Monday, September 9, 2013

The return of final causality


I commend to you the late historian of philosophy Paul Hoffman’s paper “Does Efficient Causation Presuppose Final Causation?  Aquinas vs. Early Modern Mechanism.”  The paper appeared in the 2009 volume Metaphysics and the Good: Themes from the Philosophy of Robert Merrihew Adams, edited by Samuel Newlands and Larry Jorgensen, and I am pleased to find that it is available online.  It is part of a growing number of works by contemporary thinkers outside the Thomistic orbit which sympathetically reconsider or even defend (as Hoffman does) something like an Aristotelian conception of teleology.
 

Other examples include John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan’s paper “What Would Teleological Causation Be?”; Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos; the idea of “physical intentionality” in the work of causal powers theorists like George Molnar, John Heil, and U. T. Place; Monte Ransome Johnson’s book Aristotle on Teleology; and J. Scott Turner’s The Tinkerer’s Accomplice.  And then of course there are defenses by self-consciously Thomistic writers, like David Oderberg’s “Teleology: Inorganic and Organic”; and my own books and articles, such as “Teleology: A Shopper’s Guide” and “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way” (the latter forthcoming in Nova et Vetera). 

In Hoffman’s case the focus is on what he usefully characterizes as the “stripped-down core notion” of final causality operating in Aquinas’s analysis of efficient causation.  This is to be distinguished from more “full-bodied” kinds of finality or teleology, such as the sort we see in biological phenomena.  The stripped-down notion involves mere directedness toward an end.  Aquinas defends what later Scholastic writers call the principle of finality, according to which “every agent acts for an end.”  (See e.g. Summa Contra Gentiles III.2)  That is to say, if A is the efficient cause of B, that is because generating B is the final cause of A, the end toward which A points.  If A were not so directed, there would be no reason why it is B that A generates rather than some other effect or no effect at all.  This thesis is essentially what causal powers theorists like Molnar, Heil, and Place have rediscovered, and Hoffman defends it in the article.

Notice that, contrary to a common fallacious inference, this basic thesis is in no way undermined by the fact that some illustrations of the idea of finality or directedness toward an end involve scientific errors or simplifications.  For example, Aristotle and his medieval followers held that heavy objects naturally tend to fall down to the earth, specifically.  Of course, that is not correct, for there is nothing special about the gravitational pull of the earth per se.  I’ve given examples like the way ice tends to cool the environment surrounding it, or the way the phosphorus in the head of a match tends to generate flame and heat when the match is struck, or the way the moon tends to orbit the earth rather than flying off into deep space.  Obviously the scientific facts underlying these phenomena are far more complicated than these simple descriptions let on.

Do such errors and simplifications cast doubt on the principle of finality (as is sometimes claimed)?  Not in the least.  To see the fallacy, suppose I said that there are such things as murders and gave as examples of murderers Dr. Sam Sheppard and Charles Manson.  You reply: “Your claim is falsified by the fact that Sheppard was actually innocent, and Manson only gave orders to accomplices, who actually carried out the killings.”  Obviously this would be a silly reply.  That a particular claim about a certain murder turns out to be false, and that certain other murders are more complicated than merely postulating a single murderer who directly kills the victim, in no way casts doubt on the reality of murder per se.

But it is no less silly to say “Aristotle was wrong about the natural motion of sublunar bodies, therefore there are no final causes” or “The moon’s orbit has to do with the Earth’s gravity well, therefore there is no final causality here” or “What happens when ice is in water involves a complex exchange of energy among the molecules in the liquid water and the molecules in the ice, therefore there is no final causality here.”  For whatever the scientific details concerning gravitation, cooling, burning, etc. turn out to be, they will involve patterns of efficient causation (gravitational attraction, molecular interaction, etc.).  And these, Aquinas argues, will necessarily presuppose finality. 

In short, science can tell us whether a particular example of finality is a good one, but it cannot tell us whether or not there is such a thing as finality in the first place.  That is a topic for philosophy of nature and metaphysics, because it has to do with the nature of efficient causality as such, not the specific details of this or that instance of efficient causality.  (And no, that does not make claims about final causality “unfalsifiable” in the sense of being immune to rational evaluation and criticism.  For the methods of physics, chemistry, etc. are simply not the only methods of rational evaluation and criticism.  Claims about basic arithmetic and logic are susceptible of rational evaluation and criticism despite not being the sort of thing we can evaluate in the specific ways we evaluate claims of chemistry or physics; scientism itself is susceptible of rational evaluation and criticism despite its also not being the sort of thing we can evaluate in the specific ways we evaluate claims of chemistry or physics; and so forth.)

156 comments:

John Moore said...

In order for A to have a final cause, A must contain some kind of representation of B. That's what I thought, anyway. If A has no representation of B, then A is just the material cause, not the efficient cause.

"If A is the efficient cause of B, that is because generating B is the final cause of A, the end toward which A points."


Anonymous said...

This cleared up some confusions I had on how efficient/final causality relates to scientific explanations.

Thanks for re-explaining the simple stuff for dimwits like me!

emmisco said...

Another great image for this post (however you say it). Well played :p

William Dunkirk said...

The world is only intelligible with reference to final causality. Science assumes it: we have no satisfactory explanation of a thing until some final cause is produced. Every scientific explanation of a phenomena necessarily gives some final cause or, otherwise, seeks it when this is mysterious. Indeed, scientific investigation is inspired by the desire to determine final causes. Because scientists are not philosophers, they lump formal and final causes under material and efficient causes; notwithstanding, the natural philosopher can always pinpoint the material, formal, efficient and final causes in any scientific explanation of a given phenomenon. In fact, the general ignorace of modern scientists, theorists and researchers about the four causes proves to be a blessing in dsguise: they happily and unwittingly produce all the evidence and proof of final and formal causes and free the philosopher to simply organize their data. Thus, the modern scientist has become the unwitting handmaiden of the classic philosopher. This frees philosophers and the students of the great philosophers to concentrate on organizing human knowledge and making it coherent, thus facilitating genuine wisdom.

Joseph R. Stromberg said...

Paul Janet's *Final Causes* (Edinburgh, 1883) is still interesting, despite some Hegelian baggage Janet picked up from Victor Cousin.

Max Weismann said...

Hello,

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos--lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm

ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

Thank you,

Max Weismann

Scott said...

Joseph R. Stromberg: "Paul Janet's *Final Causes* (Edinburgh, 1883) . . . "

For anyone who's interested, that book is freely downloadable here.

Lothar Lorraine said...

Maybe, but I am not convinced final causality is real in the same way I'm not convinced there is a good God.

I agree that possibilities are emotionally extremely desirable.


The problem is that a small minorities of wars were just.

Think on how the world would be now if the allies had refused to withstand the Nazis...


Lovely greetings from Europe.

Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com


Anonymous said...

"Think on how the world would be now if the allies had refused to withstand the Nazis..."

Who knows, actually.

It is difficult to predict what the outcome would have been.

In theory the would might now be a better place if Hitler had won and Nazism was overthrown later on, if we really want to speculate.


The war of the allies was not just because of 'what ifs' but because Nazism was an intrinsically evil movement, and allowing it to thrive without resistance would have been partecipating, albeit indirectly, in such evil.

Robert said...

Things do what they do because they exist to so do?

A match ignites because matches exist to ignite?

A little help here please!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Robert:

A "match" that could not, under any circumstances, combust would not properly be a match. The intrinsic nature of such a "match" would not be causally aligned with the effect of combustion. A match, by contrast, is so constituted that its causal power *naturally* includes and aligns with the effect of combustion. Indeed, we understand what a match *is* precisely by understanding what it *is for* in the causal order. The match's finality is tenuous, however, because it is an artifact, not a properly natural entity, so its finality is rooted more in the nature of the phosphorus on its head. Granted, numerous other random objects could cause combustion under immense speed and friction, but that would not merit calling them "matches" as well. Using such objects *in a matchlike way* would just be a different case (or species) of achieving a broader end (or causal genus). All such random objects would be artificially classed in terms of their combustible finality, rather than in terms of their material characteristics, and so even then their material potency would be ordered towards their formal finality.

Robert said...

@ Codgitator

Thanks for the response, though I think that I am still confused.

"Indeed, we understand what a match *is* precisely by understanding what it *is for* in the causal order."

Suppose that all anyone ever did with a match was to pick one's teeth. Would the final cause of the match then be a toothpick?

How would one know?

Bobcat said...

I want to see if I understand the case for final causality by summarizing what I take to be Professor Feser's position (note, this is not an argument, it's just a list of numbered statements):

1. Suppose that something, A, efficiently causes something else, B.
2. Suppose as well that there is no such thing as final causality (or, if you think that's incoherent, suppose that no one believes in final causality).
3. If we don't invoke final causality, then we have no answer to the question, "why did A cause B as opposed to C, D, E...?"
4. If we do invoke final causality, then we have an answer to the question from 3. Our answer is: "A caused B because B was the final cause of A. Since B was A's final cause, *that's* why A didn't cause C, D, E, ...: because its final cause dictated that it could only produce B."

So is the advantage of final causality over efficient causality supposed to be: if we invoke final causality, we can explain why things cause what they do? And if we do this, we can solve the problem of induction?

Scott said...

@Robert:

"Suppose that all anyone ever did with a match was to pick one's teeth. Would the final cause of the match then be a toothpick?"

No. The match is an artifact; it was made for the purpose that its maker had in mind, not just for whatever purpose it could be put to. That is, it's the maker's purpose that explains the existence of the match as a match.

That said, though, the match does have lots of properties that might suit it for this or that purpose, and those still count as causal properties of the match (or its parts); they just don't explain why the match exists as a match. Those properties involve final causes as well, in the sense of "ends toward which something by nature points or is directed."

The wood in the stick, for example, has properties that suit it for use as a toothpick. But those are properties of the wood/stick, not of the match as a match.

"How would one know?"

Well, that's another question. If we stumbled across an artifact on an alien planet, we might not be able to tell what it was made for. But it would still be objectively the case that it was made for that purpose (whatever it was), and its existence as an artifact would be partly explained by its final cause if only we knew it.

Robert said...

@Scott

Thanks.

That clarifies my question with regards to the designed objects.

How does this work for natural objects, like a star?

What is the final cause of a star?

Scott said...

"Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match . . . "

Scott said...

@Robert:

"How does this work for natural objects, like a star?

What is the final cause of a star?"

As with the match, the physical components of a star have lots of final causes—effects or results toward the production of which they're by nature "directed."

As for the star itself as a star: To whatever extent we can regard it as a natural object (as we can a plant or an animal), I suppose we can think of it as undergoing a process of development and change, and we can think of its "final cause" (in an attenuated or analogical sense) as the end toward which that development proceeds.

But the star is neither an artifact nor a substance, and it's arguably not quite right to say that it has a final cause (or causes) as a star in the same way that a match has a final cause as a match or an acorn has a final cause as an acorn. I suspect the final cause "of" the star will eventually be fully cashed out in terms of the final causes of its physical components.

(In all of the foregoing I'm deliberately sticking strictly to the natural order and in particular to physics. It could also be that stars have other purposes from God's point of view, in which case we might say that the final causes of a star include looking pretty in the sky at night, serving as an object of scientific investigation, or what have you.)

Scott said...

Instead of "But the star is neither an artifact nor a substance" I should perhaps have said "But the star is neither an artifact nor, I suspect, a 'natural object' in Aristotle's sense."

Anyway, if anybody else wants to weigh in here, have at it. My word on this subject is nowhere close to final.

Robert said...

@Scott,

Thanks, can you clarify what you mean by this:

"But the star is neither an artifact nor a substance,"

Obviously it is not an artifact, if by artifact you mean something "manufactured for a purpose". What do you mean by substance, when saying that a star is not one, though an acorn, a I presume you mean as an acorn is not an artifact, is?

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

I don't think I'd quite say that final causality has an "advantage" over efficient causality; I'd just say that both kinds of cause are part of a complete explanation and that in a sense final causality is more fundamental.

To put it another way: efficient causality plus final causality has an "advantage" over efficient causality alone, because efficient causality doesn't make sense without final causality.

Scott said...

@Robert:

"What do you mean by substance, when saying that a star is not one[?]"

I was using the word with its Aristotelian meaning, but we needn't bother about that now, as I should probably have said "natural object" instead; that was after all the term you yourself had used.

And what I mean is that I'm not sure a star would qualify as a "natural object" in Aristotelian terms. For Aristotle, such an object has "self-movement" and a sort of cohesiveness that an artifact lacks. I suspect that a star either doesn't have "self-movement" in the requisite sense or has it only analogically.

It doesn't matter much to the present point, though. The general answer to the question you were ultimately asking is that the "final cause" of a natural object is the end toward which it develops, as the final cause of an acorn is the oak tree it's in the process of becoming. Whether a star qualifies as a natural object is a different question. If it's a mere aggregate, then its "final cause(s)" will ultimately be cashed out in terms of the final causes of its parts.

Robert said...

@Scott,

Okay, thanks.

Is there anywhere you could point to where I can read about Aristotle's understanding of what constitutes a natural object?

Scott said...

@Robert:

It's actually pretty much interchangeable with "substance"; I just didn't want to get sidetracked into a discussion of terminology, especially since as a denizen of this site you're probably already familiar with it. Here's a relevant blog post from this site, and here's a little Aristotle that seems at least slightly on point.

Frank said...

1. I am sure you have addressed this point, perhaps many times, but could you direct me to where you have done so: I see that "A caused B because there just is a law of nature that As tend to be followed by Bs" is not, in itself, very illuminating. But why is it more illuminating to say "A caused B because it just is the nature of As to produce Bs"?
Hoffman appears to say that both of these are examples of final causation, but at this point the idea becomes so stripped-down that I don't see how anything interesting follows from it. It just seems to be a way of talking.
2. I am not aware of any very good general discussion of what makes an explanation a good one. Are you? If no such thing exists, is that a fact of philosophical importance--e.g. does it suggest a sort of Kuhnian indeterminacy in which each "paradigm" comes with its own idea of what counts as a good explanation?

Scott said...

@Frank:

"[W]hy is it more illuminating to say 'A caused B because it just is the nature of As to produce Bs'?"

"A causes B by nature" isn't an explanation; it's the form of an explanation. (Or of part of one, anyway.)

Suppose, for example, that we want to know why/how a match produces flame. Nobody in the history of the world has ever seriously proposed Because of its nature as an explanation of that phenomenon. The point is that if the phosphorus in a match head really does produce flame, there must be something in its nature that accounts for this ability, and whatever that is, it's what we should be looking for if we want an explanation. The explanation itself comes from chemists.

George R. said...

Scott,
How do you know that a star is not an artifact?

Scott said...

@George R.:

"How do you know that a star is not an artifact?"

I don't. In fact I implicitly allowed for the possibility that stars might be divine artifacts in an earlier parenthetical comment, and strictly speaking I also can't rule out that they were "built" by an alien race or something.

If that's the case, though, then they don't serve as an example for Robert's question, which in its ultimate intent was about things that aren't artifacts. His question about things that are artifacts has already been addressed, and artifactual stars would fall under that answer.

Robert said...

@Scott,

But the phosphorus in the match head in and of itself, does not produce flame. The flame is produced by a combination of the phosphorus, the oxygen in the air and the initial heat generated by striking it, or something to that effect.

Therefore, it doesn't seem like saying that the final cause of a match head, in and of itself, can actually produce flame. Or am I still missing something?

Another thing, are final causes retro-causal? As in, is the oak tree the cause of it's own acorn?

Scott said...

@Robert:

"But the phosphorus in the match head in and of itself, does not produce flame. The flame is produced by a combination of the phosphorus, the oxygen in the air and the initial heat generated by striking it, or something to that effect.

Therefore, it doesn't seem like saying that the final cause of a match head, in and of itself, can actually produce flame. Or am I still missing something?"

The "final cause of a match head" doesn't "produce flame."

The production of flame is the final cause of a match head as a match head, in the sense that producing flame was the purpose for which the match itself was made.

Also, flame is one of the final causes of phosphorus (which is a chemical element, not an artifact like a match head) in the sense that, in combination with other efficient causes and conditions, it has the potency to participate in a chemical process that results in combustion.

Where's the problem?

(I'm going to be busy for a good part of the rest of the day, so please don't count on rapid replies or take it amiss if I don't respond right away.)

Scott said...

@Robert:

Sorry, overlooked this:

"Another thing, are final causes retro-causal? As in, is the oak tree the cause of [its] own acorn?"

It's obviously the final cause of its own acorn, but your question suggests that you're thinking of some other type of cause.

As Aristotle says, the formal and final (and sometimes efficient) causes of a natural object are very often the same. In this instance I'd say that in addition to being the final cause of the acorn, the oak tree is also its formal cause (in the sense that it's of the essence of the acorn to be/become that oak tree) but not its efficient cause (that which brings the acorn into being; that would be the parent oak). (And it's pretty obviously not the material cause.)

My best guess here is that you're asking whether the oak tree is the efficient cause of its own acorn, and in that case I'd say no.

Brandon said...

Bobcat,

Like Scott, I don't think that it's a question of the advantage of one over the other: arguing for final causes ultimately involves arguing that efficient causes and final causes are complementary (although this can take more than one form). But the idea from an Aristotelian perspective is that the final cause is the 'cause of causes' -- while it's not prior in the order of the process or discovery, it has a priority in the order of intelligibility (or explanation), because something serves as a final cause precisely to the extent it explains why this cause has this kind of effect rather than some other kind of effect. To eliminate discussion of final causes by definition results in a lot of inexplicable efficient causality.

Brandon said...

Bobcat (cont'd),

I missed the induction question. It's not an easy walk in the park, but I think it does follow that if final causes can be established this establishes a solution to the problem of induction -- the problem of induction as we think of it goes back to Hume, and his argument against our ability to discover objective necessary connection. One way that one could see the whole Humean argument is as an attempt to work out more consistently what the world must be like if there are no (discoverable) objective final causes in it.

George R. said...

Scott,
I agree that a star is not a substance, but rather it is composed of substances. However, we ought to consider it to be an artifact, at least until science can come up with a theory of natural star formation that isn't completely ridiculous.

Step2 said...

The production of flame is the final cause of a match head as a match head, in the sense that producing flame was the purpose for which the match itself was made.

So what? There is an underlying assumption that being made for a purpose is the best purpose or even more absurdly the only purpose, which is clearly false. Doubly false for complex objects that were made for multiple functions. The best purpose for a match is the one that is needed at a particular moment.

...at least until science can come up with a theory of natural star formation that isn't completely ridiculous.

Yes, gravity is so ridiculous.

Since Scott has already made a lyrical reference, I will go with something more frantic:
Six o'clock, TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning, bloodletting. Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate. Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh, this means no fear. Cavalier, renegade and steer clear. A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"There is an underlying assumption that being made for a purpose is the best purpose or even more absurdly the only purpose[.]"

No, there isn't. The point of the Aristotelian account of causation is to explain why/how something comes to exist. If something is deliberately brought into being by a designer, craftsman, or artisan, then one of the reasons it comes to exist is the designer's purpose. If he has more than one purpose in mind for the object, then so be it; there's no reason the "final cause" of an artifact can't be complex or multiple. But whatever other purposes it might later serve, it wasn't brought into being in order to fulfil those purposes. You can pound a nail with a shoe, but unless the cobbler brought the shoe into existence in order to pound nails, pounding nails doesn't tell us anything about why/how the shoe came to exist.

(I should perhaps emphasize that this post is strictly about artifacts. However, considerations about complex/multiple final causes apply mutatis mutandis to natural objects.)

Brandon said...

So what? There is an underlying assumption that being made for a purpose is the best purpose or even more absurdly the only purpose, which is clearly false.

There is no such assumption being made in the argument.

Brandon said...

Whoops, I see Scott just beat me to it.

Scott said...

It's probably also worth clarifying (yet again) that when we talk about the "final cause" of a match, we're talking about its final cause as a match and not merely as a collection of physical bits. (A match is an artifact and has a final cause as an artifact; if a bunch of matter happened to assemble into a match-like aggregate, that aggregate wouldn't have a final cause in its own right and wouldn't properly cunt as a "match" at all.) The phosphorus in its head has "final causes" of its own that don't depend on the purposes of the maker of the artifact into which it's incorporated.

Scott said...

Eek. For "cunt" read "count." ;-)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

It may be obvious to everyone, but in case it's not, I would like to point out the contradiction that besets most critics of final causation in this thread. Even when they criticize the putative finality of a match (to use one, admittedly limited, example), they keep using that term as if it referred to one thing instead of any other. Why call "that little wooden" thing a match rather than a toothpick, or a large splinter? How do we know we're all talking about the same thing––about the same causal factor––when we type the word "match"? We only know it because we implicitly agree on the causal link that exists between phosphorus-tipped wood, oxygen, and motion and the effect of fire. Absent this shared understanding of the causal link between matches and their effects, the entire debate becomes literally unintelligible.

Critics of final causality cannot, in one breath, reject an overriding finality for, say, matches and then, in the next, refer to the object in question based precisely on its use. I don't regret bringing matches into this discussion, but I should point out that the thrust of my first comment was not to imply that the material elements which belong to matches can be used for all sorts of other actions, but to emphasize the *causal intelligibility* that is inherent to matches *qua* matches. My aim was certainly not to aver that matches can never be used for some other end. But again, precisely by being used for some other end, they are being diverted from their original causal structure in order to fit within some other causal order. Just as an acorn that could never, under any causal circumstances, develop into an oak tree would be called a defective acorn, so too a match that could never, under any circumstances, result in the effect of combustion would not properly be called a match. A man may use a matchstick to gouge out his enemy's eyes, but he still knows that he's using a *match* to do that. How does he know that he used a match rather than a mallet to do the deed? He knows the causal powers that properly inhere in a match, even though he chose to tap into the causal powers of one aspect of the match (i.e. its wood).

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

ERROR: "not to imply that the material elements which belong to matches can NOT be used for"

Scott said...

@Codgitator:

"I should point out that the thrust of my first comment was not to imply that the material elements which belong to matches can [not] be used for all sorts of other actions, but to emphasize the *causal intelligibility* that is inherent to matches *qua* matches."

Agreed, and that's a point well worth bringing out as explicitly as possible. I've had it in mind in several of my posts but it deserves all the emphasis it can get.

Step2 said...

You can pound a nail with a shoe, but unless the cobbler brought the shoe into existence in order to pound nails, pounding nails doesn't tell us anything about why/how the shoe came to exist.

I don't see how that changes the overall meaning of the actual cause and effect. To take an easy example, let's say Aristotle would never have intended his philosophy to be used for a religious reason, perhaps he was dismissive of religion like Plato was. Does that mean nobody could ever adapt his philosophy to a religious purpose? Obviously not, and the original reason the philosophy came into existence doesn't matter.

Critics of final causality cannot, in one breath, reject an overriding finality for, say, matches and then, in the next, refer to the object in question based precisely on its use.

We can name anything we want whatever we want to name it so long as we agree it points to the same object. If by convention or habit an item is called a match, there is no reason to call it something different even if a million other uses are discovered for it and its practical, social use as a producer of flame vanishes completely.

Anonymous said...

Matches and other artifacts have functions and purposes, to be sure, just as biologically-evolved components of a living organism do. None of it requires any special metaphysical hoo-hah. This is what the Darwinian revolution and the cybernetic revolution showed; but the news is slow to get around in some quarters.

Brandon said...

Matches and other artifacts have functions and purposes, to be sure, just as biologically-evolved components of a living organism do. None of it requires any special metaphysical hoo-hah.

Very true; since no one here is appealing to any special metaphysical hoo-hah except the person who just claimed that biologically-evolved components of a living organism have "purposes" just like artifacts, everyone's good, then.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Step2 writes,

perhaps he was dismissive of religion like Plato was

You have a very strange understanding of Plato.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Step2,

Besides, your response to the issue of names is in fact a non-response. It says we can name things anything we want, by convention, but it avoids actually explaining why things are named such and such and, significantly in this context, why they are grouped under a particular name, even by convention and habit.


rank sophist said...

Step2,

We can name anything we want whatever we want to name it so long as we agree it points to the same object.

Which is impossible without final causality. You seem to have defeated your own argument, here.

It's certainly true that names can be applied to anything; but, if those names are to mean anything, then it must be possible to apply them in the first place. And this cannot be done without reference to teleology. Further, our names for things must be applied to things, which is to say that language must signify real entities. The question is how we are to explain what these real entities are without reference to formal and final causes. Even if we all agree that "match" is the name for a certain object, we must also be able to agree about what that certain object is, which means appealing to its form and function.

To claim otherwise leaves us in the following states: A) our names do not refer to anything and B) there are no kinds of entities that we could agree to name in the first place.

Step2 said...

Even if we all agree that "match" is the name for a certain object, we must also be able to agree about what that certain object is, which means appealing to its form and function.

I agree that meaning is derived from the present form and function (i.e. what it is, not what it was or might become). If you were to time travel as far back as 1970 and say to somebody, “I’m going to use my phone to scan a barcode so I can shop online,” they would have a limited understanding of what you said. Forty years from now people might ubiquitously use implant devices to communicate “telepathically” and the practical use of a phone is for identification and monetary transactions.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Step2:

It is precisely the functional indeterminacy of the material cause of an entity in whatever efficient-causal scenario you propose that requires formal and final causality to ground an entity *as* a proper instance of its kind (in our knowledge of it) and to explain the entity's causal powers. The reason you could use a phone to do X, is not due to the material basis of the phone, but rather the causal powers it possesses in light of a certain end. You could not use a cucumber to complete the transaction, unless you diverted its material causal potency into a formally distinct end (say by running wires through it to serve as a wet modem). Every time you object that some artifact could be used in some other way, we on the side of final causality agree and have already said as much, so you're really just giving more details into the importance of finality vis-à-vis material indeterminacy. I strongly suggest we move the discussion away from artifacts and onto natural substances and organisms.

Glenn said...

Step2,

Maybe this'll help to clarify something for you:

1. Draw a rectangle.

2. Bisect it from the top-left corner to the bottom-right corner.

3. Write 'artifacts' in the triangle on the left.

4. Write 'natural substances and organisms' in the triangle on the right.

5. I'm now going to make three statements, the first of which (6. in this list) is true for the rectangle in its entirety (i.e., it is true for both artifacts and natural substances and organisms), the second of which (7. in this list) is true for the left triangle only (i.e., it is true only for artifacts), and the third of which (8. in this list) is true for the right triangle only (i.e., it is true only for natural substances and organisms).

6. The end of a thing -- be it artifact, natural substance or organism --is 'what it is for', and the 'what it is for' of a thing is its 'final cause'.

7. The final cause of an artifact is extrinsic to (i.e., 'external to') that artifact.

8. The final cause of a natural substance (or organism) is intrinsic to (i.e., 'internal to' (or 'inheres in')) that natural substance (or organism).

9. I'm now going to make two more statements, the first of which (10. in this list) applies to artifacts, and the second of which (11. in this list) applies to natural substances and organisms.

10. Created man can change the final cause of an artifact.

11. Created man cannot change the final cause of a natural substance or an organism (and if he thinks he has, he's either mistaken or has first made an artifact of or from it).

Mr. Green said...

George R.: However, we ought to consider [a star] to be an artifact, at least until science can come up with a theory of natural star formation that isn't completely ridiculous.

OK... we look forward to reading your forthcoming paper detailing the fundamental flaws in the current state of astrophysics. Do let us know when Nature publishes it. In the meantime, you might yourself make a less ridiculous claim such as, "If we don't know where stars come from, then we ought to remain agnostic on the issue."

Step2 said...

@Codgitator
You and rank sophist appear to be at odds, since his comment stated that meaning comes from appeals to form and function of the object while you are saying there is functional indeterminacy of material causes. Do you agree or disagree that final causes are related to functions? Furthermore, I don't have a problem saying that some objects are more efficient at causing specific effects, whether or not they were originally designed to do so. After all there was flint and steel before there were matches.

@Glenn,
I think you mean to say final causes and ends rather than the singular version. Moreover, the final causes of a simple, natural substance like water are so enormous it is vanity to believe you can know them all. I don't understand your major distinction between natural substances and artifacts, the first stone tools were natural stones.

Glenn said...

Step2,

I don't understand your major distinction between natural substances and artifacts, the first stone tools were natural stones.

To keep it simple (or oversimplify it (either way))...

If it isn't made by a human, then it isn't an artifact; whereas if it is made by a human, then it is an artifact.

So, whereas a natural stone is not an artifact, a stone tool is an artifact (because a human made a tool of the natural stone).

Step2 said...

So, whereas a natural stone is not an artifact, a stone tool is an artifact (because a human made a tool of the natural stone).

So if a human just threw a rock at something without shaping the rock in any way is it still considered an artifact simply by being used as a tool?

Scott said...

@Step2:

"[Codgitator] and rank sophist appear to be at odds, since [rank sophist's] comment stated that meaning comes from appeals to form and function of the object while [Codgitator is] saying there is functional indeterminacy of material causes."

rank sophist says we have to look at formal and final causes to know what an object is, and Codgitator says material causes alone are insufficient. Not only is there no conflict, they're actually saying pretty much the same thing.

"I don't understand [Glenn's] major distinction between natural substances and artifacts, the first stone tools were natural stones."

A stone is neither a natural substance nor an artifact; it's just an agglomeration of bits of earth and so forth. A better example would be a tool made from part of a mollusk shell. The mollusk itself would count as a natural substance (a living organism), and a tool made from the shell would count as an artifact and if the shell were used in its "natural" state, without any modification, it wouldn't count as either. (It certainly wouldn't be a "natural substance," and it probably wouldn't be an "artifact.")

Scott said...

@Step2:

"So if a human just threw a rock at something without shaping the rock in any way is it still considered an artifact simply by being used as a tool?"

No. But again, it's also not a "natural substance."

Scott said...

(Well, at least I don't think a rock should be regarded as an Aristotelian substance; I think it's a mere aggregate. But I suppose there's room for argument.)

Daniel Smith said...

Why is a stone not a natural substance? It's surely not an artifact! It's "natural" and it's a "substance" (I think! Maybe that's where I'm losing it!)

Scott said...

@Daniel Smith:

"Why is a stone not a natural substance? It's surely not an artifact!"

Because it's not a "substance" at all; it's an aggregate. (My opinion, anyway.)

Be that as it may, your unstated premise is mistaken. The world doesn't divide only into substances and artifacts. Your left hand, for example, is neither.

Daniel Smith said...

aggregate - OK.

In my mind, even an aggregate can have a final cause though.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: >"So if a human just threw a rock at something without shaping the rock in any way is it still considered an artifact simply by being used as a tool?"
No. But again, it's also not a "natural substance."


Actually, I'd have said it is an artifact. As artifacts go, it's not very impressive — in fact, it might be a good example of the minimal possible artifact — but by using the rock as a projectile you are applying an extrinsic intentionality to it. Likewise, intending to use a rock as a paperweight makes it into an (extremely simple!) artifact.

(I don't think it matters too much for this example whether the rock is itself a substance or a bunch of substances aggregated together; I'm inclined to agree that it probably is the latter, in which case I guess a rock qua projectile or paperweight would be a barely more complex artifact.)


Daniel: In my mind, even an aggregate can have a final cause though.

It certainly can, although it can't be intrinsic (because an aggregate isn't a thing for it to be intrinsic to; the substances out of which it is made have final causes; and the aggregate as a whole can have extrinsic finality).

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"Actually, I'd have said it is an artifact. As artifacts go, it's not very impressive — in fact, it might be a good example of the minimal possible artifact — but by using the rock as a projectile you are applying an extrinsic intentionality to it."

Okay, I'll buy that. But yeah, that's about as little "artifacty" as an artifact can be. ;-)

Scott said...

@Daniel Smith:

"In my mind, even an aggregate can have a final cause though."

As Mr. Green says, that's true, but that final cause can't be intrinsic to it. And having an extrinsic final cause isn't sufficient to make it a "substance."

George R. said...

Mr. Green writes:
"OK... we look forward to reading your forthcoming paper detailing the fundamental flaws in the current state of astrophysics. Do let us know when Nature publishes it."

No need to wait, Mr. Green. I’ll tell you right now. The problem with astrophysics today is that it’s run by atheists. This state of affairs leads to all kinds of silliness, because when faced with a situation where no natural explanation is possible, they nevertheless feel compelled to come up with one anyway. For example, to explain star formation they usually trot out some version of the Nebular Theory. The scientists themselves, of course, don’t really believe any of this nebular nonsense. It’s strictly for the tourists. In fact, when they’re talking to each other they say things like the following by astronomer Martin Harwit:

“The universe we see when we look out to its farthest
Horizons contains a hundred billion galaxies. Each of these
galaxies contains another hundred billion stars. That’s 10^22
stars all told. The silent embarrassment of modern astrophysics
is that we do not know how even a single one of these
stars managed to form.”

Or this by astronomer and Big Bang theorist G. R. Burbridge:

“If stars did not exist, it would be easy to prove that this
is what we expect.”

Mr. Green continues:
"In the meantime, you might yourself make a less ridiculous claim such as, 'If we don't know where stars come from, then we ought to remain agnostic on the issue.'"

Now why would anyone who knows there’s a God say such a thing?

Consider this analogy: Suppose you kept an elephant in your living room, and one day you came home from work and saw your coffee table as flat as a pancake on the floor in your living room. Would you say to yourself, “I wonder what could have happen to my coffee table. What on earth could have done this? This is a complete mystery. Hmmm, perhaps the coffee table somehow flattened itself.” I don’t think you would say this, do you? On the other hand, if you had no elephant, then you might have a real mystery on your hands. Therefore, those who know there is a God are like those who know there’s an elephant in the living room: if there‘s something nature can‘t do, they know there is a Cause that can, and so there‘s no reason for bewilderment -- or silly theories.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Step2:

"You and rank sophist appear to be at odds, since his comment stated that meaning comes from appeals to form and function of the object while you are saying there is functional indeterminacy of material causes. Do you agree or disagree that final causes are related to functions? Furthermore, I don't have a problem saying that some objects are more efficient at causing specific effects, whether or not they were originally designed to do so."

I know this might sound snarky, but it's meant in genuine good will. Ever seen _The Princess Bride_? "You keep using that word––I do not think it means what you think it means." The way you use certain key terms in this discussion indicates to me that you have a weak grasp of some technical terms in Aristotelian metaphysics, and this contributes to numerous fallacies of equivocation in your objections (and, from your perspective, in some replies to you). Perhaps you should search Feser's archives here to get a better general sense of Aristotelian terms. I'm not being tongue in cheek, just trying to avoid a lot of wasted energy based on simple lexical confusion.

As for the apparent contradiction between myself and rank sophist, I agree with Scott that, in fact, our point is the same: because material causes are metaphysically indeterminate (causally inadequate on their own), we must appeal to some other order of causation to account for the intelligibility of material objects. This other order includes form and finality. Having said that, no one here intends to say that the latter exist all on their own entirely free from material and efficient causation. Aristotle's point is that explanation is to intelligence as causality is to being, and that the four modes of causation all co-exist in the objects of which natural philosophy treats.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"[T]hose who know there is a God are like those who know there's an elephant in the living room[.]"

Those who make this analogy are confusing secondary causes with primary causes.

The question at issue is whether the formation of stars has a natural explanation in terms of secondary causes (and, if so, what it is), not whether the existence of that entire causal process depends on God.

It's perfectly obvious that not everything in the entire universe is an "artifact" in the sense you require. If God wants there to be a star, then bam, there's an oak. But that's not what happens in our world, so apparently God wants not just stars, but the entire process by which stars are formed. So it's entirely proper to inquire how that process works, even though we know it depends on the "elephant" for its very existence as a process.

Scott said...

"Oak" = "star." (I started with oaks, changed to stars, and failed to complete my edit.)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Scott:

"If God wants there to be a star, then bam, there's an oak."

For whatever reason, I find the sentence as it stands even more impressive than what you meant to write hahah!

Glenn said...

Water under the bridge...

Aquinas wrote, "[T]he definition of natural substances contains not only form, but matter as well; otherwise natural definitions and mathematical ones would not differ." (DE&E 16 here.)

Given this definition of 'natural substances' -- and depending on what is accepted as qualifying as 'matter' -- a rock might qualify as a 'natural substance'. Whether a rock does indeed qualify as a 'natural substance', however, is somewhat beside the point re the answer I gave to Step2. To see why it is somewhat beside the point, let's consider the case wherein a rock most definitely and unequivocally is not a 'natural substance'.

Had Step2 merely written, "I don't understand your major distinction between natural substances and artifacts," then the implied question would have been, "What is the distinction between natural substances and artifacts?" And with respect to this implied question, what I said is 'somewhat beside the point' clearly is not at all beside the point.

But Step2 didn't write merely that; he also wrote, "[T]he first stone tools were natural stones." And the implied question now seems to be, "Given stone tools and natural stones, which would be the natural substances, and which the artifacts? Or are they both natural substances? Or both artifacts?"

Since we're considering the case wherein a rock most definitely and unequivocally is not a 'natural substance', it is obvious that neither stone tools nor natural stones are 'natural substances'. One of them, however, is an artifact. And so my response -- which was prefaced by, "To keep it simple (or oversimplify it (either way))" -- was to make a general distinction between what is an artifact, and what is not an artifact.

Glenn said...

("One of them, however, is an artifact." s/b "...is a group of artifacts.")

Glenn said...

(Well, 'rock' and 'stone' are not quite interchangeable; sheesh.)

Gene Callahan said...

" To take an easy example, let's say Aristotle would never have intended his philosophy to be used for a religious reason, perhaps he was dismissive of religion like Plato was."


Both Plato and Aristotle were mystics who helped form the basis for classical theism. And Plato could not have been dismissive of "religion," for the concept was only invented later. What he was contemptuous of was some of the stories in Greek mythology.

"Does that mean nobody could ever adapt his philosophy to a religious purpose? Obviously not, and the original reason the philosophy came into existence doesn't matter."

Well, it sure as hell matters if you want to know, e.g., "Why did Aristotle write that particular sentence?"

Anonymous said...

I read the first edition of Mortimer Adler's "How to Read a Book" back in 1947. (Yes, I'm very old.) I've never been the same since. It helped turn me into a philosopher.

I recommend it most highly.

Will Dunkirk said...

Step2:

"Does that mean nobody could ever adapt his philosophy to a religious purpose? Obviously not, and the original reason the philosophy came into existence doesn't matter."

No it absolutely does matter: in fact, that is all important. Modern historians - if they are being truly scientific - are supposed to investigate and produce all the causes of why any historical event happened: there explanation will be more or less correct depending on how accurately (or specifically) and rightly they identify all the causes of said event.

Let's take an historical subject of importance and interest especially for Western history and civilization: What is the cause of philosophy? Where did it come from? Why did it originate? Was it caused by religion or not? (IMO it is "religion" and Socrates' career would be one obvious example). Possibly also Greek materialistic philosophy (the earliest near as we can tell) was in part a consequence of the Greek shock, shame and embarassment of some of their contemporaries falling into the worship of dumb beasts, causing a rationalistic reactionary movement that would take shape as early philosophy. The first philosophers were simply sages, a word that clearly had religious connotations. But that is just my theory: we know the Greek abhorred animal worship and we know that at least once in their early history they slipped into it but it never took on as it had elsewhere in, say, Egypt.

Regardless, it is extremely important to know what the real causes were and still are of philosophy; and the better we understand these, then the better we will understand philosophy and our world. This is the whole point and benefit of scientific investigation into *anything*, and we don't believe we've been given a sufficient explanation of something until all of its causal modes are given: What is it? What is it made of? What (agents, forces) are/were responsible for brining it into existence? Why did those forces so act to bring it into existence? These questions apply to such a diversity of subjects of like:

-- What is philosophy/? Why does philosophy exist/ why did philosphers come to exist?

-- What is the Roman Empire? Why was there a Roman Empire? Why it rise? Why did it decline and fall? (Or more broadly, What is an empire?)

-- What is the Earth? Why is there an Earth?

-- What is man?

Etc., and any number of seemingly more trivial phenomena all follow this program.

George R. said...

The question at issue is whether the formation of stars has a natural explanation in terms of secondary causes (and, if so, what it is), not whether the existence of that entire causal process depends on God.

Scott, what on earth are you talking about? I haven’t said a word about the entire causal process depending on God.

It's perfectly obvious that not everything in the entire universe is an "artifact" in the sense you require.

Again, what are you talking about? I never required that everything in the universe be an artifact.

If God wants there to be a star, then bam, there's an [star]. But that's not what happens in our world, so apparently God wants not just stars, but the entire process by which stars are formed.

First of all, if God had set up a process in order that stars would be formed, that would make them artifacts after all, right? Secondly, in order to posit such a process, you would have to have evidence for it. But the astronomers have no such evidence, just a bunch of childish just-so stories.

It's not rocket science, people. If something is to be a viable candidate for causing a star, it must a) exist and b) be capable of causing a star. I know of only one thing that fulfills those criteria. If you find another one, let me know.

Bobcat said...

@ Scott:

First, I expressed myself clumsily. I shouldn't have talked about final causality's advantage over efficient causality. What I should have asked is: "Is it the case that a worldview that invokes both final causality and efficient causality (call this the A-T worldview) is to be preferred over a worldview that invokes only efficient causality (call this the Humean worldview) because the A-T worldview can explain more of what happens than a Humean worldview?"

Scott, you wrote that "efficient causality doesn't make sense without final causality." This seems to me a strong claim. Pretend I'm a Humean who believes only in efficient causation. In what way does my view not "make sense"?

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

You must be new to this site; I think this subject comes up about every third day. Anyway, there's no point in my reinventing the wheel when I can quote a fine summary taken from this post (emphasis mine):

The core of the A-T 'principle of finality' can be illustrated with the simplest sort of cause and effect relation you might care to take. As Aquinas sums it up: 'Every agent acts for an end: otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance' (Summa Theologiae I.44.4). By 'agent' he doesn't mean only conscious rational actors like ourselves, but anything that serves as an efficient cause. For example, insofar as a chunk of ice floating in the North Atlantic tends, all things being equal, to cause the water surrounding it to grow colder, it is an 'agent' in the relevant sense. And what Aquinas is saying is that given that the ice will, unless impeded, cause the surrounding water to grow colder specifically – rather than to boil, to turn into Coca Cola, or to catch fire, and rather than having no effect at all – we have to suppose that there is in the ice a potency, power, or disposition which inherently 'points to' the generation of that specific effect. That the ice is an efficient cause of coldness entails that generating coldness is the final cause of ice. And in general, if there is a regular efficient causal connection between a cause A and an effect B, then generating B is the final cause of A.

Scott said...

@George R.:

"First of all, if God had set up a process in order that stars would be formed, that would make them artifacts after all, right?"

No. Again, not everything in the natural universe is an "artifact," and things are most certainly not "artifacts" just because God is their first cause. God "set up a process in order that" oak trees "would be formed," and oak trees are obviously not "artifacts." I think you must be using this word without knowing what it means.

"Secondly, in order to posit such a process, you would have to have evidence for it. But the astronomers have no such evidence, just a bunch of childish just-so stories."

So you say. And if that's your view, then the proper response is, as Mr. Green says, to remain agnostic about how (or even whether) natural processes can account for them.

However, as I've said, you're conflating orders of causality:

"It's not rocket science, people. If something is to be a viable candidate for causing a star, it must a) exist and b) be capable of causing a star. I know of only one thing that fulfills those criteria. If you find another one, let me know."

Again, the fact that everything has a first cause doesn't mean nothing has second causes. If you find evidence that stars wink into being without any process of secondary causality, you let us know. The default hypothesis in this universe is that things happen via natural processes; it's the exceptions that require evidentiary support. You may not be happy with this or that proposed account of stellar formation; astronomers may not be either. But if stars are miraculous in a way in which oak trees are not, please do enlighten the astronomers as to how you know that.

Now, this side trail is taking us pretty far off-topic, so I think I'm done with it.

Daniel Smith said...

What about Aquinas' contention that final causality requires intelligence? That IS the main thrust of the Fifth Way after all. I think his proof can ease the mind of anyone troubled by the appeal to 'natural causes'.

I do understand where George R. is coming from though because the thrust of modern science seems to be explaining things without reference to mind or purpose. It would be a lot like finding evidence of an ancient civilization on Mars and then trying to explain it all via natural causes. Some of the explanations would be quite comical! That's modern science in a nutshell. It's like they MUST NOT appeal to anything remotely like design or planning so they have to invent ways for mindless matter to 'magically' come together and form complex systems.

Scott said...

@Daniel Smith:

"What about Aquinas' contention that final causality requires intelligence?"

What about it? The major premise of that argument is that the existence of final causes requires an ordering intelligence; the minor premise is that final causes exist. All that's at issue in the present discussion is the minor premise. In principle, someone could accept the existence of final causes and still reject the argument of the Fifth Way on the grounds that the major premise was false.

In other words, Aquinas doesn't argue that the concept of "final cause" itself involves an ordering intelligence, so that a "final cause" without such an intelligence would be simply contradictory. For him, even after we've acknowledged the existence of final causes, it remains to be shown that such causes must be ordered by intelligence.

Tony said...

@Bobcat:

You must be new to this site;


IIRC, Bobcat was around here in 2009. A little bit before you, Scott.

Scott, you wrote that "efficient causality doesn't make sense without final causality." This seems to me a strong claim. Pretend I'm a Humean who believes only in efficient causation. In what way does my view not "make sense"?

Wait, doesn't Hume deny causality of all sorts, including efficient causes? I thought he said that post hoc does not imply propter hoc, and you cannot see causality, all you can see is post hoc, that B follows A.

Scott said...

@Tony:

"IIRC, Bobcat was around here in 2009. A little bit before you, Scott."

Well, okay, but in that case it's a bit of a mystery why he's not familiar with the A-T handling of this particular issue. It's not as though it's just come up now; the post to which I linked was from 2009.

Brandon said...

Yes, Bobcat's very much a long-time regular.

Tony,

Hume does and doesn't; he holds that there is causation, but his interpretation makes it not (discoverably) objective. (There are Hume scholars who think that he denies objective causation entirely and others who hold that he accepts that there is objective causation but denies that we know anything about it; either way, the result is that causation is for us just the tendency of the mind to move between ideas that are constantly conjoined.)

As a side note, Hume talks about Aristotelian causes in one passage, and it clarifies his stance on this particular point:

It will only be proper, before we leave this subject, to draw some corrollaries from it, by which we may remove several prejudices and popular errors, that have very much prevailed in philosophy. First, We may learn from the foregoing, doctrine, that all causes are of the same kind, and that in particular there is no foundation for that distinction, which we sometimes make betwixt efficient causes and causes sine qua non; or betwixt efficient causes, and formal, and material, and exemplary, and final causes. For as our idea of efficiency is derived from the constant conjunction of two objects, wherever this is observed, the cause is efficient; and where it is not, there can never be a cause of any kind. For the same reason we must reject the distinction betwixt cause and occasion, when supposed to signify any thing essentially different from each other. If constant conjunction be implyed in what we call occasion, it is a real cause. If not, it is no relation at all, and cannot give rise to any argument or reasoning.

The reason it comes up is that Malebranche (who makes the distinction between true causes and occasional causes mentioned at the end) argues against the late scholastics -- Suarez, mostly -- and Hume's argument is heavily influenced by Malebranche's.

Bobcat said...

Hi Tony,

Arguably, Hume does deny even efficient causality (I think he does, personally); you can read him as saying that there is no reason, at the end of the day, for why B-type things follow A-type things; it's just that we observe them constantly conjoined.

Hi Scott,

Tony's right, I've been around. I know the subject comes up a lot. The claim, though, that efficient causality doesn't "make sense" seems too strong to me. That final causality allows us to answer the question of *why* A-type things cause B-type things (and not C-type things) seems like one reason to endorse final causality. But even what you wrote doesn't seem, to me anyway, to allow for the strong claim that efficient causation is literally nonsensical unless there is final causality.

BTW, I've read _The Last Superstition_ and I taught Feser's _Aquinas_ when I taught medieval philosophy last semester.

That said, just because I'm a professional philosopher doesn't mean I know this stuff anywhere near as well as any regular commenter on this blog.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"Tony's right, I've been around. I know the subject comes up a lot."

Fair enough, and I apologize if my offhand reply gave any offense. It wasn't intended to do so.

"The claim, though, that efficient causality doesn't 'make sense' seems too strong to me."

Also fair enough, but my own response is the same as the bit from Ed's post that I quoted above. If my casual statement that "efficient causality doesn't make sense without final causality" seems too strong anyway, then I'll rephrase it more precisely as follows: the denial of final causality entails the denial of efficient causality, for precisely the reason Ed adduces. To say that A efficiently causes B is to say that the bringing about of B is (one of the) final cause(s) of A.

Bobcat said...

Hi Scot,

No worries. As for your and Ed's claim that "To say that A efficiently causes B _is_ to say that the bringing about of B is (one of the) final cause(s) of A", my response is: well, sure. If you're an Aristotelian about causality, that's what one has to say. But if you're not, then I don't think you have to say that. I think you can simply say "A causes B because that's just what A-type things happen to do. Things in the future could change, though, so we can't be sure that A-type things will continue to do that."

In other words, if you deny final causality you open yourself up to skeptical worries that an advocate of final causality doesn't.

That said, if I were a neo-Humean or Lewisian about causality (I'm not -- I don't have any well-worked out account, but the powers account seems best to me of the ones I've seen), I would simply object: "Look, you admit that you can't necessarily tell in advance of experience what an object's final cause is. You have to see what it produces before it does that. So, invoking final causes is just a label you give, meaning 'here's why those kinds of things always do that.' But here's the thing, my Aristotelian friend: if we discovered that, contrary to our expectations, A-type things also do C-type things, then you'd simply say, 'hey, that was the final causality of A all along.' So, it's just a label you're putting on something and saying you're making explanatory gains."

I realize this objection isn't very clear, but I have to go to dinner. My wife's looking at me.

Step2 said...

It's defend Bobcat day. He was also a regular commenter at the now defunct Right Reason where Dr. Feser was a major contributor.
http://web.archive.org/web/20071214035618/http://rightreason.ektopos.com/feser.html

Both Plato and Aristotle were mystics who helped form the basis for classical theism.

I've read that Plato was perhaps a student of the Pythagorean cult, but nothing about Aristotle except he refused to worship Alexander the Great as a self-proclaimed divinity. Plato was dismissive of religious ritual as a type of knowledge, comparing it to imaginative fantasy like art and poetry that stirred the passions.

And Plato could not have been dismissive of "religion," for the concept was only invented later. What he was contemptuous of was some of the stories in Greek mythology.

Greek mythology was a religion, in fact the popular religion of the area at that time. But I guess we can't know what words mean until the final cause is known since "religion" was only invented later.

Regardless, it is extremely important to know what the real causes were and still are of philosophy; and the better we understand these, then the better we will understand philosophy and our world.

Philosophy is related to a bunch of different things, some in the brain's functions to make explanatory connections and a map of the world, some in a need for status based upon animal cunning, some in an evolutionary and cultural history that more frequently penalizes immanence and rewards transcendence. To modify Plato's allegory, humanity didn't get to where it is by thinking inside the cave.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Bobcat:

"But here's the thing, my Aristotelian friend: if we discovered that, contrary to our expectations, A-type things also do C-type things, then you'd simply say, 'hey, that was the final causality of A all along.' So, it's just a label you're putting on something and saying you're making explanatory gains."

I think that's putting the shoe on the wrong foot. It is Humeans who say that a thing's causal role in the world is just a verbal placeholder based on human convention. I think the Aristotelian argument is much 'tighter' than that. It's very nearly a deductive argument. I'm going to try to lay it out as I understand it, but I can already tell I will probably mangle or omit some premises.

1. Any cause C intrinsically contains its effect E. Such a C we shall call an effector C(E). AXIOM

2. If a cause C does not intrinsically contain its effect E, C is not the proper cause of E (i.e. C is not the effector C(E)). AXIOM

3. Causes and effects exist. Causality is real (otherwise no logical entailment holds and even arguments against causality fail retorsively). AXIOM

4. Every thing T is known in virtue of its effects E(T) (otherwise how could T even be perceived, i.e. how could it causally impinge upon our senses?). AXIOM

5. From 1, 3 and 4, it follows that there exist things T(C(E)) that causally contain their effects E. MODUS PONENS

6. From 1 and 5 it follows that causation can only be real if things exist *precisely as* effectors. Causality can only be real if causes contain their effects. MODUS PONENS

7. This intrinsic possession of proper effects we call final causation. DEFINITION

8. If things T did not intrinsically cause their proper effects, anything whatsoever could result from any prior sate of affairs.

9. Not every thing T follows from anything; certain effects E follow certain W.

10. From the above, it follows that causation can only be real, as it is, in virtue of the fact that causes exhibit final causality.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Plato was dismissive of religious ritual as a type of knowledge,

This is simply not true. Plato had great respect for the mysteries, for example. In fact, it has often been argued that Plato's philosophy is but outgrowth of the Orphic-Pythagorean-Mysteries perspective given a more discursive form than previously.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

You suggest that a neo-Humean or Lewisian might object as follows: "But here's the thing, my Aristotelian friend: if we discovered that, contrary to our expectations, A-type things also do C-type things, then you'd simply say, 'hey, that was the final causality of A all along.' So, it's just a label you're putting on something and saying you're making explanatory gains."

To which I would probably reply: Don't mistake the phrase "final cause" for the explanation itself. If we ever found, in a practical case, that A-type things also did C-type things, that would be because we had discovered something about A-type things that fitted them to C-type effects—to take a rough and silly example, that the shape of a shoe (in combination with certain physical properties) allows it to be used to pound nails in an emergency when I can't find a hammer.

This particular (and, again, silly) example is confused by the fact that the shoe is an artifact, but ignore that part. The point is that if I now say that shoe-type things have (or can have, by my imparting it to them) pounding nails as a "final cause," I haven't just arrived at that notion in some abstract way; I've discovered something specific about shoe-type things in virtue of which I can attribute nail-pounding causation to them rather than to other things. And it's there, not in the label "final cause," that the explanatory power lies.

In other words, in order to learn that A-type things can also do C-type things, we'd have to be able to discern some actual connection between the doing of C-type things and the being of A-type things. Otherwise we wouldn't attribute the final causality to A at all.

I'll be out of town today (for my nephew's thirteenth birthday), so I probably won't be able to reply further until at least tomorrow.

George R. said...

Scott writes:
“In other words, Aquinas doesn't argue that the concept of "final cause" itself involves an ordering intelligence, so that a "final cause" without such an intelligence would be simply contradictory. For him, even after we've acknowledged the existence of final causes, it remains to be shown that such causes must be ordered by intelligence.”

This is plainly false. Here’s Thomas in the Summa:

“Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence;”

It should be obvious to anyone that Thomas considers that proposition to be a principle of demonstration, and not a conclusion itself in need of demonstration.

You guys have to start flying straight on this issue. I'm getting really tired of having to repeat myself.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

Also:

"[If you're not an Aristotelian about causality,] I think you can simply say 'A causes B because that's just what A-type things happen to do. Things in the future could change, though, so we can't be sure that A-type things will continue to do that.'"

This reply, if sound, would undermine (our confidence in a proposed example of) efficient causation as surely as (our confidence in a proposed example of) final causation. It wouldn't do anything to show that the relation between them wasn't reciprocal if and so long as the causal relation obtained.

I don't think it's sound anyway, but for present purposes that's another matter. (The heart of the problem is that if A genuinely causes B, then in order to stop being able to cause B-type things it would have to stop being an A-type thing. That is, its nature, or at least the causally relevant part thereof, would have to change.)

Scott said...

@George R.:

"It should be obvious to anyone that Thomas considers that proposition to be a principle of demonstration . . . "

. . . and therefore, as I said, not part of the concept of "final cause" itself. It's an addition fact that we need to know in order to conclude, as Thomas does in the very passage you quote, that there is an intelligence that orders the final causes in our world.

Now, you can pick nits about whether the proposition there must be an intelligence that orders the final causes in our world is a conclusion or a principle of demonstration. But what Aquinas plainly doesn't do is exactly what I said he doesn't do: he doesn't argue that the concept of "final cause" itself involves an ordering intelligence, so that a "final cause" without such an intelligence would be simply contradictory. What he means by a "final cause" is exactly what Ed says he means in the post to which I've already linked.

"I'm getting really tired of having to repeat myself."

As far as I'm concerned, please feel free to stop. For the most part you seem to be throwing red herrings down blind alleys—and expecting us to play fetch.

George R. said...

Scott, I'm afraid your entire argument is flaming out here. You write: "Now, you can pick nits about whether the proposition 'there must be an intelligence that orders the final causes in our world' is a conclusion or a principle of demonstration."

First of all, that's not the same proposition I quoted from St. Thomas. Secondly, final causes are not ordered (except per accidens); they are the principles of order. Therefore, your proposition doesn't make much sense. Lastly, I see that you responded to my post ten minutes after I posted it. This is far too fast. Think first, then type. Now a good rule of thumb for responding to my posts is to give yourself at least an hour beforehand for quiet contemplation of the sublime ideas found therein.

Bobcat said...

Hi Scott and Codge,

Thanks for your replies. Once again, I think you're being too ambitious. I think that if you establish only that the A-T view of causality allows for a greater range of explanation, you've done a great job. It seems to me that here are three possible goals you could have:

(1) Invoking final causation allows us to explain why A-type things cause B-type things but not C-, D-, E-, etc.-type things. ((1) gives us an explanatory gain. Not bad at all.)

(2) Invoking final causation is *the only way* to explain why A-type things cause B-type things and not C-, etc.-type things. ((2) is more ambitious than (1), and I doubt you could show that only A-T does this; my guess is that someone who believed that laws of nature were concrete entities, rather than mere descriptions of how things behave, would be able to explain why A-type things only cause B-type things without having to invoke final causes (I suspect you'd say that someone who believes in real laws of nature implicitly commits himself to believing in final causes, but I'll take my response off the air).)

Finally, (3) if you don't invoke final causes, and you also invoke efficient causes, you contradict yourself. I think this is the one you guys are trying to achieve, and prima facie, it's a very heavy burden. Not to say you all can't do it, but keep in mind that if you accomplish even (1), that's a big deal in philosophy. (You probably already knew that, so sorry if I came off as patronizing.)

Now, on to your particular responses in a separate post.

Bobcat said...

Codge,

I think a neo-Humean/Lewisian would deny all of your axioms (1)-(4). As for (1)-(3), they just wouldn't put it that way. As for (4), David Lewis would say, "no, we can know things by ways other than their effects. I must believe this -- after all, I believe in an infinitude of real possible worlds, each of which is causally isolated from our own world. In addition, I believe in causally otiose abstract objects. So I have to think you can know about things without being in a causal relationship with them. And how do we know about things? We know about things if positing their existence allows for a substantial explanatory gain. Now, you can deny that that counts as knowledge, but I suspect your denial of that would be rooted in a prior commitment to the causal theory of knowledge -- which, remember, I deny."

Bobcat said...

Hi Scott,

Alas, I don't *think* I understand your first response-post. If forced to explain what you're saying, I would say you're saying this:

"Look, guys, we Aristotelian/Thomists aren't saying that final causes are *themselves* explanations. What we're saying is this: if you ever have an explanation for why A causes C, this can only be because the nature of A fits it to cause C things. For example, a shoe's final cause is to protect feet. But its structural properties (hardness, stability, etc.) also allow it to bring about other effects: causing pain in a person's head, causing a nail to go deeper into a plank of wood, etc. So, things have natures, these natures are what we refer to in order to explain things, and then we figure out what a thing's final causes are by adverting to its nature and to experience."

I *think* that's what you're saying. But if that's right, then you're trying to hit the wrong target. Remember, my confusingly worded criticism of A-T theories was, basically, this:

"Y'all say that invoking final causality allows for explanatory gains. In particular, it allows you to explain why a shoe can do things like protect a foot and hammer a nail in, but why it can't do things like turn into a bird.
"But here's the thing: first, in other possible worlds, shoes *can* turn into birds. And second, while it's true that in this world shoes can't turn into birds, at the end of the day, there's not going to be any explanation for why this is, other than: 'we're not in the part of possibility space in which shoes turn into birds.'
"And second, I don't think what you're talking about really is an explanatory gain. First, you say that the structural properties of shoes is what prevents them from doing things like turning into birds. But you say this only on the assumption that things won't change. What I mean is: we have no reason to rule out this possibility: now, shoes can't turn into birds, but in the future, those very same structural features of shoes will allow them to turn into birds. And if that actually happened -- if shoes actually could turn into birds one day -- all that would happen is that you A-Ters would say, 'well, that was part of the shoe's final causality all along.
"So really, you and I don't differ all that much. I mean, you'll say that it's impossible for shoes to turn into birds, but if it really happened, you'd say that it was possible all along, and that you have an explanation for why it happened: because the features of shoes allow them to turn into birds. But honestly, if your theory allows for that much flexibility, then it's not really an explanatory gain. You're just saying it is so that you have an advantage over us. But you really don't."

Again, I don't agree with the above, but I think that's what a Lewisian would say.

Daniel Smith said...

Scott:

The major premise of that argument is that the existence of final causes requires an ordering intelligence; [...] Aquinas doesn't argue that the concept of "final cause" itself involves an ordering intelligence, so that a "final cause" without such an intelligence would be simply contradictory.

It seems to me that these two statements are contradictory. We're not really talking about the "concept" of final causes - we're talking about their EXISTENCE. If Aquinas' major premise is that the existence of final causes REQUIRES an ordering intelligence, then acknowledging their existence acknowledges the ordering intelligence as well. His major premise rests on the observed fact that mindless things behave as if they are 'deciding' to do such and such. His proof rests on the argument that that is impossible. As George R. has already said, I read Aquinas as saying that a final cause without an ordering intelligence IS contradictory.

For him, even after we've acknowledged the existence of final causes, it remains to be shown that such causes must be ordered by intelligence.

I think the opposite is true. It remains to be shown that a final cause can exist sans intelligence. Once we acknowledge the existence of final causes, I believe the ordering intelligence is a given. That's why the atheists won't consent to final causes.

Glenn said...

George R. (utterer) writes to Scott (subject),

I see that you responded to my post ten minutes after I posted it. This is far too fast. Think first, then type. Now a good rule of thumb for responding to my posts is to give yourself at least an hour beforehand for quiet contemplation of the sublime ideas found therein.

Two things:

1. I see that you responded to my post ten minutes after I posted it. This is far too fast. Think first, then type.

Let the following chronology be noted:

a) September 13, 2013 at 4:13 PM. Subject writes (to urban jean under another OP): "I'll try to get back to you with a longer reply sometime on Sunday; I'm afraid I have a fairly full plate at the moment."

b) September 14, 2013 at 7:05 AM. Subject writes (to urban jean under another OP): "I have a few minutes to spare before going out of town today, so I'll briefly..."

c) September 14, 2013 at 7:54 AM. Subject writes: (to George R. under the present OP): -- see above --

d) September 14, 2013 at 8:32 AM. Subject writes (to urban jean under another OP): "And now I really do have to get ready to go out of town!"

Let it now be noted that the utterer himself appears to have been quick on the draw, having failed to either take note of or heed the fact that the subject himself had -- more than 12 hours earlier -- publicized that he was under time pressure, and that certain subsequent remarks made by the subject are consistent with his earlier publication.

2. Now a good rule of thumb for responding to my posts is to give yourself at least an hour beforehand for quiet contemplation of the sublime ideas found therein.

Let it here be noted that the utterer is not claiming that his ideas are sublime, only that there are sublime ideas to be found in that which was uttered.

Will Dunkirk said...

"But here's the thing: first, in other possible worlds, shoes *can* turn into birds"

Of course they can! who doesn't know that?

/end sarcasm.

I am only a student of philsophy, but I think the problem here is you are arguing against final causes by granting them, thus creating confusion: I.e., I think you are saying that other worlds might have the same natures but with different final causes- for most of us, though, that's just attributing radically different natures to the natures that we now know, and this does nothing to alter the reality of final causality, which remains necessary. For most of us, in a world where shoes were naturally ordered to become blue jays, those shoes just wouldn't be shoes; certiainly qua shoe it still wouldn't be a shoe as we know it, because no shoe is actually made to become a blue jay, but qua shoe in your possible world they would actually have to be produced with the intention to become a blue jay. In this world, a shoe is only a shoe if it is made for the singular purpose of being footwear: of protecting and providing comfort and stability to our feet and walking or running.

And again, unless I am mistaken, final causes in A-T are usually intrinsic to a thing's nature and not extrinsically superimposed upon it. This is why positing "laws of nature" as extrinsic explanatory phenomena to the causal order undermines (or at least seems to) final causality, because then what things do is not because of what they are, but because something else besides them makes them do those things. It would seem strange to argue that I behave rationally because of some external 'law of nature' that makes be behave thus and not because it is just my nature to be rational.

Bobcat said...

Hi Will,

I'm not following the one-hour rule, but I think that a Lewisian would simply deny your claim that things have natures, at least in the sense that you attribute to "nature".

I'm guessing that you think part of the explanation for why things behave as they do is that they and the things they interact with have unchanging natures that explain why they interact they way they do. By contrast, a contemporary necessitarian/Lewisian/neo-Humean would (I think; I could be wrong here) deny all that. I think they would say either that there are laws of nature that cause things to act the way they do (this is the necessitarian answer); or that in most nearby possible worlds things that have that atomic structure act in that way (the Lewisian answer); or that there is no ultimate explanation for why things act the way they do -- they just act that way (the neo-Humean answer).

Mr. Green said...

George R.: You guys have to start flying straight on this issue. I'm getting really tired of having to repeat myself.

That's okay; we're just as tired of your repeating it. Now apparently you think the problem is that everyone but you is a dummy; but did you ever consider that the problem is that you're a poor teacher? (No, don't answer right away; take a least an hour to consider the wisdom of that question.)

Now in the interest of shedding more light than heat on this question, let us be pedagogically correct and start by defining our terms. Specifically, can you please provide a definition of "final cause"?

Will Dunkirk said...

Hello Bobcat - nice to meet you!

Thank you for your response, but I did touch upon the problem of extracting a 'law of nature' from the *actual* natural world. The Humeans would need to explain why I am rational because of something absolutely extrinsic to me and, of course, they cannot do so. In fact, the moment they impute (as blame, e.g.) an error to me, they necessarily affirm that I am a rational being; otherwise, there would be no personal fault. I await the day we blame the extrinsic 'law of rationality of human beings' for why So-and-so denies that one and one makes two; in that case, of course, a universal law of nature has failed to take its effect, and we are left wondering why in any given instance.

To put it bluntly, those who deny the reality of natures are in confusion or otherwise obstinate. Indeed, I don't believe anyone actually believes it simply because of the nature of language, but perhaps I digress.

(... And when I was a teen my friends started the "one hour rule" in regards to lighters: If you gave someone your lighter and forgot to ask for it back within an hour, then the lighter belonged to the person to whom it was lent; however, one had to have agreed to take part in the game and - since most of my friends did - it was assumed too often that I did, too. I would just take my lighter back if they were being a pain in the butt :).

George R. said...

Specifically, can you please provide a definition of "final cause"?

final cause: that for the sake of which something is.

Btw, the hour-wait comment was a joke, throw-away line. (Not too funny, I guess.)

Scott said...

I'm back from my nephew's birthday party. Relatively brief replies now, longer ones to follow (tomorrow or later) if necessary:

@Bobcat:

"It seems to me that here are three possible goals you could have[.]"

Actually my own (primary) goal is a fourth one. I'm claiming that it's incoherent to accept efficient causes while denying that there are final causes. The point here is the same one Ed is making in his post: that no important metaphysical conclusion can be drawn about the existence (or otherwise) of final causes from the fact that scientists have done okay without explicitly mentioning them. It's not primarily a matter of showing the purely explanatory superiority of final causes (though see below).

As for your own list, I think the arguments already presented (including those in Ed's previous posts) are more than sufficient to establish (1) (though of course we can return to this topic if you wish and I don't dream for a moment that referring to Ed's previous work is sufficient to establish the point). As for (2), it's enough to show (as I think we have shown) that efficient and final causes are mutual and reciprocal, so that any non-A-T account of causation that included the former was thereby, on pain of contradiction, committed to the latter as well—not necessarily to invoking them, but at least to not denying them. (Of course a non-A-T account might deny efficient causation as well, but that would be a different problem.)

As for (3), an explanation of a physical phenomenon/process in terms of efficient causes may (as far as I can see offhand) work just fine, and throwing in final causes may not add anything significant to it—but that's because the final causes are already, in the relevant "stripped-down" sense, "there" in the efficient causes. I don't know that we get more explanation, or even more information, by turning around every instance of A efficiently causes B and saying Aha, bringing about B must therefore also be a final cause of A. In these cases it seems to me, at first look, that in knowing (assuming we do know this) that A efficiently causes B, we already know everything we need to know in order to see that bringing about B is among A's final causes.

(Here's the "see below.") Now, explaining the operation of consciousness, let alone intelligence, without explicit reference to final causes does seem to me to be a hopeless task. That's a topic that would take us far afield, though, and involve us in far more than the "stripped-down" final causes at issue in this thread. What matters here is just that, at the level of final causes that doesn't (or at least needn't) involve intentionality, I, at least, am not trying to argue that invoking final causality necessarily allows for explanatory gains in the sense you mean.

[continued]

Scott said...

[continued]

"First, you say that the structural properties of shoes is what prevents them from doing things like turning into birds. But you say this only on the assumption that things won't change. What I mean is: we have no reason to rule out this possibility: now, shoes can't turn into birds, but in the future, those very same structural features of shoes will allow them to turn into birds."

The A-Tist isn't assuming that things won't change; heck, if anybody in this world knows that things change, it's the A-Tist. The A-Tist just says that if the structural features of shoes don't allow them to turn into birds now, then the structural features of shoes would have to change in order for shoes to be able to turn into birds in the future. (To put it roughly and intuitively though perhaps not strictly in an A-Tist way: the proposition Things with the structural properties of shoes can't change into birds is, if true at all, true without reference to time. If at some point in the future shoes do change into birds with no alteration in their structural properties, then it was never true that shoes couldn't change into birds; there was just a time when they didn't.)

@Daniel Smith:

"If Aquinas' major premise is that the existence of final causes REQUIRES an ordering intelligence, then acknowledging their existence acknowledges the ordering intelligence as well."

Aquinas certainly agrees, but I've never denied that. The point is that Aquinas doesn't think it's just plain easy to show this; he certainly doesn't think that someone who believes in final causes but denies that they're ordered by a governing intelligence is so obviously wrong that no argument is required. This is a point George R. has been arguing with Feser about since at least 2009 (you'll find him doing so, for example, in the thread to which I linked), which is why it didn't take me more than ten minutes to fathom the full depth of his sublimity.

But frankly, this topic is a sidetrack from a tangent to my response to a "frequently asked question," and I don't see any value to be gained from pursuing it further here.

@Glenn:

Thanks for confirming that I'd been pressed for time, and of course that fact did play into both the speed and the content of my reply. To be fair to George R., though, I'd have to say that if he were right that his post really merited much further reflection, I could just have waited until I got back.

Mr. Green said...

Urban Jean and Bobcat, and Dianelos Georgoudis in some different threads, and various others seem to me to be circling around a similar point. And I think there is a misunderstanding of approach that leads to misinterpreting the answers. In large part this may be due to the (misguided, I would claim) approach that modern philosophy takes, one that tries to make it more like science — suggesting different theories and then picking one that "works best".

Now certainly Aristotelians, like everyone else, make hypothetico-deductions and inferences to best explanation. They just don't do that all the time. Strictly speaking, there is always a sheer logical possibility that when you think you see other people around you, there are really no other minds — at any given moment, you can't prove with mathematical certainty that you aren't having a particularly vivid dream or hallucination right there and then. So like everyone who isn't a solipsist, we ask, can our system accommodate the existence of other minds? Of course it can. Does it fit with what we do know for sure? Certainly. So we can reasonably accept that other people actually exist, even if technically it might be possible to disagree.

Not all claims are like this, however. Classic or Scholastic philosophy in general also has foundations which aren't merely "best inferences" or "explanatorily powerful" suggestions. When St. Thomas argues for a Prime Mover, he's not offering a supernaturalist system that seems to work pretty well, so let's go with that, unless maybe you have a naturalist alternative that also works well. He's claiming to give a solid demonstration, something that cannot be reasonably denied. The more complex the issues, the more detail is involved, the less able we will be to make such certain claims, but the most basic questions can be answered with certainty. If the foundations were not certain, then all the rest would be building on sand.

[con't...]

Mr. Green said...

[continued...]
Therefore, when we start with the four causes, or act and potency, etc., we are not postulating some theory that we can then use to explain things. When Rutherford fired his elephant gun at tissue and the bullets bounced back, he made up this thing called a "nucleus" and pretended that it was at the centre of atoms. Does that fit the evidence? Great, then we've made a discovery about atomic structure! But Aristotle does not in the same manner invent four causes and then see whether he can make explanatory gains with that hypothesis. The four causes are just definitions. If we think that some thing have structures, such as mathematical patterns, then we need a way to talk about that aspect of reality, so let's call it "formal causality". If things change, then we need some way to talk about whatever was there before the change (call it "actual") and whatever it did or will change into (call that "potential"). [And yes, I'm being a bit sloppy here, for the sake of conveying the feeling of the right way to think about this.] Once we understand what the definition means, we can start asking questions like, does anything exist that has a formal cause? Does everything that exists have a formal cause? Is everything purely actual (no such thing as potency exists)? Is anything purely actual? But there's no question of whether the definitions are true or false, only whether a given application of them is.

So when Urban Jean acknowledges that math applies to physics (somehow, some way, don't care about the details right now), then we just are saying that formal causality applies to physics. When Bobcat says it's just a label, well, yes! (More or less, as far as my point goes.) I wouldn't say that we then claim to be "making explanatory gains" — since definitions don't add to the explanation of anything, they just provide linguistic gains. We can't discuss whether unicorns exist unless we have some way to refer to unicorns. More than that, some ways of talking about something will be more useful than others. Polar co-ordinates might make solving certain problems easier than Cartesian co-ordinates; but there's no question of whether polar or cartesian co-ordinates are "right" or which one is a "better explanation" of co-ordinates. Likewise, when it comes to Aristotelian fundamentals, any proposed alternative is either saying the same thing in different words (which might help or might hinder, depending on the specific context); or else the alternative is just plain wrong.

None of this proves in itself that an Aristotelian approach is correct, or that the conclusions were correctly drawn, of course; and we ought to investigate all those details I have been merrily skipping over; but I hope it sheds some light on the context in which classic philosophy is situated in the first place.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

The problem with the neo-Humean "just so" account of causation is that we can't speak of things acting this way or that without being able to specify which things we mean; and the point of final causality is that things are defined in terms of their proper powers and effects. Meaning, the neo-Humean lacks an intelligible criterion for saying that some things T' just happen to act in a T'-like way, while other things T* just happen to act in a T*-like way, since it is only in virtue of the fact that those disparate things naturally act for their proper ends that we can separate them in the first place. Grue and all that. In order to exist as a T', rather than as a T*, the thing would have to include T'-like finality, otherwise it could just be a T'* going through its T'-like phase. That's how grue shows Humean causality is incoherent: a merely stochastic or empirically familiar account of causality offers zero insight into a real thing's proper place in the larger casual nexus. So, we should either count a thing's end to be as important for knowledge of the thing as its essential attributes are, or give up on causation entirely. In a way, the latter is what Lewis did by jumping the shark with his charmingly absurd actualism.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: It would be a lot like finding evidence of an ancient civilization on Mars and then trying to explain it all via natural causes.

But if such a civilisation were built by ancient Martians, then that would be natural causes, because Martians would have natures just like anything else! Of course, I know what you meant, but I figured it's worth being pedantic because I think it indicates one of the problems naturalists have: despite their name, they don't understand what a "nature" is. And this also pertains to some of the problems on the Intelligent Design side, because they [fully or partially?] accept the naturalist misunderstanding which confuses some of the issues for ID too. But I certainly agree about the problem of disallowing intelligence from explanations a priori.

As George R. has already said, I read Aquinas as saying that a final cause without an ordering intelligence IS contradictory.

The relevant distinction here is whether it contradicts it by definition or by entailment. It is definitely a contradiction to posit a right-angled triangle where the square of the hypotenuse does not equal the sum of the squares of the other two sides. The existence of such a triangle entails the truth of Pythagoras's theorem on pain of logical contradiction. However, the definition of a right-angled triangle says nothing about the squares of the sides, so it obviously does not contradict the definition. And if something isn't self-contradictory by definition, then it requires an argument to show that the alleged contradiction would follow from the definition, by giving the logical step(s). (Even if the proof takes only a single step, it still must be shown!)

Suppose someone asked you the question, "Are there any married bachelors?" Well, you don't need an argument to show that "married bachelor" is a contradiction — you just need to explain what the word means. If you don't know that "married bachelor" is a contradiction by definition, then you couldn't even pick out which men were the bachelors out of a crowd. However, if you knew that right-angled triangles were the ones that contain a 90° angle, then you could easily pick them out of a group of triangles without knowing anything about the length of the sides. Likewise, it is possible to know what a final cause is — say, to be able to distinguish it from a material cause — and yet not know that it entails an intelligence.

Once we acknowledge the existence of final causes, I believe the ordering intelligence is a given. That's why the atheists won't consent to final causes.

I think in practice, that is probably the case; however, I also think that such atheists do not believe that finality entails intelligence because they understand the argument in Thomistic terms, but rather because they have a misunderstanding of final causes in the first place. (That is, they think in them in terms of "purpose" rather than "directedness" in general.) In fact, I think we've had people comment here that "if that's all a final cause means", then it doesn't entail any intelligence behind it. (Then they resort to "brute facts" or something equally wrong-headed.)

Mr. Green said...

George R.: final cause: that for the sake of which something is.

Thank you. I'm happy to agree with that definition. Note that it does not include the word "intelligence" or any synonym or related term, and thus as I said in my previous comment to Daniel, it requires an argument to conclude that finality entails intelligence, because it does not contradict anything in the definition. I don't think Scott or Ed has particularly claimed more than that.


Btw, the hour-wait comment was a joke, throw-away line. (Not too funny, I guess.)

I, for one, got it; I was just being curmudgeonly in reply. So indeed, I do not object to your curmudgeonliness, nor can I without being hypocritical. But I think sometimes your posts cross over into orneriness — or at least that is how they are coming across (apparently to others as well). For example, you recently made uncharitable remarks about physicist Stephen Barr based on your failure to understand what he said (clearly enough, it seems to me) about "multiverses". And while it is true that there is misrepresentation and incompetence in scientific reporting, your quip about "strictly for the tourists" is making the same error, only in the opposite direction. Lack of evidence about, say, astrophysics, is not evidence of lack. Quoting Burbridge apparently from 1963 — closer to LeMaitre's proposal of the Big Bang than to the present and a year before the monumental discovery of microwave background radiation! — smacks of something "to tell the tourists" ... otherwise why not provide some evidence from this century? You can raise pointed questions (and perhaps leave them hanging) or advocate acerbic agnosticism while still being a curmudgeon but without crossing the line.

Bobcat said...

Lots of food for thought, guys. Right off the bat, I'd say, yes, explaining human and animal behavior without final causes seems pretty hopeless. I'm not going to rule it out entirely, but it would require a pretty massive reconceptualization of what a human being is, and I'm not sure I'm even capable of believing that my behavior results just from a set of mindless particles. That said, I know Fodor tries something like this, but there are crucial parts of his story I can't make sense of.

Scott, you wrote this:

"The A-Tist isn't assuming that things won't change; heck, if anybody in this world knows that things change, it's the A-Tist. The A-Tist just says that if the structural features of shoes don't allow them to turn into birds now, then the structural features of shoes would have to change in order for shoes to be able to turn into birds in the future. (To put it roughly and intuitively though perhaps not strictly in an A-Tist way: the proposition Things with the structural properties of shoes can't change into birds is, if true at all, true without reference to time. If at some point in the future shoes do change into birds with no alteration in their structural properties, then it was never true that shoes couldn't change into birds; there was just a time when they didn't.)"

I mean, sure, that's what I would say, too, but I think you're illicitly relying on a notion like, "if something continues to have structure S, then it going to be capable only of effects E1, E2, ... En; in order for it to bring about F1, etc., it has to change its structure." But the Lewisian would say that in a different possible world, things of structure S bring about F1, etc. I guess you might say that a Lewisian doesn't believe in causes; a Lewisian would say that he does, he just reduces them to statements about counterfacts.

Bobcat said...

Codgitator,

Good on you for bringing up grue. I haven't read much about grue, so I don't know what the standard responses are, but it seems to me that if you accept the Lewisian view, then yes, you have to admit that you can't be certain that X is X rather than Y going through an X-phase. I think that's a problem; perhaps a Lewisian would say, "why would you ever believe in certainty about empirical matters anyway?"

Sagar Khattak said...

Entertainment for Fun... Entertainment Articles, Entertainment News, Entertainment Pictures, Bollywood, Hollywood and Lollywood Pictures and Videos, Entertainment Latest updates, Hot Entertainment News and Pictures Funny Entertainment Pictures, lol Pictures, Funny Pictures and Much More Fun Only on 1 Current Affairs Network
hotcurrentaffairs.com

Bobcat said...

Mr. Green,

I don't yet think I have the feel down. The main sticking point for me -- and keep in mind, I'm pretty sympathetic to the first two ways, and a powers account of causation -- is that it seems that the A-T way of dividing up the world (form/matter, act/potency, four causes, etc.) is one way of dividing up and labeling the furniture of the world. It's a very appealing one, as it allows for, e.g., persistence through change, avoidance of a host of skeptical issues, etc. I suspect, though, that there are other ways of dividing up the world that are self-consistent systems. If I'm right about that (though maybe no system, not even A-T, is self-consistent), then it seems that, if you're going to compare self-consistent systems, you'll want to pick the one that best fits as many commonsensical intuitions as possible. But that seems to be precisely what you're rejecting, right?

Step2 said...

Since the topic is about explanations, I'd like a explanation of why Aristotle's physics of motion ended up so wrong if his causal framework was right. The whole thing went off the rails and it seems to be primarily because it supposes natures for things.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green and Scott,

To my mind the existence of final causes is indisputable. Like Mr. Green says, a "final cause" is just a definition of what we see. Things in nature tend toward predictable ends - that's indisputable - these ends we call "final causes". It's as simple as that.

Now when Aquinas says "Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence" he's also making a simple statement of fact. He's saying that a final cause without an ordering intelligence is impossible. The Fifth Way is not an argument - it is a proof, so his premises are givens - like 'things change', 'some things are contingent', 'some things are better than others' and etc.

Bobcat said...

Step 2,

Aristotle's framework is a metaphysical one. It's compatible with a wide range of scientific explanations for things. A Humean framework was compatible (in my opinion) with a Newtonian science, and Newtonian science was wrong. That doesn't make the Humeanism wrong.

(In fact, our science today is almost certain wrong in important regards, and it, presumably, will continue to be wrong in important regards for as long as there are people. But that doesn't mean that all metaphysical systems are non-starters.)

Scott said...

@Daniel Smith:

"To my mind the existence of final causes is indisputable."

And to mine—and, I'm confident, to Mr. Green's, though of course I don't speak for him. The existence of final causes is not in dispute here.

"Now when Aquinas says 'Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence' he's also making a simple statement of fact. He's saying that a final cause without an ordering intelligence is impossible."

Of course he is. The question is whether that statement is intended as part of the definition of a final cause, or instead as something that is entailed by their existence—something that even someone who understands what a final cause is still might not know. Mr. Green made this point quite aptly in one of the posts to which you're replying, and I've said similar things myself.

Ed has discussed the subject at length in previous posts and follow-up discussions (including some with George R.), and I agree with him. So, it appears, does Mr. Green.

If you still think you're disagreeing with either me or Mr. Green, I suggest you reread his "married bachelor" example in order to make sure you're clear on just what the issue is.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"I think you're illicitly relying on a notion like, 'if something continues to have structure S, then it going to be capable only of effects E1, E2, ... En; in order for it to bring about F1, etc., it has to change its structure.' But the Lewisian would say that in a different possible world, things of structure S bring about F1, etc."

Completely aside from any misgivings I might have about possible-worlds methodology in general, this reply would miss the point, which is about the causal properties of structure S in this world, not about what they might be in some other. If a Lewisian says, "But those causal properties might have been different," an entirely sufficient reply is, "Well, they're not."

But there's a deeper problem with the reply as well, namely that at least some such structural causal properties could not have been different—as for example The structure of a cylindrical peg allows it to fit into a round hole of approximately the same diameter. There may be "possible worlds" in which such holes don't exist, but there is no "possible world" in which pegs of that structure wouldn't fit into them if they did exist. (And there are quite a lot of cases to which this simple example is significantly analogous. Think of the chemical structure of opium as compared to nerve receptors, which came up recently in another thread.)

I don't say that all cases of final causality (even all physical ones) involve this sort of necessity, but it's hard for me to see how a strictly structural final cause could lack it.

"I guess you might say that a Lewisian doesn't believe in causes; a Lewisian would say that he does, he just reduces them to statements about counterfacts."

Whatever he calls them, he wouldn't be believing in the same things in which an Aristotelian believes.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

And come to think of it, an even more fundamental problem is that the proposed Lewisian reply isn't even addressing the question at hand: the relation between efficient and final causes. For even supposing that structure S eventually ceased to have the final causes it now has, it would at the same time cease to be the efficient cause of whatever outcomes had been involved in those final causes.

Bobcat said...

Hi Scott,

You first write: "Completely aside from any misgivings I might have about possible-worlds methodology in general, this reply would miss the point, which is about the causal properties of structure S in this world, not about what they might be in some other. If a Lewisian says, 'But those causal properties might have been different," an entirely sufficient reply is, "Well, they're not.'"

I'm also skeptical of possible worlds, but if we invoke them (and obviously, the Lewisian does), the point of that possible worlds remark was this: you're assuming that S will only be able to give rise to E-type effects. It's possible, though, for S to give rise to F-effects. The thing is: we don't know which possible world we're in: are we in one where S never gives rise to F-effects, or are we in one where it does? We'll have to wait and see.

Incidentally, this seems to me to cause a big problem for Lewisianism: namely, that it never seems to allow you to say that someone is cheating at something. E.g., if you get 32 black on a roulette wheel 100 times in a row, that strongly suggests that someone is fixing things for you. But in a Lewisian metaphysic, it's just as likely that that happens as that it doesn't (right? I mean, it happens in an infinite number of possible worlds, and it doesn't happen in an infinite number of worlds).

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

Strictly speaking, in my round-peg example, I should have included an effect (F1) that the peg can't have without changing its structure. So here you go: there's no "possible world" in which it could fit into a round hole of smaller diameter (or, more generally, a hole that was less than that diameter across in any direction) without changing its structure.

Bobcat said...

Scott, you next write:

"But there's a deeper problem with the reply as well, namely that at least some such structural causal properties could not have been different—as for example The structure of a cylindrical peg allows it to fit into a round hole of approximately the same diameter. There may be "possible worlds" in which such holes don't exist, but there is no "possible world" in which pegs of that structure wouldn't fit into them if they did exist. (And there are quite a lot of cases to which this simple example is significantly analogous. Think of the chemical structure of opium as compared to nerve receptors, which came up recently in another thread.)"

That's a very good reply, I think. It seems to me that in every possible world, a square peg cannot fit into a round hole, simply as a matter of logical necessity. If we can show that *lots* of effects involve this kind of necessary relations to their causes, then that would certainly limit the scope of what's possible (or at least: it would force us to say that the only way that opium could not influence nerve receptors in the way it does is if opium or nerve receptors literally change their structure).

The question is: how many cases of causal relations are like this? I wouldn't be shocked if the answer is: lots and lots. It's considerations like these that move me to accept van Inwagen's modal skepticism.

Bobcat said...

Finally, Scott, you write: "And come to think of it, an even more fundamental problem is that the proposed Lewisian reply isn't even addressing the question at hand: the relation between efficient and final causes. For even supposing that structure S eventually ceased to have the final causes it now has, it would at the same time cease to be the efficient cause of whatever outcomes had been involved in those final causes."

Here I'm not so moved. I could be wrong, but I think you're building things into the definition of "efficient cause" that the Lewisian (or the neo-Humean, or whatever) wouldn't build in. I would think that a Lewisian would say that A efficiently causes B if in "most" nearby possible worlds, whenever you have A, then you have B.

Step2 said...

Bobcat,
For most scales and speeds Newtonian physics is sufficient to describe motion. Aristotle's physics was fundamentally flawed about the forces involved. This seems to be because he assumed things have natures but I'm open to other suggestions.

Step2 said...

Scott,
If a Lewisian says, "But those causal properties might have been different," an entirely sufficient reply is, "Well, they're not."

How is that different from a brute facts argument?

Bobcat said...

Step 2, are you saying that if you believe in natures, then you have to be an Aristotelian about motion? I assume you're not saying that. So are you saying that if you believe that things have natures, you're more likely to believe in Aristotelianism about motion? If so, why?

As for the claim that Newtonianism works for most things: sure. But it doesn't work for all things. How come that doesn't impugn its associated metaphysics?

Scott said...

@Step2:

"How is that different from a brute facts argument?"

In not being an argument at all. It's just a reply to an irrelevant objection, not a metaphysical demonstration of Where Causal Laws Come From.

Step2 said...

Bobcat,
No, I'm saying there is something about the concept of natures that led to Aristotle's fundamentally flawed theory of motion. You are also using "associated metaphysics" in a very loose manner. It isn't as though Newton invented the Humean metaphysics even if there was some compatibility (although I would dispute any such compatibility claim).

Step2 said...

Scott,
It's just a reply to an irrelevant objection, not a metaphysical demonstration of Where Causal Laws Come From.

Likewise for the supposed demonstration, because the answer is you don't know.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"I could be wrong, but I think you're building things into the definition of 'efficient cause' that the Lewisian (or the neo-Humean, or whatever) wouldn't build in. I would think that a Lewisian would say that A efficiently causes B if in 'most' nearby possible worlds, whenever you have A, then you have B."

And in that case we'd move on to a discussion of what might or might not be wrong with that account of causation. But again, the Lewisian wouldn't be talking about what Aristotelians mean by "efficient causation" even if he used the same term to mean something else.

Generally, the argument at this point would have to address the more fundamental question of why we think there are efficient causes at all. But in so doing, I think it would be acknowledging that if what Aristotelians mean by "efficient causes" do exist, they're related to final causes in the way we've been discussing.

Scott said...

Step2:

"Likewise for the supposed demonstration[.]"

What demonstration?

Step2 said...

Scott,
The one you just mentioned. You accomplish the same result by saying God is the ultimate enigmatic cause as you do by saying it is a brute fact of reality. Both are designed to stop further questioning, both imply a necessity. The only difference is God may allow for an exception, and that is where the dogma of transubstantiation becomes relevant to structure and substance.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"The one you just mentioned."

I didn't mention "one" at all. I just said my hypothetical reply to the hypothetical Lewisian wasn't intended as any such demonstration—including but not limited to the kind you seem to want to reply to even when it's not being offered.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"No, I'm saying there is something about the concept of natures that led to Aristotle's fundamentally flawed theory of motion."

For Aristotle, "motion" is change from potentiality to actuality. Is that the theory you have in mind, or are you talking about his understanding of purely local motion? Either way, what do you think are its fundamental flaws, and how do you think those flaws are related to the concept of "natures"?

(Note to all: I'll be offline for most of the rest of the day starting in about fifteen minutes.)

Mr. Green said...

Step2: No, I'm saying there is something about the concept of natures that led to Aristotle's fundamentally flawed theory of motion.

And what about the concept of natures could that possibly be? Also, what is this "fundamental flaw"? Certainly, Aristotle's physics was a crude approximation of reality. Newton's was also only an approximation (as is Relativity still), but Newton had more than 2000 years over Aristotle, so his approximation had better be a lot less crude. But how is the Newtonian concept that bodies attract other bodies in proportion to their mass in any way against natures? To have a certain mass is in fact a property of a nature. To say "mass attract other masses" is obviously a statement about the nature of massive bodies. And even if you came up with a way to describe that without talking about "natures", the fact that it so easily fits a natures-based schema (and more, er, naturally so!) indicates there's nothing about the concept of natures that is the problem.

But as I say, I don't really understand what your argument is, so it would help if you could spell it out. Frankly, I wouldn't even say that Aristotle's theory of motion went wrong at all. It was inaccurate (as empirical science is never perfectly accurate), but the problem was that it didn't go anywhere at all — instead of following Aristotle's lead and continuing to advance physics, people got lazy and just start quoting whatever Aristotle said back in his day rather than working to refine his system. When you refer to "most scales and speeds" you presumably mean most scales and speeds that you encounter in daily life. Well, the idea that a body continues in motion (and since we are talking about the absence of forces in this case, it surely is a statement about the nature of a body to continue in motion) is not something you experience in daily life, because you are not a NASA engineer sending satellites into the vacuum of space. When you roll a ball along the ground, it does come to rest (because of friction). It's not as though Aristotle said objects slowed down when they didn't slow down at all. Anyway, if scientists said they were making progress by ditching Aristotle, or even if they actually thought that, the fact remains that nothing in science, Newtonian or modern, is incompatible with fundamental Aristotelian metaphysics.

Mr. Green said...

Bobcat: it seems that the A-T way of dividing up the world (form/matter, act/potency, four causes, etc.) is one way of dividing up and labeling the furniture of the world.

Yes; and I also agree that there are other ways of diving up the world. But like Cartesian vs. polar co-ordinates, those ways will all be equivalent. That is, there are no points that exist in polar co-ordinates that do not exist in Cartesian, or anything like that, although the different perspectives do not have to be equivalent in making certain problems easier or harder to understand. So there may very well be different schemas which are better than A-T divisions for describing certain issues, but if those descriptions are true, then the claim is that it will always be possible to reframe the issue in A-T terms.


then it seems that, if you're going to compare self-consistent systems, you'll want to pick the one that best fits as many commonsensical intuitions as possible. But that seems to be precisely what you're rejecting, right?

No; indeed, one of the selling points of Aristotelianesque views is that they accommodate more common-sense positions than modern competitors. Aristotelian-Thomism disagrees with Aristotelian-Scotism on certain points; where there is no certain demonstration, it is perfectly reasonable to go with the more "common-sensical" position. (Of course, it's never that simple because various issues have to work coherently together too.) But there are certain fundamentals that can be demonstrated certainly, and thus all valid systems will need to include those. If a certain claim can be proven or disproven using Cartesian co-ordinates, then it doesn't matter how useful your polar system is, it will never contradict those claims.


Finally, (3) if you don't invoke final causes, and you also invoke efficient causes, you contradict yourself. I think this is the one you guys are trying to achieve, and prima facie, it's a very heavy burden. Not to say you all can't do it, but keep in mind that if you accomplish even (1), that's a big deal in philosophy.

Granted that modern philosophy has lost its way, rediscovering those lost foundations would be a terrifically important move. So in one sense, it is a big deal. In another sense, it isn't, precisely because this is stuff that was known and understood centuries ago and for a long long time.

Again, the further one gets from the foundations, the more questions there are without definitive answers, and the more room there is for competing views.

Bobcat said...

Mr. Green writes,

"No; indeed, one of the selling points of Aristotelianesque views is that they accommodate more common-sense positions than modern competitors. Aristotelian-Thomism disagrees with Aristotelian-Scotism on certain points; where there is no certain demonstration, it is perfectly reasonable to go with the more "common-sensical" position. (Of course, it's never that simple because various issues have to work coherently together too.) But there are certain fundamentals that can be demonstrated certainly, and thus all valid systems will need to include those. If a certain claim can be proven or disproven using Cartesian co-ordinates, then it doesn't matter how useful your polar system is, it will never contradict those claims."

What are some of the fundamentals that can be demonstrated certainly? I take it that any such fundamentals are going to be things like: "if you admit that there is an act/potency distinction of the sort A-Ters countenance, then I can demonstrate to you that there is a first cause that is pure act"? If that's what you have in mind, then something interesting comes up: on the one hand, it seems like you can divide up the world in different ways using different concepts, and you can come up with a number of self-consistent ways of doing that; but on the other, if you divide up the world in the A-T way you can (perhaps) demonstrate that there exists a first cause that is pure act, but if you divide up the world the Humean way, you can't do that. So, the two systems come apart when we use them to infer to unobservable metaphysical entities.

Regardless of that, it seems that the most you'll be able to demonstrate is simply, "IF you accept A-T metaphysics, then you must also accept...". Or am I missing something?

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

indeed, one of the selling points of Aristotelianesque views is that they accommodate more common-sense positions than modern competitors.

I see Thomists talk about this all the time, but there's a problem. Common sense is relative. It's simply an expression of values and views handed down within a particular culture. What is common sense to people in one location will be different from what is common sense to people in another. That something is common sense is therefore irrelevant to its being right or wrong.

Tellingly, Aquinas himself never actually appeals to common sense in defense of his arguments. He was fully aware that what a culture considered true or obvious was by and large determined by historical forces and positive law.

Bobcat said...

Rank sophist,

I suspect that by "common sense positions" Mr. Green means things like:

objects exist
people exist
sometimes, one thing will cause another thing to change
some actions, in some circumstances, are morally wrong

For each of these claims, there are a substantial number of smart philosophers who deny them.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"The thing is: we don't know which possible world we're in: are we in one where S never gives rise to F-effects, or are we in one where it does?"

Well, I think a logically prior question is whether there are any "possible worlds" in which S gives rise to F-effects at some times and not at others. And I'm simply not seeing this as a coherent possibility. That S gives rise to F-effects makes no reference to time; it doesn't appear to be the sort of proposition that can be true at some times and not at others. If the F-effects are really caused by S (under certain conditions) in some possible world, then they should be uniformly caused by S (under those conditions) in that world.

Tony said...

Heavens no, Bobcat. According to both Aristotle and Aquinas, we apprehend natures themselves, and we can demonstrate definite, positive things about actual beings, not just hypothetical "systems". Men are rational animals, and this implies things about men. It implies that men are (speaking of their natures) mortal beings - animality entails the possibility of dissolution. This is not a hypothetical of the sort "IF MEN ARE RATIONAL ANIMALS...". We know that men are rational animals.

Tony said...

Sorry, I was responding to "Regardless of that, it seems that the most you'll be able to demonstrate is simply, "IF you accept A-T metaphysics, then you must also accept...".".

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"The question is: how many cases of causal relations are like this? I wouldn't be shocked if the answer is: lots and lots."

Nor would I, and in fact I think that's the case. In inanimate nature, at least (which is what's at issue here; we're agreed, I gather, that animate nature appears hard to explain or even describe without final causes), quite a lot of chemistry and physics seems to be like that. I suppose a paradigmatic (albeit trivial) example in physics would be that of a ball that has "rolling" as one of its final causes owing to its roundness.

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

We seem to be winding up our own sub-thread of this discussion, so let me just apologize again for not knowing that you'd been interacting with Ed for some years and thank you for what I regard (and hope you do too) as an interesting and productive exchange.

dover_beach said...

What is common sense to people in one location will be different from what is common sense to people in another.

True, but this also is a relative claim. Some experiences, etc. are more commonly held across locations then others, and to the extent that this is true the former are an entry point for A-T philosophy. I certainly think this is the case for claims like "Everything that is moved is moved by another".

Bobcat said...

Hi Scott,

No problem at all for the confusion. It's just a combox, it's not the US Senate.

And yeah, I think I'd better sign out for a bit myself -- must get back to schoolwork/recover from Breaking Bad.

Step2 said...

Either way, what do you think are its fundamental flaws, and how do you think those flaws are related to the concept of "natures"?

There was natural motion related to natures that was fundamentally flawed and seems incompatible with certain phenomena like volcanoes. Second there was celestial motion that was famously overturned by Galileo. I read Dr. Feser's attempt to salvage celestial motion as inertia but doing so creates a near infinite number of unmoved movers, quickly surpassing the fifty unmoved movers guiding the crystal spheres.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotelian_physics

Scott said...

@Step2:

Right, thanks for clearing that up.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: I see Thomists talk about this all the time, but there's a problem.

Maybe, but is it a problem that there's a problem? Everything has its limits; as long as you apply common-sense with a bit of, well, common-sense, then we're fine. Take my example of solipsism; or for a more modest example, suppose you claimed that all the posts on this site were not posted by a bunch of different people, but were all posted by Ed Feser himself. I can't prove you're wrong — it's entirely possible, even under A-T — but it would be nonetheless foolish to accept such a claim. That's the kind of common sense I'm talking about, and this particular example has nothing to do with any particular culture or context. As Dover Beach pointed out, some kinds of sense really are common across all cultures.

Tellingly, Aquinas himself never actually appeals to common sense in defense of his arguments.

It tells us of course that he is not making the same point that I was trying to make. The whole point about Aristotelian views being common-sensical is not that they take common-sense as a premise, but that they arrive at common-sense as a conclusion — as opposed to other philosophical systems such as Bobcat mentioned (various eliminativisms, etc.).

Also, it is true that these days "common sense" gets thrown around in a very loose and improper way, to mean "obvious [to me?]" or "popular", etc., as indeed are terms like "intuition" and "instinct" likewise abused, even among philosophers. I was not using the phrase in its technical meaning of the unifying internal sense, but neither was I using it to mean any old impression that someone might get. (I don't know the etymological development (where's TOF when you need him?), but I surmise that the meaning of "ordinary, common understanding" arose as an extension of the technical sense: just as you might metaphorically ask someone who made a foolish statement, "Are you blind?", so could you ask him, "Don't you have any common sense?" — as though the person could take in raw sense-data, but were unable to combine it into a coherent whole.

Mr. Green said...

Step2: Second there was celestial motion that was famously overturned by Galileo. I read Dr. Feser's attempt to salvage celestial motion as inertia but doing so creates a near infinite number of unmoved movers

Are you thinking of the celestial system that was overturned by guys like Kepler and Newton? And wasn't Galileo the fellow who thought tides were caused by the Earth's rotation? Also, I can assure you Feser has never proposed a huge number of unmoved movers. Anyway, the point is that there is no more reason to consider Aristotle's concept of natures flawed just because his physics was, any more than because Newton's physics was wrong, therefore we should throw out calculus.

Mr. Green said...

Bobcat: What are some of the fundamentals that can be demonstrated certainly? I take it that any such fundamentals are going to be things like: "if you admit that there is an act/potency distinction of the sort A-Ters countenance, then I can demonstrate to you that there is a first cause that is pure act"? [...] if you divide up the world in the A-T way you can (perhaps) demonstrate that there exists a first cause that is pure act, but if you divide up the world the Humean way, you can't do that. So, the two systems come apart when we use them to infer to unobservable metaphysical entities.

Well, there are things that follow or fit with a given system if you accept it as a whole — the conditional parts of that system. But there are also things that are simply true, and thus must be part of every system. If a system cannot accommodate something that has been proved, then that system is ruled out. So if the Cartesians come up with an algebraic way to square the circle, you can challenge their calculations, but it's no use saying, "I can't do that with my ruler and compass, so you must be wrong (or might be wrong)". Once it's been shown, then you have to accept it; perhaps you just haven't figured out how to do it with a compass and straightedge; or if you've shown that it is in fact impossible to square the circle using a compass and straightedge, then we know there is a limitation to that approach. That's fine: not all languages can express the same thing.

The claim is that the First Cause has been proven, and if the Humean cannot express that proof in his "co-ordinates", then maybe that's simply a limitation of his natural vocabulary. (Or maybe his straightedge turns out to be bent, and his whole system should be junked....) Now you can try to show that the argument for a First Cause doesn't work on A-T terms (i.e. it's not really a proof after all), but the claim is that it does work. Maybe the argument is easier (or possible!) to express in Aristotelian terms because of its rich vocabulary for talking about causation, but it does not start from any premises that are special to some Aristotelian system. Act and potency are just ways to talk about something that is supposed to be undeniable (namely, that there is such a thing as change — even if it's all hallucinations, then our hallucinations are changing!). It doesn't depends on some particular theory about what change means, or what time is like, or anything like that. And if the proof works (and it does), then it's a truth that all systems must accommodate; just as a proof that circle A has the same area as square B must be accommodated, regardless of what you ruler and compass tell you.

Bobcat said...

Mr. Green,

I think the proof depends on the claim that whatever changes must change as the result of something else changing it, and some philosophers aren't going to agree with that. It seems quite plausible for everyday phenomena -- e.g., if X is potentially on fire but actually dry, then X can't actualize its own potentiality to be on fire, but instead requires something else, Y, to do so -- but some philosophers are going to deny that we know this to be true of all phenomena. I don't know what to say in response to them, other than to say stuff that has already been mentioned above -- e.g., that if you deny efficient and final causation, you run into all sorts of skeptical problems that you don't get if you accept both.

Similarly, the proof also seems to rest on the claim that an infinitely long causal series ordered per se is impossible, but again, some philosophers are going to deny that we know that. Personally, that principle seems quite plausible to me, for the reasons Thomists give (e.g., if a train car can't pull itself without an engine, then this should be true even if the number of train cars is infinitely long), so I don't quite see how to deny it.

Mr. Green said...

Bobcat: but some philosophers are going to deny that we know this to be true of all phenomena. [...] you run into all sorts of skeptical problems that you don't get if you accept both.

Yes; and of course you can be sceptical of anything if you try hard enough. At any rate, the fundamental arguments are posed as being proofs in general, and not specific to some particular system; and as you say there is at minimum a high degree of plausibility; so they cannot be dismissed lightly or taken for granted as "Aristotelian only".