Thursday, August 21, 2014

Science dorks


Suppose you’re trying to teach basic arithmetic to someone who has gotten it into his head that the whole subject is “unscientific,” on the grounds that it is non-empirical.  With apologies to the famous Mr. Parker (pictured at left), let’s call him “Peter.”  Peter’s obviously not too bright, but he thinks he is very bright since he has internet access and skims a lot of Wikipedia articles about science.  Indeed, he proudly calls himself a “science dork.”  Patiently, albeit through gritted teeth, you try to get him to see that two and two really do make four.  Imagine it goes like this:

You: OK, Peter, let’s try again.  Suppose you’re in the garden and you see two worms crawling around.  Then two more worms crawl over.  How many worms do you have now?

Peter: “Crawling” means moving around on your hands and knees.  Worms don’t have hands and knees, so they don’t “crawl.”  They have hair-like projections called setae which make contact with the soil, and their bodies are moved by two sets of muscles, an outer layer called the circular muscles and an inner layer known as the longitudinal muscles.  Alternation between these muscles causes a series of expansions and contractions of the worm’s body.

You: That’s all very impressive, but you know what I meant, Peter, and the specific way worms move around is completely irrelevant in any case.  The point is that you’d have four worms.

Peter: Science is irrelevant, huh?  Well, do you drive a car?  Use a cell phone?  Go to the doctor?  Science made all that possible.

You: Yes, fine, but what does that have to do with the subject at hand?  What I mean is that how worms move is irrelevant to how many worms you’d have in the example.  You’d have four wormsThat’s true whatever science ends up telling us about worms.

Peter: You obviously don’t know anything about science.  If you divide a planarian flatworm, it will grow into two new individual flatworms.  So, if that’s the kind of worm we’re talking about, then if you have two worms and then add two more, you might end up with five worms, or even more than five.  So much for this a priori “arithmetic” stuff. 

You: That’s a ridiculous argument!  If you’ve got only two worms and add another two worms, that gives you four worms, period.  That one of those worms might later go on to be divided in two doesn’t change that!

Peter: Are you denying the empirical evidence about how flatworms divide?

You: Of course not.  I’m saying that that empirical evidence simply doesn’t show what you think it does

Peter: This is well-confirmed science.  What motivation could you possibly have for rejecting what we know about the planarian flatworm, apart from a desperate attempt to avoid falsification of your precious “arithmetic”? 

You: Peter, I think you might need a hearing aid.  I just got done saying that I don’t reject it.  I’m saying that it has no bearing one way or the other on this particular question of whether two and two make four.  Whether we’re counting planarian flatworms or Planters peanuts is completely irrelevant.

Peter: So arithmetic is unfalsifiable.  Unlike scientific claims, for which you can give rational arguments.

You: That’s a false choice.  The whole point is that argumentation of the sort that characterizes empirical science is not the only kind of rational argumentation.  For example, if I can show by reductio ad absurdum that your denial of some claim of arithmetic is false, then I’ve given a rational justification of that claim.

Peter: No, because you haven’t offered any empirical evidence.

You: You’ve just blatantly begged the question!  Whether all rational argumentation involves the mustering of empirical evidence is precisely what’s at issue.

Peter: So you say now.  But earlier you gave the worm example as an argument for the claim that two and two make four.  You appeal to empirical evidence when it suits you and then retreat into unfalsifiability when that evidence goes against you.

You: You completely misunderstand the nature of arithmetical claims. They’re not empirical claims in the same sense that claims about flatworm physiology are.  But that doesn’t mean that they have no relevance to the empirical world.  Given that it’s a necessary truth that two and two make four, naturally you are going to find that when you observe two worms crawl up beside two other worms, there will be four worms there.  But that’s not “empirical evidence” in the sense that laboratory results are empirical evidence.  It’s rather an illustration of something that is going to be the case whatever the specific empirical facts turn out to be.

Peter: See, every time I call attention to the scientific evidence that refutes your silly “arithmetic,” you claim that I “just don’t understand” it. Well, I understand it well enough.  It’s all about trying to figure out flatworms and other things science tells us about, but by appealing to intuitions or word games about “necessary truth” or just making stuff up.  It’s imaginary science.  What we need is real, empirical science, like physics.

You: That makes no sense at all.  Physics presupposes arithmetic!  How the hell do you think physicists do their calculations?

Peter: Whatever.  Because science.  Because I @#$%&*! love science.

The Peter principle

Now, replace Peter’s references to “arithmetic” with “metaphysics” and you get the sort of New Atheist type who occasionally shows up in the comboxes here triumphantly to “refute” the argument from motion (say) with something cribbed from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Physics.  And like Peter, these critics are, despite their supreme self-confidence, in fact utterly clueless about the nature of the ideas they are attacking.

Like arithmetic, the key metaphysical ideas that underlie Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments for God’s existence -- the theory of act and potency, the principle of causality, the principle of finality, and so forth -- certainly have implications for what we observe in the empirical world, but, equally certainly, they are not going to be falsified by anything we observe in the empirical world.  And like arithmetic, this in no way makes them any less rationally defensible than the claims of empirical science are.  On the contrary, and once again like arithmetic, they are presupposed by any possible empirical science. 

That by no means entails that empirical science is irrelevant to metaphysics and philosophy of nature.  But how it is relevant must be properly understood.  How we apply general metaphysical principles to various specific empirical phenomena is something to which a knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. is absolutely essential.  The metaphysical facts about the essence of water specifically, or the nature of local motion specifically, or bacterial physiology specifically are not going to be determined from the armchair.  But the most general metaphysical principles themselves are not matters for empirical science to settle, precisely because they concern what must be true if there is to be any empirical world, and thus any empirical science, in the first place.

Hence, consider hylemorphism.  Should we think of water as a compound of substantial form and prime matter?  Or should we think of it as an aggregate of substances, and thus as having a merely accidental form that configures secondary matter?  The empirical facts about water are highly relevant to this sort of question.  However, whether the distinctions between substantial and accidental form and prime versus secondary matter have application at all in the empirical world is not something that can possibly be settled by empirical science.  In short, whether hylemorphism as a general framework is correct is a question for metaphysics and philosophy of nature, not for empirical science; but how the hylemorphic analysis gets applied to specific cases is very definitely a question for empirical science.

Or consider the principle of finality.  Should we think of sublunar bodies as naturally “directed toward” movement toward the center of the earth, specifically, as Aristotle thought?  Or, following Newton, should we say that there is no difference between the movements toward which sublunar and superlunar bodies are naturally “directed,” and nothing special about movement toward the center the earth specifically?  The empirical facts as uncovered by physics and astronomy are highly relevant to this sort of question.  However, whether there is any immanent finality or “directedness” at all in nature is not something that can possibly be settled by physical science.  In short, whether the principle of finality is correct is a question for metaphysics and philosophy of nature, not for empirical science; but how that principle gets applied to specific cases is very definitely a question for empirical science.

Or consider the principle of causality, according to which any potential that is actualized is actualized by something already actual.  Should we think of the local motion of a projectile as violent, or as natural insofar as it is inertial?  Should we think of inertial motion as a real change, the actualization of a potential?  Or should we think of it as a “state”?  How we characterize the cause of such local motions will be deeply influenced by how we answer questions like these (which I’ve discussed in detail here and elsewhere), and thus by physics.  But whether there is some sort of cause is not something that can possibly be settled by physics.  In short, whether the principle of causality is true is a question for metaphysics and philosophy of nature, not for empirical science; but how that principle gets applied to specific cases is very definitely a question for empirical science.

Why the theory of act and potency, the principle of causality, the principle of finality, hylemorphism, essentialism, etc. must be presupposed by any possible physical science, is something I have addressed many times, and at greatest length and in greatest depth in Scholastic Metaphysics.  The point to emphasize for present purposes is that the arguments for God’s existence one finds in classical (Neoplatonic/Aristotelian/Scholastic) philosophy, such as Aquinas’s Five Ways, rest on general metaphysical principles like these, and not on any specific claims in physics, biology, etc.  Hence when examples of natural phenomena are used in expositions of the arguments -- such as the example of a hand using a stick to move a stone, often used in expositions of the First Way -- one completely misunderstands the nature of the arguments if one raises quibbles from physics about the details of the examples, because nothing essential to the arguments rides on those details.  The examples are meant merely as illustrations of deeper metaphysical principles that necessarily hold whatever the empirical details turn out to be. 

For example, years ago I had an atheist reader who was obsessed with the idea that there is a slight time lag between the motion of the stick that moves the stone, and the motion of the stone itself, as if this had devastating implications for Aquinas’ First Way.  This is like Peter’s supposition that the biology of planarian flatworms is relevant to evaluating whether two and two make four.  It completely misses the point, completely misunderstands the nature of the issues at hand.  Yet no matter how many times you explain this to certain New Atheist types, they just keep repeating the same tired, irrelevant physics trivia, like a moth that keeps banging into the window thinking it’s going to get through it next time. 

Of course, often these “science dorks” don’t in fact really know all that much science.  They are not, after all, really interested in science per se, but rather in what they falsely perceive to be a useful cudgel with which to beat philosophy and theology.  But even when they do know some science, they don’t understand it as well as they think they do, because they don’t understand the nature of an empirical scientific claim, as opposed to a metaphysical or philosophical claim.  Just as someone who not only listens to a lot of music but also knows some music theory is going to understand music better than the person who merely listens to a lot of it, so too the person who knows both philosophy and science is going to understand science better than the person who knows only science.

Vince Torley, the Science Guy

Anyway, it turns out that you needn’t be a New Atheist, or indeed even an atheist at all, to deploy the inept “Peter”-style objection.  You might have another motivation -- say, if you’re an “Intelligent Design” publicist who is really, really steamed at some longtime Thomist critic of ID, and keen to “throw the kitchen sink” at him in the hope that something finally sticks.  Case in point: our old pal Vincent Torley, whose characteristic “ready, fire, aim” style of argument we saw on display in a recent exchange over matters related to ID.  In a follow-up post, Torley devotes what amounts to 15 single-spaced pages to what he evidently thinks is a massive take-down of the version of the Aristotelian argument from motion (the first of Aquinas’s Five Ways) that I presented in a talk which can be found at Vimeo.  (Longtime readers will note that verbose as 15 single-spaced pages sounds for a blog post, it’s actually relatively short for the notoriously logorrheic Mr. Torley.)

Now, what does that argument have to do with ID or the other issues discussed in our recent exchange?  Well, nothing, of course.  But his motivation for attacking it is clear enough from some of the remarks Torley makes in the post, especially when read in light of some historical context.  A quick search at Uncommon Descent (an ID site to which Torley regularly contributes, and where this new post appears) reveals that over the last four years or so, Torley has written at least fifteen (!) Torley-length posts criticizing various things I’ve said, usually about ID but sometimes about other, unrelated matters.  (And no, that’s not counting the occasional positive post he’s written about me, nor is it counting critical posts written about me by other UD contributors.  Nor is it counting the many lengthy comments critical of me that Torley has posted over the years in various comboxes, both here at my blog and elsewhere.)  An uncharitable reader might conclude that Torley has some kind of bee in his bonnet.  A charitable reader might conclude pretty much the same thing.

Now, how Torley wants to spend his time is his business, and I’m flattered by the attention.  The trouble is that he always seems to think he has scored some devastating point, and gets annoyed when I don’t acknowledge or respond to it.  In fact, as my longtime readers know from experience, Torley regularly just gets things wrong -- and, again, at unbelievable, mind-numbing length.  (You’ll recall that the last blog post of his to which I replied alone came to 42 single-spaced pages.)  There is only so much of one’s life that one can devote to reading and responding to tedious misrepresentations set out in prolix and ephemeral blog posts.  As I don’t need to tell most readers, I’ve got an extremely hectic writing and teaching schedule, not to mention a wife, six children, and other family members who have a claim on my time.  For some bizarre reason there is a steady stream of people who seem to think this means that I simply must have the time to respond to whatever treatise they’ve written up over the weekend, when common sense should have made it clear that this is precisely the reverse of the truth.  In Torley’s case, while I did reply to some of his early responses to my criticisms of ID, in recent years I simply haven’t had the time, nor -- as his remarks have become ever more frequent, long-winded, occasionally shrill, and manifestly designed to try to get attention -- the patience either. 

This evidently irks him, which brings us back to his recent remarks about my defense of a First Way-style argument.  Four years ago Torley expressed the view that “Professor Feser[‘s]… ability to articulate and defend Aquinas’ Five Ways to a 21st century audience is matchless.”  Three years ago he advised an atheist blogger: “I would also urge you to read Professor Edward Feser’s book, Aquinas.  It’s about the best defense of Aristotelian Thomism that you are ever likely to read, it’s less than 200 pages long, and its arguments merit very serious consideration. You would be ill-advised to dismiss it out of hand.”  Fast forward to the present and Torley’s attitude is mysteriously different.  Now he assures us, in this latest post, that “the holes in Feser’s logic are so wide that anyone could drive a truck through them” and that the argument “contains so many obvious logical errors that I could not in all good conscience recommend showing it to atheists” (!)

Now, Torley is well aware that the argument I presented in the video is merely a popularized version -- presented before an audience of non-philosophers, and where I had a time limit -- of the same argument I defended in my book on Aquinas.  And yet though four years ago he said that my “ability to articulate and defend” that argument is “matchless,” today he says that the “holes” in the argument are “so wide that anyone could drive a truck through them”!  Three years ago he told an atheist that what I said in that book (including, surely, what I said about the First Way) is “about the best defense of Aristotelian Thomism that you are ever likely to read” and that atheists “would be ill-advised to dismiss it out of hand”; today he says he “could not in all good conscience recommend showing [Feser’s argument] to atheists”!

What has changed in the intervening years?  Well, for one thing, while I am still critical of ID, I no longer bother replying to most of what Torley writes.  Hence his complaint in this latest post that “Feser has yet to respond to my critique of his revamped version of Aquinas’ Fifth Way.”  Evidently Torley thinks some score-settling is in order.  He writes:

[I]f the argument [presented in the Vimeo talk] fails, Feser, who has ridiculed Intelligent Design proponents for years for making use of probabilistic arguments, will have to publicly eat his words… (emphasis in the original)

To be sure, Torley adds the following:

Let me state up-front that I am not claiming in this post that Aquinas’ cosmological argument is invalid; on the contrary, I consider it to be a deeply insightful argument, and I would warmly recommend Professor R. C. Koons’ paper, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument… I note, by the way, that Professor Koons is a Thomist who defends the legitimacy of Intelligent Design arguments. (emphasis in the original)

So, it isn’t the argument itself that is bad, but just my presentation of it -- even though Torley himself has praised my earlier presentations of it!  Apparently, the key to giving a good First Way-style argument is this: If in your other work you “defend the legitimacy of Intelligent Design arguments,” then your take on Aquinas is to be “warmly recommended.”  But if you have “ridiculed Intelligent Design proponents for years,” then even if your take on Aquinas is otherwise “matchless,” you must be made to “publicly eat your words.”  It seems that for Torley, what matters at the end of the day when evaluating the work of a fellow theist is whether he is on board with IDID über alles.  (And Torley has the nerve to accuse me of a “My way or the highway” attitude!)

Certainly it is hard otherwise to explain Torley’s shameless flouting of the principle of charity.  Torley surely knows that the presentation of the argument to which he is responding is a popular version, presented before a lay audience, where I had an hour-long time limit.  He knows that given those constraints I could not possibly have given a thorough presentation of the argument or answered every possible objection.  He knows that I have presented the argument in a more academic style in various places, such as in Aquinas and in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.”  He knows that I have answered various objections to my version of the argument both in those writings and in a great many blog posts.  Yet his method is essentially to ignore all that and focus just on what I say in the video itself.

And sure enough, in good “science dork” fashion, Torley complains that the examples I use in the talk “are marred by faulty science.”  Hence, in response to my remark that a desk which holds up a cup is able to do so only because it is in turn being held up by the earth, Torley, like a central casting New Atheist combox troll, starts to channel Bill Nye the Science Guy:

How does the desk hold the coffee cup up? From a physicist’s point of view, it would be better to ask: why doesn’t the cup fall through the desk? In a nutshell, there’s a force, related to a system’s effort to get rid of potential energy, that pushes the atoms in the cup and the atoms in the desk away from each other, once they get very close together.  The Earth has nothing to do with the desk’s power to act in this way…

In any case, the desk doesn’t keep the coffee cup “up,” so much as away: the atoms comprising the wood of which the desk is made keep the atoms in the cup from getting too close…

[Etc. etc.]

Well, after reading what I said above, you know what is wrong with this.  And Torley should know it too, because he is a regular reader of this blog and I’ve made the same point many times (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here).  The point, again, is that the scientific details of the specific examples used to illustrate the metaphysical principles underlying Thomistic arguments for God’s existence are completely irrelevant.  In the case at hand, the example of the cup being held up by the desk which is in turn being held up by the earth was intended merely to introduce, for a lay audience, the technical notion of an essentially ordered series of actualizers of potentiality.  Once that notion is understood, the specific example used to illustrate it drops out as inessential.  The notion has application whatever the specific physical details turn out to be.  When a physicist illustrates a point by asking us to imagine what we would experience if we fell into a black hole or rode on a beam of light, no one thinks it clever to respond that photons are too small to sit on or that we would be ripped apart by gravity before we made it into the black hole.  Torley’s tiresomely pedantic and point-missing objection is no better.

Anyway, that’s what Torley says in the first section of his 15 single-spaced page opus.  Torley writes:

For the record, I will not be retracting anything I say in this post. Professor Feser may try to accuse me of misrepresenting his argument, but readers can view the video for themselves and see that I have set it out with painstaking clarity.

…as if stubbornly refusing to listen to a potential criticism somehow inoculates him in advance against it!

Well, don’t worry Vince, I won’t be accusing you of misrepresenting me in whatever it is you have to say in the remainder of this latest post of yours.  I haven’t bothered to read it.

388 comments:

1 – 200 of 388   Newer›   Newest»
Anonymous said...

"For example, years ago I had an atheist reader who was obsessed with the idea that there is a slight time lag between the motion of the stick that moves the stone, and the motion of the stone itself, as if this had devastating implications for Aquinas’ First Way. "

Well, that wasn't me (I'm Christian for one thing), but when I first read an example of yours (I forget where) I had the same objection. I think the idea was to show that causes and effects could all be simultaneous and then you used an example where any scientist would tell you that they weren't. It's a well known fact about special relativity, for instance (and key to some textbook relativity homework problems) that there is no such thing as a truly rigid body, because if you push at one end of an object the other end can't start to move until a signal reaches it. We ignore this sort of thing in everyday life, where the push and the motion of the entire object would seem simultaneous.

I accept that all of this might be utterly beside whatever metaphysical point you might have been making--I'm the last person on earth to claim I understand metaphysics--, but it's the sort of thing that causes misunderstandings.

Donald

Edward Feser said...

Hello Donald,

Well, in that specific case, mistaking a metaphysical point for a physics point is only one common error. Another is confusing "simultaneous" with "instantaneous." I discuss that issue at pp. 146-48 of Scholastic Metaphysics.

Scott said...

@Donald:

"I think the idea was to show that causes and effects could all be simultaneous and then you used an example where any scientist would tell you that they weren't."

The confusion is understandable, but in fact you were implicitly relying here on a physical understanding of "simultaneity" that happens to be metaphysically disputable.

In Ed's examples, it doesn't mean "taking place at the very same dimensionless, durationless instant"; indeed, an Aristotelian account of time doesn't allow for the existence of such durationless instants. (Among other reasons: there would have to be an actual infinity of them in any apparently finite interval of time, and Aristotelianism rejects actual physical infinities.) On this view, such instants are mathematical abstractions, not physical realities.

And the events in Ed's (and Aquinas's) example are "simultaneous" in the broader metaphysical sense that doesn't require that they take place at the very same abstract "instant."

Perhaps even more importantly, though, their simultaneity isn't what does the metaphysical work in the argument. What matters is that each cause in the series (beyond the first) is instrumental and ceases to act as such when the first cause stops working. It doesn't make the slightest bit of difference how long it takes any specific cause in the series to cease acting instrumentally.

rank sophist said...

For once, I actually recognize the comic panel in the lead. A classic. Those early Stan Lee Spider-Man issues are pretty much unmatchable.

Scott said...

Yeah. And Ditko's style is unmistakable.

Skeptico said...

Mr. Feser, I think that you might have overlooked something with your talk of Act and Potency that might show you that it's not quite as how you think it.

The Thomist claims, "See this pencil? Well, there is potential for it to be in two pieces as opposed to being in one whole piece. But something actual would have to act upon it in order for it to end up in two pieces. This pencil itself cannot just, on its own, end up in two pieces."

However, the scientist who understands the subatomic world would say,
"Ahh correction, Mr. Feser. There are particles in constant motion within that pencil. Constantly, on their own, moving about... here and there... and here and there. At the meta level that pencil appears to be unable to actualize it's own potential. But right now, subatomic molecules are moving completely on their own... actualizing potential to be in this location and then that location and then another location. Even at the meta level, those subatomic paritcles could even actualize their own potential of a pencil being in two pieces and not one. With no external agent to actualize that potential for it."


Thomas Aquinas knew nothing of the subatomic world which constantly hums with activity. One molecule moving on it's own, actualizing it's own potential with nothing external to it "giving it a shove" so to speak.

Gary Black said...

Skeptico,

I assume this is a joke?

Someone tries to explain to you act/potency distinction by giving you an example of a pencil breaking. Then you go "Aha! but given enough time science shows pencils will randomly break themselves!" Please, please for the love of my sanity tell me you are joking.

Skeptico said...

No.
I'm SAYING that molecules are in CONSTANT motion without "needing a shove" from an exteral force that is already actualized.

And YES.... possibly, given enough time, with molecules (subatomic ones working at a QUANTUM LEVEL) moving on their own could lead to a pencil breaking on its own.

Nick Corrado said...

Suppose you’re trying to teach basic arithmetic to someone who has gotten it into his head that the whole subject is “unscientific,” on the grounds that it is non-empirical.

If you think that's bad, I once had a string of people who thought it was scientific. Listening to three people in a row tell me with perfect sincerity that, why, isn't math just like science because a proof is like an experiment? is really jarring. I felt like I'd taken a turn into Bizarro-world.

Gary Black said...

And yet you are missing the point. Clearly you are advanced in QM, so I'm sure this will clarify.

It is the nature of an electron that it is it's trajectory is changed by the presence of an electric field. The potential for this change in trajectory when this particular field is present describes a potency in the nature of the electron.

Or are you now going to tell me that really string theory tells us that is wrong and stupendously miss the point again (which is a point trying to explain to you what potency is not what an electron is).

Skeptico said...

Gary,

I'm talking even deeper than electrons; subatomic particles.

I never said that an electron doesn't do what you're saying it does.

My point is just that those subatomic particles that make up electrons (I'm talking about things on the quantum level) move on their own. Here one moment and there the next. And there's nothing that has to push them to move.


Vand83 said...

"And there's nothing that has to push them to move."

Why would you assume there's nothing there to push them?

Brandon said...

My point is just that those subatomic particles that make up electrons

I'm a little confused here; electrons are leptons, so they aren't generally taken to be made up of subatomic particles. So what are we talking about here?

Gary Black said...

Skeptico,

Just so you know, an electron is a subatomic particle. It is an elemental particle in the Standard Model. I picked it precisely because of this fact - that you could get away from your nitpicky details an understand the thrust of the example.

thomas_h said...

The pencil in your example is not a perfectly isolated system, but connected in multitude of ways with everything which doesn't constitute the pencil. Billions of particles or sub-particles dart in and out of it every billionth of a second. Don't you think they have been "pushed" by other on their way? Why not?

Skeptico said...

Gary, if you're going to pull this stuff don't be stunned when I ignore you.
I never said that some might classify an electron as a subatomic basement.

Here's an analogy for you: a basement can have a basement underneath it... It's called a sub basement. A sub basement can also have a basement underneath that. Guess what it's called? A SUB basement.

The particles that make up an electron are still technically sub particles.

Skeptico said...

I meant "sub atomic particle", not basement

grodrigues said...

@Skeptico:

"The particles that make up an electron are still technically sub particles."

Electrons are not made up of any particles.

Prof. Feser caricaturing "science dorky" types that "don’t in fact really know all that much science" and shazam! one instance appears at the ready.

Skeptico said...

Btw, quarks are more fundamental than electrons, protons, and neutrons.

Those three are made up with quarks. Quarks are what I'm referring to when I say sub atomic particle.

Vasco Gama said...

it is a skeptical joke

Gary Black said...

Skeptico,

You are wrong. Quarks do not make up electrons. They are not more fundamental than electrons. I have an MS in electromagnetics. If you can't be bothered to wikipedia it, you'll just have to trust me.

Chad Handley said...

Excuse this completely off-topic post, but this blog is my only contact with Scott, who expressed prior interest in my humble comic book.

Scott, because ABSOLUTELY NO ONE DEMANDED IT, Theodicy #2 should be available for order from Indy Planet in about a week or two.

Anonymous said...

@Skeptico

"Btw, quarks are more fundamental than electrons, protons, and neutrons. Those three are made up with quarks. Quarks are what I'm referring to when I say sub atomic particle."

No, electrons are not made of quarks. Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron#Characteristics , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Model or something like that if you do not believe it.

Did you really try to demonstrate the Feser's "Of course, often these “science dorks” don’t in fact really know all that much science."? :)

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Scott, because ABSOLUTELY NO ONE DEMANDED IT, Theodicy #2 should be available for order from Indy Planet in about a week or two."

Excellent news; thanks for keeping me posted. I'll order it as soon as it's available.

And, hey, wait a minute. I demanded it… ;-)

RM said...

When you're done explaining you're way out of your definition of an electron, if you could enlighten us as to what a 'subatomic molecule' is, that would be great.

Scott said...

@Skeptico:

Paraphrasing Stan Lee: You stick to the chicks, son. We'll take the science.

Luke Barnes said...

I started a long comment, but eventually turned it into a blog post. I you want to see a catalogue of how a modern physicist, despite his sympathy to the project, is liable to misunderstand Aristotelian metaphysics, read on.

http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/sorry-aristotle-and-aquinas-but-i-still-dont-understand-formal-causes/

dover_beach said...

Gee, that beclowning happened so quickly I'm inclined to think that the fix is in. Otherwise, just wow.

Alan Aversa said...

Re: the comic: obviously this guy isn't Richard Feynman. ☺

Skeptiko said...

I never said that an electron doesn't ever have a potential that needs to be actualized.

Let's move past electrons. I never claimed to be a scientist.

Let's focus on quarks. They make up protons and neutrons. And they do randomly change without an external actualizing agent. Such as when they change flavor. They actualized they're own potential.

Even with the pencil example, the fact is that there are subatomic particles that are moving. That dont require anything external to the pencil.

Do you seriously deny this? The pencil looks like it doesn't move, but, if you could see the subatomic level you wold see constant movement. Whether you want to mock my confusion with the electron or not.


Also, with string theory physicists claim that they vibrate completely on their own. So, that movement is a change, a potential that is actualizing on its own.

Skeptico said...

.... I didn't even read this post by feser. So I have no idea as to what is in it.

I was reading this link from 2009
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/05/act-and-potency.html

But since it wouldn't pay to put my corrections on that post I put it on this one being most recent.

Scott said...

@Skeptico:

"I never claimed to be a scientist."

You did, however, claim that something about science "might show you [Ed] that it's not quite as how you think it [sic]."

Very well; if it's not quite as how Ed thinks it, then there must be something in the science that makes it not quite as how Ed thinks it. So what might that be?

"[Q]uarks…randomly change without an external actualizing agent. Such as when they change flavor. They actualized they're [sic] own potential."

Did they, now? How does the scientist, qua scientist, know that that's what happened? How does s/he know, for example, that (a) one quark hasn't vanished and another one appeared (i.e., that there's been genuine change rather than mere replacement), or that (b) one actual part of a quark hasn't actualized a potency in some other part of a quark (as occurs in living substances), or (perhaps most importantly) that (c) nothing whatsoever external to the quark has actualized its potency? Can you tell us how all of those alternatives, among others, were ruled out scientifically?

I didn't think so. After all, you "never claimed to be a scientist."

"The pencil looks like it doesn't move, but, if you could see the subatomic level you wo[u]ld see constant movement. "

…of constituent (and arguably virtual) parts of the pencil, not (as you said yourself) of the pencil itself. So what? Precisely what in the Aristotelian account of act and potency do you think is contradicted by the parts of something moving when the thing itself doesn't move overall?

Martin said...

Skeptico,

I think you are getting hung up on the word "external," and that is understandable, since the principle is often worded as "whatever is changing is being changed by something else."

That is not quite accurate, and is why the technical language allows for more precision.

The principle is better stated as:

- a potency can only be actualized by something already actual

That could be something internal to the thing itself, or something external. It could be a state of affairs, a tension in the energy field, or almost anything. Whatever it is that explains the changes. Virtual particles pop into existence because of instabilities in the energy field. Actual instabilities.

And remember that this principle applies to the essence/existence distinction as well: perhaps the pencil spontaneously breaks in half, but its essence does not entail its existence, and so there must be a source of existence keeping the pencil in existence at every moment.

Crude said...

Skeptico,

While people are being hard on you here, I would suggest the following: if someone told you that 'science showed' that Aquinas was wrong, or even that 'science showed' that quantum events are random (in the relevant sense), uncaused, etc... consider the possibility that someone played you. Or maybe you misunderstood. Or maybe they did.

Skeptiko said...

"""The pencil looks like it doesn't move, but, if you could see the subatomic level you wo[u]ld see constant movement. "

…of constituent (and arguably virtual) parts of the pencil, not (as you said yourself) of the pencil itself. So what? ""

So what?

Seriously?
So what??

That's the entire point!
Those constituents of the pencil are moving on their own. I'm the one who told you guys that the pencil itself doesn't appear to move (unless acted on by an actualized source) but that constituents of the pencil are moving (something you didn't deny).

Those parts of the pencil that are moving are doing so independently of something external to the pencil acting upon it. Electrons spinning around a nucleus of an atom. Various molecules moving from one place to another.

Nothing you said undercuts what I'm saying.

skeptiko said...

""The principle is better stated as:

- a potency can only be actualized by something already actual

That could be something internal to the thing itself, or something external. It could be a state of affairs, a tension in the energy field, or almost anything. Whatever it is that explains the changes. Virtual particles pop into existence because of instabilities in the energy field. Actual instabilities.""


Okay....
hmmmm.

That kind of makes sense.

But what about an electron spinning around a nucleus of an atom? nothing pushes it around it.
Or, when it makes a leap to the next energy level.
Isn't it making that jump on its own??

skeptiko said...

""but its essence does not entail its existence, and so there must be a source of existence keeping the pencil in existence at every moment.""

You lost me here though.

At every moment?
THat doesn't make sense.
After I was born did my mother need to keep on giving birth to me in order of me to be in existence??

I have to be misunderstanding what you're saying.

I don't know what you're trying to say with something being held in existence.

Martin said...

Skeptico,

All very good questions. Honestly, the best way to do this is to forget the First Way, and study up on Aristotelian metaphysics. Feser's book "Scholastic Metaphysics" is more advanced than his other books, but it is, in a way, a prerequisite to understanding any of these arguments for God's existence. However, I can offer some brief answers.


>But what about an electron spinning around a nucleus of an atom? nothing pushes it around it.

It is just inherent in the nature of an electron to do that. That's just what it does, given what it is to be an electron. That "whatness" is its essence, or form, pattern, archetype, whatever you want to call it. The properties that make it an electron and not a proton or an elephant.

That "whatness" is distinct from the electron's existence. We can know what an electron is without knowing that it is. Physicists knew what the Higgs boson was, but just knowing that did not tell them that it exists. They had to go and search for it.

Since its whatness is distinct from its existence, then these are metaphysical "parts" whose combo needs to be explained. Why is the essence of electrons conjoined with existence (i.e., why do such things as electrons exist...), but the essence of unicorns not conjoined with existence (i.e., why do such things as unicorns not exist...). The essence of these things cannot be the cause of their being so conjoined with existence, since that would entail they would first exist (their essence would be conjoined with existence) before they exist (before their essence is conjoined with existence).

It's very important to understand that the words "first" and "prior" here do not mean temporally so, but rather existentially so. For example, assume that atoms have always existed. Despite that, quarks still exist existentially prior to atoms, since you could in principle have quarks without atoms but you cannot have atoms without quarks.

In these arguments we are talking about the being of an object, not its becoming. The cause of your becoming was of course your mother and father, as you point out, but the cause of you being would be the current air pressure, state of the forces in the molecules in your body, and so on.

So if something's essence does not entail its existence, it must "get" its existence from something else. And if that thing has an essence separate from existence, then it too must get its existence from something else, and so on and so on, "down" to the "bottom" which does not have an essence separate from its existence. I.e., existence itself.

Make sense?

Neil said...

The dialogue with Peter seemed like it was fun to write.

Ian said...

An uncharitable reader might conclude that Torley has some kind of bee in his bonnet. A charitable reader might conclude pretty much the same thing.

HAHA!

Martin said...

Yeah, Torley brought up the fact that Feser never says why God should be loving, so I (under the pseudonym "SingBlueSilver") quoted Aquinas' passage on this from the Summa. Torley simply thanked me for that beautiful passage.

...making it clear to me that his beef is with the Doc, not with his arguments.

Silly. Utterly silly.

Skepitko said...

I've never heard any of that before (existence/essence), but it is kind of interesting.

so something like a griffin has an essence; we all know what one is. But it doesn't have an existence.
In order for it to actually be that essence would need to be combined with an existence??

So humans have essence and existence. There's an idea of what it is to be a human and that is independent of human's actually existing. Like with the griffin - we have an understanding of what it is even though it doesn't actually exist.

That makes some sense. But what if humans essence and existence are the same? Is that just as possible?
We know that we exist and we know that, as a class, humans are different from other things that are not human.

Or I guess, why does essence and existence need to be separate in the case of anything that does exist?

Martin said...

Skeptico,

>But what if humans essence and existence are the same? Is that just as possible?

If something's essence is existence, then that thing is existence itself. Pure existence, or something purely actual (i.e., real, existent). Such a thing cannot have any lacking, because a lack is a "gap of non-existence", so to speak. So pure actuality would lack all potencies (potentials, capacities, dispositions), to put it in the technical terminology. And something that lacks all potencies is.... well...God. For the reasons why, you can try my attempt at re-wording a writing of Aquinas in modern, easier terminology. But again, it's best to study the metaphysics first before diving into the argument like I do there.

Eric in Hiroshima said...

Just so you know:

I ordered my copy of Scholastic Metaphysics on August 13 from American Amazon, and it arrived in Hiroshima just now.

So your Japanese fans are getting good service.

Greg said...

Four years ago Torley expressed the view that “Professor Feser[‘s]… ability to articulate and defend Aquinas’ Five Ways to a 21st century audience is matchless.” Three years ago he advised an atheist blogger: “I would also urge you to read Professor Edward Feser’s book, Aquinas. It’s about the best defense of Aristotelian Thomism that you are ever likely to read, it’s less than 200 pages long, and its arguments merit very serious consideration. You would be ill-advised to dismiss it out of hand.” Fast forward to the present and Torley’s attitude is mysteriously different. Now he assures us, in this latest post, that “the holes in Feser’s logic are so wide that anyone could drive a truck through them” and that the argument “contains so many obvious logical errors that I could not in all good conscience recommend showing it to atheists” (!)

Reminds me of someone else who accepted the cosmological argument "for a long time" before realizing that it commits an obvious fallacy:

I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.

(I assume there is no need to source.)

Viva la Feser! said...

From the penthouse suites in NYC to the deep steaming jungles of Cambodia, everyone will soon know the name of Feser.

Nick Corrado said...

Greg,

And to think he became a logician of all things.

Bobcat said...

The difference between Skeptico and shrill anon is like night and day.

Ismael said...

@ Skeptiko

Adding to the ideas of act/potency and essence/existence people already made above:

Thomas Aquinas knew nothing of the subatomic world which constantly hums with activity. One molecule moving on it's own, actualizing it's own potential with nothing external to it "giving it a shove" so to speak.

That is really no problem for Aquinas, since animals and celestial bodies also "moved on their own" in Aquinas time and medieval science.

Aquinas never said something cannot “move itself” (animals and people do when walking), rather they cannot be the “ultimate cause” or rather the “first (ontological) cause” of their motion. Humans walk by themselves, but, they walk because their parents had sex, they were conceived, they grew legs in the womb, they learned to walk and (if we want final causality as well) they want to get some where!

You really do NOT need to bring quarks and molecules into play, since as said above, clearly, even in classical physics, some things do “move by themselves”. The point is that something is that to fulfill a “potency” there must be something “actual” beforehand... and things tha move themselves are usually dependent in some way on other things.
Your capability to move yourself depends, as said above, on the fact that you were born... and you are born because your parents, exist (or existed at some point).

That is however ACCIDENTAL causality (A causes B, then B causes C... and so on until Z). Such causality could even be infinite or cicilar (i.e. Z causes A back again).

Aquinas himself wrote he could not prove the universe had a beginning nor did he build his arguments on that (Kalaam's argument states that, which was mostly held by some muslim philosophers and in part by St. Bonaventure and these days mainly William Lane Craig).

Rather Aquinas bases himself on a “per se” causality, which is more fundamental.

Let's say: you can exist if your parents cease to exist, even if they disappear from existence completely at the moment you are born.
Yet you CANNOT exist if a law of physics ceases suddenly to exist...

The laws of physics “cause you to exist” ALWAYS, and your existence is thus dependent upon them in a very different and more fundamental way than you depend on your parents existence. They are a cause “per se” as they say.

Your parents are a link in the chain of “accidental causes”, the laws of physics a link in the “per se causes”

Some some things can cause themselves to move “accidentally” (like walking) but cannot do that “per se” (i.e. being born or even just existing without laws of physics).

To not that accidental causes might disappear without no effect on what they caused, but is “per se” causes disappear, also what they cause disappears. Hence there can not be an 'infinite chain' or even loop of “per se” causes, there must be a terminus, somewhere, a first cause.

For more about it search Feser's blog, like:
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.it/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.it/2010/12/dreaded-causa-sui.html

Ismael said...

(continued)

===
In any case molecules and fundamental particles have energy and they are in a QUANTUM STATE.
However to change such quantum state something must happen. Their energy has to change or at least their quantum state, which does need some external cause (not necessarily at the moment of change itself though!)


Now, assuming you ever read a college level quantum mechanics books, let's make the simplest possible Quantum mechanical system, the "particle in a box" (or infinite square well).

There the particle will have a quantum state, usually a superposition of the so-called base “states”.


Sure the particle “is spread” around the box (or rather has a “probability density”, which is equal to the square of the wavefunction, to be found between the points x and x+dx) and other very peculiar properties alien to “Classical physics”, still, METAPHYSICALLY, the particle has that state and unless someone changes it (e.g. a photon is absorbed by the particle in the box, maybe an electron) the quantum state will be that.


Even a FREE PARTICLE that travels like a wave and (in theory) is spread through the entire space (in practice you usually have a wave packet...) has a “state”.

Same with a photon (or any object) moving at constant linear motion... it's a “state”, unchanged unless something intervenes.

Now the SAME applies for “vibrating or rotating molecules” and other phenomena.

I would say that Aquinas' (and Aristotle's) motion can be interpreted as a “change of state” (classical or quantum).

A particle in a certain “state”, even if moving through space, is metaphysically “motionless” because it's state is unchanged. (and since RELATIVITY we know that a particles in linear constant motion at least cannot really be distinguished from moving particles, it all depends on the frame of reference!)



IMPORTANT THOUGHT: the pencil will NOT break itself into two pieces without external cause!!!
Even if molecules vibrate, they are still bonded by electro-magnetic forces (covalent bonds between atoms in the molecules, van der Waals forces between molecules and other forces related to electromagnetism at quantum level), and you need to supply ENERGY (e.g. through mechanical stress) to break those bonds (which are also related to quantum states, but more complexly since they deal with many-body interactions and not one ideal single particle).

---

Ismael said...

(last one!)



Let's now think of “spontaneous emission”, where an electron (or other particle) emits a photon spontaneously or even radioactive decay (let's say Beta-decay, where a down quark becomes an up quark and an electron is emitted).

I address this because many atheists love these examples asserting that they are uncaused. NOT SO, however.

1- There is always a material cause present (i.e. the excited electron or the down quark)
2- The formal cause (for example the very properties of the nature of electrons and quarks that will lead them to emit)
3- One could argue a final cause but I will leave it aside for now (although the laws of nature in my opinion are simply a visible expression of final causality).

4- what SEEMS to lack, is an “efficient cause”... but only if we deal with freshman quantum mechanics, which does not deal with quantized fields and cannot fully explain emission (in reality spontaneous emission is more complex than what, an interaction of the electron and the electromagnetic vacuum field when in vacuum. When in an environment with other particles, there will be interaction with them as well.).

(regarding the so-called “four causes” please see here: http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/4causes.html)

In any case Aquinas,as said above, never denies things can “move themselves” in an accidental way (by a chain of accidental causes that is). People and dogs “walk” by themselves. Yet this walking depends on many other factors (eg. For walking you need energy and energy comes from food, which comes from outside the body, etc...).

Fundamental particles are more “autonomous”, but the same points apply.

An electron will emit a photon because in an exited state (and something outside the electron had to put it there!) and quarks in clearly “unstable states” also are there because of other causes (like nucleosynthesis in stars), etc...

---


And YES.... possibly, given enough time, with molecules (subatomic ones working at a QUANTUM LEVEL) moving on their own could lead to a pencil breaking on its own.


Even “working on a quantum level” you need to supply energy to break bonds.

If something DOES break by itself (or spontaneously emit like our friend the excited electron), it means it was put in an UNSTABLE state by something else... hence the breaking might be spontaneous, but still has a cause that lies beyond the thing itself!




But what about an electron spinning around a nucleus of an atom? nothing pushes it around it.
Or, when it makes a leap to the next energy level.
Isn't it making that jump on its own??


Electrons do NOT spin around the nucleus, that was Bohr's picture... Electrons are not particles in the classical sense (ie like tiny hard balls), but are more like “waves”.

I know it's difficult to understand... as a matter of fact NO ONE understands it! :D We simply do not understand what an electron (or any other particle for that matter) exactly is... we just know their properties and how they interact with each other.

That is why Feynmann said aptly: “No one understands quantum mechanics” (but we can do calculations and know things regardless).

Electron jumping UP energy levels (i.e. gaining energy) need some external energy source (e.g. absorbing a photon)... I already dealt above regarding “spontaneous emission”.

Anonymous said...


And remember that this principle applies to the essence/existence distinction as well: perhaps the pencil spontaneously breaks in half, but its essence does not entail its existence, and so there must be a source of existence keeping the pencil in existence at every moment.

I'm probably misunderstanding, but what about the "existence" of the essence? Surely an essence is just a concept - existing in our minds only - it has no objective existence, unless you're referring to Platonic universals?


Daniel said...

‘I'm probably misunderstanding, but what about the "existence" of the essence? Surely an essence is just a concept - existing in our minds only - it has no objective existence, unless you're referring to Platonic universals?’

Well, the essence of the thing is grounded in the particular and does require a mind to grasp it via abstraction. David Oderberg phrases this in the rather alarmist way by saying ‘If all particular instances of the colour Green were to go out of existence then so would the universal Green’. However, the idea of a universal qua objective logical possibility ceasing to hold is absurd (sub specie aeternitatis Yellow and Blue will always make Green) – this serves as the basis for a theistic argument called The Proof from Eternal Truths which was developed by Augustine and Leibniz and of which both Feser and Oderberg seem to approve. In a sense universals do exist and necessarily so, since they derive their PSR from within themselves. The question being whether they exist as free-standing abstract objects, which imply a ‘Platonic’ view, or are grounded in an eternal necessary mind, which is the view discussed above.

If we are on the subject of Essence and Existence I would be interested to know how Thomism answers the Scotists ‘What is Existence’ objection, i.e. if Existence is distinguishable it must have an identity, in which case it must have a Quiddity, which leads to that Quiddity requiring its own act of Existence and thus an endless regress. As far as I can recall Maritain and Gilson just answer this by contrasting arid sterile logicians being with virile Gallic existential being, which with respect is hardly satisfactory.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, thanks.

In a sense universals do exist and necessarily so, since they derive their PSR from within themselves.

But also, in a sense, aren't essences dependent on actually existing things?
True, such things as Griffins and Unicorns don't exist, although they have essences, but the essences are derived from parts of existing things. In order to define a Unicorn, for example, I have to first know that there are such things as horses and horns, and similarly for any other imaginary object. A purely imaginary object or concept is a composite or distortion of something actual.

The Irish Thomist said...

Note to readers of this blog "The Peter Principle" should now have its very own Wikipedia entry a la this blog post.

Any takers?

Daniel said...

‘But also, in a sense, aren't essences dependent on actually existing things?’

Sorry, should have related my mention of the PSR to the alternative that followed. That statement presupposes a Platonic stance of them as independent abstract objects, whilst in the second alternative, the Scholastic one, they ‘derive’ their PSR from the PSR of the eternal necessary mind (I say derive because the two PSR are not really distinct).

‘True, such things as Griffins and Unicorns don't exist, although they have essences, but the essences are derived from parts of existing things. A purely imaginary object or concept is a composite or distortion of something actual.’

Yes, they depend on something actual in that they are grounded in the necessary existing Divine Essence. In our case what you outline is more a matter of epistemic dependence rather than metaphysical: in our world a child needs must be acquainted with a horse or a four-sided shape before it can grasp a unicorn or a million-sided shape but it doesn’t mean the objective logical possibility of the former enjoys any priority over the latter.

Anonymous said...

If we are on the subject of Essence and Existence I would be interested to know how Thomism answers the Scotists ‘What is Existence’ objection, i.e. if Existence is distinguishable it must have an identity, in which case it must have a Quiddity, which leads to that Quiddity requiring its own act of Existence and thus an endless regress. As far as I can recall Maritain and Gilson just answer this by contrasting arid sterile logicians being with virile Gallic existential being, which with respect is hardly satisfactory.

Isn't existence for all things a participation in the power of God? Therefore the being whose essence it is to exist is the cause of the existence of all contingent beings. So in that sense, the existence which all beings participate in is no so much a God himself, but the power of God. I think Aquinas says somewhere that the primary effect of God in creation is common or universal esse.

I am no expert, but I remember reading that somewhere. I'm not at all sure how this answers Scotus.

Cheers,
Daniel

Jeremy Taylor said...

In a sense, for the Platonists, the highest essences do exist within God- or they are God. In end the all emanates from the One.

Central to Platonism is the great chain of being. To the Platonist any link in that chain cannot exist without those above it. You cannot have our realm of being without those above it - the psychic/subtle/mathematical, the imaginal, and the ideal.

So, in a sense essences or archetypes are ultimately within the One, for the Platonist, but, on the other hand, forms have separate existence for them in the created world. However, the Platonist would object to many stock characterisations of this belief, such as forms are abstractions and the like.

Daniel said...

Historical this is the case (though one is tempted to call that specifically Neoplatonic even if this is based more on teaching convention than historical veracity)though in contemporary metaphysics it's applied to any position that entails independent abstract objects be they Universals, States of Affairs, Numbers or Sets. I think it presents an array of extraordinary and extraordinarily fundamental theological questions.

On an aside what exactly do you mean by 'subtle realm' (higher contingent spirits?)?

Scott said...

@Skeptico:

"[W]hy does essence and existence need to be separate in the case of anything that does exist?"

Because if they weren't, then such a thing would exist necessarily and would therefore always have existed.

We know that's not the case for anything that comes into existence, so (e.g.) a human being must "have its existence from another" (rather than "from itself"), as the Scholastics like to put it. (That's also why, having come into existence, such a thing also needs a sustaining cause to keep it in existence.)

However, it's not the case that existence and essence must be separate for just anything that exists; in God they're identical. Of course that means He doesn't come into existence; it's of His essence to exist.

Charles said...

Hey Daniel! The debate between Scotists and Thomists on the real distinction of existence and essence boils down, in my opinion, to the difference between what counts to each school as a "real" distinction - Ed discusses this in his Scholastic Metaphysics. The tricky thing is that the Scotist has a point - existence, in order to be an object of thought, must be an essence of some sort, for the human mind conceives everything that it conceives as an essence. Consequently, we can talk about the essence of an accident, such as blue, or the essence of an individual, such as an animal. Further, a more powerful Scotist objection states that to make a real distinction between essence and existence would be to make a distinction between being (existence) and that which is not being (essence). But that is just the distinction between being and nothingness, therefore, etc. Another argument like this one switches existence and quiddity: for a real distinction to obtain, there would have to be a distinction between the quiddity of existence and the quiddity of essence, but then the quiddity of essence would have to be non-being, or nothing.

The thomist reply generally grants that yes, we conceive both essence and existence as quiddities, and in some sense they are, but they relate to each other as potency to act, just as matter stands in relation to form. The problem is that this response doesn't wash with the scotist or suarezian, because he'll just come back with the "real separability" argument: for a real distinction, the two terms must be able to exist independently of another, at least by the power of God. And matter and form can exist independently of one another by the power of God, therefore your analogy does not hold.

The interesting thing to note here is that the Scotist and Suarezian seem to argue in this vein: there is a real distinction between matter and form (on Aristotle's authority), real distinction entails real separability (logical doctrine), therefore prime matter can exist in separation from matter.

The Thomist, on the other hand, declares it ontologically impossible that prime matter exist in separation from form, for in itself it has nothing of actuality, yet it is really distinct from the form which stands to it as act, for the intellect attains, in the analysis of real things, a real difference of entitative principles, one of which is not the other. Consequently, for the thomist, a real distinction obtains in the first place between any two real quiddities that relate one to the other as act to potency.

Vincent Torley said...

Hello Ed,

Just a few points. You accuse me of writing "at least fifteen" posts criticizing various things you’ve said. You've written many more than 15 posts criticizing ID, and you were criticizing ID long before I ever wrote a word about you. Fact is, you started this fight. I'd be more than happy to stop writing posts in response to yours, if you would stop criticizing ID.

By the way, I still would say that your book Aquinas is "about the best defense of Aristotelian Thomism that you are ever likely to read." Nevertheless, I do think your cosmological argument for classical theism is full of holes. Why? Because you've aimed too high. You attempted a knockdown demonstration of the existence of the God of classical theism, and you failed. Why not have the grace to admit it, instead of sulking, and taking my academic criticisms so personally? That's immature.

Your latest response to my post, "An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God?" at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/an-aristotelian-proof-of-the-existence-of-god/ is cowardly, because it focuses on the scientific criticisms, despite the fact that I expressly stated in my comments on Step 5: "Feser’s distinction between linear and hierarchical series is expressed with admirable lucidity, but his physical examples of a hierarchical series are flawed." The flawed science in your talk did not fatally mar your argument.

My real criticisms of your argument relate to steps 8, 9, 12 and 13. There are logical flaws here, not just scientific ones. These are infinitely more serious. Why didn't you address these criticisms? You say that you couldn't address all possible criticisms in the space of a single talk. Rubbish. You had one hour to make your case before a sympathetic audience. You managed to refute Hume and Kant along the way, too. Why couldn't you take the trouble to get your logic right? (Yes, I've read your other articles; see my comments in the last three paragraphs.)

And no, I don't think 15 pages is a long reply to a 60-minute talk.

Vincent Torley said...

By the way, I will be away for the next 48 hours.

Anonymous said...

Now, replace Peter’s references to “arithmetic” with “metaphysics” and you get the sort of New Atheist type who occasionally shows up in the comboxes here triumphantly to “refute” the argument from motion (say) with something cribbed from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Physics. And like Peter, these critics are, despite their supreme self-confidence, in fact utterly clueless about the nature of the ideas they are attacking.

Like arithmetic, the key metaphysical ideas that underlie Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments for God’s existence -- the theory of act and potency, the principle of causality, the principle of finality, and so forth -- certainly have implications for what we observe in the empirical world, but, equally certainly, they are not going to be falsified by anything we observe in the empirical world. And like arithmetic, this in no way makes them any less rationally defensible than the claims of empirical science are. On the contrary, and once again like arithmetic, they are presupposed by any possible empirical science.


The analogy between mathematics and metaphysics has one glaring weakness: what constrains our speculations?

In mathematics, our collective ingenuity is constrained by the the requirements of formalization. How we write out the axiomization of a formal system constrains what we can and cannot say about it.

The problem is that there's no analogous constraint in metaphysics -- metaphysics is constrained only by our collective ingenuity to date. Of course that ingenuity is itself constrained by logical principles, but that's hardly much of a constraint -- much good literature conforms to that constraint as well.

In other words, the absence of a constraint in metaphysics makes metaphysics less like mathematics and more than literature than one might, at first, care to admit.

That's not to say that we should abjure from metaphysics, because we cannot. It is to say that we should be more cautious and modest in what we hope to achieve by doing so.

Anonymous said...

Why not have the grace to admit it, instead of sulking, and taking my academic criticisms so personally? That's immature.

I think Ed did a decent job of highlighting your immaturity, Vincent. It's pretty obvious that your criticisms of Ed are born out of having an ax to grind, and the fact that you opened up with "stop criticizing ID and I'll stop criticizing you" proves that much. What's less obvious, but illustrated by Ed quotes of you past and present, is the personal aspect.

Meanwhile, you're praising PZ Myers on UD. Why? Because he criticized Dawkins. Meanwhile, you write posts attack Feser because he's criticized ID.

Does that not strike you as absurdly petty behavior?

DS Thorne said...

Reading "Peter's" retorts reminds me of reading _Consciousness Explained_, where Dennett fact-dumps you with neuro-trivia in an effort, though perhaps unconsciously, to distract you from the fact that he should have titled his book _Consciousness Explained Away_.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

"You accuse me of writing 'at least fifteen' posts criticizing various things you’ve said. You've written many more than 15 posts criticizing ID, and you were criticizing ID long before I ever wrote a word about you. Fact is, you started this fight. I'd be more than happy to stop writing posts in response to yours, if you would stop criticizing ID."

Hmm, so Ed started a fight with you personally by criticizing ID before you'd ever written a word about him? And he can stop it any time he likes just by ceasing to criticize ID?

And this is somehow supposed to disprove Ed's claim that you have some sort of bee in your bonnet?

"I will be away for the next 48 hours."

I don't blame you. I would be too.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"In mathematics, our collective ingenuity is constrained by the the requirements of formalization. How we write out the axiomization of a formal system constrains what we can and cannot say about it."

Formalization constrains absolutely nothing. A Metaphysician, for all the good it would do (little to none) could likewise regiment a formalized language and an axiomatic system for his own purposes.

James said...

Vincent Torley:

"I'd be more than happy to stop writing posts in response to yours, if you would stop criticizing ID."

Sooo ... you'd be willing to stop criticizing Feser's defense of the cosmological argument if he'd stop criticizing ID? Am I reading this right? Is this a "Nice cosmological argument you have there, it'd be a shame for something to happen to it" kind of situation?

Anonymous said...

The worst part is, Ed hardly spends any time talking about ID. Usually when he does, it's because some ID proponent has demanded he defend it or comment on it.

Eugene said...

Re: The arithmetic example in the OP.

Doesn't Godel's incompleteness theorem famously demonstrate that arithmetic statements ("1+1=2") can never be proven with certainty?

If things so basic as arithmetic statements cannot be proven with certainty, then surely nothing can be proven with certainty.

So does this mean that Godel's theorem shows that no proof can aspire to certainty, including metaphysical arguments for God?

(note: I'm not confusing *knowing* with *proving*. I am certain of my subjective experience, though I have no means of proving that to anyone else.)

Chris said...

I read Mr. Torley criticism and I started to wonder whether isn't he right in his step 8, where he say that argument doesn't show that First Mover is devoid of potentality, but "that even if it has some unactualized potentialities, it doesn’t need to activate any of these potentialities when activating other actualizers." Is it sound objection? If not, why? (I have really hard time trying to solve it, because sth seems not right, but I don't really know what.) Could it be that First Mover had potentialities which practically wouldn't be ever actualized, but in theory could be?..... Hi, btw.

Tom said...

@DSThorne "...perhaps unconsciously..." Please tell me that was deliberate.

Al said...

The worst part is, Ed hardly spends any time talking about ID. Usually when he does, it's because some ID proponent has demanded he defend it or comment on it.

No, the worst part, at least for those of us who consider ID irrelevant or wrong on both philosophical and scientific counts, is that when Ed gets bogged down with it, he wastes time he could use to write something else.

I'd like to see Feser finish that thorough treatment of traditional sexual morality he promised a long time ago. I'd also like to see a post explaining why he chose Catholicism once he was convinced of the truth of philosophical theism. Etcetera, etcetera...

bitvast said...


Sooo ... you'd be willing to stop criticizing Feser's defense of the cosmological argument if he'd stop criticizing ID? Am I reading this right? Is this a "Nice cosmological argument you have there, it'd be a shame for something to happen to it" kind of situation?

Just having my morning coffee, and read this - more paper napkins please!!

grodrigues said...

@Eugene:

"Doesn't Godel's incompleteness theorem famously demonstrate that arithmetic statements ("1+1=2") can never be proven with certainty?"

No.

What the first Göedel theorem says is, very roughly, that for a formal system S satisfying certain technical conditions, there is at least one arithmetic statement that is undecidable in S.

The proof that 2 + 2 = 4 is an utter triviality (1 + 1 = 2 is really the *definition* of 2).

Anonymous said...

@ grodrigues


Formalization constrains absolutely nothing. A Metaphysician, for all the good it would do (little to none) could likewise regiment a formalized language and an axiomatic system for his own purposes.

Except that in mathematics, there are constraints built into the norms of mathematical practice as to what counts as a correct or incorrect formalization. It's not wholly arbitrary.

A metaphysician could, perhaps, attempt something comparable -- though I have grave doubts as to whether formalization even makes any sense in metaphysics, since it is a substantive domain of inquiry that must be conducted in natural language.

On these grounds, I think there's plenty of room for serious doubt as to Feser's principle contention here. He wants to show that the fact of non-empirical knowledge (as in mathematics, or for that matter ethics) is sufficient to show that the concept of metaphysical knowledge is not incoherent.

I dispute this, because we have a pretty firm grip on the epistemology of mathematics, and nothing comparable on the epistemology of metaphysics. The epistemology of science and of mathematics has generated a lot of insight into the constraints that govern these disciplines-- measurement and axiomatization, respectively. Neither applies to metaphysics, and that's going to push metaphysics quite decisively towards art and literature.

A metaphysician -- that is, someone who wants to claim that the products of their cognitive activity reveal anything about the deep structure of reality, rather than merely telling us about how we think about and categorize reality -- is going to have to give us some compelling reason to believe this. That is, we're going to need some very good reasons why what the metaphysician tells us isn't just anthropology.

Contemporary analytic metaphysicians have tended to avoid the question as to why we should believe that their conceptual analysis tells us anything about the structure of reality. And this is perhaps wise of them, since it seems frankly implausible that we have some special faculty of rational intuition, like Augustine's illuminatio or Calvin's sensus divinitatis. But that move is hardly available for someone who also wants their metaphysics to be consistent with our best empirical science, because our best empirical science includes neuroscience, and there just aren't any magic neurons.

Now, it could be that one of the major points in favor of Scholastic metaphysics is that it does address the epistemology of metaphysics, whereas analytic metaphysics tends to be rubbish on that point.

In other words, the epistemology of metaphysics is going to have to show how we have a kind of constraint on metaphysical speculation that is both non-empirical (since we are dealing with necessary truths) and also non-logical (since that constraint is too loose -- fictions are internally logically consistent as well), and how we can have knowledge of that constraint that's distinct from the constraints of science and mathematics, and also conceptualize that constraint in a way that's consistent with our best science, including neuroscience

It's a tall order, and quite frankly I don't see how it can be filled.

Skeptiko said...

Thanks for clearing that up a bit, Scott.

But you said, "it's of His essence to exist."

Maybe I'm missing the point in asking this, but why can't anything that does exist also be said that "it's of their essence to exist"?

If I see a duck, then that duck clearly exists. And that duck has an essence. Couldn't it be that the essence of that particular duck is to exist?

While with the griffin it's the essence of the griffin to not exist?

Anonymous said...

Other Anon,

Before we go on: so, you eschew naturalism and materialism too? Since those are both metaphysical views as well?

Anonymous said...

And,

But that move is hardly available for someone who also wants their metaphysics to be consistent with our best empirical science, because our best empirical science includes neuroscience, and there just aren't any magic neurons.

Our best empirical science doesn't include magic anything, or subjective experience, or most other things that we have beyond a doubt.

Consistency with empirical science is easy. "But science doesn't show we have what you say!" doesn't illustrate inconsistency. "Science contradicts you on this point" would illustrate inconsistency, but when the subject is outside of science, the problem doesn't even have a chance to show up.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"Except that in mathematics, there are constraints built into the norms of mathematical practice as to what counts as a correct or incorrect formalization. It's not wholly arbitrary."

I never disputed that; irrelevant for the point I made.

"I dispute this, because we have a pretty firm grip on the epistemology of mathematics, and nothing comparable on the epistemology of metaphysics."

You can dispute whatever you like; since I do not know what "epistemology of mathematics" or "epistemology of metaphysics" is, I really do not know what you are disputing.

"A metaphysician -- that is, someone who wants to claim that the products of their cognitive activity reveal anything about the deep structure of reality, rather than merely telling us about how we think about and categorize reality -- is going to have to give us some compelling reason to believe this."

That is precisely what metaphysicians do or tend to do.

The rest is just the usual warmed up self-defeating positivist nonsense for which I, quite frankly, quite bluntly, have little patience.

Skeptiko said...

I'm clearly out of my depths here.

Yes. I originally came here to be snarky. I read an old post by Feser that spoke of Act and Potency and, initially, it seemed to make sense but it also seemed to not account for what I thought was the case at the subatomic world.

I am no scientist, but mind you, when scientists talk about these particles they make it seem like they just pop in and out of existence on their own; move about on their own; change their nature (flavor) on their own.

I didn't think that that would still (in some way that still kind of confuses me) boil down to an instant of an actual bringing an actuality out of a potentiality.
I was thinking (possibly incorrectly) that those were just potencies coming about on their own.

I'm not saying I'm convinced that all of it does make sense in the end. Or how any of that would even show that there is a God behind it all.

I'd check out that book Scholastic Metaphysics that you've mentioned, but that seems a bit over my head.

anyway.... peace out!

Daniel said...

@Skeptiko,

No, neither the essence of the duck nor the griffin says anything about their existence or otherwise (they are contingent beings). For the essence of something to entail its existence means for that being to be necessary, logically incapable of being otherwise. For a non-theological example a good number of contemporary philosophers think mathematical objects and the contents of propositions to be of this kind.

Anonymous said...


The proof that 2 + 2 = 4 is an utter triviality (1 + 1 = 2 is really the *definition* of 2).

I thought it took Russell & Whitehead about 100 pages to get that far in Principia Mathematica?

Scott said...

@Skeptiko:

"Couldn't it be that the essence of that particular duck is to exist?"

No, for the reason that Daniel has already given. I'll just add that we know the duck has come into existence and expect that it will go out of existence; neither of those events would be possible if it were of the essence of a duck (or this particular duck) to exist.

As Daniel says, if existence were even part of the essence of the duck, then the duck would exist necessarily, not contingently. But in fact, the essence of the duck (left to its own devices, as it were) is in potency with respect to existence (as Avicenna and Aquinas held) and requires actualization by something external to the duck.

Gottfried said...

Skeptiko,

I have nothing to add to the discussion, but I wanted to thank you for your honesty and humility. It's quite refreshing, and a rare thing on the internet!

If you are interested in looking into AT philosophy I would recommend starting with Feser's Aquinas. It's less comprehensive than Scholastic Metaphysics, but is also a less intimidating introduction.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"I thought it took Russell & Whitehead about 100 pages to get that far in Principia Mathematica?"

Yes, that is true. It just does not mean what maybe you are implying it means; if you are going to start from the beginning, assuming nothing, building everything bottom up in painstaking detail and then in a cumbersome ramified type system, 100 pages (or whatever, cannot remember the exact count) is about expected if you are ever in a position to even be able to prove utter trivialities.

Assuming first order PA and all the concomitant logical apparatus, it is just:

2 + 2 = ((2 + 1) + 1) = 3 + 1 = 4

first equality by definition of + and 2, second by definition of 3, third by definition of 4. An utter triviality, as I said.

David T said...

-- that is, someone who wants to claim that the products of their cognitive activity reveal anything about the deep structure of reality, rather than merely telling us about how we think about and categorize reality

Yes. This is Kant, the only real alternative to Aristotle. Of course it applies as much to science as it does to metaphysics (since both are products of human cognition).

The problem is, after using Kant to destroy metaphysics, Kant is typically forgotten about and empiricists go back to talking as though they are investigating reality itself rather than mere appearances. And that is whom Feser is addressing - those people who think their science gives them access to reality itself (and not merely appearances), and who think it is successful as such without relying on any unspoken (or appreciated) Aristotelian metaphysical premises.

Paul Amrhein said...

I've been preoccupied. (My mom's with Hospice) So I'm way behind in this thread. I posted the following elsewhere here. But it seems relevant. Hope it's not repetitive. I had my doubts about the role of simultaneity in the proofs until the following occurred to me in the course of a different debate.

Case 2 stick breaks

(The hand moves the stick.) The stick hits the rock (action). The heavy heavy rock starts moving slightly (with the hand) and resisting mightily (reaction). The opposed forces on the stick exceed its compression strength. It breaks (resultant). What caused the stick to break? Was it the action of the hand alone? I say no. Was it the reaction of the rock alone? I say no. Was it the two forces acting together, that is, simultaneously? I don’t know what other conclusion is possible. The accent in this example is on the simultaneity of cause and effect. If either force were to stop acting, the stick wouldn’t continue to break. Here action, reaction, and resultant are simultaneous, or at least overlapping significantly (in time).

Don Jindra said...

"Given that it’s a necessary truth that two and two make four, naturally you are going to find that..."

That "given" is a begging of the question too. For those who like thought experiments, maybe someone will prove how a mind born in a formless plasma could ever know, a priori, that 2+2=4. Until that happens, any a priori or "necessary" truth claim is unsubstantiated.

"It’s rather an illustration of something that is going to be the case whatever the specific empirical facts turn out to be."

False. Empirical facts trump reasoned conclusions. It's the only way knowledge progresses. This is why the "slight time lag between the motion of the stick that moves the stone" trumps the so-called (and imagined) per se or instrumental cause. The reasoning simply does not match physical reality. The metaphysics fails precisely because it's shown to be based on a misunderstanding of nature. Nature comes first. Metaphysics is mere interpretation of, or a policy of how to interpret, the facts we find in nature. Without real-world examples of worms and sticks and stones, the metaphysics is vapid. Until that is understood, the metaphysician misses the point. But I think he does see the point which is why the examples are sought.

"Physics presupposes arithmetic!"

Physics presupposes a physical reality -- nature. It uses arithmetic to describe nature. The metaphysician is confusing descriptive language (math) with reality, like he's confusing what is with what must be.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

False. Empirical facts trump reasoned conclusions.

Exactly. That's why I don't think when I do arithmetic; I get out a jar of jelly beans and start counting.

Martin said...

>This is why the "slight time lag between the motion of the stick that moves the stone" trumps the so-called (and imagined) per se or instrumental cause.

Chrissake, not this again.

A per se ordered series is one in which there are secondary causes, which can pass along an effect but cannot generate it, and primary causes, which can generate an effect. The argument is that in a per se series, if everything is a secondary cause then there is no primary cause, and if there is no primary cause there is no effect for the secondary causes to pass along.

Good grief.

Martin said...

>Nature comes first. Metaphysics is mere interpretation of, or a policy of how to interpret, the facts we find in nature

You can find the refutation of this in the first chapter of Scholastic Metaphysics, by Edward Feser.

Anonymous said...

10@ Anonymous

"Before we go on: so, you eschew naturalism and materialism too? Since those are both metaphysical views as well?"

I don't eschew metaphysical views as such. On the contrary -- I think that having a metaphysics is almost unavoidable for us rational animals.

(I say "almost" because I'm willing to leave open the possibility that a bodhisattva or similar could transcend the need for intelligibility.)

The distinction I want to draw is between having a metaphysics and being entitled to it. If the anti-metaphysician says, "why is your system an account of the structure of reality and not just a parochial conceptual system -- why isn't it just anthropology or poetry?", it doesn't seem absurd to say that she deserves an answer.

So I'm not a positivist per se. It would be better to say that I don't think the current revival of analytic metaphysics has adequately come to terms with the positivist criticism of metaphysics. I don't think that critique can be easily dismissed.

The claim that positivism is self-defeating, for example, simply assumes what positivism denies: that it's not possible to reject metaphysics without also rejecting science. (Or is the "positivism is self-defeating" criticism more sophisticated than that?)

One key criterion on an adequate metaphysics is that it can account for its own possibility -- that's what I meant by "the epistemology of metaphysics". That is, we need an explanation of how we can have metaphysical knowledge, just like philosophy of science explains how we can have scientific knowledge and philosophy of mathematics explains how we can have mathematical knowledge. And the epistemology of metaphysics is going to have to be consistent with our best science as well as with our metaphysics, right?

I take that one of Kant's major discoveries was that we can't do metaphysics without also doing the epistemology of metaphysics. But I think that that methodological discovery is separable from his transcendental idealism. One needn't abandon realism by virtue of giving an account of how metaphysical knowledge is possible.

But we should take the anti-metaphysicial tradition seriously -- here I'm thinking of Sextus Empiricus, Hume, Nietzsche, Carnap, and Rorty. It's being revived in some really interesting ways by Huw Price's criticisms of analytic metaphysics and also in James Ladyman's scientistic metaphysics. It's certainly wrong but it's too important to be ignored or dismissed.

Chris said...

The claim that positivism is self-defeating, for example, simply assumes what positivism denies: that it's not possible to reject metaphysics without also rejecting science.

Could you show/mention at least one argument they give for this claim which would not be metaphysical in nature? It is hard to take them seriously instead.

A2 said...

The claim that positivism is self-defeating, for example, simply assumes what positivism denies: that it's not possible to reject metaphysics without also rejecting science.

You act as if that claim is just thrown out there on its own, and that's why positivism took an intellectual beating, which was somehow unfair. But that's not the case; arguments and reason and explanations were primary, showing why positivism's advocates couldn't get to where they wanted to go.

Anonymous said...

@ Chris:

"Could you show/mention at least one argument they give for this claim which would not be metaphysical in nature? It is hard to take them seriously instead."

Well, how about Carnap's argument that the distinction is drawn on semantic grounds? (Two relevant texts, easily found on-line, are his "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through the Logical Analysis of Language" (1931) and "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" (1950).)

Granted, Carnap's way of drawing the distinction between science and metaphysics relies on a verificationist theory of meaning that no one takes seriously anymore, but it doesn't seem to presuppose metaphysics in drawing it.

Likewise, Hume's attack on metaphysics is grounded in his verificationism -- that any statement involving existence postulates has to be tied to some possible experience that would entitle us to assert it.

Without showing that one is entitled to the assertion, there's no constraint -- one can simply make up whatever one wants!

Put otherwise, the space of metaphysical speculation has be constrained -- very tightly constrained if there is only one correct metaphysical system! And what are those constraints going to be?

Certainly there are logical principles -- but logic doesn't get you very far, because there are lots of logically consistent metaphysical systems. (As indeed there are many different logics!)

And the constraints have be stronger than empirical constraints, otherwise we're not getting metaphysical hypotheses with the desired modal strength.

So what are those constraints going to be? How is Hume's Fork going to be rejected? In other words, what's the epistemology of metaphysics -- what it is that plays a role in metaphysical speculation analogous to the roles played by measurement and axiomization (in science and mathematics, respectively)?

Again, I'm not saying it can't be done -- just pointing out that it's a tall order.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"How is Hume's Fork going to be rejected? In other words, what's the epistemology of metaphysics -- what it is that plays a role in metaphysical speculation analogous to the roles played by measurement and axiomization (in science and mathematics, respectively)?"

For the second time, axiomatization places absolutely no such parallel constraint in mathematics. Most of the times, axiomatization plays a definitional role and simply picks out the relevant objects of study. When a mathematician like J. D. Hamkins advocates a set-theoretic multiverse view we are, to borrow Joyce's happy coinage, in a funferall. A metaphysican, should he feel so inclined, can play exactly the same game by regimenting a formal language.

And I do not know what you mean by "philosophy of mathematics explains how we can have mathematical knowledge." There is simply no such settled account, for the very simple reason that epistemological questions are inextricably bound with ontological ones; or to put it in other terms, metaphysics is inescapable.

David T said...

I take that one of Kant's major discoveries was that we can't do metaphysics without also doing the epistemology of metaphysics.

He didn't discover this so much as dogmatically assert it. Which, it seems to me, you are doing as well.

Tom said...

@Skeptico: If you don't want to start with Scholastic Metaphysics (probably a bright idea), start with The Last Superstition or Aquinas.

The Last Superstition is a bit more basic and deals with a wider set of topics, but it also contains plenty of snark aimed at the New Atheists and modern philosophy generally. Aquinas is a bit more advanced and focuses solely on Aquinas, but is mostly straightforward philosophical argumentation.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat puzzled as to the resistance I seem to be getting to the idea that being entitled to a metaphysical picture requires working through the epistemology of metaphysics -- though I do accept the point that we also cannot do epistemology without doing metaphysics at the same time.

For one thing, it seems to me that the epistemology of metaphysics is necessary for answering the anti-metaphysical skeptic who poses the challenge, "what makes your account as one about the structure of reality, and not just about our conceptual schemes?"

I say that because answering the skeptic requires not just articulating the structure of what there is, but also articulating our mode of cognitive access to what there is, such that we have a (defeasible, fallible) criterion for distinguishing between cognitively legitimate accounts (metaphysics) and cognitively illegitimate accounts (myths).

I'm also puzzled because one might plausibly think that working through the epistemology of metaphysics is central to Aristotle's project and to Scholasticism generally.

As I understand it, hylomorphism is not just an account of what it is to something to be a thing. It is also, at the same time, an account of the kind of thing that a minded being is, such that a minded being can have knowledge of other kinds of beings. (This is particularly crucial in Aristotle's defense of direct realism in his theory of perception.)

The epistemology and the metaphysics are mutually supporting -- we have to go from epistemology to metaphysics and from metaphysics to epistemology.

Whereas the thought that we just do metaphysics, without worrying at all about the epistemology of metaphysics, is a deep structural defect (as I see it) of contemporary analytic metaphysics, and also of some recent metaphysics coming out of Continental philosophy.

I accept grodigues's point that formalization can play a strictly analogous role in both mathematics and metaphysics. However, that seems to raise the further question whether mathematics is constrained in any way that metaphysics is (seemingly) not. If both metaphysics and mathematics are constrained only by our collective ingenuity, then neither is going to get us very far. At least mathematics has practical utility that justifies the enterprise -- it's hard to see how the same could be said for metaphysics.

Again -- it seems to bear emphasis -- this is not to say that metaphysics is optional or dispensable -- but rather to say that it needs some rather spirited defense. Analytic metaphysics, at least, has been rather complacent about the need for such a defense. I hope that contemporary Scholastic metaphysicians do not make the same mistake.

David T said...

what makes your account as one about the structure of reality, and not just about our conceptual schemes?

There is no way to answer this question without assuming its answer. How shall I prove that my account is about the structure of reality, without along the way making some other reference to reality against which to judge it? Such a reference must undergo its own epistemological critique or beg the question, etc.

Your points about constraining math through formalism or science through measurement only prove that they are constrained. They don't go anywhere toward proving that math or science are about the structure of reality rather than merely about our conceptual schemes. To get that result, you'd need some metaphysical premises (which you can't get without a further epistemological critique, and we are in an infinite regress).

The "tall order" you require of metaphysics isn't just tall, but essentially insurmountable. (And insurmountable by science as well). If you assume that our thinking is only about our own conceptual schemes until proven otherwise, you're thinking is in a prison it will never escape, since whatever thought you use to try to get beyond your own conceptual schemes is itself subject to the same skeptical doubts.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"At least mathematics has practical utility that justifies the enterprise -- it's hard to see how the same could be said for metaphysics."

Vast swaths of Mathematics have absolutely no practical relevance; and justifying their pursuit by their *eventual* practical relevance is just the operation of the power of wishful thinking. Although it is a mysterious and serendipitous fact that large swaths do end up having practical relevance.

Crude said...

Grod,

Vast swaths of Mathematics have absolutely no practical relevance; and justifying their pursuit by their *eventual* practical relevance is just the operation of the power of wishful thinking.

I think the same can be said for a good amount of science. Not to mention archaeology.

David T said...

Should knowledge be pursued for its own sake, or is its pursuit only justified insofar as it issues in practical results? The answer to this question will tell you whether you are a classical or modern philosopher.

Anonymous said...

The epistemology and the metaphysics are mutually supporting -- we have to go from epistemology to metaphysics and from metaphysics to epistemology.

I have been reading Etienne Gilson's Methodical Realism: A Handbook for Beginning Realists. I like his point that being is prior to thought. For him, we first start to know things. Knowledge is primary. Not thought. We only start to think once we have things to think about. When we ground metaphysics in the nature of being itself, we are on a sure foundation. How do we know we have access to being? For Gilson, when we ask that question, we are falling into the idealist trap of expecting a justification for being from thought itself. Some kind of guarantee of the reality of things from thought itself. Which is impossible since thought derives from and presupposes the very thing we are trying to prove.

Cheers,
Daniel

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,

The subtle realm, or realms, is the psychic and mathematical realms. In some New Age and other writings it is sometimes called the astral realm.

It is essentially those realms of being directly above ours in Platonic doctrine. These realms are individual and formal but less determined than the corporeal realm. The subtle realm is the realm of the soul, including the world soul. It is, in Platonic thought, associated, as well, with mathematical entities, because these are subject to multiplicity in a way forms are not, but are not material or corporeal.

The Wikipedia entry refers to this realm of being as the astral plane:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plane_(esotericism)#Astral_plane

This is a valid term, but it is especially used by occultists and New Age figures.



Tom said...

@grodrigues: And if metaphysics leads to the conclusion that there is or isn't a God, or what is morally right, it's certainly relevant to humanity's daily lives.

The Irish Thomist said...

@James

LOLed when I read;
"Nice cosmological argument you have there, it'd be a shame for something to happen to it"

Yes that seems to be what VT is doing without even realizing it.

@Vincent Torley

A bit more Christian charity in your attacks on Ed and he might get the chance to hold fire (cut the volume and beef up the content). I, like Ed , think it is more the overstating of claims in ID based on a purely mechanistic conception of nature devoid of a philosophical framework that supports it since it is actually those considerations doing the underlying hard work.

I put it to you to open up the floor among IDers to reformulate ID along Aristotelian-Thomistic lines. Until then this is going to go on and on. Most Thomistic thinkers have criticism for ID and likely have written about it - why single out Edward Feser again and again anyway?

If I have fallen short in charity myself and not bitten my tongue I apologize and am open to correction from a third person.

The Irish Thomist said...

@Skeptiko

Just to add to what Gottfried was saying. You are a rare example of someone who is actually open minded among a group (atheists et al) who usually only claim to be (although I am not saying they all are not, that would be an error). To see the truth where it is to be found is really the 'point' in being both open minded and 'free-thinking'.

Alan Fox said...

Crude:

[quoting grodruiges]Vast swaths of Mathematics have absolutely no practical relevance; and justifying their pursuit by their *eventual* practical relevance is just the operation of the power of wishful thinking.

I think the same can be said for a good amount of science. Not to mention archaeology.


Amateur philosophers living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Daniel said...

@Jeremy,

Thank you. I misread your earlier post as implying that ‘psychic/subtle/mathematical’ were representative of a hierarchy as opposed to being synonymous.

@Charles, thanks for the in-depth reply. I knew in passing of the relation between a purported criterion of the Real Distinction being physical separability and the awkward issue of actually existing Prime Matter through Peter's King's article in the Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus (for some reason I seem to recall Leibniz also held something similar).

I think the negative arguments Thomists give for the Real Distinction are powerful and persuasive, but they pass into murky when it comes to giving a positive account of Existence, particularly with regards to Identity.

One way which suggests itself would be enlarging the extension of the term Being, a concept which cannot be defined in relation anything more fundamental, beyond concrete Existence to in some sense include Possibles as degrees of Being (since Being and Existence would no longer be synonymous the Law of the Excluded Middle would remain intact), however it would conflict with the Actualism central to Thomist metaphysics. Alternatively the route which some Neo-scholastics like Coffey take by saying that since Existence is related to Being it too cannot be defined in terms of anything more fundamental (to do so is to commit a category mistake), which at least explains why the problems occur even if it does not answer them.

Daniel said...

P.S. I am not happy with the way I phrased that talk of Being and Existence back there.

On a different note all this talk of 'Practical consequences' and 'Logic only being valid within the universe' i.e. not being valid at all seems to occasion this:

http://www.olavodecarvalho.org/traducoes/mr_rorty_animal.htm

It also explains why J.H. Sobel and other professional atheist philosophers of that calibre will never be popular with their contemporaries.

Chris said...

I have question to the First Way. Is it possible that First Mover could have potentialities which would not be needed to actualize anything else and in practice First Mover potentialities would never be actualized? In short, could FM not be Pure Actuality? It seems to me that it is possible, but if it's so it would have ruining consequences for First Way.

Don Jindra said...

Martin,

"A per se ordered series is one in which there are secondary causes, which can pass along an effect but cannot generate it, and primary causes, which can generate an effect."

I like that definition. If the stick pushes against a two ton rock, the rock would seem to have considerable power of its own. After all, it resists the "primary" force trying to move it. Likewise the stick would seem to have considerable power to keep its shape regardless of the forces applied to both ends. Even a pebble has a certain power to resist movement. Newton's Third Law of Motion applies beautifully to all three members of the chain. Everything has a kind of power of its own. So the elusive per se chain remains elusive. Thanks for setting me straight.

Btw, there's no need for you to defend the indefensible. Feser admits the analogy is for illustrative purposes only. Yet he also admits the distinction between per se and per accidens is crucial. Only one question remains. Is it wise to illustrate so crucial a distinction with an analogy that fails to demonstrate that distinction? I think this question warrants another of Feser's distinctions and I'll frame a further question in his terms. If per se can be imagined yet not conceived, is a proof of God that depends on this per se/per accidens distinction likewise imagined rather than conceived?

Anonymous said...

I think the flute analogy demonstrates the distinction just fine. Can an ordinary flute make music without a musician? No, it can't. Note, this is different from asking whether sound waves will continue to propagate after the musician stops playing.

Any attempt to describe the process of a musician playing a flute in terms of accidental causes does not change the fact that the flute can not generate music on its own.

Martin said...

Chris,

>Is it possible that First Mover could have potentialities which would not be needed to actualize anything else and in practice First Mover potentialities would never be actualized?

There are several reasons why it can't. For one thing, think of it with the neo-Platonic perspective. The first mover is the first being, the most fundamental thing that exists. It can't have parts, because parts are prior to the whole and there is nothing prior to the first mover. So if it were composed of act and potency, it would consist of two principles. So it must only consist of one principle. Thus, it is pure act.

There are several other reasons as well. Feser addresses some in his book Aquinas. And Thomas addresses some here and here.

Martin said...

Don Jindra,

>If the stick pushes against a two ton rock, the rock would seem to have considerable power of its own.

This does nothing to refute the point: that if a causal power is derived, it has to be derived from something. It makes no sense to say that it is A) derived, and B) not derived from anything.

Chris said...

Thanks Martin, I think I understand now. It seems that there is a lot to learn about metaphysics from Thomas and his squadrons for me. It is a thrilling perspective :) .

Crude said...

Amateur philosophers living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Cultists of Gnu shouldn't act as if their advice has value. ;)

Edward Feser said...

Hello Chris,

That is an objection I explicitly address at pp. 74-76 of my book Aquinas. Keep in mind that as I develop the argument, we move from explaining the changes things exhibit to the existence at any moment of those things. Hence when we get to the first cause, what we're talking about is the first cause of their being sustained in existence. And that means that the question on the table is whether, with respect to its existence, the first cause could have any potency. If so, then either something else actualizes that potency relevant to its existing, in which case we haven't stopped the regress of actualizers of existence after all; or some purely actual part of it actualizes the potency, in which case this part is the true first cause. (Aristotle and Aquinas make a similar point in some of their versions of the argument.)

Notice, by the way, that since Torley tells us that he is "not claiming... that Aquinas’ cosmological argument is invalid" and that he "consider it to be a deeply insightful argument," he presumably thinks himself that there is a way to respond to the objection in question. And since he has also read my Aquinas book (whose defense of Aquinas's Five Ways he calls "matchless"), he should know that I had responded to that objection there, and thus he should have taken that into account when commenting on my lecture.

But of course, Torley was not interested in a dispassionate and fair-minded assessment of that lecture, but only in a pathetic exercise in score-settling. That was clear enough already, but his embarrassing remarks here in the combox only reinforce the judgment.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

I can't improve on what others have already said above in reply to your latest tantrum. I'll just add a response to this:

My real criticisms of your argument relate to steps 8, 9, 12 and 13. There are logical flaws here, not just scientific ones. These are infinitely more serious. Why didn't you address these criticisms?

Once again you amaze in your inability to read. I already said, in the original post, that I did not bother reading your whole essay, which is why I didn't respond to everything you say there. After reading the first part and seeing that it was manifestly motivated by personal pique and that your first move was to trot out the stupid "your physics is faulty" objection that I've already answered many times, it seemed clear enough that it was not worth reading the rest. And judging from the examples of your other criticisms cited by Martin and Chris above, it seems I was right.

Anonymous said...

The "tall order" you require of metaphysics isn't just tall, but essentially insurmountable. (And insurmountable by science as well). If you assume that our thinking is only about our own conceptual schemes until proven otherwise, you're thinking is in a prison it will never escape, since whatever thought you use to try to get beyond your own conceptual schemes is itself subject to the same skeptical doubts.

I like the objection, but a few comments are in order here.

Though it is true that some kind of metaphysical realism is required to get science off the ground, there's no reason to believe that it must be as demanding as Scholastic realism. A much less demanding realism will work quite well.

Specifically, one can begin with a transcendental argument for minimal realism, as Ken Westphal and Sami Pihlstrom have shown. The distinctive kind of self-consciousness that the Cartesian skeptic accepts is interdependent with consciousness of objects.

This yields the weakly transcendental conclusion that we have the kind of conceptual and perceptual capacities and incapacities such that we are capable of (1) detecting regularities and irregularities; (2) intervening with regard to those regularities and irregularities, and (3) revising the conceptual frameworks on the basis of those interventions.

On that basis, we can justify a fallible yet corrigible direct realism about spatio-temporal particulars and a critical realism about perceptual objects. That applies across the board to all substantive judgments, i.e. judgments made in informal domains.

What is distinctive about science is that the disciplinary norms of science function as an iterated filter mechanism for removing judgments more likely to be false. We "triangulate" on objective reality at different levels -- in conducting a single experiment or field observation, in discussing our theories with others, and in revising the theories of previous generations.

On this basis, we can be as confident as any finite, embodied, fallibilistic inquirers can possibly be that our empirically well-confirmed scientific theories are about the objective structures of reality.

This gives science a privileged epistemic position with regard to empirical objective reality -- the actual world. By contrast, logic alone tells us what must be the case in all possible worlds, or in none of them.

(This is made a bit trickier by the fact that there's more one logical system, so the class of "all possible worlds" varies in cardinality from logic to logic. Presumably the class of all possible worlds under paraconsistent logic is going to have a different cardinality than in classical logic.)

So it's still unclear to me what's going to function as the disciplinary norms that govern metaphysical speculation. In science, we can be highly confident that our successful theories are about the world because they have survived iterations of testing against the world. That gives us very good reasons for holding that our best scientific theories are not merely the projections of our conceptual schemes -- in part because we can and do revise our theories in light of experience, and in part because we have transcendental arguments to show that there is no epistemic barrier between thought and world.

If there's anything comparable to that process in metaphysical speculation, I can't tell what it is. And a metaphysics that is not any more constrained that any logical system is not going to be very interesting, since there won't be anything to distinguish such a system from a work of fiction.

In short, one can be a scientific realist while still being a skeptic about any metaphysics more demanding than the minimal realism required to get science off the ground.

Nick Corrado said...

Don Jindra,

Clearly a stick doesn't have the causal power to move such a heavy rock. What does that have to do with Feser's example, where the rock is light enough to be pushed?

Mr. Green said...

Don Jindra: If per se can be imagined yet not conceived,

That’s nonsense. There are things that can be conceived but not imagined, but nothing that can be imagined yet not conceived.

is a proof of God that depends on this per se/per accidens distinction likewise imagined rather than conceived?

Sigh. It’s amazing to me how disturbed some people can get by this example. The example is deliberately simplified because an example that is more complicated than the thing being illustrated is not very helpful. The problem isn’t noting that the example is simplified — anyone who understands the point is free to translate it into a more detailed and accurate statement of the physics — but rather that the folks getting their knickers in a twist are those who cannot even understand the simplified example in the first place!

Anonymous said...

You do know Don Jindra is a notorious troll right? He has little grasp of any of these issues, but he disagrees with theism because he believes it has possible political implications and will just throw up whatever half-baked objections he can.

You will get more out of Alan Fox.

David T said...

This yields the weakly transcendental conclusion that we have the kind of conceptual and perceptual capacities and incapacities such that we are capable of (1) detecting regularities and irregularities; (2) intervening with regard to those regularities and irregularities, and (3) revising the conceptual frameworks on the basis of those interventions

But this still doesn't help you get beyond the appearances of things - and your conceptual schemes about them - to the things themselves. Kant has not been conquered.

Consider: Galileo rolls a ball along a smooth flat surface and develops his theory of inertia. He records the ball at the start of its motion and again some time later. And he concludes that the ball's motion will continue as it is unless an external force intervenes.

Now if Galileo wants his theory to be about the things themselves, then several things are necessary:

1) It must be one and the same ball at the start of the motion and at the end of the motion. Otherwise, he can't have a theory about "the" ball's inertia.

2) What's he's measuring is not merely the appearance of the ball to him, but the ball itself, otherwise his theory is only about the appearance of the ball and not the ball itself.

Number 1 implies some metaphysical theory of substance that underwrites the persistence of things over time. Number 2 implies a cognitive metaphysics that connects our minds to reality itself and not mere appearances. The point is that these metaphysical foundations are constitutive of science, and without them, science simply isn't possible.

A science about the things themselves, that is. Alternatively, we can join Kant and eschew these metaphysical prerequisites, in which case science is and can only ever be about the appearances of things and not the things themselves. Your weakly transcendental conclusion seems an example of this: Regularity and irregularity apply as much to the appearances of things as the things themselves, and you can triangulate all you want with respect to that, but you'll never get beyond appearances without some metaphysical premises. Is Galileo's experiment about the ball itself, or only about how things appeared to us at one time and how they appeared at a later time? No amount of science can answer this question for you, because the meaning of science itself is found in the answer.

Mr. Green said...

Skeptico: Thomas Aquinas knew nothing of the subatomic world which constantly hums with activity.

I too am glad that Mr. Skeptico has decided to become more sceptical of knee-jerk attacks against Scholasticism. But I’d like to take the opportunity to point out that any time an argument begins with “Aquinas didn’t know…”, it’s almost certainly doomed to fail. Aquinas was such a careful thinker that any fancy new discovery, from special evolution to quantum mechanics was anticipated in his work — not in the specific details, of course, but in the metaphysical framework necessary to accommodate them. Scientists spend lifetimes slogging up the side of the mountain, only to find St. Thomas there waiting for them.

Vincent Torley said...

Hello Ed,

I'm perfectly able to read, thank you very much, and I can do without your condescension, Ed. I had hoped that my last message would have induced you to reconsider your original decision not to read my post. Evidently it didn't. It seems you cannot bring yourself to admit that your argument was logically flawed.

I'm genuinely mystified by your references to my throwing a tantrum. If readers compare what I've written about you with what you've written about me over the past few years, I think they will agree that I've been far more civil. Invective is no substitute for argument, Ed.

If you want to know why I'm picky about your science, it's simply this. You said you were simply trying to give an example of an essentially ordered series of actualizers of potentiality. Fine, but what if there are no such series in Nature? I've argued previously that as regards efficient causes of change, there are no series of length great than two, and as regards efficient causes of being, there are no series, full stop.

Finally, the reason why I didn't address your argument in Nova et Vetera was that it assumes (questionably) that there is a real distinction between a thing's essence and its existence, without supplying any demonstration of this assumption. I covered this point previously in my post, "Feser's Fifth."

I shall sign off for now, as there is no point in my saying any more. Goodbye and good luck, Ed. Best wishes for your future, and God be with you.

grodrigues said...

@Vincent Torley:

"Fine, but what if there are no such series in Nature? I've argued previously that as regards efficient causes of change, there are no series of length great than two, and as regards efficient causes of being, there are no series, full stop."

Huh... why do you think that it is a problem that per se series of causes have only two links at most? What St. Thomas proves is that such a series cannot "proceed to infinity" and that there must be a First Cause; nothing changes if it turns out they only ever have two links at most.

Anonymous said...

It seems you cannot bring yourself to admit that your argument was logically flawed.

Maybe he just doesn't think you're worth the time, or that it's valuable to even read what you have to say anymore, thus he regards your writings as irrelevant, and actually (as he's said) isn't reading them at all.

If someone repeatedly makes criticisms of another's position, and on investigation those criticisms tend to be without merit or are the result of some pretty easy mistakes, it makes sense (if one cares about their time) to consider going, "I'm just not going to pay attention to this person anymore."

Edward Feser said...

It seems you cannot bring yourself to admit that your argument was logically flawed.

No, Vincent, what I cannot bring myself to do is to commit the Gambler's fallacy. I've responded to your stuff many times over the years, and found it often rests on misrepresentations and uncharitable readings set out at tedious length. I also have now responded to two of the criticisms put forward in this latest overstuffed treatise of yours, viz. your claim that my argument rests on bad science and your claim that the first cause might, for all I have shown, have some unactualized potency. And I've shown that you are not even trying to give the lecture in the video a fair reading in the first place, since you're ignoring what I say about the argument in other places, including writings that you are yourself familiar with and have praised.

Now you are essentially saying: "OK, but ignore all that, because the really good objections are in the stuff you haven't read yet. Next time you'll hit the jackpot for sure, you'll see!"

Or to mix metaphors: Cry wolf much?

Paul Amrhein said...

Instrumentality.

I don’t think that the Thomist would require the moved object to be purely passive. That would make it purely potential. (Even prime matter is not purely potential. Nothing that is purely potential can be actual at all. So, prime matter is minimally actual.) St Thomas would not have denied that the rock has the power to resist. He would however have denied that it has the power of locomotion. That is all that is really necessary for the instrumentality argument to go through, I think.

Scott said...

Ed writes to Chris: "Keep in mind that as I develop the argument, we move from explaining the changes things exhibit to the existence at any moment of those things."

And if I may amplify, for Chris's benefit, a point that Ed goes on to make more explicit in his own post: this isn't really all that much of a transition. For Aquinas (as for Avicenna before him), in ordinary (non-God) cases, essences stand in potency to existence and require outside agencies to actualize their potencies.

(You can safely ignore Vincent Torley's ramblings on this point; Aquinas in particular didn't merely "assume" a distinction between essence and existence but argued for it at length.)

So the argument for the Prime Mover really does involve change "all the way down." What happens in the transition top which Ed refers is just that we shift focus from one kind of "change" to another.

Scott said...

(Oops, "top which Ed refers" should of course be "to which Ed refers.")

@Paul Amrhein:

"Even prime matter is not purely potential."

According to Aquinas it most certainly is, although Scotus and others did raise the objection you're implicitly raising here.

Scott said...

@Paul Amrhein:

"That is all that is really necessary for the instrumentality argument to go through, I think."

I think what you have in mind here is essentially correct: what's needed in order for the instrumentality argument to go through is just that the "intrinsic" or "inherent" causal powers of the members of the series are distinct from their ability to pass along the causal powers of the first member of the series.

To repeat an example already used: whatever causal powers a flute has in its own right, these don't include the power to make music. That's why it's irrelevant that sound waves continue (for a short time) to be emitted from the flute even after the player stops playing.

Tommy said...

I find this act and potency to be interesting.... But how is it that humans can actualize their own potential?

Doesn't that go against what aquinas is saying?


If a human wants a soda from the cooler he can actualize that protential himself.

He's sitting on the couch and has the potential to get up and go to the cooler. But he's able to actualize that potential himself.

Doesn't this go against what aquinas is saying?

Scott said...

@Tommy:

"But how is it that humans can actualize their own potential?

Doesn't that go against what aquinas is saying?"

Not at all. Aquinas very explicitly deals with the ability of animals (not just humans) to move themselves; the basic idea is that some parts are moved/changed/actualized by other parts.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Scott
Thanks!

@ All

Is “2+2=4” an empirical claim to begin with? If we mix two gallons of water with two gallons of alcohol we get a little less than four gallons of liquid. Have we in so doing “tested” the “theory” that 2+2=4? Have we falsified it? For some reason I don’t think so.

I want to drop the puck here and see what happens.

PS (Professor Franklin deals with this sort of objection in his *An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics* by providing examples that are not susceptible to it. But his goal was to show that there are at least *some* necessary truths about reality, not that every mathematical proposition is such a thing. That is, I’m pretty sure that’s what he was up to.

Anonymous said...

"Is “2+2=4” an empirical claim to begin with? If we mix two gallons of water with two gallons of alcohol we get a little less than four gallons of liquid. Have we in so doing “tested” the “theory” that 2+2=4? Have we falsified it? For some reason I don’t think so."


Well, I don't have any dog in this race, but I guess I'll play devil's advocate for a moment:

The empiricist might respond by saying that the example is misguided, in that a gallon is a measurement of volume, and that the only things in our natural world that should be considered addable are discrete physical things. At present, no one really knows if space can be properly considered discrete, so examples drawn from volume are shaky right from the get-go.

A gallon of water to which nothing is added expands when frozen, but surely this doesn't mean that 1=/=1.

Also, perhaps it would be best to visualize addition in the natural world as a juxtaposition rather than as a merging. If so, then sure, if you mix two gallons of water with two gallons of alcohol, you may end up with less than four gallons, but if you were to merely set them side by side, you would have exactly four gallons of liquid. This seems to be in line with our usual colloquial conception of addition: When adding two chickens to two other chickens, we don't attempt to blur their boundaries and merge them into a single, seamless space. That would be grotesque. We're content to leave those boundaries intact, and to simply say that we have four animals in the pen.

Alan Fox said...

Also, perhaps it would be best to visualize addition in the natural world as a juxtaposition rather than as a merging. If so, then sure, if you mix two gallons of water with two gallons of alcohol, you may end up with less than four gallons, but if you were to merely set them side by side, you would have exactly four gallons of liquid.

It's as if Democritus, Dalton, Avogadro, never lived!

Alan Fox said...

Vincent Torley writes:

...the reason why I didn't address your argument in Nova et Vetera was that it assumes (questionably) that there is a real distinction between a thing's essence and its existence, without supplying any demonstration of this assumption.

This is both right and wrong. It is right about the blurred distinction. It is mainly wrong, though, as Platonic essentialism was an attempt to reify an intuition that has not withstood the development of science. Like qualia, essences are human linguistic constructs that add nothing to our perception or understanding of the real world.

Anonymous said...

Alan Fox, do you think that anyone will be won over by your ignorant and incoherent ramblings, no matter how confidently you put them forward? Your comments are puerile and if you refuse to even try and grasp the topics at hand, you are essentially just trolling.

Bean said...

>>"It's as if Democritus, Dalton, Avogadro, never lived!"

??

That chemical volumes are not additive is something that's taught in introductory inorganic chemistry.

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"It is right about the blurred distinction."

There seems to be nothing, no matter how simple and clear, that you can't manage to get completely wrong. And you make it look so effortless!

Torley was very obviously not accusing Feser of blurring a distinction; quite the contrary. So whatever it is you think he was right about, it isn't what he said.

Scott said...

"Alan Fox, do you think that anyone will be won over by your ignorant and incoherent ramblings, no matter how confidently you put them forward? Your comments are puerile[.]"

Indeed they are, but that's just the sort of comment that will score points with Alan Fox's crowd—the ones who, e.g., think it's clever to describe Michael Behe as "giving Creationists $6.99 blowjobs."

You'll recall, I'm sure, that when this crudity was pointed out to him, Alan defended it as the writing of an "articulate, feisty female" and attributed the objection to "misogyny" (as though the problem were that it was written by a woman!).

As far as I can tell, that's the sort of person Alan is trying to impress, and perhaps he's right that his puerile ramblings will do that job successfully. I suppose he ought to know.

Nick Corrado said...

I think what Alan was referring to by his Democritus et al. remark was conservation of mass, although one would think that Lavoisier would make the list....

Scott said...

"Also, perhaps it would be best to visualize addition in the natural world as a juxtaposition rather than as a merging."

Somewhat apropos of this, I used to have a couple of old (nineteenth-century) introductory mathematics textbooks that defined number as that property of a set that was invariant under any changes to the set that didn't alter the distinctness of its members (i.e., no merging or splitting).

Don Jindra said...

Mr. Green,

"That’s nonsense. There are things that can be conceived but not imagined, but nothing that can be imagined yet not conceived."

I use "conceive" in the manner of Feser as something "your intellect can easily grasp" (TLC p105), but also as the nonsensical imagining and conceiving of the impossible in Feser's POM p32-33. Nevertheless, you got the gist of my meaning. Proofs of God -- especially those relying on a false understanding of nature -- are indeed nonsensical. You got that, but you didn't get it. Sometimes I think you guys have no sense of humor.

"The example is deliberately simplified because an example that is more complicated than the thing being illustrated is not very helpful."

Of course it's not very helpful because complexity reveals the flaw. Physics (like Newton's Third Law of Motion) destroys the argument -- the whole shebang.


Nick Corrado,

"Clearly a stick doesn't have the causal power to move such a heavy rock. What does that have to do with Feser's example, where the rock is light enough to be pushed?"

So merely the weight of the rock robs the hand of its role as Prime Mover or primary cause? The stick now becomes the rock's instrument? I think not. The relevancy is this: No matter the weight of the rock, cause and effect go both directions, always. There is no one direction to the flow, and therefore there cannot be a per se chain where one end exclusively manipulates (affects) the other. Both ends always affect the other end. No series of cause and effect points backward to one Prime Mover. Both ends are "movers" -- otherwise the hand wouldn't feel the impact of the stick when it touched the rock. The stick would push straight through. See Newton's Third Law.

Anonymous,

"Can an ordinary flute make music without a musician? No, it can't. Note, this is different from asking whether sound waves will continue to propagate after the musician stops playing.

You're trying to reduce a per se chain down to one subject (musician) and one object (flute). You can't really do that in this cases but suppose you can. Then it's not a per se chain at all. It's simply one event, like a batter striking a ball. It becomes indistinguishable from per acidens. All cause requires at least one obviously active agent. That doesn't make it .



Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

Correction: That doesn't make it per se.

Scott said...

"You do know Don Jindra is a notorious troll right? He has little grasp of any of these issues[.]"

Anyone who didn't already know that is learning it now. ;-)

"You will get more out of Alan Fox."

Though, to be fair, not much more.

Anonymous said...

No matter the weight of the rock, cause and effect go both directions, always. There is no one direction to the flow, and therefore there cannot be a per se chain where one end exclusively manipulates (affects) the other. Both ends always affect the other end.

Don Jindra apparently thinks the First Cause argument is disproved if two people push each other.

Sorry, Donny, but Newton is largely irrelevant here, and insofar as he is relevant he's in sync with the argument (or, to put it in a better way, kneels at the argument's feet.) You'll just have to deal with the fact that theism is intellectually superior to atheism, and all that implies. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi all,
First, my name is Jim (just easier to post as anonymous right now), and this blog entry actually really fascinates me because I actually experienced something similar to what Dr. Feser mentions. I got chewed out by some one for defending theistic evolution and he said I might as well defend the tooth fairy since neither theory can be falsified, and if we allow things to go unfalsified that opens the gates to wacky new age type ideas. I'd be interested to hear what you all have to say in response to him :).

Also, could someone by any chance help explain to me the difference between Aquinas' Design and Intelligence Design; they seem different but I can't put my finger on the inherent differences (I've been told Aquinas Teleogy is compatible with Natural Selection; I just don't know how)

Scott said...

@Jim:

"[C]ould someone by any chance help explain to me the difference between Aquinas' Design and Intelligence Design[?]"

Search this blog for "intelligent design" (or "ID") and you'll find more than enough to keep you busy.

The short version: although Thomists have been happy to use the phrase "intelligent design" in discussions of Aquinas's Fifth Way, "intelligent design" as currently understood within the mainstream of the ID movement treats nature as mechanistic and organisms as artifacts (like watches), apparently disallowing the Aristotelian-Thomist view of the sort of causation appropriate to living things.

Crude said...

Anon,

I got chewed out by some one for defending theistic evolution and he said I might as well defend the tooth fairy since neither theory can be falsified, and if we allow things to go unfalsified that opens the gates to wacky new age type ideas. I'd be interested to hear what you all have to say in response to him :).

This isn't related to anything Ed says, but - if 'theistic evolution' is unfalsifiable, then so too is 'atheistic evolution'. Ask your friend if he therefore accepts that we can make no claims about whether or not evolution is guided.

Scott said...

Oh, and as for the falsification bit: that's usually a red herring if not an outright begging of the question, as people who insist on falsifiability generally don't mean to include reasoned argumentation as one of the means by which a theory can be falsified. (The—or "a"—theory of theistic evolution can be "falsified" by showing e.g. that it's self-contradictory. But I'll bet that won't be good enough for your interlocutor.)

Crude's point (which I see he posted while I was composing this) is a good one too.

Anonymous said...

"You're trying to reduce a per se chain down to one subject (musician) and one object (flute). You can't really do that in this cases but suppose you can. Then it's not a per se chain at all. It's simply one event, like a batter striking a ball. It becomes indistinguishable from per acidens. All cause requires at least one obviously active agent. That doesn't make it per se."

I wasn't trying to illustrate a chain, just an instance of instrumental causality. The fact that it is only one event does not make it per accidens. The flute only has the power to generate music in a derivative way, no matter how far you extend the "start" or "end" of the causal chain.

Anonymous said...

Also, this:

"That is the way in which it is “first” – first in the sense of being metaphysically ultimate or fundamental, and not (necessarily) in the sense of standing at the head of some (temporal or even non-temporal) queue."

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan Fox,

This isn't TelicThoughts, or ARN, or AtBC....

You're way out of your league on this blog.

Nick Corrado said...

Don Jindra,

So merely the weight of the rock robs the hand of its role as Prime Mover or primary cause? The stick now becomes the rock's instrument? I think not. The relevancy is this: No matter the weight of the rock, cause and effect go both directions, always. There is no one direction to the flow, and therefore there cannot be a per se chain where one end exclusively manipulates (affects) the other. Both ends always affect the other end. No series of cause and effect points backward to one Prime Mover. Both ends are "movers" -- otherwise the hand wouldn't feel the impact of the stick when it touched the rock. The stick would push straight through. See Newton's Third Law.

Sure, plenty of cause and effect situations are interactive--this is entirely to be expected with matter. But I don't think that gets you the conclusion you want here, that per se series don't exist.

To illustrate, let's borrow the example Anonymous was using and expand on it a bit. Suppose you are playing a tune on a flute, and suppose that playing that tune makes your pet dog dance. This is definitely a series, do you agree? And the flute can't play on its own--maybe you can make a complicated machine that "plays" the flute, but something's still causing it here. Recordings won't do either; what's really going on here is you just added another link to the chain where a recording device copies the sounds and then plays them.

Now the flute is definitely being used instrumentally, right? However you construe this, there's no way the flute can do this step all on its own. And without this step, there's no way you're getting the dog to dance.

Notice that it's not clear at any point why it matters whether cause and effect is usually interactive or not. Maybe getting the dog to dance makes you happy. Maybe just playing the flute makes you happy. Sure, the effects here can effect the cause. But why do we care, if our analysis still shows a clear per se causal series?

Going back to Feser's hand-stick-rock example, it's clear that a stick is pushing back on your hand and that the rock will resist the stick somewhat. Like I said, this is totally to be expected when it comes to matter, but why do we care so long as it's clear that the stick can't just push the rock all on its own, that it is, in other words, being used instrumentally here?

Scott said...

@Nick Corrado:

Your points are quite sound, but just FYI, you'e engaging a known troll who was basically banned from posting on this blog several years ago and yet for some unknown reason refuses to stop.

Scott said...

I wrote earlier: "What happens in the transition [to] which Ed refers is just that we shift focus from one kind of 'change' to another."

In light of some other comments in this thread, it now occurs to me to add the following: we can start here if we like. That is, we can go directly to the step in which we argue that any substance with causal powers depends for its existence directly on a Pure Act Whose essence is identical with His existence. That's a perfectly fine per se causal series and it makes not a jot of difference that it involves just one causal step.

Charles said...

Has it ever been pointed out to troll jindra that Aristotle and St. Thomas explicitly teach that any time one material object is the per se mover of some other material object, that the mover is moved per accidens by the moved?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous

"A gallon of water to which nothing is added expands when frozen, but surely this doesn't mean that 1=/=1."

I like that example for some reason.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

"Cry wolf much?" you ask.

It is a fallacy to argue from "There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else" to "There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality." It is a fallacy to argue from "There must be an Ultimate Cause for the existence of any particular thing" to "There must be an Ultimate Cause for the existence of all things." It is an equivocation to claim that the First Cause possesses all perfections, when one has only established that it possesses perfect attributes only (with no defects). It is a non sequitur to claim that the First Cause must be unique because it possesses all perfections, when one has only established that the First Cause is devoid of imperfections.

These were the logical fallacies I identified in your one-hour talk, "An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God." The fact that you were talking to a lay audience does not excuse these fallacies, and I'll leave it to my readers to judge whether my criticisms were justified. As I've said, I think the cosmological argument can be salvaged, but your claim to have constructed an ironclad proof of the existence of God is decidedly premature. I hope you will have the grace to acknowledge these criticisms.

And now, goodbye, farewell and Amen.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,

Interestingly, the subtle realm is sometimes referred to as the subtle realms, because it is said to contain many different realms within it.

If you are interested in the mathematical side of that realm, and the Platonic (in the traditional and not necessarily contemporary sense) conception of mathematics, I very much recommend Proclus' A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements . Thomas Taylor's translation is available online, and although Taylor sometimes writes a little obscurely, he is one of the best modern commentators on ancient Platonism.

Charles said...

Dear Vincent Torley,

Here's St. Thomas responding in some way to both your criticisms of Ed's proof:
"I answer that, Power is twofold--namely, passive, which exists not at all in God; and active, which we must assign to Him in the highest degree. For it is manifest that everything, according as it is in act and is perfect, is the active principle of something: whereas everything is passive according as it is deficient and imperfect. Now it was shown above (3, 2; 4, 1 and 2), that God is pure act, simply and in all ways perfect, nor in Him does any imperfection find place. Whence it most fittingly belongs to Him to be an active principle, and in no way whatsoever to be passive. On the other hand, the notion of active principle is consistent with active power. For active power is the principle of acting upon something else; whereas passive power is the principle of being acted upon by something else, as the Philosopher says (Metaph. v, 17). It remains, therefore, that in God there is active power in the highest degree." ST I.25.1

malcolmthecynic said...

Dr. Torley,

I hope you will have the grace to acknowledge these criticisms.

I have to say, I find the fact that you're accusing Dr. Feser of not acknowledging your criticisms after he has posted many, many examples of criticisms of yours he has responded to rather rich.

Unless you mean "concede" by "acknowledge", in which case you can still hardly blame him for being annoyed at you.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

You have an astounding ability to exhibit sophistry in the very act of accusing others of it. As you well know, I did not actually say the things you are attributing to me. You are interpreting what I said in a way that will facilitate your goal of accusing me of committing various fallacies. But as Christopher Martin notes in his book Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations:

As [Peter] Geach points out, if we wish to show that an argument is invalid, it is not sufficient to show that it can be represented as instantiating an invalid form. It might instantiate an invalid form and at the same time instantiate a valid form: and for an argument to be valid it is sufficient that it should instantiate a valid form. The potentially vast numbers of invalid forms which it may instantiate are completely irrelevant. (p. 161)

This is why, your pretense to the contrary, it is highly relevant that I was giving a talk to a lay audience, had a time limit, etc. As everyone knows who is interested in the study of logic for the sake of attaining truth -- as opposed to mining it as a source of cheap debating tricks, which is apparently your preferred application -- real-world arguments often occur in contexts in which they have to be truncated, simplified given the audience, etc. Interpreting such arguments thus requires application of the principle of charity, which tells us that if there is a way of reading an argument on which it commits a fallacy but also a way of reading it on which it does not, the presumption is that the speaker had the latter interpretation in mind rather than the former.

Now, you well know that what I was presenting was a popular version of a set of arguments that I have defended more systematically elsewhere, and that has also been defended by Aquinas and other Thomists. And you have praised my other work on this subject and stated that you admire Aquinas's version of the argument as well. Furthermore, in past remarks about my work (made before you got this bee in your bonnet), you have praised very highly my philosophical acumen. Given all that, you must be well aware that there are ways of interpreting what I said in this talk before a lay audience on which the apparent gaps in argumentation could be filled, etc. Yet you do not consider such ways but instead indulge in this childish rhetoric about how the argument is "full of holes you could drive a truck through," etc. Even though, given your past remarks about my work and Aquinas's own version of the argument, this is a manifest violation of the principle of charity.

Now, why would you do that? Well, it's obvious to everyone following this exchange why you would. You are simply ticked off at me about my various criticisms of ID over the years -- apparently you are so bizarrely attached to ID that you take my criticisms of it personally, as if I were attacking your mother or your religion or something -- and perhaps especially ticked off about our most recent exchange, in which I showed how badly you had misinterpreted what I had said. Hence you decided you were going to get even and make me "eat my words" (as you put it), and figured that attacking this talk of mine (totally unrelated to ID though it was) would be a good way to do it.

Now that that's backfired, you're trying to save face by pretending that it's I who have something I need to own up to. That's called "projection," Vince.

Vincent Torley said...

Ed,

I have indeed praised your philosophical acumen and what's more, I would continue to do so: as an exposition of Aquinas' thought, your book Aquinas is second to none. You're a deeply insightful thinker, but I would not describe you as a terribly analytic one, if "analytic" is defined in terms of logical or mathematical rigor. That's hardly a hanging offense: in the words of Clint Eastwood, "A man's got to know his own limitations."

It's one thing to state (as Christopher Martin does) that if an argument might instantiate an invalid form and at the same time might instantiate a valid form, then charity dictates that the latter should be the preferred interpretation. But it's another thing entirely when (as you acknowledge) your argument is "truncated," and key premises are omitted. The problem then is not so much with my interpretation of the argument as with your statement of it.

You then reproach me for neglecting to consider how "apparent gaps in argumentation could be filled." Actually, I discussed how they might be filled in the last three paragraphs of my post, where I remarked that introducing a distinction between essence and existence (as you did in your 2011 article in Nova et Vetera) would give your argument "wings," as it were. I'll make three quick points here. First, your talk was titled "An Aristotelian proof of the existence of God"; however, the essence-existence distinction was nowhere articulated by Aristotle: it was Aquinas who defended this distinction, much later on (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existence/ ). Second, Aquinas' notion that there is a real (and not merely logical) distinction between essence and existence was hotly debated, even among Scholastics. Without a real distinction, one can no longer argue that all finite creatures are composites and therefore require an external cause for the existence. Third, if it were your intention to put forward this argument, you could have made it in less than a minute, rather than taking an hour: (i) any finite being is composite and therefore requires an external explanation for its existence;(ii) neither a chain nor a circle of conditional explanations (involving other finite beings) constitutes a total explanation; therefore (iii) we are forced to postulate an infinite Being in order to give a total explanation for the existence of any finite being.

Finally, I don't have a bee in my bonnet about Intelligent Design, and I'm quite happy with people saying they can argue for God's existence without it (indeed, I would hope so!) What I object to is people who claim that ID is positively misguided, theologically speaking, despite the fact that it makes no claim to establish the existence of the God of classical theism; at the very best, it can only take us to some sort of incorporeal Designer of the multiverse. But that's a start, and ID has jolted some notable atheists (such as Anthony Flew) out of their atheism.

Charles,

Thanks very much for the quote from Aquinas. The critical sentence reads: "Now it was shown above (3, 2; 4, 1 and 2), that God is pure act, simply and in all ways perfect, nor in Him does any imperfection find place." Ed failed to establish in his talk that God is Pure Act: as I argued above, it is a fallacy to argue from "There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else" to "There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality."

And now I really must be gone.

E.Seigner said...

The argument between Feser and Torley has nothing to do with philosophy or science. Looking at the history of their exchanges, it's all about their different agendas. Feser's agenda is to propound a philosophy. Torley is neither philosopher or scientist, but a preacher, an evangelizer, and only that. All his science and philosophy is subjected to gospel, often covertly, because in his opinions it wins more souls to say "I'm doing science". In the beginning he saw Feser's arguments as a good evangelising tool and that's why he praised the arguments.

Unfortunately Feser evaluates statements on their philosophical merit, not on evangelising value, so when ID's philosophical merits don't hold up, things begin to crack for Torley. In Torley's post I don't see any rational take at the argumentation at all. It's futile to point out the fact that Torley's post is a hopeless mixup of metaphysical versus physical points, because this is not at issue at all. Torley is 100% a man of ulterior motives. It's not a rational debate at all, but more like love turned to hate :)

David T said...

Thanks very much for the quote from Aquinas. The critical sentence reads: "Now it was shown above (3, 2; 4, 1 and 2), that God is pure act, simply and in all ways perfect, nor in Him does any imperfection find place." Ed failed to establish in his talk that God is Pure Act: as I argued above, it is a fallacy to argue from "There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else" to "There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality."

But Vince the argument for God's simplicity is well-known and has been stated by Feser many times, including in Aquinas, which you've read. If God (or, if you want, the First Actualizer) is partly potential and partly actual, then it is a composite being, and there must be some prior principle responsible for the composition, which means we haven't really gotten to the first actualizer after all.

You seem to be pretending you've never heard of this argument because Feser skipped over it in this particular video. That's why people think you are being uncharitable - rather than getting to the truth of the argument, you seem more interested in scoring points against Feser by nitpicking this particular presentation. It reminds me of an algebra teacher who docks you points because you did not explicitly write out one particular step in your solution, even though he knows you know it because he's seen you do it many times before.

Anonymous said...

There is some humor about VJ Torley, whose long and desperate war against brevity is well known, lecturing Ed that he could have made serious and deep philosophical points in a minute or less.

Martin said...

WTF?!

Is Torley seriously criticizing the Doc for not going through every single sub-argument in his speech?

This is all written down in his longer works. The speech was a high-level overview for a lay audience. Are we seriously to expect that when any member of academia gives a high-level speech for a lay audience, that they are guilty of "fallacies" if they don't cover every single point they do in their academic literature?

SERIOUSLY?!

Daniel said...

@Ed,

Please, please, I beg of you in the name of all the Saints write a brief entry on the difference between ‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ Potency, as it would stop a lot of these varieties of confusion occurring with regards to what constitutes Pure Actuality.

@Vincent Torley,

Look, you are evidently an intelligent and philosophically literate individual. Why not, instead of expending a great deal of time and energy criticising what Ed freely admits to having been an introductory talk, actually put together a book setting forth how ID implies no ontological commitment to Mechanism or Mereological Reductionism. Even if it doesn’t win everyone over to ID it would still represent a formidable engagement with contemporary metaphysics.

‘…at the very best, it can only take us to some sort of incorporeal Designer of the multiverse.’

An aside but I am curious as to how one gets to the 'immaterial' without further metaphysical reasoning. If, as most ID proponents admit, their theory is probabilistic then the critic may well appeal to the eternity of the universe/multiverse coupled with the Principle of Plenitude as an objection. Of course one could argue against that by rejecting the eternity part, though in doing so one would effectively be bringing in the Kalam Cosmological Argument and thus making ID a perhaps unnecessary pennant to that.

Daniel said...

@Jeremy,

For some reason or another I associated it with elementals and spirits. The only explanation I can think of is that I somehow picked up that impression from Ficino’s Letters.

Thanks for the recommendation re: Taylor. I have always meant to pick up a copy of his Timaeus Commentary translation (when I first started reading classical philosophy I was fascinated by the Timaeus and the idea of Aristotle’s Pure Actuality/Prime Matter as derived from Plato’s Monad and Indefinite Dyad).

Greg said...

@ Vincent

It's one thing to state (as Christopher Martin does) that if an argument might instantiate an invalid form and at the same time might instantiate a valid form, then charity dictates that the latter should be the preferred interpretation. But it's another thing entirely when (as you acknowledge) your argument is "truncated," and key premises are omitted. The problem then is not so much with my interpretation of the argument as with your statement of it.

I don't think the argument is severely truncated or unclear. And I don't think considerations of charity are irrelevant if an argument is admittedly truncated. Consider a similar 'dialectical' situation: your child, who you've raised Catholic, asks you how you know that God exists. You are not going to print her a fresh copy of "Existential inertia and the Five Ways"; you will sketch the basics of the argument in an accessible way.

People aren't going to walk away from a popular talk with an ability to rearticulate the argument and defend it against every objection. They would probably make a mistake if they had to list the premises and show how you get to the conclusion, making all of the appropriate qualifications. But they might be left with some impression of how to get from the contingent world to God. If they are interested in the argument, they will study it in more detail and work out all of the minutiae. But the average believer listening to a popular argument doesn't need to do that when he has addressed it elsewhere.

Scott said...

@Vincent Torley:

I'll content myself with a couple of points in reply to your latest round of sophistries.

"[Y]our talk was titled 'An Aristotelian proof of the existence of God'; however, the essence-existence distinction was nowhere articulated by Aristotle: it was Aquinas who defended this distinction, much later on (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existence/ )."

It's interesting that both you and your cited source manage to avoid any mention of Avicenna, who articulated the distinction quite clearly and whose place in the Aristotelian tradition is beyond question. You also seem unaware of the debate surrounding the question whether the distinction was implicit in Aristotle's own writings.

But regardless, you of all people should be well aware of Ed's views on what does and doesn't count as part of a philosophical tradition named for a specific philosopher. By his lights (and it's his lights, not yours, that are at issue here), even if Aquinas had been the very first Aristotelian to articulate the distinction between existence and essence, that in itself wouldn't make the distinction any less Aristotelian.

"[I]f it were your intention to put forward this argument, you could have made it in less than a minute, rather than taking an hour[.]"

Yes, and no doubt there were a hundred other relevant arguments that could also have been put forth in less than a minute each. Putting all of them forth would obviously have extended the talk to an unmanageable length, and there was nothing special about this one at the time even if it turned out later to be the one whose absence you chose to pick on.

Scott said...

Oh, and one more thing:

"I don't have a bee in my bonnet about Intelligent Design, and I'm quite happy with people saying they can argue for God's existence without it (indeed, I would hope so!) What I object to is people who claim that ID is positively misguided, theologically speaking, despite the fact that it makes no claim to establish the existence of the God of classical theism[.]"

Really? Your previous statements indicated that you had a bee in your bonnet specifically about Ed's claim to have, as ID does not, a knockdown argument for God's existence, and that you intended to make him "eat his words" by showing that he didn't have such an argument after all. That, as I understood it, is why you chose to nitpick this particular talk of his in the first place, though it doesn't explain why you've done such a poor job of it (and in particular why you've so militantly ignored its context in the rest of his output).

Have I misunderstood your motivations? Or are you just whitewashing them in the hope that everyone here has forgotten them?

Robert Coble said...

Re: V. J. Torley, updating a discussion of Professor Larry Moran's position on the neutral theory of evolution:

Can the neutral theory of evolution explain what makes us human?

Quoting:

"What I do think is that they, like most human beings, are prone to ideological bias against viewpoints which they find profoundly uncongenial, and that in attempting to discredit these viewpoints, they are liable to be swayed by emotion rather than reason. Intelligent Design is a theory which tends to make hackles rise in scientific circles."

Physician, heal thyself.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"The flute only has the power to generate music in a derivative way, no matter how far you extend the 'start' or 'end' of the causal chain.

My response to Nick applies.

Nick Corrado,

"Going back to Feser's hand-stick-rock example, it's clear that a stick is pushing back on your hand and that the rock will resist the stick somewhat. Like I said, this is totally to be expected when it comes to matter, but why do we care so long as it's clear that the stick can't just push the rock all on its own, that it is, in other words, being used instrumentally here?"

If per se was simply explained as "the stick can't just push the rock all on its own" then we could say "a baseball bat cannot just hit a ball all on its own" and claim we've found another per se chain. But the bat hitting the ball is clearly per accidens as defined by Feser and Aquinas. Truth is, nothing in the universe is totally "on its own." Everything is moved continually in a derivitive way. Yet everything in the universe at every moment is causing something to happen "on its own."

Charles,

"Has it ever been pointed out to troll jindra that Aristotle and St. Thomas explicitly teach that any time one material object is the per se mover of some other material object, that the mover is moved per accidens by the moved?"

No, nobody has. I don't see why it would matter. But do you have a reference?


Mr. Green said...

Jim: First, my name is Jim (just easier to post as anonymous right now

Actually, it’s just as easy to select the “name/URL” option (the URL is not required), and avoids your being mistaken for one of the other anonymouses, especially the ones who are probably rightfully too embarrassed to sign a name to their comments.

he said I might as well defend the tooth fairy since neither theory can be falsified, and if we allow things to go unfalsified that opens the gates to wacky new age type ideas. I'd be interested to hear what you all have to say in response to him :).

In response to him I’d say to keep it up because Donkey Town needs a new mayor. Of course I’m not necessarily recommending that you use that response yourself.

But to expand on what Scott said, people who bring up falsifiability tend to demonstrate that not only do they not understand philosophy, but they don’t really understand science either. First of all, there are plenty of things that cannot be falsified — because they’re true. By definition, it’s not possible to falsify something that isn’t false. The term is frequently used as a shorthand for saying, “If this hypothesis were not true, here is an argument that would show it.” Moreover, the argument itself always works by logic, in science just as in mathematics or metaphysics; in scientific contexts there is a further shorthand, where the form of the argument boils down to, “If hypothesis X were true, then empirical measurements would show Y; but the empirical measurements do not show Y; therefore X is false.” The folks who cling to “falsifiability” like a talisman somehow never figured this out.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: >"You do know Don Jindra is a notorious troll right? He has little grasp of any of these issues[.]"
Anyone who didn't already know that is learning it now. ;-)


It doesn’t take long; but there is something to be said for a little patient lurking around to get a sense of who’s who in a community before jumping in. Of course, I am not against the occasional response to trolls, on the grounds that innocent bystanders might mistakenly think they have raised a legitimate problem. For example, when DJ alludes to Feser's use of “conceiving” on p. 105 of TLS or p. 32 of PoM, one who is unfamiliar with the topic and who does not have the books to hand might naturally assume that DJ has the books in front of him and thus at least has the basic definition right. Fortunately, I do have both books handy and can readily confirm that Feser says no such thing. Perhaps even that much attention is too much to give to trolls or troll-alikes. Certainly extended discourse is not only a waste of time, but is positively harmful to the extent that it clogs up a thread and prevents interesting discussions from taking place.


>"You will get more out of Alan Fox."
Though, to be fair, not
much more.

I dunno… one thinks he knows what he’s talking about and so persists in carrying on pointless conversations; the other admits he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and persists in talking about it anyway. Surely that’s worse, although the end result is probably about equally unproductive in both cases.

Kantian Naturalist said...

there are plenty of things that cannot be falsified — because they’re true. By definition, it’s not possible to falsify something that isn’t false. The term is frequently used as a shorthand for saying, “If this hypothesis were not true, here is an argument that would show it.” Moreover, the argument itself always works by logic, in science just as in mathematics or metaphysics; in scientific contexts there is a further shorthand, where the form of the argument boils down to, “If hypothesis X were true, then empirical measurements would show Y; but the empirical measurements do not show Y; therefore X is false.” The folks who cling to “falsifiability” like a talisman somehow never figured this out.

That's perfectly true as far as falsification goes, but does it touch on Popper's point that metaphysical doctrines, unlike scientific theories, cannot be falsified?

If I recall correctly -- and it's been a while since I read any Popper -- Popper's concern was that metaphysical hypotheses are never formulated with sufficient rigor for us to determine what is deducible from them and what is not. And without deducibility, there's no falsification, either.

Though of course it must be stressed that, unlike the positivists, Popper didn't treat metaphysical hypotheses as meaningless -- he wisely avoided conflating epistemology and semantics! -- and he thought that metaphysics could stimulate the imagination into generating testable empirical hypotheses.

Presumably few "Internet Philosophers" realize that Popper invented falsifiability as a criterion for scientific explanations not just because of the problems in verificationism as a criterion of semantic content, but also because of "the riddle of induction". Hence the conjecture-and-refutation model -- we don't need induction to account for the conjectures as long as we have deductions to account for the refutations!

Anonymous said...

David T.,

Aquinas' argument that a being who is partly potential and partly actual must be a composite only works if we are talking about passive potentiality. It isn't at all clear that a being with multiple active potencies, some actualized and some unactualized, would have to be composite.

Paul Amrhein said...

KN,

I really don't recall Popper saying that metaphysical propositions are unfalsifiable. He said that irrefutable or unfalsifiable propositions were problematic or unscientific. He was not anti-metaphysical. He stressed the importance of what he called "metaphysical research programs." He pointed to Democritus's atomic theory as an untestable doctrine which became testable with time. Sorry this is a little disjointed. In a hurry. I'll go look things up before commenting further.

Paul Amrhein said...

KN,

Okay, I'll go look rings up after this comment. I only wanted to mention that Popper thought that reasoned argument could establish or disestablish scientific theories. He pointed to Gallileo's a *argument* for uniform acceleration as an example of a theory established by reason alone. Again I'll look up to confirm.

Kantian Naturalist said...

. I only wanted to mention that Popper thought that reasoned argument could establish or disestablish scientific theories. He pointed to Gallileo's a *argument* for uniform acceleration as an example of a theory established by reason alone. Again I'll look up to confirm.

That's not the Popper I know! I'm sure there's much more to Popper than I realize! A citation would be lovely!

Paul Amrhein said...

KN

"Now if we look upon a theory as a proposed solution to a set of problems, then the theory immediately lends itself to critical discussion -- even if it is non-empirical and irrefutable." KRP *Conjectures and Refutations* page 199

Paul Amrhein said...

KN

"Thus testability is the same as refutability, and can therefore likewise be taken as a criterion of demarcation." ibid page 256 chapter heading "Demarcation between science and metaphysics"


"[...] far from defeating the SUPPOSED ENEMY metaphysics...[...] ibid page 254

Popper didn't regard metaphysics as the enemy if for no other reason than his belief that metaphysical theories could become scientific theories, even over centuries.

At the moment I can't find the material on Galileo's thought experiment.

Paul Amrhein said...

KN
Hume's logical argument simply does not bear upon our metaphysical assertion that there exist regularities in nature. Nevertheless, it is perfectly true that we shall have to defend this metaphysical assertion against Hume -- but not against his *logic*; rather, against his *metaphysics*." KRP *Realism and the aim of Science* page 76

I'll slow down now and look for better passages.

Anonymous said...

Where does Feser give the bat example?

Scott said...

"It isn't at all clear that a being with multiple active potencies, some actualized and some unactualized, would have to be composite."

Which is fine, since according to A-T, God does have active potencies (which are basically unexercised powers). It's probably not right, however (though I don't have a source offhand), to characterize an unexercised power as "unactualized."

Scott said...

"Where does Feser give the bat example?"

So far as I can recall, he doesn't (though it won't matter to what follows if he does). Don Jindra was just being careless in his phrasing.

DJ's point, such as it is, is just that, as a physical event, the striking of a baseball by a bat is a per accidens causal series. And so it is—as a physical event.

What's not true is that it's a per accidens causal series as an "instrument" of the batter's intent. As a "carrier" of that intent (as, say, an attempt to hit a home run, get on base, or whatever), it's per se through and through, and it ceases to be so when the batter ceases to impart instrumentality to it.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent Torley in 2010 and 2011:

Professor Feser is a very insightful metaphysician, and I have been struck by his perspicacity more than a few times, while reading his blogs. His ability to articulate and defend Aquinas’ Five Ways to a 21st century audience is matchless…

Crossing swords with a professional philosopher can be a dangerous thing. I’m not one, of course; I simply happen to have a Ph.D. in philosophy. But Professor Edward Feser is a professional philosopher, and a formidable debating opponent, as one well-known evolutionary biologist is about to find out…

Edward Feser’s book, Aquinas [is] about the best defense of Aristotelian Thomism that you are ever likely to read, it’s less than 200 pages long, and its arguments merit very serious consideration. You would be ill-advised to dismiss it out of hand.

Vincent Torley in 2014:

in my opinion, the cosmological argument set out in Feser’s one-hour talk on video contains so many obvious logical errors that I could not in all good conscience recommend showing it to atheists...

the holes in Feser’s logic are so wide that anyone could drive a truck through them…

I would not describe [Feser] as a terribly analytic [thinker], if "analytic" is defined in terms of logical or mathematical rigor. That's hardly a hanging offense: in the words of Clint Eastwood, "A man's got to know his own limitations."

End quote. Now, Torley’s latest, snotty remarks are of no more inherent interest than his earlier, glowingly complimentary ones. In both cases there is too much in the way of obvious political calculation to know what to make of them. They’re of a piece with the rhetorical pattern I’ve noticed in Torley’s writing over the years. If he thinks he might win you over by playing nice, he’ll play nice; if he’s in damage control mode, he’ll lash out. As with the content of his arguments, so too with the form: He will say whatever he thinks might be useful, at the moment, in the service of The Great ID Cause. Predictably, the resulting rhetorical and intellectual incoherence just discredits Torley and ID further.

Hence, forget the question of my actual merit as a philosopher or lack thereof. Suppose I’m a complete hack if you like; it really doesn’t matter for present purposes. Just savor the frantic mess that is Vincent “Good Cop/Bad Cop” Torley trying to reconcile his earlier statements with his later ones:

Aquinas is, of course, an “analytic” thinker, in Torley’s sense, par excellence. Thomistic metaphysics, famously highly abstract, is a field requiring “analytic” ability, in Torley’s sense, par excellence. So how, pray tell, could someone be a “perspicuous” and “very insightful metaphysician” of the Thomistic stripe, a “matchless” expositor of Aquinas, and have a book on Aquinas that is “second to none,” if one is “not a terribly analytic thinker” in Torley’s sense?

If Torley at one point humbly averred (in a more dispassionate context where he was not addressing me at all, but rather Jerry Coyne): “Crossing swords with a professional philosopher can be a dangerous thing. I’m not one, of course… But Professor Edward Feser is a professional philosopher, and a formidable debating opponent” -- why, pray tell, should we put stock in Torley’s more critical later estimation of my talents as a professional philosopher (made in a far-from-dispassionate context, one in which I have obviously hurt his feelings)?

And how, pray tell, are my limitations as an “analytic” thinker established -- and Torley’s superior “analytic” ability demonstrated -- by his (a) examining the informal presentation of an argument I gave before a lay audience, while (b) ignoring the more technical presentations of the same argument that I have put forward in professional, peer-reviewed contexts?

But maybe I should stop commenting, stand back, and give the man some room. If you want to keep hanging yourself with your own rope, Vince, be my guest.

dguller said...

Scott:

It's probably not right, however (though I don't have a source offhand), to characterize an unexercised power as "unactualized."

An idea I have always struggled to make sense of. There is a real distinction between the power to do X and doing X, such that the former is a first actuality and the latter is a secondary actuality, according to Aristotle. The power to do X remains actualized, irrespective of whether that power is actually used to do X as long as a subject S with the power to do X continues to exist. However, it seems to me that there is an increase in actuality in S when S actually does X, and that when S does not do X, then doing X is a potency in S.

Paul Amrhein said...

KN

“(1) One of the most important imaginary experiments in the history of natural philosophy, and one of the simplest and most ingenious arguments in the history of rational thought about our universe is contained in Galileo’s criticism of Aristotle’s theory of motion. It disproves the Aristotelian supposition that the natural velocity of a heavier body is greater than that of a lighter body. […Details of G’s argument] And since this Aristotelian supposition was the one from which the argument started, it is now refuted; it is shown to be absurd.” KRP *Logic of Scientific Discovery* page 443

I was wrong in implying that Galileo *established* his theory exclusively via argument. Popper doesn’t claim that here. And I’m no longer sure that he claimed it anywhere.

I was also wrong in saying that, according to Popper, metaphysical theories can be refutable. He did however say that metaphysical theories could be the subject of rational discussion, if handled in a certain way. He also said that scientific theories are not *ipso facto* rational. They too need to be handled in a certain way.

I’ll keep looking for the spot where he said that Galileo’s thought experiment (above) was a case in which a scientific theory was refuted or disestablished exclusively by argument. I’m sure he said that somewhere.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent Torley wrote:

First, your talk was titled "An Aristotelian proof of the existence of God"; however, the essence-existence distinction was nowhere articulated by Aristotle: it was Aquinas who defended this distinction, much later on

Well, if I'd made reference to "Aristotle's proof," then that might be a worthwhile remark on your part. Since in fact what I spoke of was "an Aristotelian proof" -- and since, of course, many Aristotelians defend the essence/existence distinction -- your remarks is silly and pointless.

See, this is your trouble, Vincent. You are only interested in scrambling to find a way, any way, to score a cheap point. What is amazing is not that you keep shooting yourself in the foot. That's entirely predictable. What is amazing is that you really seem to think that what you're hitting is your target.

As to the other stuff you say about essence/existence:

(a) Thanks for the lesson, but, you know, I think I might have heard all that before. Hmm, oh that's right... come to think of it, I've written on it before. See pp. 241-56 of Scholastic Metaphysics, if you can ever tear yourself away from the endless loop of that video lecture of mine you seem to be fixated on.

(b) I do not think one needs to argue for the essence/existence distinction in order to show that things require a sustaining cause. I think act/potency can do it by itself, for reasons I've given in places you keep refusing to turn your eyes to, lest you miss an exciting second of my video lecture. (See "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" and Scholastic Metaphysics.)

(c) Your straight-faced suggestion that I could have given the argument you sketch in less than a minute is either (i) evidence of a dry sense of humor on your part that I never expected, or (ii) completely insane. Had I presented such an argument -- which, of course, rests on all sorts of background assumptions that would need to be defended at length -- you would, of course, be presenting that as "evidence" of my lack of analytical ability, an argument that has holes you could drive a truck through, etc. etc.

But now I'm just repeating points other readers have already made. And getting in your way as you leap into that noose again.

Anonymous said...

@ Scott-Thanks so kindly for the clarification!

@Crude-Sorry if this seemed to be a tangent, I guess it's one of those things where it made more sense in my head but it doesn't make sense to other people; but thanks for your input too!

Daniel said...

@Scott or anyone else interested,

You wouldn’t happen to know of anywhere online which gives a reasonably accessible (say to someone who’d read Aquinas or TLS) account of the difference between active and passive potencies*? It’s an issue which frequently comes up and it would be handy to have somewhere to refer people instead of having to explain ad nauesum.

*tempted to suggest they be renamed something like first and second order potencies as the very terminology itself on first impression contradictory.

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