Thursday, October 16, 2014

Could a theist deny PSR?


We’ve been talking about the principle of sufficient reason (PSR).  It plays a key role in some arguments for the existence of God, which naturally gives the atheist a motivation to deny it.  But there are also theists who deny it.  Is this a coherent position?  I’m not asking whether a theist could coherently reject some versions of PSR.  Of course a theist could do so.  I reject some versions of PSR.  But could a theist reject all versions?  Could a theist reject PSR as such?   Suppose that any version of PSR worthy of the name must entail that there are no “brute facts” -- no facts that are in principle unintelligible, no facts for which there is not even in principle an explanation.  (The “in principle” here is important -- that there might be facts that our minds happen to be too limited to grasp is not in question.)  Could a theist coherently deny that?
 
I don’t think so, certainly not on a Thomistic or other classical theist conception of God.  For suppose there are “brute facts.”  Either they would be facts about God or they would be facts about something other than God.  But surely no facts of the latter sort could be “brute facts” if theism is true.  For if some fact about something other than God was a brute fact, that would entail that it had no cause, no explanation, no source of intelligibility of any sort.  That would entail, among other things, that it did not have God as a cause, explanation, or source of its intelligibility.  Hence it would be something which does not depend on God for its being.  And that would conflict with the classical theist position that (as the First Vatican Council puts it) “the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God” (emphasis added).

But couldn’t a theist hold that while there are no brute facts concerning anything other than God, there are brute facts concerning God himself?  Could he not say that God’s existence is a brute fact, or that God’s having a certain attribute is a brute fact? 

Again, not on a classical theist conception of God.  Suppose God is, as Aristotelians hold, pure actuality with no potentiality; or that he is, as Thomists hold, subsistent being itself.  Then he exists of absolute necessity, and thus has his sufficient reason in his own nature, and thus is not a “brute fact.”  So, to make God’s existence out to be a brute fact, one will have to deny that he is pure actuality or subsistent being itself.  That entails that he is a mixture of actuality and potentiality, and of an essence together with a distinct “act of existence” (to use the Thomist jargon).  But that in turn entails that he is composite rather than absolutely simple.  And that is incompatible with the classical theist position that divine simplicity is essential to theism, as well as with the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church (declared at the First Vatican Council as well as at the Fourth Lateran Council) that God is simple or non-composite.  Even to say that while God exists necessarily, his having some particular attribute is a “brute fact,” would also conflict with divine simplicity.  For if his having the attribute is a brute fact, then he does not have it necessarily but only contingently.  (If he had it necessarily, it would follow from his nature and for that reason would not be a brute fact.)  But if he is necessary while the attribute in question is contingent, then it is distinct from him and thus he is composite and not simple.

Nor, as it cannot be emphasized too strongly, is divine simplicity some eccentricity the classical theist arbitrarily tacks on to theism.  It is at the very core of the logic of theism.  If God were composite then it would make sense to ask how it is that his component parts -- act and potency, essence and existence, substance and attributes, or whatever -- happen to be combined together to form the composite.  It would make sense to ask “What caused God?,” in which case we would not really be talking about God anymore, because we would no longer be talking about the ultimate source of things.  Even if it were suggested that “God” so conceived has no cause and that it is just a “brute fact” or a matter of sheer chance that the composite exists, we will for that very reason be talking about something that could in principle have had a cause and might not have existed.  Why anyone would want to call that “God” I have no idea; certainly it bears no relationship to what classical theists mean by “God,” and by virtue of being composite, contingent, etc. it would in fact be the sort of thing classical theists would regard as creaturely rather than the Creator.  You might as well worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

So, just as PSR leads to theism, theism leads to PSR.  There is no circularity here, because one could accept PSR even if he didn’t think it leads to theism, and it takes additional premises to get from PSR to theism in any case.  But there is a natural affinity between the views, and this affinity shows how very far away from reality is the stupid caricature of theism as somehow irrationalist.  On the contrary, to see the world as intelligible or rational through and through is implicitly to be a (classical) theist, and to be a (classical) theist is implicitly to see the world as intelligible or rational through and through.  And by the same token, despite the rhetoric of its loudest contemporary proponents, atheism is implicitly irrationalist insofar as it must deny PSR so as to avoid theism. (More on these themes in some of the posts linked to at the end of the previous post.)

238 comments:

1 – 200 of 238   Newer›   Newest»
Scott said...

I haven't thought this though completely, but it does seem that even if it were admitted arguendo that there might be some brute facts, the classical theist could argue to God as long as there was at least one fact that was not brute. Then, having established the existence of God, the classical theist could turn around and argue that no facts can be "brute" after all.

Matthew Kennel said...

This post reminds me of what was - for me - one of the most shocking and revealing passages in David Bentley Hart's "The Experience of God." He said, "I do not regard true philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or even cogent position; in fact, I see it as a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd... I am convinced that the case for belief in God is inductively so much stronger than the case for unbelief that true philosophical atheism must be regarded as a superstition." I don't know if Ed would go that far, but it does seem like denying PSR commits one to some degree of irrationality and, in fact, to the ultimate absurdity of the world.

John Moore said...

Indeed, when we consider the root meaning of "irrational" as "without roots," then a brute fact is irrational by definition.

Vasco said...

I don't agree that atheism entails necessarily irrationality or the denial of PSR. As it is possible (and reasonable) to claim ignorance (insufficient knowledge) about some causes.

As a matter of fact physicalists are usually strong defenders of PSR, as a general methodology, claiming things such as:

«Instead, though I think that whatever does exist will be describable in a physics if we can only investigate it. For instance, were it the case that qualia existed, then I would expect them to have some physical, causal effect on other objects, in ways that were regular and manipulable. If there is no causal effect, then I cannot think that class of things is real.»

John Wilkins in "Is physicalism an impoverished metaphysics?"

http://evolvingthoughts.net/2014/10/is-physicalism-an-impoverished-metaphysics/

Irish Thomist said...

@Ed

I know you have blogged about Brute Facts themselves before but would you consider doing a series of posts relating to how Brute Facts are used by person's like Sean Carroll and so forth?

Bob said...

And by the same token, despite the rhetoric of its loudest contemporary proponents, atheism is implicitly irrationalist insofar as it must deny PSR so as to avoid theism.

I do not think that it follows that, in order to avoid theism that an atheist must necessarily deny PSR in all forms.

In fact, you gave a perfectly good option for such in your last post when you said that one could:

Hold that some EAs are legitimate kinds of argument, while others -- in particular, any EA for some claim about why things exist at all -- are not legitimate.

Vasco said...

On this matter, the atheist philosopher Crispin Sartwell wrote an interesting article in “The Atlantic”, Irrational Atheism, addressing the new atheists,

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/10/a-leap-of-atheist-faith/381353/?single_page=true

(which provoked an angry response from Jerry Coyne
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/is-atheism-irrational-a-philosopher-says-yes/)

E.Seigner said...

Scott: I haven't thought this though completely, but it does seem that even if it were admitted arguendo that there might be some brute facts, the classical theist could argue to God as long as there was at least one fact that was not brute. Then, having established the existence of God, the classical theist could turn around and argue that no facts can be "brute" after all.

This is right, as long as you have not thought it through. But when you have thought it through, you can argue against brute facts directly and immediately. It will be more honest.

Daniel said...

If there were Brute Facts how we would we ascertain their existence and by what criterion would we distinguish them from things the explanation of which we just haven't yet grasped? It would seem in principle impossible to give an Identity Criterion to them that isn't ad hoc and arbitrary. One could even say that epistemically we would need a PSR for holding that X entity lacks a PSR.

Even if per impossible Brute Facts were allowed then why restrict them only to questions of Cosmology? We may just as well extend them to Pathology, Geology, Zoology, Ethics and every other science. For instance if one can explain the Origin of the Universe by appeal to Brute Fact why not do the same for the Origin of Life. Why not solve the Mind/Body problem in the same way too? In fact why not do so for every as yet unanswered question from Dark Energy to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17?

It also seems to run afoul of Ockham’s Razor since de facto appeal to Brute Fact is an admission of failure to give an explanation in which case any actual explanation, no matter how unparsimonious, would be preference in favour of it.

Arthur said...

Once you've decided that it's ever okay to posit a Brute Face, I don't see how you can limit the 'damage', so to speak. Presumably there are meant to be rational standards that show you when something is a Brute Fact and when it isn't, but I'm at a loss as to what those are supposed to be.

Even if per impossible Brute Facts were allowed then why restrict them only to questions of Cosmology? We may just as well extend them to Pathology, Geology, Zoology, Ethics and every other science.

Indeed. Heck, why not take the explanations we already have (Gravity, for instance) and decide that they might instead have been Brute Facts all along?

I take it that saying 'It's a Brute Fact' is meant to be different from saying 'We don't know', but I'm not so sure that there's a non-verbal difference.

David T said...

It seems to me that the admission of the possibility of brute facts leads directly and immediately to Kant.

For a brute fact is a fact that is unintelligible; and if so, then we can't say what one would look like or wouldn't look like. For all we know, brute facts might masquerade as intelligible facts.

Why did the apple fall from the tree? Because gravity pulled it down. But suppose the fact of the apple falling is really a brute fact? How can we rule the possibility out? Only if we have some way to distinguish brute facts from other facts, which we can't in principle, since brute facts are unintelligible and so we can't say what properties do or do not apply to them. There is no way for us to tell whether any given fact is or is not brute.

The best we can say is that some particular fact appears to us to have a cause based on our particular reading of the world. Whether the cause we ascribe really is the real cause - or even if what we are talking about has any cause at all - is something we can never resolve, since the fact might be brute. In other words, we can't avoid Kant's noumenal and phenomenal distinction.

David T said...

I see Arthur and Daniel beat me to the punch here...

David T said...

I also find a parallel between the way atheist philosophers tend to use "nothing" and the way they use "brute fact". By "nothing" they typically mean "almost nothing, but just enough something to do the work I need done" - like kickstart the origin of the universe, for example. By "brute fact", they typically mean "a fact that is almost brute, but just intelligible enough to do the work I want done and no more" - like ruling out the need for an uncaused cause of universe while not admitting the possibility that everything in the universe is uncaused (i.e. brute).

Irish Thomist said...

@All

So further to my comment on October 17, 2014 at 1:13 AM I want to add a little more.

Basically the whole issue of Brute Facts being used as a sthick to attack cosmological arguments and so forth doesn't seem like a very good idea but rarely do I see enough theists call foul on the whole project.

Now Ed has kindly blogged on issues in relation to Carroll before but it would be interesting to see something more in relation to Brute Facts and Carroll (i.e. how they are being used and examples).
Carroll on laws and causation

See here also;
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=brute+facts

See here for more on this mans thinking (I was under the impression Spinoza was a Deist?;

Sufficient Reason

As a side point I will give him some points for his nerd/geekism's;
Avengers Assemble!

Crude said...

Brute facts are an appeal to magic. If someone relies on the existence of brute facts in an argument, call it as much.

Greg said...

An atheist might be on more solid ground by conceding the PSR but denying other aspects of classical metaphysics. For instance, if the atheist denies the transcendentals, and denies that goodness has any ontological basis, the theist will have a tougher time arguing that God is good. Likewise, I would foresee a lot of resistance to the arguments to God's intelligence based on his virtual and eminent pre-possession of the forms of created things. Essentially, the atheist may be able to hold to the idea that the unmoved mover is just a 'cosmic principle' without will or knowledge.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

Interesting observation. I would add however that both the transcendentals and Gods interaction with forms are defensible. Am I misunderstanding your second line about "eminent pre-possession of the forms of created things" being about Gods interaction with the created order?

Aquinas essence and esse solves the second problem (and could be likened to an Aristotelianised Platonic concept of participation of ideas - as understood by some)

Clarify if I for whatever reason have got the context wrong.

Scott said...

@E.Seigner:

"It will be more honest."

I'm not sure what honesty has to do with it. The titular question is whether a (classical) theist could deny PSR, and I'm suggesting that at first look, it seems that any single non-brute fact is sufficient to get to (classical) theism and thence to PSR.

I also agree that the PSR can be argued for directly, but I don't see what that has to do with the topic at hand (unless you're saying that since no one can logically deny PSR, then a fortiori a theist can't!).

Scott said...

In other words, it seems to me that it's not sufficient for someone arguing against theism to claim (as some of them do) that there are some brute facts; s/he has to claim that all facts are brute facts, because even one non-brute fact suffices to ground a theistic argument, in much the same way that the occurrence of even a single change suffices to ground the First Way and the existence of even a single contingent being suffices to ground the Third.

But as I said, I haven't thought this through completely.

Greg said...

@ Irish Thomist

Of course those positions are defensible. But they also need to be defended in order to reach the full Thomist conception of God. It may even be the case that there lurks an inconsistency in denying them while affirming the PSR. But additional argumentation is required, in any case.

Am I misunderstanding your second line about "eminent pre-possession of the forms of created things" being about Gods interaction with the created order?

Well, a Thomist would hold that to have an intellect is in a sense 'to become all things,' to possess intelligible forms. A Thomist also could create an argument to God's intelligence on that basis, i.e. that from the principle of proportionate causality, God possesses the forms of created things eminently or virtually, and therefore God is (analogously) intelligent.

An atheist can admit that there is a first cause that is purely actual while denying this latter argument, if he denies the Thomistic conception of the intellect or Thomistic essentialism rooted in formal causality. To be sure, those Thomistic positions are defensible, and I would say eminently defensible. But since some understanding of God as intelligent is necessary for the position to be 'theism', that would seem to constitute a way that an atheist could hold the PSR while denying theism. Like all philosophical positions, it would of course be open to criticism.

In apologetics, people focus too much on arguments for God's existence, but I think the arguments for divine attributes are just as important. (Sometimes you see amateur apologists trying to use Plantinga's ontological argument. Plantinga probably didn't intend it for apologetic purposes, but that issue aside, what strikes me as the obvious response on the part of a materialist is that "maximal perfection" inasmuch as it entails 'valued' attributes like goodness and intellect is unacceptable.)

Crude said...

Playing off Scott's comment.

In other words, it seems to me that it's not sufficient for someone arguing against theism to claim (as some of them do) that there are some brute facts; s/he has to claim that all facts are brute facts, because even one non-brute fact suffices to ground a theistic argument, in much the same way that the occurrence of even a single change suffices to ground the First Way and the existence of even a single contingent being suffices to ground the Third.

I think a good share of this depends on whether we're talking about theism, period, or classical theism - or at least things change depending on that.

But I'll go one further. If someone accepts brute facts, while it may weigh against classical theism - it does so at the cost of wrecking atheism in the process. Since it's going to be the case that therefore a god or gods can exist as a brute fact - or could have existed in the past, or may exist in the future. This won't be the God of classical theism, but atheism is interested in more than classical theism - it is interested in God and gods, period.

It also would seem that the typical methods to ascertain the existence of God/gods would be wrecked by acceptance of brute facts, since there's really no principled way to determine when and where to determine where the brute facts are popping up, or where they are particularly needed.

So it seems to me that if someone embraces brute facts, they have on their hands a reason to be agnostic about naturalism and atheism at best, and reasonably reject either or both at most.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg
But additional argumentation is required, in any case.

True.

As a side note..
'Catholic' Philosophers need to remind their fellow Christians and Atheists that anyone defending a position is an apologist for that position. The term is overused by some people defending their theism.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

"In other words, it seems to me that it's not sufficient for someone arguing against theism to claim (as some of them do) that there are some brute facts; s/he has to claim that all facts are brute facts, because even one non-brute fact suffices to ground a theistic argument"

You could posit a per se chain of causality with a brute fact as its principal member, such that all the remaining members are determined by it but it is itself an undetermined brute fact.

In such a case, the caused members of the chain would be in one sense a "grounded" fact, since they were caused, and in another sense, they were brute, since the first member was.

So I wonder how that might affect your shift from some fact is not brute to all must be brute if atheism is true, since there seems to be an ambiguity here on the sense of the word "brute"

Timotheos said...

@Greg

But additional argumentation is required, in any case.

To some degree that's true, but I have a hard time believing that someone who had really realized that they are currently being created out of nothing by an all powerful would really have the boldness to insist that it didn't know the very thoughts it was creating in them as well.

But then again, people have been known to have strange intuitions about the Absolute, so I guess it has probably happened.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"So I wonder how that might affect your shift from some fact is not brute to all must be brute if atheism is true, since there seems to be an ambiguity here on the sense of the word 'brute'[.]"

That's a good point. By a "brute fact" I mean one that's not ultimately grounded, not merely one that has an explanation (that has an explanation that has an explanation…) that isn't grounded.

James said...

no facts that are in principle unintelligible, no facts for which there is not even in principle an explanation

Are these supposed to be two distinct entailments, or one restated? In case of the former, it’s incorrect; in case of the latter, it’s confused.

Anonymous said...

Looking for possible exceptions to PSR: might there be any choices God has made which are made from among a set of equally attractive options (Buridan's ass scenarios), and if so, would God have had no reason for choosing one over the other? (Not to say He had no reason for choosing the one He did, but that He had no reason for choosing that one over the others. Yet that is what He did.) Just a thought.

Bob said...

So I understand. If something is ultimately grounded in its own necessity then it is not a brute fact.

Is this a correct understanding?

Anonymous said...

So I understand. If something is ultimately grounded in its own necessity then it is not a brute fact.

The universe is grounded in its own necessity in 3... 2...

Greg said...

@ Timotheos

To some degree that's true, but I have a hard time believing that someone who had really realized that they are currently being created out of nothing by an all powerful would really have the boldness to insist that it didn't know the very thoughts it was creating in them as well.

Well, what I would take the materialist to be denying is that:
(1) the unmoved mover 'knows' anything; and
(2) thoughts are 'real' in a robust sense.
They might deny (2) by appeal to some eliminativism or strong reductionism. And by denying (2), they would thereby be denying (1), since they might be arguing that our psychological language is something like an old, disposable scientific theory.

All disputable points, of course. (But that shows how philosophy of mind is also relevant to apologetics. A common response to William Lane Craig, for instance, is that a disembodied, timeless mind is impossible.)

Michael said...

@Scott

I haven't thought this though completely, but it does seem that even if it were admitted arguendo that there might be some brute facts, the classical theist could argue to God as long as there was at least one fact that was not brute. Then, having established the existence of God, the classical theist could turn around and argue that no facts can be "brute" after all.

I think in one way you are right, that you could have a causal chain (however long or short) that would lead the you to God while still holding for the sake of argument that it is possible that there exist some brute facts.

But, if the atheist is thinking at all, he would most likely say that the possibility of some brute facts has turned into a reality with a particular brute fact towards the end of the your causal chain, just before the conclusion.

So once you let in the possibility of brute facts, even for the sake of argument, expect to get nowhere when presenting cosmological-type arguments.

Scott said...

@Michael:

"But, if the atheist is thinking at all, he would most likely say that the possibility of some brute facts has turned into a reality with a particular brute fact towards the end of the your causal chain, just before the conclusion."

Well, that's likely enough, but here again the atheist would have to do this for every fact. That's why I say the theist needs just one non-brute fact for the argument to go through. (And again, by a "brute fact" I mean a fact that doesn't ultimately have an explanation in something self-explanatory.)

Scott said...

shall ingscib@Irish Thomist:

"I was under the impression Spinoza was a Deist?"

Nah, Spinoza identified God with Nature (a.k.a. the universe or cosmos) and is probably best regarded as a panetheist (or panentheist).

Scott said...

(Oops, "panetheist" should be "pantheist.")

Daniel said...

A few remarks…

First of all a point I want to get off my chest. The term ‘Universe’ or ‘Cosmos’ is of the same time as the terms ‘herd’ and ‘flock’ not ‘car-park’ or ‘marketplace’. In other words it is a collective term and not a locational one. So many atheists seem to fail to understand this i.e. that when we speak of the universe simply refers to the sum of all contingent beings and not to a special containing entity in its own right. To do so is to commit a Category mistake.

Greg said

Essentially, the atheist may be able to hold to the idea that the unmoved mover is just a 'cosmic principle' without will or knowledge

Yes, but in doing so they would really be throwing Atheism away in favour of Deism a la Flew. I am surprised more Secularisticaly inclined Aristotelians like Rand or Foot never opted for anything like this. Still too ‘religious’ I suppose.

In apologetics, people focus too much on arguments for God's existence, but I think the arguments for divine attributes are just as important. (Sometimes you see amateur apologists trying to use Plantinga's ontological argument. Plantinga probably didn't intend it for apologetic purposes, but that issue aside, what strikes me as the obvious response on the part of a materialist is that "maximal perfection" inasmuch as it entails 'valued' attributes like goodness and intellect is unacceptable.)

Far be it from me to disagree there, though in defence of our budding Plantingarian it would be behove the critic to show why such properties weren’t objective in which they (the Plantingarian) could appeal to considerations from Modal essences, Platonic abstracta, and the impossibility of accounting for Propositions on Materialist terms. As with Classical Theism Plantinga’s Natural theology relates to his background metaphysics.

All disputable points, of course. (But that shows how philosophy of mind is also relevant to apologetics. A common response to William Lane Craig, for instance, is that a disembodied, timeless mind is impossible.)

Most Materialists would have to admit an immaterial mind is in principle possible given their commitment to Functionalism. Said position isn't strictly speaking a purely Materialist position in and off itself: instead what it claims is that any substance capable of manifesting the appropriate Casual roles can be a mind. A great bonus of this is that it seemingly provides an answer to the Conceivability argument for Dualism - since to be a mind is to manifest said roles then it is entirely possible that we could be an immaterial substance i.e. it could manifest said roles, but since we know that in this world we are at least partly physical than having said physical substance bear the roles would be more parsimonies.

They could of course take him up on the ‘Timeless’ part but as we know Craig doesn’t hold to any of that nasty Divine Timelessness anyway (and certainly not Divine Simplicity).

Ed’s post about Functionalism and the Divine Mind might be in order.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

Yes, but in doing so they would really be throwing Atheism away in favour of Deism a la Flew. I am surprised more Secularisticaly inclined Aristotelians like Rand or Foot never opted for anything like this. Still too ‘religious’ I suppose.

I envision such an atheist as taking a weaker position than Flew. Flew thought that fine tuning was a good argument, so his deity was intelligent. The atheist I envision agrees that there is a 'cosmic first principle' which even sustains everything at every moment--but is not intelligent. (NB: I had a philosophy professor who read Descartes as denying that God is intelligent, but not by arguing for some form of eliminativism/reductionism.)

Most Materialists would have to admit an immaterial mind is in principle possible given their commitment to Functionalism.

Right, although the materialist may be an eliminativist or reductivist of sorts rather than a functionalist. (Although I wonder how divine simplicity squares with functionalism. Does a functionalist conception of mind require the mind in question to be responsive, to take input and generate output?)

They could of course take him up on the ‘Timeless’ part but as we know Craig doesn’t hold to any of that nasty Divine Timelessness anyway (and certainly not Divine Simplicity).

I probably should have said 'changeless'.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"I am surprised more Secularisticaly inclined Aristotelians like Rand or Foot never opted for anything like this."

Rand wasn't as Aristotelian as she wanted everyone to believe. She tried to make "essences" a matter of epistemology rather than metaphysics, for example.

"Still too ‘religious’ I suppose."

Indeed. From her earliest days, Rand set out (she said so) to become the greatest enemy religion had ever known, and her objections to theism were almost entirely based on her view that if God existed, that would be bad.

Timotheos said...

"[H]er objections to theism were almost entirely based on her view that if God existed, that would be bad."

There's just something more than a little ironic about the fact that she found the Good to be a bad thing...

E.Seigner said...

Scott: I'm not sure what honesty has to do with it. The titular question is whether a (classical) theist could deny PSR, and I'm suggesting that at first look, it seems that any single non-brute fact is sufficient to get to (classical) theism and thence to PSR.

I also agree that the PSR can be argued for directly, but I don't see what that has to do with the topic at hand... But as I said, I haven't thought this through completely.


Intellectual honesty. As long as you have not thought it through properly, you can honestly entertain various alternatives and see where they lead, but as soon as you have properly considered various conclusions and made up your mind about them, the most honest thing to do is to argue for and from your conclusion. (Not implying that you are intellectually dishonest, btw. Honest doubts are always possible.)

Daniel said...

@Greg,

Re Flew, that's interesting. I question whether standard fine-tuning type arguments of the biological as opposed to cosmological type are really open to the Aristotelian given their commitment to immanent teleology.

Right, although the materialist may be an eliminativist or reductivist of sorts rather than a functionalist. (Although I wonder how divine simplicity squares with functionalism. Does a functionalist conception of mind require the mind in question to be responsive, to take input and generate output?)

As far as I understood Functionalism is a theory of mind whist Reductionism and Eliminativism refer to the theses that all biological talk is reducible to physics and that 'mind' involves no Qualia and/or Intentionality respectively. Churchland, that old T-Rex of Eliminativism, is a Computational Functionalist as far as I know. You're absolutely right about Divine Simplicity being incompatible with Functionalism - Craig of course rejects Simplicity as well so that part my post was really a bit of a dig at his concept of God not being that different from what Functionalism would entail.

This does raise on interesting point though. Whilst the Divine Mind does necessarily possess Intentionality (even if the prime object of this Intentionality is its own essence) does it possess Qualia? This is a complicated question - since the Universal Species 'Red' or 'Bat grounded in the Divine Nature along with all other Essences there is an obvious sense in which the Deity does possess all knowledge of Red and 'Bat', yet this knowing is categorically non-sensuous. As Davies and Leftow point on in their introduction to the Cambridge edition of Questions on God 'If nothing can act on God then God does not know things outside Himself by perceiving them, because perceptual knowledge is knowledge that someone is caused to have... But on Aquinas terms, as we have seen, God cannot literally observe anything'. Even if this is so it doesn't constitute a problem per say as it would only mean it would be a Category mistake to ask of the Deity this kind of perception of Qualia just as it would be to ask that God can swim, climb trees or sin.

Arthur said...

'Thomism is making medieval arguments...'

'Medieval' arguments? Oh no! If they were modern arguments I guess we could look at them dispassionately and try to understand them, but medieval ones?

...So now we can add Chronological Snobbery to the ever-lengthening list of fallacies Santi is fond of.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronological_snobbery

Arthur said...

Oops, sorry, that post was intended for a different article. Disregard!

JesseM said...

It's always seemed to me that there is some kind of conflict between the notion of libertarian free will (as opposed to compatibilist free will) and the PSR. Wouldn't it be within God's power to "rewind" the state of the universe to the beginning of this year (or create another universe identical in state/form to our universe as it was at the beginning of the year), not only recreating the material state of everything as it was on Jan 1 2014, but also any 'states' of non-material but time-bound entities like human souls? If God then allowed things to play forward from there, libertarian free will suggests people might make different choices as the year unfolded then they did in our history. But logically there must be a first instant when the 'new' version of 2014 diverged from the 'original' version of 2014, and it must be true that the state of the universe immediately before that instant was identical in both cases--including the state of mind/soul of the person who begins to act differently. So it seems like the difference in choices could have no reason or cause in terms of differences in the thoughts or intuitions or personality of the one making the choice, there could be no prior reason for the different choice at all, and thus the choice in each version of 2014 would just be a "brute fact".

Irish Thomist said...

@JesseM

Wouldn't it be within God's power to "rewind" the state of the universe to the beginning of this year...

Actually no, he couldn't. For similar reasons why we can't have squared circles. Just because a postulate can be formulated with language (and logically according to language) does not entail that it is in fact logical - as language is not, nor is language metaphysically accurate of itself qua language.

That is how I solve the following paradox

This sentence is a lie

I may set up a blog and explain this in more detail (and it would be for discussions and learning philosophy etc.). Does that interest anyone?

Tom said...

@IrishThomist: I'd give it a read. With respect to libertarianism, the claim is that there can be sufficient reason for two separate courses of action. The problem comes when you have to find some middle ground between determined and random.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"If God then allowed things to play forward from there, libertarian free will suggests people might make different choices as the year unfolded th[a]n they did in our history. But logically there must be a first instant when the 'new' version of 2014 diverged from the 'original' version of 2014[.]"

First of all, there need be no divergence (and I doubt there would be). Libertarian free will doesn't mean that people just "choose" things at random with no rhyme or reason; it means only that their choices aren't necessitated and that they genuinely have the power to choose otherwise. If it were possible to rewind and rerun a scene in which, say, I pull my wife out of the path of an oncoming car, I can pretty well guarantee you that I'll freely make the same choice every time.

Second, even if there were divergence, I'm not sure that alone would be enough to show that there wasn't a sufficient reason for each of two different choices. Say Socrates sits in one world and stands in another; that alone doesn't seem to entail that he (or his decision) lacked a sufficient reason in either world.

Third, if the Thomistic/Bañezian account of God's relationship to our free will is true, then there's no question that we'll freely make the same choices every time even though we do so contingently.

(Incidentally, I'm assuming in my reply that your thought experiment is logically possible, but I suspect Irish Thomist is correct in saying that it isn't.)

Scott said...

I see Tom made my second point as I was composing my post. And yes, like Tom, I'd give that blog a read.

Tom said...

@Scott: Could you elaborate a bit on the Thomistic/Banezian account of freedom? Our choices being free & contingent yet the same every time sounds counterintuitive, to say the least.

JesseM said...

@Irish Thomist - can you elaborate on why you think this would be logically impossible, either here or in a blog post? Keep in mind I'm not talking about rewriting the past, the idea is that if the universe (encompassing all time-based entities, including any non-physical ones) was in state S1 on Jan. 1 2014, and on Feb. 1 2014 it was in state S2, March 1 2014 state S3 and so forth, then on Jan. 1 2015 God could cause everything to instantaneously jump back to state S1. Even though people's memories and clocks would then tell them only 1 year had passed since Jan. 1 2013, from God's objective perspective of the timeline, it would still really be 2 years past Jan. 1 2013.

Christopher said...

PSR is interlinked with Prima Causa, so wouldn't the denial of the entirety of PSR afflict the Theist's position entirely?

JesseM said...

@Scott:
First of all, there need be no divergence (and I doubt there would be). Libertarian free will doesn't mean that people just "choose" things at random with no rhyme or reason; it means only that their choices aren't necessitated and that they genuinely have the power to choose otherwise. If it were possible to rewind and rerun a scene in which, say, I pull my wife out of the path of an oncoming car, I can pretty well guarantee you that I'll freely make the same choice every time.

But are you saying there'd be no divergence even about the myriad less "obvious" choices, ranging from choices people don't put much thought into because they seem trivial (what cereal to eat for breakfast) to choices that people struggle with because they see a compelling case for each option? If you think there'd be guaranteed to be no divergence in even a single one of the who-knows-how-many choices all the people of the Earth make over the course of, say, a year, then this doesn't sound like the view of someone who advocates libertarian free will, it sounds like the view of a compatibilist who thinks our choices are simultaneously free and determined by past conditions, even if they aren't determined by purely physical conditions as a materialist would believe.

On the other hand, if you think there is even a slight possibility of a divergence on at least some choices, then I still think the notion of a "first moment where a divergence occurs", and there being absolutely no differences prior to the altered choice, indicates that the choice must be seen as a "brute fact" not explained in terms of anything else.

Brandon said...

It's unclear to me what the rewinding is supposed to be doing; the only thing we are getting out of the idea is that things weren't necessary the first time, which is something that would have to be determined without the supposition of rewinding in the first place.

Donald said...

Where does mathematics fit into this? Are the facts that 1 + 1 = 2 or that pi equals the infinite series 4 - 4/3 + 4/5 -…. "brute facts"? I once heard a Calvinist claim that God was responsible for the fact that 1 + 1 = 2, but had no idea whether that made any sense.

Michael said...

@Scott

Well, that's likely enough, but here again the atheist would have to do this for every fact. That's why I say the theist needs just one non-brute fact for the argument to go through. (And again, by a "brute fact" I mean a fact that doesn't ultimately have an explanation in something self-explanatory.)

I think I see it now and agree. Thanks.

I guess somewhat funny is that in the process of argumentation, if the atheist (perhaps of a particular kind) had his way the non-brute fact that both would agree to start with would in fact turn out to be a brute fact all along, in every instance, time and time again... and that would be a tiresome game. And although in this scenario, for the sake of argument, we are accepting the possibility of the existence of some brute facts, we would end up having to commit to the principle that every fact is a brute fact... at least if we were to play the game.

That game is stupid.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"Our choices being free & contingent yet the same every time sounds counterintuitive, to say the least."

The basic idea is just that if God wants there to be a world in which (say) Socrates sits rather than stands, God makes there be such a world by making Socrates's free will effective and infallibly/efficaciously making it be the case that Socrates freely/contingently chooses to sit rather than stand.

Tom said...

@Scott: Interesting. I certainly see the criticism that Banezianism is just a form of determinism, then. What do they have to say about the possibility of some people ending up in hell? If God's going to infallibly preordain our actions, it would be nice if he could infallibly preordain us into heaven at least.

Brandon said...

Scott can correct me if I'm wrong, but I take it that his point in context was that simply that replaying the timeline wouldn't get you a different result because every free choice necessarily involves something that is independent of and prior to the timeline, namely, divine action. If the premotion remains the same, the timeline would do the same thing, for the simple reason that premotion is required (on the Thomist/Banezian view) for anything actually to happen. (A Molinist would tend to say the same thing for a very roughly similar reason, incidentally.)

The basic answer to your question about Banezianism and heaven/hell is something like this. The key word in the description is 'infallibly', which in this context is opposed to 'necessarily'; God's preordination doesn't make what is preordained necessary, but merely actual. Because of this, nothing happens unless God at least permits it, including our free choices; but we still make free choices. Being sinners, we damn ourselves, and God permits it; but getting any of us to heaven requires positive action on the part of God, and we don't know the full reasons why he does it, since in strict justice nothing requires him to do so.

That's a very, very crude summary of something people like Garrigou-Lagrange wrote long books about and disputed at immense length, so take it with a grain of salt.

Santi Tafarella said...

Isn't a "brute fact" just another way of saying, "The big bang is in need of an explanation"?

Theists put into the place holder of that explanation "God" (something defined as simple, unitary, etc.), and scientists and atheists put into the place holder quantum physics, the multiverse, or some other materially necessary condition for causing the big bang.

Both the theist and the scientist/atheist are in a situation of question begging in terms of their necessary cause of the big bang, for then the obvious question becomes: what caused your place holder?

Theists halt this inquiry by calling the place holder a logically necessary being, but this explains nothing in term of how that being could ever have got going or always existed in the first place.

Likewise, atheists and scientists halt the inquiry by making matter and the laws of physics the necessary being, their brute fact, and don't extend the regress to a deity (which they regard as a more complicated brute fact than the matter and laws they already know).

But here's the key: if the cosmos didn't exist, there would be no reason to posit either an uncaused necessary being (God) as a brute fact beyond ultimate explanation or an uncaused set of quantum laws and matter as a brute fact beyond ultimate explanation.

It's the big bang itself that forces the question into the realm of brute fact because the brute fact is the cosmos itself. Positing God and multiverses are the reverberations of that brute fact: Why ultimately is there something when there might have been nothing?

Greg said...

@ Santi

Isn't a "brute fact" just another way of saying, "The big bang is in need of an explanation"?

Nope.

JesseM said...

@Brandon: A Molinist would tend to say the same thing for a very roughly similar reason, incidentally.

I was actually thinking of bringing up Molinism myself, it would be another way of making my point without literally imagining God "resetting" the state of the actual universe. A Molinist would say God's omniscience includes knowledge of "counterfactuals of freedom", meaning knowledge of what choices would be made by all possible persons if faced with all possible circumstances and histories. So this defines a set of "possible worlds" more narrow then the set of all logically possible worlds--his knowledge of this more narrow set is "middle knowledge" because it is in some sense "between" knowledge of all logical possibilities and knowledge of the actual world God creates.

So, another way of putting my point about free will in a Molinist context would be this: out of all the possible worlds involving counterfactuals of freedom that God sees with middle knowledge, can there be pairs of possible worlds that are completely identical up to some time T, and then diverge due to a different choice made by two versions of the same individual? If so, then if the real world manifested by God had such a possible "twin", the choice made at T in the real world would seem to be a "brute fact", since the difference cannot be explained in terms of anything prior, such as different thought-processes or feelings of the individual making the choice.

Perhaps your point about "divine agency" is that if God chose to make one of these possible worlds real, then in that case there would be an explanation for why the individual made one choice and not the other, in terms of God's own choice? If so, would God's own choice be a brute fact, or would you believe God must have had some reason for manifesting one possible world over another, like the idea that God chooses the "best" of all worlds consistent with freedom?

Brandon said...

Perhaps your point about "divine agency" is that if God chose to make one of these possible worlds real, then in that case there would be an explanation for why the individual made one choice and not the other, in terms of God's own choice?

In the context it was simply that any actual timeline already presupposes that God has made a definite choice -- the timeline itself is not a complete account of any contingency or free choice in it. You would have to consider middle knowledge instead, as you do here.

Of course, Banezians don't think that there is any such thing as middle knowledge, so the Molinist description would impress them even less than the rewinding one.

Anonymous said...

Please, can nobody respond to Santi. Do we need another combox discussion derailed by his silliness?

Irish Thomist said...

@JesseM
can you elaborate on why you think this would be logically impossible, either here or in a blog post? Keep in mind I'm not talking about rewriting the past, the idea is that if the universe (encompassing all time-based entities, including any non-physical ones) was in state S1 on Jan. 1 2014, and on Feb. 1 2014 it was in state S2, March 1 2014 state S3 and so forth, then on Jan. 1 2015 God could cause everything to instantaneously jump back to state S1. Even though people's memories and clocks would then tell them only 1 year had passed since Jan. 1 2013, from God's objective perspective of the timeline, it would still really be 2 years past Jan. 1 2013.

It might take a blog post to explain (and as yet I have not set up a blog). The same problems arise as 'deleting the past' (which is metaphysically and logically impossible) then you have the additional problem on top of that of having two 'I's' (for every sentient mind in the world). The only way to have continuity would be something like bilocation between alternate universes and God preventing an interaction of the two 'I's' minds personal experiences... the problems only begin there of course. You may not have realised the problems that could arise in relation to how the same form can exist in two separate timelines. I might argue in principle God could possibly do that but would not for various reasons you might be able to think of yourself – which might undermine certain thought experiments.

Irish Thomist said...

@Anon

Please, can nobody respond to Santi. Do we need another combox discussion derailed by his silliness?

To use a very theistic term "Amen."

Please could Anonymous commenters start using the 'Name/URL' so we know who is who.

JesseM said...

@Irish Thomas-
But my example doesn't involve multiple parallel timelines, it just involves a single timeline where on Jan. 1 2015, the state of all matter and souls is instantaneously transformed to match the state that existed on Jan. 1 2014. Even if you think God "could possibly do that but would not for various reasons", all that is required for the thought-experiment is to accept it'd be logically possible for God to do, and to then consider the question of whether events in the year after Jan. 1 2015 would then unfold in exactly the same way as in the year after Jan. 1 2014, and draw conclusions about the nature of free will (and the principle of sufficient reason) based on the answer to this question.

Also, as I said to Brandon, if you accept the possibility that Molina might be right about God having "middle knowledge" of counterfactuals of freedom, then the same question about free will can be restated in terms of the possible histories God sees with His middle knowledge, without the need to imagine God actually "resetting" anything in the actual universe that He creates.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"If so, then if the real world manifested by God had such a possible 'twin', the choice made at T in the real world would seem to be a 'brute fact', since the difference cannot be explained in terms of anything prior, such as different thought-processes or feelings of the individual making the choice."

I still don't think that follows (in either scenario). Even granting arguendo that a different choice might be made at T, that doesn't seem to entail that the making of either choice lacked a sufficient reason.

Suppose the choice is about what to have for lunch. It happens that I like both peanut-butter sandwiches and grilled-cheese sandwiches, and I'm making up my mind about which one to have. Run either one of your scenarios, and let's suppose that one "time" I choose peanut butter and the other "time" I choose grilled cheese. In each case there's a sufficient reason for my choice, isn't there?

JesseM said...

@Scott: Doesn't the "principle of sufficient reason" require a for every outcome, there is a reason that uniquely implies that specific outcome? (note that here 'a reason' can be an arbitrarily complicated deduction from arbitrarily many other facts, it doesn't have to be something simple like "I prefer peanut-butter sandwiches to grilled-cheese sandwiches") As opposed to something like "reason X implies one of these options Y or Z must happen, but there's no use looking for a further explanation as to Y happened on a particular occasion but not Z, there's no reason whatsoever for that." In the latter, case, it would seem that the fact that Y happened and not Z on this occasion would just be a "brute fact".

Irish Thomist said...

@JesseM

You misunderstood my point (as I say it would take a while to explain to be fair to you).

Unless I haven't read enough of what you said I take it on some level it involves a different thing happening at a time that has already passed?

This is exactly the situation I was trying to describe. God could maybe bilocate your person into a different alternate reality (such as a forked timeline) but he could not make the past different than it was.

It would take a really long time to explain in full detail why that is the case and I cannot commit to doing that as a reply here. the problem doesn't reside in God's power but in the 'ill-logic' of the proposition.

As a short hand think of God causing God not to be- it's a bit like that (or God lifting a rock he made that he could not lift - that idea).

Daniel said...

@Irish Thomist

I may set up a blog and explain this in more detail (and it would be for discussions and learning philosophy etc.). Does that interest anyone?

It would certainly be of interest to me. Please do let us know if you go ahead with it.

Random off-topic note: at some point I hope to set up a blog focusing on the relationship between ‘Western’ scholastic metaphysics and its parallel development in Islamic philosophy plus some Realist Phenomenology thrown in for good measure.

Donald said...

Where does mathematics fit into this? Are the facts that 1 + 1 = 2 or that pi equals the infinite series 4 - 4/3 + 4/5 -…. "brute facts"? I once heard a Calvinist claim that God was responsible for the fact that 1 + 1 = 2, but had no idea whether that made any sense.

No, because these are fact about Ideal essences. The (modern) Platonist would argue that they exist as freestanding Abstract Objects, in which case they have their own Sufficient Reason from within themselves i.e. they exist necessarily so, whilst the Classical Theist would argue that as essences they are grounded in the Divine Nature. Still on the classical model of Divine Modality* God can not alter necessary truths like '1 + 1 = 2', 'Yellow and Blue make Green' or 'a Square cannot be circular' since they de facto represent a way in which the necessary Divine Nature can be exemplified.

*Brian Leftow discusses this in his God and Necessity though he himself doesn’t endorse precisely the Classical Model

The Calvinist would be trying to argue that the Mathematicals cannot be eliminated and but likewise modern Platonism cannot hold (basically it presupposes a form of immanent Realism) therefore these necessary truths must be rooted in some necessary mind i.e. the Divine Mind. This is a slightly idiosyncratic a version of a very old argument for God's existence called the Proof from Eternal Truths which was defended by Augustine, Pascal and Leibniz amongst others. Both Ed and David Oderberg appear to defend this proof though as far as I know neither have discussed it at great depth in any of their public writings. I wish they would though *Hint, Hint*

JesseM said...

@Irish Thomas: "Unless I haven't read enough of what you said I take it on some level it involves a different thing happening at a time that has already passed?"

No, it doesn't. As I said, the thought-experiment involves God miraculously altering the state of the universe on Jan. 1 2015, so that it becomes identical to the state that existed on Jan. 1 2014, and then letting things evolve forward from there. The "original" events of 2014 still can be seen by God's timeless vision on the section of the timeline between Jan. 1 2014 and Jan. 1 2015, but then after the miraculously alteration on Jan. 1 2015, everyone thinks it is one year earlier than it "really" is--for example, on the date that God can see is really Jan. 2 2015, everyone thinks the date is Jan. 2 2014 because all memories, records, clocks etc. had reverted on Jan. 1. Then the question is whether, on the section of the timeline whose real dates are Jan. 1 2015 - Jan. 1 2016 (even though everyone thinks it is 1 year earlier), everyone's behavior will perfectly replicate their behavior on the section of the timeline whose real dates were Jan. 1 2014 - Jan. 1 2015.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"Doesn't the 'principle of sufficient reason' require [that] for every outcome, there is a reason that uniquely implies that specific outcome?"

PSR requires just what its name suggests: that there's a sufficient reason for each of whatever beings or events the principle is taken to apply to. If either of your scenarios is genuinely possible, then I think all PSR requires is that there be a sufficient reason for each choice in the world in which (or at the time at which) it's made. (The Thomist/Bañezian account of God's relationship to our free will could perhaps be taken to provide one such kind of reason.)

"As opposed to something like 'reason X implies one of these options Y or Z must happen, but there's no use looking for a further explanation as to Y happened on a particular occasion but not Z, there's no reason whatsoever for that.'"

But if, in either of your scenarios, two different choices occur at corresponding times/places, then it wouldn't be the case that either lacked an explanation.

If we thought that were the case, we'd be committed to believing something like this: that if I choose one kind of sandwich, there wouldn't have been a sufficient reason for my choosing the other kind if I had chosen it. That sounds a bit silly, doesn't it?

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"The 'original' events of 2014 still can be seen by God's timeless vision on the section of the timeline between Jan. 1 2014 and Jan. 1 2015[.]"

This may actually be a drawback, or at least a limitation, to your thought experiment: the conditions aren't exactly the same at the two "times." On the Bañezian view, the two "times" could play out differently if and only if God "causally predetermines" (without necessitating) that the relevant persons freely choose differently on the relevant occasions.

JesseM said...

@Scott: "If either of your scenarios is genuinely possible, then I think all PSR requires is that there be a sufficient reason for each choice in the world in which (or at the time at which) it's made. (The Thomist/Bañezian account of God's relationship to our free will could perhaps be taken to provide one such kind of reason.)"

As I said in my comment to Brandon, one way out of the problem would be to say that the "reason" for such a choice lies in God's own reasons for actualizing a world where I made one choice as opposed to the other, not in any of my prior thoughts/feelings/sensations (which by assumption were exactly the same in both possible worlds up to the moment I made the choice). But I don't see any other option for explaining how the PSR can be compatible with my choice being indeterminate in this way, do you?

And if this is the only option, I would make two further points:

1. In order to avoid having the fact that God chose to actualize a world where I chose X as opposed to Y be a mere "brute fact", it seems we must assume God has some criteria for which possible world to actualize, like choosing the "best" of all possible worlds that are consistent with freedom (the best of all the possible worlds that He can see with middle knowledge). The nature of the criteria might be impossible for us to understand in such simple terms, but some criteria that determine the decision must be there if God's choice is to be more than just a brute fact.

2. If my free will only gives a "reason" that I will choose either X or Y but doesn't say which, and the ultimate "reason" for the fact that I chose X lay in God's choice to actualize a possible world where I chose X, then it seems wrong to say that the choice of X over Y was really "my" choice at all--it had nothing to do with any of my thoughts, feelings, urges etc. Speaking metaphorically, it'd be as if in certain circumstances each of us was like Buridan's ass (an old philosophical thought-experiment where a donkey is confronted with two identical bales of hay at equal distances from it, and since it has no reason to choose one over the other it starves to death), with nothing in our own mind giving us reason to favor one choice over another, and only an external nudge from God can push us along one path over another.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

Your point (2) is one that Bañezians expressly deny; they say on the contrary that God's influence is what makes it possible for us to exercise our free will. As I recently posted in another thread:

If anyone…is interested in what Aquinas himself argued on this subject, here, here, and here are some good places to look.

Here's a short version, from Fr. [Garrigou-Lagrange] summarizing and defending Aquinas's view: "The divine motion, since it does not render the action of secondary causes superfluous but gives rise to it, cannot be necessitating, in the sense that it would suppress all contingency and liberty. But under the divine influx, secondary causes act as befitting their nature, either necessarily, as the sun gives light and heat, or contingently, as fruits become more or less ripe in time; or else freely, as in the case of man who chooses." (Predestination, pp. 243-244.)

Jason Zarri said...

JesseM said:

1. In order to avoid having the fact that God chose to actualize a world where I chose X as opposed to Y be a mere "brute fact", it seems we must assume God has some criteria for which possible world to actualize, like choosing the "best" of all possible worlds that are consistent with freedom (the best of all the possible worlds that He can see with middle knowledge). The nature of the criteria might be impossible for us to understand in such simple terms, but some criteria that determine the decision must be there if God's choice is to be more than just a brute fact.

Thanks for bringing this up. I've wondered something like this too for a while (see
http://philosophicalpontifications.blogspot.com/2010/02/how-free-is-gods-will.html

and

http://reflectionsonreligion.blogspot.com/2010/10/reply-to-brandon-on-how-free-is-gods.html), and I'm interested to see what people here have to say.

Scott said...

Well, now, this could quickly shape up into an (even more) interesting discussion.

For whatever it's worth, Aquinas's own views on the matter imply that there's no such thing as the "best possible world" (since for any world God creates, there's always one that would be "better" in some respect). I also take it that according to Thomism, God's freedom in creation consists at bottom of His not being limited or constrained by anything external to His will/nature, and of His having the power to create other worlds even in fact He doesn't. (Nor, as Mr. Green and I are both fond of pointing out, do we know that He doesn't!)

Tom said...

@Scott: The idea of there being many universes is an interesting solution to the problem of evil. Why is there evil in this world? Well, God created all possible worlds, and so it follows that some have evil in them.

It does raise some interesting questions about heaven & hell, and about Christology (for Christians, anyway), but it's one of the simplest solutions to the problem of evil. Plus, on the Christian level, there's been speculation about what the Incarnation could mean for aliens, so it's not entirely without precedent.

Donald said...

Daniel--thanks for the response. That made sense, not that my endorsement on metaphysical matters means very much.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"The idea of there being many universes is an interesting solution to the problem of evil. Why is there evil in this world? Well, God created all possible worlds, and so it follows that some have evil in them."

Also, even if God created many worlds rather than just one, there might still be worlds that would be in some sense "too evil" for God to create.

But I think the heart of the matter is that, according to classical theism (and Thomism in particular), it's simply not logically possible for God to create a world with no evil in it: such a "world" would include no privation of any sort and would therefore just be God.

Scott said...

I should perhaps make explicit that that's essentially why there's no maximally good/perfect world.

I should also add that I think it's a mistake to regard God as a "moral agent, as "morally good" in the same way that we are (or rather aren't!), or as having "moral obligations" in the same way that we do. Brian Davies has an excellent book on the subject.

JesseM said...

On this subject, I just chose "degree of goodness" as one possible criteria that God might use to decide which of the two possible worlds (one where a person makes choice Y and another where they make choice Z, with their history up to that moment being identical). The criteria might be something entirely different, but if the PSR is to hold it seems like God must have some reason for His choice, a reason which follows in some way from necessary aspects of His nature, otherwise his choice would just be a brute fact. Again consider my earlier comment about how the PSR seems to demand that any time Y happens rather than Z, there must be some reason that uniquely points to Y rather than Z:

Doesn't the "principle of sufficient reason" require a for every outcome, there is a reason that uniquely implies that specific outcome? (note that here 'a reason' can be an arbitrarily complicated deduction from arbitrarily many other facts, it doesn't have to be something simple like "I prefer peanut-butter sandwiches to grilled-cheese sandwiches") As opposed to something like "reason X implies one of these options Y or Z must happen, but there's no use looking for a further explanation as to Y happened on a particular occasion but not Z, there's no reason whatsoever for that." In the latter, case, it would seem that the fact that Y happened and not Z on this occasion would just be a "brute fact".

If this version of the PSR is agreed on, it seems that any time God has a choice about which possibility to actualize, the reason He actualizes this possibility and not that one must be a reason that's uniquely implied by necessary aspects of God's nature, which implies it was necessary that God made the particular choice he did (at least given the options that God had, which for a Molinist might be constrained by the fact that God won't violate anyone's freedom and thus will only choose to actualize one of the worlds He sees with middle knowledge, which is assumed to be a more limited set than the set of all logically possible worlds).

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"The [criterion] might be something entirely different, but if the PSR is to hold it seems like God must have some reason for His choice[.]"

I expect so, and I didn't mean to imply that your suggested possible criterion was the only one.

Classical theists would argue, for example, that God permits evil in the world only because, and insofar as, He intends to bring greater good from it.

Tom said...

@Scott: Wouldn't there be a world with the minimum lacking of good, then, and wouldn't that then be the best of all possible worlds?

Scott said...

@Tom:

"Wouldn't there be a world with the minimum lacking of good, then, and wouldn't that then be the best of all possible worlds?"

You mean if there were worlds in some sense "too evil" for God to create them? No, I don't think so; the minimum lacking of good is perfection, namely God Himself, and that's not a "world." If any created world includes some privation (evil), then there's no minimal amount of evil that a created world can include.

Timotheos said...

@ Tom

"Wouldn't there be a world with the minimum lacking of good, then, and wouldn't that then be the best of all possible worlds?"

Scott's already answered this question, but as a general rule of thumb, Thomists quite literally think that asking whether or not there is a best of all possible worlds is quite literally like asking whether there is a greatest finite integer; for any number (or world) you pick, you can always find a greater one by just adding another number (or good thing).

Jason Zarri said...

@Scott
I suppose that my question concerns, not whether there is or isn't a "best possible world," but rather how it is that God could will different things in different worlds given that His nature is supposed to be exactly the same in each and that His will is identical to His nature.

Irish Thomist said...

@All

Now that I understand, I think, (having read his replies) JesseM’s point – his thought experiment would have the outcome (for the sake of argument we accept everything in the experiment) that someone freely chooses exactly the same things, for exactly the same reasons (if God also changes the person’s actual ontological state to the exact state of the mentioned date since grace, sin and virtue would all be effectual on that choice in a Thomistic reading).

It also must be noted their decision while the same is not deterministic since the final causal action is a form of interior causation and actualisation rather than X outside causing Y the process is more complex and depends on the person as person.

In the case of God, his Will in principle is more ‘free’ (yes you read that correctly – it would get too complex to explain how the inability due to nature to sin factors in) than ours in so far as he is totally self actualising and the first principle of all things, so to speak.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

Classical theists would argue, for example, that God permits evil in the world only because, and insofar as, He intends to bring greater good from it.

Not all of us ( because of ends justifying means and all that). While this might be the case it may well be secondary to a wider reason i.e. how he works in the world. I have my own theories I may wish to develop and explain further on a replacement of the present concurrentism theory.

Scott said...

@Jason Zarri:

"I suppose that my question concerns…how it is that God could will different things in different worlds given that His nature is supposed to be exactly the same in each and that His will is identical to His nature."

I think part of the answer is that the God of classical theism isn't "in" different worlds and so can't vary between them. Suppose there are two different worlds, W₁ and W₂. God doesn't will the features of W₁ "in" W₁ and the features of W₂ "in" W₂; He just wills W₁ and W₂.

I also think there's a sense in which God could also (or instead) have willed another world, W₃, even though He didn't/doesn't. However, I don't think it's helpful to characterize this in terms of possible worlds, as though there's a possible world W₃ that has a God "in" it Whose will differs from that of the God "in" other possible worlds.

Santi Tafarella said...

Why is there some Being rather than no Being?

In other words, with regard to the existence of contingent beings ("Why is there something rather than nothing?"), God presumably functions as the necessary and sufficient cause for those contingent beings.

But on the principle of sufficient reason, God has no reason Herself. The answer to the question, "Why is there some Being rather than no Being" has no answer. If God exists, God is a brute fact.

So wherever there are contingent beings, THEN it would appear that a singular, unified, necessary Being must exist to end the infinite regress. But that Being had no reason to exist prior to the creation of those contingent beings. There could have been no Being rather than that one Being.

Therefore, the existence of God does not square with the principle of sufficient reason. God is either a brute fact or does not exist.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

To put this charitably your arguments are poor and I suspect that you would fit into the description Edward Feser gave about Vincent Torley on a blog post not too long ago.

Look I'll put it this way instead.
Atheism and atheists have some very valid questions and even valid challenges and points but you seem to be throwing just anything out there trying to 'win' an argument, maybe trying to reclaim any credibility you may have lost with bad arguments earlier.

My suggestion is interact but ask more questions rather than present what you think are good arguments - your last 'argument' has interestingly enough been 'refuted' (not that in the act of giving an counter-argument does it get automatically refuted I might add) at some point in these discussions even before you made it.

I sincerely wish you a pleasant day.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi

But that Being had no reason to exist prior to the creation of those contingent beings.

Sigh.

Take my advice as above. This is my last reply until then.

Christopher said...

'But on the principle of sufficient reason, God has no reason Herself.'

For someone to claim that they do not know about God's existence, you sure do affirm a feminine sex to God.

'God is a brute fact.'

A brute fact is that which does not have an adequate explanation, but is accepted as factual. PSR is not in itself a 'brute fact' since self-sufficiency is self-explanatory. It is self-sufficient and self-explanatory given the argument of Prima Causa.

'But that Being had no reason to exist prior to the creation of those contingent beings. There could have been no Being rather than that one Being.'

That end of is the end of, period. If you argue the existence of a Being that caused all beings must be caused, then you're missing the purpose of St. Thomas Aquinas' explanation. If there could have been no Being, then by nature, there would have been no nature. So as such, you would not exist, but you do exist.

'Therefore, the existence of God does not square with the principle of sufficient reason. God is either a brute fact or does not exist.'

Conclusion is invalid due to erroneous deduction.

Greg said...

Santi is just exhibiting her charm and wit.

Daniel said...

I nearly swore never to be involved in another Santi debate but still.... In the
The Principle of Sufficient Reason in full states that 'every being has its sufficient reason either from itself or from another' - in the case of beings which have their sufficient reason from within themselves said beings are necessary beings, that is their non-existence would entail a contradiction/there can be no Possible World in which they don't exist. Paradigmatic examples of this are Abstract Objects such as Numbers and Sets or Propositions. This alone has nothing to do with Theism since there are a fair number of atheist or Agnostic philosophers who endorse a Soft-Platonic view on Mathematical objects (Quine, Russell, Sobel et cetera).

Scott said,
However, I don't think it's helpful to characterize this in terms of possible worlds, as though there's a possible world W₃ that has a God "in" it Whose will differs from that of the God "in" other possible worlds.

Ahh the famous confusion between ‘World’ I.e. Cosmos or Universe understood in the sense of modern physics and ‘World’ as a maximally inclusive conjunction or set of propositions. David Lewis made a career out of it.

taylormweaver said...

I do understand now, however, why and how so many misunderstand sophisticated forms of theism, like Thomistic thought. I get the reasoning behind Santi's questions and arguments. And, the problems seems to stem from issues of language and terminology, often (different language games being played, perhaps?).

Internet message boards are full, I am sure, of people pontificating on these issues, thinking they have struck a blow to entire systems of thought. It's easy when you don't know what your opponent is saying. I am sure this is how biologists feel when they hear creationists talk science.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Ahh the famous confusion between ‘World’ I.e. Cosmos or Universe understood in the sense of modern physics and ‘World’ as a maximally inclusive conjunction or set of propositions. David Lewis made a career out of it."

Indeed. And even for those who haven't, I don't see that the talk of "worlds" accomplishes anything beyond inviting the very confusion you mention. To the extent that it's taken seriously, it seems to get things the wrong way around: in order to know what states of affairs could obtain in a "possible world," we already have to know what's "possible" (in our world or to God).

Jason Zarri said...

@Scott

Talk of possible worlds (in the sense of maximally consistent sets of propositions) may invite some to confuse the order of explanation of modality, but not all; while I think it does provide a convenient albeit picturesque way of examining or describing modal phenomena (such as when doing the semantics of modal logic or that of counterfactuals in natural language). Anyhow, to say that God exists in or wills something in a world is not to say that is is part of the Cosmos or anything like that; it's just a shorthand for saying that had that world been actual (I.e., had all of its propositions been true) God would have existed and would have willed such-and-such.

Jason Zarri said...

Bearing that in mind, allow me to quote from one the blog posts I mentioned earlier to better explain what I think the problem is:

"One might say that God counts as performing an action in one world and not in another, not because God is intrinsically different in those worlds, but simply because the outcome that is the effect of God’s action obtains in the one world and not the other.

To illustrate, suppose that a certain area has suffered a long drought, and one of its inhabitants, Jones, prays for rain. God can either will it to rain, or will it not to rain. The question is: What is the difference between God’s willing it to rain and God’s willing it not to rain? There is certainly a difference in the results: in one case it rains, and in the other it doesn’t. But what is the difference with respect to God? According to the view under consideration, there is no difference, because God is wholly simple, and thus identical to His attributes. So there is nothing about God which could account for the different results in the two cases, for God’s nature is precisely the same in each. If one nevertheless insists that God “wills” something different in the two cases, one must admit that God’s will is not supervinient on God’s nature, for God’s will can vary across possible worlds although His nature never does.

From the above it follows that God’s will and God’s nature are distinct, and hence that God’s will is not an attribute of God. What then can it mean to say that God wills something? Nothing, I think, except that God exists and it happens. If God did not exist, it could not be true that God wills it. And if God exists and that “something” did not happen, it also could not be true that God wills it, because God is omnipotent: Whatever He wills is the case. This notion of God’s willing something is a tenuous one, but if we still wish to say, e.g., that God wills it to rain, I cannot think of any more appropriate situation to say so than when it rains.

However, it seems to me that this externalist account gets things backwards. According to it, God’s will has nothing to do with God’s nature, for God’s will differs in different worlds although God’s nature remains the same no matter what is the case. If this view is right, it would thus seem more accurate to say that God wills something in virtue of its happening than that something happens in virtue of God’s willing it. God’s “answering Jones’s prayer”, if He does, amounts to no more than that Jones prayed for rain, that God exists, and that it rained. In general, to say that God answers prayers amounts to no more than that God exists and that—sometimes—what people pray for comes to pass. Whether true or false, the externalist account of God’s actions doesn’t seem very pious. In any event, it if it is true, we cannot say that God affects the world in any substantive sense, nor, consequently, that God’s character or actions explain why the world is the way it is. So we could not say, for example, that “…the order and life-friendliness of the universe can be explained if something, namely God, does a particular sort of thing…”, God doesn't really do anything to bring about the order and life friendliness of the universe. God exists, and the universe is ordered and life-friendly, but we cannot appeal to the fact that God contingently has any attributes in order to truly explain those effects.

Santi Tafarella said...

The most brute fact of all is learning that we will die, which we then cast about for an explanation that will sufficiently account for this fact: "As in, forever? Does someone will this death of mine?"

In our searching for a sufficient explanation, we immediately discover three grave difficulties to confident investigation: (1) God is not talking; (2) if God made us and lets us die for a purpose, it seems to be an opaque one, for we are quite belated, arriving late on the cosmic scene, an evolved primate adrift precariously on a unfriendly planet in a vast ocean of lifeless and empty space; and (3) being evolved primates of limited intelligence with powerful instinctual desires and aversions--among them, the fear of death and a longing to live forever--we have great difficulty thinking clearly. (Orwell famously said, "To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant effort." He said this precisely because it is so difficult to eliminate the static of our desires, aversions, biases, etc.)

Add to these difficulties the problem of seemingly senseless suffering, illustrated most vividly in the contemplation of three things: (1) evolution, (2) the Holocaust; and (3) tsunamis that can wash away 100,000 people in a single hour.

So not only do we die, but we arrived on the scene by a three billion year process of death; of life consuming life in competition, all to no apparently sufficient reason; to no end. This is what evolution appears to be, ethically indifferent, a random process favoring "whatever works."

And being born after WWII, we come of age discovering that God allowed Hitler to destroy six million Jews without intervention, and that 50 million other people died in that war. We also learn that nature is often permitted by God to mow down vast swaths of humanity as well (240,000 people in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 alone). And of course, each of us knows of loved ones who will die. Death is everywhere.

So this is the great brute fact: we die, the cosmos is vast and old and the product of a contingent evolutionary process that seems to have no end, there is great suffering, and God is not speaking. We search for a sufficient reason, and find the ones on offer straining at grave difficulties.

grodrigues said...

@Santi Tafarella:

"We also learn that nature is often permitted by God to mow down vast swaths of humanity as well (240,000 people in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 alone)."

You have a point, but you have not gauged the *full monstrosity* of the situation: we also learn that He created you, (nicknamed?) Santi Tafarella, and sustains you in being. I mean, what could He be thinking? I am pretty sure that *even I* could come up with *something* much better than you. And now we have to suffer your moronic arguments. It just isn't fair.

Scott said...

@Jason Zarri:

"[S]uppose that a certain area has suffered a long drought, and one of its inhabitants, Jones, prays for rain. God can either will it to rain, or will it not to rain. The question is: What is the difference between God’s willing it to rain and God’s willing it not to rain? There is certainly a difference in the results: in one case it rains, and in the other it doesn’t. But what is the difference with respect to God?"

Leaving aside (at least for now) the question of God's libertarian free will, I take it the (sub)problem you're raising is that it seems God can't be both simple and explanatory: if God's will is to explain why this happens now and that happens then, there must be some difference in His will that accounts for the differing outcomes, which in turn would mean that God's will can't be identical with His nature (which is the same everywhere and always).

But suppose it's dry at time t₁, Jones prays for rain at time t₂, and it rains at time t₃. In order for God's will be explain (or be part of an explanation) of why this is the case, does there need to be some difference in God with respect to these times?

I would say not. The proposed explanation is not that God, at time t₁, wills that it be dry, and then, at time t₃, wills that it rain. The proposed explanation is that God (eternally) wills that it be dry at time t₁ and that it rain at time t. (And, assuming the rain occurs at least partly in answer to Jones's prayer, that God eternally wills that Jones's freely undertaken prayer at time t₂ be part of the means by which the rain is brought about.) That doesn't seem to require the sort of difference in God's will that you suggest. (Of course it's also, as it stands, not a full explanation, but the PSR doesn't require that we have, just that there be one. And whether we like it or not, we just don't have the direct insight into God's nature that would give us access to a full explanation.)

Nor do I think that a difference in the objects of God's will with respect to (note that I didn't say "at"!) different times is sufficient to entail a distinction in God. And even if I'm wrong about that, I don't think any such distinction will be found to violate the doctrine of divine simplicity (which denies only distinctions that imply composition).

Scott said...

Errata

In paragraph 3, for " In order for God's will be explain" read "In order for God's will to explain."

In paragraph 4, for "doesn't require that we have," read "doesn't require that we have one."

David T said...

Santi,

Your last post is a mass of self-contradictions. You say that the world is full of "senseless suffering", but then insist that Darwinism is the fundamental explanation of the world, a theory in which suffering not only makes sense, but is the fundamental dynamic of the world.

You claim "grave diffculties" that "make it difficult to think clearly", then immediately go on to grand, sweeping and unsupported conclusions as though you have so little difficulty thinking clearly you can dismiss entire intellectual traditions with the wave of a hand.

And, after all the discussions of "brute fact", you still have not idea what the term means. It means a fact for which no explanation can be given . But as soon as you announce your brute fact, you go on to explain it.

Your post doesn't even rise to the dignity of error.

Greg said...

If anything can be said for Santi, it is that he does not lack conviction.

bmiller said...

Santi,

God is talking. Are you willing to listen? Even though he might give you an answer you might not like?

Daniel said...

So on a different topic from Santi does anyone on here have any thoughts on Katherin Rogers' and her works? I recall Ed once mentioned thinking highly of her in a Combox discussion though I don’t think her name has ever came up in one of the formal blog entries. I recently purchased a copy of her The Neoplatonic Metaphysics and Epistemology of Anselm of Canterbury. She has a more recent book on Anselm entitled Anselm on Freedom where she defends an account of free-will derived from that philosopher – this is more interesting as she rather notoriously disagrees with Leftow’s account of Divine Eternity and holds that both Anselm and Boethius were Eternalists.

There’s another work of hers’, Perfect Being Theology, which might be of interest to Classical Theists as it's basically billed as a defence of the Classical Theist understanding of the Divine Attributes.

Christopher said...

'(1) God is not talking;'

God most certainly talks, but you cast off revelation because it does not adhere to your specific philosophy, that of Scientism. But as you most surely know, Scientism simply cannot account for everything of the Universe. Surely there must be some scientific explanation for 70,000 people to all witness the sun falling to the earth, and their clothes immediately becoming dry despite being soaking wet from the prior rain that preceded? Or that three little peasant children within Portugal were able to have the capacity to predict the successor of the Pope Benedict XV being specifically named Pius XI, that the current war was to soon come to an end, and that a worse war would come about if men did not repent. Surely there must be some explanation with the link to Akita in 1973, which then links to a revelation from 1634 which predicts certain events that have occurred?

'(2) if God made us and lets us die for a purpose, it seems to be an opaque one, for we are quite belated, arriving late on the cosmic scene, an evolved primate adrift precariously on a unfriendly planet in a vast ocean of lifeless and empty space;'
What of Original Sin? Death most certainly is not a Brute Fact in the explanation of Original Sin.

' (3) being evolved primates of limited intelligence with powerful instinctual desires and aversions--among them, the fear of death and a longing to live forever--we have great difficulty thinking clearly. (Orwell famously said, "To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant effort." He said this precisely because it is so difficult to eliminate the static of our desires, aversions, biases, etc.)'

Difficulty in thinking clearly? By the way, have you finally realised that you yourself harbour a bias? A philosophically unsound bias that eliminates any potential philosophical rivalry? Scientism is that philosophically unsound bias.

'(1) evolution, (2) the Holocaust; and (3) tsunamis that can wash away 100,000 people in a single hour.'

(1) Personally as a Thomist, there are problems with Evolution which other Thomists such as Fr. Chad Ripperger in his works The Metaphysics of Evolution which demonstrate the metaphysical problems. So it maybe prudent to at least approach Evolution with a heavily bit of scepticism. (2) The Holocaust is a constant issue you bring up, mainly because what underlies it is the Problem of Evil, but that suffering comes from the Free Will of man. But as an agnostic sceptic that you profess to be, apparently unbiased, you simply cannot complain about the suffering as the suffering is just a natural occurring process. To complain about suffering is either to be aware of how design itself functions, or to be aware of something greater. As a follower of Scientism, you're pretty much limited to the interpretation of that is how design itself functions.

'This is what evolution appears to be, ethically indifferent, a random process favoring "whatever works."'

That is almost an interpretation of Evolution that Huxley advocated, the free-fall of man into something that is reminiscent of Hobbes' Leviathan, David Stove in his work Darwinian Fairytales rebukes that interpretation of Evolution. Also to note, Evolution is not random.

Christopher said...

'And being born after WWII, we come of age discovering that God allowed Hitler to destroy six million Jews without intervention, and that 50 million other people died in that war. We also learn that nature is often permitted by God to mow down vast swaths of humanity as well (240,000 people in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 alone). And of course, each of us knows of loved ones who will die. Death is everywhere.'

Why is it that the entire lamentations and sufferings of the peoples before the era of the Second World War are suddenly irrelevant? What of the Armenian Genocide by the Turks? The Black Death? The Peloponnesian War? What about the fact that the Son of God Himself suffered Crucifixion?

'So this is the great brute fact: we die, the cosmos is vast and old and the product of a contingent evolutionary process that seems to have no end, there is great suffering, and God is not speaking. We search for a sufficient reason, and find the ones on offer straining at grave difficulties.'

Again, the conclusion is invalid because the reasoning is erroneous.

Greg said...

Don't bother trying to reason with Santi. An analytic philosopher, at least, generally engages by making claims and considering how his interlocutor would respond, taking account of his interlocutor's position, acknowledging points of departure and attempting to state his view in such a way that it exemplifies his reasons for holding his view rather than that of his interlocutor.

You need only read Santi's recent post to see that he has no interest in such a form of dialectic.

Santi Tafarella said...

Taylor:

You wrote: "[M]essage boards are full, I am sure, of people pontificating on these issues, thinking they have struck a blow to entire systems of thought. It's easy when you don't know what your opponent is saying."

The more I read the Thomist position, the more respect I have for it. And you might find it helpful to hear how an outsider to your subculture makes "chess moves" as they try to get the hang of the basic arguments Thomism makes.

I'm taking a stab at reading the Real Essences book. It's very good. The basic issues (to my mind) are coming into clearer focus, and I can see what's essentially (pun intended, I suppose) facing off for a perennial philosophy for the next millennium: Thomism v. Buddhism/Existentialism.

It's 1s v. 0s. Maybe it's always been this. I think evolution is on the side of the Buddhists/Existentialists, and that Thomists are reifying essences in ways that make change on things like gay marriage difficult to adjust to.

Santi Tafarella said...

David T:

You wrote: "You say that the world is full of "senseless suffering", but then insist that Darwinism is the fundamental explanation of the world..."

I mean of course "ON THEISM." I thought that was obvious from the context. On atheism, there is no problem of suffering, etc.

Santi Tafarella said...

BMiller:

You said, "God is talking." I'm happy to hear what you think (S)he's telling you, and how you know it.

What's your method for hearing from God, and what do you suggest I do to hear God's voice?

taylormweaver said...

@Santi "The more I read the Thomist position, the more respect I have for it. And you might find it helpful to hear how an outsider to your subculture makes "chess moves" as they try to get the hang of the basic arguments Thomism makes."

Well, you and me are in the same boat, really. I am not exactly a Thomist, though Thomism interests me. I am, as with you, just rally discovering/learning about it. I have spent most of my time reading contemporary continental philosophy (to some a waste, lol). Derrida, Badiou, Deleuze, Agamben, etc.

Actually, I think you would like Deleuze. Look him up on wikipedia or something.


My main interest in Thomism stems from theologians and philosophers I respect who are influenced in such ways. Many of them being so called post-liberals, scholars who have a bone to pick, so to speak, with post-Enlightenment thinking.

Anyway, all that to say that I am just sitting back putting some of the pieces together where I can.

David T said...

Santi,

I'll admit that the problem of evil is a difficult one for theism - St. Thomas thought it the most difficult challenge to belief in God.

But there certainly is a problem of suffering for atheism - and that is to account for the moral gravity of things like the Holocaust. On your account, we are on a meaningless orb driven by the morally indifferent process of evolution. In that context, the suffering of the Holocaust is no different than any other event in nature - it's just another event in evolutionary history, no more significant than, say, a meteor wiping out the dinosaurs (actually less significant in terms of its evolutionary consequences.) Does this seem the truth to you? Or does it seem to you that atheism is leaving something important, indeed, surpassingly important, out of the account?

I find it easier to believe that God has his reasons for allowing moral outrages like the Holocaust to occur (reasons I'm not privy to), than to believe that the Holocaust isn't really a moral outrage in the first place.

Santi Tafarella said...

Christopher:

Here are three of your statements I'll briefly respond to...

You wrote: "Have you finally realised that you yourself harbour a bias?"

Yes, I know that. It's why I'm talking to people who disagree with me. It helps. Two heads are better than one, and two heads that disagree are better than two heads that agree. (I made that up. I like it.)

And: "[Y]ou [as an agnostic] simply cannot complain about the suffering as the suffering is just a natural occurring process."

I agree. My argument was ON THEISM. I recognize that the problem of suffering is not an issue for atheists/agnostics in the way it is for theists.

And as for "whatever works": "That is almost an interpretation of Evolution that Huxley advocated, the free-fall of man into something that is reminiscent of Hobbes' Leviathan, David Stove in his work Darwinian Fairytales rebukes that interpretation of Evolution."

I have a David Stove book of essays somewhere in my garage, and will see if I can locate the one you refer to and learn the argument.

Christopher said...

'I agree. My argument was ON THEISM. I recognize that the problem of suffering is not an issue for atheists/agnostics in the way it is for theists.'

The subtle irony is however that in order for the atheist/agnostic to use suffering as an argument, it has to be elevated from a natural process like breathing, no longer making it natural.

'I have a David Stove book of essays somewhere in my garage, and will see if I can locate the one you refer to and learn the argument.'

If you could, look at Fr. Chad Ripperger's The Metaphysics of Evolution. It's only 72 pages, costs very little and is available on Kindle.

Santi Tafarella said...

Christopher,

I will. Thanks for the book tip.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Why are you referring to Buddhism as existentialism?

Buddhism, whether that of the Pali canon or Mahayana, has little to do with twentieth century existentialism.

Santi Tafarella said...

David T:

You wrote: "On your account, we are on a meaningless orb driven by the morally indifferent process of evolution. In that context, the suffering of the Holocaust is no different than any other event in nature.... Does this seem the truth to you? Or does it seem to you that atheism is leaving something important, indeed, surpassingly important, out of the account?"

I think the subjective is being left out of any natural account of what goes on in the universe (which is just one damn thing after another). Nature and most humans, it appears, do not care for us. Auden's great poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts," captures this wonderfully.

The right atheist/agnostic response (in my view) is solidarity and rebellion, as in Camus' The Plague.

The hero of Camus' novel sees the indifference of nature (and other people) to traumatic human suffering, and in his outrage at the absurdity and tragedy of it all, rebels against it and throws himself into solidarity with suffering humanity, however futile the gesture in the light of the immense time and space that will eventually gobble up him and the planet. "We must imagine Sisyphus happy," Camus writes. I think that's much too optimistic, but I also think that it's all we can do if we're not theists (unfortunately). We can bear witness to and rebel against the horror, hope God exists and will redeem it all someday, and in the meantime do our best to live in reality, not like Oedipus, plucking out our eyes.

Instead, we can be like Galileo looking into his telescope and Kant when he said, "Sapere aude" (dare to know).

We should do our best not to pretend to know more than we know, and we should keep asking questions. I think if God exists, God would want us to be rigorously oriented toward moving toward the truth as best as we can discern it (whether atheist, agnostic, or theist).

That means that if theism is genuinely convincing to you, you should be a theist, but you should also be very, very hard on yourself, reading the texts of the other side (perhaps more than your own side). Likewise, if your an agnostic or atheist, I would advise reading Feser over Dawkins. People (in my view) need to question their beliefs constantly, and look for the strongest arguments on the other side, and try to always keep an open mind.

Jeremy Taylor said...

And you may be talking to those you disagree with, but you are still pontificating when you should be listening and learning.

You keep making assertions based on contemporary imaginative assumptions - like those about our place in the cosmos - without examining them or recognising they are controversial and need an argument.

Those who hold a different philosophical and imaginative position will have a different view of man's place in the cosmos. For example, to express it somewhat poetically, the cosmos is small besides man; man can fit the whole cosmos inside his mind.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jeremy T:

If I recall correctly from a previous thread, you and I went back and forth a bit over whether Buddhism is properly oriented toward the Anatman (no self) doctrine or not, and whether it can reasonably be naturalized (divorced from the dualism of reincarnation, etc.).

But I'm seeing in cultural circles a good deal of attraction to "Buddhism naturalized," which fits tidily with secular and evolutionary sensibilities, as well as with existentialism.

I'm pretty sure you think this is an abuse of Buddhism, but it's something some Western intellectuals are exploring. See the books of Stephen Batchelor, for example, and Alison Gopnik's linking of Hume to Buddhist insights about the self:

http://www.alisongopnik.com/papers_alison/gopnik_humestudies_withtoc.pdf

See also the books of David Loy. He makes very particular connections between Buddhism and existentialism in his book, "Lack and Transcendence."

http://www.amazon.com/Lack-Transcendence-Psychotherapy-Existentialism-Buddhism/dp/1573927201/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414023096&sr=8-1&keywords=lack+and+transcendence+david+loy

Jeremy Taylor said...

Indeed, Stephen Batchelor is a well known butcher of Buddhism, whose positions are a travesty of traditional Buddhism. You might as well have mentioned Susan Blackmore or Sam Harris.

Traditional Buddhism is a religion focused on the transcendent. It has next to nothing in common with contemporary materialism or modern existentialism. For example, there is little in Buddhism to match the melodramatic pessimism of the likes of Camus which you keep referring to. Indeed, as Heinrich Zimmer put it, all the religions of India are ultimately not pessimistic. They all declare a transcendent, perfect reality which man could reach if he would only put aside illusion.

This is a particularly gross example of your refusal to look beyond your own assumptions and biases, ironically. Have you ever thought of trying to learn about traditional Buddhism? And not just the mess some contemporary Westerner make of it? Or even given much time to those Westerners like Marco Pallis, who try to be faithful to traditional Buddhism?

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jeremy T:

You speak of poetic and imaginative description of the human relationship to the cosmos, with the mind facing off against the cosmos, and getting the better of it. That's fine. It's one way of looking at things. But no matter how powerful you're brain is right now, you're still going to die. "In apprehension, how like a God!...Yet what is this quintessence of dust?"

And this of course, is the sublime in literature, as captured (for example) in Emily Dickinson's "The brain is wider than the sky." In the poem, she hefts the brain like a cantaloupe in one hand, and God in the other, and decides that they don't differ in weight all that much:

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, heft them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.

Jeremy Taylor said...

The point, also, was not whether Buddhism contains the doctrine of anatta, which is unquestionably does, but the import of this, especially for Westerners.

Fundamentally, the Buddhist doctrine of anatta has little to do with Hume's ideas. It is, rather, a classic mystical expression of the limits of all concepts and non-ultimate states of being and knowledge. It closely related to the idea of upaya in (Mahayana) Buddhist thought. The perspective of Buddhism stresses the limits of discursive thought - as is implied by anatta and upaya - and is radically apophatic. One must remember this and not treat Buddhist thought as easily translatable to a modern Western notion of philosophy.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jeremy T:

Your tone of certainty and high moral outrage isn't warranted regarding what Buddhism is "really all about." Loy is a Japanese Buddhist scholar of high rank, and he doesn't share your view that there are no connections to be made between Buddhism and existentialism. And I've read a lot of the traditional Buddhist tradition, actually.

Have you read Loy?

Santi Tafarella said...

Jeremy:

When you say something like this--"Fundamentally, the Buddhist doctrine of anatta has little to do with Hume's ideas"--you are, in my view, speaking much too confidently.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Men must endure their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all. - King Lear, V, 2,9-11.

Scott said...

I hope that we can look forward to many more threads being hijacked by Santi.

</sarc>

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Well, it is highly ironic you would accuse anyone of too much self-assurance. Anyway, I did not attack Loy as I did Batchelor, if you read my comments. However, I still maintain that there is precious little in traditional Buddhism to be usefully compared to twentieth century existentialism. I notice you give no argument in return.

And can you give an argument for what meaningful similarities there are between Hume and the Buddhist doctrine of anatta? Of course, they both can be said to reject the self. But Hume did so as part of an attempt at modern discursive philosophy, which holds little appeal to traditional Buddhism. For Buddhism anatta is part of an entire apophatic way of looking at samsara, which stresses the limitations of all concepts and language. For Buddhism anatta is a positive thing and is part of a spiritual path towards a transcendent and perfect reality behind our samsaric illusions. There is nothing of this in Hume. Hume was simply commenting on his inability to conceive of a continuous self within his modern empiricist philosophical framework.

It is the experiences and writings of mystics, like Meister Eckhart or Nicholas of Cusa, which to me seem to promise the most fruitful Western comparisons to traditional Buddhism.

Matt Sheean said...

So many graves being rolled over in right now, guys.

But hey, the PSR.

here's a thought. If it is the case that PSR is true, then it seems to me that the POE (problem of evil) can't go through.

The holocaust was evil, but nothing that is "evil" is such in a brute factual way. That is, to call something evil we must be able to give an account of it such that reasons for its existence can be made clear enough to identify it as a nasty, evil thing (as an act or a thing). If I try to think really hard about what it would mean for a thing to be evil in a brute factual way, or what it would be for something that is a brute fact to be evil, I can't make heads or tails of those sayings - no more than I could of an obese triangle. So, brief and sketchy as my line of thinking here has been, I don't see how I can go about saying that things are evil and that there are no sufficient reasons. Of course, someone might say that sometimes there are sufficient reasons and sometimes there are just brute facts, but, so says I, a person cannot say that there just aren't sufficient reasons and that there are some evils.

Now if some facts are not brute, and that some facts are not brute gets us to Classical Theism, then no facts are brute.

Somewhere in that mess we get from POE to Classical Theism.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Surely, the problem of evil is meaningless in classical theism? If God is the Supreme Good and all-powerful, then those putting forward the problem of evil are essentially trying to appeal to a standard of Goodness higher than the Good itself.

At best, the sceptic could, I suppose, argue our ideas of Goodness or omnipotence are not coherent. But I think he'd trouble not ending up like Santi and just appealing to some vague emotivism. In fact, this is what tends to happen in many discussions on the so called problem of evil: many sceptics just end up asserting, based simply on their own gut feelings, certain evils just can't be squared with the existence of a good, omnipotent God.

Christopher said...

Jeremy Taylor,

The argument seems to come from Omission.

bmiller said...

Santi,

God speaks to us in the Bible as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as well as the official pronouncements of the Magisterium. As well as in sincere prayer.

John West said...

Mr. Sheean,

Couldn't the atheist just reply that the sufficient reason for suffering could just be that, rather than being omnibenevolent, this God-like entity is evil?

Matt Sheean said...

Jeremy,

yea, I'm not sure what I wrote was really going anywhere, except to say that the problem of evil, however you approach it, makes a lot of assumptions itself that ensure that however the problem is raised it will raise more problems for itself than it will for the thing for which it is trying to raise a problem.

At best, I think, it can only ever be a claim about the consistency of a particular theistic outlook, and it would be impossible to show that all theistic frameworks are rendered inconsistent by the problem of evil. That's to say, we couldn't enter the POE into our Bayesian magic calculator until we had shown that it actually posed a problem for the consistency of some theistic framework.

But in keeping with talk of PSRs and brute facts and such, I was thinking that anything that could be called "evil" could not be the sort of thing that was brute fact-ish. This is because, as in moral evil, we must be able to give a reason for why such and such occurred - we say that so and so did it, and that so and so was wrong to do it. Of course, when 'brute fact" is used, it is usually about something much more exotic than murder or theft or what have you. I might be playing a little loose with the whole idea of sufficient reason here, though.

Matt Sheean said...

John West,

I don't mean that there is a sufficient reason for the existence of suffering in the abstract, I mean that for any situation to answer to the description "evil" it must be accounted for in a way that will have to use the language of sufficient reasons, even if only tacitly.

As Jeremy says, or at least suggests, this just follows from what we understand the Good to be. So we might as well just stick with that, I think. I am, perhaps, a little punchy after a day of chasing a toddler around and am trying to shoehorn the PSR into the Santi hijack.

John West said...

Well, I certainly run into brute facts language in POE discussions a lot, so good point.

Matt Sheean said...

John,

yea, you do see that. I guess that's all I'm saying, the person putting the POE forward ends up taking up aspects of the theistic framework in order to make the POE make sense. Among these aspects would be an appeal to sufficient reason for some act or event and, as Jeremy notes, some idea of the good. If the view that is supposed to be undermined by the POE is needed to make the POE make sense, then that doesn't bode well for the POE's showing that view to be incoherent.

Daniel said...

Santi said,

'I agree. My argument was ON THEISM. I recognize that the problem of suffering is not an issue for atheists/agnostics in the way it is for theists.'

No, you have repeatedly failed to give us any reason to think that one set of values should be preferenced above another if objective values were to exist.

For a moment let us consider the atheist philosopher of Religion and prominent Nazi supporter Professor Y: who makes the claim that here in the 20th century we have come of age and discovered the fact that a supposedly benevolent God had allowed the Allies to thwart the destruction of the foul race of Jews without intervention. In fact were he also to make a claim from Natural Evil he might say that the existence of one Jew was reason enough to doubt the existence of such a God. There is absolutely no reason why without further philosophical development Y's anti-Holocaust Evil claim should not be as valid as your own.

There is also that point atheists would not like i.e. anything should break in the conflict it will be the human standard of value. At the very best arguments from 'Evil' might give us reason to think that God is either not good, acts out of necessity or does not intervene.

Daniel said...

@ Jeremy,

Traditional Buddhism is a religion focused on the transcendent. It has next to nothing in common with contemporary materialism or modern existentialism.

In all fairness the individuals who make the connection to that type of philosophy are really thinking about Heidegger* more than the French existentialists. Ironically enough the German thinker himself rejected the Existentialist label and the seeming nihilistic consequences in his ‘Letter on Humanism’. I am not familiar enough with the different forms of Buddhism to say to what degree this comparison is warranted, though I know the Kyoto School, one of the main Japanese schools of modern Buddhist philosophy, drew a great deal from the Phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. They were more interested in overcoming Nihilism than promoting it however.

*Heidegger was himself of course very influenced by Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius along with other mystic poets, and the question of Transcendence behind the impermanence of beings is a constant background theme in his work.

I still retain my old scepticism towards Buddhism as a whole though have recently came to discover a greater appreciation for the aesthetics and cosmic ideals of Pure Land.

David T said...

Santi,

Yes, I've read Camus. And Nietzsche, and Sartre, and Dennett, Dawkins, etc. The problem will all of them is the same, and it is the one you identify, without really thinking through the implications of what you are saying:

We should do our best not to pretend to know more than we know, and we should keep asking questions.

Th absurdity of human existence, for instance, is merely something Camus assumes rather than establishes. How does Camus know human existence is absurd?

Now I grant he has interesting things to say given that assumption, but why should I grant him his assumption? He never says. It is so "obvious" to him that it never occurs to him that it might be false.

You, like Camus, keep asserting things as self-evident - like the fact that God is silent - that many of us on this blog dispute. I don't think God is silent at all... He speaks through the Church, Scripture and, not least, through Nature herself. You may not agree with this, but then that is the point of our difference and you should argue for your position rather than merely asserting it as self-evident. The one thing you refuse to ask questions about is your own highly controversial premisses.

The irony of most atheists, which you are demonstrating here, is that they claim epistemic modesty while at the same simply assuming as self-evident grandiose conclusions about the meaning or lack thereof of the universe.

Irish Thomist said...

@All

The POE is always a point I take as being valid - in a human emotional sense - question from atheists and am very much against some terrible answers to it.

I hate ‘Divine command’ theorist’s arguments – ‘because God did its okay’ and that somehow explains everything (circular much?). Yes I get God is the standard of goodness but an appeal to that doesn’t prove anything if it ends up as a circular argument.

Actually 'Divine Command' theories fall short of PSR if we are to call God good considering the Thomist view of conscience among other things.

I think people might find my reconciliation of these views interesting (driven by conscience and a desire for the truth, at a deeper level) – in large part I think both freewill and a new modified version of Concurrentism solve POE in some regards (a Concurrentism that pushes the role of secondary causation towards Mere Conservationism in some regards as to how God gives dignity to the created order in its teleological directedness to act according to the nature given it). I think the term coined elsewhere by New Apologetics shall be appropriated for this purpose here and we can call this a ‘Divine Chastity’ of sorts. I haven’t fully developed this and it would take a long paper to tease out the details of the thesis. Again I need a blog.

I will call it Teleodignitism for want of a better term?

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jeremy:

With regard to Hume and Buddha, I like this in Alison Gopnik's essay:

Hume’s argument in the Treatise, like Nagasena’s “chariot” argument, points to the fact that there is no evidence for a self beyond a collection
of particular psychological parts. “There are some philosophers who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our self .... For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist ... I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each
other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement” (T 1.6.4, 1–4; SBN 251–53).9

That sounds pretty darn Buddhist and "meaningful" (your word) to me. The point is that smart people, east or west, who attend carefully to the self, tend to come to the conclusion that it's far less substantial than it at first appears (perhaps akin to a figure-ground illusion).

This insight is a bit of a threat to Thomism, of course, which is worried about establishing essences, but with regard to the self, what if Thomism is mistaking a rope for a snake?

Brandon said...

That sounds pretty darn Buddhist and "meaningful" (your word) to me.

Except that Hume takes the idea of self to be an essential moral notion; this is a big part of Book II of the Treatise.

This insight is a bit of a threat to Thomism

Except that Thomists don't think that human beings 'can catch themselves at any time without a perception'; the impossibility of doing so follows directly from the Aquinas's explicit account of self-knowledge.

David T said...

I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception

That's because the self is that which is observing, not that which is observed. As someone once remarked, Hume is like a man who goes outside and looks in his living room window to see if he is home.

Santi Tafarella said...

@Jeremy:

The Hume quote also raises issues surrounding, not just self lineage ("I was this, now I'm that"), but species lineage ("we were this, now we are that"). If your own species lineage is on a continuum and likened to a deck of cards, offering snapshots in each moment, the self can also be likened to being this way as well.

In other words, in our evolutionary lineage, what there is is matter and change, which we can visualize as snapshots in time; a tall deck of picture cards. When we chop that up, we're in the role of fashioner, imposing a model of meaning on the deck.

So once you realize that the deck can be cut in any number of ways, you see that there's nothing essential about the species boundary. We can cut it any way we want because it's on a continuum. So it is with the self. There's the raw data of experience (what Hume calls "a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement"), and there is the self we demarcate and narrate over that raw sequence of data, and which we can narrate any number of ways.

The existentialist philosopher Hazel Barnes calls this "the story I tell myself." (The story I overlay upon the raw data of experience.)

Here's the "no first human" video for those who don't know what I'm referring to.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdWLhXi24Mo

Santi Tafarella said...

Jeremy wrote: "[T]hose putting forward the problem of evil are essentially trying to appeal to a standard of Goodness higher than the Good itself."

Wow. Great way of turning God into Satan. He can burn the majority of souls in hell for eternity if (S)he wants, or allow the Holocaust to happen because, well, God is supremely good, and one should defer to that higher wisdom, and not presume "to appeal to a standard of Goodness higher than the Good itself."

I prefer John Stuart Mill's Autobiography to Jeremy on this matter. Here's the part where Mill recalls his father’s strong views on the loathsome imagination that must necessarily be behind the doctrine of hell:

"[H]is aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies,–belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind,–and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals; making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful....Think (he used to say) of a being who would make Hell–who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with the intention, that the great majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment."

Brandon said...

Great way of turning God into Satan. He can burn the majority of souls in hell for eternity if (S)he wants, or allow the Holocaust to happen because, well, God is supremely good, and one should defer to that higher wisdom, and not presume "to appeal to a standard of Goodness higher than the Good itself."

Lying about what your interlocutor is saying in his argument is intellectual dishonesty. Jeremy was making an explicitly methodological point about the argument; your response is to make things up and pretend that it's clever.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt wrote: "[W]e couldn't enter the POE [problem of evil] into our Bayesian magic calculator until we had shown that it actually posed a problem for the consistency of some theistic framework."

What??

You're cruising along in 1939 with a theist framework of God's supreme goodness and omnipotence, go to sleep under a tree Rip Van Winkle-style, wake up in 1945 and learn of the Holocaust.

That doesn't reduce your confidence in the coherence and plausibility of your opinion even a teeny bit?

Brandon said...

That doesn't reduce your confidence in the coherence and plausibility of your opinion even a teeny bit?

His argument wasn't about confidence; it was about the actual structure of the argument.

Santi Tafarella said...

No Brandon, the words mean what they mean. Give me an alternative reading of Jeremy's straightforward words, which were the following (I'm providing the fuller context):

"If God is the Supreme Good and all-powerful, then those putting forward the problem of evil are essentially trying to appeal to a standard of Goodness higher than the Good itself. At best, the sceptic could, I suppose, argue our ideas of Goodness or omnipotence are not coherent. But I think he'd trouble not ending up like Santi and just appealing to some vague emotivism. In fact, this is what tends to happen in many discussions on the so called problem of evil: many sceptics just end up asserting, based simply on their own gut feelings, certain evils just can't be squared with the existence of a good, omnipotent God."

Jeremy couldn't be clearer. Ultimately, whatever is, is right (because God allows it in the service of a greater plan, and it accords with His higher purpose, which seculars respond to with vague emotions, concluding that things like the Holocaust and eternal Hell couldn't possibly be consistent with the existence of a good God).

Brandon said...

Yes, Santi, the words mean what they mean. You will notice that, contrary to your lie, hell and the Holocaust are not mentioned once. What is mentioned? The problem of evil itself. It makes a diagnosis of the argument itself. It then raises a possible objection to this diagnosis of the argument, but suggests that, in fact, the skeptic would tend to appeal to emotivism. It then ends with a general observation about the argument. Thus it is explicitly about the methodology of the argument.

So we see that either you are so brazenly intellectually dishonest that in being called out on a lie, you will lie yet again; or that you are illiterate, and cannot read the very passage you quote.

Greg said...

@ Santi

Ultimately, whatever is, is right

Coming from the guy who wrote this:

How Thomism could help the world adjust to its fast emerging superpowers is to orient toward love. It's the only thing that Thomism has left. It's not going to have any control over the body. There's no amount of hell threats that are going to deter people from the enticements of the techno-future. Some people will live for centuries. Tattoos and gay marriage are just baby steps toward the sorts of self creation that people will experiment with in the use of their bodies, and this is coming in the very near future.

So if Thomism has a contribution to the future at all, it's in making this future more humane, not by resisting it (it can't be resisted). Love. Orient to love. If that means upending certain premises underlying the old time metaphysics, you better start thinking about how to do it now. You don't want to end up fifty years hence looking like the hysterics waving Qurans into the camara because somebody drew a picture of Mohammad.


The techno-future is inevitable, so Thomism really oughtta start changing its premises (which it holds for reasons other than moral particulars) in order to account for what will be.

I suppose I can see why you would read Jeremy as saying that "whatever is, is right," since that's what's on your mind.

Santi Tafarella said...

Brandon,

You wrote: "His [Matt's] argument wasn't about confidence..."

But he referred to Bayes. Bayes is about issues of probability and confidence. He said that you can't use Bayes to rattle a coherent structure, and I provided a counter-example.

You can have a completely coherent theistic account of the problem of evil IN THEORY, but when the rubber meets the road, can it account for the Holocaust? And if it struggles to sanely and plausibly do so--if the explanation seems strained or ridiculous--that ought to reduce one's confidence in the theory, and cause one to cast about for a theory that more naturally fits the phenomenon.

The Holocaust should be for the theist what finding rabbits in the Cambrian would be for an evolutionist: grounds for reducing confidence in one's theory, and for scouting out a better theory, a simpler theory.

Brandon said...

Bayes can be about confidence, if you are a subjective Bayesian; there are forms of Bayesianism that are not subjective Bayesianism.

However, it makes no difference; Matt's claim was, again, about the structure of the argument (hence his emphasis on consistency), and not about confidence, and your response did nothing whatsoever to address the claim actually being made.

David T said...

You're cruising along in 1939 with a theist framework of God's supreme goodness and omnipotence, go to sleep under a tree Rip Van Winkle-style, wake up in 1945 and learn of the Holocaust.

That doesn't reduce your confidence in the coherence and plausibility of your opinion even a teeny bit?


Not even a teeny bit. I suppose it might for someone who had never heard of the First World War, Stalin's forced starvation of millions in the Ukraine, slavery, the Black Death, or just the general run of life before the discovery of modern medicine, among many others. The Holocaust did not introduce evil into the world. Only someone who had not already thought through the problem of evil in 1939, or 1918, or 1645, or 1276 would suffer a philosophical crisis in 1945.

But, then, holding that the Holocaust introduced some sort of unique evil into the world does save one from actually having address, or even understand, the classical response to the problem of evil.

Christopher said...

'but when the rubber meets the road, can it account for the Holocaust?'

What of Freedom of Will, and Original Sin, and how David Berlinski put it:

The Jewish people yet live, and even in Eastern Europe—even in Poland—they have returned to their ancestral homes; but the thousand-year Reich, that lies buried in the rubble of German cities smashed to smithereens, or ground under Russian tank treads, or destroyed by American artillery, or left to wander in its exiled millions across all the violated borders of Central Europe, and if God did not protect his chosen people precisely as Harris might have wished, He did, in an access of his old accustomed vigor, smite their enemies, with generations to come in mourning or obsessed by shame.

Berlinski, David (2009-08-26). The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions (pp. 30-31). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Santi Tafarella said...

@David T:

You wrote: "I grant he [Camus] has interesting things to say given the assumption [that the cosmos is absurd], but why should I grant him his assumption? He never says. It is so "obvious" to him that it never occurs to him that it might be false."

Camus is from that post-war generation that could simply point to Darwinian evolution, the new discoveries of astronomy (multi-galaxy space and deep time), and the Holocaust and say, "Our existence appears absurd," and not really have to formalize the argument. Obviously it's absurd. Just look at it! God is not operating under the quaint principles of harmonious nature and concern for reducing human suffering, and human beings are on a planet adrift in a violent cosmos in which we are not even remotely a locus of attention, operating on principles that don't answer to humanity's deepest longings. There is no evidence nature cares for us. When we suffer and die, our world and cosmos just cruises along. That's what Camus means by "the absurd."

Even today, when only about 10-20 thousand people die in wars globally each year, and the horror of huge wars in which millions are mowed down in rapid sequence are no longer starkly before our attention, Camus' general analysis of absurdity loses little of its force.

If you want an argument that formalizes Camus' reflection, I suppose it would go like this: Nature appears to love us not, and God, if God is talking at all, is not doing so in a way that it is obvious, or that elicits one's warranted confidence. Given this, how should one live?

My answer to Camus (and honoring Camus): orient to the truth as best as you can make it out in the fog of the situation. Don't pretend to know more than you do, but stay engaged. Keep confidence in check.

So David, I agree with you completely that confidence atheism is a problem, but so is confidence theism. St Paul said, "For now we see through a glass darkly." Camus is one of those people who philosophizes in the light of that imperfect glass. He uses the term "absurd" not as a metaphysical absolute, but as an observation concerning human experience, one way that the fog is experienced from its human position.

Santi Tafarella said...

Irish Thomist:

You wrote: "'Divine Command' theories fall short of PSR if we are to call God good considering the Thomist view of conscience among other things."

I agree with you. Speak truth to power.

David T said...

Camus is from that post-war generation that could simply point to Darwinian evolution, the new discoveries of astronomy (multi-galaxy space and deep time), and the Holocaust and say, "Our existence appears absurd," and not really have to formalize the argument. Obviously it's absurd. Just look at it

"Simply pointing" is just dogmatically declaring without argument and hoping no one will notice. It's really just a form of laziness. Rather than actually engage the grand Western intellectual tradition - which would involve a lot of hard work and humiltiy -it's much more fun to sit around your cafe smoking cigarettes and proclaiming that you "just know" the universe is absurd. Now that is an absurd existence.

You've spent a lot of time on this blog repeating your dogmas concerning the absurdity of the universe and the (somehow) unique cognitive significance of the problem of evil. Might I suggest you devote a little of that time to actually reading Aquinas rather than dismissing him because Camus did? You might be surprised what you learn.

David T said...

Correction to my last: I meant to write "the unique cognitive significance of the Holocaust for the problem of evil."

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

Are you suggesting that Thomism should dig in on its current arguments surrounding sexual and reproductive morality in spite of what you can see coming from science and technology over the next hundred years?

Isn't this akin to digging in on Newtonian physics in the light of Einstein?

In other words, there are many, many coherent and self-consistent ways to talk truthfully about physics, some ways going deeper than others (as Einstein goes deeper than Newton). Both Newton and Einstein are coherent systems, but Einstein gets closer to the truth.

What if love is akin to Einstein and procreation is akin to Newton? Might there be a way for Thomism to orient itself self-consistently in ways other than in just one manner (the medieval manner, with its emphasis on procreation as essential to sex)?

This isn't simply adjusting to the techno-future, it's being INFORMED by it and science, and saying, "Maybe love is more important than Thomas' notion of procreation for thinking about the body and sex."

Theorizing the God-and-love-oriented cyborg. Thomism, it seems to me, has to go in this direction eventually. Why not start now?

Or is it all going to be about expressions of disgust, horror, and prohibition?

Moral outrage can be pleasurable, but it's also indulgent, and then one calms down and thinks it through.

I realize embracing gay marriage, hybridity, and cyborg theorizing might constitute a revolution in Thomistic thinking, but Einstein represented a revolution in relation to Newton's system, yet also brought physics closer in line with the actual truth of matters.

Maybe issues like gay marriage and the techno-future should drive a Thomistic revolution that brings Thomism ever more closely in alignment with love and truth. Perhaps you're treating the techno-future as a threat to Thomism, when it is really an opportunity for stimulating and exciting revival and growth.

"The Thomist Techno-Future." Who's going to write that book?

Here's a title: "Cyborg Marriage: A Thomistic Affirmation."

Santi Tafarella said...

David T:

You said: "'Simply pointing' is just dogmatically declaring..."

It's not dogmatic if it's not a metaphysical appeal. You're not reasoning very closely here.

I said that I already agree with you that dogmatism and confidence atheism is a problem, but so is confidence theism. St Paul said, "For now we see through a glass darkly."

Camus is one of those people who philosophizes in the light of that imperfect glass. He uses the term "absurd" NOT AS A METAPHYSICAL ABSOLUTE, but as an observation concerning human experience, one way that the fog is experienced from its human position.

Camus is not being a dogmatist in speaking of "the absurd." He's pointing to an emotion of cosmic abandonment that many people recognized, experienced, and felt after WWII and the Holocaust.

Santi Tafarella said...

Now Christopher, I do hope you didn't mean to use the Berlinski quote as a sort of justification of God's behavior surrounding the Holocaust. If God can "smite" the enemies of the Jews (as Berlinski put it) after the fact, it means God could have simply PREVENTED the murderous behavior prior to the fact.

You don't praise a police chief for tracking down, arresting, and "smiting" a murderer after the murder has occurred if you also know that the police chief could see the murder coming, had the power to stop the murder, and didn't stop it.

Your obvious question to the police chief is: Why didn't you just prevent the murder? If you can smite, you can prevent, right?

Smiting, after all, restricts freedom of the will of the murderers as surely as preventing the will of the murderers in advance.

Any explanation of the Holocaust on theism quickly runs into serious problems of coherence. The Berlinski quote highlights this.

Irish Thomist said...

@Santi


You wrote: "'Divine Command' theories fall short of PSR if we are to call God good considering the Thomist view of conscience among other things."

I agree with you. Speak truth to power.


I'm glad we agree on something.

Gary Black said...

There is no such thing as a baby. When is the precise moment a baby stops being a baby? At what nanosecond does one stop being a baby? Therefore, Santi can marry babies.

Santi Tafarella said...

Here's the problem concerning the principle of sufficient reason. If one posits that God has a good and sufficient reason for having allowed the Holocaust, the follow-up question obviously becomes, "Well, what is it?"

But any particular answer proves woefully inadequate, ludicrous to contemplate, or even just plain morally abominable. Sometimes it even leads to a reductio ad absurdum.

And when this is pointed out, the response simply shifts to something else, which on inspection is equally inadequate or grotesque.

Talking about God's morally sufficient reason for allowing the Holocaust is akin to speaking to the ontological mystery itself. It's incomprehensible. You can't reach it.

But with regard to the Holocaust, maybe you can't reach this sufficient reason because it doesn't actually exist.

And if there is no morally sufficient reason for God permitting the Holocaust to happen, and the Holocaust nevertheless happened, then the theistic project itself collapses.

That's why it's important to ask, "What was God's morally sufficient reason for the Holocaust?" If you can't think of any, what's left of theism? Silence (like Aquinas adopted at the end of his life)? A leap of faith that deliberately runs contrary to one's reason? Camus-like rebellion and solidarity in the face of the absurd? A command theory of God (whatever is, is right, so stop asking questions)? Nietzsche?

Where does one go after the Holocaust? After WWII and the Holocaust, Camus thought the first question of philosophy was suicide. For theodicy, I think the first question has to be the Holocaust.

Matt Sheean said...

Ok, guys, the bit about the cyborg love has me feeling like maybe we're the victims of a prank

Santi Tafarella said...

The Holocaust also functions as a brute fact.

In other words, if the cosmos is rational through and through, and God exists, as Thomists posit, then the Holocaust has to fit into the rationality of a theistic creation somehow.

It has to have a good and sufficient reason that is compelling enough to override the horror; a reason that justifies the Holocaust as unavoidable and necessary to arriving at some greater good that God could not have arrived at by other means.

But it doesn't. There is no sufficient reason on offer that even begins to sanely justify God permitting the Holocaust, either on its own terms, or on the way to reaching some higher end.

It appears that the Holocaust has no sufficient reason for being in a cosmos grounded in good design and reason.

And yet it happened. It's a fact that appears to be a brute fact lurking within the theistic system (which makes God a moral monster, impotent in the face of events, or nonexistent).

The Holocaust did not just result in the death of six million Jews, it also arguably means the death of God.

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt,

They laughed at Noah.

Serious people are talking about what's coming over the next century. I recommend Nick Bostrom's book on the subject: "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies" (Oxford 2014). Bostrom teaches at Oxford.

And theorizing on hybridity and cyborgs has been a realm of active intellectual activity for some time. Donna Haraway's work is an example. Her seminal essay, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," written all the way back in 1985, is a place to start. It still reads in a surprisingly fresh manner. Every year it gets more relevant and urgent. She teaches at UC Santa Cruz. Her background is in literary studies, biology (Yale), and philosophy.

I think Thomists hunker down on near-term debates over contraceptives, masturbation, and gay marriage at their peril. That's the trickle. The rain is coming.





Christopher said...

'Now Christopher, I do hope you didn't mean to use the Berlinski quote as a sort of justification of God's behavior surrounding the Holocaust. If God can "smite" the enemies of the Jews (as Berlinski put it) after the fact, it means God could have simply PREVENTED the murderous behavior prior to the fact.'

And violate Free Will? Why is it that Free Will must be suppressed?

'You don't praise a police chief for tracking down, arresting, and "smiting" a murderer after the murder has occurred if you also know that the police chief could see the murder coming, had the power to stop the murder, and didn't stop it.'

The analogy simply does not work, mainly because God is not like men, and Free Will has to be taken into account.

'Smiting, after all, restricts freedom of the will of the murderers as surely as preventing the will of the murderers in advance.'

So then God should smite all sinners before the Sin has been committed? Doesn't that mean you yourself would be killed on the basis of a crime that you have yet not committed? Where is the Justice in that?

'Any explanation of the Holocaust on theism quickly runs into serious problems of coherence. The Berlinski quote highlights this.'

Berlinski is not a theist, and there really is no problem. People in their own free will do Evil, they get obliterated for it.

Jan said...

A wave of cyborg sex of the techno-future is going to sweep away Thomistic metaphysics. Or so I've gathered from this thread.

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

If you are indeed serious, then your intellectual labors are all hampered by some very fundamental confusions. It is indicative of your deep ignorance of the work of Thomas Aquinas that you seem to be unable to imagine what he would say about cyborgs.

hint: It has something to do with the difference between art and nature.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi,

Of course, the quote from Hume you give says nothing against my main points, which are, one, Hume was engaged in a completely different kind of entreprise to traditional Buddhism; and, two, the moral and spiritual conclusions that Buddhists and Humeans reach are entirely different.

Buddhists are aware there is a self in one sense, there is some continuous self to man, just as there are some continuous essences to things. What they note is the fluidity and impermanence of all such selves and essences in an attempt to prevent the illusions which come from identifying in a complete fashion with anything in samsara. Really, it is the same point mystics and sages fromm St. Augustine to C.S Lewis have noted about our conceptions of God.

It is hard to see what Humeans or traditional Buddhists could get from each other intellectually or philosophically, or what Buddhists could take spiritually from Hume. You do nothing to respond to such fundamental points.

On the so called problem of evil, you simply miss the fact that classical theism makes arguments to show that God is the Good, if these are correct, it simply makes no sense to appeal to some higher Good above God. I agree that our ideas of what the Good must in some sense be commensurate with God's Goodness: that he could not create a hellish world, but as he hasn't, that is a moot point. To simply say one evil is incommensurate with his goodness, though, is just to beg the question and appeal to emotions, which ironically you said you were against.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Again I recommend C.S Lewis's The Abolition of Man and Space Trilogy to Santi. They seem a more accurate representation of the technocratic future he envisions

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think the first question, Santi, must be which introductory logic textbook you intend to purchase, as you keep committing gross fallacies.

All this stuff about the holocaust is just question begging appeals to emotion. You are literally just ignoring the classical theist arguments and asserting your gut intuition is the holocaust was too evil for a Good, all-powerful God to allow. As an argument this is worthless.

Why don't you make a proper argument why the holocaust couldn't have occurred if classical theism is true? And by proper I mean one that actually addresses the claims and arguments of classical theism.

If you can't do this, why don't you do us all a favour and go away, instead of clogging up Dr. Feser's combox with pointless nonsense.

David T said...

Camus is one of those people who philosophizes in the light of that imperfect glass. He uses the term "absurd" NOT AS A METAPHYSICAL ABSOLUTE, but as an observation concerning human experience, one way that the fog is experienced from its human position.

But you are asserting the "imperfect glass" and the "fog" as metaphysical absolutes, as though everyone must be as confused as you are. I don't agree. There are philosophical conclusions we can come to with confidence, among which are the existence of God. You don't agree? Then show that the arguments of St. Thomas that I rely on don't work. Anything else is just fog - but not the fog of existence, merely the fog of people who find it easier to dismiss the classical philosophers with cant rather than doing the hard work of understanding them.

Greg said...

@ Santi

Are you suggesting that Thomism should dig in on its current arguments surrounding sexual and reproductive morality in spite of what you can see coming from science and technology over the next hundred years?

No, my point was that you were insisting on finding a way to modify moral conclusions in order to bring them in line with what apparently "will" be the case.

If there is an argument that there has been a revolution in "love," then one can present it and Thomists can assess it. (As we've seen in your case, there is not. You just keep repeating the phrase "orient to love" and take yourself to be justifying all of your favorite positions.)

The same goes for any other scientific development related to the human person. I am sure you wouldn't comment on a topic you don't know a bit about, so I am sure you are aware that Thomist ethicists consider claims of biotechnology.

"Maybe love is more important than Thomas' notion of procreation for thinking about the body and sex."

Since when have Thomists thought that love was just "Thomas' notion of procreation"?

As I said above, Santi, you simply don't approach philosophical dialogue in a very philosophical way. You don't even consider what the tradition you are 'critiquing' claims. You just pick whatever topic you like and pontificate for several paragraphs, sprinkling in a dash of existentialism here and a dash of positivism there as you go.

Jeremy Taylor said...

From the Platonic-Hermetic perspective, those posing the so called problem of evil err on at least two fundamental counts. One, they imagine evil to have a positive ontological status, whereas it is in truth simply negation or lack of being. Two, they imagine God's power extends to his nature or essence, whereas it actually flows from it, and cannot act on it.

Moreover, the Platonic-Hermetic perspective stresses that creation carries with it the possibility of privation and negation indefinitely. That is, the highest Forms carry within themselves the capacity for separation and determination, first to lesser Forms and then to individuals. If they lacked this capacity, they would be less and, indeed, creation would be less, including less Good (I would maintain, even, that on balance our corporeal realm is Good). But the more separability and determination there is, the more privation there is. And when you get to our individual, corporeal realm of being this can mean actual suffering. God can do nothing about this, any more than he can make another God, though this denies him none of his omnipotence, properly understood.

But we must remember, again, that the fact our individual realm can exist ultimately adds to creation, and its Goodness, and that, in the end, evil is nothing, it lacks any positive being (in fact, all sapiental traditions maintain we could escape all evil in an instance if we viewed things as they truly are). What is more, as all traditional religions and cultures maintain, our corporeal realm is miniscule on a cosmic scale, creation becoming less the more it moves away from its Archetypal and divine foundations. And our realm is the only one with actual suffering.

Christopher said...

'The Holocaust also functions as a brute fact.'

So the Holocaust was not Evil? If the Holocaust was Evil, it is not Brute Fact.

'the Holocaust has to fit into the rationality of a theistic creation somehow.'

Not Theistic Creation but the consequence of Free Will leading to Original Sin.

'a reason that justifies the Holocaust as unavoidable and necessary to arriving at some greater good that God could not have arrived at by other means.'

Which fundamentally boils down to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the question of Free Will. Should God prevent the taking and eating of the Fruit? If so, then you're nothing more than a slave.

'There is no sufficient reason on offer that even begins to sanely justify God permitting the Holocaust, either on its own terms, or on the way to reaching some higher end.'

And the Freedom of Will?

'It appears that the Holocaust has no sufficient reason for being in a cosmos grounded in good design and reason.'

Again, where does Free Will fit?

'It's a fact that appears to be a brute fact lurking within the theistic system (which makes God a moral monster, impotent in the face of events, or nonexistent).'

Would God be a moral monster if you were to be forced to serve in chains?

'The Holocaust did not just result in the death of six million Jews, it also arguably means the death of God.'

The death of God? Seriously? What of the many Saints that obeyed God and fought the Holocaust? Becoming victim to the Holocaust?

Like other commentators have stressed, there is no rational argument, but only an emotive argument.

Christopher said...

Sorry, missed the following:
'Smiting, after all, restricts freedom of the will of the murderers'

Not as a consequence of Act. The Freedom of Will consists in the capacity to make decisions, not to evade punishment for those wrong decisions.

John West said...

Well, can a contingent fact be explained by a brute fact?

Santi Tafarella said...

Way too easy and pat, Christopher. You wrote, "God is not like men, and Free Will has to be taken into account."

So first you place God's reason for allowing the Holocaust into the realm of the incomprehensible, hiding rational evaluation of it. ("God is not like men," meaning none of our moral analogies and intuitions are permitted to work when it comes to the Most High.)

But then you appeal to free will, something humans can comprehend, which means that you are just reaching for anything to justify the Holocaust. You're not really reasoning, you're rationalizing.

If God intervenes with "smiting" and hindering future genocides against Jews after the Holocaust, and hampering the range of evil men's will from this point forward (the gist of Berlinski's quote), then the question becomes: "Why start the smiting clock when God did?"

In other words, there are degrees of free will, and ranges of freedom for its exercise. Why were the lives of six million people less important to God from 1940-45 than assuring a nation-wide range to free will for a psychopath?

Put another way, God could have hindered Hitler's range of free will without denying him free will, and God could have done this prior to the Holocaust. God could have arranged things in the world so that Hitler stayed in Vienna in the 1920s, either in jail for his crimes or with some success with his art ambitions. It wouldn't have taken much tweaking of history for Hitler never to have come to power at all. God could have smote Hitler with a stutter, for instance, and been done with the demagogic orator.

And take free will out of the equation, and you've got the same issue with natural evil, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that killed 230,000 people (the day after Christmas!).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami

Santi Tafarella said...

Matt,

The "Toy Story" clip ("You are a toy!!") is cute, but what would Thomas say about a person who is half "toy" and half human?

Or a person who is a hybrid of different species, a mix of animal genes akin to a satyr?

What are these coming "monsters" on current Thomistic metaphysics?

And science tells us that our gut microbiome consists of 100 trillion organism with different DNA than the DNA we inherited from our parents, and that those microbes are connected to our brains via the vagus nerve, and are thus part of the mix of signals driving an individual's thought and behavior. Some of those gut microbes send signals to the brain triggering cravings for foods those particular organisms happen to like, so when you have a craving for, say, oatmeal, who is having the craving? You or specific organisms with their own evolutionary agenda in your gut microbiome?

What would a Thomist say about the relation of the gut microbiome to the self?

"I'm hungry, and suddenly it occurs to me to go to a restaurant for oatmeal and coffee. Who thought it, and who wants it?"

Fat people and skinny people have very different gut microbiomes driving different food choice impulses. So are we hijacked creatures already, part Neanderthal, part Homo sapien, part gut microbiome, part pet cat virus, part externalized memory located in our iPhone, etc.? Where's the boundary of this hybrid self? Are you still a Homo sapien if, in the future, you're 3% Neanderthal, 40% machine, 5% gut microbiome, and were created in a test tube where your genetic traits were selected for by your parents or the government (for eye color, intelligence, etc.)?

Emily Dickinson spoke of herself as a "kangaroo among the beauty." What's Thomism take on freaks, the kangaroos of nature, and is a Thomist circa 2114 likely to bemoan the hybrid and cyborg youth, or incorporate their beauty and diversity into love ("Ah, the satyrs these days!" or "Cyborgs in love and married to old-school Homo sapiens? Y.E.S.")?

My take is that Thomism should orient to love, and try to work out a path for making the cyborg/genetic hybrid future a humane future (as opposed to a future where biological tinkering is simply forbidden).

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You wrote: "If there is an argument that there has been a revolution in "love," then one can present it and Thomists can assess it.... I am sure you are aware that Thomist ethicists consider claims of biotechnology."

But, Greg, what I'm asking you is a straightforward question: Can the experts in Thomist philosophy (Feser, etc.) have a look at different ways by which the entire tradition could be overhauled so that it is not stuck in a "Newtonian" mode in an "Einsteinian" world?

I'm not qualified to make such a radical proposal. Creative experts might be. If you start the engine of Thomistic reasoning on different premises, can you reach states of affairs arguably closer to the truth of matters than medieval scholastics were able to reach?

If current Thomistic procedures arrive at no masturbation or gay marriage, is it possible for different starting procedures to run one to different conclusions consistent with Thomism re-imagined?

I'm largely asking a question of someone (you) who knows the tradition. How plausible is such a revolutionary shift? And if it's not plausible, is it not plausible because of religious and cultural inertia, or because the logic of Thomism simply prohibits it?

Christopher said...

'So first you place God's reason for allowing the Holocaust into the realm of the incomprehensible, hiding rational evaluation of it. ("God is not like men," meaning none of our moral analogies and intuitions are permitted to work when it comes to the Most High.)'
So you're claiming you can know the Mind of God? The reason why God functions differently from Man has already been explained by Brian Davies as citied by Scott earlier. God does not have the same moral obligations in the way men do. Another issue that comes up with your policeman analogy is that it is Personal Theism, a view that is not Thomist.

'But then you appeal to free will, something humans can comprehend, which means that you are just reaching for anything to justify the Holocaust. You're not really reasoning, you're rationalizing.'
No. The occurrence of the Holocaust is simply the Free Will that occurs of which the absence of Good is chosen (Evil). It's that simple.

'If God intervenes with "smiting" and hindering future genocides against Jews after the Holocaust, and hampering the range of evil men's will from this point forward (the gist of Berlinski's quote), then the question becomes: "Why start the smiting clock when God did?"'
God's Judgement of an individual occurs at the death of the individual and also occurs at the Great Judgement. Which means that for those crimes such as murder, they will be judged and no one escapes Judgement. So the whole issue of the Problem of Evil becomes negated when those that have chosen Evil, will suffer for it. When it comes to the subjugation of Germany and her afflictions as Berlinski demonstrates, God is allowed to offer the chance of repentance before affliction can occur. If the assessment comes from Scripture, there is always a period where there is a chance of repentance of which then Chastisement occurs through the means of delivering those people, such as the Jews, up to their enemies. Also that which occurs are the Deluge, the chastisement of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Chastisement warned at Fatima and Akita.

'In other words, there are degrees of free will, and ranges of freedom for its exercise. Why were the lives of six million people less important to God from 1940-45 than assuring a nation-wide range to free will for a psychopath?
Put another way, God could have hindered Hitler's range of free will without denying him free will, and God could have done this prior to the Holocaust.'
If there is a limit to the freedom of will, then to what extent are you truly free to choose? By your argument, Original Sin would never have occurred, no lies or murder could be permitted, even by a small limit to freedom. After all, the Holocaust was not by Hitler alone. So if a small murder can be committed, then a collection of small murders can occur that could count up to the count of the Holocaust by dividing the number accordingly. Also to note, St. Maximilian Kolbe, one of the few Saints that persecuted in the concentration camps, didn't seem less important to God.

'And take free will out of the equation, and you've got the same issue with natural evil, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that killed 230,000 people (the day after Christmas!).'
Again, the atheist/agnostic has to selectively elevate a normal everyday occurrence like breathing to make a criticism of God when they themselves do not see it as an Evil. Somehow, it becomes Evil when there is an Omni benevolent and Omnipotent Being becoming involved. Natural Evil can be explained through Original Sin, and again by Brain Davies explanation of how the Moral Duty of God differs from that of Man.

Matt Sheean said...

Santi,

This will be my last comment addressed to you until such a time as you have shown yourself to be anything other than a conversational vampire.

A wise person, I don't know who, said that the common denominator in all your dysfunctional relationships is you. Every single commenter here has just about exactly the same complaint about you, that your manner of interaction with those you disagree with participates in the form of prevarication at the purest level (I think that about sums it up, if anyone disagrees with that assessment, do speak up). While we could all be wrong about that, it does not seem probable (since, at least, there is no collusion going on between us, we have all come to this conclusion independently based on our interactions with you here).

Know this, that you are a cautionary tale and already a byword, at least here. I do sincerely hope that you will take this to heart, put off the vices that constrain your thought and confuse your speech, and take up the sort of habits that will promote your intellectual development. I don't know what all that is worth, from one practically anonymous person on the internet to another, but I mean it sincerely. I'm not a Thomist myself (though I like St Thomas very much), so I am by no means trying to convert you to anything other than a sincere love of wisdom. You seem to be a curious person at least, and that, I think, is good.

The Thinker said...

Can one logically prove that there are no brute facts?

Jeremy Taylor said...

By the way, as others have pointed out here previously, death qua death is only a very minor kind of suffering. That Shakespeare quote I gave in response to yours, Santi, goes to the heart of the traditional view on death.

The real suffering would be in the pain surrounding death, emotional and physical.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Santi writes,

If you start the engine of Thomistic reasoning on different premises, can you reach states of affairs arguably closer to the truth of matters than medieval scholastics were able to reach?

What you are essentially saying is, let's assume Thomism is wrong, or has the wrong premises. Whatever validity such thought experiments might have, it is clear that as an argument against Thomism, or its premises, it is just grossly fallacious question begging.

Matt,

I think, unless he changes his ways, in the next thread or discussion, Santi should be ignored, so he cannot hijack another discussion.

Greg said...

@ Santi

Can the experts in Thomist philosophy (Feser, etc.) have a look at different ways by which the entire tradition could be overhauled so that it is not stuck in a "Newtonian" mode in an "Einsteinian" world?

Erm, what is at issue is whether Thomism is stuck in a "Newtonian" mode in an "Einsteinian" world.

I'm not qualified to make such a radical proposal.

You have just recommended it incessantly.

If you start the engine of Thomistic reasoning on different premises, can you reach states of affairs arguably closer to the truth of matters than medieval scholastics were able to reach?

As has been pointed out by others, this is blatant question begging. If Thomism is false, can you run 'Thomism' on different premises (ie. something other than Thomism) to get closer to the truth? Well, presumably... terribly uninteresting game you are playing here though.

Now, perhaps you could be excused of the charge of question begging on account of the qualification: "arguably closer to the truth." But that raises the question: arguably closer to whom? Thomists believe their positions because they have given arguments for them. Obviously they try to support their positions as much as is possible and respond to counterarguments, like any philosophers. If someone is going to argue that there is something closer to the truth than Thomism, it shouldn't be Thomists.

I'm largely asking a question of someone (you) who knows the tradition. How plausible is such a revolutionary shift? And if it's not plausible, is it not plausible because of religious and cultural inertia, or because the logic of Thomism simply prohibits it?

I do not find it plausible, as I said in the last comment thread. I think it is because of what Thomism is (though Thomism is of course a broad school, and there have been Thomists, ie. Herbert McCabe, who have endorsed things like birth control). For example, your supposition that your pet issues were consistent with (some version of) Thomism was based on misunderstandings about essentialism and finality. That does not necessarily imply that your pet issues could only be supported by an abandonment of essentialism and finality as traditionally conceived, but it is good evidence.

Santi Tafarella said...

Christopher:

You're being quite Orwellian (turning evil into good, and good to evil) when you write: "God does not have the same moral obligations in the way men do."

And as for "original sin," biology tells us that Adam and Eve never existed in a garden in Mesopotamia that brought death into the world by their sinning.

Death and violent energies have been with the cosmos from the start. The elements of our bodies (carbon, etc.) are the products of the violent death of stars; our biological lineage has been a sequence of births and deaths. The man to whom all living humans trace their lineage was an African living about 70,000 years ago, and "Mitochondrial Eve" goes back something like 150 thousand years ago.

So there was no "first couple" in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates, and even if there had been, the explanation for natural evils like tsunamis that you offer up is distressing. Do you really believe that God punishes humans with natural disasters because of Adam and Eve's sin? Do you also believe that sometimes evil angels whip up storms?

Hmm.

Greg said...

@ Santi

You're being quite Orwellian (turning evil into good, and good to evil) when you write: "God does not have the same moral obligations in the way men do."

That is not Orwellian. Even different humans can have different moral obligations from each other. (A parent versus a non-parent, for instance.)

Something that differs in kind from all humans, and stands in a different relation to the human community, will have different moral obligations.

Moreover moral obligations are rooted in ends and directedness. Men lack, whereas God does not have potencies to fulfill, for he is already perfect. So there is really very little reason to suspect men and God to have the same moral obligations, and there is consequently little reason to dismiss Christopher's point as 'Orwellian'. (Thomists like Brian Davies have argued that it is not strictly correct to say that God has moral obligations at all; that is not to say that he is not better than any created thing, however.)

Greg said...

Here is a suggestion, Santi: Don't always write down the first objection that runs through your head. Another suggestion would be to consider why your interlocutor holds the view he professes and perhaps try to understand what sort of response he would make to a simplistic accusation that he is 'Orwellian'.

Arthur said...

...turning evil into good, and good to evil...

Looks to me like Santi is playing the same 'morally icky' card he played before. Your morality is different from mine, therefore your morality is wrong. You've turned (my understanding of) good into evil and (my understanding of) evil into good! How dare you disagree with me!

Santi Tafarella said...

I discover (to my dismay) that Christopher's explanation for natural evils is, in a more sophisticated form, in Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, ch. 52. There Aquinas basically speaks of the human body as tending to corruption (as a result of potency being actualized), but that if Adam and Eve hadn't sinned, the potency for corruption would never have manifested in humans in the first place. So if a lion tried to eat us, or a storm batter us, we would go on living by God's miraculous protection and grace, but that has been withdrawn, and so our potency now becomes actuality (we are subject to corruption and death).

Thanks Adam and Eve!

Here's Aquinas:

"[W]e affirm that man was, from the beginning, so fashioned that as long as his reason was subject to God, not only would his lower powers serve him without hindrance; but there would be nothing in his body to lessen its subjection; since whatever was lacking in nature to bring this about God by His grace would supply."

In other words, God used to miraculously hold off the body's corruption and exposure to natural evil in Adam and Eve, even though that potential was there in them. But after they sinned, that miraculous protection was withdrawn, and now we, their descendants, are left in the cosmos bereft to encounter the violence of the cosmos without God shielding us from it. We're like Earth would be without its magnetic field deflecting the solar wind, being worn down by time. We are moving from being akin to the living Earth, flourishing and protected, to looking like the gray and bone-like face of the moon.

Do the more sophisticated and intellectual Thomists here adhere to this explanation of natural evils and the body's corruption as a consequence of God withdrawing supernatural protection from Adam and Eve and their descendants? Why does God let composite things like our bodies tend toward their potency into actuality, where once God did not?

And is original sin really a sufficient reason for all the natural evil we experience in the world? What plausible higher good comes of such withdrawal of protection by a good God? From a single sinful act by distant ancestors comes this cascade of evils that God once actively prevented, and now, even for that couple's children, refuses to block.

Does this sound like a sensible Higher Being providing a sufficient reason for why tsunamis kill hundreds of thousands of people at a single swipe? What's the higher good coming from this grudge at the first couple's sin?

Is God really this callous?

Christopher said...

'You're being quite Orwellian (turning evil into good, and good to evil) when you write: "God does not have the same moral obligations in the way men do."'

And that makes good to evil how?



'And as for "original sin," biology tells us that Adam and Eve never existed in a garden in Mesopotamia that brought death into the world by their sinning.'

Biology says nothing of Original Sin because Biology is the study of Biological Organisms period. It has been demonstrated before on Edward Feser's blog that a pair (Adam and Eve) can come from a huge non-human population.

'Death and violent energies have been with the cosmos from the start. The elements of our bodies (carbon, etc.) are the products of the violent death of stars;'

Violent death of stars? So elements can die? A bit difficult since they are non-living.

'our biological lineage has been a sequence of births and deaths. The man to whom all living humans trace their lineage was an African living about 70,000 years ago, and "Mitochondrial Eve" goes back something like 150 thousand years ago.'

Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists disagree on the issue, and they do have some valid criticisms, along with the philosophical criticisms of Fr. Chad Ripperger. Even if the biological lineage were to be life and death, it's simply a consequence of Original Sin for the Human Species.

'the explanation for natural evils like tsunamis that you offer up is distressing. Do you really believe that God punishes humans with natural disasters because of Adam and Eve's sin?'

Original Sin is as St. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine states: 'the languor of nature', the acts of Adam and Eve have consequences as a whole.

You still have not explained why you as an agnostic/atheist elevate a natural occurrence and suddenly make it an Evil occurrence when talking about Omni-Benevolence and Omnipotence.

Christopher said...

'Do the more sophisticated and intellectual Thomists here adhere '

I'm assuming I'm not allowed to reply, so I shall not.

Santi Tafarella said...

Greg,

You wrote: "[C]onsider why your interlocutor holds the view he professes..."

I just did above. I found it in Aquinas. I read it. I thought about it. I'm asking some simple questions: Is original sin really a sufficient reason for tsunamis wiping out 100,000 people at a time? Has God justly withheld his (her?) protection from Adam and Eve's descendants? What's the sophisticated explanation here that I'm missing? What's the higher good that this ongoing and active withdrawal of God's protection from Adam and Eve (and their descendants) producing? Why is God prolonging this withdrawal of protection?

Jesus came and was crucified two thousand years ago. Wasn't that supposed to quell God's wrath? Jesus was supposed to have gone up to heaven in a cloud with the intention of being back "quickly." He's still not back. What's going on here? The original sin thesis for ongoing natural evils, aging, corruption, and death (if taken seriously) begs questions surrounding the principle of sufficient reason. None of the reasons offered (so far as I can tell) get anywhere near to being sufficient to explaining the horror and magnitude of suffering in the world, and now I read in Aquinas himself that God is directly and actively WITHHOLDING his protection from human beings because of Adam and Eve's departure from First Reason.

This isn't God wishing it were different. This is God actively letting the battering torment of composite potency turned to actuality go on and on for no apparently sane reason (Adam and Eve disobeyed orders they barely comprehended in the first place, and now their descendants go through excruciating decomposition, unprotected by God, to this day).

What am I missing in the original sin thesis that makes it plausible? And why would one ever give oneself over to the worship of such an inscrutable deity?

Is it fear of additional punishment and hell? What other reason could it be?

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