Friday, May 8, 2015

A linkfest


My review of Charles Bolyard and Rondo Keele, eds., Later Medieval Metaphysics: Ontology, Language, and Logic appears in the May 2015 issue of Metaphysica.

At Thomistica.net, Thomist theologian Steven Long defends capital punishment against “new natural lawyer” Chris Tollefsen.

In the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, physicist Carlo Rovelli defends Aristotle’s physics.

At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Christopher Martin reviews Brian Davies’ Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary.

John Searle’s new book Seeing Things as They Are is reviewed in The Weekly Standard.

At The Critique, Graham Oppy on academic atheist philosophers of the last 60 years.

The Institute of Thomistic Philosophy will hold its first Aquinas Summer School in August of 2016.  Details here.

What makes Pope Francis tick?  Ross Douthat investigates at The Atlantic.


James Franklin’s An AristotelianRealist Philosophy of Mathematics is reviewed in Philosophia Mathematica.  (Full text here.)   And there’s lots of content to be found at Franklin’s Academia.edu website as well as at his university website.

Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton is interviewed at The Spectator.

The New York Review of Books on F. A. Hayek on John Stuart Mill.

Philosopher Anthony McCarthy discusses gender ideology in a talk at the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow.

The Washington Post reports on the indomitable Ryan T. Anderson’s fight against “same-sex marriage.”  Predictably, the forces of reason and tolerance don’t want to reason with or tolerate him.

Philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin on why physics needs philosophy.

At The Stream, Catholic writer John Zmirak defends capital punishment.

At Vox, Alex Abad-Santos reports on how he attended the 29-hour Marvel movie marathon and emerged “a broken man.”

The European Conservative magazine has a website.

Some friends of this blog debate classical theism and theistic personalism.  On the theistic personalist side there’s Dale Tuggy (here and here), and on the classical theist side Bill Vallicella (here, here, and here) and Fr. Aidan Kimel (here, here, and here).

Bonus audio: Tuggy interviews Vallicalla in two parts, here and here.

And on video: Fr. Robert Barron on Aquinas and why the New Atheists are right.

79 comments:

John West said...

James Franklin’s An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics is reviewed in Philosophia Mathematica.

I think Franklin may be too quick to dismiss his realism's ability to handle negative numbers. It never comes up in response to Platonistic structuralists. No one has ever asked Resnik, “What does a negative pattern look like?” They're just numbers that belong to a certain type of pattern.

If mathematics is the science of patterns, then I don't see why it should be a problem to say, for example, –1 is some type of pattern involving the pattern for four and the pattern for three (or maybe a relation). Since most Aristotelian mathematical realists are structuralists (patternist offends ears), I think they can cash out negatives in terms of patterns. Much of what we know of Number is relational anyway.

*Someone may ask, “What does such a structure look like, specifically?” But this is just the old objection that there is no “structure theory” or “pattern theory”, and isn't a problem unique to Aristotelian mathematical realism. If neither Resnik's replies, nor model theory, nor category theory, nor set theory suffice, one can leave it as a problem for structuralism in general.
**There's also the idea that some types of stuff cancel out other types of stuff in theoretical physics, if people really need that, but I'll let the physicists beat each other up over that.

Daniel said...

Tuggy writes,

As a Christian, I hold that “God” is a god, and of course the god, the unique or “one true” god. By definition, a god is a being.

And this more than anything is where the problem lies. This is just gives ground to the blazing change of subject announced in most of Oppy's book titles. 'god' may very well be a kind, in fact I can see no clear contradiction in it and thus no reason for it not to be, but it tells us nothing about the Categorically different ontological Ultimate proponents of Classical Theism call 'God'. They can call 'God' a kind if they wish provided they understand that it is a kind with necessarily the one instance which, as per Constituent Ontological understandings of Divine Simplicity, is identical with the instance itself.

I think the formula 'God is Being itself' is perhaps too specific as it implies the Real Distinction, a point on which not all Classical Theists would agree. One might quite willingly admit 'God is a being' and 'Oppy is a being' provided it is understood that they belong to different ontological categories. Again we must be careful not to unconsciously import particular Thomist doctrines such as Analogy when talking of Classical Theism in general.

Daniel said...

Tuggy writes,

But I don’t grant that there are universal properties.

How is it professional atheist philosophers such as Tooley and Fales have been forced into accepting Realism, and Platonic Realism to boot, about Universals whilst some Theist philosophers weakly and persistently cry Nominalism? Then again I'm sure Dale has a good argument for that position.

Tuggy writes,

It seems better to me to just accept that there are brute similarities between concrete things

I rest my case.

John West said...

That should read, "... the science of patterns [and quantity], ..."^

John West said...

From the Philosophia Mathematica Review:

[Franklin] argues that cases that seem less like approximations, such as the negative and complex numbers, can still be understood in terms of modelling the world in terms of simple mathematical structures, where the use of these structures is dependent on their mathematical relation to real world structures.

Okay, apparently Franklin beat me to it in his book. I really need to pony up the cash for that book.

He's very dismissive in some of his papers on the Sydney School's website, basically writing -- well, if negative numbers are fictionalist, who cares? that's no problem for me.

Anonymous said...

Very nice links! Thanks, Dr. Feser.

Scott said...

Martin's review of Davies's book is quite good and certainly matches/reinforces my own initial impression of it, although I haven't yet had time to do more than leaf through it.

John West said...

I noticed Graham Oppy replying to comments under his article, and asked if he has interacted or plans to interact with classical theism. Shame it's a month old article.

Daniel said...

@John,

I suspect he would say (completely in good faith) that the term was is too vague, and that he's offered criticisms of varying theories grouped together under that heading e.g. Divine Simplicity, Existence as a First-Order Property et cetera, throughout his oeuvre.

Have you read his review and critique of Barry Miller's trilogy out of interest?

John West said...

Daniel,

Have you read his review and critique of Barry Miller's trilogy out of interest?

No. I didn't even know it existed. I'll see if the university libraries have the trilogy and it.

Since I'm already going, any other recommendations in relation to ontology?

John West said...

(Also, it would help if I could get the title of the trilogy.)

Greg said...

The trilogy is From Existence to God, A Most Unlikely God, and The Fullness of Being.

Has Oppy responded to anything other than Existence? I haven't read anything by Oppy on the subject, though Elmar Kremer, in his exposition of Miller's philosophy, discusses Oppy's "most important objection to Miller's claims."

Daniel said...

@John,

Sure, the trilogy consists of The Fullness of Being, From Existence to God and A Most Unlikely God. The latter to are ridiculously expensive nowadays. I'm working from a little introductory volume by Elmar Kremer Analysis of Existing: Bary Miller's Approach to God.

Oppy's review of Miller's From Existence to God, along with some other interesting articles, can be got for free on his Secular Web profile:

http://infidels.org/library/modern/graham_oppy/

(For the question of Classical Theism Oppy touches on one possible understanding of that term - ironically an understanding that amounts to pretty much pure Plantinga - in his rejoinder to Quentin Smith's Hartle-Hawking Cosmology article)

Daniel said...

@John,

Re general ontology stuff, I've been reading Moreland's work on Universals recently - his article ‘Exemplification and Constituent Realism: A Clarification and Modest Defense’, is interesting albeit underdeveloped. The question of how to combine unexemplified universals with constituent ontology is of particular interest to me though I'm probably not up enough on the background literature to fully grasp all the niceties. Actually it pertains to that question you asked me on Irish Thomist's blog about Ed's objection to Platonistic universals on page 226 of Scholastic Metaphysics - I remembered that the other day when I first came across the article.

You might also be interested in some of Barry Smith's essays. Smith is a Naturalist rather along the Armstrong lines; however he defends a more overtly Aristotelian view of Substance and Universals (although he claimed elsewhere that there exists at least some fully Abstract Objects). His work is primarily inspired by early Husserl and other Realist Phenomenologists; it contains a lot of technical discussions of mereological issues. Here's one essay I was looking at:

http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/articles/greensboro.html

(I’ve recently discovered that I have Academic Institute level access to Ejournal archives and thus have spent far more time that I ought this week downloading articles)

Sorry if that's not very helpful - it's quite late at night over here so these replies are a bit makeshift.

John West said...

Actually it pertains to that question you asked me on Irish Thomist's blog about Ed's objection to Platonistic universals on page 226 of Scholastic Metaphysics - I remembered that the other day when I first came across the article.

Yes, I was wondering why, if everything is a reflection of the Divine Nature on some types of Scholastic Realism, Scholastic Realism doesn't suffer from the same problem as the one Ed describes for Platonism, or something like that. That was a while ago.

Sorry if that's not very helpful - it's quite late at night over here so these replies are a bit makeshift.

No problem. I have plenty to read, and can't justify doing so as easily as philosophy majors.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to Carlo Rovelli's article. That is very useful.

John West said...

Greg,

The trilogy is From Existence to God, A Most Unlikely God, and The Fullness of Being.

Thanks for the titles. I'm assuming the question was to Daniel.

Daniel said...

@John,

The 'shadows' criticism really applies to the related issue of Relational verses Constituent Ontology, the way in which an entity 'has' a property (Moreland quotes Robert Garcia, whose book on late Scholastic theories of individuation has been mentioned recently, to the effect that some varieties of Extreme Nominalism are in fact Relational Ontologies too), as opposed to the question of uninstanted universals. A standard, over-simplified, take on Constituent Ontology is that it doesn't allow for uninstantited property universals, something which leads to what I see as an insurmountable problem. To quote Barry Smith:

I shall also assume, for present purposes (God might have other purposes), that no individual is such as to exist necessarily. From this it will follow that non-individuals, too, enjoy a contingent existence (they exist only for as long as, and to the extent that, there are individuals in which they are realized or exemplified). Truths about colors, triangles and numbers are thus contingent also (this is a bullet which all constituent ontologists must plainly bite, and without compunction). Red is, to be sure, a color, and this as a matter of necessity, but the necessity in question is a contingent necessity: it obtains only if there is something red.

Any theory which denies propositions like 'Red is a Colour' or 'Red resembles Orange more than Blue' express Necessary Truths which range across all Possible Worlds as opposed to just Possible Worlds where said properties are instantiated seems to me terminally unsatisfactory. The truthmakers for statements like the above cannot be contingent particulars; they either have to be Platonic universals or some other alternative (my preferred alternative is of course to challenge Smith's opening statement). Both Ed and Oderberg appear to accept this problem as an objection to pure Aristotelianism.

(Interestingly I've spent the morning reading that Franklin article you linked to, 'Semiplatonist Aristotelianism', where a very similar point is made - haven't finished it yet so I can't say anything about his 'Maximalist' solution)

Daniel said...

I've just finished that article - way to go Franklin! He spends most of the essay identifying the problem, a processes which is confused by his taking the core feature of Aristotelianism to be that universals are in their particulars in some fashion, and then when he at last faces up to giving an account of what non-existent properties are just hand-waves, and exclaims they are 'knowable possibilities with no existence of their own', an answer which amounts to a blanket denial of the problem as opposed to a solution. His two 'Anti-Fundamentalist' thought experiments are extra-ordinarily weak too.

(In the main I like Franklin's work - just think this particular essay is weak)

Scott said...

Daniel, do get around to Brand Blanshard at some point, especially Reason and Analysis. You'll like his approach to universals (and necessity).

John West said...

Daniel,

then when he at last faces up to giving an account of what non-existent properties are just hand-waves, and exclaims they are 'knowable possibilities with no existence of their own', an answer which amounts to a blanket denial of the problem as opposed to a solution. His two 'Anti-Fundamentalist' thought experiments are extra-ordinarily weak too.

Since I understand Franklin's semi-platonism isn't new to that paper, I need to read Franklin's book before commenting much further. But I agree that if he hasn't yet, Franklin needs to give some account of what it means to be an uninstantiated possible in space and time.

Since once one allows existent, uninstantiated possibles of one type, it's much harder to deny other types of them, I have two slippery slope concerns related to this issue. First, I'm reminded of Quine's attack on “Wyman”:

Wyman's slum of possibles is a breeding ground for disorderly elements. Take, for instance, the possible fat man in that doorway; and, again, the possible bald man in that doorway. Are they the same possible man, or two possible men? How do we decide? How many possible men are there in that doorway? Are there more possible thin ones than fat ones? How many of them are alike? Or would their being alike make them one? Are no two possible things alike? Is this the same as saying that it is impossible for two things to be alike? Or, finally, is the concept of identity simply inapplicable to unactualized possibles? But what sense can be found in talking of entities which cannot meaningfully be said to be identical with themselves and distinct from one another? These elements are well-nigh incorrigible. By a Fregean therapy of individual concepts, some effort might be made at rehabilitation; but I feel we‟d do better simply to clear Wyman‟s slum and be done with it.

One way Franklin might avoid this criticism is by insisting on strict identity of universals. But since he allows that determinables as well as determinates exist, I'm just going to have to wait until I read his book to see.

Second, if existent, uninstantiated possibles have as much being as Lewis's concrete possibilia would, then given a slippery slope we should treat them as just as ontologically bloating and gaudy as Lewis's possibilia. The possibles can't have more being than concrete things—that would make an ontology of such possibles more bloated than Lewis's. And surely, possibles aren't just concrete things with degrees of concreteness subtracted out of them—with their vim removed. Surely they have just as much being, if of its own kind, as anything else that is objectively real. So, since given a slippery slope these uninstantiated possibles would cover most of the same possibilities as Lewis's possibilia, an ontology of existent uninstantiated possibles ought to be considered just as bloated as Lewis's pluriverse (and unlike Lewis's possibilia, Franklin's possibles require positing a new kind as well as more things of the same kinds). In brief, since existent possibles might lead to identity-related issues and ontological bloat, I hope Franklin (or someone else) has provided some more detailed account of what it means for uninstantiated possibles to exist in space and time.

John West said...

His two 'Anti-Fundamentalist' thought experiments are extra-ordinarily weak too.

I was also unimpressed by his thought experiments. For example, that Euthyphro dilemma he aims at Divine Exemplarism: “[D]oes God have the idea that orange lies between red and yellow because orange really does lie between red and yellow, or does orange lie between red and yellow because God has the idea that it should?” (Uninstantiated Properties and ...). The Exemplarist can just respond that necessary truths are true in virtue of their being ultimately grounded in the Divine Nature. But that's just a standard reply to Euthyphro dilemmas. So, yeah, that part wasn't too impressive.

All that said though, speaking entirely as someone that has been doing higher mathematics since fifteen (competition curiculum), I really like Franklin's semi-platonism. It brings to mind the view Frege's platonism inspired and made mathematicians more enthusiastic about their work.

(In the main I like Franklin's work - just think this particular essay is weak)

I liked that paper!

John West said...

... To be clearer, I should probably have written "real", uninstantiated possibles, instead of existent.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Thanks for reminder! I was planing to check out Reason and Analysis later this year as part of a 50s/60s philosophy overview (well post-positivist pre-Kripkean Analytical thought really).

@John,

I think Franklin's account of our acquaintance of mathematicals beginning with actual properties e.g. symmetry instantiated in the world is solid. He's right not to restrict statements of necessity to actually instantiated properties too.

The discussion of Determinables and Determinates was one of the most interesting parts of that paper for me – I also liked his critique of Armstrong’s ‘Combinatorial’ theory of possibility.

Re Possibles, I'm really not adverse to new categories and objects but cannot for the life of me understand what merely possible entities 'which are real and constrain substances' could be. Franklin seems to do what he overtly condemns in the paragraph before and postulate 'a shadow half-being, somewhere between full being and mere possibility'. I'm strongly inclined to agree with Plantinga that the notion of such 'existent possibles' is incoherent. The only other way I can construe Franklin's solution is as an appeal to Possible worlds akin to the Trope Nominalist strategy of taking a ‘universal’ as the set of all tropes of a certain kind across all possible worlds, only with instantiated Aristotelian universals instead of tropes. Not only does this sound highly ad hoc but how can one appeal to a contingent entity existing in some worlds to ground/serve as a truth-maker for a necessary truth in all of them? (Even then he stills owes as an account of Possible Worlds). About the thought experiments:

1. I concur with you on that

2. If the second thought experiment requires there to be two universes with no common casual nature or linage then I would simply deny that even being possible due to PSR Necessary Being constraints. Without even going into that area if one takes casual powers to be the mark of the concrete real, and thus instantiated properties, then there is no reason one need limit this criterion to casual power and effect in our universe: to demand that we do sounds mega-question-begging. Even if I were 'Powers' Trope Nominalist like C.B. Martin I wouldn't accept it without prior argument.

John West said...

Daniel,

Re Possibles:

Though, ignoring the word possible a moment, now I wonder if there is an inconsistency in saying (even though one doesn't adopt Platonism) one is in principle fine with uninstantiated universals that exist outside time and space (ie. Platonism), but somehow not fine with uninstantiated universals if they exist in time and space. Why does the latter seem so much harder to figure out?

Scott said...

Why does the latter seem so much harder to figure out?

Probably because being in time and space at least seems to involve having location and duration, and that makes the candidate look like an instantiation of the universal rather than the universal itself.

Bobcat said...

Hi Ed,

I know it's four years old, and completely irrelevant to this link fest post, but did you ever read or respond to Richard Yetter Chappell's blog post about gay marriage?

http://www.philosophyetc.net/2011/05/whats-wrong-with-what-is-marriage.html

John West said...

I've been wondering, what is the usual Thomist view of space (if there is one)?

I find relationalism intuitive, but understand we need space to expand faster than light for some standard cosmology theories to work.

John West said...

... faster than [the speed of] light

Timocrates said...

I think marriage defenders need to stress that only marriage unites the human race as such, in its fullness. Humanity is male and female. The union of the two is a unique and positive reality that nothing else truly and really provides.

Marriage defenders need to be careful not to fall into traps. We are not denying people their human right to marry: the fact is that gays and lesbians have chosen not to marry. They do not want to marry. They desire, instead, exclusively homosexual relationships.

We do not, in fact, deny anyone their right to marry. Not every relationship or union counts as marriage.

It is absurd to suggest that marriage and a homosexual union are in any way really equivalent to each other. Marriage unites (or reunites) the human family as such in its fullness: male and female, man and woman. Homosexual unions by their nature do not and cannot do this or achieve that reality.

Greg said...

@ Bobcat

That's a response to Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George's article (subsequently expanded into book form). They are new natural lawyers, although the argument in that book at least is made at a more political level, so I don't think it per se rides on new natural law theory.

Girgis, Anderson, and George's argument is basically retorsive. They provide a definition of marriage that renders coherent the fact that, even before the modern categories of sexual identity were created, marriage was regarded as something that is essentially procreative in type; though a marriage did not have to be fertile, it has to be consummated. Their claim is that definitions of marriage that drop (more or less) just that requirement aren't coherent, because there is no principled reason to exclude larger groups or, for that matter, non-romantic couples. Yetter-Chappell seems almost to be aware that this is the argument they've made, but what he misses is that, as he has shifted the goal posts by redefining 'comprehensive', he has removed any reason why the government should be involved in regulating 'comprehensive' unions at all. Take the definition he cites: "Marriage is a complete, all-encompassing, nurturing relationship. It’s about care for the whole person, so much so that no one else in all the world is quite as important." If that's what marriage is, then there simply is no reason for governments to regulate it, anymore than governments have reason to regulate other forms of romantic (or, again, non-romantic) groups. (He does say, "A transitory relationship is clearly not a comprehensive intertwining of one's lives." But on his view of marriage it's not clear why this is true. One could care more for one's partner than anyone else in the world even in a transitory relationship.)

I don't think the response is that serious. I would just recommend reading the book.

Fred said...

I'll say this much for P.Z. Meyers, he's right about Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher is an asshole. Other than that, Meyers sounds pretty unhinged. More a lunatic than a buffoon.

John West said...

Daniel,

I didn't realize Buffalo has a whole ontology site. There is a lot of stuff on the website the Barry Smith article is from.

E.H. Munro said...

Just a note on Irish atheists and their pronouncement of anathema upon P.Z. Meyers, the full story deserves airing. They are banning him for his role in exposing the renowned date rapist, Michael Shermer.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Fred,

I believe Myers has very much become a social justice warrior. Those sort of people always look unhinged, a self-parody, as if they were a Peter Simple character come to life.

John West said...

Does A-T hold that Principles, such as the CP, are necessary truths?

John West said...

Does A-T hold that [all] Principles, such as the CP, are necessary truths?

The Causal Principle (CP) was a bad example because its necessity is built right into St. Thomas's formulation of it[1].

Partly, I asked because I'm told that Thomists would like to analyze modality itself in terms of the act/potency distinction, but I'm not sure this works. Consider an ice cube on some planet no living entity will ever go near. The ice cube has the potentiality to be melted, but it's declared by divine fiat that the ice cube will never be melted – space is dead, and cold, so the ice cube will never be in circumstances where it would melt. So, it's impossible, for the ice cube to be melted even though it has the potentiality to be melted. But I think this implies that possibility and potentiality are distinct, and that possibly therefore cannot be completely analyzed in terms of potentiality.

The obvious response is that God could have created the world such that a solar flare melts the ice cube, or something. But that just tacitly admits possible worlds (PW). It says God could have actualized (used in the PW sense of actualized for the rest of this paragraph) a different possible world, and what God can actualize is presumably grounded in His Creative Intellect, or His Nature, or something.

I also think the CP itself having a modality implies that modality precedes the CP.[2]

[1] “Nothing can be reduced from potency to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality.” (Summa Theologiae 1.2.3).
[2] But if the ground of modality is God, what resources does one use to talk about modality when writing a proof for the existence of God (to avoid tacitly assuming that which one is trying to prove in the proof)?

young and rested said...

Can anyone recommend a good introductory philosophy book for me? I've been enjoying reading this and other philosophical blogs, but I really feel like I have a lot of catching up to do if I'm going to be able to really catch all the nuances of the posts and discussions. I'm looking for something that will help me understand some of the basic terminology as well as the broad groups into which various ideas fall.

Thanks in advance.

Scott said...

@John West:

I think this implies that possibility and potentiality are distinct[.]

Well, I think it implies that there's more than one kind of "possibility," but I think Thomism acknowledges that anyway.

In your ice cube example, Aquinas would recognize at the very least the following two senses: (i) it's not contradictory or repugnant to reason to suppose that the ice cube melts; (ii) the ice cube genuinely has a potency to melt, whether or not it's ever actualized.

Today we'd probably describe these two senses in terms, respectively, of logical necessity and natural necessity and say that the not-melting of the ice lacks such necessity.

John West said...

young and rested,

Can anyone recommend a good introductory philosophy book for me? I've been enjoying reading this and other philosophical blogs, but I really feel like I have a lot of catching up to do if I'm going to be able to really catch all the nuances of the posts and discussions. I'm looking for something that will help me understand some of the basic terminology as well as the broad groups into which various ideas fall.

I know this is going to look like I'm just taking a party line, but Ed's Aquinas and Scholastic Metaphysics really are good for this.

Since Ed only grazes modality and the problem of universals in those books (leaving them for a later volume), I also recommend Michael Loux's Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction to round it all out.

Scott said...

@young and rested:

I second all of John West's recommendations and add Brian Davies's Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion to round it out just a bit more. (You'll encounter about as much natural theology as metaphysics around here.)

John West said...

Scott,

Well, I think it implies that there's more than one kind of "possibility,"

Right. There's at least a distinction between logical possibility and physical possibility. Maybe metaphysical possibility too; though, since I've seen metaphysical possibility used different ways I would need a crisp definition of it. For now, I'll deal in the first two.

but I think Thomism acknowledges that anyway.

... But now I'm wondering if it's false “that Thomists would like to analyze modality itself in terms of the act/potency distinction” (from my post).

In your ice cube example, Aquinas would recognize at the very least the following two senses: (i) it's not contradictory or repugnant to reason to suppose that the ice cube melts; (ii) the ice cube genuinely has a potency to melt, whether or not it's ever actualized.

I agree about (ii).

For (i), I agree insofar as it's not narrowly impossible for the ice cube to melt. There is no direct, logical contradiction in the sense of (for example) an object being both a square and not-square in the same respect, and at the same time. But more broadly, what does it mean to say that it's been declared by divine fiat the ice cube will never be in a circumstance to melt and so never melt, but that it's logically possible for the ice cube to melt?

Bobcat said...

Thanks, guys!

young and rested said...

@John West
@Scott

Thanks a lot. I actually have Professor Feser's book on Aquinas sitting around somewhere. I'll have to dust it off. I'll take a look at the others too.

I'm excited to get started with educating myself about these things. I've spent most of my life in a fundamentalist bubble where they literally denounced anything that called itself "philosophy" as being a mere byproduct of man's sinful fallen intellect. It's nice to know that there's a much larger and richer world of thought out there just waiting to be explored. One where you are encouraged to ask honest questions and disagreements can be opportunities to grow instead of battles to be won.

I'll stop there before I rant too much.

Thanks again for helping me get started.

John West said...

young and rested,

I'm excited to get started with educating myself about these things. I've spent most of my life in a fundamentalist bubble where they literally denounced anything that called itself "philosophy" as being a mere byproduct of man's sinful fallen intellect.

If I didn't know better, I would say fundamentalists are part of an atheist plot to make theists look bad. You'll be happy to know that the vast majority of Christians throughout history have disagreed with them.

Scott said...

@John West:

[M]ore broadly, what does it mean to say that it's been declared by divine fiat the ice cube will never be in a circumstance to melt and so never melt, but that it's logically possible for the ice cube to melt?

Among other things but perhaps most significantly, it means that there's a sense in which God didn't have to declare that the ice cube would never melt but could have declared the opposite. (In this sense a melting ice cube isn't like a square circle.)

John West said...

Scott,

Thanks for the replies.

Among other things but perhaps most significantly, it means that there's a sense in which God didn't have to declare that the ice cube would never melt but could have declared the opposite. (In this sense a melting ice cube isn't like a square circle.)

The old scholastics would have said the ice cube not melting is necessary-by-supposition, but not absolutely necessary because God could have ordered reality otherwise.

The answer, however, seems the same as what I mentioned earlier:

The obvious response is that God could have created the world such that a solar flare melts the ice cube, or something. But that just tacitly admits possible worlds (PW). It says God could have actualized (used in the PW sense of actualized for the rest of this paragraph) a different possible world [but didn't], and what God can actualize is presumably grounded in His Creative Intellect, or His Nature, or something

So my next question is how is this answer different from tacitly admitting possible worlds?

I can definitely see how to handle the situations like the lonely ice cube by admitting PWs in the form of say, Pruss or Leftow's modal systems, but I think Ed is against PWs.

Scott said...

@John West:

But now I'm wondering if it's false “that Thomists would like to analyze modality itself in terms of the act/potency distinction” (from my post).

If that means what it appears to mean, then I'd say it's false. Aquinas would surely have agreed, for example, that it's logically impossible for any substance to have a potency to produce round squares—but in that case, he can't be reducing all necessity and possibility to act and potency. And the language about things being repugnant to reason and so forth is his, although I'm not sure the term "logically possible" (or its equivalent in ecclesiastical Latin) came into vogue much before Scotus.

However, what it sounds like offhand is a garbled version of the Thomist view that act and potency provide a better foundation for various sorts of analysis than does possible-worlds modalism. (And perhaps most fundamentally, in order to know what could happen or exist in a "possible world," we already have to know what's metaphysically possible in our world.) If that's what it means, then it's true.

Scott said...

But that just tacitly admits possible worlds (PW).

But not in the modern sense in which modality is analyzed in terms of possible worlds rather than vice versa. (See my parenthetical comment in the post just above.) The claim that a "world" is "possible" just in case there's no contradiction involved in God's actually creating it is pretty benign.

John West said...

Scott,

But not in the modern sense in which modality is analyzed in terms of possible worlds rather than vice versa. (See my parenthetical comment in the post just above.) The claim that a "world" is "possible" just in case there's no contradiction involved in God's actually creating it is pretty benign.

So the conflict isn't with possible worlds semantics. It's with the view that we should analyze essences solely in virtue of possible worlds.

Daniel said...

Surely Possible World 'talk' arise out of the need to deal with modal concepts in the semantics of Extensionalist Logic? So the Thomist doesn't object to the usage of such semantics; their just keen to avoid misleading ontological accounts of what Possible Worlds actually are.

Btw this i.e. the possibility of reducing Necessity and Possibility into Act and Potency was the reason for my past disagreement with Scott over whether it made sense to talk of essences standing in potency for existence.

(Proper post should follow - am busy trying to find a new flat atm)

John West said...

That should have read: "... solely [in the light of] possible worlds."

The old scholastics would have said the ice cube not melting is necessary-by-supposition, but not absolutely necessary because God could have ordered reality otherwise.

Though incidentally, having written this statement (and read this article), I'm also not totally clear on what it means to draw the distinction between necessary-by-supposition and absolute necessity for God. If God exists, then it's impossible that God could have different thoughts or plans (ie. There was never a point at which God existed and was not radically immutable). It is impossible for God to not exist. Therefore, it's impossible for God to have had different thoughts or plans.

People can change, and so change their minds before making a decision. But I'm not sure what it means to talk about a lack of absolute necessity in relation to God. It doesn't seem even in principle possible that God could have done differently than what He planned to do.

By construing divine freedom in Davies's terms, the problem of divine simplicity and divine simplicity is avoided, but I wonder if it still results in a necessetarianism about God's acts.

John West said...

"... divine simplicity and divine [freedom] ..." Heh.

Scott said...

@John West:

So the conflict isn't with possible worlds semantics. It's with the view that we should analyze essences solely in virtue of possible worlds.

That's my own problem with it, and I gather it's at least the meat of Ed's even if he has other objections as well. We know, for example, that there are no possible worlds in which there are round squares, not because we've examined all the possible worlds and not found any round squares in any of them, but because we already know the essence of a square precludes it from being round.

Less obviously, but just as surely, we know that there are no possible worlds in which the substance we identify as H₂O is gaseous at standard temperature and pressure, not because we've checked all the possible worlds, but because we know that any substance that was gaseous under those conditions couldn't have the same nature/essence as our water.

Scott said...

@John West:

By construing divine freedom in Davies's terms, the problem of divine simplicity and divine simplicity is avoided, but I wonder if it still results in a [necessitarianism] about God's acts.

As far as I know, all Aquinas means when he says God creates freely is that He's not creating under any internal or external compulsion. It doesn't seem to me to follow from this that God creates out of necessity; moreover, all that seems to me to follow when we combine it with divine simplicity and immutability is that God never changed from not-willing-the-creation-of-this-world to willing-the-creation-of-this-world.

It is true, in a sense, that it's not possible "now" for God to "have chosen" otherwise, but that's not a logically or ontologically prior constraint; it's a logical or ontological consequence of God's "having chosen" as He did/does. (The scare quotes indicate the difficulty of talking about eternity in ordinary language.) And that's necessity by supposition (or "after" the fact), as opposed to the absolute necessity that prevents the existence of round squares. At least I hope that's a good illustration of the difference.

John West said...

Scott,

moreover, all that seems to me to follow when we combine it with divine simplicity and immutability is that God never changed from not-willing-the-creation-of-this-world to willing-the-creation-of-this-world.

Right. God would have simply always planned to create the world, and then did.

It is true, in a sense, that it's not possible "now" for God to "have chosen" otherwise, but that's not a logically or ontologically prior constraint; it's a logical or ontological consequence of God's "having chosen" as He did/does. (The scare quotes indicate the difficulty of talking about eternity in ordinary language.) And that's necessity by supposition (or "after" the fact)

My concern, though, is that God has simply always planned, and never chosen. Even given eternity, at what point could an immutable God “have chosen” (in any sense)? He just always planned, and always existed. So, then, all God's acts are necessary-by-supposition.*

as opposed to the absolute necessity that prevents the existence of round squares. At least I hope that's a good illustration of the difference.

Okay. So all it means to say something isn't absolutely necessary is that it doesn't run contrary to the Divine Nature (like round-rectangles). That does help add detail to the absolute necessity part of the distinction.


*If looking to chop down syllables, Bob Hale has something similar (maybe even the same) called relative necessary. Relative to my having written this post, it's necessary that this post was written.

John West said...

relative necessity^

John West said...

That last part is somewhat garbled:

... isn't absolutely impossible is that it doesn't run contrary to the Divine Nature

Sorry.

Scott said...

@John West:

So, then, all God's acts are necessary-by-supposition.

Yes, that matches my own understanding, and as far as I can tell, our understanding is tracking Aquinas's.

So all it means to say something isn't absolutely [impossible] is that it doesn't run contrary to the Divine Nature (like round-rectangles).

Or to the nature/essence of the entity/substance at issue, as roundness does to the nature or essence of a square. But yes, that's my understanding, and (as the passage to which I've already linked indicates) we seem to be successfully following Aquinas's.

(I'm sure I've seen "absolute necessity" used in at least one other sense, but this is the one that's relevant here.)

Scott said...

@John West:

My concern, though, is that God has simply always planned, and never chosen.

Well, I don't think we lose anything by substituting "willed" for "chosen." We just have to note (with Aquinas) that God wills His own good of absolute necessity, but His willing of anything apart from Himself is not absolutely necessary but necessary by supposition. The latter is what I meant in the last paragraph of my post of 2:38 PM.

John West said...

Yes, that matches my own understanding, and as far as I can tell, our understanding is tracking Aquinas's.

Oh, okay. That clears that up. Thanks.

I do have a sort of side question about something you wrote earlier (with which I agree). I don't consider it a problem or anything, just a question that comes out of reading David Lewis a lot at one point:

That's my own problem with it, and I gather it's at least the meat of Ed's even if he has other objections as well. We know, for example, that there are no possible worlds in which there are round squares, not because we've examined all the possible worlds and not found any round squares in any of them, but because we already know the essence of a square precludes it from being round.

Lewis analyzes possibility in terms of his recombination principle[1]. Based on this principle, Lewis claims that among all possible things some are parts of this world, some are duplicates of parts of this world, and some are divisible into parts of this world. Lewis also introduces the notion of alien things, that aren't divisible completely into parts in or that have duplicates in this world. They might include, say, one more element on the periodic table in the parts composing that world.[2]

Lewis goes overboard at places. But I think we do have intuitions about the possibility of some of these alien things existing. So my question is, does the Thomist view of modality have any means of accounting for intuitions about stuff like Lewis's alien things, or does it just (give the perfectly respectable) reply that "Enough's enough.”?

[1] The recombination principle states: “Size and shape permitting, for any number of objects a1, a2, ... there is a world containing any number of duplicates of each of those objects in any spatial or temporal arrangement.
[2] Say this-worlders can talk about these alien worlds because there is sufficient similarity between our world and the alien world that we can figure out what it's in the other world, by intellection or analogy, or something like that.

John West said...

Though I guess this gets into Daniel's contention about:

Btw this i.e. the possibility of reducing Necessity and Possibility into Act and Potency was the reason for my past disagreement with Scott over whether it made sense to talk of essences standing in potency for existence.

And whether there could be unactualized essences, waiting to be actualized, to which we may or may not be epistemically closed.

Scott said...

@John West:

So my question is, does the Thomist view of modality have any means of accounting for intuitions about stuff like Lewis's alien things[?]

I think in general it would say that our insights into such things are grounded in ideas in the Divine Intellect. The difficulty comes if/when we try to identify the Divine ideas with exemplar causes, since by definition we're talking here about things that (according to everybody but Lewis) don't exist as far as we know.

And at that point we reach the limit of my own current views, as I've started but not yet finished this book and I suspect I'll end up changing my mind on some points.

Though I guess this gets into Daniel's contention…

Perhaps, but I've never (at least intentionally) claimed that necessity and possibility reduce to act and potency and I don't think such a reduction follows from the proposition that essences are in potency to existence. (And by the way, here's a good recent book on that subject.)

John West said...

Fair enough. The Doolan book does a good job of explaining Thomas's views of divine exemplars. I'd need to go through a couple more times to absorb everything, but I found it helpful figuring out Divine Exemplarism for philosophy of mathematics concerns.

I've seen Gaven Kerr's book mentioned a couple times. I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

John West said...

My guess is much of it would fall under what Doolan calls "pure possibles" residing in the speculative intellect.

But to be honest, I'm not familiar enough with Thomas to easily follow some of Doolan's text analysis.

Vasco Gama said...

In the sequence of the recent Noam Chomsky/Sam Harris debate, the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci disassociates from the SAM (skeptic and atheist movements) as a result of the anti-intelectual radicalism of the new atheists.

Link (from the blog “Scientia Salon”):

https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/reflections-on-the-skeptic-and-atheist-movements/

Scott said...

That's a URL. This is a link. ;-)

John West said...

Daniel,

On possibles. Peter Forrest tries to develop a modal system out of it in Ways the world could be though he skirts the issue of their ontological status, and John Bigelow in Science and Necessity (Bigelow may also talk about it in his philosophy of math book; I can't justify buying either). So there is some work out there on these real possibles.

Vasco Gama said...

Thanks Scott

Scott said...

You're welcome. For the future reference of anyone who doesn't know how to make a live link in HTML, here's how you do it:

<a href="yourURLhere">The text between the tags will be the live link</a>.

young and rested said...

Just trying out the link thing.

fundy fun

young and rested said...

It worked! took me a couple of tries, maybe I need to take a computer class.

Glenn said...

young and restless,

It worked! took me a couple of tries, maybe I need to take a computer class.

Congratulations. A friend of mine used to say, "The first time it's hard. The second time it's easy. The third time it's a habit." I take this to mean a little practice can go a long way.

Here's how I (usually) do it:

1. Identify the text to serve as a live link:

fundy fun

2. Affix the opening tag without the URL:

<a href="">fundy fun

3. Now tack on the closing tag:

<a href="">fundy fun</a>

4. Identify the URL:

http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/dispen/literal.htm

5. Now insert the URL between the double quotation marks:

<a href="http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/dispen/literal.htm
">fundy fun</a>

6. Test the link to see if it was truly done:

fundy fun

- - - - -

Adding the URL(s) is usually the last thing I do. This helps to keep things neat before they get (further) cluttered up, particularly when one or more lengthy URLs are involved (as likely would be the case, e.g., when linking to something at google books).

Once you get the hang of it, the individual steps can be done in whatever order works best for you.

Glenn said...

(Hm. It would seem that, for some people, correctly setting up a link is easier than correctly spelling a person's name. Oh well, that was the first time. And as a friend of mine used to say... )

Daniel said...

A bit of interesting news (may have already been posted):

It turns out John Peterson of Scholastic Realism fame also has a new book out from Editiones Scholasticae:

Mind, Truth & Teleology: An Introduction to Scholastic Philosophy

Mr. Green said...

John West: I've been wondering, what is the usual Thomist view of space (if there is one)?
I find relationalism intuitive, but understand we need space to expand faster than light for some standard cosmology theories to work.


I think it's traditionally Aristotelian to consider space a relation; but the question is what do we mean by "space"? Mathematical space doesn't "expand" or "warp", so if the Spatiotemporal Continuum is a thing that changes, then it is... a thing, metaphysically speaking, and not "space" at all — that is, "physical space" would be a creature that itself exists in relational space.

Of course, that's assuming that Physical Space actually is a sort of aetherial fabric that "stretches", "waves", possibly spits out virtual particles, etc. I don't see any problem with that per se, but I also am not sure that it is required — it may be possible to interpret the physics as merely a model of how things behave ("as though they were embedded in a curved space-time"), without requiring the existence of an actual, curving space-time thingy.

John West said...

Mr. Green,

but I also am not sure that it is required — it may be possible to interpret the physics as merely a model of how things behave ("as though they were embedded in a curved space-time"), without requiring the existence of an actual, curving space-time thingy.

I suggested this at first too, but my interlocutor at the time (by degree, an astrophysicist) told me this doesn't work because in the early cosmos, we need things to move faster than the speed of light, and such things as we need to move faster than the speed of light in the early cosmos, can't.

But if say space expands, we're not breaking any rules and everything works out. So we expand space.

Mr. Green said...

John West: But if say space expands, we're not breaking any rules and everything works out. So we expand space.

Ah, but one can always cheat! If you can't bend space, bend the rules — let the laws change, and then under circumstances such as obtained in the early universe, things can move faster than light, etc. Of course, this is really just piling epicycles upon epicycles, but as long as the numbers work out, physics doesn't care. Physicists care, because they want an elegant interpretation; and I do agree that elegance is an important factor in finding truth, but at the end of the day, a convoluted theory that is possible trumps an elegant theory that isn't.

But again, all that is assuming that there was some actual reason against the idea of a changing space-time, and I don't see that there is one. Things can have non-Euclidean relationships, and/or space-time can be a physical thing, so I'm inclined to think that the elegant astrophysicists are on the right track.

John West said...

Ah, but one can always cheat! If you can't bend space, bend the rules — let the laws change, and then under circumstances such as obtained in the early universe, things can move faster than light, etc. Of course, this is really just piling epicycles upon epicycles, but as long as the numbers work out, physics doesn't care. Physicists care, because they want an elegant interpretation; and I do agree that elegance is an important factor in finding truth, but at the end of the day, a convoluted theory that is possible trumps an elegant theory that isn't.

Well, also, they want to uphold the second law of thermodynamics, and my understanding is that the part about things not traveling faster than the speed of light in the early universe follows from it.

Oh, by the way, I liked your relationalist reply about space-time as a thing in relational space. I just didn't have anything interesting to say in reply to it.