Monday, November 11, 2013

Some questions on the soul, Part III


In some recent posts I’ve been answering readers’ questions about the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) understanding of the soul.  One more for the road, from a reader who is unclear about why mind-body interaction, which is notoriously problematic for Cartesian dualism, is not also problematic for A-T.  The reader writes:

[U]nless something like dualist interactionism is true, I don't see how… immaterial thoughts and - in particular - the will - could possibly cause me to do something as simple as typing this e-mail…

Science would seem to say that the efficient cause of this was certain electrochemical reactions in my body.  The material cause would be the physical events happening in my body.  It seems that A-T philosophy would hold that the final cause was getting an answer to a philosophical question, and I agree.  My soul would then be the formal cause, but I guess that notion is incoherent to me… And, unless the immaterial mind somehow interacts with my body (through quantum physics, maybe?), I don't see how my thinking about something in my immaterial intellect could cause my body to do anything.

End quote.  My goodness, can you believe the kids today, with their Cartesian interactionism!  Seems to be sweeping the country, as you can see from the photo above.  What’s next, epiphenomenalist keg parties?  (“Dude, don’t tell me I’m too hammered to drive home!  My feeling drunk was caused by all the beer in my system, but it has no causal efficacy of its own in turn.  So I’m cool.  If I get pulled over I’ll just slip a copy of Jackson’s ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’ to the cop.”) 

Seriously, though, the first thing to say in response is that the reader seems to think that when I deny (as I have often done) that there is an interaction problem for A-T, I am denying that mind and body interact.  But I do not deny that they interact.  I just deny that this interaction is a problem for A-T, as it is a problem for Cartesian forms of dualism.  Indeed, it was (as we will see below) Cartesianism that made mind-body interaction problematic in a way it had not been on the A-T view, which makes it ironic that the reader should suggest that Cartesianism is somehow “coherent” in a way A-T is not. 

But perhaps the reader’s worry is related to an objection once raised by Bill Vallicella.  Citing what I say about our subject in my book Philosophy of Mind, Bill writes:

Feser here makes two main points. The first is [that] the soul-body relation is a special case of the form-matter relation; as such, the former is no more problematic than the latter. The second point is that the relation between soul and body is one of formal, not efficient, causation. The two points are logically connected: if the soul is the form of the body, and if the two are causally related, then it is difficult to see how the relation could be one of efficient causation. An efficient cause is either an agent-cause or an event-cause. But forms are neither agents nor events.

Bill goes on to object:

I honestly do not see how hylomorphism solves the problem of interaction… [I]nteraction is, by definition, efficient-causal interaction.  Mental events bring about physical events and physical events bring about mental events. To interpret this interaction in terms of formal causation seems tantamount to denying that there is any interaction. Iteraction is efficient-causal interaction. Formal causation appears irrelevant to it…

[For] example, my sudden remembering of having been given a bottle of Scotch is an event-token that enters into the etiology of my rising from my chair. It is rather unclear how this event could be the form of anything in the body. For one thing, the event of remembering is temporally prior to any of the events involved in my rising from my chair. Forms, however, are not temporally prior or posterior to what they inform. So it seems clear that a mental event cannot stand to a physical event it causes in the relation of form to matter.

End quote.  Now the trouble here, I would say, is that Bill is getting the A-T view only partially right.  For A-T, the human soul is the substantial form of a human being, that which grounds our characteristic activities as rational animals -- nutrition, growth, reproduction, sensation, appetite, locomotion, intellect, and will.  The soul is thus related to the body as form to matter, and thus, as Bill indicates, it is perfectly correct to say that the soul and the body do not interact, since they are not separate substances but rather two principles of one substance, viz. the human being.  So far so good.  However, that does not entail that the mind and the body cannot be said to interact -- or more precisely, that mental states and processes cannot be said to interact with bodily states and processes.  That would follow only if, like the Cartesian, we identified the mind with the soul.  But of course, A-T does not do this.

The mind is rather a power of the soul; to be more precise, intellect, imagination, sensation, and will are distinct mental powers of the soul.  Or to be even more precise, these are mental powers of the sort of substance -- the human being -- having a soul or substantial form of the sort we have.  And particular episodes of thinking, imaging, remembering, perceiving, etc. are exercises of those powers.  They can be said to “interact” with or efficiently cause bodily motions of the sort involved in writing an email or getting up to pour some Scotch in something like the way a tree’s roots “interact” with its branches by virtue of taking in water that travels to the branches.  In each case the exercise of a substance’s powers has an efficient-causal influence on the later exercise of other powers.

Now like us, a tree is one substance, and like us it has its own substantial form, which grounds its characteristic powers and operations.  It is this same one substantial form that is responsible for the tree’s taking in water through the roots and the branches’ transferring it to the leaves, for roots and branches are not themselves substances but only parts of a substance.  We can speak loosely, however, of the form of the roots and the form of the branches, since roots are different kinds of part from branches.  We can say that it is the form of the roots that makes them capable of doing their job of stabilizing the tree, taking in water, etc., and it is the form of the branches that makes them capable of doing their different job of transferring water, growing leaves, etc.  And these parts’ having these different forms will entail their having all sorts of structure that allows them to do the jobs they do.  Having the form of branches, for example, will entail being made up of wood and bark of such-and-such a structure, whereas having the form of a leaf will entail having a very different structure of the sort necessary for photosynthesis.  The parts interact the way they do because of the complex structures and activities entailed by the forms each part has, which is ultimately a matter of the whole tree being informed by the kind of substantial form it has.

Now something similar can be said of a human being.  It is one substantial form or soul that informs the whole human being and grounds all of its characteristic powers and operations.  But there is a looser sense in which we can speak of the form of a leg as opposed to that of a heart as opposed to that of an eyeball, and it is these parts’ having the different forms they do that allows the parts to interact in just the ways they do (e.g. the heart pumping blood to the legs, etc.).  That in turn requires all of the parts to have various structures that enable them to carry out the jobs associated with their forms (e.g. the heart must be made out of muscle, the legs are composed of muscles, bones, and tendons, etc.).

But the same thing is true of mental faculties and activities.  The form of remembering something is different from that of desiring something, which is different in turn from that of believing something.  And different structures will follow from a mental state’s having these different forms.  In particular, for A-T each of these will involve a conceptual component but also the having of certain phantasms or mental images, and this in turn will require certain kinds of brain activity.  Just as to have the substantial form of a tree entails carrying out photosynthesis and thus the having of organs with the form of a leaf which in turn entails having various structures characteristic of a leaf, so too does having the substantial form of a human being entail carrying out operations like remembering, which entails having both concepts and phantasms, which in turn entails certain kinds of brain activity.  Ultimately a tree and its activities are explained by reference to the substantial form of a tree; but proximately the activities of a root or leaf are to be understood by reference to the way that the matter of these organs is informed by the forms of these organs.  Similarly, ultimately a human being and its activities are to be explained by reference to its substantial form or soul; but proximately the heart’s pumping of blood or a person’s remembering something are to be understood by reference to the way the matter underlying these activities is informed by the form of the heart or the form of remembering something, with its own characteristic intentional and qualitative content and with its own characteristic associated brain activity.

Now let’s come back to Bill’s example of remembering the Scotch and getting up to go pour a glass of it.  The trouble is that his scenario is both under-described and mis-described -- that is, it gives too little detail and gets a crucial detail wrong where it does give details.  Yes, the form of remembering something cannot plausibly be regarded as the efficient cause of the later event of a person’s walking across the room, both because it is a formal rather than efficient cause and because the remembering of which the form is a form is temporally prior to the walking.  But the A-T philosopher would not say in the first place that the form of remembering is the efficient cause of the walking. 

The right thing to say is rather this.  There is, first, the event (call it A) of remembering the Scotch, which involves the matter of the brain and body being informed in the way characteristic of remembering, which in turn entails a certain conceptual content, certain phantasms, certain underling brain activity, etc.  Then there is the later event (call it B) of walking across the room, which involves its own characteristic form and thus in turn its own characteristic conceptual content, phantasms, brain activity, etc.  Now Bill speaks as if what the A-T philosopher is saying is that the formal cause of A (i.e. the form of remembering) is the efficient cause of the material cause of B (i.e. the moving of certain body parts as one walks across the room).  That is a complete muddle, of course, but it is also not at all what the A-T philosopher is saying.  What A-T is saying is rather that event A, which has the form of remembering as part of its complete description (where the other parts of a complete description include a material cause that entails having certain phantasms and brain activity), is part of the efficient-causal story behind event B, which has its own formal and material causes (including the motions of certain muscles as one walks across the room and the brain activity accompanying this).  In short, A, by virtue of its formal and material causes, serves as a (partial) efficient cause of B, which has its own, different formal and material causes.  (There are also other efficient causes involved -- such as a person’s feeling of pleasure at the thought of drinking the Scotch -- and final causes as well, such as the end or goal of drinking the Scotch.  But we needn’t get into all that in order to address the specific issue at hand.)

Now Bill, no less than the reader I quoted above and no less than the materialist, will no doubt be happy to allow that it is not mysterious how physiological activity of the sort associated with phantasms can causally interact with physiological activity of the sort associated with walking over to the Scotch or writing an email.  But then it should be in no way mysterious how, on the A-T view, mental events like one’s memory of the Scotch cause bodily events like walking toward the Scotch.

But doesn’t this threaten epiphenomenalism?  For isn’t the physical aspect doing all the causal work, with the mental aspect just coming along for the ride?  Emphatically No and No.  To think so is just to read into the A-T account a Cartesian/materialist conception of matter of precisely the sort A-T denies.  If we supposed that there is nothing more to matter than what mathematical physics tells us, or nothing more to brain activity than what we might put in terms of the wiring and firing of neurons and the like, then it might seem that to say that physical or brain event A is the efficient cause of physical or brain event B is to leave nothing for anything else, including any mental aspects of the situation, to do.  But of course, A-T denies that there is nothing more to matter than what mathematical physics tells us, or nothing more to brain activity than what we might put in terms of the wiring and firing of neurons.  A-T insists that a complete description of any physical or physiological object, system, event, or process is going to make reference to each of the four causes, to the actualization of potency, and indeed to the whole apparatus of A-T philosophy of nature.  A description of matter only in terms of mathematical physics or of the brain only in terms of the wiring and firing of neurons is only ever a partial description in the first place, an abstraction from a much richer concrete reality that cannot in principle be captured merely in terms of the categories of physics or neuroscience (even though those categories are fine as far as they go).   A wouldn’t be able to generate B in the first place if there weren’t formal- and final-causal aspects to its complete description in addition to the efficient- and material-causal aspects; and even the efficient- and material-causal aspects are understood on A-T very differently from the way they are on a Cartesian or physicalist account.

Properly to understand the A-T approach to the interaction problem, then, one must see it in light of this larger, and very radical, rejection of the entire conception of nature and of matter that is taken for granted in the usual debates between Cartesians and materialists.  It is by no means a matter of accepting the basic terms in which Cartesians and materialists debate mental causation, but merely throwing in a little talk about formal cause and material cause.  It seems to me that neither Bill nor the reader who raised the question quoted above take sufficient account of this.

They also, it seems to me, take insufficient account of how deeply the interaction problem is tied to a specifically post-Cartesian understanding of mind and body.  As I have noted before (e.g. here and here) Descartes’ conceptions of res cogitans and res extensa were arrived at by reifying two abstractions.  First Descartes abstracted out from concrete material substances those features that were definable in terms of mathematical structure alone, reified that abstract structure -- making of what is really only an accident or characteristic of a substance a substance in its own right -- and then stuck the label “matter” onto this invented substance.  Second, he abstracted out from human beings their power of thought, reified that abstraction -- making of what is really only a power of a substance a substance in its own right -- and then stuck the label “mind” onto this invented substance. 

This created an interaction problem in several ways.  First, the new Cartesian conception of matter -- a conception which, certain details aside, the materialist essentially endorses himself insofar as he thinks mathematical physics gives us an exhaustive description of matter -- made of matter something essentially inert.  For there is nothing in the language of mathematics that can capture anything like the active potency or causal power that the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition Descartes and the other early moderns were rebelling against attributes to matter.  This is why Descartes and others took to thinking of motion as something that had to be imparted to matter from without, by God.  It is also part of the reason even body-body interaction -- never mind mind-body interaction -- became problematic for the early moderns.  Indeed, Descartes appears to have been an occasionalist with respect to body-body interaction, attributing causal interaction to the mind-body case alone.  Malebranche’s more thoroughgoing occasionalism and Leibniz’s parallelism -- both of which, remember, denied causal interaction in the case of physical objects no less than the mind-body case -- were just more consistent applications of the basic Cartesian position.  And Humeanism vis-à-vis causation was just the last stop on the train Descartes and Co. had sent out of the station.  Causation as such becomes problematic when one denies (as the early moderns generally did) Aristotelian notions like active and passive potency, finality or the directedness of efficient causes toward their characteristic effects, and related notions.

Second, the modern idea that the material world characterized exclusively in mathematical terms is causally closed (where efficient causation is what is in view in casual closure) leaves nothing for mental states qua efficient causes to do. 

Third, making of thought a substance in its own right makes it mysterious how the human mind can interact with the body in the specific manner in which it does -- specifically, in such a way that mind and body make up an organic whole.  The mind, in Cartesian dualism, seems instead to relate to the body the way a fallen angel relates to some human being, animal, or inanimate object it possesses -- as something to which it is no more essentially related than it is related to any other material object.  This is the reason Ryle famously, and rightly, characterized Cartesianism as the theory of the “ghost in the machine.”  A machine would be just the thing it is, and a poltergeist just the thing it is, whether or not the latter haunted the former.  They are related only contingently and do not form a unity.  But the same is true of mind and body on a Cartesian account.  The mind is essentially like an angel -- which for A-T is a thinking substance -- and the body is essentially a zombie, in the philosophy of mind sense.  Each could be exactly as it is even if the other were not in the picture.  Hence even if some kind of causal relation could be said to hold between them, it wouldn’t be the right kind.  For the mind is not in fact related to the body as a kind of chess piece or tool that it moves around, which is the way a poltergeist moves an object around. 

Thus, when you see and hear, you perceive the world from the point of view of the body and its sense organs -- from a perspective just behind the eyes and between the ears, as it were.  When your body is warmed, cooled, or damaged, you feel the temperature or pain in the affected body part.  When you pick something heavy up or climb a hill, you feel the strain in your arms and legs.  By contrast, when you operate a model airplane via remote control, you don’t see and hear the world below the airplane as if from its point of view; when the poker with which you move around logs in the fireplace glows red, you don’t feel that heat in the end of the poker; and when the end of a screwdriver breaks off as you try to remove a rusted screw, you don’t feel the snap in the screwdriver’s tip.  (Of course, you might feel some warmth in your hand as you use the poker, or feel a vibration as the screwdriver breaks, but that is different.  What you feel in that case is in your hand, not in the poker or the screwdriver.) 

Now a poltergeist or an angel moves about a material object in something like the way we move about these instruments -- as something extrinsic, to which the mover is related only contingently.  If the mind were related to the body in the way Descartes supposes, that is how the human body would seem to us.  And yet it doesn’t seem that way at all.  On the contrary, it seems instead to be part of us, as we would expect if, as A-T maintains, a human being, mind and body together, is one substance rather than two.

In the post linked to above, Bill suggests that the interaction problem for Cartesian dualism is overrated given that there are accounts of causation, such as regularity theories and counterfactual theories, on which mind-body interaction is no more problematic than any other kind of causal relation.  But this doesn’t show that Cartesian dualism is in good shape after all; on the contrary, it shows at most only that all causation, as the moderns understand causation, is in shape as bad as mind-body interaction is given Cartesianism.  For regularity theories and counterfactual theories are essentially Humean theories.  They face notorious problems, and you don’t have to be an Aristotelian to think that they do not really capture causation at all, but only a post-Humean ersatz.  The “causation” they give you is like the “law and order” that an Al Capone-style mob boss might give you once he takes over the city and makes sure that his gangsters keep the streets safe for their operations by rubbing out other, lesser thugs.  In both cases what we have are really symptoms of the basic problem, not solutions to it. 

125 comments:

Kiel said...

The mind is rather a power of the soul; to be more precise, intellect, imagination, sensation, and will are distinct mental powers of the soul. Or to be even more precise, these are mental powers of the sort of substance -- the human being -- having a soul or substantial form of the sort we have. And particular episodes of thinking, imaging, remembering, perceiving, etc. are exercises of those powers.

The first sentence of this paragraph (and other paragraphs in AT writing like this) confuse me. If a soul is a specialised instance of a form, and a form is merely an abstraction or definition, how does a soul (or a form more generally) have a power to do x? But as you say in the next sentence, the power to do x is an activity of the ensouled being.

Is it safe to always read "x is a power of the soul" as "x is an activity of a soul-matter composite being"?

Drew said...

Of course, that's why Thomism is out of the frying pan and into the fire. Any argument for it will have premises less obvious than the simple fact that the physical world is dumb. There is nothing more to the physical world than mindless, meaningless, nonfree, nonrational, brute physical particles.

David T said...

Any argument for it will have premises less obvious than the simple fact that the physical world is dumb. There is nothing more to the physical world than mindless, meaningless, nonfree, nonrational, brute physical particles

Your post is mindful, meaningful, rational, and not dumb. Therefore there is either more to the world than the physical world allows, or the physical world is not as mindless, meaningless, nonrational and dumb as you suppose.

David T said...

Dr. Feser,

So embedded are the premises of modern philosophy that it is very difficult for modern thinkers to grasp the depth at which A-T challenges the modern philosophical perspective. The modern philosophical project is all about putting the Humpty-Dumpty of mind and body back together again, which all the king's philosophers have not been able to do and will never be able to do. The A-T philosopher can't do it either. What moderns typically misunderstand is that they interpret A-T as offering a novel way to reconstruct Humpty-Dumpty, when in fact the A-T philosopher is sitting on the wall, never having pushed Humpty-Dumpty off in the first place.

In the end, A-T doesn't have a mind-body interaction problem because it didn't create one for itself. Just as there is no interaction problem between "triangularity" and matter in a yield sign unless you adopt a philosophical perspective that artificially creates one.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

You are to be commended for taking the bull by the horns in this post of yours, and addressing the interaction problem head-on. I think I can understand your position somewhat more clearly now, but I still have a question.

You write that each of the soul's mental capacities and activities can (loosely) be said to have its own form - which entails having certain associated material structures as well. You also list the characteristic activities of the soul: nutrition, growth, reproduction, sensation, appetite, locomotion, intellect, and will. So far, so good.

The problem, as I see it, is that Aquinas makes it quite clear that the intellect is an utterly immaterial power of the soul - and so is the will. ("I answer that ... the intellectual principle which we call the mind or the intellect has an operation "per se" apart from the body." - S.T. I, q. 75, art, 2.) These powers have no associated structures, because their corresponding operations are formal operations: thinking and willing are immaterial activities. Consequently it seems that the exercise of these powers, in and of itself, can bring about nothing in the brain.

How, then, do I suppose that our thoughts and decisions move our brains, nervous systems and limbs? I think we just have to take it as a basic fact of human nature that whenever I perform the non-bodily action of deciding to move my right leg (e.g. when walking to the kitchen to fix myself a Scotch), the corresponding region of the motor homunculus in my brain (which governs right leg movements) is activated. In other words, God has designed my soul such that whenever I think of moving some part of my body, the brain structures responsible for moving that body part light up and do their work (assuming they're working normally, of course). But that kind of account is an interactionist one, and it hinges on the fact that my brain is designed by God to respond automatically to the intensional content of my soul's thoughts - which, when you come to think of it, is very weird indeed. How does my brain "know" what body part I am thinking about? It seems to suggest an occasionalistic account of how the intellect moves the body.

Perhaps I'm not seeing this the right way. Any thoughts?

Taz said...

"..you don’t feel the snap in the screwdriver’s tip. (Of course, you might [...] feel a vibration as the screwdriver breaks, but that is different. What you feel in that case is in your hand, not in the poker or the screwdriver.)"

When I explore the texture of a surface using a pen, I feel the texture at the end of the pen, like it's an extension of my hand. I don't 'feel' anything in my hand that is at all like the texture of the surface. Is this an example of a qualia that is in fact an illusion brought about by something happening 'just' in my hand and nervous system?

Or is 'the experience of texture at the contact surfaces' part qualia 'the experience of texture' and part identification 'at the contact surfaces'?

Hallvard N. Jørgensen said...

I'm really thankful for posts like these, prof. Feser. I've been wondering a lot about how to think about these matters, ever since I read Jaegwon Kims Philosophy of mind. So your posts help to carve a way forward.

Matthew Kennel said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ed. At the time I originally wrote the e-mail, I would have said that the soul was the form of the body, but I didn't even know what that meant. I was still thinking of the soul as a Cartesian res cogitans. I definitely still had a radically reductionistic picture of nature and didn't yet understand just how radically the early moderns had changed our conception of nature. Thanks for such clear writing and such a clear answer.

I think I first understood what you were truly getting at when I read this post for the 10th time and contemplated the following quote, "As I move my fingers across the keyboard, then, what is occurring is not the transfer of energy (or whatever) from some Cartesian immaterial substance to a material one (my brain), which sets up a series of neural events that are from that point on 'on their own' as it were, with no further action required of the soul. There is just one substance, namely me, though a substance the understanding of which requires taking note of each of its formal-, material-, final- and efficient-causal aspects."

Anonymous said...

Quite a valuable post, Ed. I will have to comb through it again later.

Kirill Nielson said...

So to simplify, is it fair to say that a human being is a compound of forms? There is soul, there is a form of heart, a form of leg, and so on.

James Chastek said...

Hi Ed,

I wonder if this would be a simpler answer: some things act on things without interacting with them, and we can prove this both philosophically and scientifically. Philosophically we can divide an action, which is a total cause acting on an effect, from an interaction, which is the action of the parts of a system on one another, even if this system is nothing more than two surfaces touching one another. Moreover, every physical theory posits things that act without interacting: for Aristotle, the heavenly bodies acted on the earthly ones but not vice-versa; in classical physics the force of gravity acted upon all physical bodies but did not interact with them (since, if it did, the value of the force would not be constant, but would change by its interaction with bodies) and in contemporary theories things like light and energy don't unequivocally interact with the things they act upon (for example, we can't make any sense of light acting or even moving in its own reference frame, and isn't energy much like the old idea of gravity?)

On this account, there is plenty of room for a thing like mind to act on the body without interacting with it, though given the sort of action it exercises it cannot be captured by equations from its effect. Soul imparts responsibility and self-directedness to body, and mind imparts the character of self-awareness and not mere subconscious activity, while something like gravity or light or the celestial bodies gives bodies the character of falling under an algebraic motion law, and moves them in a pre-conscious manner.

Scott said...

@Kiel:

"If a soul is a specialised instance of a form, and a form is merely an abstraction or definition, how does a soul (or a form more generally) have a power to do x?"

Some of my remarks here might be pertinent. In general I highly recommend Madden's exposition of Aristotelian hylemorphism.

rank sophist said...

Great post. Bringing in the A-T understanding of angels to illustrate Cartesian dualism was a particularly nice touch.

Ilari said...

"This is the reason Ryle famously, and rightly, characterized Cartesianism as the theory of the 'ghost in the machine.'"

Goetz and Taliaferro, two contemporary (Cartesian in a sense) dualists call Ryle´s account "a withering caricature". I´m a big fan of Dr. Feser, but sometimes his characterization of (Cartesian) dualism could be described similarly.

For example, Taliaferro´s theory of "integrated dualism" purports to make the soul-body relationship a unified whole. Even Descartes said that “My soul is not in my body as a pilot in a ship...I am most tightly bound to it.” Other contemporary substance dualists like Robinson, Swinburne, Hasker and Lowe all stress that a human being is a unified whole of a soul and a body.

The fact that the soud and the body are related only contingently doesn´t necessarily rule this out. As Goetz and Taliaferro have pointed out, this contingency is actually a strenght of substance dualism over hylomorphic one, since it certainly seems to us that we are connected to our bodies merely contingently. It seems possible that I would continue to exist even if I had a different body; hence my relationship to my body seems to be contingent.

(I realize that these are very modest comments coming from an amateur. As I said, I´m an admirer of Dr. Feser´s work.)

George R. said...

Good post.

Ensouled beings are substances that move themselves (there being in reality no moved-mover distinction), but also in which there are two principles of motion: form (mover) and matter(moved).

Anonymous said...

I much prefer prefer the subtle experienced based understanding of the soul and the subtle dimensions of our existence-being described by Swami Yogeshwaranand in his book The Science of Soul. And similar works by and about Hindu yogis and mystics such as The Soul Its Location in the Human Body by Tekumalla Ramachandra Rao.

seanrobsville said...

Souls don't exist, but neither do bodies nor substances. They're just snapshots or movie frames of stages of processes, which our brain has evolved to think of as 'real', because it can't handle continuous reality no more than a movie camera can.

In fact, the universe and everything in it from top to bottom is fundamentally of the nature of processes (Big Bang to Big Crunch), with nothing whatsover ultimately stable or findable in itself. Even the fundamental particles of matter are processes (wavefunctions) which only give a momentary appearance of substantiality at the instant they're observed.

The interaction problem can therefore be reformulated as:

'How do physical processes, (perhaps defined as those that can be modelled by a Turing machine) interact with non-physical processes such as qualia, will and intentionality?'

The quantum Zeno effect might be one possible line of approach.

Brandon said...

seanrobsville,

Brains don't exist, and neither do movie cameras, snapshots, or movie frames.

David M said...

Vincent Torley: I think we just have to take it as a basic fact of human nature that whenever I perform the non-bodily action of deciding to move my right leg (e.g. when walking to the kitchen to fix myself a Scotch), the corresponding region of the motor homunculus in my brain (which governs right leg movements) is activated.

That seems confused. If Bill wants whiskey, he doesn't decide to move his right leg, in order to activate his 'motor homunculus,' in order to initiate the motor processes which will culminate in retrieving his whiskey. He just decides to go get some whiskey and does so. If he was a chimp with access to and an inclination towards whiskey, he'd do the exact same thing - i.e., no immaterial intellect/will required. If Bill spotted a scorpion crawling up his right leg, then he might stop and ponder - in immaterial fashion - about whether or not to move his leg. But the immaterial consideration of the problem always plays out in reliance upon material (brain) processes. The abstract reasoning never occurs apart from concurrent processes in the brain, so there is never a point at which purely immaterial reasoning has to 'reconnect,' as it were, with the world of physical processes.

David M said...

Note to Scott: You may (or may not) want to know that I belatedly criticized your position in your comments on Ed's Oct 18 post (oerter-on-indeterminacy-and-unknown).

Scott said...

@David M:

Ah, thanks for letting me know. I see that comment moderation has been enabled on that thread, so rather than make more work for Ed, I'll just reply very briefly here and then let it go.

"The calculator is *being used* to add, but it is not itself adding, any more than a pile of marbles are adding if someone uses the marbles to add."

I don't disagree, but I think "being used to add" is pretty much what Ed (and Ross, if Ed is interpreting him correctly) means in saying that the calculator is "adding" in a purely derivative or analogical sense: it's being used to carry out an operation of (determinate) addition. Likewise the human being "adding" by rote (and thus arguably not "adding" at all when considered in isolation) may still be carrying out the intention of someone else.

(That's not to say I can't think of illustrations that support your own point. Suppose someone deliberately breaks a window with a rock. We'd probably say the rock is breaking the window, but we probably wouldn't say the rock is committing an act of vandalism. And "adding" does seem more like the latter than the former.)

seanrobsville said...

@ Brandon
"Brains don't exist, and neither do movie cameras, snapshots, or movie frames."

They exist only as working approximations that enable us to find our way around the world, but if you investigate their true nature in enough detail you'll find there isn't fundamentally anything there.

All material objects are composed of processes, because all 'matter' is untimately constructed out of processes on the quantum scale.

'Things', such as the continent of North America and all that's in it, are reified because their form persists relatively unchanged for the duration of a human lifetime, but if we look at the longer term we see that North America is a set of processes such as plate tectonics, subduction etc which in a few million years will change it out of recognition.

David M said...

@Scott:
Yes, I was interested to see in the next post that Oerter had objected to the same passage, and not entirely without reason, I think. It's not a crucial point, other than to avoid muddying the waters with imprecise statements. In the end, Oerter was a mensch, so perhaps all's well... But I believe Ed has continued to assert the relevance of the designer's intentions, so that's one point that remains unclear for me. Regardless of a designer's intentions, a machine cannot ETPFOA, so there's no sense in suggesting that we examine the intentions of the designers as part of figuring out whether the machine is ETPFOAing. Indeed, you could use an 'adding machine' to ETPFOQ if you wanted to, i.e., against the intentions and beyond the foresight of the machine's designers.

David M said...

You're holding a rock, standing by a broken window, policeman walks up: "What's with the broken window?"
"The rock did it."
"Did it? Please explain further..."

Scott said...

@David M:

(Heh. Well, I know I said I'd let it go, but I can't resist.)

"I mean that the rock broke the window."

"Because you hit the window with it."

"Well, yeah. But it was the rock that did the actual breaking."

"So you committed an act of vandalism. Or are you going to tell me the rock did that too?"

"No, nobody committed an act of vandalism. The rock's penetration of the window was a purely physical event that didn't involve any sort of intentionality."

"I see. But you did hit the window with the rock, right? What were you trying to accomplish?"

"I wanted let the homeowner know that I don't like him."

"So the rock was acting as a bearer of your message, in much the same way that we say a calculator performs addition. Turn around and put your hands on the wall."

David M said...

@Scott:
"No, nobody committed an act of vandalism. The rock's penetration of the window was a purely physical event that didn't involve any sort of intentionality."

"I see. But you did hit the window with the rock, right? What were you trying to accomplish?"

"I wanted let the homeowner know that I don't like him."

"So what were you just saying about 'a purely physical event that didn't involve any sort of intentionality'?"

"Sorry, that was BS."


@seanrobsville:
Major: All true things are devoid of process.
Minor: The 'things' you are talking about are not devoid of process.
Conclusion: Therefore those 'things' do not exist.

Proof of major?

Glenn said...

seanrobsville,

@ Brandon
"Brains don't exist, and neither do movie cameras, snapshots, or movie frames."

They exist only as...


To explain in what manner they exist is to acknowledge that they exist. And to acknowledge that they exist is to contradict your earlier claim that they and their ilk (bodies and substances, e.g.,) don't exist.

Anonymous said...

@seanrobsville

Does the notion of a 'thing' not exist in any way that is ultimately stable or findable in itself?

JesseM said...

Dr. Feser wrote:
A wouldn’t be able to generate B in the first place if there weren’t formal- and final-causal aspects to its complete description in addition to the efficient- and material-causal aspects

This is phrased as a counterfactual, can it be interpreted that way? In analogy with Chalmers' zombie-universe thought experiment, is there a possible world (or to put it another way, would it be within God's power to create a world) where all the efficient causes are exactly the same as in this one, but the formal and final causes associated with human beings are absent, or just very different from what they are in our world? (for example, perhaps although the material of human bodies was the same, the purposes and immaterial thoughts behind these actions would be completely different...or perhaps the form of a human would include only the fingers, everything else would just be irrelevant material attached to a human, as clothing is for us).

JesseM said...

Sorry, in that last parentheses above I said "although the material of human bodies was the same" but I really meant something more like "although the material of human bodies behaved the same way", with "behaved" interpreted purely in the physics sense, in terms of the mathematically-describable motions of different bits of matter.

seanrobsville said...

@ Anon
"Does the notion of a 'thing' not exist in any way that is ultimately stable or findable in itself?"

I can't think of any examples of functioning phenomena that are stable or findable in themselves. Even empty space is in a permanent state of flux, with stuff popping in and out of existence, or 'happening'.

Phenomena that persist for an arbitrarily short time are said to 'happen'. Phenomena that persist or endure for an arbitrarily long time are said to 'exist'.

Hence explosions happen, but the universe exists. Yet the universe is an explosion, though on a rather longer timescale than your average bomb.

Anonymous said...

>Now a poltergeist or an angel moves about a material object...as something extrinsic...If the mind were related to the body in the way Descartes supposes, that is how the human body would seem to us.

On one hand, Grandma has this exact problem. She had a stroke and sometimes loses track of an arm. She sometimes get puzzled by requests to let go because her brain is convinced that one of her arms is not hers. Is her problematic arm occasionally desouled?

On the other hand, arm transplants work, and the trasnplantee can, after rehabilitation, use the new arms. Is this a fractional soul transplant?

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: She sometimes get puzzled by requests to let go because her brain is convinced that one of her arms is not hers. Is her problematic arm occasionally desouled?

Of course not. If you get confused in the parking lot, and happen to think that your car is actually somebody else's, it doesn't mean that you stop owning your car. It just means that you're mistaken. (If you like, the Cartesian approach requires a sort of perpetual albeit convenient delusion that limbs that aren't "really" ours, are. The A-T approach happily enables us to be right at least some of time.) Similarly, if your new arm came with someone else's soul, then it wouldn't be your arm. Fortunately, your soul is your substantial form, and various brachial changes are changes of accidental form.

David M said...

seanrobsville: "Phenomena that persist for an arbitrarily short time are said to 'happen'. Phenomena that persist or endure for an arbitrarily long time are said to 'exist'."
Well, yes: some things exist for a short time, others exist for a longer time - variety and all that. But they all do exist.

seanrobsville said...

@ David M
"But they all do exist."

Like waves on the sea.

Brandon said...

Like waves on the sea.

Which you've already committed to saying don't exist. You can't have it both ways, and repeatedly explain how things don't exist in terms that your own principles logically entail are false -- you are committed to saying that evolutionary explanations are wrong, that explanations appealing to the brain are wrong, etc. (Nor can you say they are 'working approximations' unless you can precisely identify what they are approximating.) Trying to use them to get your conclusions is merely logical sleight of hand. For instance, the following can only be a junk explanation on the claims you've made in the past several comments:

All material objects are composed of processes, because all 'matter' is untimately constructed out of processes on the quantum scale.

Things that don't exist or "exist only as working approximations" aren't composed of anything. Thus on your own principles it doesn't explain anything; it becomes as ridiculously absurd as claiming that an instantaneous center of rotation is composed of quarks. Likewise, your analogies end up failing, since all of them end up not actually being real analogies, since mesoscale entities end up on your account being merely features in a process of thought.

Glenn said...

Seanrobsville,

Nothing personal, mind you...

Happen: that phenomenon is said to happen which persists for an arbitrarily short time.

Exist: that phenomenon is said to exist which persists or endures for an arbitrarily long time.

Aristotle: [P]eople sometimes define night as a 'shadow on the earth', or an earthquake as a 'movement of the earth', or a cloud as 'condensation of the air', or a wind as a 'movement of the air'; whereas they ought to specify as well quantity, quality, place, and cause. Likewise, also, in other cases of the kind: for by omitting any differentiae whatever he fails to state the essence of the term. One should always attack deficiency. -- Topics (Book VI Part 8)

seanrobsville said...

@Brandon

"...since mesoscale entities end up on your account being merely features in a process of thought."

Like furniture such as chairs and tables. If you saw the back off a wooden chair, then you've got a table. So has essence of chair left the structure, and essence of table entered it? Or is it just thinking that makes it so?

Intentionality may be more powerful than we normally recognize

Scott said...

@seanrobsville:

"Like furniture such as chairs and tables. If you saw the back off a wooden chair, then you've got a table. So has essence of chair left the structure, and essence of table entered it? Or is it just thinking that makes it so?

Intentionality may be more powerful than we normally recognize[.]"

. . . he says to an audience largely committed to the view that artifacts like chairs and tables have the final causes they have precisely because of intentionality.

mackthemike said...

Prof Feser, you say that the categories of mathematical physics and neuroscience are “fine as far as they go.” I wonder, though -- How far is that? If science tells us that the human body is composed of billiard ball like atoms that follow deterministic paths based upon their collisions with other particles, how are we to account for human actions having partly immaterial causes, namely mental events?

It seems to me that we must either reject the physics or find an interpretation of mental events that holds them to be identical to, or supervening upon, brain events. I know you reject the latter view. The former view suggests that it should be possible to find a physical event in the brain that does not follow the predictions of neuroscience or physics. If so, that would make your philosophy of mind a matter of science and not of metaphysics.

I believe you have written in previous posts that dualism isn’t so much a hypothesis proposed to account for phenomena so much as it is a part of the set of facts for which an account of the mind must account. But hylomorphism does seem to have physical implications that can put to the test by science.

mackthemike said...

` Prof Feser, you say that the categories of mathematical physics and neuroscience are “fine as far as they go.” I wonder, though -- How far is that? If science tells us that the human body is composed of billiard ball like atoms that follow deterministic paths based upon their collisions with other particles, how are we to account for human actions having partly immaterial causes, namely mental events?

It seems to me that we must either reject the physics or find an interpretation of mental events that holds them to be identical to, or supervening upon, brain events. I know you reject the latter view. The former view suggests that it should be possible to find a physical event in the brain that does not follow the predictions of neuroscience or physics. If so, that would make your philosophy of mind a matter of science and not of metaphysics.

I believe you have written in previous posts that dualism isn’t so much a hypothesis proposed to account for phenomena so much as it is a part of the set of facts for which an account of the mind must account. But hylomorphism does seem to have physical implications that can put to the test by science.

Aquohn said...

Hmm...I have a few more unanswered questions on the soul that have been bugging me for a while. If someone could answer them I'd be really grateful.

1) What happens if we crank the cannibal problem up to eleven? Let's say that we reach the stage where so many humans have lived and died that there simply isn't enough matter in the entire universe to have even one particle of uniquely individuating matter for each human. In other words, the number of souls created over the course of all time exceeds the number of fundamental particles in the universe. Would this make it impossible for any further souls to be created, without, e.g. God miraculously adding more matter to the universe?

2) What do we make of examples of animals which appear to be able to grasp universal such as Alex the parrot, who showed a grasp of universals such as "key" (http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=an-interview-with-alex-the-african)? Would this not imply that the parrot has an immaterial soul capable of possessing the immaterial power of the intellect, which is required to grasp universals?

3) If qualia are immaterial, how do animals perceive them without an immaterial soul? In other words, why is sensation not an immaterial power, if the sensations of cold, the colour blue, etc. all are?

seanrobsville said...

@ Aquohn

"I have a few more unanswered questions on the soul that have been bugging me for a while. If someone could answer them I'd be really grateful."

Some of these problems disappear if we regard the soul as a non-physical process rather than a 'thing', just as the existential paradox of the Ship of Theseus also disappears if we regard the ship as a physical process rather than a stable artifact.

Some of the confusion surrounding the non-physical nature of the mind may be due to such category errors as 'reification'.

Glenn said...

seanrobsville,

Three questions:

...if we regard the soul as a non-physical process rather than a 'thing'...

1. Many definitions are available for the term 'thing', one of which is "an entity, an idea, or a quality perceived, known, or thought to have its own existence." And one definition for the term 'entity' is "something that exists as a particular and discrete unit". If a 'thing' is an entity, and an 'entity' is something that exists as a particular and discrete unit, then how might a non-physical process not be a 'thing'?

...if we regard [http://rational-buddhism.blogspot.com/2013/10/process-philosophy-and-buddhism-process.html]...

2. According to the Pali Canon, which of the following "at the break-up of the body, after death, [reappears] in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell": a) non-physical processes; or, b) beings?

3. Also according to the Pali Canon, which of the following "endowed with these two things [i.e., evil habits & evil views], at the break-up of the body reappears in hell": a) a non-physical process; or, b) an undiscerning person?

seanrobsville said...

@ Glenn

The mindstream survives the break up of the body. The mindstream perceives or understands entities and experiences qualia. It is not so much a 'thing' as a process, an ever-changing continuum.

The mindstream is also known as the 'mental continuum', from which all thoughts and other temporary minds (such as minds of suffering, anger and attachment) arise, and into which they eventually dissolve. The mental continuum can form a symbiotic association with certain biological structures (both human and animal), and according to the canonical literature it can also form an association with certain non-biological processes, hence the reference to experiencing hell.

The mental continuum is usually defined as formless, cognizing, and devoid of any essential nature, and so potentially unlimited in the phenomena it can be 'about', in the intentional sense.

Glenn said...

seanrobsville,

It isn't to processes, mindstreams or mental continuums that Buddhism offers a purported path to 'enlightenment'.

And a 'Buddha' isn't an enlightened formless process, mindstream or mental continuum devoid of essence; rather, a 'Buddha' is an enlightened being.

Further, it is only beings which can be enlightened, and it is only prior to the 'break-up of the body' that a being might become enlightened.

Also, references in canonical literature to experiences of hell are not consequences of some 'mental continuum' forming 'an association with certain non-biological processes'. (Neither are experiences of hell themselves consequences of that alleged association.)

o This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "There are these three kinds of misconduct. Which three? Bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, mental misconduct. These are the three kinds of misconduct." Having engaged in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, misconduct of mind, or whatever else is flawed, not having done what is skillful, having done much that is not, at the break-up of the body, the undiscerning one reappears in hell.

(The quotation is from the Itivuttaka of the Khuddaka Nikay, which itself is of the Tipitaka.)

seanrobsville said...

@ Glenn

There are different interpretations as discussed in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha-nature

"Paul Williams puts forward the Madhyamaka interpretation of the Buddha-nature as emptiness in the following terms:

… if one is a Madhyamika then that which enables sentient beings to become buddhas must be the very factor that enables the minds of sentient beings to change into the minds of Buddhas. That which enables things to change is their simple absence of inherent existence, their emptiness. Thus the tathagatagarbha becomes emptiness itself, but specifically emptiness when applied to the mental continuum.[84]"

Glenn said...

seanrobsville,

It is freedom fron defilements which is meant by 'emptiness'.

And were a Christian slant to be given to the matter, then it might be said that one is 'empty' to the extent that he is free of sin.

1. Also put forward by Paul Williams in the same work cited at footnote [84] of the wiki entry from which you quote:

"In tathagatagarbha texts, as with the Srimala Sutra, the tathagatagarbha is said to be empty inasmuch as it is intrinsically free of defilements, but also not empty inasmuch as it truly and intrinsically possesses all the qualities of the Buddha[.]" (p 165)

2. Likewise put forward in the same work:

"To state that all things lack own-existence would be to state that all things are conceptual existents, reified conceptual constructs, without anything left for them to be reified and constructed out of. This would be an absurdity, for it would destroy the very category of secondary, conceptual existence and thus destroy the entire universe—everything—along with the destruction of primary existence. To state that all things are lacking own-existence, nihsvabhava, must entail an absurd nihilism." (p 95)

3. Also put forward by Mr. Williams in that work (Note 36 for Chapter 6, found on p 271):

"Misdeeds, while clearly wrong, are empty of inherent existence and do not condemn one as an inherently wicked person. Since misdeeds and their karmic effects are empty of inherent existence all can make progress and become enlightened."

(I wonder if Mr. Williams is -- or may be taken as -- intimating that misdeeds involve a privation of that which does inherently exist...)

seanrobsville said...

@ Glenn

In Mahayana philosophy, physical phenomena are empty of inherent existence in the sense that no noumenon, essence or thing-in-itself is necessary for their existence.

Physical phenomena derive their existence from causes, structures and intentionality. Thus the existence of a chair is dependent upon lumberjacks, joiners, acorns and photosynthesis bringing together the structural parts of legs, seat, back, cellulose molecules, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen atoms and their electron orbital arrangements etc. My intentionality then projects 'chair' over the assembled structure, and when I cut the back of the chair, my intentionality then projects 'table' over what's left. But no noumenon of chairness leaves the structure and no essence of tableness enters.

It's apparent that the processes of construction and dissolution of all physical phenomena - chairs, cellulose molecules etc - can be described in terms of a Turing machine (Church-Turing-Deutsch principle), with causes corresponding to the action table ('algorithms' or 'procedures') and structure and parts corresponding to the tape ('datastructures').

So there is no danger of nihilism from 'reified conceptual constructs, without anything left for them to be reified and constructed out of' , since there are two other factors present - structure and procedure.

Where this starts to get contentious is the nature of the intentionality that does the conceptual construction. This is where Buddhism parts company with physicalism. A physicalist would claim that intentionality is an epiphenomenon of structure and algorithms, and can be reduced to mechanistic operations. The Buddhist would claim that intentionality is axiomatic, and is a mental phenomenon which is not reducible to algorithms and datastructures. This is the familiar 'Chinese Room' paradox.

The Buddha's mind would indeed be empty of 'sinful' intentionality (the Three Poisons) hence 'were a Christian slant to be given to the matter, then it might be said that one is 'empty' to the extent that he is free of sin.'

However the Buddha's mind would still possess intentionality in the form of compassionate thoughts about suffering sentient beings.

The ultimate emptiness of the mind (both of Buddhas and ordinary beings) is also contentious, with at least three schools of thought:

(1) The individual mind is ultimately real and self-existent.

(2) The individual mind is empty and has no inherent existence, and exists like a wave on the ocean.

(3) The individual mind is empty and has no inherent existence, and exists like a wave on the ocean. But the ocean exists inherently as the ground of being or 'Dharmakaya'. Whether this Dharmakaya corresponds to the Christian idea of God is open to debate.

Glenn said...

seanrobsville,

seanrobsville,

In Mahayana philosophy, physical phenomena are empty of inherent existence in the sense that no noumenon, essence or thing-in-itself is necessary for their existence.

Quite honestly, I don't see how Mahayana philosophy doesn't conflict with Aquinas' Second and Third ways.

But the formation of Mahayana philosophy preceded Aquinas, so perhaps it would be better to say that I don't see how Aquinas' Second and Third ways don't conflict with Mahayana philosophy.

Then again, since the Second and Third ways appear to be rather compelling, perhaps I should say that I don't see how the Second and Third ways fail to shine light on a minimum of two contradictions inhering in Mahayana philosophy (at least insofar as it has been briefly articulated above).

It's apparent that the processes of construction and dissolution of all physical phenomena - chairs, cellulose molecules etc - can be described in terms of a Turing machine (Church-Turing-Deutsch principle), with causes corresponding to the action table ('algorithms' or 'procedures') and structure and parts corresponding to the tape ('datastructures').

Without conceding that this is the case, I would like to ask: If you believe it to be the case, then what has Mahayana philosophy got to do with it?

More specifically: If the construction of all physical phenomena can be described in terms of a Turing machine (TM), then a TM-based description would show how particular existents necessarily follow from certain conditions; but if particular existents necessarily follow from certain conditions, of what use are appeals to a philosophy which claims that physical things exist sans necessary antecedents?

So there is no danger of nihilism from 'reified conceptual constructs, without anything left for them to be reified and constructed out of', since there are two other factors present - structure and procedure.

Mr. Williams did not speak of a danger of nihilism, but an absurd nihilism entailed by the claim that "all things lack own-existence". To say that nihilism is avoided by "two other factors [being] present - structure and procedure" is to say that neither structure nor procedure are things.

If, however, neither structure and procedure are things, then both structure and procedure constitute that which is necessary for the existence of others things -- which leads to a variation of an earlier question: what is the role in all of this of a philosophy which claims that physical things exist sans necessary antecdents?

OTOH, if both structure and procedure are things, then the entailed nihilism cannot be avoided (at least not by way of paying homage to structure and procedure).

Where this starts to get contentious is the nature of the intentionality that does the conceptual construction. This is where Buddhism parts company with physicalism. A physicalist would claim that intentionality is an epiphenomenon of structure and algorithms, and can be reduced to mechanistic operations. The Buddhist would claim that intentionality is axiomatic, and is a mental phenomenon which is not reducible to algorithms and datastructures.

If that last is what the Buddhist would claim, then why commingle Buddhism with your claim regarding the descriptive determinism of a TM? Such commingling comes across as an attempting to render miscible that which is immiscible.

Vincent Torley said...

Aquohn,

Very briefly:

(1) I'd agree with you that God couldn't create more human souls than there are particles in the universe, although it's hard to come up with an exact number, because of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence. Leaving those aside, the number of baryons seems to be about 10^80, from what I've read.

(2) Alex's ability to distinguish colors and shapes doesn't mean that he has concepts. To have a concept, you need to be able to grasp the abstract notion of a rule.

(3) Qualia are not reducible to third-person events, but that doesn't make them immaterial.

seanrobsville said...

@ Glenn

If you believe it to be the case, then what has Mahayana philosophy got to do with it?

Mahayana philosophy parallels physicalism up to the point where intentionality is involved, after which they part company, in that Mahayana philosophy does not accept that mental factors such as qualia and intentionality can be reduced to physical phenomena.


but if particular existents necessarily follow from certain conditions, of what use are appeals to a philosophy which claims that physical things exist sans necessary antecedents?

Neither physicalism nor Mahayana make any claims regarding necessary antecedents, both systems can function with pure contingency. However neither system denies causality.


but an absurd nihilism entailed by the claim that "all things lack own-existence".

Why is this absurd? Does a chair have 'own-existence'? If so, what happens to its 'own-existence' when the back is sawn off to make it into a table?


If that last is what the Buddhist would claim, then why commingle Buddhism with your claim regarding the descriptive determinism of a TM? Such commingling comes across as an attempting to render miscible that which is immiscible.

Which brings us back to where we started - The Hard Problem. All attempts to mix the quantitative domain of the deterministic neurological Turing machines with the qualitative domain of mind seem to suffer from this immiscibility, with the possible exception of the quantum Zeno effect that I mentioned earlier.

Scott said...

@seanrobsville:

"Why is this absurd? Does a chair have 'own-existence'? If so, what happens to its 'own-existence' when the back is sawn off to make it into a table?"

That one sort of thing arguably lacks "own-existence" is very far from the claim that all things lack "own-existence." Chairs and tables are artifacts (as I mentioned earlier) and differ significantly from trees and frogs.

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

@ Scott
Loganberries are artifacts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loganberry

Do they have 'own-existence'?

Glenn said...

seanrobsville,

>> but an absurd nihilism entailed by the claim that
>> "all things lack own-existence".

> Why is this absurd?

Why is it absurd? Well, that is a mystery -- a great mystery. Fortunately, the mystery is not so great that it cannot be grokked by the human mind. Alas, no human mind which isn't empty -- i.e., no human mind which isn't free of (certain kinds of) defilements -- can grok it.

Scott said...

@seanrobsville:

"Loganberries are artifacts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loganberry

Do they have 'own-existence'?"

I'm not persuaded that loganberries count as "artifacts" merely because they're hybrids, but let's suppose they do. If they do, and they don't have "own-existence," then you have another artifact that doesn't have "own-existence." How does that advance your point?

JesseM said...

Glenn wrote:
Why is it absurd? Well, that is a mystery -- a great mystery. Fortunately, the mystery is not so great that it cannot be grokked by the human mind. Alas, no human mind which isn't empty -- i.e., no human mind which isn't free of (certain kinds of) defilements -- can grok it.

I think this is a misunderstanding of emptiness in Buddhism--you're making it sound like a dualistic concept that makes some sort of absolute distinction between enlightened minds "free of defilements" and the defiled minds of the rest of us slobs, but emptiness is very much about denying that any such dualisms are true in an absolute sense, though they have some sort of "relative" truth (see the discussion of "absolute and relative truth" on this page).

Even on a "relative" level I don't think emptiness is some totally mystical concept that can't be understood rationally, there are plenty of advocates in rationalistic Western philosophy for the idea that all existence is "relational" (denying substance metaphysics), that ultimately the only properties of "things" are their relationships to other (relationally-defined) "things"--consider the metaphysics of F.H. Bradley for example. And there are also defenses of this view in the philosophy of mathematics (which may be relevant to the metaphysics of our "physical" universe too, given that modern physics defines all physical properties in mathematical terms), that for example the number "2" is defined by its structural (arithmetical, in this case) relationships to other numbers and nothing more--for example, look here for a discussion of a thinker who "explains mathematical objects as 'places in structures', conceived as akin to offices".

Aquohn said...

@Vincent Torley:

Thanks for answering my questions.

But with regard to question 2, Alex the parrot seemed capable of identifying a key as a key no matter what its size or colour, which seems to indicate a grasp of the universal of "key" (there are plenty of other examples, e.g. Koko the gorilla, but this is the clearest one I could find). How would an A-T philosopher explain this?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Glenn is correct. It is absurd to suggest that all is relative. At some point a relation must be to something that is not relative. Besides, one would fall into the contradiction of relativism and have to make statements about the relative which are either absolute, and therefore undermine the claim all is relative, or relative, and therefore be statements which lack wider meaning or import.

Nor do I think Buddhism actually asserts this. The problem with Buddhism is that it tends to speak in an extremely apophatic way - which is very often hard for Westerners to grasp (including myself) - but ultimately at the bottom of Buddhism is something very much like Advaita Vedanta. After all, in the end Buddhism is a religion and aims to bring enlightenment to man, which should tell us its doctrines and aporia are not meant to be absolutely puzzling and stultifying.

If Westerners wish to approach Buddhism, I can't suggest Marco Pallis enough as a good initial guide. So much Western approaches to Buddhism are nonsense that infuses Western notions into Buddhism. Pallis does not do this.

Scott said...

@Aquohn:

"How would an A-T philosopher explain this?"

Most likely by replying (probably correctly, in my view) that such behavior doesn't require intellect—that there's no reason to think the parrot was doing anything more than associating sounds with visual cues and using what we call "words" as signals. Even if Alex is using (real) universals (as he undoubtedly is), his behavior doesn't give us any reason to think he has concepts of them or deals with them abstractly.

But let's suppose that's not an adequate explanation. You seem to think that attributing intellect to any species other than homo sapiens would somehow send A-T crashing to the ground. Why? Nothing in A-T requires that we have a monopoly on intellectual souls.

JesseM said...

@Jeremy Taylor:
Glenn is correct. It is absurd to suggest that all is relative. At some point a relation must be to something that is not relative. Besides, one would fall into the contradiction of relativism and have to make statements about the relative which are either absolute, and therefore undermine the claim all is relative, or relative, and therefore be statements which lack wider meaning or import.

I have usually seen the term "relativism" used to denote the view that truth is relative the individual speaker or the culture they come from, which has nothing to do with the idea that (objective) truth is relational. I certainly believe it's objectively true in a culture-independent sense that 1+1=2, I just don't think numbers like 1 and 2 have any "inherent" properties or essence beyond their mathematical relationships to other numbers (if they did, it would have to be some incomprehensible mystical property that could never be expressed rationally in the form of a mathematical equation, since all mathematical equations do nothing more than express relationships).

If you go to books.google.com and type the phrase "inherent existence" you will get a large number of books on Buddhism, like this one and this one and this one, discussing what it means to deny that things have inherent existence, along with the closely related (perhaps identical) claim that all things are subject to "dependent origination" (their existence is completely dependent on other things, whether causally or conceptually).

Scott said...

@JesseM:

I'm reluctant to enter into yet another exegetical argument and at any rate I don't claim to be an expert on Bradley. However, I'd like to note for the record that he didn't regard either terms or relations as ultimate and that he did believe in an Absolute in which each existed and had their place. I don't think he held that "things" ultimately have as their properties (and are ultimately constituted by) only their relations to other "things."

Jeremy Taylor said...

I can only plead, like most Westerners, a profound ignorance of the inner meaning of Buddhism, but from what I have gathered fitfully in my flirtations is that it might well be a mistake to talk of Mahayana, or indeed Buddhist, philosophy.

This is made clearer, I think, if we compare Buddhist thought to that of Shankara. The latter was, whatever else he was, a philosopher. He made great use of dialectic and discursive reason to explore and expand his variety of Vedantin thought. Though there are profound differences between his conception of philosophy and that even of Aristotle or later Western antiquity, let alone that variety of rationalistic (and then inevitably sub-rationlistic) philosophy which has arisen in the West in the last three or four hundred years, Shankara is still a philosopher, part of whose interest is the discursive extrapolation of consequences and causes from what he takes to be established datum - the work of a philosopher.

I'm not sure Mahayana thinkers, like Nagarjuna, are philosophers in this sense. This is not to slight them. Many of them are superlative thinkers, but they are involved in something different. They are far more involved in a mystical and, shall we say, theosophical endeavour to raise one's awareness through symbolism, aporia, and upaya than they in fleshing out the discursive and dialetical consequences of Buddhist doctrine. In this they find echoes in many Western philosophers, especially of the Platonic variety, and no doubt in Shankara himself. But with the Buddhist thinkers there seems to be less of that desire to be both a sage and a consummate dialectician and philosopher we find in Plato or Plotinus.

Therefore, I think it is simply a mistake to try and compare Mahayana doctrines and Aquinas' thought as is going on here. At the very least what would be required is brilliant understanding of both schools of thought and a profound capacity to compare and contrast them. It would be the work of a lifetime.

Jeremy Taylor said...

JesseM,

I have only a slight knowledge of Bradley, mostly from T.S Eliot who wrote his dissertation on him. My understanding of him mirrors Scott's: he had a burning interest in the Absolute, which was certainly not simply relative to him.

Anyway, a relation is relative. That is what a relation means in this sense - to explain something by reference to, relative to, something else. But this relativity must end in what is absolute. We can't go on for ever just explaining things by their relations to other things. This is indeed absurd. At some point there must be something which is not merely relative.

JesseM said...

@Scott:
However, I'd like to note for the record that he didn't regard either terms or relations as ultimate and that he did believe in an Absolute in which each existed and had their place. I don't think he held that "things" ultimately have as their properties (and are ultimately constituted by) only their relations to other "things."

My understanding is that Bradley advocates a sort of extreme holism which says that all "things" and "truths" are constituted by the infinite relationships they have to all other things/truths, and that this infinite context captures at least part of what he meant by the "Absolute"; any merely finite definition of one thing in term of relations to other things, like "define 3 as the sum of 2 and 1", would be incomplete. My knowledge of Bradley is from second-hand sources so it's certainly possible I'm getting his meaning wrong, but an example of a source that would seem to agree with this understanding is p. 202 of the book Bradley and the Problematic Status of Metaphysics which says:

To now advance immediately to the argument proper, we begin with Hylton's succinct remark, namely, that "the fundamental point in regard to the incompleteness argument is the holism which is central to Bradley's philosophy." By holism here, I understand two related points. First, that everything is related to everything else. This is an affirmation of the inter-relatedness of things. In other words, nothing is given in isolation but always in the context of another, or, indeed, a network of interlocking relations. The second point is—and perhaps is the distinctive attribute of Bradley's holism: I mean the fact that one thing is not just involved in a web of relations, but that as a consequence of this, its relation with the all inclusive reality, implicit or explicit, is also implicated. And of this all-inclusive reality or the Absolute, the thing in question is an appearance, just as all other webs of relations too are similarly diverse appearances of the Absolute, the whole relative to which they are given.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think there might be some confusion here over what is meant by 'thing'. It seems to me what Bradley and you have in mind is discrete entities.

It isn't necessarily absurd to suggest all discrete, finite object are relative. What would be absurd is to suggest this and then claim such objects are all that exists. Bradley does not appear to do this. His Absolute is not itself relational, although it is made up of relations - it is Absolute. This is what I got from the quote you give.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"[T]his relativity must end in what is absolute."

Agreed. Indeed, for Bradley, it begins there (metaphysically, that is; the order of argument is the other way around).

As for "dependent origination," I think Aquinas (to say nothing of Bradley or Śaṅkara) would argue that it requires an unchanging Absolute not itself needing to be originated. "And this all men call God."

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"My understanding is that Bradley advocates a sort of extreme holism which says that all 'things' and 'truths' are constituted by the infinite relationships they have to all other things/truths, and that this infinite context captures at least part of what he meant by the 'Absolute'; any merely finite definition of one thing in term of relations to other things, like 'define 3 as the sum of 2 and 1', would be incomplete."

You're not going far enough. Bradley regarded the Absolute itself as the fundamental (indeed the only) reality and thought both "terms" and "relations" were nothing more than unreal abstractions from it.

The reason I'm pointing this out is that I don't think you can use him as an example of a Western philosopher who thinks "things" are defined by their relations. There's nothing in his philosophy along the lines of "everything that exists depends on everything else, is defined by its relations to everything else, and is therefore relative to everything else." There's just the Absolute and its appearances; neither terms nor their relations, regarded in abstraction from the Absolute, make any damn sense at all.

Glenn said...

Jesse,

Glenn wrote:
Why is it absurd? Well, that is a mystery -- a great mystery. Fortunately, the mystery is not so great that it cannot be grokked by the human mind. Alas, no human mind which isn't empty -- i.e., no human mind which isn't free of (certain kinds of) defilements -- can grok it.

I think this is a misunderstanding of emptiness in Buddhism...


There is no mystery, never mind a great mystery, as to why an absurd nihilism is entailed by stating that all things are lacking own-existence; and I was giving seanrobsville a taste of his own medicine, i.e., turning the, ahem, chairs-with-sawed-off-backs on him.

...you're making it sound like a dualistic concept that makes some sort of absolute distinction between enlightened minds "free of defilements" and the defiled minds of the rest of us slobs,...

Buddhism does distinguish between minds which are free of defilements and minds which are not free of defilements, i.e., between enlightened minds and minds which are not enlightened. And it has been doing so since... well, since before I had been born.

...but emptiness is very much about denying that any such dualisms are true in an absolute sense...

According to Hsueh-Li Cheng's Empty Logic: Mādhyamika Buddhism from Chinese Sources, "The word emptiness or empty gains its true connotations in the process of salvation or nirvana and has different meanings during the process."

Two of the meanings mentioned by Cheng are: a) "Emptiness may be used to discredit theories or viewpoints"; and, b) "The term is also used to devalue".

I have cherry picked those two 'meanings'. And my reason for having cherry picked them is that they seem to sum up well what certain assertions, e.g., that neither bodies nor substances exist, not infrequently seem to be about when coming from a certain quarter.

But Mr. Cheng also notes that, "The teaching of emptiness is to empty the mind of cravings."

And he states that, "Spiritually, no matter how one gets enlightenment, when attachment is gone, emptiness should be discarded."

Now, if Mr. Cheng is right re the spiritual angle, then it follows that should emptiness be what you say it is -- i.e., "very much about denying that any such dualisms are true in an absolute sense" -- then there comes a time when the practicing Mādhyamika, should he become enlightened, should discard his denial that dualisms are true in an absolute sense.

(Note: one need not become a practicing Mādhyamika and wait until enlightenment in order to discard that denial.)

...though they have some sort of "relative" truth[.]

Presumptuously assuming that Jeremy won't mind my quoting from his comment @ November 18, 2013 at 5:08 PM: "It is absurd to suggest that all is relative. At some point a relation must be to something that is not relative. Besides, one would fall into the contradiction of relativism and have to make statements about the relative which are either absolute, and therefore undermine the claim all is relative, or relative, and therefore be statements which lack wider meaning or import."

JesseM said...

@Scott:
There's just the Absolute and its appearances; neither terms nor their relations, regarded in abstraction from the Absolute, make any damn sense at all.

Bradley does speak of "degrees" of truth, he doesn't just throw away all appearances as equally unreal, there's a section of Appearance and Reality devoted to "Degrees of Truth and Reality", starting on p. 230 of this pdf version (though the pdf's page numbering seems to be different from the original book's, judging by the page references in the text). On p. 232-233 of the pdf he seems to be saying that a greater degree of truth is obtained when more and more elements can be brought together into relations that form a harmonious system, concluding on p. 233:

"Hence to be more or less true, and to be more or less real, is to be separated by an interval, smaller or greater, from all-inclusiveness or self-consistency. Of two given appearances the one more wide, or more harmonious, is more real. It approaches nearer to a single, all-containing, individuality. To remedy its imperfections, in other words, we should have to make a smaller alteration. The truth and the fact, which, to be converted into the Absolute, would require less re-arrangement and addition, is more real and truer. And this is what we mean by degrees of reality and truth."

Moreover he does speak of the Absolute as being a unity of all its appearances, as on p. 260 of the pdf where he writes:

"For the Absolute is not its appearances. But (as we have seen throughout) such a truth is itself partial and false, since the Absolute appears in its phenomena and is real nowhere outside them. We indeed can only deny that it is any one, because it is all of them in unity."

So, the Absolute seems a bit like an infinite limit that one can approach by taking into account more and more of the correct relations between apparent "parts" that, in that infinite limit, form a perfectly harmonious and interdependent whole.

JesseM said...

@Glenn:
Buddhism does distinguish between minds which are free of defilements and minds which are not free of defilements, i.e., between enlightened minds and minds which are not enlightened. And it has been doing so since... well, since before I had been born.

Sure, but at least in the Mahayana tradition, I think this distinction is usually taken as a "relative" truth, like any distinction which divides the world into mutually exclusive categories with different "natures". Consider this Zen story where dust on the mirror seems to be a metaphor for something like "defilements" in the mind. Or look at the "We Are Already Enlightened" section of this article for a less metaphoric discussion.

Now, if Mr. Cheng is right re the spiritual angle, then it follows that should emptiness be what you say it is -- i.e., "very much about denying that any such dualisms are true in an absolute sense" -- then there comes a time when the practicing Mādhyamika, should he become enlightened, should discard his denial that dualisms are true in an absolute sense.

Well, to the extent that emptiness can be discussed as a philosophical concept at all, I think some descriptions capture the meaning better than others, so I was addressing it on that level. But of course Buddhism is not just a philosophy, and its teachers say that one should ultimately avoid attachment to any "views", and just use words as skillful means to help others.

Glenn said...

Jesse,

Sure, but at least in the Mahayana tradition, I think this distinction is usually taken as a "relative" truth, like any distinction which divides the world into mutually exclusive categories with different "natures". Consider this Zen story...

It isn't clear to me that verses which express the enlightenment of their author, and verses which do not express the enlightenment of their author, aren't mutually exclusive.

Nor do I find it clear that the nature of the one who, struggle as he might, cannot write verses expressing his enlightenment, isn't different, in some relevant sense, from the nature of the one who, without any struggle, does so with ease.

Glenn said...

Jesse,

But of course Buddhism is not just a philosophy, and its teachers say that one should ultimately avoid attachment to any "views", and just use words as skillful means to help others.

Generally speaking, using just words is better than just using words.

Also, how are you going to (successfully) help others if there isn't some overarching "view" informing your approach?

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"Bradley does speak of 'degrees' of truth, he doesn't just throw away all appearances as equally unreal[.]"

Yes, I know. I don't want to sidetrack the thread into a discussion of Bradley; my one and only point is that he isn't an example of a Western thinker who thinks "everything is relative to everything else." Again, for him, the Absolute comes metaphysically first and ultimately grounds all appearances, and relations are every bit as much "appearance" as the terms they relate. He would have agreed with Jeremy Taylor that "relativity must end in what is absolute."

Scott said...

(By "everything is relative to everything else" I mean of course that everything that exists is exhaustively constituted by its relations to everything else. Bradley certainly does hold that everything is related to everything else, at least according to his own view of relations. But at no point does he privilege "relations" over "things" and say that the latter reduce without remainder to the former. What he says is that both of them are relatively unreal abstractions from an Absolute that lies beyond them and grounds them.

And with that clarification, I'll drop the subject of Bradley now.)

Anonymous said...

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http://voices.yahoo.com/at-last-honest-scholar-12095790.html?cat=2

JesseM said...

Scott, I appreciate that you don't want to get into an involved discussion of Bradley so I don't mind if you decide not to continue, but I did want to respond to your comment by elaborating on my understanding of his metaphysics:

By "everything is relative to everything else" I mean of course that everything that exists is exhaustively constituted by its relations to everything else. Bradley certainly does hold that everything is related to everything else, at least according to his own view of relations. But at no point does he privilege "relations" over "things" and say that the latter reduce without remainder to the former. What he says is that both of them are relatively unreal abstractions from an Absolute that lies beyond them and grounds them.

My understanding is that at least part of what he means by the Absolute is an infinite system of relations, and in that sense to say that each apparent "thing" is grounded in the Absolute is the same as saying that each apparent thing is grounded in its place in this infinite system of relations to other apparent things, a sort of infinite version of meaning holism. The Absolute is not just an infinite system of relations, because it is also an indivisible unity and an infinite conscious experience--but I think conscious experience provides an intuition of how it can be both, since we have a sense of what it is to both perceive something as a set of interrelated parts and a "gestalt" whole (for example, we can experience a "square" without lacking an awareness of its 4 distinct sides and corners).

As I said my understanding may be wrong since I haven't read his works in detail, only looked at parts as well as summaries in secondary sources, but looking at that pdf of Appearance and Reality, to me it doesn't seem right to say that he in no way privileges relations over things. He seems to be fairly unequivocal in his dismissal of the idea of what he thinks is usually meant by "things", for example in the the section "things" on p. 52 of the pdf he says:

"The reader may be asked to reflect whether anything of what is understood by a thing is left to us. It is hard to say what, as a matter of fact, is generally understood when we use the word “ thing.” But, whatever that may be, it seems now undermined and ruined. I suppose we generally take a thing as possessing some kind of independence, and a sort of title to exist in its own right, and not as a mere adjective … We have seen how the attempt to reconstitute our ideas by the help of primary qualities broke down. And, since then, the results, which we have reached, really seem to have destroyed things from without and from within."

Likewise in the next section "Self" on p. 55 he writes "We have seen our things go to pieces, crumbled away into relations that can find no terms."

JesseM said...

(reply to Scott, continued)
On the other hand, his treatment of relations does not seem so unequivocally dismissive. On p. 97, after stating the case that "the reals" cannot really be "independent realities" that just happen to coexist (which is close to what philosophers often mean by "substances" or "things"), he writes:

"Thus a mode of togetherness such as we can verify in feeling destroys the independence of our reals. And they will fare no better if we seek to find their co-existence elsewhere. For any other verifiable way of togetherness must involve relations, and they are fatal to self-sufficiency. Relations, we saw, are a development of and from the felt totality. They inadequately express, and they still imply in the background that unity apart from which the diversity is nothing. Relations are unmeaning except within and on the basis of a substantial whole, and related terms, if made absolute, are forthwith destroyed. Plurality and relatedness are but features and aspects of a unity."

So even though "relations are unmeaning" apart from their grounding in the "whole", he does not make the case that they still must be dismissed even if we accept such a whole. Then he says:

"If the relations in which the reals somehow stand are viewed as essential, that, as soon as we understand it, involves at once the internal relativity of the reals. And any attempt to maintain the relations as merely external must fail."

So although he dismisses the idea of "merely external" relations, he seems willing to accept the "internal relativity of the reals". I'm not sure of the precise meaning of this distinction between external and internal relations, but I would think it has to do with the idea of relations between "things" that can be considered independently, and relations between parts whose meaning is entirely determined by their complete relation to the whole.

Then on p. 98 he concludes the section with a paragraph that begins "We cannot therefore maintain a plurality save as dependent on the relations in which it stands." A plurality entirely dependent "on the relations in which it stands" sounds like a relational view of reality to me, one where each term of the "plurality" is defined solely by its place in the entire infinite system of relations.

Finally, on p. 99 he says:

"Everything phenomenal is somehow real; and the absolute must at least be as rich as the relative. And, further, the Absolute is not many; there are no independent reals. The universe is one in this sense that its differences exist harmoniously within one whole, beyond which there is nothing. Hence the Absolute is, so far, an individual and a system"

What can a "system" mean here, except an infinite system of relations? He denies that the Absolute is "many" in the sense of independent reals (and as I said I consider "independent reals" to be basically synonymous with independent "substances" or "things"), but he does not deny that it contains "differences" as long as they are all united within that system.

seanrobsville said...

@JesseM

"I'm not sure of the precise meaning of this distinction between external and internal relations"

'External' relations are arbitrary, such as 'Fred is taller than Jack', whereas 'internal' relations are interactive, such as 'Callisto is a moon of Jupiter', or 'A spark plug is part of an engine'.

External relations are mentally generated comparisons between two arbitrarily selected entities, which may be unrelated.

In contrast, the interactive type of relation always seems to imply a process (e.g. orbiting. assembling/disassembling).


@Scott

I'm not persuaded that loganberries count as "artifacts" merely because they're hybrids, but let's suppose they do. If they do, and they don't have "own-existence," then you have another artifact that doesn't have "own-existence." How does that advance your point?

Because if loganberries can survive and thrive without own-existence, then why shouldn't their parental raspberries and blackberries do the same?

What's more, why do all the other species of the rose family - apples, cherries, pears, almonds, plums etc need their individual 'own-existence' when they have evolved by cumulative minute changes from a common ancestor?

Jeremy Taylor said...

JesseM,

I'm struggling to find the point of your exegesis on Bradley.

What I will say is that it seems extremely unlikely Bradley was trying to invoke a complete relativism. His philosophy seems to me a very rationalistic and attenuated form of the traditional Platonic-Non Dualist system of thought. I was not surprised to find Schelling and Fichte amongst his major influences.

Also, even if he did embrace a complete relativism I'm not sure what that changes - it doesn't make such a position any less absurd.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

I agree with Jeremy Taylor. Never mind the details; that Bradley was not arguing for a complete relativism is surely obvious from the sheer fact that he believed in an Absolute.

JesseM said...

I'm struggling to find the point of your exegesis on Bradley.

My main point was to argue against Scott's position that Bradley did not privilege relations over things by quoting Bradley on the point that any notion of a self-sufficient "thing-in-itself" ultimately "crumbled away into relations" when analyzed, but that he was not similarly dismissive of relations, and that at least one aspect of the Absolute was an infinite "system" of "internal relations".

What I will say is that it seems extremely unlikely Bradley was trying to invoke a complete relativism. His philosophy seems to me a very rationalistic

This seems to be a non-sequitur, where is there a conflict between the view that all truth is relational (which again is completely different from the claim that there is no objective truth, that it is all relative to the person or culture asserting it) and "rationalism"? Mathematics is a rational system par excellence, would you disagree that all mathematical symbols are formally defined only in terms of their mathematical relations to other symbols? In fact, all discursive claims that can be stated rationally seem to be claims about relationships; as Kant argued, it is really the idea of the "thing-in-itself", what he called the "noumenal" realm as opposed to the "phenomenal", that would be beyond all rational comprehension, if it exists at all.

I think idealist philosophers since Kant (which includes both Schelling and Fichte, I believe) have usually responded to this either by taking the phenomenal realm as all there is, or by equating the "thing-in-itself" with certain form of intuitions that words can point to but not really decompose into parts. But if Bradley takes the latter strategy, I think the only "thing-in-itself" he would include in his system is the Absolute as a unified conscious perception, one which intuitively underlies and unifies all the apparently distinct perceptions of apparently finite minds like ourselves. And that unified perception of the Absolute is a sort of gestalt perception of the infinite system of relations, not of any other "things".

JesseM said...

Scott, as I said to Jeremy I don't really understand what you guys mean by "relativism", since I have usually seen that word to argue against the notion of objective truths and I'm not sure if you mean that implication as well. I keep bringing up the example of mathematics as a relational system to make clear that is not what I mean when I talk about everything being relational. Also see the point, which I made in my post to you and also in my last response to Jeremy, that one aspect of Bradley's Absolute is a sort of unified gestalt perception, and that perception is a unity which is not related to anything else outside it; but it is still a gestalt perception of the infinite system of relations, not of an infinite number of independent "things". So relations-plural do have a kind of reality that things-plural do not, even if his philosophy can be said to contain a single "thing", the Absolute itself. Again, I don't know if your umbrella term "relativism" is meant to exclude this idea, which could be summarized as the view that what ultimately exists is a single unified perception of an infinite system of interdependent relations.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

Here's why we're talking about "relativism." In replying to Glenn on the subject of things lacking "own-existence," you wrote:

"[T]here are plenty of advocates in rationalistic Western philosophy for the idea that all existence is 'relational' (denying substance metaphysics), that ultimately the only properties of 'things' are their relationships to other (relationally-defined) 'things'--consider the metaphysics of F.H. Bradley for example."

The main point is that this sort of "relativism" (or "relationalism") doesn't make sense. If everything consists only of its relations to everything else, then there's ultimately nothing for those relations to relate.

The side point about Bradley is that he doesn't say the only properties of "things" are their relations to other (also relationally-defined) "things."[*] What he says is that ultimately there is only the Absolute, which is beyond substances, properties, and relations altogether and not divisible into "things in relation." (Let alone into "relations" and nothing but. Probably his single most famous argument is that treating "relations" as things that can exist in their own right leads at once to an infinite regress.)

Nor would I agree (at least without qualification) that Bradley denied "substance metaphysics." Although Bradley himself didn't put it in these terms, I'd say it's more correct to say that, like Spinoza, he thought there was ultimately just one "substance," namely the eternal, all-encompassing experience that he called the Absolute.

"[A]s Kant argued, it is really the idea of the 'thing-in-itself', what he called the 'noumenal' realm as opposed to the 'phenomenal', that would be beyond all rational comprehension, if it exists at all."

Kant's dichotomy was a false one inherited from modern empiricism. When you know a cat, what you know is the cat, not your phenomenal experience of the cat; your experience is just the means by which you know it. The way the cat appears to you just is part of what the cat is "in itself."

----

[*] Nor, as Jeremy Taylor has emphasized, would the "relationalist" view make sense even if Bradley had held it.

JesseM said...

The main point is that this sort of "relativism" (or "relationalism") doesn't make sense. If everything consists only of its relations to everything else, then there's ultimately nothing for those relations to relate.

They relate places in the structure of relationships--in the context of mathematics I think this is basically what is meant by "structuralism", see the paper I linked to earlier which discusses some different ideas about structuralism. I don't really know if you would say that being a mere place in a structure of relations is the same as being "nothing", and if so whether that is supposed to be a philosophical argument against there being absolute, objective truths about the structure, as many structuralists undoubtedly feel is true of mathematical structures like arithmetic.

The side point about Bradley is that he doesn't say the only properties of "things" are their relations to other (also relationally-defined) "things."[*] What he says is that ultimately there is only the Absolute, which is beyond substances, properties, and relations altogether and not divisible into "things in relation."

But the Absolute is not just a featureless unity, it is also an infinite system of internal relations--"Everything phenomenal is somehow real; and the absolute must at least be as rich as the relative ... The universe is one in this sense that its differences exist harmoniously within one whole, beyond which there is nothing. Hence the Absolute is, so far, an individual and a system". And these infinite internal relations are between entities whose "nature" is exhausted by their place in the infinite system of relations that is the Absolute.

Probably his single most famous argument is that treating "relations" as things that can exist in their own right leads at once to an infinite regress

But "things that can exist in their own right" would suggest some notion of different relations having their own self-sufficient existence, as opposed to only being able to exist within the context of the Absolute-as-infinite-system.

Nor would I agree (at least without qualification) that Bradley denied "substance metaphysics." Although Bradley himself didn't put it in these terms, I'd say it's more correct to say that, like Spinoza, he thought there was ultimately just one "substance," namely the eternal, all-encompassing experience that he called the Absolute.

That's a fair point--probably I wasn't using "substance metaphysics" broadly enough, I was using it to denote the more traditional idea (held by pretty much all advocates of "substance" before Spinoza, I think, and all A-T philosophers) that there are a plurality of different substances in the world. My point about Bradley and things vs. relations is that he denied "things" in the plural sense while he did not deny that one aspect of the Absolute is a plurality of interdependent internal relations. As I said above in my last responses to you and Jeremy, if you want to say that Bradley treated the Absolute as a single unique thing-in-itself or substance I think he would likely have agreed with such a characterization.

Likewise, with Buddhist discussions of "emptiness" which inspired my original comment about the similarity to Bradley's ideas, although it seems fairly clear that those who talk about emptiness are denying a plurality of distinct "things" with their own independent natures, I don't think they are clearly denying that all of reality could have a single nature, which might be one way of understanding Buddhist terms like "suchness" or "Buddha-nature".

Timotheos said...

@ JesseM

Bradley’s absolute seems to be equivalent to Parmenides’ being to me. And in that case, sure, Bradley’s absolute must have an infinite number of relations within itself (for instance, we can always take a part of an interval, relate it to a different part of that interval, and then do this an infinite number of times, since every part of an interval is a “being”).

Regardless, what you can’t say, and what both Jeremy Taylor and Scott are arguing against, is that the absolute is JUST an infinite number of relations, since there would be nothing to ground those relations to. In other words, if I defined a human as a rational animal, and then I defined a rational animal as a human, there would be no definition of a human, since human would be completely defined in terms of itself.

This is also a criticism of what appears to be your position on math which seems to be, “I just don't think numbers like 1 and 2 have any "inherent" properties or essence beyond their mathematical relationships to other numbers.”

The problem with this position however is that no number will have a definition, since 1 will be defined by its relationship to 2 and 2 its relationship to 1. So 1 will be defined in terms of 1, which is completely circular. Thus, if our understanding of numbers was JUST our understanding of their relationship to other numbers, we would have no understanding of any numbers.

seanrobsville said...

@ Timotheos

Numbers are defined by their relationship to the empty set.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"But the Absolute is not just a featureless unity, it is also an infinite system of internal relations[.] . . . My point about Bradley and things vs. relations is that he denied 'things' in the plural sense while he did not deny that one aspect of the Absolute is a plurality of interdependent internal relations."

As I've mentioned once or twice now, your interpretation of Bradley is simply not going far enough.

Even in the chapter you've quoted, Bradley wrote this: "[Qualities] cannot . . . be fully resolved into the relations. . . . I urge . . . that nothings cannot be related, and that to turn qualities in relation to mere relations is impossible. . . . So far as I can see, relations must depend upon terms, just as much as terms upon relations."

What he actually held, again in his own words, is this: "[T]he relational form . . . implies a substantial totality beyond relations and above them. . . . [T]he ideas of goodness, and of the beautiful, . . . more or less involve the experience of a whole beyond all relations though full of diversity." [Emphases mine.] (Later, in an unfinished essay that I can't find online, he wrote, "To take reality as a relational scheme, no matter whether the relations are 'external' or 'internal', seems therefore impossible and perhaps even ridiculous.")

As I've said, he argues for a "substantial" reality beyond all relations. Whether this view makes sense is a matter for debate. That Bradley held it is not.

Timotheos said...

@ seanrobsville

For various reasons, I don't think defining numbers in terms of the empty set, or even sets period, makes much sense, at least in a non-formal system. It’s like defining “something” in terms of our “idea of nothing”. This is wrong on multiple levels, the most obvious probably being the fact that nothing is the absence of something, so to define nothing, you have to already know what something is.

It works fine for building formal systems of math though, but if we don’t remember that formal systems presuppose, and do not give us, our understanding of the subject, then we will start to think that the formal system just IS our understanding of the subject, which would make the whole thing completely circular and worthless.

A formal system might be a good tool for constructing computers and proving theorems, but it is absolutely worthless as a way to give true, metaphysical/ontological definitions.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott
Is it just me, or does Bradley’s absolute look a lot like the classical conception of God, but with an extra level of mystification added to make it “not exactly God”. It seems to me that the main difference is that Bradley seemed to say that you couldn’t say anything about the absolute besides that it exits. For instance, if you say it must be immaterial, the absolute must also be material, since it can’t lack either perfection. So with Bradley, we get a position even more radical than Maimonides, since we not only cannot say anything about what God is, but we can’t even say anything about what God is not.

This is why Bradley just sounds to me like a half-baked Parmenides after the modern wave of washed-up Lucretius.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"Is it just me, or does Bradley's absolute look a lot like the classical conception of God, but with an extra level of mystification added to make it 'not exactly God'."

Heh, I'd say that's a pretty good summary.

Glenn said...

Scott,

(Later, in an unfinished essay that I can't find online, he wrote, "To take reality as a relational scheme, no matter whether the relations are 'external' or 'internal', seems therefore impossible and perhaps even ridiculous.")

Super secret-agent google owed me one, and just now has made good on the chit. See p 190 of Essays on Truth and Reality.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

Thanks, if I remember right, that’s one of the main reasons why C.S. Lewis gave up on Bradley’s idealism, since it either collapses into Berkeley-styled theism, or turns out to just be atheism/agnosticism with a fancy name.

grodrigues said...

@Timotheos:

"A formal system might be a good tool for constructing computers and proving theorems, but it is absolutely worthless as a way to give true, metaphysical/ontological definitions."

As a mathematician, how I wished this to be engraved at the entrance of every university and math department: no substantial metaphysical conclusions can be drawn from mathematics alone. None.

Jeremy Taylor said...

JesseM,

You misquoted what I wrote. I did not suggest that there was a conflict between Bradley's use of relations and his rationalism. I simply described his philosophy as rationalistic. It seems to me his Absolute is very close to the Platonic One, though Bradley's philosophy is very rationalistic, limited, and parochial from what I can see.

Timotheos said...

@ grodrigues

Agreed, now all we need to do is translate the phrase into Latin and we can start spreading it everywhere!

As a side point, and one I’m not sure you’ll entirely agree with, is that I do consider mathematics to be a very limited sub-disciple within metaphysics. However, since it studies such a limited scope of metaphysics, (specifically, the idea of one) it can’t, of itself, really say anything about metaphysics beyond providing further clarification on the idea of one (and thus numbers in general).

Also, I’m interested in your thoughts on the empty set; to me it seems about as dubious as the idea of actual infinitesimals.

Aquohn said...

@Scott: Thanks for answering my question.

Well, certainly, mankind's monopoly on the status of rational animal has no bearing on the substantial truth of A-T. But Feser has defended elsewhere, the essence of humanity just is to be a rational animal. This has the rather odd implication that these rational animals (if they really are rational animals) are actually human.

Scott said...

@Aquohn:

"This has the rather odd implication that these rational animals (if they really are rational animals) are actually human."

And if I'm not mistaken, Ed has agreed with that as well.

Timotheos said...

David Oderberg agreed with this consequence in his book Real Essentialism and Dr. Feser shares an almost identical philosophical account as Oderberg

Aquohn said...

@Scott: Hmm, I see. But if that is the case, then doesn't that imply that our treatment of such creatures (if it turns out they really are human) has been grossly immoral?

Scott said...

@Aquohn:

"[D]oesn't that imply that our treatment of such creatures (if it turns out they really are human) has been grossly immoral?"

If that turned out to be the case, yes.

seanrobsville said...

@ Scott

"[D]oesn't that imply that our treatment of such creatures (if it turns out they really are human) has been grossly immoral?"

If that turned out to be the case, yes.


So Buddha was right all along.

Scott said...

@seanrobsville:

"So Buddha was right all along."

That parrots have intellects?

Nicholas said...

The problem I see with A-T conception of soul-body relations is that in this system the referent of soul seems to resolve to a concept. This would be absurd since Jesus seemed to refer to the soul and body as two distinct objects, plus the soul can change locations after death. Plus how is the soul, a simple entity with no components suppose to possess powers all on its own? Does anyone follow me?

Cause refers to a concept. Def. A Mediator (object A) imparts causal action to a Target (object B). Effect refers to a concept. Def. The target undergoes change effect for the duration of an event. Form refers to a concept. Def. That which is bounded from immediate environment.

It makes no sense that the soul could be explained as the form of the body or the formal cause of a human being.

If one wants to use the Law of Causality to frame up an explanation of soul-body relations one has to cheat the law since there is no surface-to-surface contact between a supposed spiritual object and a physical object. How does the soul stay bound to the body? Does the soul have an analogous shape to the body?

One has to modify the Law of Causality. The immortal soul would have to be the Mediator (Object A). The Adamic body would have to be the Target (Object B). And the Output (Object C) is a living human person say Adam.

The soul is a spiritual object that is miraculously created and sustained by God to impart a mode of causal action to the body for the duration of life. A-T treats the soul as a concept. Concepts cannot move or perform causal actions.

Nicholas said...

Concept are a relationship, an invocation, or an embodiment between two or more objects. They do not exist. They are conceptualized by us. The soul cannot refer to a concept. And that is the only way I see it treated by A-T. It just doesnt make sense.

Aquohn said...

@Scott: I see. Thanks.

@Nicholas: This is a terrible misunderstanding of the A-T position. Read Feser's books; he explains it clearly there.

Nicholas said...

@ Scott.

why should I have to read a book? Just point out to me where I am misunderstanding. I see reification of the concept 'CAUSE'. Cause refers to a concept. The concept 'CAUSE' cannot be reified to an object such as God, a spirit, or a soul and perform causal actions. Concepts cannot move.

To me it is simple. The phenomenon is life/living. The soul (object A, the mediator in this scheme) imparts a mode of causal action to the body (Object B, the target). The body undergoes change effect for the duration of the phenomenon. The output (object C) is a single, unified, integrated living object.

The soul mediates a mode of causal action which allows a physical object to move of itself in spite of universal gravitation and build itself in all directions. Eventually that shape is able to conceive of concepts and weave complex thought. This activity is rooted in the brain but without the presence and action of the soul the brain would be dead.

Correct my misconception. Teach me. Seriously.

Nicholas said...

sorry I meant at Aquohn

Nicholas said...

For clarification:

Man refer to a singular relation of God and immortal soul and Adamic body. God creates the immortal soul from nothing at fusion of M & F gametes. God will the immortal soul to remain bound to the body for the duration of life. The presence of the soul imparts a sort of causal action to the Adamic body that is not surface-to-surface as in physics. Soul and body interface.

I came here for some better ideas and enlightenment. Enlighten me if I am wrong. If A-T is better than this then show me.

Scott said...

@Nicholas:

"Just point out to me where I am misunderstanding."

I can't speak for Aquohn, but frankly I don't understand what you're trying to say well enough to point out what's wrong with it.

Nicholas said...

@ Scott

well my main problem with all of this is that A. Concepts are reified and imparting causal actions on concepts (e.g. concepts interacting with concepts). The soul is as if treated like a concept, or as if it has components, that relate and these relations interact with components of the body B. All of this stuff is too conceptual, confusing, and bloated to have any meaning anymore. Descriptions like "soul is the form of the body" or "the soul is the formal cause of the human person" are confusing or meaningless. No one ever seems to define their key terms 'form' 'cause' 'effect' 'soul', etc. Some of Aristotle's and Aquinas' ideas seem vague and irrelevant in light of neuroscience. No one seems to understand how to resolve the ontology of the word referent. Cause refers to a concept. Concepts do not exist. They are conceptualized by the human person, thus they cannot be place holders for objects such as God, a soul, a body, namely something somewhere or that which has shape. Concepts always resolve to a two or more pre-defined objects that exist.

Stuff like that gets me. I want to learn this stuff, but unless someone can clarify right here and right now then I have to come up with my own ideas and use them.

Nicholas said...

I deal with people who think that a living object is like a Borg collective or a city of individuals. They think a single-cell is intelligent, aware, intent, willing, etc. They arent convinced that a soul has any role to play in life, nor God. I try to fall back on A-T and it just isnt working. Of course I believe in all the teachings of the Church and Divine Revelation. I come here hoping for help and its like philosophy for the sake of philosophy. No offense Feser et al. I like some of your stuff.

But something has to give. I need better explanations.

Scott said...

@Nicholas:

Then I think Aquohn's recommendation of Ed's books is spot on. (You can probably also get some of what you're looking for by browsing the site.)

Aquohn said...

@Nicholas: If you wish to learn, learn from the master himself. Seriously, Feser explains it much better than I ever could. You clearly don't grasp the concept of the four causes, for example. And Feser deals with the neuroscience objection in several posts on this blog (search "neurobabble"). And so forth.

Nicholas said...

alright I'll search neurobabble. Thanks.

JesseM said...

@Timotheos:
Regardless, what you can’t say, and what both Jeremy Taylor and Scott are arguing against, is that the absolute is JUST an infinite number of relations, since there would be nothing to ground those relations to.

I didn't really say that it was "just" an infinite number of relations though--I also emphasized that it was a single all-encompassing experience that perceived all the relations as part of a single unified whole, that it was perceiving the relations in what I called a single "gestalt" (if anyone's not familiar with this word, it's a psychological term which deals with perceptions where we can't help but see all the parts in terms of their place in a larger whole--a famous example is the picture at the bottom of this page, where once you see it as a high-contrast picture of a certain animal, you can't unsee that animal and go back to seeing the picture as a random patchwork of 2D blotches)

This is also a criticism of what appears to be your position on math which seems to be, “I just don't think numbers like 1 and 2 have any "inherent" properties or essence beyond their mathematical relationships to other numbers.”

The problem with this position however is that no number will have a definition, since 1 will be defined by its relationship to 2 and 2 its relationship to 1. So 1 will be defined in terms of 1, which is completely circular. Thus, if our understanding of numbers was JUST our understanding of their relationship to other numbers, we would have no understanding of any numbers.


Only if you define "understanding" in a way that precludes it being ultimately circular and relational, but I see no good reason for precluding the idea that all our understanding is like that. Of course if you just know the rules for manipulating arithmetical symbols you will be lacking the sort of "understanding" of numbers that most people have, but perhaps that's just because most people have a wider network of ideas and perceptions they can relate the symbols too--for example, if asked to draw a picture of a collection of apples corresponding to the symbol "3" they would draw a picture that others would recognize as being 3 apples, indicating a shared ability to link the symbol to visual imagery (likewise they would have the motor understanding that would allow them to correctly draw three apples, no more or less, from a bag containing many more apples). But this is still just an understanding of the correspondence between the symbols and various perceptions and physical actions, an understanding which seems to be purely relational.

JesseM said...

@Jeremy Taylor:
You misquoted what I wrote. I did not suggest that there was a conflict between Bradley's use of relations and his rationalism. I simply described his philosophy as rationalistic. It seems to me his Absolute is very close to the Platonic One, though Bradley's philosophy is very rationalistic, limited, and parochial from what I can see.

You seem to have misunderstood me, I never accused you of suggesting there was any conflict between "Bradley's use of relations" and "rationalism". Rather, my point was that you seemed to be arguing that because Bradley's philosophy was rationalistic, that served as evidence that he cannot possibly have been advocating a "relational" system of the type I described, one where no entity has any properties other than its place in an infinite system of relations. And my point was that this sort of "relational" description of reality, regardless of whether it was really what Bradley advocated, can hardly be accused of being more "irrational" than a theory that claims things have non-relational essences, since rational thought deals only with relations. To talk about non-relational essences either means positing some sort of "thing-in-itself" which, as Kant argued, would be wholly inaccessible to human understanding, or to posit a sort of essence that we can know only by some sort of intuition which can't be fully described by discursive thought, though if it's a shared intuition we may invent a shared word for it (some people would take this view of basic "qualia", like the experience of seeing the color red).

JesseM said...

@Scott:
As I've mentioned once or twice now, your interpretation of Bradley is simply not going far enough.

Even in the chapter you've quoted, Bradley wrote this: "[Qualities] cannot . . . be fully resolved into the relations. . . . I urge . . . that nothings cannot be related, and that to turn qualities in relation to mere relations is impossible. . . . So far as I can see, relations must depend upon terms, just as much as terms upon relations."

What he actually held, again in his own words, is this: "[T]he relational form . . . implies a substantial totality beyond relations and above them. . . . [T]he ideas of goodness, and of the beautiful, . . . more or less involve the experience of a whole beyond all relations though full of diversity." [Emphases mine.] (Later, in an unfinished essay that I can't find online, he wrote, "To take reality as a relational scheme, no matter whether the relations are 'external' or 'internal', seems therefore impossible and perhaps even ridiculous.")

As I've said, he argues for a "substantial" reality beyond all relations. Whether this view makes sense is a matter for debate. That Bradley held it is not.


In my last post to you I already mentioned that I'm fine with attributing "substance metaphysics" to Bradley if it's a Spinoza style-scheme where there is only a single substance, the Absolute, rather than a number of distinct substances. As for the quotes about "relations", I've been reading some more of Bradley's writings along with some commentary on them by others, and I think there's a subtlety in how he uses the word "relations" which makes the quotes less of a straightforward dismissal of all forms of "relationalism" than they might seem on the surface. Consider two other quotes, which on the surface might seem to be a straightforward endorsement of relationalism. Quote #1 is from Appearance and Reality, p. 308 of the pdf version I've been using:

It is certain that everything is determined by the relations in which it stands. It is certain that, with increase of determinateness, a thing becomes more and more real.

Quote #2 is from p. 370, after he has discussed the idea of "merely external relations" which "fall quite outside and do not qualify" the things being compared, whereas internal relations would be essential to the quality itself--he uses the example of comparing two red-headed people as a relation that would be conventionally be seen as "external", since if I say that Sam has red hair, I would not ordinarily think that it is intrinsic to what I mean by this that he has the same color hair as some other specific person I'm not even thinking of when I talk about Sam's hair. I suppose an "internal" relation in this case would be that red-headedness inherently seems to involve a relation between hair on the head and the color red.

JesseM said...

(Reply to Scott, part 2)
Anyway, he ends up concluding that in fact all relations are really internal, even if they don't seem that way from our limited perspective:

And if you could have a perfect relational knowledge of the world, you could go from the nature of redhairedness
to these other characters which qualify it, and you could from the nature of redhairedness reconstruct all the red-haired men. In such perfect knowledge you could start internally from any one character in the Universe, and you could from that pass to the rest. You would go in each case more or less directly or indirectly, and with unimportant characters the amount of indirectness would be enormous, but no passage would be external. Such knowledge is out of our reach, and it is perhaps out of the reach of any mind that has to think relationally. But if in the Absolute knowledge is perfected, as we conclude it is, then in a higher form the end of such knowledge is actually realised, and with ignorance and chance the last show of externality has vanished.


The very concept that there could be "perfect relational knowledge of the world" which would completely determine every particular seems to suggest a relationalist view of reality, although he then goes on to confusingly say that such perfect relational knowledge may be "out of the reach of any mind that has to think relationally."

I think the basic issue is that most of the time when he speaks of "relations", he is talking about the experience of perceiving relations for a finite mind like our own, one in which we "abstract" our experience into some finite number of discrete parts which stand in various relations to one another. And this abstracted, finite perspective always leaves out a larger context, which ultimately must be grounded in the ultimate context of the Absolute itself. And the Absolute's experience can't be simply analogous to our experience of finite collections of relations, because the Absolute must somehow integrate all aspects of experience into a harmonious whole, while he places the experience of perceiving relations into the domain of "thought", distinct from other areas he names like "feeling" and "volition".

But in certain passages he seems to suggest that experiences which seem unitary to us, like "feelings", may somehow contain some implicit parts and relations that aren't a part of our immediate experience of them, although we may in a later moment draw out these parts/relations in thought (at which point we lose the initial feeling). As an example of my own, consider the experience of tasting some food or drink. Initially the taste may just be experienced as "that taste", something simple that doesn't seem to have any parts any more than basic visual "qualia" like the experience of the color red. But if we focus discriminating consciousness on the taste, we may be able to experience it as a combination of various flavor elements which we were already familiar with--this is what wine-tasting is supposed to be all about, detecting "flavor notes" like "berries" or "chocolate", along with other ways of breaking down the taste-experience like judging the acidity of the wine. With wine tasting there may be a suspicion that a lot of this is just in the wine-taster's head, but at least in some cases it seems clear that we can judge something about the ingredients used to make a food by breaking down its taste into parts (recognizing particular herbs like cumin, say), when the initial taste seemed like a simple unity.

JesseM said...

(reply to Scott, part 3)
Bradley suggests this sort of idea of implicit relations in wholes (and implicit wholes in relations) a number of places, for example on p. 324 when he says that at any given moment we "feel our whole psychical state as one" and that "Our state seems a felt background into which we introduce distinctions, and it seems, at the same time, a whole in which the differences inhere and pre-exist". And on the same page he goes on to talk about the experience of an "emotional whole", which "comes to us as one, yet not as simple; while its diversity, at least in part, is not yet distinguished and broken up into relations" . I think this is an especially good example of the notion of implicit parts/relations, since I take it we've all had the experience of feeling a vague emotion (a sudden sense of unease, say) and then examining it more closely to see different psychological elements contributing to it, which seem to have been implicitly "there all along" in some way.

So, this is the way I would reconcile the seemingly anti-relationalist quotes you provided with the seemingly pro-relationalist one I provided. In your quotes, I think he is talking about the way that relations as an aspect of experience (what he sometimes calls "relational consciousness") can never exhaust the experience, and are always finite abstractions from parts of it, and our understanding of any finite abstracted part of experience always depends on the context of a "felt background" which is ultimately the Absolute itself (on p. 176 of Essays on Truth and Reality he writes of experience that "no analysis into relations can ever exhaust its nature … What analysis leaves forever outstanding is no mere residue, but is a vital condition to the analysis itself. Everything which is got out into the form of an object implies still the felt background against which the object comes"). Whereas in my quotes I think he is suggesting that all feelings, qualities etc. are fully determined by the infinite relations that are implicitly present in that same felt background, further aspects of which can be brought out into explicit thought at later times without ever being complete. Since he is an idealist, I suppose the infinite implicit relations would somehow be part of the experience of the Absolute, but as such he might prefer not to use the word "relations" for them, since he emphasizes in many places that the Absolute's way of experiencing is beyond all the separate categories of our own experience like thought, feeling, and volition, though it somehow incorporates and "re-blends" them all. But this is something like what I was trying to get at in earlier comments when I talked about how the Absolute experiences the infinite network of relations as a single unified "gestalt", rather than a sort of infinite heap of individual relations.

Jeremy Taylor said...

JesseM,

My use of the term rationalistic was simply an incidental disparagement of Bradley. His system seems to bear obvious marks of the influence of the traditional Platonic Non-Dualist perspective, but to be a very limited and rationalistic variation of it. Indeed, what you seem to getting out in your posts to Scott often bears a lot of resemblance to notions of polarity and interpenetration that Coleridge made insightful use of - and which are themselves just riffs on basic Pythagorean-Platonic themes.

Anyway, as to the further matter in your last comment to me, I'd say that I have no problem in considering complete relativism is irrational and the alternative as not. It is perfectly correct that discursive thought, traditionally known as ratio, deals only with relations. This simply shows that there are elements of our thought that we know in themselves through what is traditionally known as Nous, or Intellectus. I'm a Platonist, so I have a strong belief in the centrality of noetic knowledge. I'm not sure what the problem is here. The alternative would be we can't know anything. Or, to put it another way, for the reasons that have already been touched upon by several contributors here, complete relativism is absurd. If one states that we can't come to this conclusion using reason then I don't see, short of giving up reason completely, there is any problem in concluding that reason depends upon more than merely discursive inputs, as a Platonist this is what I have always acknowledged.

This is incidentally part of the problems with Kant's Critical Philosophy - its futile attempt to make discursive reason support itself.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- This sentence would be clearer if I change it thus:

"If one states that we can't come to this conclusion using discursive reason alone then I don't see, short of giving up reason completely, there is any problem in concluding that reason depends upon more than merely discursive inputs; as a Platonist this is what I have always acknowledged."

Nicholas said...

"Anyway, as to the further matter in your last comment to me, I'd say that I have no problem in considering complete relativism is irrational and the alternative as not."

Why and what is the alternative? "Complete relativism" is irrational since conceptual relations are rooted in two or more pre-defined objects. All concept, thought, etc. can be traced back to two or more objects of existence. Any and all objects have an intrinsic, static, and innate (native) relation called shape and this is observer independent. All our thought is based on relating two or more shapes and nesting the relations.

"It is perfectly correct that discursive thought, traditionally known as ratio, deals only with relations."

And those relations are rooted in objects of existence, real objects. Something somewhere. Without a minimum of two objects there could be no such action as thought.



I dont see how anyone can think that 'absolute' is a rational concept. I honestly dont. There is even relativism in God. God is One where there is no relative opposition. God is a singular relation between Father and Son and Spirit. God established a relation with Adam and all men. All objects of existence relate to one another. Even the Divine Object called God relates to God and all the objects of his creation in some manner.

The logicians used their logic to formally validate that there is no Absolutes. Its just a lousy concept and has a mystique to it and people love to use it.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the section that talks about the "parts" of a substance. Dr. Feser says the parts themselves are not substances. But if I have a table leg, and I join it to a table that was missing a leg, is not the thing that I joined to the table still a "table leg." It seems like it would persist as a substance, even while being a part of the "table" substance. Any help appreciated.

Robert Manner