Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Averroism and cloud computing


The Latin followers of the medieval Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd or Averroes (1126 - 1198), such as Siger of Brabant, famously taught the doctrine of the unity of the human intellect.  The basic idea is this: The intellect, Averroists (like other Aristotelians) argue, is immaterial.  But in that case, they conclude (as not all Aristotelians would), it cannot be regarded as the form of a material body.  It is instead a substance entirely separated from matter.  But matter, the Aristotelian holds, is the principle by which one instance of the form of some species is distinguished from another.  Hence there is no way in which one human intellect could be distinguished from another, so that there must be only a single intellect shared by all human beings.

This is groupthink with a vengeance.  But though the view is at first blush very odd to modern ears, analogies of the sort beloved of contemporary philosophers of mind can help make it at least partially intelligible.  Gyula Klima, in the general introduction to his excellent anthology on medieval philosophy, suggests the image of the Averroist intellect as a mainframe computer, to which all individual humans are connected as terminals.  It is really the mainframe that is doing the processing.  Another analogy would be cloud computing.  For the Averroist, each human being is somewhat like a Kindle Fire tablet whose content is stored entirely in the Amazon Cloud.  When you think, and when I think, we are each, as it were, “streaming” different content from the same universal intellect.

For Aquinas, by contrast, we are more like personal computers with their own processing power, and whose content is all stored locally.  (This is just an analogy, mind you; Aquinas would certainly not say that we really are computers full stop, after the fashion of computer functionalism.)  Nor in Aquinas’s view could two or more human beings intelligibly be said really to be distinct thinkers unless the Averroist position were mistaken -- unless we are in the relevant sense more like personal computers than like terminals or Kindles.  (In addition to the passages from the Summa Theologiae just linked to, Aquinas wrote an entire work on the theme: On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists.) 

That the soul is the form of the body is a crucial component of understanding what is wrong with the Averroist position.  For like the Averroists, Aquinas agrees that matter is the principle of individuation between instances of a species.  That is why there cannot, in his view, be more than one angel in a species.  Each angel -- a disembodied intellect, and a form without matter -- is the unique member of its own species.  For since angels have no matter, there is nothing that could distinguish one member of the same angelic species from another.  The Averroists’ claim is that since human beings are of the same species, the human intellect -- being, as they claim, entirely separate from matter -- must be the same for all, since there is (given the crucial Averroist claim in question), nothing to individuate two or more distinct human intellects.

Now this raises an interesting question for those attracted to Cartesian forms of dualism -- especially if they are otherwise attracted to Aristotelian-Thomistic hylemorphism as a general philosophy of nature, but even if they are not.  Descartes’ conception of the soul famously makes of it a complete substance in its own right (rather than an incomplete substance, as it is for the Thomist).  It has no essential connection to the body (unlike, again, the soul as Aquinas understands it).  It is like an angel -- an intellectual substance that is nothing but an intellectual substance (i.e. without any bodily operations, which the soul has on the Thomist view). 

But in that case, how exactly can one Cartesian soul of the same species be differentiated from another?  Cartesian souls of different species could be individuated, as angels are.  But Cartesian human souls are, surely, supposed to be souls of the same species.  So, again, how can different souls of this same one species be individuated -- as our souls are -- if the Cartesian is correct in claiming that the soul is not related to the body as form to matter? 

How, in short, can the Cartesian avoid falling into Averroism?  Discuss.

72 comments:

Allen Hazen said...

Cartesian souls (or minds, since R.D. writes as it mind and soul were synonyms) have occurrent thoughts (my existence is certain as often as I assert or think of it), so different souls can be distinguished by the different sequences of thoughts they have. If there could be two souls which had exactly the same thoughts at every instant during their existences, that would be a problem: but the supposition is far-fetched enough that Descartes could be forgiven for ignoring it.

This all reminds me of 1960s philosophy of mind: whole bunches of English types, none of whom would have claimed to be Thomists though I suppose some thought they were Wittgensteinians, rejected the possibility of disembodied existence (an so, in many cases, of immortality) on the grounds that without bodies there would be no "criterion of identity" for persons. As a student I thought (contingent) differences in the sequences of thoughts entertained by different "ghosts" ought to be enough to distinguish them, but my (Oxford-influenced) teacher was not convinced.

malcolmthecynic said...

Question: How much would it hurt the Cartesian if he was just to say, "Okay, you're right! I agree with the concept of a universal intellect as discussed by Averroes. It seems to me to be the only logical conclusion".

What would this mean for them? Would they have to give up other Cartesian ideas? I'm genuinely curious.

Timotheos said...

At first blush, Averroes' idea does seem strange, but it is actually in the general intellectual background of the west, the most famous spin-off of it probably being Communism

Crude said...

How, in short, can the Cartesian avoid falling into Averroism?

I'm guessing the obvious move would be to embrace nominalism about species, or at least engage in thinking such that there are as many 'species of human' as there are humans.

Edward Feser said...

Allen,

It seems to me you're missing the point. That would give you what Aquinas says we've got with angels -- different species in the same genus, but only one member per species. So, you'd have to say either that every human intellect is its own species -- in which case, you, me, Socrates, Descartes, Aquinas et al. are not really all of the same species after all -- or that we are of the same species but share one and the same intellect -- the Averroist position.

Having different occurrent thoughts wouldn't change that result -- Averroists are of course aware of the obvious fact that my thoughts right now are not the same as yours -- any more than the fact that I am playing one movie on my Kindle and you are watching another on yours is incompatible with its being one and the same cloud we are both streaming from.

malcolmthecynic,

The Cartesian would have to say that there isn't one res cogitans each per human being, but just one res cogitans, period, that we all share.

Timotheos,

Yes, there is at least a family resemblance with collectivist doctrines of various stripes.

rank sophist said...

Interesting post, and an interesting point. It seems like the only way for the Cartesian to avoid Averroism is, as Crude suggests, to deny that there is any such thing as human nature. This wouldn't have been a huge leap for Descartes, honestly. This kind of nominalism was part of the early modern intellectual framework to begin with.

Malcolm,

Aquinas argues at great length--he spends more time arguing about this than almost any other subject--that Averroism results in numerous contradictions. His arguments are pretty persuasive. Unless the Cartesian could somehow show that they were erroneous, he couldn't accept Averroism from a logical standpoint. Not really a great position to hold.

The original Mr. X said...

This cloud-computing Averroism reminds me a bit of the Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis. Then again, I'm not hugely familiar with this area of theology, so maybe this is just my ignorance showing.

Glenn said...

Whether intended as such or not, this OP is an excellent response to a claim appearing in the comments of an earlier post.

George R. said...

By the same reasoning, the notion that God informs matter with a human soul also leads to Averroism, since in that case the soul would pre-exist the body before it could be individuated by matter. It seems that the only way to avoid Averroism is to say that God informs matter not with a soul but with something else, after which the soul comes into being as a result.

Chad Handley said...

Can we define exactly how the word "species" is being used here? I can't see how identifying disembodied minds by their content would entail that each mind is a separate species. I can identify a person via a trademark scar without thinking he's a different species from everyone who lacks that scar. Why can't I identify a person via a trademark thought pattern without thinking he's a different species from everyone who adopts a slightly different thought pattern?

Tony said...

Chad, I think you are simply assuming the different persons (and distinct minds) and just pointing to a possible indicator for how to tell which is which given that assumption. But without assuming different thoughts implies different minds, you cannot go anywhere.

If "having different thoughts" is what is characteristic of different terminals to the one group-mind, rather than different independent computers, you haven't solved the problem. With this Tony outpost of The Mind it is answering your comment, whereas with the Crude outpost of The Mind it is doing something else and crafting different thoughts, but nothing demands that the different thoughts must be the thoughts of different minds. The question is, what forces us out of the "different terminals, same underlying mind" model to explain the distinct thoughts?

Keep in mind the (typically eastern) philosophies that merge all everything into one big "all that is" - The One - usually including Mind in that. They too assume that the mere fact that Ed and Allen and I are thinking different things does not imply distinct minds.

Brandon said...

Allen,

Cartesian souls (or minds, since R.D. writes as it mind and soul were synonyms) have occurrent thoughts (my existence is certain as often as I assert or think of it), so different souls can be distinguished by the different sequences of thoughts they have.

As far as I can see there's nothing in Cartesian dualism that actually justifies this inference. Indeed, it's difficult to see how it could be supported on Cartesian principles. How does one identify different sequences? It can't be an empirical differentiation; nor does anything a priori seem to rule out one mind having multiple distinct sequences of thoughts. So it seems that the only way in which one can identify 'different sequences of thought' in a way that would also differentiate minds is if we simply take 'different sequences of thought' to mean simply 'sequences of thought for different minds'.

Untenured said...

It looks like this line of thinking can be used to generate a dilemma for the Cartesian: Either individual mental substances have some feature by virtue of which they are differentiated, or they do not. If they do not, Cartesianism collapses into Averroism. If they do, the Cartesian must posit some kind of quasi-material "mind-stuff" or "ectoplasm" as the differentiating principle. In the latter case, Cartesianism isn't an immaterialist position at all, but is rather a "paramechanical" hypothesis vulnerable to all of the typical straw-man arguments.

Chad Handley said...

Tony,

Well, yes, I assume that different thought patterns imply different minds, as I assume different physical characteristics imply different bodies.

It seems like a reasonable assumption?

I'm admittedly a bit lost. I know that the term species in biological parlance refers to a group of organisms that can interbreed with each other, but I don't know what the word species, as opposed to the word genus, means as applied to angels.

I assume that an AT philosopher would say that the term "angels" refers to a genus, not a species. I just don't know what that means, or what difference it's supposed to make?

rank sophist said...

George,

By the same reasoning, the notion that God informs matter with a human soul also leads to Averroism, since in that case the soul would pre-exist the body before it could be individuated by matter. It seems that the only way to avoid Averroism is to say that God informs matter not with a soul but with something else, after which the soul comes into being as a result.

Made some mistakes posting this comment; apologies for the deleted posts. Anyway, the solution is that God does not inform matter with a soul at all. He creates each particular human substance-as-substance from nothing. This does not mean that he creates the matter of each human; simply that the substance-with-a-soul--which has signate matter--is created from nothing, with the help of pre-existent prime matter. God's creation of each human soul is simply part of this wider picture, and those souls begin to exist as soon as the substance itself begins to exist.

Bharat said...

Perhaps the Borg on Star Trek would be another analogy to make Averroism more intelligible?

Chico Jones said...

If sequences of thoughts individuate minds, then how do new minds come about? Minds are ontologically prior to the thoughts they have, so the new thought sequences could not exist before the new minds did. But if the new minds already exist, then they are individuated prior to having thoughts.

I suppose you could claim thought sequences are principles of being along with minds, but then you would have to claim something such as that God creates new minds with thought sequences already built in. Of course, if it must be a thought *sequence*, and if human thought sequences are temporal, this means they were thinking before they were created, which is absurd. So, it must be that the first thought individuates them. So, you must say that God creates new minds each with one different thought already built in. Still weird. And you still have to make the strange claim that there couldn't be a mind without having yet had a thought, but far more plausible than the sequence of thought criterion.

dguller said...

Since a Cartesian soul is just a thinking substance, perhaps one thinking substance could be differentiated from another on the basis of having different mental states (i.e. thinking, hoping, doubting, etc.) and different mental content (i.e. that p, that q, that r, etc.) at different times? For example, one thinking substance could be doubting that it will rain at time t1, and another thinking substance could be hoping that it will be sunny at time t2.

Timotheos said...

@ Chad Handley

“I assume that an AT philosopher would say that the term "angels" refers to a genus, not a species. I just don't know what that means, or what difference it's supposed to make?”

What AT philosophers mean by this is that for each thing there must be some real and complete definition of what it is (which is not to say that we must have a full understanding of something to define it). So for each thing, there must be some lowest genus and specific difference that constitutes its definition.

To give an example, humans are traditionally defined as rational animals, animals being a genus and rational being the specific difference. We may truthfully say however that humans are members of the genus animals, but that wouldn’t give a complete definition of what humans are.

Since the definition of a human is its substantial form, we must say that each human has the form of human; any further differentiation is completed by matter.

For angels however, the story gets a little more complicated. On an AT analysis, angels are compounds of essence and an act of existence. Since an act of existence doesn’t have any true way of producing accidents or any differences between members of the same form, the only way to differentiate the two is by form. But to differentiate with forms requires us to turn angels into a genus and not a species, since each member of a species must have the same form.

So, by AT analysis, the term angel refers to the genus under which is the various species that are carved up by various specific differences, until we get to the substantial forms that define each angel.

Whether this analysis is correct however is the subject of further debate, but I hope my post has clarified what the AT philosopher means by what he says.

Anonymous said...

To professor Feser (or perhaps to one of the regulars here):

Do you have any plans for future posts explaining On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists?

I've never really been satisfied with the eastern (dharmic) notion that ultimately there's only one self/intellect, Atman is Brahman etc., and it sounds as if Averroes is getting at much the same thing.

Timotheos said...

Also, Chico Jones makes a good point; the activities and powers of substances are logically posterior to their identity, so immaterial substances would already have their identity before they act.

Thus, individualization cannot be from anything that the completed substance brings to the table, like thoughts, memories, activity at certain times, etc…

Chad Handley said...

Thanks, Timotheos, but I think I'm still a little confused:

1. Is this posed as an epistemological or a metaphysical problem? Can't God differentiate one angel from another without making use of notions of genus/species, despite the fact that they're immaterial?

We may have no means of differentiating one disembodied mind from another, but that does that really imply they have no distinct existence?

2. If a Cartesian rejects the Thomistic conception of genus and species, why would he care that a disembodied soul lacks a species as a Thomist defines the term "species?"

3. Why does it matter that we can't distinguish between individual souls prior to their development of a thought pattern? I can't distinguish between individual humans when they are embryos.

I'm sure I'm completely misunderstanding, and I'm asking questions in order to be corrected rather than to score points in an argument. But it sounds like you guys are saying that a Cartesian would have trouble being a Thomist. I would think a Cartesian wouldn't be bothered by the fact that his views are incompatible with many Thomistic notions, given he's not a Thomist and doesn't share those notions.

rank sophist said...

Chad,

Is this posed as an epistemological or a metaphysical problem? Can't God differentiate one angel from another without making use of notions of genus/species, despite the fact that they're immaterial?

I'd just like to chime in on this point and say that Aquinas's opinion was highly controversial in its day. It is definitely possible that he was wrong, particularly since this is a matter of faith for which there are no absolutely conclusive arguments. So, even if you get answers to your questions, you may not be fully satisfied.

Timotheos said...

Running through Chad Handley’s questions

1. Is this posed as an epistemological or a metaphysical problem? Can't God differentiate one angel from another without making use of notions of genus/species, despite the fact that they're immaterial? We may have no means of differentiating one disembodied mind from another, but that does that really imply they have no distinct existence?

a) This is posed as a metaphysical problem, although it looks like an epistemological problem at first blush, mostly due to our Kantian/Modern ears.

b) No, to say so would amount to saying that God could create a round square, since it’s part of the definition of an immaterial substance to be compounded by only essence and existence, at least on an AT account.

Note that this doesn’t necessitate that God must create something with a form; it just means that God can’t create 2 immaterial substances of the same species, since immaterial substances, by the AT definition, must have a form. Thus, such a situation would amount to God creating something with and without a form, which is a contraction.

c) By an AT account, it sure as hell does.


2. If a Cartesian rejects the Thomistic conception of genus and species, why would he care that a disembodied soul lacks a species as a Thomist defines the term "species?"

The Cartesian probably wouldn’t care that much if he rejected the Thomistic conception of genus and species, but then again, neither would a serial killer care that much if he was deemed a murderer. The Thomist would claim that they were intellectually wrong for rejecting such an account, and give arguments for why the Cartesian should accept it.


3. Why does it matter that we can't distinguish between individual souls prior to their development of a thought pattern? I can't distinguish between individual humans when they are embryos.

You might be misunderstanding the problem here. The problem is not that WE can’t tell the difference; it’s that there is no way in principle to distinguish them, in other words, that they are in no way different. So if there is no way to distinguish souls before they think, they could in no way be different, and thus, are really the same thing.

So for the embryo problem, you might not be able to see the difference between Sally in the womb and Sam, her unidentical twin, in the same womb, but there must be some principled difference, otherwise they would be the exact same embryo, and Sally would really be Sam. Again, this is about absolute identity, not our knowledge of identity.

NiV said...

People speak of "the" Bible, but is there only one? In terms of paper and ink, there are of course many. But people will speak of it as if it was singular. Chapter and verse references are all considered identical, looking up a reference given by one person can be done by another person in any instance - you don't have to use the specific instance the original person used. All instances of the Bible are instances of a single Bible. The Bible is a form, while the paper and ink is matter.

But do you mean the KJV Bible or the NIV Bible? There are different sub-species of Bible as well. In some contexts, the translation doesn't matter and 'Bible' is singular. In others it is plural.

Forms can clearly exist in a taxonomic hierarchy. Looked at at one level, they're all the same. At another, they're distinct. So it's not true to say that matter is the *only* way to distinguish instances of a form.

Thus, it ought to be entirely possible for human minds to be considered the same thing at one level of abstraction, while being different at another. They have many non-material properties, and are the same in some while different in others.

Rather like PCs all run the same operating system - Windows. It's regarded as a singular entity in some contexts, and the knowledge I acquire about it on my PC is applicable on yours.

Timotheos said...

@ NiV

Exactly, but notice, that would make angel a genus, since it is not the lowest form in the taxonomy. For Aquinas, a substance only has one form, and that is a form that is one of the members of the lowest level of a taxonomy. This is not to say that a human (a rational animal) is not an animal, it’s just to say that his substantial form, rational animal, entails him being an animal.

But then, since human is the lowest form of a taxonomy of substances, then there cannot be anything else on the form side to differentiate, so the job must be filled by matter. Sure, you can stipulate that human is not really a species, but a genus, but that has odd consequences, and the AT philosopher would debate against such a conclusion.

Timotheos said...

oops, I meant to say that "a substance only has one substantial form."

Allen Hazen said...

Edward Feser--
Well, I'm missing your point now! I don't see how (my development of Cartesianism) implies that different unembodied souls are different species. Suppose I can telepathically tune in on the "interior monologues" of a bunch of them. (Don't ask me what corresponds to the radio dial, here:how I can tune in on one and not the other. Magic, maybe.) I could surely have evidence that I was tuning in to different ones from the different contents I "hear", without having evidence that they were different in KIND, had different potentialities.

Brandon--
A sequence of thoughts is identifiable by its continuities: one thought leading to another in a coherent way. As for the distinction between different minds and one mind having more than one train of thought... That, it seems to me, would only become a meaningful question in the context of some developed theory about thenature of minds. Suppose I just discover the trains of thought: find out that some combination of, oh, say, chanting and incense lets me tune in on them. I transcribe the sequences "hear", and they seem to differ about the way the sequences of thoughts of different embodied minds differ. Seems to me that the NATURAL (subject to revision in the light of further evidence, but so are most things)for me to say would be that I had found out how to listen in on a bunch of disembodied minds.

Benedictus said...

I must throw myself on the mercy of those better learned. It seems to me that AT has as similar problem. That is, if it is matter that individuates the human person, how then are the vast majority of heavenly saints individuated? Presumably they share the same substantial form, unless we are now to consider them a different species.

Chad Handley said...

Timotheos:

The Cartesian probably wouldn’t care that much if he rejected the Thomistic conception of genus and species, but then again, neither would a serial killer care that much if he was deemed a murderer. The Thomist would claim that they were intellectually wrong for rejecting such an account, and give arguments for why the Cartesian should accept it.

Sure, you could convince the Cartesian that he should be a Thomist for other reasons, but that wouldn't change the fact that the argument as currently constructed doesn't really create a problem for him.

It seems like the argument says that if someone wanted to be a Cartesian about the soul but have a Thomistic metaphysics as regards everything else, that would cause a problem. But probably no Cartesian does this, so for exactly whom would this be an issue?

You might be misunderstanding the problem here. The problem is not that WE can’t tell the difference; it’s that there is no way in principle to distinguish them, in other words, that they are in no way different. So if there is no way to distinguish souls before they think, they could in no way be different, and thus, are really the same thing.

I just don't understand why it's a problem that we can't distinguish the minds before they think. If we can distinguish them after they think, that would suffice to show that they are not in principle indistinguishable.

Again, to my unlearned ears, all the argument establishes is that Cartesianism and Thomism are incompatible, but didn't we already know that?

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

Basically Ed's question is this: On a Cartesian view of the mind/soul as an independent substance, how can we make a principled distinction between (a) your having one mind/intellect and my having another, and (b) our being different parts of a single mind/intellect?

Our having different thoughts won't do the job, because there's no reason in principle why one intellect can't have two different thoughts at the same time.

James Chastek said...

Ed,

All this brings in the thorny question of the principle of individuation. On the thomistic theory, of course, a species is multiplied in number only by matter signed by quantity, and so if a form has no essential relation to such matter then it cannot be multiplied in number. The Scotists, as you know, disagree with this and claim that neither matter nor form can individuate anything, which they take as a proof that there must be some principle other than these explains individual reality. Though I see no evidence that Descartes thought that individuality was caused by haecceitas rather than matter, he is clearly aware of the Franciscan tradition (as is clear from his concern with the more extreme sorts of voluntarism) and could have invoked its idea of haecceitas in response to the your challenge.

But I wonder if the answer is simpler: both Descartes and STA agree that the soul qua rational is not the act of a body. Descartes, however, identifies the man with the soul qua rational while STA does not. STA explains his idea by saying the human soul is not "totally immersed" in matter, a metaphor which has never been entirely unpacked. Some problems do seem to arise in light of the questions you are raising, however. If the soul is not entirely immersed in matter, and matter is the source of individuation, then what do we say? That the soul is not entirely individuated? That it is not "immersed in individuation" (whatever that would mean)?

At the moment, I'm tempted to say that the division between particular and universal or individual and species is only appropriate to the objects we know, and so that they are not adequate account of non-abstracted reality. All subsistent forms are identical in species and hypostasis, and in the measure that the soul is subsistent form it must be this too. Aristotle's refutation of the Platonic forms is, for me, a long proof that we simply cannot adequately comprehend any reality that is identical in hypostasis and essence, but that we inevitably make it either purely rational or a concrete physical hypostasis, neither of which it is capable of being.

Remember that the division of form and matter was only invoked to explain contingent, changeable, physical reality, and so it could never be wholly appropriate to describing human persons, given that their being is not exhausted by the physical. Said another way, matter and form were meant to explain things that come to be, not things that arise from acts of special creation, of which the soul is one.

Brandon said...

Allen,

Unless you are assuming that there is some kind of linearity in the sequence, which raises other problems, the obvious difficulty is that it seems you would never actually be able to determine the relation of sequence to the other unless you knew its entire history. So, for instance, suppose you could somehow identify two sequences that are right now not continuous; but they derive from one original stream or flow into one much later.

(I also think it's clear, incidentally, that continuity simply isn't enough: even in our own experience we can't see our own minds as one continuous sequence of thought, because we repeatedly go unconscious in ways that could easily be interpreted as breaks in continuity. Identifying our own sequence(s) of thought as unified requires the assumption of a distinct, continuous capability for thinking, independent of any identifiable sequence.)

But, of course, the standing problem is: how do we justify the principle underlying the inference here, in the first place, given that we never actually have any direct access to sequences of thought in different minds, and given that we don't seem on dualistic principles to have any a priori principle guaranteeing that each mind has only one sequence of thought? There doesn't seem to be any way to do it.

Doug Ryan said...

What makes two souls members of a common species?

They can each directly interact with a body of a common species and the bodies they can interact with directly are numerically distinct.

Tony said...

Suppose I can telepathically tune in on the "interior monologues" of a bunch of them. (Don't ask me what corresponds to the radio dial, here:how I can tune in on one and not the other. Magic, maybe.) I could surely have evidence that I was tuning in to different ones from the different contents I "hear",

Allen, I don't see it.

First place on the dial: "Yip. Thet thar's a damned moooose, I tell yer, pee-in' all over d'place."

Second place on the dial: "Mistah Cahtuh, please be so kind as to keep your ungentlemanly comments unsaid."

Those are very different sequences of thought, even different in "tone" or language quality. But they were both thought by one single author crafting a scene.

Because mind is not material, there is nothing that inherently prevents one from supposing one mind can think many things, perhaps even at the same time. We humans don't do "many" terribly well, but then we are stuck with bodies, too. (Although there has to be some sense in which we think 2 things at once anyway, or the connection of premises in a BARBARA syllogism into a conclusion wouldn't be grasped coherently.)

There has to be a basis for supposing different thoughts are thoughts of different minds other than just the difference of the thoughts themselves. That's not a sufficient basis, you have to have a reason to think it true that "one mind cannot think these different thoughts."

Daniel said...

I think that the key point to remember here is that the Scholastics Descartes would have sided with on this issue had he been pressed would have been Scotists and Suarezians, and thus not have considered Matter as the principle of Individuation in the first place (proto-Cartesian tendencies can be seen in the works of a fourteenth century Scotist, Francis of Marchia). The French Rationalist would have argued for a Principle of Identity akin to Scotus’ Haecceitas.

A non-Cartesian Substance Dualist, or at least one of a Realist persuasion, could argue as mentioned above the network of intentions, each referring to a real object, established by consciousness qua Transcendental Ego that the network of intentions serves to establish Ontological identity*. They could even go on to argue that this is why Intellect needs to be coupled with a body, this latter considered as a freely given divine gift, in the first place.

*I would argue that Thomas does something similar within the bounds of Hylemorphic Dualism when establishing the Person , the Suppositum – the chapters on Personality in Coffey’s Ontology and Volume II of Phillips’ Modern Thomistic Philosophy.

Scott said...

@Benedictus:

"It seems to me that AT has as similar problem. That is, if it is matter that individuates the human person, how then are the vast majority of heavenly saints individuated? Presumably they share the same substantial form[.]"

According to A-T, each of us has a substantial form that comes into existence only as the soul of a body. But having been thus embodied (and thus individuated by matter), your substantial form and mine don't suddenly merge into one when our bodies die; they continue to exist as incomplete substances.

Tony said...

What makes two souls members of a common species?

They can each directly interact with a body of a common species and the bodies they can interact with directly are numerically distinct.


Well, yes and no. The "body of a common species" already assumes what you are trying to figure out. What makes these bodies to be "bodies of a common species"?

According to A-T, they are bodies of a single species because they are formally the same. That's exactly what it means to be "same species," the formal aspect of the substances is the same. The same form "human" is informing the matter. Without the unity of form, they wouldn't be substances of the same species.

dguller said...

Wouldn't the same difficulty occur for disembodied human immaterial intellects? They all have the same form in terms of formal identity, but how are they numerically distinct? Their principle of individuation was matter, which is no longer present. All that is left is the immaterial form, which lacks any basis to be numerically distinct.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"Their principle of individuation was matter[.]"

And as I understand it, it still is. The idea seems to be that once souls are individuated by matter, they stay that way. (I'm not speaking with any particular expertise here; a related subject came up in another thread some weeks ago and this question was discussed.)

Scott said...

Presumably the same thing would happen to (say) the vegetative souls of trees if those were to survive the bodily deaths of the trees. It's just that they don't thus survive, whereas our intellectual souls do.

dguller said...

Scott:

And as I understand it, it still is. The idea seems to be that once souls are individuated by matter, they stay that way. (I'm not speaking with any particular expertise here; a related subject came up in another thread some weeks ago and this question was discussed.

How is that possible, though? Once the soul assumes a subsistent immaterial mode of being, the matter is no longer present to individuate the form at all. If it was still present, then the form continues to exist in a material mode of being after all.

According to my (limited) understanding, what happens is that there is some kind of residual individuation attached to the subsistent immaterial form on the basis of previous material activities, which remains present even in its postmortem immaterial mode of being. The problem is what this residual is supposed to be. It cannot be material, because matter is gone. It must, therefore, be immaterial, but is there supposed to be an immaterial residual trace of that particular form’s material activities in the past attached to the immaterial subsistent form?

Scott said...

@dguller:

"[I]s there supposed to be an immaterial residual trace of that particular form’s material activities in the past attached to the immaterial subsistent form?"

That's basically my understanding, yes. And that means the subsistent form is properly regarded as an incomplete substance.

With that, I think we've exhausted my limited expertise on the subject, so I'll have to leave further elaboration to others (who are of course also invited to correct me if I'm wrong).

dguller said...

Scott:

"[I]s there supposed to be an immaterial residual trace of that particular form’s material activities in the past attached to the immaterial subsistent form?"

That's basically my understanding, yes. And that means the subsistent form is properly regarded as an incomplete substance.


I don’t think that solves the problem, though.

Presumably, the trace in question would have to be an imprint of some kind that represents a previous activity, i.e. a memory of an event or activity of the past.

Aquinas distinguishes two kinds of memory in this context.

First, he states that “it is of the nature of the memory to preserve the species of those things which are not actually apprehended” and that “if we take memory only for the power of retaining species, we must say that it is in the intellectual part” (ST 1.79.6). In this case, the passive intellect receives intelligible forms stripped of their individuating and particularizing features by the active intellect, which must also include their occurrence at a particular time in the past. As such, these intelligible forms are atemporal, and thus cannot be the basis for the trace in question, which must include temporality.

Second, he states that “if in the notion of memory we include its object as something past, then the memory is not in the intellectual, but only in the sensitive part, which apprehends individual things (ST 1.79.6). In this case, memory of “individual things” that are “something past” can only occur in “the sensitive part”, and “not in the intellectual” part. In other words, the very kind of memory that would be required to include a representation or trace of past particular activities could not be the immaterial intellect, and rather must be the sensitive powers that require matter in order to function.

So, the account continues to be problematic, because the only powers that remain after death would be the immaterial intellect, which necessarily cannot include the requisite trace of past physical activities that would differentiate one individual intellect from another after death.

Timotheos said...

@dguller

It’s my rather limited understanding that, on an AT conception, disembodied souls are individuated by their once being associated with matter, and so continue on as an incomplete substance after death.

To give a rough, and I do mean rough, analogy, a chocolate bar’s wrapper can exist as a wrapper after its chocolate has been eaten, but to count as the wrapper of a chocolate bar, it must have once wrapped some chocolate. Otherwise, it would just be a piece of paper with a label on it, and not really count as a chocolate wrapper. (Admittedly this is a pretty bad example, but it’s the best I could think of so far)

If you have a copy of David Oderberg’s Real Essentialism, he covers the AT conception of humans in chapter 10, and the soul’s individuality in part 6 of chapter 10. Since my understanding of this topic is rather limited to David Oderberg’s book, my expertise here ends much like Scott’s.

Natural Mind said...

I come as usual late to the discussion, but nothing I've seen casts light on Feser's statement, "Cartesian souls of different species could be individuated, as angels are. But Cartesian human souls are, surely, supposed to be souls of the same species."

What worries me is this presupposed individuation of angels. What does the word "angel" mean but a genus, of which various types -- why not say "species" -- are individuated? Their individuation may not require materiality, but whatever it consists of, it is sufficient to distinguish them from God and from each other. What is this set of beings called "angels," who are other than God, and divided into individual types, without materiality "speciating" them?

Something divides them from God and each other: and that would appear to be pure form.

But that means that difference of pure form is not significantly different from difference in materiality, at least not in its ability to individuate. Which leads me to suspect that pure form is not essentially different from materiality, and in fact belongs to it - or vice versa, as one prefers.

Natural Mind said...

@Timotheus: you've asked question I posed, but is there any answer forthcoming? I haven't seen it...

dguller said...

Tim:

It’s my rather limited understanding that, on an AT conception, disembodied souls are individuated by their once being associated with matter, and so continue on as an incomplete substance after death.

It is precisely this “once being associated with matter” that I’m having a problem with. What is the nature of this association? There is nothing about the disembodied soul itself that points towards this previous association with matter, because the disembodied soul is completely independent of matter altogether. In other words, if you could examine an individual disembodied soul, there would be nothing about it that pointed towards a previous material existence.

So, the association in question is not intrinsic to the disembodied soul itself, and thus must be extrinsic to the soul. And if individuation is now extrinsic to an individual substance – complete or incomplete – then the Cartesian can simply reply that, yes, the immaterial thinking substances are intrinsically identical, but their individuation comes from outside of themselves. Perhaps the Cartesian can even appeal to God who identifies them as distinct from one another on the basis of some extrinsic factor existing in his intellect?

dguller said...

Natural Mind:

Something divides them from God and each other: and that would appear to be pure form.

What divides them from God is that they are composite and God is simple.

Natural Mind said...

@dguller:

Yes, indeed. "They" - the angels, a set of individuals, differing from each other - have this in common: compositeness. That divides them from God. They, each in their own unique way, belong to the genus of beings that are composite. But how do they differ from each other? What kind of difference is that?

The archangels Michael and Gabriel are different beings, I suppose. Is their difference from each other "different" from the difference between you and me?

Scott said...

@dguller:

"[I]f you could examine an individual disembodied soul, there would be nothing about it that pointed towards a previous material existence."

Well, that's the question, isn't it? And I don't offhand see why the "trace in question . .  must include temporality." I'm not suggesting that the following is the A-T answer to the question, but why couldn't two immaterial intellects with differing histories be distinguished by (for example) the forms they received while embodied?

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

"[H]ow do they differ from each other?"

In having different forms.

"What kind of difference is that?"

Formal.

Natural Mind said...

@dguller:

I should be more careful here: I don't mean to suggest that God belongs to some "other genus" that is not composite. God transcends any genus. My point is that wherever we find difference apart from God, among and between angels and men, it is not so easy to say one kind of difference is different from any other...

Timotheos said...

@ Natural Mind

For Aquinas, angels are pure essences compounded with an act of existence. Since an act of existence adds no identity conditions, all the identity must come from the essence.

From an individuation standpoint, this isn’t a problem, since a form alone can be sufficient to provide identity conditions for a substance. Averroes’ argument relies heavily on the supposition that all humans are members of the same species.

In Aristotelian philosophy, every substance has one, and only one, substantial form, which is the form of its species. Since two members of the same species must have the same substantial form, if identity conditions are not provided distinctly from the essence, then the “two” members of the species would really have the same identity, and thus would really be the same substance.

Thus, since all identity conditions for angels come from essence, if “angel” was a species, there could only be one angel. This is false, so “angel” must be a genus, not a species.

Now theoretically, we could give Cartesian souls the same treatment, but then we run into the problem of saying that humans are not a species but a genus. To this, the Cartesian may just shrug his shoulders and insist that humans are not a species, but a genus. Of course, this has its own problems, but it is one possible escape route for the Cartesian.

Natural Mind said...

@Scott:

so the difference is "formal."

How is that "formal" any different from a "corporal," "material" difference?

Difference is difference. "The soul is the form of the body:" we have different material bodies, and thus instantiate different souls. But angels are formally different too, without having different "bodies," and instantiate different forms.

How is it angels get to be different from each other without bodies, while we humans require different bodies?

It's a serious question for me. How is any sort of "angelic" difference" any different from what makes us crawling creatures?

Natural Mind said...

@Timotheus:

Thanks for your comments; I'm in a late time zone and ready for bed; will respond tomorrow!

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

"How is it angels get to be different from each other without bodies, while we humans require different bodies?"

Timotheos has already more or less addressed this, but the point is that in A-T, matter is the principle of individuation and is therefore what accounts for their being two substances of the same form. Since angels are immaterial, there can't be two angels of the same form because there would be nothing to individuate/differentiate them. But since humans are (at least partly) material, two of us can have the same substantial form without being the same substance; we're each of us individuated by our matter in a way that angels can't be.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

"[W]e have different material bodies, and thus instantiate different souls."

Yes, but be careful: that doesn't mean we have different substantial forms. According to A-T, the substantial forms of two human beings are formally identical; they're numerically different because they're individuated by matter. So the way in which two human beings have different souls (substantial forms) is different from the way in which two angels have different forms; the two angels' forms are not formally identical.

dguller said...

Scott:

Well, that's the question, isn't it? And I don't offhand see why the "trace in question . . must include temporality."

The deeper question, I think, is how a disembodied immaterial intellect can refer to the past at all.

I'm not suggesting that the following is the A-T answer to the question, but why couldn't two immaterial intellects with differing histories be distinguished by (for example) the forms they received while embodied?

You wrote earlier that differentiating Cartesian thinking substances on the basis of having different thoughts would not work, because “there's no reason in principle why one intellect can't have two different thoughts at the same time”. Why wouldn’t the same objection hold in this context, as well? After all, one intellect can have several received forms within it, and so if we different intellects received the same forms while they were embodied, then wouldn’t they become the exact same disembodied intellect after death?

Timotheos said...

@ dguller

One example of how something might have cross-temporal identity is the following.

Suppose that an old man owns a house, and his kids would often visit him in it. Now suppose the man dies. When the kids are looking over the will and dividing his property, the children might still refer to the house as “their father’s house”, even though he isn’t alive, because he once owned the house. And indeed, the house would have the partial identity of once being that old man’s house, even if he was dead.

Now it’s true that, in the abstract, if we were strangers who walked up to the old man’s house after he died, we would probably not recognize the house's identity of once being the old man's house. But, as I’ve made clear previously in this thread, identity conditions do not rely on whether or not WE can recognize them, but if they can even exist at all.

Admittedly, this example is imperfect, and skirts around much of the issue, but it still does illustrate the concept, even if it doesn’t provide a real example.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"Why wouldn’t the same objection hold in this context, as well?"

It might; as I said, I'm not offering the example as A-T's answer to the question at issue. But if it doesn't hold, it will be because the two intellects in question have been differentiated by matter and bear the traces of that differentiation in the forms they've received.

That may not be right for other reasons, but I don't think it's wrong merely because there's no "temporality" involved. And that was my (only) point.

Scott said...

(In fact I suspect the A-T answer will turn out to lie in the fact that a human substantial form "has" bodily operations in some essential way. But if that's right, then someone more expert than I am will have to spell it out.)

Scott said...

@dguller:

"[I]f we different intellects received the same forms while they were embodied, then wouldn’t they become the exact same disembodied intellect after death?"

I think this is disanalogous to the case under discussion. What you probably want to suggest instead is that one disembodied intellect might have two different sets of received forms.

Apart from the disanalogy, though, your question is a good one and suggests that my own example isn't the right answer to the question ultimately at issue here. I still don't think "temporality" has much to do with it, though.

Daniel said...

I will just mention a number of points:

1. The individulisation of Angels works in a slightly different fashion since, for Thomas at least, each Angel exhausts the possibility of its species. Thus one could say Michael differs from Gabriel specifically in the same fashion as an ox differs from a goat.

2. A somewhat obvious point but in terms of Hylemorphic Dualism the Soul is not just considered qua Mind, as some Cartesians would have it, but qua Substantial Form. Furthermore, I think it would help to distinguish between the Quiddity or Logical Essence, i.e. the Universal considered as such, and the Substantial Form out there in the world from which the former is derived). This is important since Conceptualists like Ockham and Jean Buridan still upheld a Hylemorphic philosophy of Nature and Persons whilst rejecting the former. The form of Socrates is not the form of Plato – it is only on reflection that this entity apprehended by abstraction, which at this stage is considered neither as Universal or Particular, that the Intellect by an act of Second Intention recognises it as exemplifiable as one in many: to whit, as Universal. The Universal is a purely Logical being, an ens rationis, but one with a foundation in Reality.

If the form of Plato were coupled with Prime Matter it would always lead to embodied Plato. Not even God could ‘put’ Plato’s soul into Socrates’ body, though He/It could make Plato’s ‘new’ body look like that of Socrates’. A Form/soul is always a Form /soul of this or that man. Though we speak of Men as having Nutritive, Sensitive and Rational souls it is only in view of a Virtual Distinction we can think of these separately, i.e. Man has only one Substantial Form and thus only one soul. Now, only the Rational powers of the soul are not fully dependent on a bodily organ and thus can continue operating post mortem – however, as there is only one soul it does not lose its capacity for the lower functions which it could fulfil again were it incarnated in Matter.

(I’m not a Christian but Hylemorphic Dualism is the only philosophical standpoint which makes the Resurrection of the Body seem feasible and not a dogmatic dead end).

Sami said...

To what extent can you change a thing before it is no longer the same thing? Like, if god took a horse and gave it dog feet is it still a dog? how about dog organs? dog skin? a dog brain? does it matter how this transformation took place? where would aquinas draw the line between a form being imperfectly realized (eg, human without an arm) and a form being lost?

Daniel said...

@Sami,

Well, since a dog's soul is completely embodied in Matter and cannot be separated from it one couldn't alter it too much before it loses its Substantial Form. In the case of humans this is initially more difficult since their Forms can exist apart from Matter. The Basque philosopher Xavier Zubiri, an opponent of Aristotle's Genus/Species definition of Essence, once famously remarked 'Giving Man's Essential Characteristic as a Rational Animal is insufficient as it does not explain why said Rational Animal always possesses two legs'.

As much as I admire Zubiri I think part of this stems from a problem I mentioned in my last post, i.e. the failure to distinguish between the Logical Essence or Quiddity and the Substantial Form out there in the world: the Substantial Form of Man makes him more than a Rational Animal; it makes him a Man. We might illustrate this by appealing to Krippe's notion of Natural Kinds and Rigid Designators. To save time I'll quote from the extremely convenient short section on it in Professor Feser's Philosophy of Mind: 'A Rigid Designator is an expression that denotes the same thing in every possible world, in every possible way that things might have been.' So, in order to be a man in any possible world an entity must possess all the inseparable Accidents it naturally possesses in the actual world e.g. having two legs. So whilst it would seem we can easily conceive of a dog possessing Rationality we are in fact conceiving of a different being and not a dog at all.

zmikecuber said...

Off topic: Anyone know where I can get each of the five ways presented in valid syllogistic form?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Brandon (siris) has done a few posts on the first way, I think he has the original argument split into premises.

Mike Flynn also had a good article on the fourth way.

The blog links are in the side bar.

David M said...

"how can different souls of this same one species be individuated -- as our souls are -- if the Cartesian is correct in claiming that the soul is not related to the body as form to matter?"

The specific uniformity of diverse human souls follows from their common spiritual essence. But that spiritual essence is specifically such that it is (initially) a kind of blank slate which is filled up (which is given content, which comes to fruition) on the basis of experience gained in the course of interaction with the body (with matter). So the Cartesian soul is, in fact, individuated 'by matter,' at least in the sense that its particular spiritual/intellectual destiny is accomplished only in concert with the particular material/corporeal destiny of the body to which it is joined.

David M said...

Still trying to understand all this...

From H. Chad Hillier's, IEP article on Ibn Rushd (Averroes): "the human mind is a composite of the *material* [potential] intellect and the *passive* intellect [a.k.a. imagination]. ... When the material intellect is actualized by information received, it is described as the *speculative* (habitual) intellect." ...which becomes the *acquired* intellect insofar as its object becomes the *active* [agent] intellect.

So applying this to Feser's analogy: "For the Averroist, each human being [i.e., each composite of material intellect and passive intellect (imagination)] is somewhat like a Kindle Fire tablet [active intellect?] whose content is stored entirely [or eternally?] in the Amazon Cloud. [Doesn't it also come to be stored in the speculative/ habitual intellect of individual human beings?] When you think, and when I think, we are each, as it were, “streaming” different content [actualizing different speculative intellect(ions)?] from the same universal [active?] intellect."

It sounds like it's not enough for the individual human being to stream content *from* the (one) active intellect *in* the (one) material intellect - the actual human mind also functions by its essential dependence on imagination/ phantasms. And the material intellect, as such, is necessarily one, because it is something like Hegel's Begriff, it is the passive (historically realized) coming-to-be of intellect as such (which must either make everything or become everything) in the world. And the material intellect approaches unity with the active intellect as it approaches, under the influence of the active intellect, a formal identity with the active intellect.

"For Aquinas, by contrast, we are more like personal computers with their own processing power [agent intellect], and whose content is all stored locally [phantasms]."

So for Averroes, the human mind is individuated (it develops as a particular, distinct speculative/ habitual intellect) just as it is for Descartes: in virtue of the course of its individual, historical interactions with the body (in particular, with phantasms). But as far as this goes, I'm having a hard time seeing the substantive contrast with Aquinas (although I suppose starker differences would arise once we move beyond a purely rational account of the 'phenomenology of spirit' - and I don't mean to imply that either Averroes or Aquinas would adhere to Hegel's rather narrow, doctrinaire construal of the actual history of the 'material intellect' or his assessment of what constitutes the final status achieved by the 'acquired intellect').

David M said...

Still trying to think this through.

"For the Averroist, each human being [i.e., each composition of the material intellect with an individual passive intellect (imagination)] is somewhat like a Kindle Fire tablet whose content [i.e., that which constitutes the speculative/habitual intellect] is stored [i.e., subsists?] entirely [exclusively? or eternally?] in the Amazon Cloud [primarily, the active intellect, and secondarily/immediately, the material intellect]. [Doesn't it also come to be stored locally? Isn't that what is meant by the speculative/habitual intellect of individual human beings?] When you think, and when I think, we are each, as it were, “streaming” different content [actualizing different speculative intellect(ions)?] from the same universal intellect [i.e., immediately from the material intellect, and ultimately from the active intellect]."

Anonymous said...

-Porphyry
It seems that under Aristotle matter is defined as capable of differentiating between species, because that which we sense is differentiated between species. To try and work out why things other than matter can be differentiated seems like a fancy way of begging the question, as to whether matter really is the only thing that has that property. Of course one could go to the rules of three at the beginning of The Physics, but it's hard to see how that would definitively assign the property of differentiating between species to matter.