Volume 37 of Midwest Studies in Philosophy.  The theme of the volume is “The New Atheism and its Critics” and the other contributors are A. W. Moore, Michael Ruse, David Shatz, Gary Gutting, Kenneth A. Taylor, Andrew Winer, Richard Fumerton, Jonathan L. Kvanvig, Gregg Ten Elshof, Massimo Pigliucci, and Alister E. McGrath. 

109 comments:

Ismael said...

Interesting how many contributors are actually atheists, like Ruse and Pigliucci, yet vehemently attack New Atheism in spite of agreeng with the New Atheists conclusions that there is no God, in the end.

I found Pigliucci's critique of scientists very interesting and how he criticizes the failed attempts by Dawkins, Stenger, Dennet and Harris.

I also agree with him that A.C. Grayling and De Bottom are far more 'dangerous' intellectiually than the New Atheists (at least they say something cogent...)

-

McGrarth analysis was also very interesting, as usual


At this point I have not read your article yet Dr. Feser (saving best for last, although I did already peak a bit :P), but I will dedicate myself to it very soon.

In any case, thank you for sharing this issue of Midwest Studies in Philosophy with us.

I think all, or at least most, articles are really worth reading.

Martin said...

I hope this turns up online somewhere, because I'd like to read it.

Anonymous said...

Damn, this looks like a great collection of essays too. Lotta big guns there.

Wish I could read it.

Scott said...

It's possible to purchase 24-hour access to each individual article, but I don't know how much it costs; apparently you don't get to see the price until after you've entered your credit card information.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser,

I just got finished reading your article and thought it was fantastic! In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's a must read for students of the cosmological argument, as it nicely introduces the various forms the argument takes and effectively addresses the inadequate objections that are regularly trotted out by New Atheist groupies and even the philosophical mainstream.

Mr. X said...

Very good article, I must say, Professor, although there was one question I was wondering about. You say that a per se series cannot go back indefinitely, and I agree; but is there any reason why such a series must terminate in an Unmoved Mover, and not arise from a per accidens series?

David T said...

When I tried to access it, the price was $35 for 24-hour access to the article. Love to read it, not gonna pay it.

Daniel Joachim said...

Hehe, I was somewhat surprised by the price tag as well. Would love to read the entire issue though.

First thing tomorrow, I'll check if my University is subscribing to Wiley! (Crossed fingers)

Ismael said...

I guess I was lucky that I can access Wiley's contents' through my research centre net.

People who are not so lucky might want to try some local library affiliated to some college.. they might grant access or even have the printed edition

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

On a related note, you might want to check out David Bentley Hart's new book The Experience of God, which is essentially an overview of classical theism and the cosmological argument as they have been presented across religious traditions. Along the way he attacks the Fregean concept of existence, appeals to Searle's The Rediscovery of Mind, recommends your book Philosophy of Mind and gives materialists and the New Atheists a sound beating. So far it reminds me quite a bit of your blog and TLS. Potential review material, perhaps?

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

The publisher sells recent past volumes of the Midwest Studies series for about $40, so I imagine the current volume either is or will be available at that price too.

Patric said...

Sorry to go offtopic, but there is something that has been bothering me for quite some time, and I was hoping that someone here could help me out on this.

I´m talking about Peter Singer, or more specifically, his argument to the effect that we in the affluent nations are obligated to use everthing we own above bare necessites to help those dying in extreme poverty (e.g. give it to charity). He quotes Aquinas to show that this is not out of line with traditional thinking on this subject:

" … whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Gratiani: "The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry: the clothing you shut away, to the naked: and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless." "
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q 66 A 7.

I know of other passages from Aquinas which seem to have similar implications:

"There is a time when we sin mortally if we omit to give alms; on the part of the recipient when we see that his need is evident and urgent, and that he is not likely to be succored otherwise--on the part of the giver, when he has superfluous goods, which he does not need for the time being, as far as he can judge with probability."
Summa Theologica, II-II. Q 32, A 5

Assuming that charity organisations are at least somewhat effective at helping starving people or people dying of maleria in Africa and Asia, it seems that Singers conclusion follows. Now I am reluctantly prepared to accept this, but it seems out of line with our general intuition that someone living a middle class life with a seemingly moderate amount of luxuries is doing nothing as seriously wrong as letting people starve in order to own a flatscreen TV. On the other hand, it does seem obscene for me to buy a new fancy car if I could use the money to save dozens of lives.

So I was wondering if someone here could comment on this or point me to some place where this is discussed? I have so far been unable to find anything explaining clearly what our duties are toward the poor in a modern day context (i.e. global poverty) from a traditional natural law perspective.

MJM said...

Rank,

Was going to comment on the same. I'm only about a third of the way through Hart's new book but it is surprsingly redolent of Feser. What I've read so far lends credence to idea that the two are closer than their recent exchanges would suggest.

George R. said...

On a related note, you might want to check out David Bentley Hart's new book ...

Oh no, I see we're about to be subjected to a fresh barrage of painful puns.

Glenn said...

You mean like these?

George: Hey You. There You Go (Again). Enough.

Ed: How can I refuse? Make Me.

Rank: (He's a) Magic Man.

George: (Sigh... puns are the) Oldest Story in The World

BenYachov said...

@RS

The Experience of God by Hart eh?

Well I know what to get when my next paycheck comes. Thanks bro!

Check out the idiot Gnu who one star reviewed the book over at Amazon.

Hysterical!

Glenn said...

George R.,

Though I make a joke of it, I do understand that not everyone appreciates puns. And I, too, dread a fresh barrage--but not of painful puns.

Glenn said...

(Hmm; that easily could be misunderstood. The simplest, most tactful way to avert a potential misunderstanding is to say that I do not consider, and never have considered, comments by George R., whether taken individually or collectively, as a 'barrage'. Not at all.)

Anonymous said...

Wonder if Ed or anyone else would like to comment on this:-

http://www.boykotx.org/why-are-some-hell-bent-on-intelligent-design/

Anonymous said...

anyone seen this?

raymond tallis reviews nagels book (and apparently likes it a lot):

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/bringing-mind-to-matter

Bharat said...

Mr. X raises an interesting question. Dr. Feser, do you have a comment on this?

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"[I]s there any reason why such a series must terminate in an Unmoved Mover, and not arise from a per accidens series?"

In the latter case, the last element of the per accidens series would depend on something else for its present existence and so wouldn't be the first mover after all.

BenYachov said...

@Rank Sophist

I got Hart's new book. Looks good!!!

Ah Classic theism!!!!!!!!!

I love worshiping and incomprehensible God who is also Personal at least the way I perceive him.

BenYachov said...

CLASSIC THEISM RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


THEISTIC PERSONALISM BLOWS CHUNKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CLASSIC THEISM IS AWESOME!

THEISTIC PERSONALISM SUCKS MORE THAN ANYTHING THAT HAS SUCKED BEFORE LIKE THE FIRST REPLACEMENT CAST FOR SNL.....WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT!

There I am done shouting.

Peace. Just some late night sillyness.

Mr. X said...

@ Scott:

"In the latter case, the last element of the per accidens series would depend on something else for its present existence and so wouldn't be the first mover after all."

But didn't Aristotle think that a per accidens series could theoretically regress back infinitely? In which case, why couldn't an infinite per accidens series cause a per se series, without any First Mover at all?

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"In which case, why couldn't an infinite per accidens series cause a per se series, without any First Mover at all?"

Because, again, the first element of the per se series (which would be the last element of the per accidens series) would still require something to sustain it in its present existence so that it could serve as a cause.

Mr. X said...

"Because, again, the first element of the per se series (which would be the last element of the per accidens series) would still require something to sustain it in its present existence so that it could serve as a cause."

Couldn't the relevant member of the per accidens series sustain the first member of the per se series, though?

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"Couldn't the relevant member of the per accidens series sustain the first member of the per se series, though?"

Again, not without something ontologically prior to sustain it in being. By hypothesis it's not self-existent.

Mr. X said...

"Again, not without something ontologically prior to sustain it in being. By hypothesis it's not self-existent."

Do you mean that it needs something to join its essence to its existence? I suppose that's true, although doesn't appealing to that argument render the cosmological argument superfluous?

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"Do you mean that it needs something to join its essence to its existence?"

I mean that if it weren't self-existent, something else would still be needed in order to account for its present existence and exercise of causal powers.

To come at the same point another way: the purpose of this argument isn't just to establish that the series of instrumental causes terminates; it's to show that the entire series, consisting as it does of instrumental causes, must "get" its causality from a First Cause that isn't merely the "first domino" but accounts for the existence of the entire series as a causal series at all. It's not "first" in just the sense that it's the first element in the series; it's "first" in the sense that it's the Primary Cause of the entire series of secondary causes. (Once that's established, it doesn't even really matter, strictly speaking, whether the series of secondary causes terminates, extends infinitely backward, or goes round in a circle.)

Far from rendering the cosmological argument superfluous, this is its entire point.

Scott said...

(I should probably also mention that I don't have access to the article in question and I'm just going on general knowledge of the cosmological argument—including as Ed has presented it on this blog and in his books, of course; this is far from his first bite at that apple.)

Mr. X said...

"To come at the same point another way: the purpose of this argument isn't just to establish that the series of instrumental causes terminates; it's to show that the entire series, consisting as it does of instrumental causes, must "get" its causality from a First Cause that isn't merely the "first domino" but accounts for the existence of the entire series as a causal series at all. It's not "first" in just the sense that it's the first element in the series; it's "first" in the sense that it's the Primary Cause of the entire series of secondary causes. (Once that's established, it doesn't even really matter, strictly speaking, whether the series of secondary causes terminates, extends infinitely backward, or goes round in a circle.)"

I know that, I was just wondering why the series can't get its causal power from a member of a per accidens series. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something about per accidens series, but I was under the impression that they do have independent causal power (hence, e.g., now that my father's begotten me, I can beget children of my own without his involvement), in which case, why couldn't they impart causal power to a per se series? And if, as Aristotle and Aquinas thought, it's possible for a per accidens series to regress back infinitely, isn't it at least theoretically possible that per se causal chains might trace back not to God but to an infinite per accidens series?

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"I know that[.]"

Okay, but you seem to forget it for the remainder of your post.

"I was just wondering why the series can't get its causal power from a member of a per accidens series."

Again: because that member of the per accidens series is by hypothesis not self-existent. The argument here is about not just the operation but the very being of the members of the per se series. Such a series can terminate only in something self-existent. That's what you've just said you understood.

"Maybe I'm misunderstanding something about per accidens series, but I was under the impression that they do have independent causal power (hence, e.g., now that my father's begotten me, I can beget children of my own without his involvement)[.]"

Of course they do, but that's secondary causation; the elements of a per accidens series, like anything else, depend for their very being on primary causation, that is, on the First Cause, which sustains them in being, confers on them their secondary causation, and concurs in their operation as secondary causes. The fact that you can beget children without your father's involvement doesn't mean you can do it without your Father's involvement.

This is the very thing the cosmological argument undertakes to prove, and again, it's what you've just said you understood. Perhaps what you're overlooking is that each element of the per accidens series depends on a per se series for its own being and operation.

Mr. X said...

"Perhaps what you're overlooking is that each element of the per accidens series depends on a per se series for its own being and operation."

That would certainly solve the problem if it could be proved. How do we know this is the case, though? Certainly it's the case for all the per accidens series we know of, but how can we rule out the possibility of some per accidens series which doesn't depend on a per se series?

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"That would certainly solve the problem if it could be proved. How do we know this is the case, though? Certainly it's the case for all the per accidens series we know of, but how can we rule out the possibility of some per accidens series which doesn't depend on a per se series?"

What I said was that every element of a per accidens series depends on a per se series.

That's just a special case of the fact that (again!) everything that exists but is not self-existent depends on something else for its existence here and now. Put that way, I think, the matter is pretty much self-evident.

Mr. X said...

"That's just a special case of the fact that (again!) everything that exists but is not self-existent depends on something else for its existence here and now. Put that way, I think, the matter is pretty much self-evident."

It is if you grant the premise that everything not self-evident depends on something else for its existence here and now, but that premise doesn't seem self-evident to me, at least not in the case of a per accidens series.

Scott said...

Mr. X:

"It is if you grant the premise that everything not self-evident depends on something else for its existence here and now[.]"

Hmm, I'm detecting some confusion here.

First, you write "self-evident" where you presumably mean "self-existent."

Second, assuming you do mean "self-existent," you're saying that the proposition in question—that "everything not [self-existent] depends on something else for its existence here and now"—becomes self-evident if we grant it as a premise and . . . what? Derive it from itself?

But again, I don't have access to Ed's new article, so all I can do is tell you how the argument works in general. I don't think I have much more to contribute here.

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

This may also help.

Joyce makes the argument in terms of causes in fieri ("in becoming") and in esse ("in being"), which is not Ed's preferred approach but which I think may be helpful here.

Scott said...

(I think you'll find most of what you're looking for on pp. 61-62.)

Glenn said...

Edwards on infinite causal series may be helpful here.

("Edwards does not understand the distinction between causal series ordered per accidens and causal series ordered per se, on which the Thomistic arguments (like other Scholastic cosmological arguments) crucially depend. Following [G. H.] Joyce, Edwards refers instead to the distinction between causes in fieri and causes in esse, which might be part of the problem. Not that there is anything wrong with Joyce’s terminology, but it might suggest to someone otherwise unfamiliar with the Thomistic and Scholastic arguments – as it apparently did to Edwards – that the difference between “becoming” and “being” is what is supposed to be the key to seeing why the second sort of causal series [i.e., causal series ordered per se] cannot in the Thomist's view be infinite. And that is not the case..)

Scott said...

@Glenn:

That's actually the very post I had in mind when I said that Joyce's approach wasn't Ed's preferred one. However, I do think Joyce's discussion of in fieri and in esse causes does a good job of explaining the point that seems to be posing the problem for Mr. X, even if it's not fully satisfactory in other respects.

Keen Reader said...

I would love to read Dr. Feser's thoughts on Bentley Hart's new book.

mjm said...

Me too, Keen Reader. Having just finished the book, I enjoyed seeing the wide areas of overlap between Hart and Feser but also perceived key differences -- Hart's implied Platonist sympathies, for one -- and am wondering how a Thomist would reconcile/respond to some of his claims regarding abstract knowledge, experience, beauty, etc.

Glenn said...

Scott,

(I was reading the Edwards post when I switched to this post to see if there were any new comments, and then I saw the reference to Joyce.)

I myself am somewhat confused as to what Mr. X is getting at. It seems to me that it is by definition impossible for a per se series to arise from a per accidens series -- or, to put it another way, that it is by definition impossible for any series arising from a per accidens series to be a per se series.

I don't know if this'll be of help to Mr. X or not:

1. Let a sequence which necessarily does trace back to X be called an X-grounded sequence.

2. Let a sequence which does not necessarily trace back to X be called a non-X-grounded sequence.

3. Since an X-grounded sequence necessarily traces back to X, an X-grounded sequence cannot arise from a non-X-grounded sequence (for the former sequence would then, contrary to its definition (and in violation of the PNC), not necessarily trace back to X).

4. Now let a causal series which necessarily does trace back to an 'unmoved mover' be called a per se series.

5. And let a causal series which does not necessarily trace back to an 'unmoved mover' be called a per accidens series.

6. Since a per se series necessarily traces back to an 'unmoved mover', a per se series cannot arise from a per accidens series (for the former series would then, contrary to its definition (and in violation of the PNC), not necessarily trace back to an 'unmoved mover').

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"I myself am somewhat confused as to what Mr. X is getting at."

So am I, largely because he began by saying he understood why a per se series couldn't involve an infinite regress; it seems to me that once that reasoning is understood, it should be clear that the first cause can't be simply a member of a per accidens series.

And here I suspect he's having the opposite problem to the one Ed mentions in the bit you quoted from his post: the focus on instrumental causation isn't making it obvious why each member of a per se causal series has to account, not just for the action of the next member, but for its causal power.

That's why I think Joyce's slightly different approach will help rather than hinder in this instance. If it's plain (and Joyce does make it pretty plain) that each member of the series depends for its very existence on the preceding member (as the existence of your pleasure in hearing me play music depends on the existence of the music I'm playing, which in turn depends for its existence on my playing it and stops when I stop playing), then the true importance of "instrumentality" becomes much more clear.

Joyce's version of the argument may in fact prove more than it needs to; Ed's version, as presented in that post and elsewhere, doesn't (quite) depend on showing that each member accounts for the very existence of the next.

However, that's not irrelevant or foreign to Ed's arguments either. Some months ago there was a discussion of a related point involving the proof that the Unmoved Mover demonstrated by the First Way must be in principle immovable rather than merely in fact unmoved; in Aquinas Ed makes the argument for this (against Anthony Kenny, and on or about p. 75 if memory serves) by saying that each member of the causal series must account not just for the motion but even the very existence of the next. (There was talk at the time about whether Ed might be borrowing something from the Second Way there, but since we are talking about the Second Way in this instance[*], that question doesn't arise.)

I think Mr. X might have a problem with your point 5 because it simply defines a per se series as one arising from an "unmoved mover" (or "first cause"), and his very question seems to be about why a per se series (defined, as Ed defines it, by the instrumentality of its causes) must lead to such a being.

----

[*] Or at least I am. I don't know which "way(s)" Ed discusses in his new article, so it's possible that Mr. X's original question did arise from a discussion of the First Way.

Scott said...

Sorry, I obviously meant "point 4."

Glenn said...

Scott,

I agree with your remarks re my point 4. (though not only with those remarks ;)), but there is something further to say about it. I can't do so now, as I haven't the time; but I will do so later.

Glenn said...

Point 4 is not intended to show that, or explain why, a per se series must trace back to an 'unmoved mover'. It simply says that if a causal series necessarily does trace back to an 'unmoved mover', then the label 'per se series' is used to refer to that causal series. That's all it says.

To put it more generically, point 4 simply says that if something obtains which satisfies a particular condition, then that something is labeled with a particular term.

See, we could do it this way:

1' Let Label_1 (L1) refer to any member of class S which satisfies condition C with certainty.

2' Let Label_2 (L2) refer to any member of class S which does not satisfy condition C with certainty.

We needn't know either what class S consists of or what condition C is in order to know that no member of class S may be properly referred to by both L1 and L2; all we need in order to know that (no member of class S may be properly referred to by both L1 and L2) is the PNC.

Now, we can say:

3' Let class S consist of all causal series.

4' Let condition C be "traces back with certainty to an 'unmoved mover'".

5' By 1' above, a causal series which traces back with certainty to an 'unmoved mover' is referred to by L1.

6' By 2' above, a casual series which does not trace back with certainty to an 'unmoved mover' is referred to by L2.

7' By the PNC, no causal series may be properly referred to by both L1 and L2.

And we can further say:

8' Let L1 be "per se series".

9' Let L2 be "per accidens series".

10' By 7' above, no causal series may be properly referred to by both "per se series" and "per accidens series", i.e., any causal series may be properly referred to by either "per se series" or "per accidens series", but not by both.

And now we can pose a question and provide an answer:

Q: Why can't a per se series arise from a per accidens series?

A: While a causal series which arises from a per accidens series can be traced back with certainty to that per accidens series, it cannot be traced back with certainty to an 'unmoved mover' (for the per accidens series itself is not an 'unmoved mover', and does not trace back with certainty to an 'unmoved mover' (6' and 9'above)). It follows, then, that any causal series which arises from a per accidens series is not a per se series (5' and 8' above).

- - - - -

I don't know that the above merits anything more than (or even as much as) a "close, but no cigar", but I do know that it cannot really be said to address the question in terms of instrumentality.

As far as the latter is concerned, the intent has been primarily to reiterate that a per se series cannot arise from a per accidens series (which intent is based on the premise that if that a per se series cannot arise from a per accidens series takes firm enough root, it'll be less difficult to arrive at why -- in terms of the instrumentality of causes -- it is the case.)

Scott said...

@Glenn:

Ah, yes, I see your point. Thanks for the elaboration, which I think Mr. X will find helpful.

Mr. X said...

@ Scott and Glenn:

Thank you for the posts/links, they were really helpful. I have to confess, I didn't know about the distinction between in esse and in fieri causes before now, but learning about them certainly helps to answer my questions.

Scott said...

@Mr. X:

"Thank you for the posts/links, they were really helpful. I have to confess, I didn't know about the distinction between in esse and in fieri causes before now, but learning about them certainly helps to answer my questions."

Good, glad to hear it; I thought/hoped they might. And you're welcome.

Timotheos said...

To put my 2 cents into the discussion, I think Mr. X might be wondering something along these lines.

Often when authors distinguish between per se and per accidens causes, they say that per se causes are what here and now act on something, that then could only cause things because the previous cause is giving them this ability (i.e. a stick which is only moving because a hand is moving it).

They then proceed to say that per accidens causes have their casual abilities independently of their causes. (i.e a father begets a son independently of his father).

So Mr. X may be wondering if a per se casual series (like the hand and stick example) may regress to the human soul moving the hand, which in turn is exercising this ability, not because the human soul is currently being moved, but is operating because it has that power (which would mean that the human soul was caused per accidens in the previous sense used).

If that were the case, we might call the human soul an "unmoved mover", and that, if we trace its history into the past, we might see it's per accidens cause, which, according to Aquinas, would not need a first cause to terminate the regress.

I can think of a couple of ways from moving from here, but I want to see what you guys think first.

Glenn said...

Mr. X,

I too am glad the matter has become clearer for you.

Glenn said...

Timotheos,

If that were the case, we might call the human soul an "unmoved mover", and that, if we trace its history into the past, we might see it's per accidens cause, which, according to Aquinas, would not need a first cause to terminate the regress.

We might call it that, but that wouldn't necessarily make it so.

More germane, by positing a per accidens cause for the human soul, you implicitly acknowledge that the human soul has been moved at some point in its history. And as elsewhere pointed out, an 'unmoved mover' isn't just a mover which isn't moved, but a mover which hasn't ever been moved.

- - - - -

The 'elsewhere' is here, and I recommend paying particular attention to the comment by Tony which immediately follows.

Timotheos said...

@ Glenn

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the human soul can REALLY be an unmoved mover, or even act without currently changing (hence the quotation marks I put around the phrase unmoved mover). I just was trying to illustrate what Mr. X might have been getting at if you think of per se causation as necessarily entailing that mover is being moved by the previous mover in the same interval of time.

@ Everyone

As I said in my last post, often authors seem to differentiate per se and per accidens and causation by the fact the per se causation acts ‘all at once’, while per accidens causation is spread out across time. If this is supposed to be the difference, then it becomes understandable why you could take the end of a per accidnes chain defined in the previous sense to be able to “cause without being in a per se chain” (again, defined in the previous sense) and only caused by a per accidens chain, which, if you take Aquinas to be using per accidens in the previous sense, could regress into the past with no ultimate mover.

As I understand it however, this isn't the case. Per se causation doesn't necessarily entail that every mover is in the chain is moved in the same interval of time, but what is essential to per se causation is that every moved mover in the chain is acting “instrumentally.” If that is the case, even if a moved mover isn't currently being moved, it must have moved at some point, and then that would have to regress to an unmovable mover (aka a being of pure act).

Now I’m not sure that I’m correct in this, or if this is what either Dr. Feser or Aquinas intend, but it does seem to be the way Michael Augros talks during Objection #7 of his article TEN OBJECTIONS TO THE PRIMA VIA (available here), an article which Dr. Feser has endorsed before.

What do you guys think?

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

It's strictly true that simultaneously isn't essential to a per se causal series and that what matters is instrumentality. However, even in the post cited earlier in the thread, the only possible counterexample Ed offers involves time travel, which even he acknowledges may not be possible.

You may well be right about the common emphasis on simultaneity being what confused Mr. X, but what makes this emphasis wrong isn't that a per se series might be somehow "displaced in time" but rather that the entire series requires a prime mover, a being Who is pure act, in order to account for its present existence as a causal series at all. (Possible counterexamples like time travel just mess up what we mean by "present," that's all.)

As Ed himself has said, the point is that "the sheer existence of a thing at any instant requires actualization. And it's at that point that instrumentality and simultaneity converge."

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

Thanks for your reply, I always appreciate your work (You too Glenn!! =D)

I was taking Mr. X to be looking at the arguments from the perspective of the first way, in which case, the argument proceeds from the change and not the existence of things.

If you take Mr. X to be coming from a second way perspective, or perhaps from just a general thomistic perspective, then I agree that your response is more fundamental.

Timotheos said...

Also, you might want to look at this article, Ten Objections to the Prima Via that I linked to before, specifically the 7th objection, where he talks about the simultaneity of per se causation.

This is an article Dr. Feser has endorsed before (at the bottom of the cosmological roundup), so I take it that he agrees, or at least is sympathetic, with Michael Aurgos’ approach to per se causation.

Also, I acknowledge that a full understanding of the underlying metaphysics necessitates that God holds everything besides himself in existence from instant to instant, and, therefore, at every moment he is at the head of a per se chain of causation acting simultaneously.

Usually to get to this conclusion however requires more argumentation than I think is strictly required to prove God’s existence.

So when I suggested that every member of a per se chain may not be acting at the same time, I was not affirming that it is really possible, but was just suggesting it for the sake of argument.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"I was taking Mr. X to be looking at the arguments from the perspective of the first way, in which case, the argument proceeds from the change and not the existence of things."

And I was responding accordingly; the remarks of Ed's to which I linked are specifically about the First Way. Again, the point is that "the sheer existence of a thing at any instant requires actualization" [emphasis mine]. This point is very much a part of the First Way.

Thanks for the link to the Augros piece; I've read it already (in fact I have a copy of it on this very computer), but I concur in Ed's (and, I take it, your) recommendation of it.

Scott said...

By the way, see also Ed's pertinent comment further down in the same thread.

Scott said...

(Hmm, and if you read that thread all the way to the end, please ignore my own two comments in reply to BlackLuster about the domino series. I now think I was wrong and Mr. Green was right.)

Timotheos said...

@ Scott
So to be clear, would you now say that a series of dominoes knocking the next one down is a per se series instead of a per accidens series?

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

Yes, I think I would, although I'm not 100% certain and I'm open to argument. I've reconsidered based largely on Mr. Green's posts in that very thread, and I think he's right that the causes in the series of domino-topplings are instrumental in nature. (There are complications, of course, from e.g. the fact that the falling of each domino is due not just to the imparting of motion by the previous domino but also to gravitation.)

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

The domino chain is of course an illistration and as such is not perfectly accurate.

To remove the gravity of the gravity consideration (see what I did there), you could just re-illustrate the concept with a chain of marbles separated by a few inches on a flat surface, each one hitting the next.

Timotheos said...

Aquinas does seem to say that instrumental causation is not necessarily simultaneous in the following question from De Potentia Q.3 Art. XI Obj. 5 and its response.

5. You will say perhaps that though the force in the semen is not actually the sensitive soul, yet it acts by virtue of the sensitive soul of the father from whom it issues.—On the contrary, that which acts by virtue of another acts as its instrument. Now an instrument moves not unless it be moved: while mover and moved must be together (Phys. vii, 2). Since then the force that is in the semen is not in contact with the sensible soul of the generator, seemingly it cannot act as its instrument or by virtue thereof.

Reply to the Fifth Objection. An instrument is understood to be moved by the principal agent so long as it retains the power communicated to it by the principal agent; thus the arrow is moved by the archer as long as it retains the force wherewith it was shot by him. Thus in heavy and light things that which is generated is moved by the generator as long as it retains the form transmitted thereby: so that the semen also is understood to be moved by the soul of the begetter, as long as it retains the force communicated by that soul, although it is in body separated from it. And the mover and the thing moved must be together at the commencement of but not throughout the whole movement, as is evident in the case of projectiles.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

[quoting Aquinas] "An instrument is understood to be moved by the principal agent so long as it retains the power communicated to it by the principal agent[.]"

Exactly, and if that means what it seems to mean, then it's not the case all the elements of a series of instrumental causes must exist simultaneously (let alone "instantaneously," which is different). That's why my own comment about the dominoes disappearing as they fell was wrong.

At any rate we're agreed, I think, that simultaneity isn't the point of a per se causal series.

Timotheos said...

In which case, we can answer Mr. X’s original question, which was, "[I]s there any reason why such a series must terminate in an Unmoved Mover, and not arise from a per accidens series?", by saying that every [*] per accidens cause requires a per se cause to do the real actualizing, which then must regress to an unmoved mover.

[*] per accidens being defined as that which is only accidentally united to something as it is the actualizer of something else, like in the case of a pianist-doctor playing the piano, in which case it is accidental that a doctor is playing the piano, and per se that a pianist is. See Klima’s article " Whatever Happened to Efficient Causes? " for more information.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"In which case, we can answer Mr. X’s original question, which was, '[I]s there any reason why such a series must terminate in an Unmoved Mover, and not arise from a per accidens series?', by saying that every [*] per accidens cause requires a per se cause to do the real actualizing, which then must regress to an unmoved mover."

No, we can't, because that's still not the answer. That a per se series may extend into the past doesn't turn it into a per accidens series or obviate the need for something to actualize the existence of each element at any given instant. The answer is that a per se series requires a self-existent Prime Mover.

Timotheos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timotheos said...

@ Scott

"The answer is that a per se series requires a self-existent Prime Mover."

Are you sure you read me right Scott? That's exactly what I said.

Now you may be thinking of the first way in the sense that it proves God's existence by first proving that everything is currently being held in being by God at this instant.

If this is the case, I would simply reply that I'm not reading the first way in quite the same way you are, and that to prove that would require further analysis, at least in the way I'm interpreting the argument.

Timotheos said...

Also, on a separate note, the example of per accidens causation that Aquinas gives in the Summa is misleading. Like when he says that anything that heats must already be hot, his examples are only supposed to illustrate the idea, not be a perfect case full stop.

So in this case, all he is trying to illustrate in the example is that it is accidental to generating a child that the generator be a child (the generator of a child doesn't have to be human, God could generate the child himself, as in the case of Christ).

In any case, he was not saying that a chain of fathered fathers could conceivably regress into infinity without an un-fathered father.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"Are you sure you read me right Scott? That's exactly what I said."

My apologies; I did misread you. I thought you were saying the per accidens series had to lead back to an unmoved mover. In rereading your statement I see that that's not what you said or intended, and I agree with what you actually wrote as opposed to my hasty misunderstanding of it.

Timotheos said...

"My apologies; I did misread you."

And it is for that sort of reason that I have a great deal of respect for you Scott.

Scott said...

Thank you, Timotheos. And I you as well.

grodrigues said...

@Scott:

"I've reconsidered based largely on Mr. Green's posts in that very thread, and I think he's right that the causes in the series of domino-topplings are instrumental in nature."

I have not gone back to read Mr. Green's comments, but how about this: consider then a long chain of dominoes.

(1) Topple the first domino.

(2) As the topplings succeed, pick the first domino and zap it out of existence.

The first domino is clearly a link in the the causal chain as it imparted motion to the second domino, but at the same time (logically speaking) somewhere along the chain it has gone out of existence. So what should be the answer in this case? If I want to maintain that the series is a per se series, then I am committed to say that some links in the series are not instrumental, because non-existent, which is just wrong.

While it is the case that what is doing the work in the Cosmological argument is instrumentality, not simultaneity, instrumentality should be understood in terms of ontological dependence. But dominoes are independent substances: this is why if you take off simultaneity you wreak havoc. This is also why, or at any rate one of the reasons why, Prof. Feser formulates the arguments by appealing to "deeper and deeper levels of existence" (or some such), precisely to highlight that causality, or the actualization of potency, is an ontological dependence of sorts.

Scott said...

@drodrigues:

"(2) As the topplings succeed, pick the first domino and zap it out of existence."

I actually gave that example as well, and for exactly the same reason. And of course I agree that no domino depends ontologically on the previous one in the series.

Mr. Green's point was that no element in the series has the power to topple itself, that the First Toppler is therefore an essential part of the causal series, and that each domino is itself only an instrumental cause. That was the point that made me reconsider.

What do you think? If a per se series is defined in terms of instrumentality, doesn't the domino series qualify? Or do we have to understand such instrumentality "in terms of ontological dependence"? You may change my mind again, and at any rate your reply is bound to improve my understanding here.

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

Also, if there's a principled distinction between the boxcar series and the domino series in this respect, what is it? At the very least I think Mr. Green is right that they're the same kind of series (whether per se or per accidens).

Might it be the case, for example, that they're both really per accidens series? If so, then might it also be the case that even Aquinas's own hand/stick/stone example is illustrative only and isn't really a per se series at all?

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

grodrigues would probably say that the engine and every boxcar must exist at the same time to move the train (leaving aside inertia for now), whereas the dominos at the beginning of the chain don't have to still exist.

That being said, I'm with Scott on this one, the domino series appears to involve instrumental causation

Scott said...

Or, in the spirit of Timotheos's example (from Klima's paper) of the piano-playing doctor: might it be the case that the series of dominoes qua dominoes is a per accidens series, but that the series of dominoes qua falling objects is a per se series?

Scott said...

@timotheos:

"grodrigues would probably say that the engine and every boxcar must exist at the same time to move the train (leaving aside inertia for now), whereas the dominos at the beginning of the chain don't have to still exist."

So let's put the dominoes so close together that they all topple at once or not at all, like a row of books on a shelf.

Scott said...

In general, wouldn't it seem a little odd to distinguish per se causal series from per accidens ones based on such seemingly extraneous considerations as spatial proximity, inertia, and friction? That's what we'd have to do (isn't it?) in order to avoid classifying the dominoes, the boxcars, the hand/stick/stone, and the marbles as all the same kind of series. But surely the salient point in each case is the instrumental imparting of motion.

Scott said...

Oh, and the archer/arrow should have been on that list as well.

Timotheos said...

The only distinction that might be made is between the examples that all act simultaneously (aka during the same interval of time), and the ones that have movers that act after being moved and not while they are moved.

Still, that seems a little extraneous to the question of instrumentality

grodrigues said...

@Scott:

"What do you think? If a per se series is defined in terms of instrumentality, doesn't the domino series qualify? Or do we have to understand such instrumentality "in terms of ontological dependence"?"

That is my understanding, instrumentality must be understood in terms of ontological dependence, where the sort of dependence depends (heh) on the specific argument being considered (in terms of motion, of existence, whatever).

"Also, if there's a principled distinction between the boxcar series and the domino series in this respect, what is it?"

I think there is a principled distinction, and Timotheos has already formulated it. Here is my stab at it: while if domino n + 1 is to be toppled, domino n is necessary to exert its causal power and impart motion, and in this sense we have a one-link per se series (not a particularly interesting one, due to the way the scenario is set up), no other dominoes are necessary to keep the causal series going. Note that the point here is not about simultaneity; even if the physics of our universe was such that the topplings were simultaneous the point about the dependence would still stand (*).

But this is not so in the boxcar example: the caboose, the ultimate source of motion, can only pull one of the freights further down the line if *all* the intervening boxcars act instrumentally in imparting motion. If you remove even one boxcar, movement is interrupted. Each boxcar, to be moved, depends on all the boxcars that precede it to "communicate" motion, and ultimately on the caboose to impart it.

(*) Although in such a universe, the corresponding copy of Prof. Feser would probably use this example to illustrate the notion of per se series, since it would be hard, if not impossible, not to mistake simultaneity for true ontological independence.

Timotheos said...

I personally have never understood why everyone makes a big fuss about the domino being knocked down at a slightly different time than it was knocked.

If a domino is being knocked down, something is knocking it down at the same time. Conversely, if the mover of the domino is knocking it down, it is doing do so at the same time as the domino being knocked. If the knocker of the domino is knocking the domino, the domino is being knocked. So I don't see the metaphysical room for the knocking to be at a different time than the knock.

Now you might say that the domino dosen't move at the instant it is moved, but that is collapsing the distinction between simultaneous and instantaneous, the former being a broader notion than the latter.

All that I meant by simultaneous is at the same time, not at the same instant of time. And of coarse nothing changes during an instant, but instants don't make up intervals, they are limits to an infinite division of intervals, and as such, don't technically exist.

What do you guys think of this slightly off-topic semi-rant?

Timotheos said...

Oops change "I meant" to "is meant"

grodrigues said...

Ack, you are correct Timotheos, I was sloppy in my wording: when I wrote "simultaneous" I meant "instantaneous" as for Aquinas, the cause is simultaneous with the effect, or the knocking down is simultaneous with being knocked down. Prof. Feser makes this point explicitly in the TLS (maybe in Aquinas as well, cannot remember atm). Sorry about the mix up.

Timotheos said...

To get back on topic, I’m not taking instrumentality to be ontologically dependent on its mover, at least not in the exact same sense as you are grodrigus.

While my understanding of instrumentality allows that a moved mover may not be ontologically dependent for its motion at this time (in the sense that it is changing something and it not currently changing), it must have changed at some point, otherwise it would be an eternally unmoved mover (which is ontologically a being of pure act, obviously God). In this sense, a intermediate member of a per se chain of causality would be ontologically dependent on its mover, since it wouldn't be moving now if it weren't moved in the past.

Now I may be wrong about this, and I can’t speak for Scott, but to me that is all that entailed in the notion of per se instrumentality.

Another point though is that I’m not even confirming that it this is a real metaphysical possibility for something besides God to not be changing in at least some fashion. It may be the case that being a substance with a mixture of act and potency necessitates changing in at least some way at every moment of existence. (For instance, we call solidity a ‘state’ but we know a posteriori that for a material substance to stay solid actually entails much molecular change, and by the Principle of Causality, this motion requires a cause)

And I think that an a priori argument for such a conclusion is probably possible, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary for the purposes of the first way. For even if not every changer is changing at this instant, if it’s not a being of pure act, it must have been actualized at some point, and then that would regress to a being of pure act.

Again, I can’t speak for Scott, but that’s my take on it.

Timotheos said...

@ grodrigues

“Ack, you are correct Timotheos, I was sloppy in my wording”

No problem, simultaneous is usually used in the sense of instantaneous.

Collapsing the distinction is one of my pet peeves though, since it is usually brought in by physicists intent on bringing in a “new” objection to the first way. What really annoys me though is that physicists are supposed to know Calculus to be able to do their jobs, but anyone who knows even the least bit about Calculus should be able to spot the difference, since that’s the whole foundation of Calculus.

I mean, how would a physicist respond if you told them that nothing has velocity, since at every instant something is moving, it has no velocity, since it’s not moving during an instant?
(Actually, don’t ask them that, since that was a question Zeno asked, and since it is philosophical, understanding the question wouldn't be important to physics, since only Science! provides any true insights)

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

"That is my understanding, instrumentality must be understood in terms of ontological dependence, where the sort of dependence depends (heh) on the specific argument being considered (in terms of motion, of existence, whatever)."

Let's take Aquinas's own example of instrumentality, the archer and the arrow, cited earlier by Timotheos. Let's also note that the archer uses a bow to shoot the arrow. Thus the arrow has a power communicated to it by the archer using the instrumentality of the bow.

Would you say in this case that the arrow (or its motion, or perhaps the arrow qua flying thing) is ontologically dependent on the bow? Or would you say that Aquinas is mistaken in regarding this case as one of instrumentality?

Scott said...

(By the way, I don't offhand see any special difficulty in restricting either the First or the Second Way to cases in which ontological dependence is at issue, so I'm not sure much is actually riding on this.)

Scott said...

@timotheos:

"In this sense, a intermediate member of a per se chain of causality would be ontologically dependent on its mover, since it wouldn't be moving now if it weren't moved in the past.

Now I may be wrong about this, and I can't speak for Scott, but to me that is all that entailed in the notion of per se instrumentality."

That seems to work if we follow your point from Klima and regard the moving object as a "moving object." In the archer/bow/arrow example, the arrow itself isn't ontologically dependent on the bow, but the arrow as flying is ontologically dependent on the bow as that which set it to flying in the first place.

If that's grodrigues's answer as well, then we're all in agreement about that much. But in that case the question remains as to why the domino series is different.

"No problem, simultaneous is usually used in the sense of instantaneous.

Collapsing the distinction is one of my pet peeves though[.]"

Same here. "Instants" are just mathematical abstractions that let us do calculus.

Timotheos said...

Or, to take an example that doesn't involve inertia (if you don’t treat inertia as ‘real’ change), consider the question Aquinas was addressing, which was whether or not the semen is an instrument of a man.

The objection was that this couldn't be the case, since every mover must be conjoined with the moved. Aquinas then expressly denied this, saying that “the semen also is understood to be moved by the soul of the begetter, as long as it retains the force communicated by that soul, although it is in body separated from it. And the mover and the thing moved must be together at the commencement of but not throughout the whole movement, as is evident in the case of projectiles.”

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

"Same here. "Instants" are just mathematical abstractions that let us do calculus."

This is why it bothers me the most when Physicists mess this up. Even though they're not Mathematicians, Calculus was partially developed just to solve Physics problems, and its almost impossible to do modern Physics without it, so they should know better.

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

"Here is my stab at it: while if domino n + 1 is to be toppled, domino n is necessary to exert its causal power and impart motion, and in this sense we have a one-link per se series (not a particularly interesting one, due to the way the scenario is set up), no other dominoes are necessary to keep the causal series going."

That's true, but the previous domino has to be toppling in order to impart that motion to the next domino. And the "toppling" seems to be communicated from the first domino in pretty much the same way that the arrow is fired by the archer (using the bow as an instrument). So why would the dominoes not count as instruments? (Or do they?)

"Each boxcar, to be moved, depends on all the boxcars that precede it to 'communicate' motion, and ultimately on the caboose to impart it."

(I assume you mean "locomotive" rather than "caboose" here.) But the toppling domino also depends on all the previous dominoes to "communicate" motion; they just don't all have to be "communicating" it at once (unless, as I proposed in reply to Timotheos, they're set up together like books on a shelf). The very question at issue is why they do have to be "communicating" it all at once in order to count.

Moreover, the reason for the lack of simultaneity in the domino example as opposed to the boxcar example is ultimately that the former involves pushing and the latter involves pulling. Make the locomotive push the boxcars into one another so that each one bumps into the next, and you have a series that looks an awful lot like the dominoes. Why should the direction of the applied force make such a fundamental difference? (Or is that not what does it?)

grodrigues said...

@Scott:

"That's true, but the previous domino has to be toppling in order to impart that motion to the next domino. And the "toppling" seems to be communicated from the first domino in pretty much the same way that the arrow is fired by the archer (using the bow as an instrument). So why would the dominoes not count as instruments? (Or do they?)"

This seems to me to collapse the distinction between accidentally ordered and per se series; so allow me to answer with a question. How is the domino series *not* different from the Abraham begets Isaac begets Jacob, etc. series? If Abraham is to beget a grandchild, he must do so by begetting a child, so in that sense Isaac his is instrument to beget a grandchild. But it is also clear that for Isaac to beget Jacob, Isaac does not need the concurring causal power of Abraham, even if the begetting was all instantaneous, and thus all were simultaneous. Once Abraham has transmitted the power to Isaac (in this case, begetting him), his job as far as the begetting of children, is done and finished and Isaac is, for the strict narrow purposes of begetting children, independent of Abraham. This is what strikes me as being the distinctive feature of accidentally ordered series, a feature that the domino series seems to me to have.

The actual biological details of begetting in the actual world imply that for Abraham to beget a grandchild, he must do so via Isaac. But this "must do so", does not entail the kind of ontological dependence that is at the heart of Aquinas' arguments.

"I assume you mean "locomotive" rather than "caboose" here."

Yes, locomotive. Should reread comments before submitting them.

"Moreover, the reason for the lack of simultaneity in the domino example as opposed to the boxcar example is ultimately that the former involves pushing and the latter involves pulling. Make the locomotive push the boxcars into one another so that each one bumps into the next, and you have a series that looks an awful lot like the dominoes. Why should the direction of the applied force make such a fundamental difference? (Or is that not what does it?)"

I do not think pushing or pulling makes a difference; if the locomotive moved the boxcars by pushing them, the situation would be the same.

Suppose on the other hand, that the locomotive pushed the whole train by "bumps", that is, the locomotive bumps the first boxcar imparting motion on it, then the first car imparts motion on the second by bumping into it, etc. Then the scenario is exactly like the domino one and I would claim that it is an example (or an illustration) of an accidentally ordered series. Conversely, one could alter the domino scenario to make it a truly essentially ordered series, but I will leave that as an exercise.

The difficulty in articulating the difference, is that the physical details get in the way and obfuscate things; but from a metaphysical point of view, the difference seems to me to be clear.

Scott said...

"This seems to me to collapse the distinction between accidentally ordered and per se series; so allow me to answer with a question. How is the domino series *not* different from the Abraham begets Isaac begets Jacob, etc. series?"

By Aquinas's logic, Abraham's semen is an instrument of Abraham, whereas Isaac's is an instrument of Isaac. ("[T]he semen also is understood to be moved by the soul of the begetter, as long as it retains the force communicated by that soul" [emphasis mine].) The point of a per se series is that each member has its relevant causal power from its predecessor and imparts it to its successor. Granting that Isaac owes his existence (in part) to Abraham's semen, I don't think Aquinas would say that Abraham's causal power is still acting through Isaac when the latter begets Jacob—whereas it's at least arguable, I think, that the causal power of the First Toppler is imparted ("communicated") to each of the dominoes in turn. Aquinas, at least, would surely not regard each domino as having a "soul," and perhaps not even as having a substantial form of any kind.

"Once Abraham has transmitted the power to Isaac (in this case, begetting him), his job as far as the begetting of children, is done and finished and Isaac is, for the strict narrow purposes of begetting children, independent of Abraham. This is what strikes me as being the distinctive feature of accidentally ordered series, a feature that the domino series seems to me to have."

I agree that the domino series has it, but the domino series also seems to have a kind of instrumentality that the begetting series lacks. That lack is what currently strikes me as the distinctive feature of accidentally ordered series—though, again, I may be mistaken. (Mr. Green, are you reading this? Do you have anything to add?)

"I do not think pushing or pulling makes a difference; if the locomotive moved the boxcars by pushing them, the situation would be the same."

Not if the locomotive detached itself from the boxcars when it stopped, or vanished; then the boxcars would continue moving without it until friction stopped them. (Which would also happen in either case if the locomotive just stopped pulling but didn't brake.) In other words, it's being mechanically attached to the locomotive that makes them stop when the locomotive stops. So maybe it's not pushing vs. pulling that makes the difference, but it smells a bit arbitrary somehow. (I suppose another part of the problem here is deciding what to do with inertia and friction.)

"Conversely, one could alter the domino scenario to make it a truly essentially ordered series, but I will leave that as an exercise."

Well, I think I addressed that already, but it's not hard to multiply examples. Lay the dominoes end to end and push on the first one. Stack the dominoes one on top of another and lift the bottom one.

"The difficulty in articulating the difference, is that the physical details get in the way and obfuscate things; but from a metaphysical point of view, the difference seems to me to be clear."

I think you're right that the physical details get in the way, and I also think you're right that the difference between per se and per accidens causal series is clear. I'm just suspecting that there's good reason for the physical details to get in the way if we take the physical examples to be more than illustrations.

Perhaps the lesson here is that they are just illustrations: each series involves a large number of causal factors that aren't taken into account in the initial statement of the scenario, and once these are taken into account, we may arrive at a different conclusion as to the nature of the series.

Scott said...

I should perhaps have said, "The point of a per se series is that each member has its relevant causal power imparted to it by its predecessor and imparts it to its successor."

Timotheos said...

@ grodrigues

I think the example that Aquinas gives in the Summa may be confusing your understanding of per accidens causation. Like when he seemed to say that anything that heats must already be hot, his examples are meant to be reminders of the idea for people who are already familiar with the concepts, not be taken as complete explanations, full stop.

To take a different illustration, I’m going to quote a different part of the Summa, specifically Part 1 Q46 A2 Ad7

"In efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity per se—such as if the causes which are per se required for some effect were to be multiplied into infinity; as if the stone should be moved by a stick, and the stick by the hand, and thus into infinity. But to proceed per accidens into infinity in agent causes is not thought impossible; as, for example, if all the causes which are multiplied into infinity should hold the order of only one cause, and their multiplication were per accidens; just as a builder acts by many hammers per accidens, because one after another is broken. And so it happens to this hammer that it acts after the action of another hammer."

Notice how he does *not* illustrate per accidens causation by saying that each hammer has power independent casual power from its blacksmith, but he illustrates it by saying that the previous hammer that the carpenter happened to use doesn't contribute to the current hammer’s nailing.

"And likewise it happens to this man, inasmuch as he generates , that he was generated by another: for he generates as a man, and not inasmuch as he is the son of another man; for all men generating hold the same rank in efficient causes, namely the rank of a particular generator. Whence it is not impossible that man should be generated by man to infinity. But it would be impossible if the generation of this man were to depend on this man, and on an elementary body, and on the sun, and so on to infinity."

Like in the example before, he only says that each man generates because he has the power to generate, which is accidental to being generated (God could generate each man directly, and of course he’s not generated). He doesn't ever say that a chain of generated men does not involve instrumental causation.

Now it may be the case that he would, that’s what we’re debating, but as far as I can tell, that’s not entailed in the text in which he gives these illustrations. All that he seems to be trying to illustrate is an example of a per accidens cause, in the same way in which I defined per accidens causation earlier in this thread.

Timotheos said...

P.S.

Klima's piece, Whatever Happened to Efficient Causes? which has a great disscusion of per accidens causation, is also relevant here.

Timotheos said...

To sum up my viewpoint, I don’t think it’s the non-simultaneous-ness of per accidens causation that distinguishes it from per se causation.

Rather, I think it’s the fact that a per accidens cause can only actualize in the sense that it’s accidentally united to whatever is the true per se actualizer. (As I have said earlier within this thread)

Mr. Green said...

Scott: [...] the causal power of the First Toppler is imparted ("communicated") to each of the dominoes in turn. [...] I agree that the domino series has it, but the domino series also seems to have a kind of instrumentality that the begetting series lacks. That lack is what currently strikes me as the distinctive feature of accidentally ordered series—though, again, I may be mistaken.

Yes, I think this is right, and so the toppling dominos makes an essential series — in that respect. Once a man exists, he has the power to beget by virtue of his nature; a domino does not have the power to topple itself. (Actually, a man has the power to beget with a mate... a mate is essential, having a father is not.) Once a domino is in motion, it can, by its nature, continue in motion, but it cannot accelerate in the first place unless something else accelerates it — such as another domino, which in turn must have got its momentum from somewhere.

Of course, it depends on exactly what effects we are concerned with. Having red hair is not essential to being human, but it is to being a redhead. Abraham is not essential to Isaac's begetting a son, but he is to Isaac's begetting a grandson. A domino is not self-existent; it can't even have "existential inertia" imparted by something else, so its existence requires a cause here and now. So as you say, the more details we fill out in a real-life example, the more different sets of causes there will be, some essential, some accidental.

I was going to say that instrumentality need not be simultaneous — a player piano is clearly an instrument, even though it can continue playing after you're long gone — but actually I think GRodrigues is right in that the imparting must be simultaneous (in some sense). The player-piano cannot make music by itself (of its own essence), but it can continue playing of its own essence — it has the power of "musical inertia", in that once programmed, it can "play itself" without further outside causes. And while we normally think of a flute as being "noninertial", if we are pedantic, it does take a tiny amount of time for the air to travel from one end to the other, so the flautist could be annihilated in the nanosecond before the air emerges without stopping the sound. But the flautist, the piano-programmer, the First Toppler, the locomotive engine are all necessary causes for the subsequent effects to take place.

(All which might perhaps be shortened to "I agree with Timotheos".)

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

Nice summary. Thanks.

Quite a lot of that takes us back to Klima's piano-playing doctor, so I think Timotheos brought in a pretty apt example.

grodrigues said...

@all:

I have come around to accept that a Domino series is an essentially ordered series, for essentially the same reasons Scott gives. Nevertheless, let me first address a couple of points:

Mr. Green said:

"Yes, I think this is right, and so the toppling dominos makes an essential series — in that respect. Once a man exists, he has the power to beget by virtue of his nature; a domino does not have the power to topple itself."

So the distinction is to be made in terms of having the power of itself. But what does it mean to say that the domino does not have of itself the power to topple other dominoes? If a domino topples other dominoes, then it seems correct to say that it is in the power of the domino to topple other dominoes -- it is not like the toppling of dominoes was achieved by a super-natural feat. So maybe what Mr. Green wants to say is that the power is only potential and must be actualized, say by some other domino. But for the power of Isaac to beget a son to be actual, Abraham himself must beget him, so what is doing the work in the distinction? Is it the fact that they are self-movers insofar as they are living creatures? But that fact is surely extraneous to whether a series is accidental or not, right?

As far as I can see, the disagreement is (1) over whether certain specific causal *series* are essentially or accidentally ordered and concomitantly (2) whether our understanding of what distinguishes such series is accurate. I stress the word *series*, because I have no problem with for example, Aquinas' remark quoted by Timotheos: "And the mover and the thing moved must be together at the commencement of but not throughout the whole movement, as is evident in the case of projectiles". Aquinas is here talking about per se *causation*.

Also, while simultaneity may be entailed by per se causation, and thus by essentially ordered or per se *series*, is not of its essence. What is of its essence is the ontological dependence of each member on all the previous members, and ultimately, on the source of motion But how best to formulate it? G. Klima, in the paper linked by Timotheos, provides a clue:

"The fourth conclusion is the non-circularity and linear hierarchy of a series of per se, actual causes. The non-circularity of a series of per se causes is a direct consequence of the irreflexivity and transitivity of per se causation: suppose A is the per se cause of B, and in turn, B is the per se cause of A, constituting circularity. But then, by transitivity (which is generally assumed in any form of causation), A would have to be the per se cause of A, which contradicts the irreflexivity of per se causation just proved." (pdf pg. 28).

So besides irreflexivity (one is the mover and the other the moved, and the distinction is real), we have transitivity: I want say that boxcar n pulls boxcar n + k, for all k >= 1, and ultimately that the locomotive pulls every boxcar and moves the whole series. But since I have already conceded that domino n is the per se cause of the toppling of domino n + 1, by transitivity I have to say that domino n topples domino n + k, for all k >= 1.

The response is that one cannot apply transitivity willy-nilly, since the effect at some point in the chain (e.g. boxcar n peing pulled) must be in some suitable sense (being deliberately vague) the direct cause in the next link in the chain (boxcar n pulling boxcar n + 1). But this is also what happens in the domino series: domino n being toppled (the effect) is the direct cause of the toppling of domino n + 1 so that we do indeed have transitivity in the sequence of topplers qua topplers. But we do not have such in the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-etc. series of begetters, for Abraham begetting Issac is not directly related to Isaac begetting Jacob. True, for Isaac to beget Jacob, Abraham must beget Isaac in the first place, but qua begetters, Abraham's causal power is neither here nor there.

Thoughts?

Scott said...

@grodrigues:

"Thoughts?"

I think your post, especially the last full paragraph, is a very good restatement and amplification of what I was trying to get at earlier and not quite getting clear: that Abraham's power of begetting isn't still acting on/through Isaac when Isaac does some begetting of his own.

I'm glad to hear the discussion has changed your mind; your opinion carries enough weight with me that I was worried!

Mr. Green said...

Scott: I'm glad to hear the discussion has changed your mind; your opinion carries enough weight with me that I was worried!

GRodrigues is a handy chap to have around: besides knowing a lot about mathematics and physics, he is a careful thinker.

Grodrigues: So maybe what Mr. Green wants to say is that the power is only potential and must be actualized, say by some other domino. [...] domino n being toppled (the effect) is the direct cause of the toppling of domino n + 1 so that we do indeed have transitivity in the sequence of topplers qua topplers. But we do not have such in the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-etc. series of begetters, for Abraham begetting Issac is not directly related to Isaac begetting Jacob. True, for Isaac to beget Jacob, Abraham must beget Isaac in the first place, but qua begetters, Abraham's causal power is neither here nor there.

Yes; I should have said that a domino has the power to transmit momentum once it has it [from something else]. Isaac does not get his power to beget from anything Abraham or anyone else does, but simply from being a man. And since each domino in the series requires an essential cause to impart motion to it (since the premise is that all dominos begin in stationary upright positions), then the series as a whole is per se. (If any one cause in the series were accidental, then it could not be a cause of the motion in the affected domino, and thus the toppling would not continue past that point.)

Also, while simultaneity may be entailed by per se causation, and thus by essentially ordered or per se *series*, is not of its essence. What is of its essence is the ontological dependence of each member on all the previous members, and ultimately, on the source of motion

I agree with that too. Of course, a per se cause must be simultaneous with its effect in the way that any cause is; if it weren't, then something else would be the cause (or a contributing cause). But this can't mean instantaneous, because if all causes and effects were strictly simultaneous, then the whole life of the universe would occur in a single instant. But nor need an essential series be simultaneous, even in this sesnse, from first cause to last. (It might be, at least in theory, but each cause in the chain will be simultaneous with its own effect; over the whole chain, the time taken by each individual cause will add up.)

[continued…]

Mr. Green said...

[...cont'd]

Timotheos: Like in the example before, he only says that each man generates because he has the power to generate, which is accidental to being generated (God could generate each man directly, and of course he’s not generated). He doesn't ever say that a chain of generated men does not involve instrumental causation. Now it may be the case that he would

I think we can be sure that Aquinas would say a chain of begetting doesn't have to be essential, because otherwise that would provide an argument for the beginning of the world in time, which he thought could be proved only through revelation. Perhaps part of the difficulty comes from our everyday thinking of begetting as causing someone to come into existence; of course, it is God who creates/conserves each person in existence, not his parents. Even the pre-existing matter that forms a person must be conserved at each moment by God.

Now before I said that if we consider the effect "being a grandson of Abraham", then in that respect, Abraham's begetting of Isaac is necessary; so couldn't we carry on in this way and turn the infinite series of past events into an infinite per se chain? Well, the only way to do that would be to make a list of all the necessary begettings (say, from "Adam begot..." up to "... who begat Abraham who begat Isaac") — but that's an infinitely long list. (And you thought those ones in Genesis went on!) And of course, saying the series is infinite just means we cannot enumerate it (whether using numbers or using names).

In fact, I'd say the reason we cannot go to infinity in any of these proofs comes down the problem of traversing an infinity: in essential causes, we can identify the first cause: it's the one that provides momentum to one of the dominos or boxcars, or existence to one of the beings in the chain; and we can identify the last member of the chain (it's whatever one we started counting back from); but if we've identified two endpoints, then what's in between must be finite. So it's not that a chain of per se causes cannot be infinite, and thus there must be a first one; but rather that there must be a first one, and thus the chain cannot be infinite. Or rather (lest saying there must be a first one seems to beg the question), for a cause to be per se means there must be somewhere a cause we can point to and say, this is the source of the motion (and not merely a transmitter), and whatever number that is, first or otherwise, there cannot be an infinite number of causes between it and the endpoint under consideration.

(I hope this all makes sense. It does in my head, though it didn't come out as elegantly as I wanted!)

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"GRodrigues is a handy chap to have around: besides knowing a lot about mathematics and physics, he is a careful thinker."

Indeed. Knowledgeable, thorough, precise, methodical . . . I'm actually having a hard time thinking of any epistemological virtues he doesn't exemplify. Thanks, GRod.

"[T]here cannot be an infinite number of causes between it and the endpoint under consideration."

I think this is correct as you've stated it, but I'd like to amplify one point in order to avoid possible misunderstanding.

Once it's been shown that a per se series has a First Cause/Mover (i.e., God), we then know that God is the primary cause that keeps all the secondary causes in being and concurs in their operation. In that case it could perhaps turn out that there's an infinite series of secondary causes (for example, there's no obvious reason why God couldn't have created such a series ab aeterno)—it's just that none of the secondary causes could account for the initial causal power that is "communicated" along the chain.

Of course all I'm doing here is just making explicit something with which I'm sure you already agree: that the First Mover/Cause isn't merely an "endpoint" of the series but the sustaining cause of each element thereof, exercising a form of causality that is "orthogonal" to that in the series itself. What Aquinas shows ultimately is that there can't just be an infinite chain of secondary causes, not that such a chain can't be infinite at all even if it has a primary cause.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: Of course all I'm doing here is just making explicit something with which I'm sure you already agree: that the First Mover/Cause isn't merely an "endpoint" of the series but the sustaining cause of each element thereof, exercising a form of causality that is "orthogonal" to that in the series itself.

Indeed. And I guess the First Cause can be orthogonal to a secondary series as well as the endpoint, when we trace a series of secondary causes back to a point of creation. Which prompts me to consider that theories on which the universe "rolls up" (e.g. space and time converging at a single point at the Big Bang with no loose ends) are somewhat similar to an infinite series: while in the order of secondary causes, no cause is left hanging, in need of a "gap-filling" Primary Cause, the Primary Cause must exist nevertheless.

This also led me to ponder a history of the world with no beginning — or to simplify the example, a book that is forever copied, or e-mail message that is forever forwarded — as you say, this be created by God ab aeterno: the content of the message and the forwarding are accidental with respect to each other, so there is no contradiction simply in positing no beginning to the sequence of forwarding. However, the message must have content, or there would be no message to forward, and that content has no per se cause in the chain (or else that cause would be the first (secondary) cause from which the others succeeded). Therefore such a series could exist only with God as the per se cause of the message's content, creating the whole sequence "at once" (from His eternal point of view).