Friday, November 21, 2014

Augustine on the immateriality of the mind


In Book 10, Chapter 10 of On the Trinity, St. Augustine argues for the immateriality of the mind.  You can find an older translation of the work online, but I’ll quote the passages I want to discuss from the McKenna translation as edited by Gareth Matthews.  Here they are:

[E]very mind knows and is certain concerning itself.  For men have doubted whether the power to live, to remember, to understand, to will, to think, to know, and to judge is due to air, to fire, or to the brain, or to the blood, or to atoms… or whether the combining or the orderly arrangement of the flesh is capable of producing these effects; one has tried to maintain this opinion, another that opinion.

On the other hand who would doubt that he lives, remembers, understands, wills, thinks, knows, and judges?  For even if he doubts, he lives; if he doubts, he remembers why he doubts; if he doubts, he understands that he doubts; if he doubts, he wishes to be certain; if he doubts, he thinks; if he doubts, he knows that he does not know; if he doubts, he judges that he ought not to consent rashly.  Whoever then doubts about anything else ought never to doubt about all of these; for if they were not, he would be unable to doubt about anything at all

[T]he mind knows itself, even when it seeks itself, as we have already shown.  But we can in no way rightly say that anything is known while its substance [or: essence] is unknown.  Wherefore, since the mind knows itself, it knows its own substance [or: essence].  But it is certain about itself, as is clearly shown from what we have already said.  But it is by no means certain whether it is air, or fire, or a body, or anything of a body.  It is, therefore, none of these things…

For the mind thinks of fire in the same way as it thinks of air or any other bodily thing of which it thinks.  But it can in no way happen that it should think of that which itself is, in the same way as it thinks of that which it itself is not.  For all these, whether fire, or air, or this or that body, or that part or it thinks of by means of an imaginary phantasy, nor is it said to be all of these, but one or the other of them.  But if it were any one of them, it would think of this one in a different manner from the rest.  That is to say, it would not think of it by means of an imaginary phantasy, as absent things or something of the same kind are thought of which have been touched by the sense of the body, but it would think of it by a kind of inward presence not feigned but real -- for there is nothing more present to it than itself; just as it thinks that it lives, and remembers, and understands, and wills.  And if it adds nothing from these thoughts to itself, so as to regard itself as something of the kind, then whatever still remains to it of itself, that alone is itself.  (pp. 55-57)

Useful discussions of these passages can be found in chapter 6 of Matthews’ book Augustine, and, more recently, in Bruno Niederbacher’s essay “The human soul: Augustine’s case for soul-body dualism” in the considerably revised 2014 second edition of The Cambridge Companion to Augustine.  (The bracketed alternative translation of Augustine’s word for “substance” as “essence” is not my addition, by the way, but is in the McKenna/Matthews translation.  Matthews and Niederbacher both regard this translation of substantia as equally plausible or even more plausible in this particular context.)

In the first two paragraphs quoted we have a version of what is sometimes called “the Augustinian cogito,” insofar as Augustine prefigures (here and in Book XI, Chapter 26 of The City of God) Descartes’ famous Cogito, ergo sum.  You cannot coherently doubt that you live, remember, understand, will, think, know, and judge, since, Augustine argues, the very act of doubting that one does these things itself involves doing them. 

Of course, you could doubt that you “live” in the sense of having a metabolism, etc., insofar as you can wonder (as Descartes did) whether you are really a spirit divorced from any body and are merely hallucinating that you have one.  But what Augustine means here is that even in that case you couldn’t coherently doubt that you “live” in the sense of existing as a disembodied, thinking thing.

Augustine also notes that even if one is committed to some version of materialism according to which our mental powers are to be attributed to the brain, to atoms, to some particular kind of arrangement of the flesh, or what have you, one could still at least coherently doubt that this was the case in a way one cannot coherently doubt that one thinks, wills, etc.  In the remaining passages, Augustine develops this contrast in a manner intended to show that the mind cannot be material in these ways or any other way.  Of course, this approach to arguing for the mind’s immateriality also sounds very proto-Cartesian, though I think Augustine’s arguments here are not exactly the same as any of Descartes’.

Matthews plausibly suggests that, whether Augustine intended it or not, there are two distinct arguments to be found in the last two paragraphs quoted above.  Let’s consider them in order.  In the third paragraph the argument seems to me plausibly reconstructed in the following way (which, I should note, is not necessarily the way Matthews or Niederbacher would reconstruct it):

1. The mind knows itself with certainty.

2. But a thing is known only when its essence is known.

3. So the mind knows its own essence with certainty. 

4. But the mind is not certain that it is the brain, or atoms, or an arrangement of flesh, or anything else that is material.

5. So it is not part of the essence of the mind to be the brain, or atoms, or an arrangement of flesh, or anything else that is material.

What should we think of this argument?  I’m not certain, though some objections that might at first glance seem strong are not in fact decisive.  Matthews notes that functionalists claim that the mind could be realized in the brain but also in other material systems, such as a sufficiently complex computer.  Hence “a mind might know its own essence without knowing what matter it is realized in” (Matthews, Augustine, p. 46).  The point, I gather, is that while the mind can doubt that it is realized in this particular kind of matter or that kind, this may merely reflect the fact that it is realizable in multiple sorts of matter, and does not entail that it could exist apart from any matter at all

However, even apart from the deficiencies of functionalist theories of mind, this does not seem to me to be a good objection (though in fairness to Matthews I should emphasize that he considers this as an objection which might be raised against his own reconstruction of the argument, which is not exactly the same as mine).  Augustine’s point is not that there is something special about the particular examples he cites -- the brain, atoms, configurations of flesh, etc. -- that makes it possible for the mind to doubt that it is any of them.  His point is precisely that what is true of them is going to be true of anything material.  The mind, he could point out in response to our imagined functionalist, can doubt that it needs to be “realized” in anything material in the first place.  Even the functionalist would agree that it is at least possible coherently to doubt this, and that is all Augustine needs for the argument to go through (assuming it is otherwise unproblematic).

A functionalist may respond that it is also possible to doubt that the mind is realized in any postulated immaterial substrate.  But as I have pointed out when addressing parallel objections to Cartesian dualism (here and here), this sort of objection just completely misses the dualist’s point.  In Descartes’ case, he is not (contrary to the stock caricature) postulating a ghostly kind of stuff (“ectoplasm” or whatever) in which thought merely contingently inheres, so that one might coherently suppose it possible in principle for the one to exist apart from the other.  For Descartes, the res cogitans is not merely a substrate which underlies thought, but just is thought.  There is no conceptual space between them by which the functionalist might pry them apart.  Augustine, it seems, is saying something similar.  In knowing with certainty that it thinks, wills, understands, etc., the mind knows its essence, not merely activity contingently related to that essence which might in principle exist apart from it.

Matthews also notes that a critic may object to the claim that a thing is known only when its essence is known.  He cites Aristotle’s example of thunder, which one could know is a noise in the clouds even if he does not know the essence of thunder.  Or we might note that someone could obviously know that water is the liquid which fills lakes and oceans and falls from the sky as rain even if he does not know that water is H2O. 

This is a stronger objection, but in reply it could be noted that premise 2 may not actually be essential to the argument.  Augustine need not claim of everything that when it is known, its essence is known.  Perhaps he could simply argue that this is true of the mind, specifically.  For as Niederbacher emphasizes in his discussion of this argument, Augustine takes the mind to have a special immediate access to itself that it does not have to other things.  (Hence Niederbacher calls the argument under discussion “the cognitive access argument.”)  In the preceding chapter, Augustine had written that “when it is said to the mind: ‘Know thyself,’ it knows itself at the very instant in which it understands the word ‘thyself’; and it knows itself for no other reason than that it is present to itself” (On the Trinity, Book 10, Chapter 9, p. 54).  The idea might be that absence of certainty is possible only where our access to a thing is not immediate.  For example, we can be less than certain about the things we see because our access to them is mediated by light, the optic nerve, stages of neural processing, etc., and this opens the door to the possibility of illusion and hallucination.  But the certainty that the “Augustinian cogito” shows that the mind has vis-à-vis itself implies that its access to itself is not mediated.

So, it may be that, given Augustine’s view about the mind’s immediate access to itself, it is steps 3 - 5 that are the really essential ones in the “cognitive access argument,” and the problematic premise 2 can drop out as inessential.  The basic idea would be that given the mind’s immediate access to itself, it has a certainty about its essence that it does not have about whether it is the brain, atoms, etc., so that nothing of the latter, material sort can be part of its essence.

But this brings us close to the thrust of the argument of the last passage from Chapter 10 quoted above, which Matthews judges to be not only a distinct argument but a stronger one.  In this passage, Augustine says of “fire, or air, or this or that body” that we think of them “by means of an imaginary phantasy,” or mental image.  But Matthews suggests that whether we always make use of mental images, specifically, when we think of material things is not really essential to Augustine’s point.  What is essential is rather the claim that we always make use of mental representations of some sort or other.  Thus the mind’s cognitive access to material things is always mediated in a way Augustine thinks its cognitive access to itself is not. 

Thus we have what I take to be a plausible reconstruction of the overall thrust of the reasoning of the last passage from chapter 10 quoted above:

1. The mind knows itself directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation.

2. But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.

3. So, the mind is not a material thing.

In defense of premise 1, Augustine would, again, presumably say that if we were to deny it, then we would be faced with the possibility of skepticism about the mind’s own existence.  Yet the “Augustinian cogito” shows that such skepticism is impossible.  So we must affirm premise 1.

In defense of premise 2, we could note that, apart from eliminative materialists, materialists themselves tend to affirm that all thought takes place by means of mental representations of some sort (whether “sentences in the head,” distributed representations, or whatever).  Hence they cannot consistently reject premise 2.  Augustine and materialists of the sort in question are essentially in agreement that in general, thought involves mental representations.  The difference is just that Augustine thinks the “Augustinian cogito” shows that there is an exception in the special case of the mind’s knowledge of itself. 

As Matthews notes, a critic might still object to premise 1 on Freudian grounds.  It might be claimed that in the case of unconscious mental states, the mind knows itself (insofar as it discovers that it has a repressed desire of some sort, say) but that it does not do so directly (since the desire is unconscious).  But as Matthews also notes, this wouldn’t really be a strong objection.  Much of the talk about “unconscious” mental states seems to me pretty loose.  John Searle argues that to attribute a so-called “unconscious mental state” to someone is really just to attribute to him a neural state with the capacity or disposition to cause a conscious mental state.  This seems to me essentially correct.  What is strictly mental is the conscious state caused by the neural state, so that we don’t really have a counterexample to the claim that the mind always knows itself directly.

Given Augustine’s emphasis on the mind’s direct and certain knowledge of itself, the arguments we’ve been examining have, as I have said, a clearly proto-Cartesian flavor about them.  It is worth noting, though, that whatever one thinks of it, Augustine’s reasoning is not the same as that of Cartesian “conceivability arguments” (which I have discussed critically here and here).  There is no attempt to read off, from what we can conceive, conclusions about mind-independent reality, after the fashion of rationalist metaphysics.  The introspective approach to the study of the mind that Augustine shares with Descartes has no essential connection with Cartesian/Leibnizian rationalism. 

213 comments:

1 – 200 of 213   Newer›   Newest»
Daniel said...

Inbefore 'Augustine was the father of phenomenology'.

On a serious note from Ed's two earlier posts what do scholastics actually have to object to Cartesian Conceivability arguments save that they are A. arguably undercut by the Functionalist multiple realisability criterion and B. just not as strong as the Classical arguments? Ed defends Conceivability in Philosophy of Mind and Conceiving and Hallucinating so what is the main problem.

Perhaps I am wrong here but denying the ancient Parmenidian dictum that 'What cannot be cannot be thought' or Conceivability is the Index of Possibility would lead to potential scepticism about Material Necessity at the very least.

Tom said...

Professor Feser,

In your view (and presumably the traditional scholastic view as well), what is the relationship between mind, body and consciousness itself?

I am not talking about intellectual activity per se, but rather the element of consciousness which is subjective, first person.

As far as I can tell, there are good reasons to believe conscious experience is at least in part immaterial. That however would seem to entail that animals have an immaterial soul which is problematic.

Thoughts?

Thanks
Tom

Scott said...

@Tom:

All souls are forms and therefore immaterial, aren't they? I think the problem would arise only if nonhuman/subrational animals had immortal souls.

Steve B said...

Hello Dr. Feser,
If the substance is the intrinsic, holistic (immaterial) principle of the "thing's" unity, could you say that the essence is the substance of the thing considered as it's principle of unity per it's intentional being?
If to abstract is to "see" the one aspect that unifies, then in the concept is found the intentional principle of unity (i.e. the things essence).
I'm trying to keep in mind that to know a thing is to have it contained the mind, in an immaterial way.

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but I just want to ask what Dr. Feser though of Vincent Torley's post on the Fifth Way? Has he responsed to it?

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but I just want to ask what Dr. Feser though of Vincent Torley's post on the Fifth Way? Has he responsed to it?

Here's Torley's post:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/fixing-fesers-fifth-why-his-up-to-date-version-of-aquinas-fifth-way-fails-as-a-proof-and-how-to-make-it-work/

Cantus said...

@anonymous - I have no idea, but I'd think Feser is thoroughly sick of responding to Torley at this stage. Remember the argy-bargy with the multiple posts about I.D. in a row?

Irish Thomist said...

@ Daniel

there is an interaction problem, a problem in relation to causation and various other issues that arise from Cartesian Dualist conceptions of mind.

Irish Thomist said...

@Tom

That however would seem to entail that animals have an immaterial soul which is problematic.

In what sense is it problematic? We might say they have not an eternal soul however as it it is not intrinsic to their natures to consider and desire eternity.

Asteele said...

Your 2 is only true if the mind isn't a material thing. It could be true: that we know all material things *except our own minds" through mediation. This makes sense as our own minds are internal to us, while all other material things are external. Also, it's not so much that minds are material, but that minds are embodied, I'm not sure you can coherently deny that you have a body. (for one thing you need your body to do so).

Daniel said...

This would seem the ideal time to dredge up this little gem from Ed:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/animals-are-conscious-in-other-news-sky.html

@Irish Thomist,

Of course! I'm well are of the problems that arise with substance dualism (though this is to an extent mitigated if one drops the mechanism) and from the Cartesian model of mind in particular. Sorry I wrote that post in a hurry and probably didn't make myself clear. I wasn't defending Descartes' brand of dualism by any means just asking why Ed should in principle object to the Conceivability argument in itself, which I see as implying no commitment to other Cartesian premises, just as, say, the argument from our capacity to grasp universals need not commit us to Platonic substance dualism.

Brandon said...

Asteele,

If your last sentence is intended to mean that minds are embodied rather than properly and in themselves material, you have already conceded the point under consideration; Ed himself holds that it would be more correct to say that minds are embodied than that minds are material.

This makes sense as our own minds are internal to us, while all other material things are external.

Does it, though? The bacteria in your gut are internal to you, as is your pineal gland, and you only know these through mediation. What this shows is that you are importing assumptions into 'internal' and 'external' that go beyond the actual physical relations.

Chad Handley said...

I know my own mind in an unmediated fashion, but I can only know the minds of other people in a mediated fashion. So, wouldn't the argument imply that while my mind was immaterial, all other minds were material? And since others would say the same about me, doesn't that sort of cancel the argument out?

Greg said...

@ Chad

This is the argument Professor Feser gave:

1. The mind knows itself directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation.

2. But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.

3. So, the mind is not a material thing


Knowledge of other minds is mediated perhaps in the sense that one infers he has a mind from his activities and ways of being in the world. But that is not the sense of 'mediation' used in the argument. Augustine could still say that, knowing that others have minds, we do not know their minds "via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation." So I don't have a "picture" of someone's mind, even though I believe he has a mind because I've observed his actions in the world and judge him to be a human.

Chad Handley said...

I'm not sure that I don't have a picture of the minds of others. When I empathize with someone, for example, aren't I creating a representation of their inward mental states? When I see someone displaying pain behavior, I don't directly see his mental experience of pain. Rather, I'm modeling it, using my own past pain experiences to represent his.

Aren't we constantly creating models and representations of the minds of others?

Greg said...

@ Chad

I guess I'm not sure what you mean by a model or representation in this context. It does not seem to bear a lot of similarity to what Augustine means when he says we know material objects through representations and images.

When I see someone displaying pain behavior, I don't directly see his mental experience of pain. Rather, I'm modeling it, using my own past pain experiences to represent his.

Right (on Augustine's view). Your understanding of others' pain is mediated by your understanding of your own pain in the sense of 'mediation' that is not at issue in Augustine's argument. Since (you grant) your understanding of your own pain is not mediated by a representation or image in Augustine's sense of 'mediation,' it follows that neither is your understanding of others' pain so mediated.

I say "Right (on Augustine's view)" because an Aristotelian might deny the first sentence: "I don't directly see his mental experience of pain." For the Aristotelian many mental states are 'visible' because manifested formally. But the Thomist also would not deny that pain is in a relevant sense physical. Perhaps the Thomist would deny that intellection could be 'observed' in others in the way that pain can (over and above the fact that, since there are necessary material constituents of intellective acts, those would be 'observable'), and in that respect might understand the person to be engaging in intellection to some extent based on knowledge of the human essence obtained through self-observation. I am not sure on this point.

Greg said...

To clarify the two senses of 'mediation' at work here: (1) that by which something is known. The essences of material things are known by mental representations or images, so knowledge thereof is mediated by mental representations or images. (2) the way by which one comes to know. The inference that someone else has a mind is warranted by a likeness to oneself, so knowledge of the other person's mind is mediated by knowledge of one's own mind.

These are distinct senses, and Augustine is clearly appealing to the first. (2) would not seem to imply materiality of the thing known in the way that (1) does.

James Chastek said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for writing this. I never would have taken Augustine's argument seriously without you presenting it as you did. I formulated the argument in a slightly different way and gave some objections and responses to it here.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

I'd like to see the defense of this premise fleshed out: "2. But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation."

Couldn't the materialist reply as follows?

"Yes, that's true of every material thing except one's own mind. One's own mind can be known directly and without representation.

"Yes, to know that one knows one's own mind requires the holding of a thought that represents the mind. So, yes, that second-order knowledge involves representation. But the original knowing of the mind itself did not involve a representation of the mind. The original knowing of the mind was just the mind itself."

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

Ed's antepenultimate paragraph notes that Augustine makes that exception. But on what basis could a materialist make it?

Anonymous said...


Inquirer

Isn't the problem here that we don't understand the brain enough to make any conclusions about "mind." I also find these metaphysical notions of the immaterial very elusive: how can something exist if it has no materiality. An idea or rule or something else along these lines may be said to be immaterial but no one would claim they have existence. Is it possible that "immaterial" may be the wrong way of putting things?

Thanks.

Scott said...

"An idea or rule or something else along these lines may be said to be immaterial but no one would claim they have existence."

Lots of people would. If by "idea" you mean what an Aristotelian or a Thomist would mean by it (basically, a form), then an Aristotelian or a Thomist would say that the "idea" (form) of, say, a dog exists in each dog. (A Thomist would also say it "exists" in the mind of God, but that probably isn't what you mean; ideas of unactualized entities——unicorns, say—"exist" in the mind of God as well.)

Even if you mean it only in its modern sense (basically, a subjective intellectual concept), I and presumably may others would say that such ideas exist. The idea of, say, the number two surely does; I have it, you have it, millions and probably billions of people throughout human history have had it. Why wouldn't we say that such an idea "exists" whenever someone has it in his/her intellect?

Scott said...

"[H]ow can something exist if it has no materiality[?]"

That's a slightly different question, and in general the Aristotelian-Thomist answer is that, in the physical world, it can't. In the physical world, forms exist only "in" things, and things are hylemorphic (matter/form) unities. Anything that exists in the physical world thus does have materiality.

Aquinas, though, was not a universal hylemorphist and believed that immaterial entities (angels, for example) could and do exist. But it's not surprising that our everyday intuitions fail when applied to cases like that.

Scott said...

"Isn't the problem here that we don't understand the brain enough to make any conclusions about 'mind[?]'"

I wouldn't say so. As Augustine says, the mind has direct knowledge of itself, independently of any indirect knowledge we may or may not have about "brains." (In this he was echoed by twentieth-century philosopher Brand Blanshard, who never tired of pointing out that, contrary to much modern philosophy, mind is the reality with which we're most familiar.) I think it would be a mistake to suppose that we'd have to know anything about "brains" in order to draw conclusions about mind. We might as well say (though the cases aren't exactly parallel) that we'd have to know more about the physiology of the digestive system before we could draw any conclusions about what we'd like to have for dinner.

At any rate, with regard to the question addressed in the OP: if we can know on metaphysical grounds (as I think we can) that the mind is immaterial, then what additional understanding of the "brain" could possibly contradict that knowledge?

Scott said...

(The last paragraph in my 8:02 AM post should read, "I and presumably many others.")

Anonymous said...

Anon said,

"how can something exist if it has no materiality."


This is more Platonic, but say you get a bunch of children to draw triangles and rate them on accuracy. You see that some doing a better job than others. Lines are straighter, the lines connect up more correctly, etc.

But how can you say which are more accurate unless you are comparing them to something? If that thing does not exist, you are comparing it to nothing?

You might have a triangle in your imagination that you think you are comparing it too. But then say you picture a circle then a 10 billion sided shape. They look pretty much the same in your imagination, however you know in your intellect that they are different. How can you possibly distinguish between things if they don't exist in any sense at all?

Anonymous said...

"We might as well say (though the cases aren't exactly parallel) that we'd have to know more about the physiology of the digestive system before we could draw any conclusions about what we'd like to have for dinner."

I don't see how this analogy follows at all. And did Augustine have the slightest idea about the nature of the brain and what it could mean for the "mind?" If the "mind" is part of the brain in some manner wouldn't it be wise to have a full grasp of the brain before drawing conclusions about "mind?"

"if we can know on metaphysical grounds (as I think we can) that the mind is immaterial"

What does "know on metaphysical grounds" mean? And as I asked earlier, if the lack of materiality is nothing then how can the immaterial exist, or is "immaterial" not nothing but a substance that we don't yet understand?

Inquirer

Anonymous said...

"But how can you say which are more accurate unless you are comparing them to something? If that thing does not exist, you are comparing it to nothing?"

You may be comparing it to the first you saw or for aesthetic reasons. I don't think an idealized form is the only answer. I never understood why Plato felt a real object never seemed to "live up to" the ideal form.

"You might have a triangle in your imagination that you think you are comparing it too. But then say you picture a circle then a 10 billion sided shape. They look pretty much the same in your imagination, however you know in your intellect that they are different. How can you possibly distinguish between things if they don't exist in any sense at all?"

I don't follow this. A circle and a multi-sided shape would look the same in my imagination? I can also imagine a red banana with a hat and a bird's beak growing out one end but that doesn't exist.

Inquirer

John West said...

Inquirer,

"A circle and a multi-sided shape would look the same in my imagination?"

What Anon meant, I think, was that a multi-billion sided shape would have such small sides, it would look effectively the same as a collection of points equidistant from the some one point on a Cartesian plane (in other words, a circle).

Scott said...

@Inquirer:

"I don't see how this analogy follows at all."

Analogies don't "follow"; they're analogies, not conclusions. I think my point was clear enough: we know what it's like "from the inside" to be able to tell what we'd enjoy having for dinner, so we don't have to wait on knowledge of physiology in order to draw conclusions about it. Somewhat but not exactly similarly, we know quite a lot about minds "from the inside" and can reason about them without knowledge of brain chemistry or what-have-you.

"And did Augustine have the slightest idea about the nature of the brain and what it could mean for the 'mind?'"

What do you think "the nature of the brain and what it could mean for the 'mind'" are, and on what grounds do you regard them as things that we know? Unless you're presuming that we have pretty conclusive positive knowledge that the mind is in some way reducible to the brain, it's not clear why your question is relevant—and if you are presuming that, then your question is based on a false assumption, since we don't "know" any such thing.

"If the 'mind' is part of the brain in some manner wouldn't it be wise to have a full grasp of the brain before drawing conclusions about 'mind?'"

Maybe, if we already knew the mind was "part of the brain in some manner." But the argument at issue in this post is not only that we don't know that, but that we positively know it's not (and can't be) "part of the brain" if the brain is understood as a purely physical entity.

"What does 'know on metaphysical grounds' mean?"

Metaphysics is the study of being as such, and in retrospect I should probably have said "on grounds belonging to the philosophy of nature." But either subject is logically/epistemically prior to the modern sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology, and that's the real point.

"And as I asked earlier, if the lack of materiality is nothing then how can the immaterial exist, or is 'immaterial' not nothing but a substance that we don't yet understand?"

As I've already clearly implied (to the point of all but stating it explicitly), the absence of materiality isn't just "nothing." In order to understand why Thomists in particular think this, you'll probably do well to read something more detailed than a combox reply—for example, Ed's book Aquinas and/or Scholastic Metaphysics. (The Last Superstition will also serve but its scope is wider and it's less detailed on this precise subject.) You can also search the posts on this blog and find some useful stuff; I'd recommend starting with the search act potency.

Scott said...

You can read another excellent chapter on act and potency here. I'm focusing on this subject because (a) it's fundamental to Aristotelian (and Thomist) philosophy of nature, and (b) once you've got your mind around it, you'll have a much better idea why the immaterial needn't be just nothing at all.

John West said...

collection of all points [...]*, sorry.

Scott said...

@Inquirer:

Just adding to John West's post(s) here, in order to make the rest of Anon's point explicit. If we can intellectually distinguish between a circle and a 10-billion-sided regular polygon even though we can't tell them apart visually or via imagination, then they must not be the same thing—and in that case they must exist in some sense, else how could we distinguish them?

As Anon says, this point is more Platonic and I think it's sound as far as it goes. What it doesn't address, though, is that in whatever sense forms or natures can be said to "exist," it's not full-blown existence in the Aristotelian and Thomistic senses; Thomas in particular argues vigorously that an essence (that is, any essence but God's) is in potency to existence and requires actualization by something external. (That point applies not just to the physical world but even to immaterial substances like angels.)

That's why, based on your questions, I'm directing you toward the Aristotelian and Thomistic accounts of act and potency. There's a sense in which potency, on these accounts, is a sort of middle ground between full-blown existence and mere nothingness or nonexistence—and however weird that may sound, without something like it we can't give a coherent account of the fact that change occurs.

But be that as it may, I'm in full agreement with Anon's point (as explained by John West) that because we can intellectually distinguish between the natures of a circle and of a 10-billion-sided regular polygon, those natures must "exist" in some sense, even if it's attenuated with respect to the full-blown existence of actual, physically instantiated circles and polygons.

Anonymous said...

"If we can intellectually distinguish between a circle and a 10-billion-sided regular polygon even though we can't tell them apart visually or via imagination"

If billion sided polygon looks like a circle to the naked eye then you can't distinguish it from a circle until you're told it's actually a polygon.

"Thomas in particular argues vigorously that an essence (that is, any essence but God's) is in potency to existence and requires actualization by something external."

How do you know that it isn't the object or imagined thing itself that gives rise to the idea the form or essence? It seems to me that this platonic form idea could be said to work backwards.

Scott said...

@Inquirer (I assume):

"If billion sided polygon looks like a circle to the naked eye then you can't distinguish it from a circle until you're told it's actually a polygon."

You can't, but that's not (the other) Anon's point. His point is that, because you can intellectually distinguish between the two, they must exist in some sense. (In this context our inability to distinguish them in sense or imagination is a bit of a red herring, though I can see why Anon mentioned it.)

That doesn't get us all the way to the things' actually existing; the form, nature, or essence of a horse differs from that of a unicorn, but that doesn't mean unicorns exist in the sense you're talking about. It does mean, though, that those natures "exist" in some attenuated sense that isn't just sheer nonexistence.

"How do you know that it isn't the object or imagined thing itself that gives rise to the idea the form or essence?"

According to both Aristotle and Aquinas, it is precisely the object or imagined thing that gives rise to the idea (in your sense of a subjective concept) of the form or essence. It's just that in order for that to happen, two things that give rise to the same "idea" of the form or essence must already be identical in at least a formal sense. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

John West said...

To be honest, the metaphysics have gone a bit above my head. But, well, you can provide an unambiguous mathematical representation of each the polygon and circle, even if the eyes cannot distinguish a difference between their graphic representations.

Anonymous said...

"because you can intellectually distinguish between the two, they must exist in some sense."

I don't see why this needs to be the case. You can intellectually distinguish between the two because they're different just as I can distinguish between a carrot and a yam.

It seems this "forms" notion is really a kind of god notion, that everything that exists is modeled on a blue print or design. It's unassailable because it can't be disproved and as such it's essentially useless conjecture.

Inquirer

Jeremy Taylor said...

"I don't see why this needs to be the case."

This is not an argument, though you appear to rely on it to dismiss essentialism.

John West said...

"It seems this "forms" notion is really a kind of god notion, that everything that exists is modeled on a blue print or design. It's unassailable because it can't be disproved and as such it's essentially useless conjecture."

As is this second paragraph, Mr. Inquirer. It's an assertion without argument.

Anonymous said...

Both arguments seem suspect to me, but the first is by far the more plausible (though I fail to see - and perhaps Ed can enlighten me on this point - how it is substantially different from the Cartesian argument, or why the materialist cannot say that we have only a partial grasp of the mental essence).

Why accept the second premise of the second argument? Why not emend it to say that the mind's knowledge of all material things besides itself is representational? Moreover, aren't there some Thomists who want to say we have direct awareness of at least some aspects of material things (viz., their color, etc.)?

Matt Sheean said...

"You can intellectually distinguish between the two because they're different just as I can distinguish between a carrot and a yam."

But the question is what makes them different, yes? How is it the case that a carrot and a yam differ? In either case we must appeal to what it is that we call a carrot and what it is that we call a yam, or what it is that we call a circle and what it is that we call a polygon. This is what we might also call the "essence" of the yam, the carrot, the circle, or the polygon.

Anonymous said...

"But the question is what makes them different, yes? How is it the case that a carrot and a yam differ? In either case we must appeal to what it is that we call a carrot and what it is that we call a yam, or what it is that we call a circle and what it is that we call a polygon. This is what we might also call the "essence" of the yam, the carrot, the circle, or the polygon."

The difference is self-evident; they're two different objects. If you were to break them down, as with all objects, you'd see they have different elements and structures and that could be said to be their essence without hypothesizing a metaphysical "form."

"'It seems this "forms" notion is really a kind of god notion, that everything that exists is modeled on a blue print or design. It's unassailable because it can't be disproved and as such it's essentially useless conjecture.'

As is this second paragraph, Mr. Inquirer. It's an assertion without argument."

The point is there can't be an argument because the proposition can't be disproved. And this is the problem I see with metaphysics in general: Even if a certain proposition is true there's no way to know so what's its usefulness?

Inquirer

Matt Sheean said...

"The point is there can't be an argument because the proposition can't be disproved."

and yet you do try.

Matt Sheean said...

I'm sympathetic to anon at 9:49 concerning the second argument.

It seems that I should know myself in some respect in an unmediated way, whereas those things that are not-me I know in a mediated way. Or, to put it another way, I stand in some relation to myself that is unique, I am this body here. This does not go to show that I am immaterial.

Maybe I'm missing something, though.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Inquirer.

The point is that, for the Aristotelian, Aristotelian essentialism explains the identity and nature of material objects whereas other explanations - like the reductionist and materialist approaches you allude do - do not or fail to do so. This is their argument and the one you would need to disprove.

Tom Simon said...

It occurs to me that the objection on the ground of unconscous mental states is a red herring. It is clearly the case that the mind, in so far as it knows itself, apprehends itself directly and not by means of representations; and this, I think, is sufficient to the purpose. It is not necessary to the argument that the mind should know itself fully or exhaustively; only that the kind or method of knowing is qualitatively different from how we know material objects.

Brandon said...

Matt,

It seems that I should know myself in some respect in an unmediated way, whereas those things that are not-me I know in a mediated way. Or, to put it another way, I stand in some relation to myself that is unique, I am this body here.

This can't be all there is to it, though, because you have this unique relation to a great many things about your body that you certainly do not know in this way; e.g., individual muscle fibers, or the inner lining of your skin. It's the general problem -- to be sure, we do stand in a unique relation to our body, and in some way know it from the inside, and so forth for other ways of characterizing it. But the trick is that these can't on their own give us a complete account; there is something missing, and, of course, it's precisely in the question of what else is needed that the nub of the question lies.

Brandon said...

Why accept the second premise of the second argument? Why not emend it to say that the mind's knowledge of all material things besides itself is representational?

Obviously one can; one can trivially emend a premise with any epicycles one pleases. The issue is that in order to do so one would need, on independent grounds, to establish both:

(a) The mind is material.
(b) Despite the fact that all other material things are known representationally, the mind is known in a different way for some principled reason.

Since the suggested emendation concedes that it's the default that material things are known representationally, trying to take this route doesn't actually leave the materialist any better off unless he has in hand what is necessary to show that minds are exceptions to this default principle -- namely, (a) and (b).

Scott said...

@Inquirer:

"The point is there can't be an argument because the proposition can't be disproved. And this is the problem I see with metaphysics in general: Even if a certain proposition is true there's no way to know so what's its usefulness?"

That a proposition can't be disproved doesn't mean that it can't be argued about and even known with certainty. The Principle of Noncontradiction, for example, is a metaphysical proposition that can't be disproved (and in fact is the foundation of the very idea of "disproof"), but that's exactly what establishes that it is true (and that we know it).

If you think you see this as a problem with "metaphysics in general," then maybe you just need better metaphysics. I've already referred you to two or three sources that will help, so I'll leave it at that.

Scott said...

@Inquirer:

"I don't see why this needs to be the case. You can intellectually distinguish between the two because they're different just as I can distinguish between a carrot and a yam."

Good so far; you can distinguish intellectually between the nature of a circle and the nature of a 10-billion-sided regular polygon because they really are different, even if in the physical world there are no perfect circles or 10-billion-sided regular polygons.

But if you also think that nothing immaterial "exists" in any sense, then you must also think that such natures, being immaterial, are just nothing at all. One "nothing" doesn't have any properties that distinguish it from another "nothing"; nothing is just nothing.

The point of Anon's reply is that if you can distinguish between two natures independently of whether there's anything that materially instantiates them, then on your own terms you're somehow able to distinguish between one absolute nothing and another.

And that should be a clue that there's something wrong with your current view of forms, natures, and essences: they aren't mere nothings.

Mark said...

As a beginner, I thought this was related, but what's the A-T response to this? http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/11/embodied_cognition_metaphors_about_the_physical_world_help_us_reason.html

John West said...

Inquirer,

I take your comment to mean you think propositions such as God (you write forms are "really a kind of [G]od notion") are not even in principle falsifiable.

I disagree. For example, one can try - and people have tried - to falsify the classical theist concept of God by showing it is self-inconsistent, like the concept of a round triangle. As another example, one can try showing classical theism is inconsistent with some strongly verified a posteriori fact (ie. the problem of animal pain is such a tactic; or, the atheological argument from the law of predation). In short, classical theism is not in principle unfalsifiable. Similarly, one can try showing Forms are a self-inconsistent concept or conflict with strongly verified facts about the universe.

If you don't mean in principle unfalsifiable, then, well, neither can 2+2=4, or even the general roundness of Earth.

Also, if you're appealing to a variation the old falsification principle, then it's worth mentioning that falsification principles are never themselves scientifically falsifiable or analytically true. They are therefore, on their own criteria, grammatically correct strings of nonsense.

Incidentally, since classical theism is in principle falsifiable, I think the fact classical theism has survived thousands of years of falsification attempts should be counted towards the strength of the hypothesis.

John West said...

Well, maybe I should write "over a thousand years". I leave more knowledgeable people to figure out the exact timeline.

Scott said...

@Mark:

"As a beginner, I thought this was related, but what's the A-T response to this?"

Can you be more specific about what you think requires a response? On a quick skim, I didn't notice anything that flat-out contradicted A-T psychology, though there are some points that I think A-T psychology better explains. (And of course A-T would deny that "the capacity to reason abstractly"—i.e., intellect—is strictly speaking a brain function at all even if, to borrow a phrase from Robert Brennan's Thomistic Psychology the body is in some way an "instrument of intellectual knowledge.")

Glenn said...

Mark,

As a beginner, I thought this was related, but what's the A-T response to this? http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/11/embodied_cognition_metaphors_about_the_physical_world_help_us_reason.html

Yet another modern-day 'discovery' of what, insofar as its essentials are concerned, seems to have been known for thousands of years.

St. Thomas -- in Whether intellectual knowledge is derived from sensible things? -- observed that: "The Philosopher says (Metaph. i, 1; Poster. ii, 15) that the principle of knowledge is in the senses."

If Aristotle was right in claiming that the principle of knowledge is in the senses, then two things:

a) it is not at all surprising that our thought and speech, tied in with our knowledge as they are, should be influenced by sensible things (even if only via our knowledge as a kind of media); and,

b) it would be quite remarkable were our thought and speech not influenced by sensible things.

Segueing...

The reality of sensible things, and their influence upon our knowledge, thought and speech, however, is not necessarily the entirety of reality itself. St. Thomas himself certainly didn’t think it was:

Understanding implies an intimate knowledge, for "intelligere" [to understand] is the same as "intus legere" [to read inwardly]. This is clear to anyone who considers the difference between intellect and sense, because sensitive knowledge is concerned with external sensible qualities, whereas intellective knowledge penetrates into the very essence of a thing, because the object of the intellect is "what a thing is," as stated in De Anima iii, 6.

Now there are many kinds of things that are hidden within, to find which human knowledge has to penetrate within so to speak. Thus, under the accidents lies hidden the nature of the substantial reality, under words lies hidden their meaning; under likenesses and figures the truth they denote lies hidden (because the intelligible world is enclosed within as compared with the sensible world, which is perceived externally), and effects lie hidden in their causes, and vice versa. Hence we may speak of understanding with regard to all these things.

Since, however, human knowledge begins with the outside of things as it were, it is evident that the stronger the light of the understanding, the further can it penetrate into the heart of things. Now the natural light of our understanding is of finite power; wherefore it can reach to a certain fixed point. Consequently man needs a supernatural light in order to penetrate further still so as to know what it cannot know by its natural light: and this supernatural light which is bestowed on man is called the gift of understanding.
-- ST II-II Q 8 A 1

- - - - -

(Given the above (no pun intended (yeah, sure)), it would seem that it might be the case that a scientist endeavoring to penetrate deep into the mysteries of nature, atheist though he may be, can do so successfully only with the aid of a supernatural light.)

Scott said...

@Glenn:

You've (unsurprisingly) hit a good deal of what I had in mind—which is not to say, of course, that you were merely elaborating my point.

I'd like to add two points, one positive and one negative.

(1) Here's the positive one:

"'We found that the sensory-motor cortex's involvement in sentence comprehension decreased as the level of abstraction increased,' Desai told me. Both metaphors and idioms aroused the part of the brain that actually does let you lift a pebble from the ground, but nonidiomatic metaphors provoked a stronger response than idioms, and neither generated as big a reaction as literal statements."

Kinda makes you wonder how the "brain" can tell whether a sentence is literal, metaphorical, or idiomatic, doesn't it? Why, it's almost as though we had a separate faculty for dealing with abstraction, immaterial itself but in some way dependent on sense, body, and materiality for its operation…

(2) Here's the negative one:

"Researchers suggest that we evolved the capacity to reason abstractly as old brain regions began to multitask. The same neural equipment started processing both our physical disgust at a morsel of rotting food and our spiritual disgust at a piece of rotten advertising."

This, on the other hand, is fairly silly on the face of it, at least if it's understood as a reduction of "metaphor" to brain activity. The use of metaphor specifically, and the power of abstraction generally, are themselves already intellectual functions. If "[e]volution,' [as] explained [by] biologist Robert Sapolsky in the New York Times, 'is a tinkerer and not an inventor,'" then we have to presume the power to deal intellectually with metaphor and abstraction were already present before the "brain" learned to "multitask" its existing "regions."

The article's author doesn't quite say otherwise and indeed makes explicit reference to the "spiritual." So if the foregoing isn't a question-begging attempt at reductionism, then it confirms Thomistic psychology at least as much as it confirms anything else.

VinceS said...

1. The mind knows itself directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation.


2. But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.


3. So, the mind is not a material thing.


This argument simply doesn't work, at least if I've understood exactly what was to be proved (the mind is entirely non-physical). To see why, let's redo the argument with sickness (or redness or another qualia, or any other thing with both a physical and non-physical attribute).

1. The mind knows sickness directly, without mediation of a mental image or other representation.

2. (Same as above)

3. Therefore, sickness is not a material thing.

See, I just "disproved" germ theory of disease.

Operation of mind can have a physical (firing of neurons) and non-physical (reasoning) aspect. I just don't see why this can't be the case (reasoning is correlated with neuronal firing) and I don't see why this contradicts some fundamental tenet of A-Tism either.

Scott said...

@VinceS:

But your first premise is either false or just a special case of the first premise of the original argument. The mind does not know "sickness" directly, without mediation of a mental image or other representation, unless all this means is that it knows certain qualia (the singular, by the way, is quale pronounced "qually") that we associate with physical disease. And if that is all it means, then it appears to be just another instance of the mind knowing itself directly. In other respects, the mind's knowledge of illness and disease is mediated.

Scott said...

@VinceS:

"I just don't see why this can't be the case (reasoning is correlated with neuronal firing)…"

You can't have a correlation unless there are two things to correlate. If reasoning is correlated with neural activity, then the two are not identical.

VinceS said...

@Scott:

Your first post:

That is my point entirely. Just because you know something about a thing doesn't mean you know the thing, period. So yes, you're right, it is an error to say the mind "knows" sickness because illness is experienced. The mind knows something about sickness without mediation (you feel bad). This does not mean there is not something else to know about sickness which is mediated (e.g. viruses and bacteria). The mind knows something about itself without mediation (its ability to reason). That does not mean there is not something else to know about itself which is mediated (firing of neurons).

Your second post:

Of course they're not identical. A physical and a non-physical aspect of something can not be identical by definition.

Scott said...

@VinceS:

Let me see whether I understand this. The mind has unmediated knowledge of itself, and it has unmediated knowledge of not feeling well (which can be properly regarded as an instance of knowing itself). In neither case, though, does it have unmediated knowledge of some other conditions or states of affairs that are not identical with, respectively, the mind itself or its not feeling well even though the mind and those other states of affairs may arguably both be "aspects" of an underlying reality (a human substance, for example) in which they're united.

And this was your point?

VinceS said...

@Scott:

Yes I'd say that. If you'd agree then maybe I'm misinterpreting the argument as claiming to prove more than is actually intended.

Glenn said...

VinceS.,

Operation of mind can have a physical (firing of neurons) and non-physical (reasoning) aspect. I just don't see why this can't be the case (reasoning is correlated with neuronal firing) and I don't see why this contradicts some fundamental tenet of A-Tism either.

Your use of 'mind' seems to involve a conflation of 'brain' and 'intellect', whereas St. Thomas' use of 'soul' here seems to include both 'brain' and 'intellect':

o Now our soul possesses two cognitive powers; one is the act of a corporeal organ, which naturally knows things existing in individual matter; hence sense knows only the singular. But there is another kind of cognitive power in the soul, called the intellect; and this is not the act of any corporeal organ. Wherefore the intellect naturally knows natures which exist only in individual matter; not as they are in such individual matter, but according as they are abstracted therefrom by the considering act of the intellect; hence it follows that through the intellect we can understand these objects as universal; and this is beyond the power of the sense. ST I Q 12 A 4

When 'brain' and 'intellect' are not conflated, the apparent contradiction goes pfft!

Glenn said...

Scott,

You've (unsurprisingly) hit a good deal of what I had in mind—which is not to say, of course, that you were merely elaborating my point.

I wasn't merely elaborating your point, true; although I did use it as my starting point (partially, anyway). ;)

I'd like to add two points, one positive and one negative.

Thanks for making both of them.

VinceS said...

@Glenn:

No, I'm pretty sure I know what I mean by the term "mind", which includes both what you term "brain" and "intellect".

At least Augustine's argument actually attempts to make a case as to why the mind would know its own essence; but St. Thomas just asserts that essences are "naturally" known without proof, so his argument can be dismissed as mere question-begging. His "natural knowledge" of essences might, rather, be a human classification system, which neural networks can do quite well.

Jeremy Taylor said...

VinceS,

When you contrast the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, are you referring only to the one Dr. Feser quoted from Augustine (which you reposted) and the passage Glenn quoted from Aquinas?

I'm still struggling to see how your own argument doesn't just refer to some particular aspect of the mind's knowledge of itself, or, so far as our knowledge of sickness is not directly known, no different to any other state of affairs not identical to the mind itself.

Scott said...

@VinceS:

Well, apart from Aquinas and neural networks, it does sound as though you're using the word "mind" to refer to a composite of matter and something admittedly immaterial/nonphysical, whereas in the argument at issue, "mind" means an immaterial function, power, or faculty of an admittedly composite (specifically hylemorphic) substance.

Glenn said...

VinceS.,

No, I'm pretty sure I know what I mean by the term "mind", which includes both what you term "brain" and "intellect".

If that's the case -- and you say it is, so I'll accept that it is – then, and in accordance with the terms that you have stipulated to, that the 'mind' can, and indeed does, have both physical aspects and non-physical aspects quite clearly does not contradict "some fundamental tenet of A-Tism".

Brandon said...

St. Thomas just asserts that essences are "naturally" known without proof, so his argument can be dismissed as mere question-begging.

The quotation from Glenn was specifically and explicitly put forward for making a point about the use of terms, not for giving Aquinas's argument.

Daniel Joachim said...

@VinceS

"A physical and a non-physical aspect of something can not be identical by definition."

Seems like you're giving up your argument here with respect to the given quale, and are holding to at least "part immateriality"? If non-physical aspect is meant to suggest some supervenient notion, I would, as a fan of Jaegwon Kim, be highly skeptical.

And to build upon the point that Scott is trying to make (hopefully):
The point is that if what you're referring to, is just the mind knowing the "how it feels"/quale of sickness, then you're also just reinforcing that the mind knows itself.

In no way could you substitute this quale for sickness itself, and succeed in making sickness the immaterial thing in question here. It just doesn't follow.

Daniel Joachim said...

Man, seems like I forgot to update my browser, so I see there has been lots of responses in the meanwhile. Well, take the last comment for any eventually added minor value then...

Mark said...

@Scott:
"Can you be more specific about what you think requires a response?"
Mostly checking what Glenn said: I assumed it was science saying what Aquinas said.

Scott said...

@Mark:

"Mostly checking what Glenn said: I assumed it was science saying what Aquinas said."

Okay, gotcha. Well, as you've gathered from Glenn's response and my agreement with it, I think the article merits a response on Aquinas's behalf along the lines of "Yes, that all confirms what I've said all along, apart from the implicit suggestion (which is not supported by the research) that the intellect is a function of the brain alone."

If you want a good source on Thomistic psychology, the one I mentioned in passing is quite a good one. It's not easy to find, though, and I haven't been able to turn up an electronic version.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@ Scott: Ed's antepenultimate paragraph notes that Augustine makes that exception. But on what basis could a materialist make it?

The basis would be that the mind is itself. It stands in a unique relationship with respect to itself — namely, identity.

Perhaps it's better to come at the question from the other direction: When would your knowledge K of a thing X require representation? The piece of knowledge K is in your mind, so, if X itself is outside your mind, then K is necessarily distinct from X. We therefore need some account of how K can have anything to do with X. There needs to be some connection between the two. One way to make sense of this connection is with some theory about how K can "represent" X.

How representation can happen in a purely material world is a problem for the materialist. (I say that as one myself.) But note that this whole problem doesn't arise in the special case where X is not outside the mind — for example, when X is the mind itself. Then K can just be identical with X (or the known part of X). Unlike relations of representation, there is no evident mystery about how relations of identity can hold in a purely material world.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

According a view founded on that basis, would all forms of self-identity constitute unmediated self-knowledge, or just some? If the latter, how do we tell them apart?

Glenn said...

Scott,

I found an electronic version of Brennan's Thomistic Psychology. I see the Copyright is 1941, and that there was a 12th printing in 1952. I know not enough about copyright laws to know for certain whether posting a link here would be (or encourage) a violation of said laws or not. Any comment?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@ Scott:

Are you asking whether the view commits one to saying that a rock must know itself because it is identical with itself? I don't think so.

I'll now try to answer your follow-up question, "If the latter, how do we tell them apart?", but I may be missing your point.

The claim is that your knowledge of yourself just is that part of yourself of which you have this very knowledge. A rock just doesn't have an analogous "part".

That this "part" of you has the power of knowing itself via its being itself is a special consequence of the details of the whole material structure within which that part is embedded. What these details are, and how they could generate this power, is not something that any materialist currently knows. But, at any rate, the rock lacks the necessary kind of structure, and hence the rock lacks parts with this power.

(Also, your knowledge of this knowledge is a different matter. This "second-order" knowledge need not be identical with its object. This second-order knowledge does involve a representation of the mind to itself. Correspondingly, this second-order knowledge can be mistaken, as when people are mistaken about their own motivations for their actions. In this case, they have erroneous beliefs about their own self-knowledge. They believe that their self-knowledge has revealed a certain motivation to them, but they are mistaken.)

VinceS said...

@Daniel Joachim:

"The point is that if what you're referring to, is just the mind knowing the "how it feels"/quale of sickness, then you're also just reinforcing that the mind knows itself."

I do not understand this. How can knowing a particular quale equate with knowing the mind? They are different things. Even irrational animals experience qualia.

"In no way could you substitute this quale for sickness itself, and succeed in making sickness the immaterial thing in question here. It just doesn't follow."

Of course not, that's why my counterargument is not sound. The quale is not the entirety of sickness.

My point is that the original argument makes a similar error. It conflates the mind (understood here as the immaterial aspect of reason) with what a human does when it reasons. Snuck in there is the assumption that the mind is the entirety of it, but it may not be.

Brandon said...

That this "part" of you has the power of knowing itself via its being itself is a special consequence of the details of the whole material structure within which that part is embedded. What these details are, and how they could generate this power, is not something that any materialist currently knows.

But 'part of you that has the power of knowing itself via its being itself' just is one of our ways of glossing the word 'mind' (and a very old one, at that), so your response seems to reduce the materialist to mere assertion that the mind is material while simultaneously leaving him no ground for asserting it.

VinceS said...

As I understand it, the A-T (or at least the Thomistic) position is that cognitive operations have a material aspect up to a point. So there is going to be no disagreement with modern scientific findings of how light, sound, etc. are processed and information is extracted from them in the brain and even processed together in multisensory regions. It doesn't have a good reason as to why light of a certain wavelength (and not another one) is experienced as red but then again nothing else does either. However at least hylomorphism welds the immaterial aspect and material aspect together in a convincing fashion, which other philosophies have great difficulties with.

But then Thomism maintains this is not the intellect proper - that when abstraction and reasoning occur neurons, etc. have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it. This is the bone of contention. Is what Augustine's argument is intended to prove? Or is just the much weaker claim that, just like seeing red, which has a material aspect (photons being absorbed in the retina, signal sent down the optic nerve and then to the thalamus and visual cortex, etc.) but also an immaterial one (the quale), the same is true for reasoning (e.g. that there is an immaterial aspect, consistent with hylomorphism)?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Brandon: so your response seems to reduce the materialist to mere assertion that the mind is material while simultaneously leaving him no ground for asserting it.

I'm not claiming to give an argument for materialism or a "ground for asserting it".

I'm just trying to explain how materialists could reject the claim to which Feser said they were committed (unless they were eliminativists), namely, "But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation." For the materialist, not less than to Augustine, the mind is naturally an exception to this claim. The mind, for the materialist, is not not by representing it but rather just by being it.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Sorry, "not not by" should have been "not known by".

Brandon said...

I'm just trying to explain how materialists could reject the claim to which Feser said they were committed (unless they were eliminativists)

He didn't say that materialists were committed to it unless they were eliminativists, though; he said that, in fact, they tend to accept it.

And this doesn't address the problem; the claim that "The mind, for the materialist, is not known by representing it but rather just by being it" just means that the materialist thinks that the mind is the mind, and thus all you are doing is giving more and more elaborate ways of saying that materialists think that minds are material. In reality there is no way to say how a materialist can reject the claim in question without actually having the argument for why the exception is to be made here. Otherwise you're merely making the obvious logical point that if a materialist assumes that the argument is wrong, he's committed to rejecting a premise.

Brandon said...

I suppose another way of making the same point is that the claim, "The mind is not known by representing it but rather just by being it," just seems to be a restatement of (1) ("The mind knows itself directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation").

Tyrrell McAllister said...

He didn't say that materialists were committed to it unless they were eliminativists, though; he said that, in fact, they tend to accept it.

Fair enough. My argument is that no such tendency is intrinsic to materialism. I'm arguing that many materialists, upon reflection, should happily admit that the mind itself is an exception to the claim that all things are known by representation.

In reality there is no way to say how a materialist can reject the claim in question without actually having the argument for why the exception is to be made here.

I'm probably missing your point. Are you saying something like the following? "To settle the question of whether the premise is true on materialist grounds, the materialists have to adduce arguments from materialism. Unless they do that, their rejection of the premise is baseless, accept as an arbitrary way of conceding that they must reject some premise if they are going to avoid the conclusion."

... you're merely making the obvious logical point that if a materialist assumes that the argument is wrong, he's committed to rejecting a premise.

I'm also asking for an explanation of why materialists should have any particular attachment to that premise in the first place. If they have no such attachment, then Feser can't stick the argument on them. If the premise can be denied without doing any harm to materialism, then it's not a compelling argument against materialism (though the argument would have the virtue of forcing materialists to be more careful if they had been saying, e.g., that all knowledge was representational imagery).

Glenn said...

VinceS,

But then Thomism maintains this is not the intellect proper - that when abstraction and reasoning occur neurons, etc. have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it.

There are two claims in your statement. As to the first claim: true. As to the second claim: I'm not sure where that comes from. Acts of the power of intellect in humans require acts of other powers, such as sense and imagination. These other powers make use of 'corporeal organs' (such as, say, the brain). And it is difficult to imagine a Thomist denying that "neurons, etc. have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with" abstraction and reasoning insofar as those other powers -- the acts of which are required by acts of the intellect – are involved.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

I suppose another way of making the same point is that the claim, "The mind is not known by representing it but rather just by being it," just seems to be a restatement of (1) ("The mind knows itself directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation").

Yes, I essentially agree.

Though, one might imagine other ways, different from identity, in which A could know B "directly". Perhaps there could be some kind of "direct and unmediated access" between a knower and a thing known. However, on the view that I'm suggesting, the mind's knowledge of itself is not a result of "direct access", but rather just of the knowledge's being itself, which in turn is the very thing known by that knowledge.

Another point is that I'm not necessarily identifying the mind as a whole with this special self-knowledge. The self-knowledge might be just part of the mind. All that seems necessary is that the self-knowledge includes the truth-makers for cogito-type things like "that he lives, remembers, understands, wills, thinks, knows, and judges".

I'm also not saying that the self-knowledge part of the mind knows everything about itself. It just needs to know enough to know "that he lives, remembers, understands, wills, thinks, knows, and judges". (This is how the self-knowledge could fail to know that it is made out of matter.)

Tyrrell McAllister said...

(And now that I look at my original post from a couple days ago, I see that I wrote, "The original knowing of the mind was just the mind itself". So, I did at first identify the knowing with the entire mind. I now want to allow the possibility that the knowing is just part of the mind. Sorry for not keeping my story entirely straight, there.)

Daniel said...

@Brandon, Scott and others.

The talk of Qualia actually touches on something I have been wondering about for a time. Is 'Species' relative Qualia of the 'what it's like to be a bat' type coherent? If anything possible is, at least to an 'ideal' intellect knowable*, then how does such a 'private' notion as species Qualia fit in with this? One might phrase it like this: Does God know what it's 'like' to be a bat? There would be an immediate argument from the Principle of Proportionate Causality to this effect in that God concurs with the mental causality going on in the cognition of any individual bat.

My suspicion is that the apparent difficulty lies in the difference between having a Concept and the relevant sense phantasm/memory though I'd be interested in hearing what else people may have to say.

*That is because Truth and Being are Transcendentals and thus convertible.

Daniel Joachim said...

@VinceS

"I do not understand this. How can knowing a particular quale equate with knowing the mind? They are different things. Even irrational animals experience qualia."

Because you've got immediate access to the quale, like in Descartes thought of doubting. Regarding irrational animals, your answer would probably be more in line with Aristotelianism than the Augustinian neo-Platonism. In Aristotelian hylomorphism, it's solely the rational, intellectual, abstract activity that needs to be immaterial, while the imaginative cognition of animals don't. But all of this presupposes Aristotelian accounts of causality though. E.g. Ross:
http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

"My point is that the original argument makes a similar error. It conflates the mind (understood here as the immaterial aspect of reason) with what a human does when it reasons. Snuck in there is the assumption that the mind is the entirety of it, but it may not be."

My point was that the examples weren't analogous. :)

I'm a bit out on a limb here, but I think the answer to this would regard the unity of consciousness. The mind is not divided, doing different intentional activities on their own, but a mind reasons as a unity. What would it even mean to separate off a part? If you're e.g. reasoning while experiencing pain, are these activities for separate areas of mind?

Brandon said...

Daniel,

I'm certainly not the right person to ask; I'm a qualia skeptic, in the sense that I don't think 'qualia' constitute a well-formed or unified category, although I think sometimes people are talking about real features of the human mind when they talk about qualia in particular contexts.

But I suspect you could draw a fairly close analogy between qualia and haecceities, on views that accept haecceity. God would know haecceities directly, even if we can only know them indirectly, for precisely the reason you suggest.

Natural Mind said...

Hi everyone,

a late addition:

In all of these discussions I see again and again a failure to state ahead of time exactly what property all material things necessarily share, such that failure to have the property would entail non-materiality. What happens is that properties unique to mental phenomena are identified, and the "material" then implicitly understood as those phenomena that don't have these properties, i.e. the material is defined simply as the "non-mental." All that tells us is that phenomena can be divided up in various ways terminologically, but it has no ontological significance.

Sure, mental phenomena are fascinatingly different from, say, chemical or evolutionary phenomena, but whether some, or all, or none of these are "material" is simply a matter of definition.

I could define, for example, as "material" any phenomenon I encounter. It might be chemical, physical, biological, neurological, physiological, or mental, or something else. This is a pretty simple and natural definition, and mental phenomena meet it. My consciousness experience of this headache I have is about as concrete and real as it gets; it sure seems "material" to me, far more than, say, the quantum vaccuum. . .

You might say that the mental is particularly exceptional in that it seems to have no chance of being reduced to, say, neurophysiological phenomena.

But the notion of reduction is of no a priori relevance to the definition of the material or the natural, contra what some scientists (of the fundamentalist variety) will tell you. As Chomsky points out, complete reduction is actually rather uncommon in science; it's great when you can get it, but often the best one can get is consistency between levels of description; sometimes you don't get even that, and the connection remains a mystery, at least for us humans, or at least for now. But we don't define phenomena as material or not based on whether we happen to be able reduce them to some "deeper" level of description.

At the beginning of the century, example, it appeared that chemical phenomena were profoundly unlike those described by fundamental physics. It took a radical rethinking of fundamental physics to make the two domains consistent with each other (i.e. the development of quantum mechanics). But even if that had never happened, there would have been no reason to insist that the chemical, or the (fundamentally) physical, was not material.

I suspect the same with regard to mental phenomena. They seem to be of a radically different kind than, say, neurophysiological ones, and the two domains appear to be inconsistent, though clearly somehow related. We have probably got the neurobiology fundamentally wrong; maybe one day we will understand it well enough to make it consistent with what we know about mental phenomena (or perhaps only some of them; there are many many kinds). Whether or not we ever do, there's no reason to exclude the mental from the material.

I say this to strengthen the case for the A-T approach, by the way: I suspect we have the neurophysiology wrong because it has inherited natural science's modern avoidance of formal and final causality. But these kinds of causes seem to be crucial to the phenomenology of mind, as is often argued here. Unless we restore to the general natural order an openness to explanation in terms of all four Aristotelian causes, we won't be able to make models of the mental consistent with neurophysiology. That's my hunch, anyway.

Meanwhile, the whole debate about whether the mental is "material" or not is just a matter of definition, and hence unenlightening.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"I found an electronic version of Brennan's Thomistic Psychology. I see the Copyright is 1941, and that there was a 12th printing in 1952. I know not enough about copyright laws to know for certain whether posting a link here would be (or encourage) a violation of said laws or not. Any comment?"

In the US, a book published before 1964 ordinarily (with exceptions that don't apply here) enters the public domain if its copyright isn't renewed after 28 years. For a book first published in 1941, it would be necessary to check printed or microfilm records for 1967, 1968, and 1969 in order to find out whether it was renewed, and I'm not in a position to do that.

Since the copyright holder is given as The Macmillan Company (rather than Fr. Brennan), I'm betting it probably was. If so, then under the laws that applied at the time of the book's creation, it's under copyright protection until 2036 (95 years after its publication date).

However, if the host site of the online copy you've found is in some sort of archive for public-domain works or otherwise states that the book is out of copyright, it's probably safe to trust it.

It's also possible that Macmillan gave the site permission to post it, in which case the site should say so and state whether further reproduction is permitted.

It's also just marginally possible, but unlikely, that Macmillan isn't worried about copyright infringement anyway since they don't appear to be republishing the book. The only sure way to find out would be to ask Macmillan, and I'll bet their lawyers wouldn't say, "Sure, we don't mind," even if in fact they didn't. ;-)

Whatever the copyright situation, just linking to the online copy wouldn't in and of itself constitute infringement. But of course you're also concerned to avoid encouraging other people to make and disseminate infringing copies, and that's another matter.

Gary Black said...

Glenn,

HathiTrust says it is Public Domain.
I'll link it.

History of psychology, from the standpoint of a Thomist

http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015011604827

https://ia601408.us.archive.org/24/items/HistoryOfPsychologyFromThBrennanRobertEdward189736931/History%20of%20psychology%2C%20from%20th%20-%20Brennan%2C%20Robert%20Edward%2C%201897-_3693%20%281%29.pdf

Scott said...

@Gary Black:

Thanks for the link(s). That's actually a different book by the same author, but it's a good one too.

Scott said...

Since that one's in the public domain and it's from the same publisher, I'd be willing to bet that Thomistic Psychology is too. Maybe, despite my earlier guess, Macmillan didn't bother renewing the copyrights after all, perhaps having no plans to continue publishing them. (I'm not sure when Fr. Brennan died, but if I recall correctly he was born in the early 1870s so it was most likely before the copyrights were due for renewal.)

Scott said...

Live versions of Gary Black's links here and here.

Scott said...

Never mind, HathiTrust says Thomistic Psychology is still under copyright protection. I guess the copyright was renewed after all.

But the other source will serve. Thanks to Gary Black for digging it up.

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind

In all of these discussions I see again and again a failure to state ahead of time exactly what property all material things necessarily share, such that failure to have the property would entail non-materiality. What happens is that properties unique to mental phenomena are identified, and the "material" then implicitly understood as those phenomena that don't have these properties, i.e. the material is defined simply as the "non-mental."

Here is Feser's reconstruction of Augustine's argument:

1. The mind knows itself directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation.

2. But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.

3. So, the mind is not a material thing.


(2) states "what property all material things necessarily share, such that failure to have the property would entail non-materiality." (1) says that the mind lacks that property.

So it does not appear that "the material is defined simply as the 'non-mental.'" Maybe the fact that, in the natural numbers, 2 succeeds 1, gives that impression. But if you'd like you could swap the premises.

Gary Black said...

Scott,

Thanks for the clarification. I started with Librovox's copyright protection explanation and got the title mixed up while I was going down that rabbit hole. Thanks for adding the links, too.

Scott said...

@Gary Black:

"I started with Librovox's copyright protection explanation and got the title mixed up while I was going down that rabbit hole."

Good thing, too, in view of the result: confirmation that the work in question is still (probably) under copyright protection, and access instead to a different, public-domain work on the same subject by the same author.

(And yeah, that's one deep rabbit hole. I went down it in law school.)

Daniel said...

@Brandon,

I am uncertain as to what to make of Qualia questions, though feel on a better ground with the Jackson/Bonjour Colour type questions than the more nebulous 'species experiences' appealed to in Nagel's essay. My main concern is to what extent there is a gap between the phenomenal 'appearing' of a colour the colour as a Dispositional Property of that object to appear X way under Y light conditions to Z visual structure. I think Qualia problems have far more of a validity if the Mechanist concept of Matter is presumed - seem to remember someone mentioning that James Madden had a similar standpoint in Mind, Matter, and Nature.

Oderberg discusses what sounds like a similar view of haecceities and private experience as put forward by Gary Rosenkratz - ironically his criticism is partly based precisely on God not having access to such knowledge.

Natural Mind said...

@ Greg -

Thanks for your reply.

Feser's reconstruction exemplifies my point precisely.

Step 2 does not state what properties material things necessarily share independently of the definition of "mental things," i.e. of the mind. It says of them that the mind does not immediately comprehend them, i.e. it defines them in terms of the mind, not independently of the mind.

Steps 1 and 2 assert that the mind knows itself in one way (without mediation), and "material things" in another way (via mediation). This amounts to a differential definition of material versus mental things. Step 3 merely makes explicit what 1 and 2 have implicitly assumed. This is not an argument; it is a definition.

Let's make a trivial exchange of terms:

1'. Mental things know themselves directly, without the mediation of a mental image or any other representation.



2'. But mental things know non-mental things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.



3'. So, mental things are not non-mental things.


It should be clear how uninteresting 3' is, given 1' and 2'. It certainly tells us nothing about whether any of these things are material or not. It simply defines the difference between the mental and the non-mental. They are still all "things."

I can go on to call only those non-mental things "material" if I want, or I can call all things "material" whether mental or not; it is purely a question of definition.

Another variation:

1''. Human beings have rational cognitive faculties.



2''. But animals do not have rational cognitive faculties.



3''. So, human beings are not animals.


That's fine, if you accept that 1'' is a definition of the human, and 2'' is a definition of the animal. Well, I prefer a different definition of "animal," one which, with Aristotle, would include human beings as a special case, namely as an animal that happens to have rational faculties.

Let's restate the above as follows:

1'''. Human beings have rational cognitive faculties.



2'''. But non-human beings do not have rational cognitive faculties.



3'''. So, human beings are not non-human beings.


We can now define "animal" as we wish, either including humans or not; I would choose to include humans among the animals, as very special ones. What animals "really are" vis-a-vis human beings in no way follows from 1'''-3'''. It can only follow from some other independently motivated notion of animal, but that is not provided in 1''-3'' any more than in 1'''-3'''.

Yes, in all these cases you can swap 1 and 2. It makes no difference, you're quite right. We always have something of the form,

1''''. X has property P.

2''''. But Y has property ~P.

3''''. So, X is not Y.


One remains free to "name" P as "mental" or "material", "animal" or "human." Likewise one remains free to name both X and Y "mental" or "material," "animal" or "human." It's purely a matter of definition. Sensible definitions certainly exist, but they do not follow from the logic of 1''''-3'''', and it is folly to seek them there.

As a staunch advocate of the A-T approach to such questions, I am dismayed by such sloppy applications of what passes for "logic."

Brandon said...

As a staunch advocate of the A-T approach to such questions, I am dismayed by such sloppy applications of what passes for "logic."

But your entire discussion seems to treat all definition as nominal.

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind

Step 2 does not state what properties material things necessarily share independently of the definition of "mental things," i.e. of the mind. It says of them that the mind does not immediately comprehend them, i.e. it defines them in terms of the mind, not independently of the mind.

As for the 'necessarily', fair enough, I should not have said the premise satisfies that condition since it does not assert necessity, and the argument doesn't need it.

However, the premise does not give a definition of material things at all, whether in terms of the mind or otherwise. It states a property (in the contemporary sense) of material things, i.e. that they bear a certain relation to the mind. As far as (2) is concerned, it is entirely open that mind might also bear that relation to mind. So no, (2) does not presuppose that "the material is defined simply as the 'non-mental.'"

Steps 1 and 2 assert that the mind knows itself in one way (without mediation), and "material things" in another way (via mediation). This amounts to a differential definition of material versus mental things.

Neither are definitions. It is not the case that all propositions are definitions. (I am willing to wager that Augustine does not define the mind as that which knows itself unmediatedly, and that he does not define the material as that which is known by representation or image.)

Another reason that it would be wrong to take (1) and (2) as definitions is that Augustine argues for them. (Well, he explicitly argues for (1). Ed simply gestures toward the commitment of most materialists to (2). But neither of them are definitions.)

Step 3 merely makes explicit what 1 and 2 have implicitly assumed. This is not an argument; it is a definition.

It's a valid argument, so the conclusion is 'implicit' in the premises. So if you assume the premises, you get the conclusion.

But neither premise individually assumes that the mind is not material, since the mind might be material if either one of the two premises were false.

Natural Mind said...

@Brandon

Not sure what you're getting at. Can you explain further?

I hope it's clear from what I've written that I'm not advocating "nominalism!" Quite the opposite!

I'm trying to show that what appears to be a logical argument in Feser's brief of Augustine is nothing more than a definition of terms.

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind



2'. But mental things know non-mental things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.



For "a trivial exchange of terms" to yield this, it would have to be the case that 'material' and 'non-mental' are known to be synonymous and interchangeable prior to drawing the conclusion (3). There is no reason why Augustine needs to admit that.

Your argument is valid, but Ed's reconstructing of Augustine would only beg the question if (2) alone implied your argument. Without (1), it does not.

Greg said...

Note also the following argument:

(1*) Human beings have rational cognitive capacities.
(2*) Computers do not have rational cognitive capacities.
(3*) Therefore computers are not human.

There is nothing wrong with this argument. (2*) is not a definition. There is no problem with the argument form itself. Showing that an argument commits a fallacy when certain parameters are plugged into its argument form does not show that all arguments of that form commit the same fallacy.

The argument form that Ed's reconstruction instantiates is valid and for arbitrary values of the variables commits no informal fallacy.

Greg said...

Incidentally, someone from Robert Oerter's blog raised almost this exact objection to James Ross's argument for the immateriality of the intellect. One wrings one's hands and tries to show that a valid argument form necessarily commits some fallacy.

Natural Mind said...

@ Greg

Forgive me a curtailed response; I need to travel tomorrow; I'd love to continue the discussion in a few days, if the thread's still alive! :)

You say,

However, the premise does not give a definition of material things at all, whether in terms of the mind or otherwise. It states a property (in the contemporary sense) of material things, i.e. that they bear a certain relation to the mind.

But look again at what you have written. The premise, as you say, "states a property … of material things, i.e. that that they bear a certain relation to the mind." Yes: and that it is the only property that is stated. And that's what I mean by implicit definition. No other properties are ever alluded to: only this relation to the mind gives sense to the idea of material. That surely counts as a definition. How else is one to know whether something counts as material? The sole criterion ever alluded to in all of this is, simply, that is bears a certain relation to the human mind. It is pure stipulation.

Sure, some things have one relation to the mind, other things have other relations. But why we should call some of those things "material" and others not cannot be addressed by any definition of mind.

Though is it generous of you to think so, Feser does not "gesture toward" anything richer in Augustine's thought in the article under discussion. The opposite: he actively and enthusiastically reduces Augustine's argument to the logical skeleton he adumbrates in the post we're discussing, a 1-2-3 of deductive logic.

This skeleton might live, but only with some flesh on it. By itself, it's all just a boring game of definitions.

Natural Mind said...

Greg, you present the following:

(1*) Human beings have rational cognitive capacities.

(2*) Computers do not have rational cognitive
capacities.

(3*) Therefore computers are not human.

Do you think I was contesting the logic of this? Quite the opposite. You should read again what I wrote. My point is that what Feser was writing is as trivially true as what you just wrote. It tells us nothing whatsoever by itself about computers or humans. It relies entirely on what we already assume about computers and humans. It is a worthless series of sentences by itself. All it does is to tell us that computers and humans are different. Likewise, what is the mind and what is not mind are different. What this has to do with "materiality" cannot be derived from Feser's Augusitinian condensation any more than it can be derived from your human/computer sentences above.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Surely, it doesn't matter what you call the mental and the non-mental. The point is that the argument shows a difference between these entities.

Brandon said...

I'm trying to show that what appears to be a logical argument in Feser's brief of Augustine is nothing more than a definition of terms.

This is true if we are only using nominal definitions, i.e., definitions of words themselves. Since definitions of words are admit of arbitrary choice, and every argument explicitly stated uses words, every argument can be treated in exactly this way. The kind of thing you're saying would be true of every argument whatsoever, if all definitions were nominal. But nominal definitions are not the only kind of definition; one can also reason with partial and total real definitions, and your manner of arguing doesn't make much sense with real definitions.

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind

The premise, as you say, "states a property … of material things, i.e. that that they bear a certain relation to the mind." Yes: and that it is the only property that is stated. And that's what I mean by implicit definition. No other properties are ever alluded to: only this relation to the mind gives sense to the idea of material. That surely counts as a definition.

No. A property here is not a defining property. As I said before, it is not the case that all propositions are definitions, even if you read them as such.

(Part of the risk, of course, of formulating arguments as lists of premises is that people will tend to focus on those. I trust that we can agree that Augustine's conception of the material was not limited to that one premise.)

Though is it generous of you to think so, Feser does not "gesture toward" anything richer in Augustine's thought in the article under discussion.

I used the term 'gesture toward' in the context of Ed's remark about physicalists generally accepting (2), so I don't know what you are talking about.

I am in agreement with Brandon here. You are treating all definitions as nominal and stipulative. The fuss you are raising could be raised about any argument.

My point is that what Feser was writing is as trivially true as what you just wrote. It tells us nothing whatsoever by itself about computers or humans. It relies entirely on what we already assume about computers and humans. It is a worthless series of sentences by itself. All it does is to tell us that computers and humans are different. Likewise, what is the mind and what is not mind are different

The argument is trivial in the sense that its conclusion is not something surprising. It would have been rather unwise of me to offer as an example some argument with a conclusion that is controversial. But that argument is not trivial in the logical sense of the term; that is, it is not question begging. So arguments of that form can be probative.

It does tell us that computers and humans are different. It does not rely on assuming they are different. The fact that we generally know that they are different means that it is hard to imagine an epistemic circumstance in which someone would find the argument enlightening, but that is hardly any criticism. (The same criticism could be made of the old standby: All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal.)

Greg said...

2'. But mental things know non-mental things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.



Interestingly, Augustine could hold (2) from Feser's reconstruction while rejecting this (2'), for he does not have to hold that the only things the only things that are not known via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation are mental things.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Thanks for your time, effort and attention in answering my (rather vaque) copyright question. With the aid of your response, I was able eventually to determine that the copyright on Brennan's Thomist Psychology was renewed in 1968.


Gary Black,

Thanks as well to for your feedback, and your welcomed discovery of Brennan's History of Psychology.

Glenn said...

(s/b "to you for")

Tom said...

@Daniel: The debate about God qualia gives cause to link to this paper, partially about God's knowledge of qualia. He argues that it's incoherent for God to know or not know what it is like to not know something, for if God "what it's like" to not know something is just to not know something, in which case God isn't omniscient, but if God didn't know "what it's like" to not know something, then he's also not omniscient.

The rest of the paper is fairly boring stuff about omnipotence and omnibenevolence and freedom, all of which are pretty easily resolved with A-T descriptions of God's nature, but the first part was interesting.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

Well done! Glad to hear it.

@Natural Mind:

Perhaps you're forgetting that, in the context of his original argument, Augustine has already told us ostensively what he means by "bodily"—air, fire, brain, blood, atoms, and so forth—and thus supported (if not indefeasibly established) premise (2) by observing that the mind doesn't know itself to be any of these even though it knows itself without intermediary. This is an independently established difference between "mind" and the parade of "bodily" examples Augustine adduces.

Ed's reconstruction of Augustine's argument(s) is obviously supposed to be understood within this context, and your respondents are quite right to point out that it's not just a matter of definition.

Natural Mind said...

@Scott,

Thank you.

Why, then, does no one mention any of these independent properties that define the material that Augustine supposedly adumbrates? Name one such property.

There are none. There is only something being defined, which is well and good, nothing wrong with that, but it is crucial to understand that it is nothing more than a definition: material things are those things which not immediately apprehended by the mind.

Nothing precludes a different definition, such as the one I proposed in my first post. Again, the distinction between mental and non-mental phenomena is huge and fascinating, just as the difference between, say, life and non-life is, but nothing is being discovered in the three steps Feser sketches out.

Daniel said...

@Tom,

Many thanks for the link. I am sceptical as to whether even if God lacked direct access to these experiences it would constitute a criticism of Divine Omnipotence or Omniscience since the former demands only what can possibly be done and the latter only what can possibly be known, and if nothing can know by comparison about (comparing two species qualia) 'what it's like to be an X' then it constitutes a pseudo-task - Physicalists have made a similar criticism of Nagel's argument. Not that I would endorse such a position as it leaves the exact nature and ontological status of 'like'-qualia looking highly 'queer'. If existent then there are a number of possible 'what-it's-likes' and qua their status as possibles they must be rooted in the Divine Essence qua Actualism.

Sami said...

Gotta disagree with Searle on this one. Unconscious states very clearly do other things other than influence conscious states. There are plenty of experiments that show that people can make unconscious decisions, "know" things unconsciously, and that a large part of all mental processing (so logic, creativity, etc) is unconscious. Consciousness itself isn't even well defined because there are clearly different states of consciousness (sleep isn't even considered the same as total unconsciousness for instance).
We shouldn't privilege the conscious mind so much unless we want to make the same mistake descarte did, where he decided the brain was just mechanical machinery that a ghost lived inside of. Thomistic metaphysics should be much more open to a more organic view that can categorize subconscious thought as being part of the continuum of animal thought processes rather than privileging conscious thought as the only "true" thought and deciding that unconscious thought is essentially robotics.

Brandon said...

Nothing precludes a different definition, such as the one I proposed in my first post.

Again, this assumes that there are only nominal definitions.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

"Why, then, does no one mention any of these independent properties that define the material that Augustine supposedly adumbrates? Name one such property."

It's not hard to propose candidates (occuying space, having mass, being made of atoms), but it doesn't matter much, because the argument is primarily about essences and essences aren't properties. And if in saying

"There are none."

you mean that we don't (or Augustine didn't) know the essential properties of matter, and therefore we don't know its essence, then you're making Augustine's case for him. His claim, both in the original text and in Ed's reconstruction of his argument, is that the mind does and must know its own essence in knowing itself; if it doesn't or needn't know the essence of the things we know well enough to pick out as "matter" (or "bodily"), well, Q.E.D., as they say.

The basic argument is that mind can't be "made out of" anything that it doesn't know directly and can't be certain constitutes its own essence—not "matter," not other minds, not anything else. Whatever we mean by "matter," the argument says, we can always go on to ask whether mind is "made out of" it, and for that very reason the answer is always "No."

Whether the argument succeeds is of course another question, but you won't be able to address that question as long as you insist on viewing it as some sort of attempt to define "matter." It isn't.

"Nothing precludes a different definition…"

…other than, perhaps, a pesky desire to carve nature at the joints. ;-) As Brandon has already pointed out, this implicitly assumes that all definitions are nominal only.

"[N]othing is being discovered in the three steps Feser sketches out."

Well, something is clearly being "discovered" to the reader. But if you mean that the person making the argument isn't himself learning anything new, then I'm not sure why that's surprising. Much (I'd even say most) of the time, by the time we get around to casting our arguments in syllogistic form, we've already completed the discovery phase. And I have little doubt that when Augustine made this argument, he'd already "discovered" that it's of the essence of mind to know itself directly.

(I think that's probably all I have to say on this subject, so I'll most likely bow out at this point.)

Natural Mind said...

@Scott,

sorry you're bowing out, but thanks for your comments. I'll make one point, just for the exercise of it.

You said, "Whatever we mean by 'matter,' the argument says, we can always go on to ask whether mind is 'made out of' it, and for that very reason the answer is always 'No.'"

That doesn't actually follow. If I mean by "matter" anything I experience phenomenologically, then there is at least one kind of matter that is mental: the kind that we experience the essence of directly.

The three-step argument does not itself make the argument you're making, and that Augustine makes - that mind can't be "made out of" anything that it doesn't know directly and can't be certain constitutes its own essence. The latter is a different argument that try to prove an incommensurability between (Augistine/Feser's) "material" and the mental, not mentioned in the three steps. All the three-step argument does is define the material in such as way as to proceed with such an argument. It does not advance the argument.

(I do think Augustine's argument fails, incidentally, and that not even a weak dualism needs to follow from an A-T point of view.)

BLS said...

"That doesn't actually follow. If I mean by "matter" anything I experience phenomenologically, then there is at least one kind of matter that is mental: the kind that we experience the essence of directly."

Some clarification would be nice for this definition. If there are no conscious beings to phenomenologically experience things, does it follow that there is no matter?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Natural Mind,

Your point seems to ignore the fact we can make at least a common sense distinction between what we usually mean matter (has extension, mass, made of atoms, etc) and the mind. Now, we don't know whether the mind is in fact a part of matter. The argument doesn't begin by assuming the mind is material, simply that it is not self-evidently material (or it is possible that it is material or it is not material). Of course, one use the term material to mean whatever one wants, and can refer to the entity the argument calls matter and mind as whatever you want. But there are still two entities, commonly called matter and mind, which the argument argues are distinct.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- that should have been it doesn't begin by assuming the mind is not material.

Crude said...

If I mean by "matter" anything I experience phenomenologically, then there is at least one kind of matter that is mental: the kind that we experience the essence of directly.

Berkeley was a materialist after all. Who knew?

I suppose we can also argue that Descartes was a monist, not a dualist, because you can just take the definition of matter and expand it to include mental substance. Voila - monism!

More seriously, I think it's straightforward and obvious one thing being discovered by the argument Ed lays out in the OP: namely, what follows intellectually given certain (let's face it: very common) commitments about matter and mind. Someone can strenuously object that they define 'matter' in quite a different, idiosyncratic way, and that's great... but for everyone who embraces good ol' mechanistic definitions, etc, there's something to be learned here. And I think that's going to make for quite a sizable cross-section of intellectuals.

I think Ed has written before about Chomsky's regarding the definition of matter as wide open (and therefore there is no mind-body problem, because there's no conception of 'body' anymore), but I think if that becomes the favored response to the argument seen in the OP, then said argument has done its job insofar as an argument against materialism goes.

Greg said...

@ Crude

Berkeley was a materialist after all. Who knew?

Well, no, but if he wanted to be all he had to do was define himself as one.

That's how Ayn Rand became an Aristotelian.

VinceS said...

I can't speak for Natural Mind but reading between the lines I think what he and I both are getting hung up on is this.

We both accept A-T hylomorphism and in particular a human being as a composite of matter and form with a soul as the form. Therefore a human is "material" as every matter-form composite is "material" and "immaterial" as every matter-form composite is "immaterial". If the mind is identified with the soul, then of course it is "non-material" by definition but this tautology advances our understanding not a whit.


But typically by the "mind" we mean a human's capacity for rational thought. But this is not an ontological entity in and of itself. It is a (necessary) property of a human, so it is incoherent to talk about the "essence" of a mind. Yes, it is self-evident that a human has such capability, for even being able to ask the question implies such capability. So what, why does this imply the "mind" is immaterial, and what does that statement mean anyway?

If I understand correctly, what is meant is that, unlike other human powers (e.g. breathing, seeing, walking, etc.) the power of rational thought is exercised only by the soul and not by the body. This seems incoherent to me since what is done by a human is done by a human (a body-soul composite). It doesn't make sense to say something is only done by the soul since the soul is not an ontological entity in and of itself under A-T hylomorphism.

If this is not what is meant, then I'm more than willing to listen to any poster willing to explain it further. I agree with NM's critique that if "material" now equates to "that which the mind can know without mediation" then Augustine's argument doesn't really advance our understanding.

Greg said...

@ VinceS

We both accept A-T hylomorphism and in particular a human being as a composite of matter and form with a soul as the form. Therefore a human is "material" as every matter-form composite is "material" and "immaterial" as every matter-form composite is "immaterial".

The first conjunct of your conclusion here is not at all clear (and, I think, obviously could not be asserted as an uncontroversial corollary of 'A-T hylomorphism'.) But doubly it is ambiguous: are dogs and cats composites of matter and form (soul) and therefore "material" in the same way, because every matter-form composite is "material"? What does "as every matter-form composite is 'material'" mean here? They both have material causes, sure, but there are some ways in which their materialities differ. I don't take you to be denying that, of course, but the clause appears to be either stating something trivial (that humans have a material cause) or stating something unwarranted by the premise (that humans are obviously just as material as cats and dogs).

If the mind is identified with the soul, then of course it is "non-material" by definition but this tautology advances our understanding not a whit.

There are at least two senses of "material"/"immaterial" pairs relevant to arguments like these. In one sense, something is immaterial if it lacks a material cause. In that sense, angels are immaterial, human souls are immaterial, and tree souls are immaterial; in fact, all forms are immaterial in this sense. (So it is the uninteresting sense of the term.)

By the other sense of "immaterial", a faculty is immaterial if its operation does not require a material cause, as the A-T philosopher claims is true of human cognition. (This is a bit more complicated in that the A-T philosopher holds there to be required material underpinnings of intellective acts: phantasms, for instance. But then he could also say that the faculty whose operation he is interested in is that which acts on (given) phantasms, not the sense perception yielding phantasms conjoined with intellection. I trust this distinction is not too opaque even to those who are not sympathetic to it.)

Greg said...

or stating something unwarranted by the premise (that humans are obviously just as material as cats and dogs).

Let me rephrase this: or stating something unwarranted by the premise (that humans are material in those respects and extents and only those respects and extents of "material" by which cats and dogs are material).

Scott said...

@VinceS:

"It is a (necessary) property of a human, so it is incoherent to talk about the 'essence' of a mind."

Why? Are you saying properties don't have essences?

Scott said...

(That's a genuine question, by the way, not an implied correction. I do think it's basically unexceptionable to say things like It belongs to the essence of redness to be visible, but I'm asking for clarification of what you mean.)

VinceS said...

@Greg:

I admit my first comment was poorly phrased; of course there are ways in which materialities differ between different types of things, and I didn't mean to deny this.

There are at least two senses of "material"/"immaterial" pairs relevant to arguments like these. In one sense, something is immaterial if it lacks a material cause. In that sense, angels are immaterial, human souls are immaterial, and tree souls are immaterial; in fact, all forms are immaterial in this sense. (So it is the uninteresting sense of the term.)

By the other sense of "immaterial", a faculty is immaterial if its operation does not require a material cause, as the A-T philosopher claims is true of human cognition.


This is the exact same sense of "immaterial" (lacking a material cause) you are using here in both "senses". Is what you really mean by "material cause" regarding human cognition an "efficient cause which is material?"

Or is the A-T claim that when higher cognition is performed (e.g. abstraction) that there is nothing whatsoever that goes on in the brain specifically relevant to that (although there is regarding generation of phantasms, etc.)?

VinceS said...

@Scott:

If you are using "essence" in the strict sense, it only applies to substances not properties.

"In philosophy, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. "
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essence

When you say "It belongs to the essence of redness to be visible" you are using "essence" in a broader (more colloquial) sense - what you really mean is "it belongs to the definition of redness to be visible". (As an aside, I would disagree with that - I would say the definition of redness is a band of wavelengths of light - its visibility has nothing to with redness per se, but with the way our optical system is designed - redness would still be redness if our optical system were to instead designed to see ultraviolet light.)

Scott said...

@VinceS:

I won't speak for Greg, of course, but the A-T claim is that the immortal human soul can continue to exercise its intellect even when it's separated from the body (although it won't have any new sensory-perceptual input to work on until it's re-embodied). In the most important and fundamental sense the intellect is independent of the brain, though that's not quite to say that no brain activity of any kind is in any way relevant to it.

Scott said...

@VinceS:

Fair enough; I thought that might be the sort of thing you had in mind. The definition you've quoted isn't the A-T definition, however; for A-T, an essence is not any sort of attribute, property, or set thereof, but that from which such attributes or properties flow or follow. I also seem to recall (though I can't cite a source offhand) that Aristotle in particular had no problem talking about what was involved in our coming to know the essence of a property, and I'm not aware of any A-T reason why the properties of something with an essence can't in turn have essences of their own.

Scott said...

(I also don't think my statement really means only that it's part of the "definition" of redness to be visible, but since that was just a random example I won't pursue the matter further. That would be a sidetrack from a sidetrack!)

Greg said...

@ VinceS

This is the exact same sense of "immaterial" (lacking a material cause) you are using here in both "senses".

No, it's not. The distinction is between something lacking a material cause and the operation of something lacking a material cause.

Is what you really mean by "material cause" regarding human cognition an "efficient cause which is material?"

It is not, although I suppose I can see how you could read my second sense in that way. The human soul is immaterial in the first sense because, as a form, it lacks a material cause. The operation of the intellect is an operation of the human substance, which has a material cause. The claim is that the operation of the intellect (or an aspect of the intellect, at least) does not require a material cause, even though the human substance has one.

(So compare: A dog's soul is immaterial in the first sense. But consider one of a dog's powers, appetition. The operation of appetition is an activity of the dog, not of the dog's soul. But also the operation of the appetition does require the dog, qua substance, having a material cause in a way that intellective acts do not.)

Or is the A-T claim that when higher cognition is performed (e.g. abstraction) that there is nothing whatsoever that goes on in the brain specifically relevant to that (although there is regarding generation of phantasms, etc.)?

Not exactly. It is rather that there is something that goes on in intellection that is not underlaid by a material cause.

I suppose you are making this qualification parenthetically already. But then I think this is a question of figuring out what it would mean for something in the brain being "specifically relevant to [higher cognition]". There is probably a ton going on in the brain that is relevant to any particular intellective act in an embodied person. The claim is only that some component of that act is not explicable merely as brain activity.

@ Scott

[T]he A-T claim is that the immortal human soul can continue to exercise its intellect even when it's separated from the body (although it won't have any new sensory-perceptual input to work on until it's re-embodied).

I agree that this is an A-T claim about the immortal human soul. But I believe there needs to be a sense of immateriality that must be conceptually prior to this (of which, the possibility of disembodied intellection is a corollary).

For example, James Ross's argument for the immateriality of the intellect goes like this:

(1) No physical process is determinate.
(2) Some formal thinking is determinate.
(3) Therefore some formal thinking is not a physical process.

(3) is not quite a statement about immortality or the possibility of disembodied intellection. The A-T philosopher will claim that it implies something about immortality, but there will have to be some sense of immateriality apart from immortality.

Scott said...

@Greg:

"I believe there needs to be a sense of immateriality that must be conceptually prior to this (of which, the possibility of disembodied intellection is a corollary)."

I agree (and I'm well familiar with Ross's argument, with which I also agree). However, my purpose in making my statement (in reply to VinceS's question about what A-T claims) was expository, not argumentative, and I don't know of a more forceful way to make the point that the intellect is brain-independent than to say it survives bodily death.

VinceS said...

@Greg:

"The distinction is between something lacking a material cause and the operation of something lacking a material cause...
The claim is that the operation of the intellect (or an aspect of the intellect, at least) does not require a material cause, even though the human substance has one."

OK, I think I understand. The claim is that there is no material cause when the intellect abstracts from a particular (seeing a bird, for instance) to the universal "bird", even though there are formal, final, and efficient causes. Obviously there is a change in the human doing so (from not having abstracted to having abstracted) but this change does not involve anything physical (for any physical change by definition involves a material cause).

I think this is highly problematic. The neuroscientific evidence is pretty strong that what actually happens during "abstraction" is that the brain acts as a trained classifier and that is why one can classify something as "bird" even with "noisy" data, and why the brain can sometimes be fooled (e.g. optical illusions). Thus, there is actually a material change underlying this abstraction and thus a material cause.

Moreover, it seems incoherent (to me anyway) to posit hylomorphism and then to say (accidental) change can happen to the form alone, when the form does not exist as an ontological entity in its own right.

Again, if I've misunderstood, please feel free to correct.

@Scott:

The issue is not, under A-Tism, whether there can be such a thing as a disembodied spirit capable of intellectual ability. It's already known there is (angels). The issue is whether in an embodied spirit cognition actually happens independent from matter and material changes; and, if so, how this is distinct from Descartes' "ghost in a machine".

Brandon said...

If you are using "essence" in the strict sense, it only applies to substances not properties.

This is not right. It's perfectly fine to restrict oneself to talking about the essence of substances, if one has good reason to focus on substances; but to say that properties have no essence is to say that there is nothing that they are, and to treat them like privations. An essence is that by which it belongs to something to be what it is. To talk of the essence of redness, for instance, is not a 'colloquial' usage but a very longstanding technical usage.

Brandon said...

The claim is that there is no material cause when the intellect abstracts from a particular (seeing a bird, for instance) to the universal "bird", even though there are formal, final, and efficient causes.

This seems to be equivocal. There's a material cause of the human substance, since in abstracting we don't become bodiless, and we have to be abstracting from something. The claim being made is that something about the abstraction requires an independence of any material cause. This is what Greg was insisting on when he said that there is a lot going on in the brain that is relevant to any given intellectual act, but that the claim was that the intellectual act could not be exhaustively explained in terms of brain activity.

VinceS said...

@Brandon:

You are right about essences. My mistake.

"The claim being made is that something about the abstraction requires an independence of any material cause. "

Well of course there is, the abstraction also has final, efficient, and formal causes, which are independent of a material cause. If this is all that is meant by "the mind is immaterial" then of course I have no objection to that.

"...the claim was that the intellectual act could not be exhaustively explained in terms of brain activity."

Yes, but this follows straight from hylomorphism, does it not? The material cause is never an "exhaustive explanation" for anything.

Brandon said...

VinceS,

Not all formal causes are independent of material causes; independence is stronger than distinction are not the same.

this follows straight from hylomorphism, does it not?

Not even remotely. The slip is in your next sentence:

The material cause is never an "exhaustive explanation" for anything.

But I, and Greg, who I was paraphrasing, did not say 'material cause'. We said 'brain activity'. This was quite advised. Brain activity, at least of the right kind, is not a mere material cause for cognition; it is a kind of cognition, the kind that depends on being itself material.

Brandon said...

Sorry, that should be 'independence is stronger than distinction, and they are not the same'.

VinceS said...

Brandon,
"Not all formal causes are independent of material causes; independence is stronger than distinction, and they are not the same."


So that is the claim then? That cognition actually has a material cause, but this material cause is independent of the other causes? Or maybe not...

"But I, and Greg, who I was paraphrasing, did not say 'material cause'. We said 'brain activity'. This was quite advised... "

You think that brain activity is what generates phantasms, but after that cognition occurs completely without the brain (when abstraction occurs). Is this correct?

You apparently think that there is something different in humans generalizing from particulars to universals, despite that a computer (perhaps using a "neural network" classifier) can be trained to do it. If, instead, the brain is doing something similar, then what?

Brandon said...

That cognition actually has a material cause, but this material cause is independent of the other causes?

I don't know what this means. Some forms are such that they cannot actually exist or operate except in matter.

You think that brain activity is what generates phantasms, but after that cognition occurs completely without the brain (when abstraction occurs). Is this correct?

There is no 'after that'. The relation between abstraction and phantasms is not a matter of our having phantasms and then after that abstracting; we are constantly abstracting from the phantasms we constantly have. In our embodied form, abstraction never happens "completely without the brain" because barring miracle or (at most) something very unusual, we can only engage in intellectual activity while converting to the phantasms. The claim is that abstraction, as such, is not merely a matter of phantasms, but is something irreducible to them.

You apparently think that there is something different in humans generalizing from particulars to universals, despite that a computer (perhaps using a "neural network" classifier) can be trained to do it. If, instead, the brain is doing something similar, then what?

I don't know what your reasoning process is, so it's a bit difficult to determine what you have in mind. Obviously brains are themselves organs of cognition; if you think A-Tists think otherwise, you've simply misunderstood the position. Obviously all cognition involves some kind of generalization; it wouldn't be cognition if it didn't. Not all generalizing cognition, however, is abstraction; classification as such does not suffice for abstraction, because classification is something that can be done purely by using signs to indicate other signs, which is cognitive experience, not abstraction, and has different names depending on exactly what is being done (estimation, cogitation, imagination). All sufficiently developed animals are capable of doing such things. Human beings tend in addition to these kinds of things to be abstracting when they classify (we tend to abstract quite a lot, even when it's not necessary for the task) and we specifically use classification not simply for local practical purposes but to understand forms in a way that allows explanation in general. I'm also not sure why you are treating it as surprising that human beings can build and calibrate computers to sort things into groups by comparing inputs; even cockroaches and flies learn to sort things into groups.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VinceS said...

Brandon:

"Not all generalizing cognition, however, is abstraction..."

Abstraction is generalizing from a particular to a universal, correct? Now without something in common to underlie the generalization, there is no generalization; and without something in common there can therefore be no classification.

Universals are "a class of mind-independent entities, usually contrasted with individuals (or so-called "particulars"), postulated to ground and explain relations of qualitative identity and resemblance among individuals. "
http://www.iep.utm.edu/universa/



Mr. Green said...

Vince S: It doesn't make sense to say something is only done by the soul since the soul is not an ontological entity in and of itself under A-T hylomorphism.

There is a strict sense in which it’s true to say my soul doesn’t act, but rather I do, just as we can say that my hand doesn’t pick something up, rather I do — since I, being a substance, am an agent, while my hand is not a “thing” at all, but merely a part. But that does not mean that it is correct to say that in picking up this pencil with my right hand that my left hand also picked it up, as well as my feet, etc., because “I” am all those things. Clearly it is correct to say that I used only my right hand to pick it up; likewise, to perform an actual act of intellection, I use only an immaterial part of me. (Of course, as Brandon points out, intellection doesn’t happen by itself, so the brain is always involved performing other actions while my intellect is busy doing its specifically immaterial thing.)

Mr. Green said...

Brandon: I don't think 'qualia' constitute a well-formed or unified category, although I think sometimes people are talking about real features of the human mind when they talk about qualia in particular contexts.

I thought qualitative experiences were a particular mode — green exists in a material mode in a green person, or intellectually in a mind that is understanding the concept of greenness… and in a qualitative mode when having an experience of sensing green. That would mean God doesn’t “know” what experiencing green is like any more than He knows what being spatially extended is like — which is to say, not a problem since in terms of actual knowledge He understands what any qualitative experience is all about. But perhaps modes are not the correct way to think about sensation anyway….

rank sophist said...

I learned a lot from this post. I'm not sure it's true that Augustine's understanding of "direct access" is very different from Aquinas's own view of consciousness, though. I've talked about the issue in older comboxes, but here are the relevant Aquinas passages again.

SCG b2 ch75.13:

Now, while we have said that the intelligible species received into the possible intellect is not that which is understood but that whereby one understands, this does not prevent the intellect, by a certain reflexion, from understanding itself, and its act of understanding, and the species whereby it understands. Indeed, it understands its own act of understanding in two ways: particularly, for it understands that it presently understands; universally, so far as it reasons about the nature of its act. So, likewise, the intellect understands both itself and the intelligible species in two ways: by perceiving its own being and its possession of an intelligible species—and this is a kind of particular knowing—by considering its own nature and that of the intelligible species, which is a universal knowing. It is in this latter mode that the intellect and the intelligible are treated in the sciences.

The entirety of ST I q87 a3 is relevant, but here's an important bit:

[Knowledge of the intellect] happens in two ways: In the first place, singularly, as when Socrates or Plato perceives that he has an intellectual soul because he perceives that he understands. In the second place, universally, as when we consider the nature of the human mind from knowledge of the intellectual act. [...] There is, however, a difference between these two kinds of knowledge, and it consists in this, that the mere presence of the mind suffices for the first; the mind itself being the principle of action whereby it perceives itself, and hence it is said to know itself by its own presence.

He argues that the intellect doesn't know itself through its essence, but his definition of that word seems to differ from Augustine's more Neo-Platonist one. The resultant formulation of self-knowledge doesn't seem significantly different from Augustine's.

Brandon said...

Abstraction is generalizing from a particular to a universal, correct? Now without something in common to underlie the generalization, there is no generalization; and without something in common there can therefore be no classification.

You're going to have to be more explicit about your reasoning; I don't see what you intend to be the connection between the first and the second sentence, so I have no idea what you're intending to say.

As noted before, not all generalizing cognition is abstraction. As noted before, one may classify without abstraction, and, what is more, this is extraordinarily common, since all animals of any significant learning ability do it. If you have two things A and B, and sense that A is red and that B is red, the mere sensory appearance of red is something common, yes? And since we're still at the level of sensory appearance, we haven't abstracted any universal yet, despite having something in common. All one needs is cognition capable of putting the two together because of their commonality, which doesn't require abstraction or apprehension of a universal as such. It just requires what are called internal senses.

If we're talking about what makes classification possible in the abstract, this does require appeal to universals. But the act of classifying doesn't require going immediately to that fundamental level; frogs can classify experiences, but nobody thinks that they need to know the universal principles underlying their ability to do so. Saying you need abstraction to do something like that is analogous to saying you have to have an advanced understanding of mathematics and physics to tie your shoes since tying your shoes would be impossible without the laws of physics and the principles identified by knot theory. It just gets the levels all wrong.

VinceS said...

Brandon,

Thanks, it makes a lot more sense now. So what you're saying is, what makes our cognition different from animals is, we are able to actually understand a universal (vs. merely using it as a basis for classification, which requires no such understanding), at least to some degree, and this is the aspect of our cognition that is completely non-material.

Brandon said...

Well, I'm not sure there's a sense in which animals 'use' universals; just like there's not a sense in which animals 'use' calculus, although calculus is a key part of explaining certain things animals do. But yes, more or less: animals sort things into groups, at least in the sense that they are capable of grouping their experiences together. But the particular action that goes beyond this and has generally been taken to be non-material in itself is the understanding of the universal.

Scott said...

@Brandon:

"I'm not sure there's a sense in which animals 'use' universals[.]"

I would say that there is, though, as you've already explained and I agree, it doesn't require the specifically human intellectual act of abstracting them and understanding them qua universals. If by "universal" we mean an identity, resemblance, or commonality that actually obtains in the objective world, then a dog who, based on experience, expects a forthcoming bit of rawhide to be fun to chew is surely "using" them in some (cognitive) sense; the similarities/commonalities are the very basis of that expectation.

Brandon said...

Scott,

I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense.

Scott said...

@Brandon:

It's somewhat analogous, I think, to a dog's running diagonally across a rectangular field to meet its master at the opposite corner. There's some sense in which the dog is using the fact that this course really and objectively minimizes the distance it has to run between the two points, but we certainly wouldn't ascribe to the dog any abstract understanding of geometry.

Step2 said...

@Scott
If by "universal" we mean an identity, resemblance, or commonality that actually obtains in the objective world, then a dog who, based on experience, expects a forthcoming bit of rawhide to be fun to chew is surely "using" them in some (cognitive) sense; the similarities/commonalities are the very basis of that expectation.

I am wondering how this plays out in the previous example of the 10 billion sided polygon compared to a circle. Isn't the main difference in our expectations? If we could sufficiently magnify the edge of the shape we would expect to see small straight lines instead of a smooth curve and if we were to actually count all the lines we would expect to count 10 billion. Under this view it would seem human intellect has much greater extension due to our ability to construct a mental landscape but is fundamentally the same operation of recognition and expectation.

Scott said...

@Step2:

"Isn't the main difference in our expectations?"

Well, I'd think the main difference between a circle and a 10-billion-ogon is that the former consists of all points in a given plane that are equidistant from a given center and the other doesn't. If we know that two different objects differ in just that way, that knowledge would affect our expectations, sure. But I strongly doubt that a dog, with no abstract understanding of geometry, will ever find itself in quite that position. (Nor will we, because we don't expect to encounter perfect circles in the real world. But that's another matter.)

But I'm not sure I'm quite taking your point here, so please amplify if I've missed it.

Natural Mind said...

Hi everyone,

I was in an internet-free zone over thanksgiving; I hope maybe some of you are around on this thread still! Thanks to all for your replies and further discussion.

@Jeremy Taylor:

My point does ignore common-sense understandings of matter/the material. They prove a good starting-point for scientific work, but are quickly abandoned. Certainly, in physics, what counts as "material" is whatever we've got some phenomenological handle on, whether it accords with our common sense intuitions or not. Newton was quite embarrassed by his own proposals of action at a distance, which violated the mechanistic view of what matter was: but so be it. We don't know what "matter" really is; we can arbitrarily pick out mass or extent or what have you, but none of these concepts are used by physics. The two "entities" you point out are mind and non-mind. Mind has been defined in this approach: it is that which can be directly apprehended. Everything else is not mind. Now we are free to define the material as we wish, including mind or not.

@Crude: oddly enough, your humorous point is actually exactly correct: you can take the definition of matter as inclusive of mental substance, just as you can take it as inclusive of chemical substance, or neurophysiologial objects or genetic or metabolic ones, and so on. There is no reason not to. The fact that there exist phenomena we call "chemical" and "physical" does not lead us to any sort of dualism, by extension the fact that there exist all sorts of other phenomenological groupings convenient to us does not mean there is some "poly-ism". But there is no reason to proclaim victory for "monism:" the point is only that no "dualism" is entailed by the difference between and mental and non-mental phenomena (whether we call both, or only the latter, "material"), any more than dualism is entailed by the difference between metabolic and chemical phenomena.

@BLS: Good point. Essentially, you ask the age old question, "if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to see it, did it really fall?" I would say no. There seems to be no way of understanding matter, or anything else at all, without some notion of mind. That's another topic of discussion, though. . . for now, all I mean is that when we divide up the phenomenological world into different types of beings, we might as well treat as "material" anything we experience, whether directly or indirectly.

(more to follow)

Natural Mind said...

@VinceS: yes, thanks for your excellent summary; I think we are on the same page. Your clarifications of your "first conjunct" make that especially clear. I agree with Scott that the A-T claim is that the soul can exercise its intellect apart from the body, but I do not see that this impinges on the question of whether or not the mind is a part of the material world.

I am not sure in what way the soul relates to the notion of "mind" in use here; perhaps others could clarify (if anyone's still around!)

The further discussions drift away from the theme I was addressing, and I don't have much interesting to say about those things!

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind

the point is only that no "dualism" is entailed by the difference between and mental and non-mental phenomena (whether we call both, or only the latter, "material"), any more than dualism is entailed by the difference between metabolic and chemical phenomena.

Again, the argument does not start from a difference between mental and non-mental phenomena. The premise is:

2. But the mind knows material things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.

This premise leaves open whether (a) the mind is material or (b) all material things are non-mental. As I've pointed out, even given the argument's conclusion, the above is not necessarily even materially equivalent to your rendering:

2'. But mental things know non-mental things only via the mediation of a mental image or some other representation.



Natural Mind said...

@Greg

I don't understand the point you're making.

You're right, the argument does not start from a difference between mental and non-mental phenomena. But it asserts one in assuming that material phenomena are not mental phenomena - an arbitrary distinction, which, as you again point out, is left open. You don't appear to be saying anything inconsistent with my point; perhaps I am missing something.

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind

You're right, the argument does not start from a difference between mental and non-mental phenomena. But it asserts one in assuming that material phenomena are not mental phenomena - an arbitrary distinction, which, as you again point out, is left open.

It does not assert a difference between mental and non-mental phenomena by "assuming that material phenomena are not mental phenomena," because it doesn't assume that. It assumes (2), and jointly with (1), that implies that material phenomena are not mental phenomena. The argument has absolutely zilch to say about the 'non-mental' as such. (It could be said to assume "that material phenomena are not mental phenomena" only in the trivial sense that every valid argument 'assumes' its conclusion; that is, its conclusion follows from its premises.)

I said, "This premise leaves open whether (a) the mind is material or (b) all material things are non-mental." So no, I did not point out that the distinction between material phenomena and mental phenomena is what is left open, since the distinction between material phenomena and mental phenomena is the conclusion, not the premise in question.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Natural Mind,

I'm sorry, but I don't see the point you are trying to make (it is, though, much like the same one I recall you trying to make here before). In some sense there is the material (with the common sense properties that Scott and I were mentioned) and the mental. These are not self-evidently the same, so the argument is a valid and worthwhile attempt to suggest the mental cannot be material.

Your points may be interesting, but I can't really see what relevance they have to Dr. Feser's argument.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I also don't think it correct to imply that common sense properties of matter can be set aside. Yes, we may get a better understanding of the foundations of matter, or how material things behave in certain circumstances, but I cannot see how any change in our scientific understanding will mean that there are not phenomena with these material properties; i.e., have extension, are made of atoms, and so on. As long as this is the case, then, whatever we call these phenomena, this argument doesn't seem undermined by your criticism.

And my understanding is that there is a defensible argument for the chemical not being able to be reduced to the physical.

Greg said...

Natural Mind's argument is basically identical to donjindra's charge that James Ross's argument begs the question. I debated him on that point a bit in Oerter's combox.

I don't know, I guess it is the argument form. x is F; all y are not F; so x is not y. There's nothing wrong with this argument form, nor is there anything wrong with either of these instantiations. But people feel as though there is a circularity lurking in the second premise.

The reason, I think, is that the objector grants (or, at least, is willing to grant) that the first premise is true, so then he reads the second premise as begging the question, since accepting it will be tantamount to accepting the argument. But in either of the cases (Augustine's argument or James Ross's), each premise individually could be held without holding the conclusion.

I think there is also a desire to assimilate one's disagreement with an argument to a formal defect that isn't really there. People are allowed to just say, "I think (2) is false."

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

"But in either of the cases (Augustine's argument or James Ross's), each premise individually could be held without holding the conclusion."

I won't address the Augustine argument. But just to clarify my position on Ross, I do deny the second premise can be held by a materialist. To grant the second premise is to grant the conclusion. I'm definitely going to insist physical processes can be determinate since I have no other "material" that can help explain the phenomenon. To ask me to "temporarily" suspend my disbelief "for argument's sake" get's you nothing since the proof itself merely leads to the conclusion you asked me to accept "for argument's" sake in the first place. This is classic begging of the question.

c matt said...

So Descartes plagiarized from Augustine. Does that mean Augustine is the great^30 grandfather of the enlightenment?

Natural Mind said...

@Jeremy Taylor,

Yes, my argument is the same as the one made on an earlier thread here before. I keep coming back to it as I think it's important.

And I do think it's important for common-sense notions of matter to be put aside. In fact as soon as one uses words like "chemical" or "neurophysiological," one has already put aside common-sense understandings. There is no "common sense" understanding of chemistry corresponding in any direct way with what chemists investigate.

Sure, one can use any common-sense understanding of the material that one likes, but it will prove quite useless to such discussions. Take "having mass." Well, that rules out all massless particles such as photons, and it rules out space-time. It also rules out dynamic processes such as brain activity or genetic drift. One could then argue that anything that doesn't have this, or any other common-sense property, isn't material. Fine. So the mind, like a photon or space-time, is immaterial. We've gotten nowhere; we're simply acknowledging that different phenomena have different properties, and annoying the physicists.

As for the chemical not generally being able to be reduced to the chemical: true. But as I originally argued, reducibility is not relevant. Let's say no one ever thought of quantum mechanics. Then the "chemical" and the "physical" would have remained inconsistent with each other. Would that have been an argument for for some sort of "chemical/physical" dualism? Hardly. It just means we haven't been able to make them consistent with each other. Same goes for mind and other material things: we don't know how to make mind consistent with what we know neurophysiology.

@ Greg,

Yes, the argument has the form you gave; it's a syllogism. The problem is not with the argument itself, but with where step 2 comes from. How do we know that all Y are not F? In the "Feser 3-step," we don't. It is simply being asserted in step 2, not drawn from previous considerations; no independent definition of Y has been given. (Again, one can allude to some "common-sense" understanding of Y, i.e. material phenomena, but as I argued above common sense has little to offer us here, providing only vague and scientifically useless concepts that arbitrarily rule out all sorts of things as "non-material".)

You make a good observation: the claimed circularity in the second premise stands against the first, given as granted. Yes, I do grant that we have some independent idea of what counts as mental: namely that the mind, as we experience it, grasps itself with a certain immediacy with which it cannot grasp other things. That seems a good way to characterize the mental, for present purposes at least. Thus premise 1. is justified by an immediate experience I use to characterize the mental. But premise two amounts to a simple assertion of what we mean by material: that which is not so grasped; it does not come from anywhere outside of this argument, not even from "common sense": it is simply asserted here, "for the first time," so to speak.

Consider again my animal example.

1. Humans have rational cognition.
2. Animals do not have rational cognition.
3. Therefore, humans are not animals.

Let's grant that 1. is certain; being human is enough to know it's the case. Now, how do I know 2. is true? If 2. comes out of the blue, without any previous definition, then 2. in this syllogism is a definition of "animal," and 3. follows vacuously. But if there exists some previous definition of animal, say an Artistotelian one concerning locomotion and directedness, then 2. is independently true or false (in Aristotle's case, false, since there are some animals that have rational cognition, namely humans, and the argument fails due to a false premise). We need some real, independent definition of "animal" before the argument can be non-vacuously true.

Greg said...

Don Jindra, the issue with your argument (still) is that there are materialists who hold the second premise. (Actually, Feser makes a similar tu quoque with respect to the second premise of Augustine's argument.) Since the materialist can still hold that there are no determinate processes at all, (2) very clearly is on its own consistent with materialism.

Natural Mind, I'll take a closer look at your post later.

Greg said...

Again, this is an issue of confusing disagreement with a premise in an argument against a theory (materialism) with the argument's begging the question. Unless the negation of the premise is essential to materialism, the argument does not beg the question. The fact that you are a materialist and happen to hold the negation of the premise does not a question begging argument make.

(Besides, Ross and Feser argue for the second premise.)

This is why none of the professional philosophers who have critiqued the argument (Pasnau, Leftow, Dillard) have suggested that it is question begging.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg,

Don Jindra is a troll who has previously been banned from here. He never argues properly. I would ignore him.

Natural Mind,

Again, I don't really see your point. You seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill.

The common sense understanding of matter can easily be tweaked to include massless particles. Indeed, it often has been tweaked. Augustine, for example, would of had quite different scientific understanding of what we are calling matter (not to be confused with Aristotelian and Platonic matter). But the same basic substance is being referred to. And this substance, these phenomena, doesn't disappear with new scientific understanding. It isn't as if we are likely to find our there really was nothing with extension/body after all.

So, whilst it is true that, for the sake of argument, science may discover substances that are not material, according to this common sense and general understanding, this doesn't mean the argument cannot tell us something about the mental and its relationship to what is called the material - a not insignificant variety of entities.

And, although I'm not really sure what you mean by dualism, but surely the inability to reduce the physical to the chemical, is at least an argument against a physicalist-reductionist monism.

Natural Mind said...

@ Greg,

Thanks for your comments. I hope you're still there!

I don't know what question would be begged in this case. All I'm pointing out is that without a previous definition of "material," the syllogism does nothing but define it as being non-mental. If none of the professional philosophers have seen this (I have not read any of these), it is, I must suppose, because the argument was not treated in the shorthand way Feser collected it, or because they failed to see the problem.

The only thing one can take out of Feser's argument is that if you already believe that all material phenomena are necessarily not immediately graspable by the human intellect, then the mind is not material. This leaves me waiting for some reason to suppose that material objects necessarily have this quality.

* * *

Would you admit that this is at least an interesting perspective to take: to assume that all the phenomena we observe and experience every day are material elements of creation, infused with form and finality, from the heavens and earth to the plant and animals and the human soul? And that each kind of thing has its own independent existence, not due to some essential incommensurable, irreducible duality with other levels of description (like the mind vis-à-vis the brain), but because it has its own unique form and individuated finality – whether or not we happen to be able to "reduce" it to other levels of description?

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

"the issue with your argument (still) is that there are materialists who hold the second premise."

That's probably the absurdity of property dualism rearing its ugly head. I'm not suffering from that particular confusion. And there's no obligation I have to defend them. It's like Feser complaining New Atheists attack positions he, Aquinas and Aristotle do not hold. It's sometimes a legitimate complaint. So if that's your defense you'll have to do better with me.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

Property dualists are not the only materialists (if they can be called that) who would accept the second premise. Eliminativists would obviously accept (2) and reject (1). And I see no reason why other sorts of materialists could not do that either.

So if that's your defense you'll have to do better with me.

Well, you elided my mentioning that Feser and Ross argue explicitly for (2), so on that count it is not question begging...

The problem here is that you simply appear not to understand what begging the question is. You seem to view any argument against a theory as question begging if it has a premise that proponents of the theory would not accept. That is clearly not what begging the question is, since in that case, the only non-question begging arguments would be those that show that the proponents of the theory, under the implication of premises they already accept, tacitly believe a contrary theory. But that isn't how philosophy works.

Jeremy is right. I don't see any need to respond further if your argument is not improved.

Greg said...

@ Natural Mind

Sorry, that additional comment was directed at Don Jindra, not you.

The problem is not with the argument itself, but with where step 2 comes from.

Note that this is a change of tune. In your post on November 25, 2014 at 1:44 PM you suggested that the argument form itself is defective.

This is the crux of the point you're making:

All I'm pointing out is that without a previous definition of "material," the syllogism does nothing but define it as being non-mental.

I do not think that this is a charitable way to read (2). The lack of a previous definition does not mean that the premise is itself a definition. First, as I said before, I don't know how Augustine defines 'material', but I have a feeling it's not defined as that which is known by mediation of images. (The scholastic apparatus, certainly, has ways of drawing this distinction, but I'm not familiar enough with Augustine to say what he would accept.) Next, as Scott pointed out, an ostensive definition of 'material' would suffice. (Other options: Materialists will have some working definition of 'material' if their view is to have any content. The argument may proceed from there, as a tu quoque, by arguing that whatever falls under that definition differs in that relevant respect.)

I grant that the definition is not worked out in this blog post, but insofar as it would be difficult for Augustine to specify what he means by 'material', it is difficult for materialists to specify what they mean by 'material'. (And I am not as skeptical.) But in any case, it is not reasonable to read the premise, in the absence of an explicit definition, as a definition.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

"We need some real, independent definition of 'animal' before the argument can be non-vacuously true."

Again, if you mean to include ostensive definitions here, then you'e still overlooking the fact that Augustine gives one by pointing out several examples of what he means by "bodily." And if you're not, you're simply mistaken; the argument is clearly non-vacuous if the relevant term in the second premise is defined ostensively.

Scott said...

Oops, Greg already said that. Sorry; I responded without reading the replies all the way to the end.

Don Jindra said...

"Well, you elided my mentioning that Feser and Ross argue explicitly for (2), so on that count it is not question begging..."

Feser reduces Ross's argument to a simple proof in which (1) and (2) are premises. IMO, he's forced to do that because Ross's argument for (2) is no argument at all. It's actually in that argument for (2) that Ross's question begging becomes obvious to those of us who don't have dualist assumptions.

As I've explained
elsewhere, Ross creates the question begging when he arbitrarily creates the categories (1) and (2) in the first place. He puts calculators, computers, adding machines, and falling bodies into a physical category. But he leaves out people. He arbitrarily puts people into a separate "formal thinking" category. But he never proves, or even argues, that those two mutually exclusive categories are warranted. IOW, he never demonstrates "formal thinking" is not a subset of "physical process." He just assumes in the argument itself that they are completely separate. Yet the whole goal of the proof is to prove they are completely separate. That's question begging.

So you're not listening to me. I am not saying an argument begs the question merely "if it has a premise that proponents of the theory would not accept." I'm pointing out that the premise (2) directly assumes the conclusion. That assumption is the only justification for setting up the mutually exclusive categories. It's question begging no matter who is willing to accept the premise. A fallacy doesn't change to a non-fallacy simply because a "property dualist" misses the fallacy.

So if this is not question begging, please tell me how Ross can justify ignoring people (& our formal thinking) when he composes his list of things that exhibit mere "physical processes." What justifies throwing calculators, computers, adding machines, and falling bodies into one pile, and people into another? He uses determinacy for the criteria. But what does he do with that? He arbitrarily throws one group into a "physical" pile and the other group into a "something else" pile. So if this is not an arbitrary choice of piles, please tell me what permits "determinacy" to determine what he labels those piles? What about "determinacy" prevents him from throwing people onto the "physical processes" pile? I say nothing. He throws people onto a different pile simply because he believes that's where they belong. If that's not begging of the question what in your opinion is it?

John West said...

Greg writes, "Well, you elided my mentioning that Feser and Ross argue explicitly for (2), so on that count it is not question begging."

Don Jindra writes, "Ross creates the question begging when he arbitrarily creates the categories (1) and (2) in the first place."

John West said...

*That should read "Don Jindra replies, "[...]

Also, the italics were my emphasis

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

Feser reduces Ross's argument to a simple proof in which (1) and (2) are premises.

Feser has (as you know) defended the argument at greater length. And, in his exchange with Oerter, every single time he listed the premises, he explicitly qualified that it was an oversimplification. So no, Feser does not "reduce" the argument to the premises. The issue here is a lack of charity on someone else's part.

As I've explained elsewhere, Ross creates the question begging when he arbitrarily creates the categories (1) and (2) in the first place. He puts calculators, computers, adding machines, and falling bodies into a physical category. But he leaves out people. He arbitrarily puts people into a separate "formal thinking" category. But he never proves, or even argues, that those two mutually exclusive categories are warranted. IOW, he never demonstrates "formal thinking" is not a subset of "physical process." He just assumes in the argument itself that they are completely separate. Yet the whole goal of the proof is to prove they are completely separate. That's question begging.

This is abject nonsense. He intimates the argument on pp. 116-117 of Thought and World. A more fleshed out argument is given on pp. 119:

Whatever the outputs of [a] physical process may be, there will always be a pair of incompatible predicates, each as empirically adequate as the other, to name a function from the input to the output. There is nothing about the outcomes or the materialization of a physical process to block it from being a case of incompossible pure functions, if it could be a case, rather than mere approximation, of any pure function at all. That's because the differentiating point, the point where the behavioral outputs would diverge to display difference of processes, can lie beyond the life of the machine or even the world. If the function were x * y = (x+y, if y < 10^40 years; = x+y+1, otherwise), the differentiating output, distinguishing * from +, would lie beyond the conjectured life of the universe.

Just as rectangular doors can approximate Euclidean rectangularity, so physical change can simulate, but not realize, pure functions. In simplest terms, that is because physical phenomena are never under a single quantitative relationship.


Whatever one thinks about this argument for (2), it is an argument that does not suppose anything about putting calculators, adding machines, and falling bodies into one category, and humans into another. He is not even "proving" (or giving abductive support for) (2) by giving adding machines etc. as examples. Those are, I think, pretty clearly given as illustrations of the broader point he is making.

(1) and (2), as you sometimes note correctly, are premises, not "categories."

I am not saying an argument begs the question merely "if it has a premise that proponents of the theory would not accept." I'm pointing out that the premise (2) directly assumes the conclusion.

More nonsense. Show me the direct inference from "No physical process is determinate" to "No formal thinking is a physical process". (2) says nothing about formal thinking, and indeed, eliminativists, at least, would accept (2) and reject the conclusion! (Now, perhaps you are just speaking imprecisely when you say that "(2) directly assumes the conclusion.")

Anonymous said...

Here's one way to look at it.

1) All physical processes are indeterminate. (See the calculator/quaddition arguments)

2) Human thought is a physical process. (Assumption for the sake of argument)

3) Human thought is indeterminate.

3 is a contradiction because Ross shows that such a conclusion is self defeating. Thus, either 1 or 2 is false.

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

Concerning Ross's "more fleshed out argument" given on pp. 119:

"Whatever the outputs of [a] physical process may be, there will always be a pair of incompatible predicates,..." -- Ross.

My question is, why do you think this is an argument that formal thinking is not a physical process? Basically he's defining what he considers a physical process. He's doing no more than that. Your quote restates the problem, imo.

IOW, suppose Ross had written, "Whatever the outputs of an adding machine may be, there will always be a pair of incompatible predicates,.." Had he written that, we would be having a different conversation. My point is that Ross never justifies why he thinks he can use "physical process" in that context when he really means adding machines, calculators and computers. The rest of the paragraph makes that clear. It's in that word substitution that he begs the question. It's a backdoor technique to slip in a "physical process" category now cleansed of the physical process under question -- formal thinking. This leads to a second IOW:

Ross could have written, "Whatever the outputs of an adding machine, calculator, computer or formally thinking brain may be, there will always be a pair of incompatible predicates,.." Now we can argue that the remainder of the paragraph is false. But if it's false, how do we fix it? We say, okay, an adding machine, calculator, computer belong in one category, formal thinking goes in another. No problem yet. The problem comes up when we start attaching labels to those categories, labels that may or may not be warranted. For his proof to work, those labels have to describe those categories in mutually exclusive terms. They have to make clear why one category is not part of the other. "Physical process" is the label Ross chooses for one category. This implies "Non-physical process" is the proper label for the other category. I say that labeling is unwarranted. Reading his paper I see nowhere that he justifies arbitrarily assigning that "physical process" label to either category. That's the question begging I'm talking about -- the one in the very text you cite.

Once we accept that arbitrary label, we have no choice but to reach the conclusion Ross desires. That's why I say his arbitrary label leads directly to the conclusion. The label itself begs the question.

If, however, you'd rather call it a tautology, I'll accept that.

Anonymous,

In your new way of looking at it, either (1) or (2) is false. But we can't say which is false -- that is, Ross provides no tools to tell us which is false. I say (1) is obviously false. And it begs the question if we consider only Ross's examples. We are gently nudged to consider the calculator/quaddition arguments in physical terms, yet never to consider all brain output (such as formal thinking) in those same physical terms. This again shows the crux of the problem. Where you say "See the calculator/quaddition arguments" I say: See that Ross refuses to consider that formal thinking may belong with those arguments if he insists on labeling them "physical processes."

Anonymous said...

I don't see why the quaddition argument, if sound, can't be extended to neurological processes. I think the point of Ross' quaddition argument is that the purely physical/biological brain processes DO fall into the same indeterminate category as calculators and such. We have no reason to take it out of the category besides special pleading. Thus, we need something extra to explain our ability to have determinate thought processes. It can't be a physical process that explains it, because that would leave us still stuck in the indeterminate category.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

Basically he's defining what he considers a physical process.

No, he's not.

Here you recapitulate Natural Mind's claim and attribute something totally crazy to the argument in question by reading a proposition that is meant to state a conclusion as a premise. He is not saying, "Whatever processes to which we may attach at least two incompossible predicates, we will henceforth call 'physical'." That would make no sense. He is clearly working with a prior conception of 'physical'. (One might ground it ostensively or perhaps as those things within the realm of natural science.) He then points out that any such process, based on the way they are instantiated in the world, will truly satisfy at least a pair of incompatible functional predicates.

As far as (2) is concerned, there might be no such thing as formal thinking, or one might have an independent argument that formal thinking is physical, in which case one could actually infer that formal thinking is undetermined. Ross, of course, aims at the contradictory conclusion, but he needs (1) to do that.

My point is that Ross never justifies why he thinks he can use "physical process" in that context when he really means adding machines, calculators and computers.

He doesn't "really mean" adding machines, calculators, and computers.

Ross could have written, "Whatever the outputs of an adding machine, calculator, computer or formally thinking brain may be, there will always be a pair of incompatible predicates,.." Now we can argue that the remainder of the paragraph is false.

The point you are trying to make in the paragraph starting with the above is very opaque. Ross could have written that, but given what he did write, he would regard that statement as false, since he believes there is (some) formal thinking that does not satisfy a pair of incompatible premises.* (There is no need to divide things up into categories. The most plausible and charitable way to read Ross's argument here is as making a general point, of which adding machines and calculators are instantiations made for the purpose of illustration. Absolutely nothing rides on the mentioning of adding machines.)

*Though here it is worth making a distinction inspired by Anon's most recent post. There may be a sense in which Ross would say that a "formally thinking brain" does satisfy a pair of incompatible predicates. As an Aristotelian (who wrote a rather approving review of David Braine's book on philosophy of mind), he likely would have endorsed embodied mind arguments, and might have denied that the brain can be said to think, considered in abstraction from the person. In that case, the statement would be true, and so would the rest of the paragraph, but it would not undermine the conclusion of Ross's actual argument.

Greg said...

he believes there is (some) formal thinking that does not satisfy a pair of incompatible premises

Note here that Ross would judge that sentence to be false as a consequence of (1) (or, rather, considerations adduced in his argument for (1)). He would not claim to have shown that it is false simply by virtue of any 'categories' that are drawn in (2) or his argument for (2). Limiting himself to (2), I think he would have to abstain judgment on your odd rendering.

But since his judgment that it is false is clearly derived from the rest of his premises, rather than (2) itself, (2) does not beg the question.

The reading of Ross as begging the question has become rather tortured.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"I don't see why the quaddition argument, if sound, can't be extended to neurological processes. ... I think the point of Ross' quaddition argument is that the purely physical/biological brain processes DO fall into the same indeterminate category as calculators and such."

I do wish Ross had made that case. He could have started a paragraph like so: "Whatever the outputs of an adding machine or outputs of any combination of 86 billion neurons may be, there will always be a pair of incompatible predicates,.."

Why didn't he do that? Maybe because then it would have been absurdly clear he was constructing an opinion, not a logical proof.

"We have no reason to take it out of the category besides special pleading."

IOW, you've prejudged. This is what I've been saying. That prejudgment assumes a conclusion for the very thing in question. But where you say there is no reason, I'm left wondering why empirical evidence is cast aside as "no reason." For in my observations it seems clear some combinations of 86 billion neurons do exhibit determinate behavior. So I think the reverse is true: Ross is using special pleading because he can't accept the common sense evident truth: some combinations of 86 billion neurons do some very interesting things.

Greg,

"He is clearly working with a prior conception of 'physical'."

We agree on that much.

"He then points out that any such process, based on the way they are instantiated in the world, will truly satisfy at least a pair of incompatible functional predicates."

His "prior conception of 'physical' (as when he argues for 2) never considers the output of 86 billion neurons. His "purpose of illustration" seems to me to have a purpose of exclusion. He won't consider the possibility that the output of 86 billion neurons appears to occasionally do what he claims can't be done by a physical system.

"Note here that Ross would judge that sentence to be false as a consequence of (1)"

I agree. He does so because he assumes (1) cannot be a subset of (2). This is my point. He goes to a lot of trouble to tell us what (1) is. And that's fine. But never explains why (1) must be excluded as an example properly (I say) put in his discussion of (2).

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

We agree on that much.

Oh, please. You just said that Ross was defining 'physical' in that sentence; now you say we agree that he wasn't.

His "prior conception of 'physical' (as when he argues for 2) never considers the output of 86 billion neurons... He won't consider the possibility that the output of 86 billion neurons appears to occasionally do what he claims can't be done by a physical system.

As I said above,

There may be a sense in which Ross would say that a "formally thinking brain" does satisfy a pair of incompatible predicates. As an Aristotelian (who wrote a rather approving review of David Braine's book on philosophy of mind), he likely would have endorsed embodied mind arguments, and might have denied that the brain [or some collection of neurons] can be said to think, considered in abstraction from the person.

Ross actually could infer, from (2), that 86 billion neurons (or the brain) satisfy at least two incompatible functions, if they satisfy any, and therefore by (1) do not think formally. And his argument can still go through. (What you are doing is assuming that whatever formal thinking is, it is the activity of the brain. Ross need not prejudge the matter. But he could note that neuronal activity is indeterminate, while formal thinking is not, so while neuronal activity may be a necessary condition for formal thinking, they need not be identical.)

He does so because he assumes (1) cannot be a subset of (2).

(1) cannot be a subset of (2) because (1) and (2) are statements, not sets.

You mean that he assumes that formal thinking cannot be a physical process. But he doesn't assume that (except in the trivial sense that in deductively valid arguments the conclusion follows from the premises). He argues that physical processes (in general) are indeterminate and notes that formal thinking is determinate. (As I noted above, gesturing toward neuronal activity does not evade this problem, and Ross need not ignore neuronal activity in his argument for (2), though he also need not consider any specific cases, whether they be neuronal activity or adding machines or whatever.)

Honestly, Donny, there is no attempt here to construe Ross's argument in the strongest way possible. Any sentence, you will read in a way that supports your point, even if the reading makes no sense, and you don't attempt to consider possible responses. To refute an argument, you have to show that it cannot be rendered sound, not that on one particular reading it is unsound.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Greg writes,

The reading of Ross as begging the question has become rather tortured.

Welcome to everyone of Don Jindra's posts, ever.

It is the usual way he argues: make some half-baked, tendentious but bold claim, ride it til it disintegrates then either scuttle away or more straight to the next one. He's a committed naturalist and just spends his time trying to kick up dust for anti-naturalists. The problem is, he isn't very good at it.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

Seconded. Please do not feed.

Step2 said...

@Scott
But I'm not sure I'm quite taking your point here, so please amplify if I've missed it.

If evolution is true there needs to be some way to bridge the gap between material animal intelligence and rational abstraction. I think the bridge is found in the imagination, where absolute control over content and context provides a determinate aspect to formal thinking.

@Natural Mind
Take "having mass." Well, that rules out all massless particles such as photons, and it rules out space-time.

Mass isn't a property it is a destination.

Don Jindra said...

Greg,

"You just said that Ross was defining 'physical' in that sentence; now you say we agree that he wasn't."

People must have a prior conception of the terms they define. Do you think this is controversial?

"(1) cannot be a subset of (2) because (1) and (2) are statements, not sets."

I think this is the second time you've said as much. Statements can define sets. These are definitely sets. I don't see how anyone could reasonably deny that.

"Ross actually could infer, from (2), that 86 billion neurons (or the brain) satisfy at least two incompatible functions, if they satisfy any, and therefore by (1) do not think formally. "

He couldn't infer that. He could only assert it. It would have been great if he had tried that assertion when discussing (2). Maybe it would have gone like this: Even 86 billion neurons satisfy at least two incompatible functions, if they satisfy any, and therefore by (1) do not think formally. It would be interesting to see the criticism of that proof -- a proof in which premise (1) is used as a "therefore" to create premise (2). I don't know what to call that particular fallacy but it's a creative one.

"To refute an argument, you have to show that it cannot be rendered sound, not that on one particular reading it is unsound."

Begging the question is unsound. Ross's use of it is blatant. I'm confident of my position. It doesn't take an esoteric reading to see it. No amount of grandstand heckling will make a fallacy sound.


Scott said...

@Step2:

"If evolution is true there needs to be some way to bridge the gap between material animal intelligence and rational abstraction."

Well, let's do a little unpacking of the proposition that "evolution is true." I take it that you mean in part that "evolution takes place via genetic natural selection." I think it does. I take it you also mean that such evolution accounts for the development of the biological species we call homo sapiens. I think that's also true at least as far as our bodily nature is concerned.

In neither case, however, does it follow that evolution via genetic natural selection must all by itself itself bridge the gap between (sub-rational) animal and (rational) human cognition. That's not the case even on the terms of the neo-Darwinian synthesis itself. Evolution alone doesn't (and isn't supposed to) account for, say, gravitation, the existence of the planet Earth, the existence of the chemical elements, and all of the other "background" stuff necessary for evolution to occur in the first place (including a sufficient source, or sufficient sources, of mutation); nor does it claim to account for everything about human beings or any other biological species. So no, I wouldn't say that the truth of evolutionary theory implies that evolution alone has to provide a way to explain human intellect and the power of abstraction.

Now, that it doesn't follow doesn't in and of itself mean it isn't true; if your proposal about imagination is correct, then it might be the case that there's a "natural(istic)" bridge from one to the other.

But I don't think that's the case. We don't arrive at the concepts of a circle and a 10-billion-gon merely by imagination. The difference between them isn't just a matter of how many sides we expect to count if we zoom in on a mental image, and even if it were, imagination alone still wouldn't suffice to explain our ability to count in the first place.

Greg said...

@ Don Jindra

People must have a prior conception of the terms they define.


You may want to reread the context of the statement you claimed we agree on:

He is not saying, "Whatever processes to which we may attach at least two incompossible predicates, we will henceforth call 'physical'." That would make no sense. He is clearly working with a prior conception of 'physical'.

Why did you say "we agree on that much"?

Statements can define sets. These are definitely sets. I don't see how anyone could reasonably deny that.

"All formal thinking is determinate" is equivalent to "Whatever is not determinate is not formal thinking". But if those statements define sets, then they don't define the same set. (Or perhaps your point is just the trivial one that predicates and the concepts they express have extensions. But nothing is judged about the extensions of the predicates prior to the conclusion.) In any case it seems to obscure the issue.

It would be interesting to see the criticism of that proof -- a proof in which premise (1) is used as a "therefore" to create premise (2).

You are confused. (1) would be used in that case to infer that clusters of neurons and brains do not think formally. Since (2) says nothing about formal thinking, (1) is not used "to create premise (2)."

All he needs for (2) is (what is true:) that neurons and brains satisfy at least two incompatible functional predicates if they satisfy any. In other words, here you are incorrect: "He won't consider the possibility that the output of 86 billion neurons appears to occasionally do what he claims can't be done by a physical system." You have assumed that, if humans think formally, then their 86 billion neurons think formally, unlike any other physical thing. His argument, simply, does not ride on that.

Begging the question is unsound. Ross's use of it is blatant. I'm confident of my position. It doesn't take an esoteric reading to see it. No amount of grandstand heckling will make a fallacy sound.

Sorry, Ross does not beg the question, and certainly doesn't do so blatantly. Everyone can see the hoops you have had to jump through to try to make the accusation stick. And it still rests on nonsense. There is a reason that, when you proudly proclaimed in Oerter's combox that Ross's argument begs the question, no one patted you on the back. Ross's argument is really quite far from begging the question: it is sound, the conclusion is contained in neither premise, and materialists are free to attempt to reject either premise. (That is always what has struck me as most perplexing about your fixation on (2). When I was a materialist I would be much more inclined to target (1).)

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