Monday, February 3, 2014

Heavy Meta


My new book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction will be out this May.  I’ve expounded and defended various aspects of Scholastic metaphysics at some length in other places -- for example, in chapter 2 of The Last Superstition and chapter 2 of Aquinas -- but the new book pursues the issues at much greater length and in much greater depth.  Unlike those other books, it also focuses exclusively on questions of fundamental metaphysics, with little or no reference to questions in natural theology, ethics, philosophy of mind, or the like.  Call it Heavy Meta.  Even got a theme song.

To whet your appetite, here’s the cover copy and a detailed table of contents:

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics.  The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy.  The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated.  The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

0. Prolegomenon

0.1 Aim of the book

0.2 Against scientism

0.2.1 A dilemma for scientism

0.2.2 The descriptive limits of science

0.2.3 The explanatory limits of science

0.2.4 A bad argument for scientism

0.3 Against “conceptual analysis”

1. Act and potency

1.1 The general theory

1.1.1 Origins of the distinction

1.1.2 The relationship between act and potency

1.1.3 Divisions of act and potency

1.2 Causal powers

1.2.1 Powers in Scholastic philosophy

1.2.2 Powers in recent analytic philosophy

1.2.2.1 Historical background

1.2.2.2 Considerations from metaphysics

1.2.2.3 Considerations from philosophy of science

1.2.2.4 Powers and laws of nature

1.3 Real distinctions?

1.3.1 The Scholastic theory of distinctions

1.3.2 Aquinas versus Scotus and Suarez

1.3.3 Categorical versus dispositional properties in analytic metaphysics

2. Causation

2.1 Efficient versus final causality

2.2 The principle of finality

2.2.1 Aquinas’s argument

2.2.2 Physical intentionality in recent analytic metaphysics

2.3 The principle of causality

2.3.1 Formulation of the principle

2.3.2 Objections to the principle

2.3.2.1 Hume’s objection

2.3.2.2 Russell’s objection

2.3.2.3 The objection from Newton’s law of inertia

2.3.2.4 Objections from quantum mechanics

2.3.2.5 Scotus on self-motion

2.3.3 Arguments for the principle

2.3.3.1 Appeals to self-evidence

2.3.3.2 Empirical arguments

2.3.3.3 Arguments from PNC

2.3.3.4 Arguments from PSR

2.4 Causal series

2.4.1 Simultaneity

2.4.2 Per se versus per accidens

2.5 The principle of proportionate causality

3. Substance

3.1 Hylemorphism

3.1.1 Form and matter

3.1.2 Substantial form versus accidental form

3.1.3 Prime matter versus secondary matter

3.1.4 Aquinas versus Scotus and Suarez

3.1.5 Hylemorphism versus atomism

3.1.6 Anti-reductionism in contemporary analytic metaphysics

3.2 Substance versus accidents

3.2.1 The Scholastic theory

3.2.2 The empiricist critique

3.2.3 Physics and event ontologies

3.3 Identity

3.3.1 Individuation

3.3.2 Persistence

3.3.2.1 Against four-dimensionalism

3.3.2.2 Identity over time as primitive

4. Essence and existence

4.1 Essentialism

4.1.1 The reality of essence

4.1.2 Anti-essentialism

4.1.3 Moderate realism

4.1.4 Essence and properties

4.1.5 Modality

4.1.6 Essentialism in contemporary analytic metaphysics

4.2 The real distinction

4.2.1 Arguments for the real distinction

4.2.2 Objections to the real distinction

4.3 The analogy of being

105 comments:

Scott said...

I'm there.

Anonymous said...

Oh my.

Ian Thompson said...

Is there going to be kindle version?

Curio said...

Yes!

Timotheos said...

I'm all set with my pre-order! Now I await the midnight release at Barnes & Noble; no doubt the place will be packed, but that's just the price you pay for good metaphysics. :-)

runitandrunitandrunitandrunitandrunit said...

I CANNOT WAIT! Ditto Ian Thompson's query.

Michael G. Murad said...

Well since it's billed as "Heavy Meta" I expect something "far beyond the reach of space-time."

Damien S said...

Great stuff Ed! Can't wait.

Kiel said...

Can't wait.

BSZ said...

Why am I excited?!

Scott said...

@BSZ:

"Why am I excited?!"

Because Feser on Scholastic metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait

TheOFloinn said...

Who can pass up a book with an honest-to-goodness prolegomenon!

And indentured chapter number to four indentures! Woo-hoo.

rank sophist said...

Particularly interested in Scotus on self-motion. Very fascinating topic that will be great to see addressed by a Thomist.

Also exciting is the chapter on analogy. Perhaps Prof. Feser will finally show his hand on this issue. I'm hoping that it's not just a repeat of Oderberg's vague and arguably incoherent attempt to explain the analogy of being in Real Essentialism.

Crude said...

Shall get this one the moment it's out.

BSZ said...

'm going to have to read Peter van Inwagen on Metaphysics (3rd Ed.) again. After van Inwagen the first book I'm going to read is Feser's book on Philosophy of Mind and by the time I'm finished! Dr. Feser's book should be ready for me to devour!

Michele Arpaia said...

Ed we all love you.

Ismael said...

...muat...have...!!!

The ToC is very interesting... can't wait for the book to come out!

Георгий Манчхашвили said...

Great!
Definitely going to buy it.

Inter alia, I reckon it'll be most useful for fending off raids on, say, the principle of causality by my inner Hume these long winter nights.
I mean, I can hold my own, but..

P.S.
Given that we're already discussing books, I'm thinking of ordering Ralph Ncinerny's "Ethica Thomistica Revised".
Would someone recomment it?

P.S.S.
I really should be careful with my posting. Sorry.

יאיר רזק said...

Sounds very on-point and comprehensive. As someone who holds just about every thesis attacked in this ToC, it looks like a very interesting attack on my positions :) I sadly only purchase digital books, but I'm glad it's out there, and hope some of its content will seep into future posts on this blog.

Do tell us if there would be a digital edition.

Yair

Anonymous said...

Very much looking forward to another work by the "Taliban Thomist."

Peter DO Smith said...

Please, please bring it out in the Kindle version from the very start.

BenYachov said...

OF the making of book there is no end...............well thank God for that.

I am so getting this.:-)

monk68 said...

Attempting to pre-order NOW. Sounds like Dr. Feser's version of "Rage against the machine"! Very excited.

Martin said...

Kindle? Kindle? Yes? Please? I generally don't buy paper books anymore.

Steven Jake said...

I am in anticipation of it! Feser, do you plan on writing a book on epistemology in the future?

Christopher said...

Looking forward to the book sir. Will there also be a Kindle version?

Martin said...

Everyone who wants this on Kindle, click the "Tell the publisher" link on the right of the product page.

Kiel said...

I couldn't help but complement this post with a meme.

Joe K. said...

Prof. Feser,

Super exciting; I didn't even know this was coming out. And 400 pages to boot. Really looking forward to this.

I meant to ask; you mentioned some time back, I Think, that you were working on a book on Natural Law. I can't remember if that was supposed to be a full treatment in book form, but for some reason it's stuck in my memory. Am I misremembering this?

Anyway, this looks great. Can't wait.

Anonymous said...

Hey Professor Feser, have you thought about commenting on this?

Donald said...

I did what Martin suggested and clicked on the publisher's "I'd like to read this on the Kindle" button.

Now the rest of you, go thou and do likewise.

Though it's not that expensive in cellulose.

Thomas Vaughan said...

The explicit material against scientism in Chapter Zero looks interesting to me.

So now I'm wondering about Feser's position on scientific realism.

Although I have almost no formal education in philosophy, I find myself forced into some study of it (however poorly done) because of my interest in the relationship between the Catholic Church and what is called "science" these days.

It seems to me that a good philosophy of science would need
(a) to be against scientism, which Dodds summarizes as "methodology becomes ontology", or perhaps that only what can be described by science is real,
(b) to be against scientific realism, perhaps by adopting some elements of Van Fraassen's constructive empiricism or of Kuhn's historicism, and
(c) to be for an Aristotelian metaphysics.

Scott said...

I've just preordered it—and I clicked on the "I'd like to read this book on Kindle" link.

Anonymous said...

This looks like a book that demands to be studied.

I'm going to try to master the arguments in Lowe's Survey of Metaphysics before tackling this.

Anyone know of another good and succinct combination of books for those looking for a thorough education in metaphysics?

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

Thanks for the very kind words. I should clarify that the page count is actually more like 290 pages or so. (Amazon and publishers' web sites sometimes seem to plug in dummy page counts when new books are listed.)

ccmnxc said...

Thanks for the very kind words. I should clarify that the page count is actually more like 290 pages or so. (Amazon and publishers' web sites sometimes seem to plug in dummy page counts when new books are listed.)
Ah well. Still, less than a dollar per 10 pages for a book coming from an academic publisher still isn't too bad.

Scott said...

I'm imagining a sign at the bookstore:

Today's Special!
SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS
$0.82/page

William Dunkirk said...

Looks yummy!

My poor girlfriend is going to be jealous of a philosophy text... poor girl:

"Who do you love more? Me or Aristotle!"

"Sweetie I assure you this is a false dichotomy. There doesn't need to be any opposition here."

"Why can't you just speak English and watch sports like normal guys!"

"Sweetheart I am confident I fall within the definition of a normal guy. And I do watch sports. But if you don't think so, perhaps we need to define our terms."

"So that's it then? That's your idea of romance, sitting around debating definitions with your girlfriend?"

2,500 years of philosophical debate and learning and we still can't win in an argument with them.

grodrigues said...

@William Dunkirk:

But think of the pickup-potential of such a book! "My dear, you are the Form to my prime matter". And the cleverness in leaving out the substantial qualifier! Ooooh, I envision this book to be the most important one since The Definitive Book of Pick-Up Lines.

Scott said...

"That's what you think I am? A substance?"

Scott said...

"I can't believe I'm hearing this. Did you just call me a bad driver?"

"No, no, sweetheart! I said you have a lot of interesting accidents."

Charles said...

Between you and Oderberg, I have quite a bit of reading to enjoy...and quite a bit of strange looks on flights from those enjoying "The Twelve Desserts of Christmas", "What Would Jackie O Do?" and "Night of the Hunter".

Scott said...

"Baby, you actualize my potency!"

Timotheos said...

Don’t forget the lines from this post!

And to add some other great lines from philosophers past…

Pascal: Babe, you make me want to be a Jesuit.

William James: Let’s just skip the normal quibbling and move on to what we both know we want to do.

Thomas Reid: You and I ought to be together; it’s just common sense.
Averroes: You like to do [insert interest]… You and me are of one mind!

Bertrand Russell: This comment has been removed by an administrator.

mregnor said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you! I have read your previous books with fascination and you have opened AT philosophy to me. This book promises to be the best of all. Thank you for writing with such insight and clarity.

Please, if you can, bring it out on kindle from the beginning.

Mike Egnor

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know how many copies of Aquinas have been sold?
I wonder if it is only me and a few others who find this book and Dr. Feser's posts fantastic.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

I'm definitively getting this! (Preferably on Kindle…) And Scott, don't you mean $0.082/page?

Scott said...

@Kjetil Kringlebotten:

Whoops, I sure do. Thanks.

Good thing my intentionality wasn't exhausted by those physical marks!

Nubester said...

Scott, if your reference was to a certain philosopher? I thought that his book was pretty interesting.

How can any person have true beliefs if determinism is true?

Scott said...

@Nubester:

"Scott, if your reference was to a certain philosopher? I thought that his book was pretty interesting."

Actually my joking reference was just to a discussion that's going on in another thread or two about the (in- or otherwise) determinacy of the physical, a matter on which I'm on the side of James F. Ross and our good host.

"How can any person have true beliefs if determinism is true?"

Determinism is a very different thing from determinacy.

Scott said...

See here, for example. (Another example of the same confusion followed at the very beginning of the discussion here.)

William Dunkirk said...

Lol gents good stuff. Unfortunately we broke up tonight -and no, it had nothing to do with Scholasticism!

Cheers mates.

Scott said...

@William Dunkirk:

Sorry to hear it. Cheers.

Edward Feser said...

Sorry to hear it, William. Pour yourself a double Laphroaig, sit back, close your eyes, and listen to this.

BenYachov said...

Oy! Women eh?

William Dunkirk said...

Thank you Scott and Dr. Feser.

And Ben, yeah, the Yiddish captures it perfectly.

Dr. Feser, thanks for the link - the cover art is especially exquisite, but I am more Generation Eminem! :O The scandal. lol.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgT1AidzRWM

bitvast said...

Dear Prof. Feser, your new book looks great. I've read TLS and loved it, but I don't have any formal education in philosophy; are there any prerequisites for tackling the book? Thanks for all your work.

Jeffrey Remillard said...

Ed;

Can't wait. Love reading your books! Also, it was good hearing you on Al Kresta's show!

Jeffrey

Nubester said...

Scott, very good. Thank you for the links.

Scott said...

You're welcome. No problem.

Anonymous said...

I have a question on the defense of one of the premises of Classical Theism and the argument from change.

Part of the defense of the argument entails the proposition that the world is essentially ordered (as opposed to accidentally). What proof does the Classical Theist have for this proposition?

Anonymous said...

@Yair

I often don't get a response from atheists when I ask this question so I want to extend it to yourself. This is not an invitation for debate but rather a curious inquiry.

Can you provide a proof of naturalism/atheism? Or to make the question more neutral, is there such a thing at all?

Anonymous said...

Who needs women when you have philosophy?

Scott said...

"Part of the defense of the argument entails the proposition that the world is essentially ordered (as opposed to accidentally). What proof does the Classical Theist have for this proposition?"

More precisely, what's required is that for anything that is undergoing change, there be an essentially ordered series of causes that accounts for that change. Your question is then how we know this is the case.

The heart of the answer, as I understand it, is that even remaining in existence involves a sort of motion or change, because anything that needs to be brought into existence by an external agency also needs to be sustained in existence by an external agency. The underlying idea is that anything whose essence was sufficient to explain even its continued existence wouldn't need to be brought into existence at all; it would already exist.

Step2 said...

Who needs women when you have philosophy?

"Elphie stamped away. This was too much like her childhood, discussions with her father and Nessarose about where evil begins. As if one could ever know! Her father used to orchestrate proofs about evil as a way of persuading his flock to convert. Elphie had come to think, back in Shiz, that as women wore cologne, men wore proofs: to secure their own sense of themselves, and thus to be attractive." - Gregory Maguire

Anonymous said...

@Scott

More precisely, what's required is that for anything that is undergoing change, there be an essentially ordered series of causes that accounts for that change. Your question is then how we know this is the case.

But the issue here is why must it be essentially ordered? Cannot a an accidental series be the cause of change?

The heart of the answer, as I understand it, is that even remaining in existence involves a sort of motion or change, because anything that needs to be brought into existence by an external agency also needs to be sustained in existence by an external agency. The underlying idea is that anything whose essence was sufficient to explain even its continued existence wouldn't need to be brought into existence at all; it would already exist.


Why does it need a cause to sustain it in existence? I'll take the devil's advocate position and contest that. If it's in existence can it not remain so without an essentially ordered series and an original cause? What exactly precludes that possibility?

Scott said...

"I'll take the devil's advocate position and contest that. If it's in existence can it not remain so without an essentially ordered series and an original cause? What exactly precludes that possibility?"

I'll take the angel's advocate position in reply. The most common (and I think the most generally, though not universally, effective) way of approaching this question is to distinguish between causes in fieri and causes in esse, as George Hadley Joyce does in his exposition of this line of argument. You'll find the heart of the matter on pp. 62-63. Joyce puts it quite well and I can't improve on his exposition.

Scott said...

I should perhaps also make explicit that according to this line of argument, every such cause in esse either is self-existent or requires a cause in esse to account for its present existence, and that's why the series is essentially ordered.

Anonymous said...

@Scott

Much appreciated.This helps.

Scott said...

Glad to hear to it, and you're very welcome. This was a bit of a sticking point for me as well.

Anonymous said...

@other anon
But the issue here is why must it be essentially ordered? Cannot a an accidental series be the cause of change?

I'll take the chance to add that this is not an exclusive disjunction. There are accidental series of causes. But they are "compounds" of more basic essentially ordered series of causes. Parents are the "efficient cause" of the begotten child. But they are efficient cause only by analogy. Each step of the process (intercourse, the growth of an embryo, nutrition, etc.) involves innumerable essentially ordered series. We don't have to deny the accidental series, but it is not what we are looking at.

Anonymous said...

Who needs women when you have philosophy?

Indeed. She'll never let ya down, and she's got something for every mood.

Anonymous said...

@anon

'll take the chance to add that this is not an exclusive disjunction. There are accidental series of causes. But they are "compounds" of more basic essentially ordered series of causes. Parents are the "efficient cause" of the begotten child. But they are efficient cause only by analogy. Each step of the process (intercourse, the growth of an embryo, nutrition, etc.) involves innumerable essentially ordered series. We don't have to deny the accidental series, but it is not what we are looking at.

I am not questioning that. My concern has more to do with how one would respond to an atheist who objects to the fact that the universe is in fact essentially ordered. He would claim it's accidentally ordered and my task here is to find a proof that demonstrates that the universe is in fact essentially ordered.

Step2 said...

@Scott,
First, I would dispute that essentially ordered series explain any type of motion or change. Second, how is this cause in esse not a blatant violation of the conservation of energy?

Step2 said...

@Scott,
Sorry that should be "involve" any type of motion or change, not explain.

Anonymous said...

@step2

Why does an essentially ordered series not explain change?


Why do you think that it violates the conservation of energy?

Anonymous said...

@step2

Why does an essentially ordered series not explain change?


Why do you think that it violates the conservation of energy?

Anonymous said...

He would claim it's accidentally ordered and my task here is to find a proof that demonstrates that the universe is in fact essentially ordered.

It's not an either-or situation.

Anonymous said...

@Anon

What do you mean?

Георгий Манчхашвили said...

A quick question I really hope someone will provide a quick answer to.

Sorry to highjack this thread, but posting somewhere else wouldn't be as efficient.

I've been losing my sleep over this for an entire week now, and I think I'm going a bit mad, so I guess helping me out will count as a virtuous act/a good work (for those concerned :))

I've reread the 5th chapter of 'Aquinas' and the relevant passages in the Summa a dozen times now, but I just don't understand it. The most terrible thing is I remember that I used to understand it.


What makes it desirable to fulfill human nature?..
I agree that we do act for an end found desirable by the intellect and avoid that which has been found to contradict that end (and we don't pursue that which has not been found desirable).
We just can't help it, and it is in fact our nature.
And that which is desirable is being, otherwise it would not act as a final cause.

But I'm at a loss when trying to understand why exactly must the good (abstractly, not particularly) we can't help but pursue be identical with that which natural law calls good in an admittedly technical, objective sense of better instantiating some nature (including human nature).

I agree that the good (perfection) in the latter sense is interchangeable with being.
I realise that in reality we find the good in the sense of perfection in degrees, that there just are degrees of desirability (and of beauty, for that matter, to mention a somewhat less clear but traditional transcendental).

In 'Aquinas' prof. Feser writes that to act contrary to our various natural ends being aware of them would be irrational. Prima facie, to act contrary to nature is unnatural, but again, why is this necessarily evil (not good) in the first sense?

I guess my original question can be thus reformulated: why do we say that when acting for some good we are in fact seeking perfection of our being?

Does this mean that acting towards a final cause other than that of our nature is to act for no real reason, and thus this act would be irrational(akin to a sheer assertion, a statement provided with no justification whatsoever)?

Obviously, I'm very confused.
Again, terribly sorry.

To get by I’ve constructed a rather complex hybrid of A-T and divine command, but I can’t help but think it’s not at all necessary and though objective violates the principle of economy.

P.S.
Incidentally, we all recognise at least one of the natural ends to be good - rationality, somewhat axiomatically (for obvious reasons, heh).

rank sophist said...

Poster with the Russian name (can't translate it; sorry),

There are no easy answers to your concern. The idea that what is good is in some sense "selfish" (i.e. it falls into a eudaimonistic framework) descends from Aristotle and is accepted, almost without reserve, by Aquinas. But it was seen as heavily problematic by others in Aquinas's time. The solution that Scotus proposed was a distinction between the affectio commodi (related to one's desire for self-perfection) and affectio iustitiae (related to one's love of something for itself). The affectio iustitiae is a totally disinterested and arbitrary power that has nothing essentially to do with self-perfection. It is, as you very wisely note, a kind of irrational assertion. It's also interesting that you mention A-T and divine command, because it was just such a hodgepodge that Scotus presented.

I can't offer a defense of eudaimonistic ethics against Scotus's voluntaristic solution. It could probably be done, but I lack the knowledge. I just felt that I should post to let you know that this subject has a long history, and that you shouldn't expect a definitive answer in a combox.

Георгий Манчхашвили said...



@rank sophist

Thank you for your response!
I'm well aware of the magnitude of the problem, and I don't really expect a complete solution here, just some pointers, ideally, a book reference. :)

I don’t have a problem with eudaimonism, although I never quite understood why the formula “good is to be done and pursued, evil is to be avoided” should be limited to “your own good/that which does you evil”. Originally, I rather liked the idea that good we can’t help but pursue is yet undefined, universal, i.e. that which “is desirable” is desired by us, but not necessarily good for us specifically. If one could establish that we are to pursue good in general, not yet (!) discriminating between being on the basis of a specific nature, that is, to pursue all final causes (the final cause?), it would give a somewhat more clear basis for saying, for example, that it is moral to pursue the common good, rather than this obligation being derived from the social telos of man, because whenever I try to articulate the latter case I end up being a utilitarian of sorts and, inter alia, unable to pass the heroic suicide (altruism) test.
Moreover, I believe “selfishness” can be established here, given that the surest (the most rational) way to achieve the good of you (a being) is to do it yourself, because of our nature. I’ve managed to actually read that into St. Thomas (perhaps I was influenced by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, although it could have been just correlation, not causation, in any case, I don’t blame him). It reasonable, after all, as observing the fact that we do act for a desirable end will reveal that we tend to be “selfish”.

I’m driven mad by the reasoning I produce. An example:
1) We pursue that what is desirable (undefined, in general).
2) It’s desirable to pursue that what is desirable
3) In order to pursue that what is desirable, the intellect must present something as desirable, therefore, it is desirable for the intellect to do so.
4) Being rational is desirable (an axiom, really, but rings true)
5) It is desirable for the intellect to present that which is in fact desirable.
6) Everything that enables the intellect to do so is desirable (food, self-preservation, etc.)
7) Because that which is desirable is a final cause, it has to be (real) in some way.
8) It is desirable for the intellect to present a real final cause.

Here I conclude that pursuing something that is not a real final cause is irrational, because that would entail acting towards something which is not in fact a final cause. To act on something for no reason would just be irrational. We can’t help but act (that would include not acting as an act); therefore, it is desirable to find rational reasons for acting, so as to not act irrationally

Георгий Манчхашвили said...

Perhaps my mind is totally warped now, but the problem I seem to have is with establishing what a “real final cause” is. It’s tempting to respond that real final causes are objectively defined by nature (including our nature). But what if, say, I was to kill myself, an act clearly immoral according to Aquinas? There has to be final cause in that case, “seemingly delectable”, at least.
It would seem that the rationality of suicide would depend on the reason for it.
Why wouldn’t, say, absence of pain be really desirable, a “real final cause”? Because there’s no rational reason it’s good?

One of my attempts to defend the idea is built around the idea that we do pursue good and avoid evil and desire to act rationally, but, say, the intellect cannot in fact tell us what really is good. We then admit that creation is moved by God towards the realisation of final causes (given that all movement is teleological). God, possessing perfect knowledge, intellect and will, moves creation towards that which is in fact desirable, because He knows that which is in fact good (as opposed to hypothetical men), and therefore the various final causes God moves things towards are in fact desirable, providing a reason to find them desirable and act on them. But it seems the explanation is in fact much simpler.


I half expect this whole line of reasoning to be fallacious, but I’m past the point of hoping to resolve it all myself. :) Obviously enough, it all hinges on the goodness of acting rationally, but I’m yet to meet a moral skeptic who would seriously challenge that.


I’m somewhat familiar with Scotus’ voluntarism, but not very well. And reading blessed John’s own writings is beyond my capabilities, it seems.

Georgy

P.S.

Sorry for the name problem.
Hope I fixed it this time.

Aaron said...

Just pre-ordered my copy from Amazon.ca. Really looking forward to it. Thanks Prof. Feser.

Anonymous said...

@Georgy (at your 12:36 AM post a few back now)

The short answer from Aquinas is found in his treatment of divine goodness, where he sets up Good as a transcendental.

Our baseline definition of "good" is "desirable." This leaves us in the subjective or selfish realm you describe. The next step is where all the work happens, both for transcendentals and for ethics--a thing is good insofar as it is perfect, because "all things desire their own perfection." Now we have a way to talk about "objective" good--he makes them converge.

(If from here you run the argument through perfection and actuality from I Q4, you'll end up establishing Good as a transcendental. Instead you want to do the ethics)

This "all things...own perfection" is doing the heavy lifting for your concern, especially "own perfection." This is where you need to talk about kinds of things, natures, ends, etc., and goods being relative to the kind of thing under consideration. To answer your concern directly, Aquinas moves from observing this "all things...own perfection" in other living things and consistently applying it to us. What makes us weird/fun/difficult is that we can desire things that are not to our own perfection--precisely what it means to will an evil.

Much omitted in this short form, obviously.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Anonymous who was very kind

Thank you so much!
I'll be sure to think on this some more.

Then again, a minor issue: wouldn't the fact that people do pursue what is not to their perfection, that they will evil, in a way falsify that? I see my cat and notice that it does really seek it's perfection. But then I look at myself and notice that at times I'm not in fact pursuing my perfection, though I surely do act.
Or is it that simply acting, that is, actualising potentials, constitute
pursuing perfection?

Scott said...

@Georgy:

"Or is it that simply acting, that is, actualising potentials, constitute pursuing perfection?"

I think that's right, with the proviso that what we seek when we act may be only a partial/incomplete perfection and therefore an "evil." To the extent that we act, we pursue the good, although we may be mistaken about what it is and our actions may therefore secure it only imperfectly/incompletely.

יאיר רזק said...

"Anonymous said...
@Yair

I often don't get a response from atheists when I ask this question so I want to extend it to yourself. This is not an invitation for debate but rather a curious inquiry.

Can you provide a proof of naturalism/atheism? Or to make the question more neutral, is there such a thing at all?"

I believe I have good philosophical grounds to believe in naturalism, much like Professor Feser believes he has good ones to believe in AT. These include both a priori and empirical grounds; again, much like Feser includes some real-world propositions and arguments in his metaphysics.

Just for example: I adhere to a "Humean" or "Regulatory" understanding of causation (or explanation), which in turn leads to the position that the First Cause is a brute fact consisting of the fundamental regularity. In other words - much like the Aristotelian is led by his understanding of 'causality' to a cosmological argument from contingency that establishes a First Cause that is God, the Humean naturalist (like myself) is led to by his own understanding of 'causality' to an argument establishing a "First Cause" which is Natural, and in particular is not god (=atheism).

I believe there is a host of arguments supporting Naturalism - from Parmenides' arguments against change and the metaphysics of pure actuality it entails to evolutionary problems of evil. I don't know if any of them constitute "proof", but even apart I find many quite strong and together I find that they make a very strong case for Naturalism in general and against theism in particular.

I hope that satisfies you. I can't delve into specific arguments - too much ground to cover.

Yair

BenYachov said...

@Georgy Mancz.

I thought it would be cooler to call you Russian Named Dude.

But Georgy nice too.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to thread-jack too.
What do you guys think of this materialist sophistry?

""Meaning" is an equality comparison between objects, and an equality comparison is just a composition of logic gates which compute "this is that". So the meaning of "3,456" can have a large number of meanings. The brain learns by making associations between the "digitization" of sensory input. It associates one sound with that image with another feel and so on. Given the vast number of associations you and I likely have with the visual input of "3,456" it would take me a while to list even just a few of them."

Scott said...

"What do you guys think of this materialist sophistry?"

As far as I can tell, it's "not even wrong." Frankly, I don't know what the writer is even trying to say.

First s/he says that "meaning" is a "comparison," then s/he makes the puzzling statement that the "meaning" of something "can have a large number of meanings," and then s/he starts rattling on about "associations" without telling us what those have to do with "meaning." (Surely s/he can't be saying they're the same thing; a "comparison" isn't the same thing as an "association.")

Then s/he concludes by saying that since there are a lot of associations, it would take a long time to list even a few. Huh? There are a lot of numbers too, but listing a few doesn't take long.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,

There's more :)

"x wrote: Except that the thing behind your eyes is also a physical structure.

That's exactly right.

x: Continue the regress as long as you wish.

Oh, is that what you think the problem is? The regress continues forever, because part of the circuitry in your brain forms a loop. After all, a string of NAND gates can recognize itself."

Scott said...

Thanks, I'm full; perhaps I'll have some more word salad with my dinner. ;-)

Seriously: a string of NAND gates can recognize itself?

The bit about the circuitry in your brain forming a loop sounds like some half-digested-and-regurgitated Douglas Hofstadter. Even at that, though, I'm not sure what it means. If things represent other things by resembling them, then I suppose it would follow that everything "means" itself, but I don't know why that implies a "loop" or why "circuitry" is required.

Anonymous said...

Once again, thanks Scott. Sorry for the hijack. Here's the last bit:

"I'm not Rosenberg. I can tell you what meaning is, how it can be constructed out of digital logic and, by extension, neurons."

:-)

Scott said...

"I'm not Rosenberg."

Well, I suppose that's something.

(I lost any remaining intellectual respect I had for Rosenberg when I saw him, in a video on YouTube replying to Jerry Fodor, mistake a fallacy of affirming the consequent for a modus ponens argument.)

"I can tell you what meaning is, how it can be constructed out of digital logic and, by extension, neurons."

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your comments so far.

The exchange with this wrf3 crank is over here:
http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/02/an-irrationality-of-atheists.html#comment-form

No matter what this guy asserts that meaning comes from NAND gates. Evolution has programmed us. Oh well. :)

Scott said...

I've just had a look. Not going to bother with a second look. Sheesh. [facepalm]

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

The traveling circuits called wrf3 stopped here with his show a while back; see The limits of eliminativism for more intelligent responses to his nonsense.

Scott said...

Ah, thanks, Glenn. I didn't recognize the screen name, even though I see that I had some brief interaction with wrf3 myself in that thread.

The thread also confirms my suspicion that I was smelling a whiff of Hofstadter.

ccmnxc said...

This is a fairly off-topic question, but I couldn't find any recent enough posts that seemed appropriate. It is primarily theological, but also philosophical, so I was wondering if anyone had any thought:

Assuming I understand what the Catholic Church teaches, people can indeed be influenced and/or possessed by demonic spirits. I was curious as to how this happened. Specifically, if the demon would somehow interact or take over the soul as viewed on hylemorphic dualism. I'm not familiar enough with the concept of form to know, but would a demonic possession in any way affect the form of a person. More specifically, would there always be some visible change? Do we have any notion about how such an interaction would occur? Or would the demon leave the souls alone entirely and attack by some other means?

Thanks in advance.

Johannes said...

Given that the announced book deals extensively with the subject of the real distinction between essence and esse, I will take advantage of this thread to share the result of my recent thinking on the topic. Basically, I see that both positions on the subject can be sustained, of course not at the same time. It may be a situation analogous to that of Quantum Mechanics, where both Heisenberg's matrix mechanics and Schrödinger's wave mechanics are equivalent formulations, meaning that both lead to the same results.

I have noticed that the issue is based on different assumptions on both essence and esse, which I describe below. I will use the acronyms RD for the Thomist position of real distinction and FD for the Scotist and Suarecian position of formal distinction ("distinctio formalis a parte rei" and "distinctio rationis cum fundamento in re" respectively).

1. On essence

If we start from the definition that a real distinction holds between x and y, if and only if it is logically possible either for x to exist without y or for y to exist without x, then the underlying assumptions of both positions become clear:

The RD position is based on the assumption that an essence exists, somehow, outside the real entities that it defines, i.e. at least in the divine Mind and possibly also in human minds. As stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "the metaphysical essence ... is eternal, immutable, indivisible, necessary, etc."

The FD position of formal distinction is based on the assumption that an essence exists solely in the real entities defined by it, so that in minds there are representations of the essence, but not the essence. In the divine Mind the representation is perfect, but still a representation.

The key role of this assumption is clearly seen in this passage from St Thomas:

"Now, every essence or quiddity can be conceived without knowing anything whatsoever about its existence. I can conceive what a man or a phoenix is and yet not know if they exist in reality. It is clear, therefore, that being is other than essence or quiddity.”

FD response: what you conceive, what there is in your mind, is not the essence but a REPRESENTATION of the essence.

Thus, in the FD position, for an essence to be real, it is necessary that an entity of that essence exists.

Johannes said...

(Part 2 of 2)

2. On esse

Here the situation is paradoxical, as the FD position is based on using the concept of being (esse) univocally, while the RD position is based on using it analogically!

As the RD view on esse is well-known, I will describe only the FD, capitalizing the verb "to Be" for Subsistent Being:

- A creature is contingently, meaning from Another (ens ab Alio) and limitedly, both in its potential perfections and its time of existence.

- The Creator Is subsistently, meaning from Himself (Ens a Se) and in absolute fullness, without limitations in its pure actuality (and obviously eternally).

From that:

- The essence of a creature is to be within such and such limits according to its species, from Another.

- The essence of the Creator is to Be in absolute fullness, from Himself.

Thus, in the FD position contingent existence, contingent being is an aspect of what a created entity is, of its essence.

My point that the RD position is based on an univocal concept of esse can be readily seen in any Thomist exposition on the subject. I will show it using Leo Elder's 1993 book "The Metaphysics of Being of St. Thomas Aquinas in a Historical Perspective". Quoting from p. 177:

"Philosophers of a Suarezian turn of mind suggest that a contingently realized thing is simply contingent and that no composition is necessary to explain this contingency."

FD response: Correct. That's exactly what I just did.

"But in the light of the doctrine of act and potency this objection dissolves: being means realization."

FD response: There is Subsistent Being and contingent being. The latter means contingent realization.

"If one considers being itself, it is incomprehensible why a limited, contingent realization should occur."

FD response: That is because you consider being ("esse") univocally. But there is Subsistent Being, and there is contingent being.

"For being means realization. As such it denotes reality without any limitation; it is necessary per se, because it is simply realization."

FD Response: Again, there is Subsistent Being and contingent being. Only the former "denotes reality without any limitation". If you conflate both into one kind of being, that is your problem.

Johannes said...

Re my previous two comments, I've just learned that the RD position, although usually supported by the assumption that an essence exists outside the real entities that it defines, does not depend on that assumption at all.

I learned that from an article by the Spanish Thomist philosopher Jesús García López, which I quote translated:

"Creation consists precisely in this, in that God, at the same time that He gives being (which is the proper effect of God), produces that which receives being limitedly, that is the essence; and He produces it out of nothing."

This is compatible with the notion that in the divine mind there is a perfect representation of the essence, but not the essence itself.

Johannes said...

I've just learned that the notion that what there is in the mind is not the essence but a representation of the essence, or of the form, is completely against Thomistic philosophy of mind, as explained by Dr Feser in this article:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.ar/2009/03/fodor-and-aquinas-on-extended-mind.html

"For on the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of knowledge, when the intellect comes to understand some object, what this essentially involves is the form that makes the object what it is coming to reside in the intellect itself. It isn’t that a “representation,” understood as a kind of internal object or particular, comes to exist in the mind and in some way mirrors or correlates with the (utterly distinct) thing outside the mind; it is that one and the same thing, the object’s form or essence, exists simultaneously in the intellect and in the object known by the intellect. They are formally identical and thus not utterly distinct."

Another Thomistic source said just as much:

https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23608-thomist-realism-and-the-linguistic-turn-toward-a-more-perfect-form-of-existence/

"Aquinas holds (1) that in cognizing the intellect becomes formally (or structurally) identical to the things cognized"

So I speak to a hypothetical Thomist reading this comment (in the very improbable case that ever happens): most probably, you know fairly well what a lion is. Just as probably, unless you are a specialist on a field involving lions, you don't know specific detais about the species, such as the number of its teeth. And with 100% probability, you do not know a lion's genome, which is an integral part of its form as it determines its characteristics. Then, how can you possibly say "that one and the same thing, the object’s form or essence, exists simultaneously in the intellect and in the object known by the intellect"?