Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lewis on transposition


C. S. Lewis’s essay “Transposition” is available in his collection The Weight of Glory, and also online here.  It is, both philosophically and theologically, very deep, illuminating the relationship between the material and the immaterial, and between the natural and the supernatural.  (Note that these are different distinctions, certainly from a Thomistic point of view.  For there are phenomena that are immaterial but still natural.  For example, the human intellect is immaterial, but still perfectly “natural” insofar as it is in our nature to have intellects.  What is “supernatural” is what goes beyond a thing’s nature, and it is not beyond a thing’s nature to be immaterial if immateriality just is part of its nature.)
 
By “transposition,” Lewis has in mind the way in which a system which is richer or has more elements can be represented in a system that is poorer insofar as it has fewer elements.  The notion is best conveyed by means of his examples.  Consider, for instance, the way that the world of three dimensional colored objects can be represented in a two dimensional black and white line drawing; or the way that a piece of music scored for an orchestra might be adapted for piano; or the way something said in a language with many words at its disposal might be translated into a language containing far fewer words, if the relevant latter words have several senses.

As these examples indicate, in a transposition, the elements of the poorer system have to be susceptible of multiple interpretations if they are to capture what is contained in the richer system.  In a pen and ink drawing, black will have to represent not only objects that really are black, but also shadows and contours; white will have to represent not only objects that really are white, but also areas that are in bright light; a triangular shape will represent not only two dimensional objects, but also three dimensional objects like a road receding into the distance; and so on.  In an orchestral piece adapted for piano, the same notes will have to stand for those that would have been played on a flute and those that would have been played on a violin.  In a translation into a less rich language, words that have one meaning in one context will have to bear a different meaning in another context.  In general, the relationship between the elements of a richer system and the elements of the poorer system into which it is transposed is not one-to-one, but many-to-one.

You cannot properly understand a transposition unless you understand something of both sides of it, as Lewis illustrates with a vivid example.  He asks us to consider a child born to a woman locked in a dungeon, who tries to teach the child about the outside world via black and white line drawings.  Through this medium “she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like” (p. 110).  For a time it seems that she is succeeding, but eventually something the child says indicates that he supposes that what exists outside the dungeon is a world filled with lines and other pencil marks.  The mother informs the child that this is not the case:

And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank.  For the lines, by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it.  He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of which the lines were merely a transposition… (Ibid.)

(Though Lewis does not note it, the parallel with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is obvious.)

Now, transpositions in Lewis’s sense do not exist merely where we are trying to represent something (in words, drawings, music, or whatever).  Lewis points out that a similar relationship holds between emotions and bodily sensations.  The very same sensation -- a twinge of excitement felt in the abdomen around the diaphragm, say -- may in one context be associated with romantic passion and be taken to be pleasant, and in another context be associated with a feeling of distress and be taken to be unpleasant.  Very different emotions can be transposed, as it were, onto one and the same bodily sensation in something like the way very different meanings might be associated with the same word.  And as with the other sorts of transposition, you will not understand what is going on if you look to the lower medium alone.  In this case, you will not know what emotion is being felt, or even what an emotion is, if you look to the bodily sensation alone.

As Lewis points out, the notion of transposition is useful for understanding the relationship between mind and matter and the crudity of the errors made by materialists.  Lewis, like Aristotelians and Thomists, is happy to acknowledge that “thought is intimately connected with the brain,” but, also like them, he insists that the conclusion “that thought therefore is merely a movement in the brain is… nonsense” (p. 103, emphasis added).  As I have argued many times (at greatest length and most systematically here), there is no way in principle that the conceptual content of our thoughts can be accounted for in materialist terms, because concepts have an exact or determinate content that no material representation or system of representations can have, and a universal reference that no material representation or system of representations can have.  The relationship between thought and brain activity is accordingly somewhat analogous to the relationship between the meaning of a written sentence and the physical properties of the ink marks that make up that sentence.  If the ink marks are damaged or destroyed, it will be difficult or impossible for the sentence to convey its meaning.  But of course it doesn’t follow that the meaning of the sentence is reducible to or knowable from the physical properties of the ink marks alone.  Similarly, if the brain is damaged, then thought is impaired, but it doesn’t follow that thought is reducible to brain activity.  (I do not say that the analogy is perfect, only that it is suggestive.)

Now, suppose someone noted that sentences are always embodied in some physical medium or other -- ink marks, pixels, sound waves, etc. -- and concluded that the meaning of a sentence must therefore be reducible to or deducible from the physical and chemical properties of ink marks, pixels, sound waves, etc. alone.  He would be conflating the two sides of a transposition, and in particular trying to reduce the richer system (the system of meanings) to the poorer system (the system of physical marks or noises).  He would be like the child in the dungeon who thinks that the outside world must be “nothing but” what can be captured in black and white line drawings, or like someone who thinks that the richness of an emotional state can be reduced to a mere bodily sensation, or like someone who thinks that the most complex orchestral piece must really be “nothing but” whatever noises can be made on a piano.

Now, anyone who seriously thinks that thought can be reduced to brain activity, or who suggests (as an eliminative materialist, as opposed to a reductive materialist, would) that the notion of thought can be eliminated entirely and replaced by the notion of brain activity, is like that.  Actually, he is much worse than that.  He is not like the child in the dungeon who has never seen the outside world and thus makes an innocent, though egregious, error in supposing that it must be reducible to what can be captured in a line drawing.  The materialist is more like the woman, if we imagine that for some bizarre reason she somehow talks herself into believing that the outside world contains nothing more than what is in a black and white pencil drawing -- even though she has actually seen the outside world and thus knows better.  The materialist knows full well that thought is real, and that the conceptual content of thought is as different from the physical properties of brain activity -- electrochemical properties, causal relations, etc. -- as apples are from oranges.  It is only an ideological fixation on one side of the transposition involved here that leads him to insist otherwise.  Suppose the reason the woman fell into a delusion like the one in question is because she had spent so long a time in the dungeon that she came to love it, and could barely remember the outside world.  The materialist has so fixated upon and fallen in love with the less rich side of the transposition (brain activity) that, at least in his philosophical moments, he can barely keep in mind what the richer side (thought) is really like.

This error of conflating the two sides of a transposition is rife within reductionist philosophical theorizing.  Think, for example, of Hume’s claim that concepts are “nothing but” impressions or mental images, or Berkeley’s claim that physical objects are “nothing but” collections of the perceptions we have of them, or subjectivist theories of value that claim that judgments about what is good or bad are “nothing but” expressions of various sentiments.  Whenever we consciously entertain some concept, we tend to form a mental image of some sort.  For example, when we entertain the concept triangularity, we form a mental image of a triangle or of the written or spoken word “triangle.”  But it doesn’t follow that the concept is to be identified with such mental images, and indeed (and contra Hume) it cannot be.  The concept, being completely abstract and universal, is richer than any mental image or set of mental images, which are always concrete and particular.  What the mind does when it makes use of mental imagery as an aid to thought is to transpose, in Lewis’s sense, the richer conceptual order into the poorer order of mental imagery.  Similarly, in perception, the mind transposes the richness of physical substances (the full nature of which can be grasped only by the intellect and not by sensation or imagination) into the poorer medium of sense images.  Berkeley’s idealism in effect collapses that richer order into the poorer one.  And in conscious acts of moral judgment, our grasp of something as good is associated with a feeling of approval, while our judgment that something is bad is associated with a feeling of disapproval.  The mind transposes the former, cognitive order into the latter, and very different, affective order.  The subjectivist theorist of value makes the mistake of collapsing the former into the latter.

As Lewis notes, however, it isn’t just materialists and other reductionists who are guilty of confusion where transpositions are concerned.  Religious believers are prone to it as well to the extent that they collapse the supernatural into the natural.  For example, Lewis notes the danger of confusing one’s emotional state with one’s spiritual state.  Obviously there is a rough and ready correlation here.  Being close to God and morally upright is often associated with a feeling of well-being.  But feelings are fickle things and subject to distortion.  A scrupulous person takes his feelings of guilt to be a sign that he has sinned, when in fact he has not.  A lax person takes the absence of any feelings of guilt as evidence that he has not sinned, when in fact he has.  Highly emotional styles of worship seem to some to be evidence of genuine devotion, whereas more sedate forms of worship might seem spiritually arid.  But the former sort of devotion can also be superficial and fleeting, and the latter deeper and more enduring.  Pop spirituality tells us “Don’t think, feel!” but the reverse is much closer to the truth. 

(Notice that I say only that it is closer to the truth, not that it is the truth, full stop.  I do not for a moment deny that feelings have a role in the religious life, and I think Lewis would not deny it either.  We are, after all, feeling creatures by nature, not bloodless Cartesian intellects trapped in bodies.  The point is just that feelings are the lower, poorer side of the transposition, whereas the intellect -- which alone can ultimately judge one’s true spiritual state -- is the higher, richer side.  Here as in every other aspect of life, the affective tail must not be allowed to wag the cognitive dog.)

Lewis also notes how religious people are prone to mistake the earthly images of Heaven for the real thing, and sometimes feel let down when they are told that this is a mistake.  How could Heaven be eternal bliss without eating, drinking, and (my example, not Lewis’s) playing Frisbee with Fido?  Deleting such earthly pleasures from our picture of Heaven seems to leave nothing in its place.  Heaven comes to seem arid, bleak, and boring.  But this is precisely the wrong lesson to draw, comparable to the error the child in the dungeon makes when he is told by his mother that the world outside the dungeon lacks pencil lines.  As Lewis writes:

The child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s pictures. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible.

So with us. “We know not what we shall be”; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like pencilled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun. (pp. 110-11)

Descriptions of Heaven that make use of earthly images are transpositions of a higher, richer order into a lower, poorer one.  The religious believer who cannot understand how Heaven can lack earthly delights is like the materialist who cannot understand how thought could be more than brain activity, or the subjectivist ethical theorist who cannot understand how judgments of moral goodness and badness can be anything more than the expression of feelings.

I would say that a similar mistake is made by many of those who resist classical theism in favor of the more anthropomorphic “theistic personalist” conception of God.  When told by Thomists that we have to understand language about God in an analogical sense, they think that this entails thinking of God in a cold, abstract, and impersonal way.  (One mistake they sometimes make is to think that the Thomist is saying that descriptions of God are merely “metaphorical.”  That is not what the Thomist is saying.  Not all analogical use of language is metaphorical.  The Thomist takes talk about God’s power, knowledge, goodness, etc. to be literal, and thus not metaphorical.  The claim is rather that such talk is not to be understood in a univocal way.  For discussion of the Thomist theory of analogy, see pp. 256-63 of Scholastic Metaphysics.) 

In fact, to think of the God of classical theism as cold, abstract, and impersonal is as clueless as the child in the dungeon thinking that the world outside must be very cold and abstract if it does not contain the pencil lines he sees in his mother’s drawings.  Just as the world outside the dungeon is in fact far more warm and concrete than the pencil drawings, so too is the God of classical theism infinitely more “personal” than the lame man-writ-large “God” of theistic personalism.  The theistic personalist is like the boy who comes to prefer the drawings to ever leaving the dungeon, or the like the denizen of Plato’s cave who thinks it insane to believe tales of a world more real than the shadows on the wall.  Or if you prefer a more earthy biblical analogy, he is like Esau, trading his birthright for a mess of pottage and thinking he’s gotten the better deal.

206 comments:

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John West said...

[Lewis] asks us to consider a child born to a woman locked in a dungeon, who tries to teach the child about the outside world via black and white line drawings.  Through this medium “she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like” (p. 110). For a time it seems that she is succeeding, but eventually something the child says indicates that he supposes that what exists outside the dungeon is a world filled with lines and other pencil marks. The mother informs the child that this is not the case: ...

... I wish I had this thought experiments back when I was writing a paper arguing along similar lines, against Tegmark, that while mathematical instantiations are a feature of the universe, the universe isn't entirely reducible to them. What an eloquent guy.

Edward Feser said...

What an eloquent guy.

Yes indeed. I think that people sometimes suspect that because Lewis is such a popular writer with non-academics, he must be lightweight. I always say that the best cure for this misconception is actually to read him. He really is very deep and wise.

DNW said...

Lewis' writings were the first place, many years ago, I had ever come across a reference to Abbott's "Flatland"; a reference Lewis had made many years before that.

It has since the 1980's become - unless I am merely primed to notice it, a more common reference in quasi-metaphysical or pop-science ruminations and essays.

I never quite grasped his concept of the psychological act of "enjoyment" as it relates to his theory of knowledge, though I felt it was probably a relatively profound take on the subject. Something I should probably revisit.

DNW said...


Hmm,

http://www.academia.edu/5815829/C._S._Lewis_on_the_Enjoyment-Contemplation_Distinction

DNW said...

" ... these examples indicate, in a transposition, the elements of the poorer system have to be susceptible of multiple interpretations if they are to capture what is contained in the richer system. In a pen and ink drawing, black will have to represent not only objects that really are black, but also shadows and contours; white will have to represent not only objects that really are white, but also areas that are in bright light; a triangular shape will represent not only two dimensional objects, but also three dimensional objects like a road receding into the distance; and so on.

Yes ... and not to flog a dead and unwelcome non-philosophical horse here, but what did stay with me from listening to a number of the more sober sounding NDE accounts, was the strange transposition implied by, or outright stated to be the case by, those who were profoundly convinced they had undergone an objective, extra-mental, experience.

Whatever the objective reality or locus of such a transpositional experience, it seems we, or some of us, are subject or disposed to experience it on one level or another; be that purely psychological or something in addition.

Keen Reader said...

"Heaven comes to seem arid, bleak, and boring."

Or rather, on this view, unimaginable and therefore indescribable (as only the saints victorious have seen outside the dungeon).

Lebuinus said...

Consider, for instance, the way that the world of three dimensional colored objects can be represented in a two dimensional black and white line drawing; or the way that a piece of music scored for an orchestra might be adapted for piano[.]

What I miss in Professor Feser’s essay is a note of praise for the usefulness of these humble transpositions. What is lost in richness is often gained in concentration and insight. When I was training as an archaeologist, we were always encouraged to make drawings “because you only really see the object when you try to draw it, however badly”. And I remember reading a music critic from the 1890s who maintained that you could only judge the merits of a symphony by reading or playing the piano score. Different parts, tone colour etc. were only distracting from what really mattered, the musical structure.
And what is science, but the world transposed to equations?

John West said...

Lebuinus,

And what is science, but the world transposed to equations?

I've always been fond of the picture Penelope Maddy paints:

To appreciate just how closely [mathematics and reality] are intertwined [...] try to separate them. A purely mathematical world would be empty. What would a purely physical world be like? As soon as there are number properties, there are sets that bear them, so a world without mathematical things would be a world without any things, a completely amorphous mass: the Blob. To add even the structuring into individual physical objects is to admit singletons, to broach the mathematical. The only way to confine ourselves to the purely physical is to refrain from any differentiation whatsoever.

Perhaps such a world is possible, but it clearly isn't our world, with its objects, kinds, patterns, and structures of so many, widely varied sorts. [...] Physics and mathematics, on this new picture, are two sciences, along with chemistry, biology, psychology and the rest, that study aspects of this reality. Each science has its own vocabulary and laws, its own techniques and methods, but this doesn't mean that the world itself is divided into the physical, the mathematical, the chemical, the biological, the psychological and so on.
(Realism in Mathematics)

But as well as using mathematics, science also investigates other sensual facts about the physical such as sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch — facts that one can only fully know by participating directly in a causal process, and can't (I think) be completely captured by mathematical formulae. So, though science is heavily indebted to mathematics, I would answer that science also investigates other important, empirical facts that simply can't be captured by mathematical models or known through mathematics.

John West said...

... Among other things, that should probably read "sensory", not sensual.

Edward Feser said...

What I miss in Professor Feser’s essay is a note of praise for the usefulness of these humble transpositions

Hello Lebuinus. I hereby praise them. Keep in mind that as an Aristotelian and a Thomist -- and thus as someone generally keen to emphasize the earthy, corporeal side of human nature and to warn against any Platonizing or Cartesian denigration of the material world -- I am far from denying the importance of those "humble transpositions." (On the contrary, we A-T types are often accused of being too friendly toward the earthy, the bodily, and the material more generally.) It's just that praising them wasn't the subject of this particular post.

Keep in mind also that any time someone tries to correct an imbalance, he is bound to be misinterpreted as attacking the thing he says is being emphasized at the expense of something else. "Yes, A is important, but let's not forget B." "Hey, why are you attacking A?" "I'm not attacking A. I'm just saying, don't forget B."

Lebuinus said...

@ Professor Feser
I hereby praise [those humble transpositions].
Duly noted, professor.

@ John West
I would answer that science also investigates other important, empirical facts that simply can't be captured by mathematical models or known through mathematics.
I agree it should investigate this other aspects of reality. Does it?
I was thinking here of the text of the later Russell, professor Feser loves to cite: “It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give. It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure. We only know the intrinsic character of events when they happen to us. Nothing whatever in theoretical physics enables us to say anything about the intrinsic character of events elsewhere. They may be just like the events that happen to us, or they may be totally different in strictly unimaginable ways. All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to—as to this, physics is silent. (My Philosophical Development, p. 13)”
But I should add that I don’t know the first thing about the philosophy of science

John West said...

I was thinking here of the text of the later Russell, professor Feser loves to cite: “It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give. It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure. We only know the intrinsic character of events when they happen to us. Nothing whatever in theoretical physics enables us to say anything about the intrinsic character of events elsewhere. They may be just like the events that happen to us, or they may be totally different in strictly unimaginable ways. All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to—as to this, physics is silent. (My Philosophical Development, p. 13)”

Oh, sure. Theoretical physics, you're probably right. But we shouldn't forget the rest of the natural sciences.

Anonymous said...

Lewis was of course a drug (tobacco) addict.
As such, every time that he inhaled he was flooding his lungs, and thereby his bloodstream and every cell in his body with toxic chemicals. As such he was effectively slowly destroying the intrinsic biological integrity/intelligence of his body, and thus effectively committing (slow) suicide.

And yet, in some circles at least, he is considered to be an "authority" on some/all of the great matters of human existence.

Was he in any sense aware of the all pervading spirit-energy which we inhale with every breathe indicated or pointed to in the phrase "a feather on the breathe of God"

Lebuinus said...

Was [Lewis] in any sense aware of the all pervading spirit-energy which we inhale with every breathe indicated or pointed to in the phrase "a feather on the breathe of God"[?]

He would have read Chesterton, and Chesterton most certainly was:

'I guess you got me wrong,' said the man from Oklahoma, almost eagerly. 'I guess I'm as much of an atheist as you are. No supernatural or superstitious stuff in our movement; just plain science. The only real right science is just health, and the only real right health is just breathing. Fill your lungs with the wide air of the prairie and you could blow all your old eastern cities into the sea. You could just puff away their biggest men like thistledown. That's what we do in the new movement out home: we breathe. We don't pray; we breathe.'
(...)
'Nothing supernatural,' continued Alboin, 'just the great natural fact behind all the supernatural fancies. What did the Jews want with a God except to breathe into man's nostrils the breath of life? We do the breathing into our own nostrils out in Oklahoma. What's the meaning of the very word Spirit? It's just the Greek for breathing exercises. Life, progress, prophecy; it's all breath.'
'Some would allow it's all wind,' said Vandam; 'but I'm glad you've got rid of the divinity stunt, anyhow.'
(The Miracle of Moon Crescent, 1924)

seanrobsville said...

Minds can understand mechanisms.
Mechanisms can't understand minds.

Joe Calandrino said...

Thanks for the CS Lewis reference in general and his 'transposition' in particular. I have been doing some exploration in the area of simultaneity and causality on my own blog and I have been grappling with a fascinating article by Dan Censor (http://www.ee.bgu.ac.il/~censor/simcausa.pdf) , "Simultaneity, Causality and Spectral Representations." While one needn't be a mathematician to get through the article, it certainly helps. I am reading the article now as an exercise in 'transposition' as it appear this blog entry.

Basically (and I mean very basically), Censor uses the Fournier Transform to map every point in the spatiotemporal view of reality into the 'spectral' view and comes out with some astonishing effects. He does not argue that one view is poorer or richer than the other, but that they are different, and sentient beings in each reality experiences that reality according to its mapping/transposition/representation.

It seems to me that Censor has captured the metaphysical problem elegantly, and in a way that would be illuminating for this discussion.

Cordially,
Joe C.

JD Walters said...

Lewis was definitely a Scholastic thinker. Is there a better nontechnical description of the act/potency distinction than the following?

"God is basic Fact or Actuality, the source of all other facthood. At all costs therefore He must not be thought of as a featureless generality. If He exists at all, He is the most concrete thing there is...He is unspeakable not by being indefinite but by being too definite for the unavoidable vagueness of language. The words 'incorporeal' and 'impersonal' are misleading, because they suggest that He lacks some reality which we possess. It would be safer to call Him trans-corporeal, trans-personal. Body and personality as we know them are the real negatives-they are what is left of positive being when it is sufficiently diluted to appear in temporal or finite forms."

Miracles, p. 381 (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics Edition)

Jules said...

Sorry about the off-topic post, but for fans of James Franklin I've just heard that his "The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal" which has been out of print for some time (only available 2nd-hand at extortionate prices) has now been republished and is available for pre-order at Amazon.

Apparently I can claim some minor credit for this, since I've been nagging Prof. Franklin for some time to get the book reprinted, but the publisher (John Hopkins University Press) only got off their backsides when he sent them my emails. He had previous requested that the book be reprinted, but to no avail.

Glenn said...

'I guess you got me wrong,' said the man from Oklahoma, almost eagerly. 'I guess I'm as much of an atheist as you are. No supernatural or superstitious stuff in our movement; just plain science. The only real right science is just health, and the only real right health is just breathing. Fill your lungs with the wide air of the prairie and you could blow all your old eastern cities into the sea. You could just puff away their biggest men like thistledown. That's what we do in the new movement out home: we breathe. We don't pray; we breathe.'

Perhaps the man from Roccasecca would reply to the man from Oklahoma by saying, "Isidore says (Etym. x) that 'to pray is to speak.' Now speech belongs to the intellect. Therefore prayer is an act, not of the appetitive, but of the intellective power. [And so it follows that to refrain from praying is to refrain from engaging in an act of the intellective power.]"

Glenn said...

(The only real right science is just health, and the only real right health is just breathing.

(A person in a coma doesn't do much more than just breath, so maybe there's a little more to real right health than just breathing. Indeed, Aristotle mentions that where there is motion, there are three things: the moved, the movement, and the instrument of motion. And Aquinas identifies the breath as the first instrument of motion. So, if both Aristotle and Aquinas are correct, then, important as breathing is -- Aquinas says that the union of the body and the soul ceases when breathing ceases -- it doesn't seem to be the be all and end all of things.)

Anonymous said...

The only real right science is just health, and the only real right health is just breathing

I'll remember that next time someone advocates deliberately starving to death the mentally incapacitated.

Anonymous said...

BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN.

"A scrupulous person takes his feelings of guilt to be a sign that he has sinned, when in fact he has not. A lax person takes the absence of any feelings of guilt as evidence that he has not sinned, when in fact he has."

When something like this becomes apparent to you in your meditations (as it did for me this morning), reading about it hours later is pretty impactful.

Brilliant blog. One of the gems of the internet.

young and rested said...

Would it be fair to think of Jesus as in some sense being close to the the picture of God that theistic personalists subscribe to? e.g. God having transposed Himself down into a form that humans can better understand.

Just a thought...

That Jesus was quite clearly a person makes it hard for me to see exactly how to understand the claim that he was also God when God is not a person or a being, but being itself.

thefederalist said...

The Miracle of Moon Crescent was always my favorite Father Brown mystery for the insights it provided.

Natural Mind said...

Fascinating article. I have a clarificational question for Dr. Feser or anyone else kind enough:

What does it mean for the concept to be "richer" than the mental image? What are the criteria of "richness?" It doesn't seem to be anything like, say, the information content of the more inclusive, general/generative form: the particular has more information than the universal. What notion of "richness" is being used here?

Thanks!

Glenn said...

Natural Mind,

If you're willing to brook a poor explanation until a rich explanation is provided...

Bob has many dollars in assets for each single dollar in assets that Paul has. Ergo (and assuming their liabilities are roughly the same), Bob is richer and Paul is poorer.

"In general, the relationship between the elements of a richer system and the elements of the poorer system into which it is transposed is not one-to-one, but many-to-one."

There are many elements in the former system for each single element in the latter system. Ergo, the former system is richer, and the latter system is poorer.

Rich: plentiful, abundant, etc.

Glenn said...

Poorer phrasing: "assuming their liabilities are roughly the same"

Richer phrasing: "assuming their respective liabilites are approximately equivalent."

Natural Mind said...

@Glenn

Thank you for your reply. I do understand what the words "rich" and "poor" mean in the general sense that you elucidate, but I don't see how a concept of a triangle, for example, is "richer" than a mental image of a triangle.

So: what exactly are the enumerable elements of the triangle concept, and what are the enumerable elements of a particular image of a triangle, such that one might plausibly evaluate which one is richer?

Thursday said...

If particular misunderstandings (eg. classical theism is too impersonal) keep coming up, then perhaps there is something wrong with how scholastic ideas are being presented.

The presentation of classical theism on this site was certainly offputting, until I started to think through the ideas themselves.

John West said...

So: what exactly are the enumerable elements of the triangle concept, and what are the enumerable elements of a particular image of a triangle, such that one might plausibly evaluate which one is richer?

Consider the comparison between a diagram of a geometrical sphere, and a 9-ball that instantiates that sphere. The 9-ball instantiates all the elements of the geometrical sphere (a structure), but it also instantiates non-mathematical elements such as colour, smoothness, heaviness. It's not just that the 9-ball has more elements, but that it also has additional kinds of elements.

John West said...

I should probably add to that, similarly, the concept of the triangle has details that can't be captured in a mental image, so it's richer.

If you're asking for specifics on what those details might be, let me join your chorus of inquiry. But I think it's just that the concept includes all the elements of the triangle (or 9-ball), whereas the mental image does not or cannot.

John West said...

... Though the concept triangularity is going to account for all there is about triangles, whereas the mental image is going to be an instance of triangularity, one image of one triangle of one type.

Natural Mind said...

@John West,

Thanks for the elucidation. The problem I have is that the particular image seems to me to be a richer object than the concept, in much the way that a real eight-ball is a richer object than the concept of a sphere, in that it has "more properties," so to speak. The concept involves certain abstract parameters that I can definitely elucidate with a single mathematical formula. But any actual eight-ball is an immensely complex object, full of mass, color, deviations from the perfect sphericity it aims at, history, uses, purposes, and so on all of which one could write endless novels about and never contain. And even my image of it is a much more lively and volatile thing than my concept of it.

I believe these details matter -– let us sing together this chorus of inquiry -– because there is an argument to be made that the immaterial concept is in fact not richer, in the sense of enumerability, but simpler than any instantiation or physical correlate.

How simplicity can be related to richness is interesting question. And it has a theological parallel: we understand God as supremely simple – and yet supremely rich.

If that's on the right track, then there's something on the wrong track about the analogy of transposition, which assumes a reduction in dimensionality, a decrease in information, is ultimately impoverishment. Somewhere along the line the calculus that ties together richness with complexity, and simplicity with poverty, breaks down.

John West said...

Natural Mind,

Well, the concept triangularity is abstract and universal. So, I think the point is that elements of the triangle mental image are a subset of the elements of triangularity.

For example, the mental image is going to be (say) a specific right isosceles triangle; in contrast, triangularity accounts for the right isosceles triangle, as well as acute equilateral triangularity, obtuse triangles, triangles with different side lengths etc.

Tony said...

To add to John West's point some level of detail:

A mental image of a triangle (better: an instantiation represented in the imagination) is necessarily a triangle of a particular species: either scalene or isosceles or equilateral, and either acute, right angled, or obtuse. So any specific image in the imagination is particularized to ONE of these, say scalene acute. That instance CANNOT equally represent an isosceles right triangle. You could, for example, establish something true ABOUT that scalene triangle, but you would have no way of asserting whether it might or might not be true of a right isosceles triangle. In fact, you would have no particular way of affirming it of any OTHER scalene acute triangle, except by individual examination for each one.

Yet the concept of "triangle" includes equally all triangles of all sub-species. Hence you can prove a truth about "triangles" that is true of all (plane) triangles equally: that their angles add up to 2 right angles. And that truth then is known about all triangles whether you have instantiated one in the imagination or not, whether when you imagine one as scalene or equilateral or whatnot. And thus, all of the many proofs about triangles (about interior angles, exterior angles, bisectors, etc) in Euclid's and Archimedes' geometry ENRICH our concept of "triangle" in ways that are irrelevant to the particular sub-species imagined.

These truths apply to all of the individual triangles imagined, but not on the basis of the particularities imagined (color, size, weight, etc), rather on the basis of the conceptual universal realities of "triangle" as understood distinctly from concrete instances thereof. These imagined particularities, of themselves, could never GIVE RISE to the vast array of proven theorems giving us specific truths that comprise our understanding of "triangle". They cannot give rise to those truths because those truths are not in any way dependent on the characteristics like scalene, red, large, steel, etc.

Glenn said...

Natural Mind,

Thank you for your reply. I do understand what the words "rich" and "poor" mean in the general sense that you elucidate, but I don't see how a concept of a triangle, for example, is "richer" than a mental image of a triangle.

The concept of triangularity is broader and more encompassing, and admits of an untold number of instantiations (as it were). The mental image of a triangle, on the other hand, is just that -- a single, instantiation (as it were) of the broader, more encompassing concept of triangularity.

Glenn said...

Oh.

Natural Mind,

Tony's comment wasn't on my screen when I posted my reply to you. Now that it is, I'd like to amend my reply to you to read as follows: see Tony's addition to John's point. (It's much richer by far.)

Craig Payne said...

By the way, it wasn't "playing Frisbee with Fido" in Heaven. It was playing Frisbee in Heaven with Blossomchops, or Featherdown, or whatever those names were. A much richer experience, probably.

Glenn said...

Craig Payne,

The actual experience of playing frisbee with Blossomchips or Feartherdown may be richer than the actual experience of playing frisbee with some generic Fido. Due to the alliteration involved, however, the idea of playing frisbee with Fido is richer than the idea of playing Frisbee with Blossomchips or Featherdown.

Then again, maybe not.

Natural Mind said...

These illustrations restate the problem. The more general is the more impoverished; it is more inclusive because it has fewer properties. So the "richness" of the concept assumed in Feser's argument cannot have anything straightforwardly to do with its generality.

Again, what property does a concept have that makes it richer than the representation? Feser's argument, I believe, stands or falls on this.

Brandon said...

The more general is the more impoverished; it is more inclusive because it has fewer properties.

This is not true on most understandings of what a 'property' is -- 'triangle' would have infinitely many properties, since it would have the property of pertaining to triangle A and the property of pertaining to triangle B and the property of pertaining to triangle C, and the property of pertaining to all scalene triangles, and so forth. So one would need to specify the technical sense of 'property' on which it would actually be more impoverished, given that infinitely many things may actually be said of it.

Natural Mind said...

@Brandon: You're quite right. I meant "property" in terms of defining characteristics, as for example the genus requires less definitional information than the species. This is the sense Lewis and Feser are using with the transposition analogy: the piano transcription has less information than the orchestral score.

So the question remains: what kind of "richness" is Dr. Feser talking about with regard to the concept? What is being evaluated? What are the properties construed of the concept that are missing from the mental image, what "information" gets lost?

Brandon said...

Natural Mind,

I don't see that there's any real sense in which a piano transcription has less definitional information than an orchestral score, or, for that matter, that the genus, as such, has less definitional information than the species, as such. The genus, by being a genus, does not rule out all the possibilities needed to get this particular species, whereas the species trivially does, but this is a relative difference, not one that tells us anything about the genus qua genus or the species qua species.

Likewise, in the transposition case, Ed's examples are in terms of signification, that is, the many-to-one nature is in terms of how one thing is a sign of another; it doesn't seem right to conflate signification and definition.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

What are the properties construed of the concept that are missing from the mental image, what "information" gets lost?

The relevant properties are not those of the "concept" but those of its referents. An image of a triangle has the properties of one particular triangle; the concept "triangle" refers to all triangles (real or possible) and thus to all the properties that a triangle can have qua triangle.

Of course even if we restrict ourselves to the "properties" of the concept and ignore those of its referents, it's still the case that the concept has the property of "referring" and the image does not. That seems pretty crucial in the present context.

Scott said...

Brandon posted as I was composing my own post, and we seem to be saying more or less the same thing in different words (e.g reference vs. signification). At any rate I agree with his comments.

Glenn said...

Natural Mind,

@Brandon: You're quite right. I meant "property" in terms of defining characteristics, as for example the genus requires less definitional information than the species. This is the sense Lewis and Feser are using with the transposition analogy: the piano transcription has less information than the orchestral score.

Your wording is such as to associate a piano transcription with 'genus', and an orchestral score with 'species'. These associations imply that a transcription for a piano by itself is a genus, and a score for a collection of instruments including, e.g., violins and cellos, flutes and oboes, timpanis and cymbals, as well as, perhaps, a piano, is a species of that genus.

Gene Callahan said...

Very nice! (Except for the mistake on Berkeley, of course.)

Natural Mind said...

@Glenn,

Sorry, I missed your comment before!

I don't see how the fact that the concept of triangle includes all specific triangles make it a "richer" object than any specific triangle. Any specific triangle meets the requirements of the concept, and adds to it further specifications, such as actual angles and side lengths. In going from a specific triangle to the triangle concept, one is losing that information, just as one loses information when going from the orchestral score to the piano transcription.

I did not mean, by the way, to equate the transcription with genus and orchestral score with species! It is the analogous difference in information content that I was referring to.

@Brandon,

The piano score has considerably less information than the orchestral score since it indicates a given note without needing to specify which instrument it is to be played on. The orchestral score is thus richer in information.

The genus (say, Panthera) is less specific than the species (say, onca vs. tigris) in the same way: an an individual belonging to a genus may be of unknown species, but an individual belonging to a species is of known genus. The genus specifies less information; it is a less rich concept. The words "specify" and "species" are of course related.

@Scott,

Thanks for your input.

It is true that a concept is something which may refer, but it is also true that a mental image is something I can see. Yes, they have different properties, but I still don't see any way of determining the relative richness of the concept. No measure of the relative richness of those properties has been proposed, and the transcription analogy appears to work in precisely the wrong direction.

Brandon said...

Natural Mind,

I am aware of what the examples are. But, again, nothing about either of the cases has anything to do with definitional information. The first concerns signification, and the second is a relative and not absolute comparison, as I noted previously.

John West said...

Natural Mind,

It is true that a concept is something which may refer, but it is also true that a mental image is something I can see. Yes, they have different properties, but I still don't see any way of determining the relative richness of the concept. (from your reply to Scott)

Strictly, this is too broad a manner of speaking (and could result in confusion). The triangle mental image does not have different properties from the concept “triangle”. The properties of the mental image are a subset of the properties of the concept "triangle". The concept “triangle” does, however, have different properties from the mental image, because it has more properties.

Natural Mind said...

@John West,

Thanks for your comment.

I don't believe the mental image has only a subset of the properties of the concept. I can see the mental image, for example; I can manipulate it in my mind's eye by rotating it or changing its color, I can sense how sharp its points are, and so on; I can't do any of these things with the concept of a triangle.

They seem to me to be ontologically utterly distinct and not capable of comparison in terms of "richness" at all.

John West said...

Natural Mind,

I don't believe the mental image has only a subset of the properties of the concept. I can see the mental image, for example; I can manipulate it in my mind's eye by rotating it or changing its color, I can sense how sharp its points are, and so on; I can't do any of these things with the concept of a triangle.

It's worth mentioning that on Aristotelianism, you can see universals like "triangle". You may not be able to see them all at once (though I suppose it's in principle possible using telescreens). But on Aristotelianism, universals like "triangle" are a real part of the world.

John West said...

edit: "You may not be able to see [all the instantiations of the universal "triangle"] at once."

Natural Mind said...

@John West,

I certainly have no idea what my concept of "triangle" looks like! Take another concept, say, "justice," or "the history of Cuba." One cannot picture such a thing. One recognizes that one has a concept in a completely different way than one recognizes a mental image.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

It is true that a concept is something which may refer, but it is also true that a mental image is something I can see.

As I said, that's not the relevant difference in the context about which you're asking.

I still don't see any way of determining the relative richness of the concept. No measure of the relative richness of those properties has been proposed[.]

At least three of us have proposed the relevant one (including me, in the part of my post that you ignored while replying to my secondary and much less important point).

You're also (your remark to the contrary notwithstanding) ignoring Glenn's related point that it's not correct to conflate the relation between a concept and its referents with that between genus and species. A concept—that in your intellect by which you refer to objects—refers to more than its "definition."

Your question was what sort of "richness" Ed had in mind in writing The concept, being completely abstract and universal, is richer than any mental image or set of mental images, which are always concrete and particular. . I think that question has been satisfactorily answered, and it's irrelevant whether you can think of other senses in which it's not the case. Perhaps instead of looking for those, you might try dealing seriously with the responses you've already received.

Glenn said...

Natural Mind,

I don't see how the fact that the concept of triangle includes all specific triangles make it a "richer" object than any specific triangle. Any specific triangle meets the requirements of the concept, and adds to it further specifications, such as actual angles and side lengths. In going from a specific triangle to the triangle concept, one is losing that information, just as one loses information when going from the orchestral score to the piano transcription.

What is lost in going from a specific triangle to the triangle concept is a particular instantiation of something, and not the something that had been, no long is, but again can be instantiated.

If I have a right triangle, and I want an isosceles triangle, I can get from the former to the latter in either of two ways: 1) I can make changes to the right triangle such that an isosceles triangle results; or, 2) I can go up from the right triangle to the triangle concept, and then come back down with an isosceles triangle.

Notice that 1) involves a (kind of) horizontal movement and a change to the right triangle, while 2) involves a (kind of) vertical movement but no change to the triangle concept.

Notice also that 1) isn't possible unless you already have some sense of the unchanging triangle concept, i.e., method 1) of getting from a right triangle to an isosceles triangle necessarily involves an employment of the triangle concept.

Notice further that a right triangle cannot account for an isosceles triangle, or vice versa, while the triangle concept can account for both a right triangle and an isosceles triangle.

If you're right that a right triangle has more information than the triangle concept, then it would seem to be somewhat of a mystery as to how and why it is that with less information (the triangle concept on your account) which is better able to account for more than that with more information (the right triangle on your account).

E.Seigner said...

Natural Mind

So the question remains: what kind of "richness" is Dr. Feser talking about with regard to the concept? What is being evaluated? What are the properties construed of the concept that are missing from the mental image, what "information" gets lost?

The property that the concept has and the mental image hasn't is determinacy. Ed mentions this.

Particular objects lack universality and this actually a decisive decline in richness. Compared to universals, particular objects are like projections, mirror images. You may consider some of them a perfect mirror image, but there's an insurmountable difference in kind. A perfect mirror image of your tasty dinner is not a dinner; it's a mirror image.

And the properties that seem to be added to particulars (compared to universals) are actually inevitable contingencies, limitations. A particular triangle must have a colour and size, and its lines must have thickness. This is precisely which makes it lose its universality.

John West said...

Natural Mind,

It seems to me you're equivocating on Ed's use of "rich". It's been explained to you what he means by "rich", and your reply was to reject his usage. But that's what he meant.

If you have some argument for why we should instead use your "rich", then I'm sure people here will give it a fair assessment.

But at very least, you're going to have unpack your problem with Ed's usage as it relates to his argument (ie. outline your objection to Ed's argument).

Natural Mind said...


@John West,

Thank you for your excellent summary of the state of things. I'll do my best to answer it later in the evening.

@Scott,

Any difference between the concept and the image is relevant to the extent that it bears on the issue of how "rich" these two things are, is it not? If, compared with the concept, the image has new properties, then it is arguably richer along that dimension.

I have done my best to address everyone's claims directly, though I see now that my comment concerning your point about reference should have been more explicit. What is under discussion is the concept, and not what it refers to, which may well be nothing at all, so I don't understand why you move from concept to reference as being relevant to the issue.

Nor have I ignored Glenn's point, and I am in any case certainly not conflating the relation between a concept and its referents with the relation between genus and species; I hadn't said anything about a concept's relation to its referents. Please read my posts carefully before asking me to deal more seriously with those of others. I'm take everyone seriously (espcially you!), and do so in a spirit of exploration and clarification.

Where Feser writes The concept, being completely abstract and universal, is richer than any mental image or set of mental images, which are always concrete and particular, he has already invoked a quite specific notion of richness, by analogy with Lewis' "transposition." This notion explicitly involves a very clear difference in specificity. The relation between concept and mental image, insofar as it is a relation between the abstract/universal and the concrete/particular, does not reflect this difference.

@Tony,

Sorry, I got overwhelmed and missed your post!

Yes, the concept of "triangle" includes all specific triangles, but it does so precisely by being more abstract, less specific, than any specific triangle.

@Glenn,

I'm not sure what you mean in your last post by "account for," so I can't follow your argument well.

You seem also to be comparing concepts with other concepts, for example, "right triangle" with "triangle." The former is a "richer" concept in one sense: in that it has properties that do not hold of triangles in general. The latter is a "richer" concept in another sense, in that it includes more kinds of shapes than the former.

So I wouldn't be at all surprized to find that there is some notion of "richness" with which we could say that the concept is richer than the image. But there is clearly a notion of "richness," the one I have suggested, for which the image is richer than the concept: it is more specific. So "richness" gets us nowhere – yet it is crucial to Feser's analogy.

@E.Seigner,

Yes, the concept has determinacy. How does that make it "richer?" The mental image has temporality. Does that make it richer?

Properties that are limitations add structure to the object. If I have an undeveloped piece of photographic paper, do I have a richer object than when I have fully developed an image (hopefully by Cartier-Bresson) on it? No; the limitations that have been set on the paper are precisely what enrich it, if by "rich" we mean having an image as opposed to none. There is more "information" there.

E.Seigner said...

Natural Mind

"Properties that are limitations add structure to the object. If I have an undeveloped piece of photographic paper, do I have a richer object than when I have fully developed an image (hopefully by Cartier-Bresson) on it? No; the limitations that have been set on the paper are precisely what enrich it, if by "rich" we mean having an image as opposed to none. There is more "information" there."

Do you notice how you compare differences of degree, whereas we are comparing differences of kind? Looks like this topic is over your head in many ways.

Glenn said...

Natural Mind,

You mention Cartier-Bresson. I wonder if this might be the same Cartier Bresson who is credited with having said:

o Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.

o We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.

Daniel said...

I think the Concept/Phantasm arrangement is one area where Aristotelian psychology has aged badly. It's not that arguments such as those put forward by Ed in his 'Think McFly, Think!' entry don't work; on the contrary, they work too well and call into question the idea of there being any strict concept/phantasm binary. This is an area where good old Husserl's work can really enrich Scholastic thought: both 'picturing' and higher level categorical thought are built up out of inter-weaving intentional acts which we can study via phenomenological methods (btw Husserl, a die-hard opponent of Imagism, wrote an entire book on pictorial consciousness and the sort of intentionality involved in it).

A brief thought on the Particular/Universal aspect of Concepts/Phantasms: when I think of an individual property-instance such as the brittleness of this cup I am thinking of a specific singular entity yet that entity cannot be captured in pictorial thought any more than say, the universal Wisdom, or the specific instance of Wisdom in Socrates can.

Less than on-topic stuff:

Does anyone know a good contemporary essay defending Prime Matter as the principle of Individuation? Most contemporary discussions don’t even mention it going straight for Bundle, Spatio-Temporal location or Bare Particular.

Natural Mind said...

Dear all:

I see two responses to my previous post (from Glenn and E.Seigner), but the post itself no longer appears here, though it did an hour or two ago. Can anyone else see it? It was rather long; I would hate for it to have been lost. . . and I don't have another copy. Is it possible for anyone to repost it? I'd be much obliged!

Thanks.

John West said...

Does Blogger do that from time to time, eat posts?

Brandon said...

Identifying a species involves identifying a specific difference in a genus at least vaguely known so that it can be assumed. But insofar as the genus is clearly known, it would have to involve massively more than this. The genus 'triangle', qua genus, has more structure than any specific difference of any species of triangle, because the genus carries modal information about what is possible for any and every specific triangle, and also how all different specific triangles would relate to each other. How the right triangle relates to any other kind of triangle can only be determined through general information and not through that which makes a triangle a specific triangle (i.e., the specific difference). 'Right triangle', merely considered as the concept of a right triangle and not another triangle, tells us nothing about other triangles. This means that there is always an immense amount of information in a genus that is only found in triangles if we consider them generally and not in terms of what makes them distinctive species in that genus. Specific difference limits genus in one way (that's the whole point); but the genus will tend to introduce massively more limitations than any particular specific difference does. And this follows from the hierarchy of genus and species; most of the limitations of anything will derive from its genus, not what makes it the specific kind of thing it is in that particular genus. We learn most of what we know about anything from its genus, which is why progress in knowledge tends to be toward the more general, not toward the more specific; beginning to identify the species is the beginning of understanding, not the end.

All the specific difference does is (so to speak) switch one of the limitations that the genus tags as [possible] to [actual]. There is information you can get from the flipping of a switch that you cannot get from contemplating the specification of the switchboard as a whole; but it would be simply an error to assume that a recognizably flipped switch carries more information than the entire switchboard that relates switches to each other and makes flip-switching possible in the first place. Yes, flipping the switch adds a limitation or difference to the switchboard; but the switchboard adds far more limitations or differences to the flipping of the switch.

Brandon said...

flip-switching

Or switch-flipping, I suppose.

In any case, yet another way to look at it is to recognize that every genus is represented by an entire system of classification (some more local than others), but the species relative to the genus corresponds to one branch in that classification. It's a mistake to think that identifying one branch itself involves more information than the entire classification system; full knowledge will certainly include clear understanding of the latter, but the entire classification system is far more than is needed to identify a branch in it.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Daniel

As far as I'm aware (and there are many people far more knowledgable on this then myself), I'm not aware of any thinkers who defended prime matter itself (pure potency). Some thinkers, such as St. Thomas, seem to have thought that "dimensionized" matter was the principle of individualization, matter that has a "position" in space and time (and this is a generalization: Thomas himself seems to have changed his positions a bit through the his life on this topic).

I'm still trying to understand myself how dimension corresponds only to matter, rather than form as well. It seems, to me at least, that dimension would be of the form, or at least the form-matter, of a thing.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Daniel

As far as I'm aware (and there are many people far more knowledgable on this then myself), there are not any thinkers who defended prime matter itself (pure potency) as the principle of individualization. Some thinkers, such as St. Thomas, seem to have thought that "dimensionized" matter is the principle of individualization, matter that has a "position" in space and time (and this is a generalization: Thomas himself seems to have changed his positions a bit through the his life on this topic).

I'm still trying to understand myself how dimension corresponds only to matter, rather than form as well. It seems, to me at least, that dimension would be of the form, or at least the form-matter, of a thing.

Christi pax.

Scott said...

@The Daniels:

Yes, Aquinas defended not "prime matter" but "designated matter" as the principle of individuation. For a good summary (including the point that prime matter has dimensions only when it has been actuated by form), see the seventh section of this.

Natural Mind said...

Well, it is remarkably annoying that my post should have vanished. I am not sure what to make of it.

Given how much effort has gone down the tubes, I'll reply to just one post, by John West, for which many thanks, as it makes the clearest demand.

@John West

It is true that Feser's use of the word "rich" has been explained here. My posts have indicated resistance to the way he has used it, not because I have some "other" definition, but because Feser appears to use it in two contradictory senses. Let me lay out what we have so far.

In the case of the transposition, the "richer" object is the more specific object, the one that bears more information and less ambiguity. In the case of the concept/image distinction, the "richer" object is the abstract/general/less specific object, namely the concept. (Some posts argued that the more general concept is "richer" than the more specific; with this I can now only assert disagreement, suggesting as an example that the concept "thing" is not "richer" than the concept "triangle," though it is more general.)

At best: we have here two reasonable construals of the word "rich," but they are contradictory. If we consistently choose the former, then concepts are in fact poorer than their instantiations, and Feser's argument fails. If we choose the latter, then Feser's point about the concept succeeds – but the analogy of transposition can't be appealed to any more. In which case more work needs to be done to seal up the argument.

For now, we are left without a single, consistent definition of "richness" that can support the weight Feser's argument puts on it.

I apologize to those of you who commented on my posts without receiving a reply; I replied to all of you, but you perhaps did not see it due to my deleted message. I don't have enough time now to recreate it all. Quality, not quantity, indeed.



Edward Feser said...

Natural Mind,

Blogger put it in the spam folder, but I've liberated it -- I assume that's it several posts above.

Sorry for the delay, I've been away for much of the day.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

Any difference between the concept and the image is relevant to the extent that it bears on the issue of how "rich" these two things are, is it not?

No, obviously not, if the purpose to which it's supposed to be relevant is that of understanding the specific notion of "richness" on which Ed is relying.

What is under discussion is the concept, and not what it refers to[.]

What is under discussion, according to your original question and those of us who have been answering it, is what notion of "richness" Ed is employing when he says that a concept, being abstract and universal, is than a mental image. How you expect to understand the relevance of universality (or even the nature of a concept) by ignoring referents/signification from the outset, I do not know.

Fortunately for you, though…

I hadn't said anything about a concept's relation to its referents.

…you seem perfectly willing to invoke that relation without acknowledgement, as e.g. in your latest reply to Tony ("Yes, the concept of 'triangle' includes all specific triangles"), which makes no sense whatsoever if you're ignoring the relationship between a concept and its referents. The only way in which the concept of a triangle "includes" all specific triangles is by referring to them.

And it's only by explicitly ignoring this fact, even while implicitly relying on it, that you can somehow manage to confuse the difference between a concept and a mental image with the difference between an undeveloped and a developed photograph. E.Seigner is right that you're ignoring differences in kind and looking only at differences in degree.

It is true that Feser's use of the word "rich" has been explained here. My posts have indicated resistance to the way he has used it, not because I have some "other" definition, but because Feser appears to use it in two contradictory senses.…At best: we have here two reasonable construals of the word "rich," but they are contradictory.

No, we just have the one, and it makes sense to those of us who have been replying to you about it. Ed appears to be using the word in two contradictory senses only because you haven't yet quite gotten your mind around the sense in which he is using it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Feser,
In regards to the prime mover of Aristotle and Aquinas, both of them state it cannot be composite even of it was eternal as there would have to be something external to put it's parts together and it would have to be dependent on these parts to exist. But could it be said that these parts themselves have it in their nature to be together and don't require something external to put them together, and something like an eternal multiverse could be the prime mover, and even if it was dependent on those parts those parts themselves are necessary and need no external cause? This is common argument I hear from atheist, and I wonder if there is a rebuttal to it.

Daniel said...

@Anon,

But could it be said that these parts themselves have it in their nature to be together

Can you elaborate on this part of the argument? As it stands it sounds like it either amounts to an admission of Brute Fact or arbitrarily proclaiming that X being (which behaves in a contingent way) is in fact Necessary.

But could it be said that these parts themselves have it in their nature to be together and don't require something external to put them together, and something like an eternal multiverse could be the prime mover, and even if it was dependent on those parts those parts themselves are necessary and need no external cause?

Quentin Smith has given an argument somewhat like this in the past. Let's avoid the Prime Mover part since it just causes confusion - what the argument depends on is the bold premise that said parts exist Necessarily, that their non-existence entails a Broadly Logical contradiction. In other words they just claim the Multiverse is a necessary being*. Why should this be so though: why is it that the Multiverse has the characteristic of Necessity? One cannot make a being e.g. an island or a unicorn into a necessary being just by claiming it falls into that Modal class - one must show why that is so.

* A word of caution: the Multiverse is a collective term. The entities that form its Parts are contingent; with that in mind I don't think it would be unfair riposte that a necessary Whole cannot be made up of solely contingent Parts. The atheist knows this and wants to get round it by claiming that certain base particles are in fact Necessary. In this case the main criticism still holds.

Daniel said...

@Scott and Daniel D,

Thanks for the response fellows. I'm sorry; I spoke lazily in my request - I know about the Prime Matter <> Quantified Matter/Materia Secunda distinction. I'm looking for something which contrasts this view with Bare Particularism e.g. something like Vallicella's:

Ontological Analysis in Aristotle and Bergmann: Prime Matter Versus Bare Particulars

Anonymous said...

@Daniel the parts that I said were admissions of it being a brute fact or saying that X being which behave contingently is necessary. This is what I commonly see atheist do and when I try to tell them that this is what their doing they ask me why, and I can't really explain it to them well enough, so they think I'm wrong,which is why I posed this question.

Natural Mind said...

@Edward Feser,

many thanks for your retrieving my post! I greatly appreciate your work here, which is exceptional not only for its excellent writing, but for the often very interesting exchanges that come through the comboxes - a rarity in this troll infested and uncivilized digital age.

@Scott,

The specific notion of richness on which Feser's argument relied invoked, explicitly, the matter of presence or absence of properties of the type I described: information. Your assertion that this is irrelevant contradicts this.

You state,

What is under discussion, according to your original question and those of us who have been answering it, is what notion of "richness" Ed is employing when he says that a concept, being abstract and universal, is than a mental image. How you expect to understand the relevance of universality (or even the nature of a concept) by ignoring referents/signification from the outset, I do not know.

No concept is dependent on, much less identical with, its referents (which may, I repeat, not even exist, even in principle). How you expect to understand the nature of a concept (or the relevance of universality) in terms of reference/signification I do not know. A concept may have everything or nothing to do with reference.

In response to my claim that there are two senses being used by Feser, you simply say, no, "we have just the one," but you quite remarkably don't say which one. And then you tell me I haven't got my head around the sense in which he's using it.

So tell us: which sense is he using "the one?” Is the richer the more concrete and particular, or the more abstract and general?

Glenn said...

Natural Mind,

Spryness is not an adequate substitute for paying attention.

John West said...

No concept is dependent on, much less identical with, its referents (which may, I repeat, not even exist, even in principle).

I think the statements about not all concepts referring distracts from the point of Ed's post. We can quickly draw a distinction between concepts-with-referrents and concepts-without-referrents. Ed's example of “triangles” indicates he means concepts-with-referrents. Also, the post culminates in a point about Heaven which, at least for the sake of the post, is assumed to exist (ie. we could argue about it, but that would be a different post).

You can argue that concepts-without-referrents aren't richer than mental images, but even if you're right, it's trivial. Ed's argument isn't talking about concepts-without-referrents.

Brandon said...


So tell us: which sense is he using "the one?” Is the richer the more concrete and particular, or the more abstract and general?

Perhaps you might consider taking him at his word:

The concept, being completely abstract and universal, is richer than any mental image or set of mental images, which are always concrete and particular.

Much of your argument seems to proceed on the assumption that the general is just the specific considered in a vague, and thus less informative, way; but this is not something anyone here would accept uncritically, and at least a number of people here would not accept at all, arguing that the specific vaguely considered is still just the specific, however vaguely you consider it.

Scott said...

@Natural Mind:

I'll limit this reply to one fundamental point, as other posters have already addressed most of the other issues.

A concept may have everything or nothing to do with reference.

On the contrary, a concept is pretty much nothing but reference. I take it you mean here that a concept may not have real referents in the external world—which is true but irrelevant: any concept has what might be called a virtual referent or an intentional object, and it is from that object that a concept takes its character as a concept. Divest a concept of its intentionality, its directedness toward its object, and you're left with a big ol' handful o' nothin'.

Or at least that's the view underlying the claim you're trying to criticize; you may of course disagree. But if you do, that's irrelevant to your stated aim of understanding the claim in question. Ed meant just what he wrote, even if you think he should have meant something else instead.

Anonymous said...

The universal is infinitive. Therefore it is simple because it expresses limitless possibilities under one subject. 'The Idea of Walking' is limitless modes of walking.

A concept is a symbol first and then a sign. First it expresses itself and then it actually signifies this or that particular. A concept, either general or specific, is a general sign. A mental image is a particular sign. The concept is first intelligible and then it is a sign; therefore the concept is essentially a symbol before it is a sign. What is a concept that doesn't signify? A privative universal. It is the universal conformed to a finite mind. Then it is the universal conformed to a finite mind within a position. Then it is the universal, conformed to a finite mind, within a position and signifying an object. Then it is the universal, conformed to a finite mind, within a position, signifying an object which is also in a position. And so on.

A symbol possesses abstract content, but a sign contains a reference to a concrete object. The letter 'A' symbolizes 'beginnings' and signifies the beginning of the alphabet as well as elements of speech. The letter 'A' as a symbol is different from the letter 'A' as a sign. The letter 'A' signifies one type of beginning or a particular beginning (an actual instance of pronouncing the alphabet), but once it is taken as a symbol it possesses limitless content since 'to be a beginning' is infinitive. The limit of contemplation is reached in conforming the infinitive to a finite mind.

Theses:

1. A general concept is a symbol for the universal.

2. A specific concept is a general sign.

3. A specific concept is decomposed into general concepts.

4. A mental image is a particular sign.

5. A mental image in itself is never conceptual, but requires a concept.

Example: I have a specific concept of my cat, Friedrich, which may be decomposed into general concepts. No mental image by itself is the same as my concept, but signifies the concept. The specific concept is a general sign and may be significantly specified as I intend Friedrich the concrete particular cat in some position, etc.

Hypotheses:

1. The infinitive is indivisible. Therefore it is a simple subject.

2. The mind intuitively converts subjects and objects. ('X' is an object of experience which is a subject which is an object of intellection, etc.)

3. This intuitive conversion is the efficient cause of discursive intellection.

4. Discourse intensifies any subject insofar as it is an object of intellection.

5. The final cause of discursive intellection is the purification of primitive intuition.

6. Purification is perfect objectification of the infinitive by an intellect.

7. Perfection is infinity.

8. The finite mind obtains intellectual intuition at its own limit wherein the infinitive is conformed to the finite intellect.

Ian Wardell said...

I see nothing wrong with Berkeley's claim that physical objects are nothing but a family of perceptions. There might be a mind-independent reality. It might even be like what we perceive it to be i.e having colour, sounds etc. But it is also possible that it is nothing but our experiences.

Contrariwise it seems to me to be simply false to say that brain activity is the very same thing as thoughts. The former might produce the latter, but they are not literally the same since they are wholly dissimilar to each other.

Anonymous said...

@Daniel
could you elaborate more on why Quentin Smith's eternal multiverse could not be the necessary reality, even it if was eternal and would require an actual necessary being to sustain it due to it being composed of parts

Scott said...

@Anonymous:

Why don't you search this blog for "simplicity"? I'd recommend starting here.

One short (and incomplete) answer to your question is that even if the "parts" of a multiverse (or anything else) somehow have it in their natures to "go together," that fact implies that each part has potencies in its nature that require the existence of the other part(s) in order to be actualized. Each such act of existence itself stands in need of explanation; there's no way to get a self-contained ultimate explanation from anything whose essence doesn't include existence.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Anon

How do you view the universe? Is it a thing, or a sum of things? Is the universe a substance or an aggregate? Is the universe a box where there may be or may not be other things inside it, or is it a pile of things?

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

@Daniel, I think it is a sum of things, but I'm having trouble understanding that if the universe was composed of parts(I do believe it is composed of parts), but eternal how would it still require an external source to make sure all of its parts came together and stayed that way, because doesn't eternal mean necessary? This may seem like an amateur question but this is a common argument I see atheist use as they always seem to play this card to object to a first cause.

Daniel said...

An aside but if parts 'have it in their nature to go together' then we're well on the way to the Fifth Way.

could you elaborate more on why Quentin Smith's eternal multiverse could not be the necessary reality, even if it was eternal and would require an actual necessary being to sustain it due to it being composed of parts

Well if the emboldened phrase is taken into account then the multiverse is only necessary in the sense that it has always and always will exist, which is just what Aristotle himself (not to mention the Neoplatonists thought). For the sake of the argument the theist can, and in Thomas case does, admit this. Ed discusses this explicitly in the context of our conversation in his overview of the Third Way in Aquinas.

My own preferred way of tackling the problem would be to ask why is the being the atheist posits i.e. the necessary part of which we know nothing, necessary? What aspect of it makes it so? For God, the Perfect Being, we have an answer: a Perfect Being is of its nature a necessary being (one capable of existing in all Possible Worlds to put it in modern speak) and thus if coherent to witt logically possible then it exists necessarily. What justification of Necessity can the atheist give for their part?

(Of course they could accept the above Ontological Argument and claim that the multiverse conceived pantheisticaly is the Perfect Being, a claim which is dubious to say the least)

If people can get access to it through a library or similar there's a great essay on Divine Necessity by Brian Leftow in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology. There's a couple of video clips of him explaining it simplified language on his Closer to the Truth page too.

http://www.closertotruth.com/contributor/brian-leftow/profile

Scott said...

[D]oesn't eternal mean necessary?

Not at all. For example, Aquinas holds that God's willing the creation of our universe is eternal, but it's not necessary (absolutely necessary, that is; there's a sense in which God didn't have to create just this universe and "could have done otherwise").

Even if all we mean by "eternal" is "everlasting in time," Aquinas didn't see any contradiction in the universe's having existed forever; he thought we needed special revelation in order to know that it hadn't. But he also thought it could be shown through natural reason that God willed/wills its creation eternally.

Scott said...

"[I]f the universe was composed of parts…but eternal how would it still require an external source to make sure all of its parts came together and stayed that way[?]"

As I said above, the existence of the "parts" still requires explanation. Nothing can be self-explanatory unless existence is included in its essence, and we know that's not the case for any "part" that has a potency to come together with another "part," since it requires that other "part" in order to reduce that potency to act. (Follow the link, and the advice, that I've already provided in order to see why something whose essence is existence must itself be Pure Act—i.e., without potencies.)

None of that changes just because the "parts" have existed forever.

Scott said...

Even if all we mean by "eternal" is "everlasting in time," Aquinas didn't see any contradiction in the universe's having existed forever; he thought we needed special revelation in order to know that it hadn't. But he also thought it could be shown through natural reason that God willed/wills its creation eternally.

I've put this somewhat confusingly and, in at least one respect, altogether incorrectly. What I meant is this.

Aquinas thought that, without special revelation, we can't tell whether the universe has existed forever. He also thought, however, that we can know via natural reason that God doesn't create this universe out of (absolute) necessity and thus that it doesn't exist (absolutely) necessarily. So by "necessity" he clearly didn't (just) mean everlasting existence.

Anonymous said...

Eternal means necessary. Divine Ideas are necessary in relation to material entities, but not necessary in relation to God. For in metaphysics there is a triadic hierarchy:

Absolute Subject->Specific subjects (infinite in a secondary mode; Divine Ideas and Angels)->material subjects (composed in time)

Necessity depends upon ontological status. God is Absolutely necessary and Divine Ideas or Universals are relatively necessary.

John West said...

Or rather, on this view, unimaginable and therefore indescribable (as only the saints victorious have seen outside the dungeon).

It seems plausible to me that if such a place as Heaven exists, humans are conceptually closed to it.

Anonymous said...

@Scott and Daniel,
Just to to be clear, you guys are saying that even if there was an eternally existant multiverse composed of parts that were always together, they would still require a prior cause due to those parts needing each other to actualize their potential(being together), and couldnt n=be the first cause, otherwise it would just be a brute fact? I told this to an atheist, and they replied they would rather believe in a brute fact than go on further and just accept all of the above I stated about the multiverse being eternal.

John West said...

Nice to see "relatively necessary" getting some use.

John West said...

Think, Mcfly, think! by Edward Feser

Scott said...

Eternal means necessary.

'Fraid not. They'd mean two different things even if they entailed one other, just as "triangular" and "trilateral" do.

Daniel said...

@Anon,

I told this to an atheist, and they replied they would rather believe in a brute fact than go on further and just accept all of the above I stated about the multiverse being eternal.

In which case they've just thrown up their hands and refused point-blank to give an explanation at all for fear it be one they dislike. Now why does this all sound hauntingly familiar?

Anonymous said...

"Nice to see "relatively necessary" getting some use."

If there are Divine Ideas then there is God. Therefore contingency.

If there are material entities then there are Divine Ideas. Necessity.

If there is God then there is God. Absolute necessity.

If there is anything other than God then there is God. Therefore there are relative necessities subordinate to God's Absolute Necessity.

What is eternal is timeless, but may be specifically limited by eternal acts proceeding from the First. Temporal entities are limited through their essence as well as their temporal composition or existence. Ideas or Universals are limited by definition alone, but are infinite in there kind, not limited by what may be posited through them, 'infinitive', 'infinitum secundum quid', etc.

Basically, whatever is eternal is necessary although not absolutely necessary.

Scott said...

Basically, whatever is eternal is necessary although not absolutely necessary.

I'll probably go along with that, but I still have to disagree that eternity (or eternal) means necessity (or necessary).

Scott said...

Just to to be clear, you guys are saying that even if there was an eternally existant multiverse composed of parts that were always together, they would still require a prior cause due to those parts needing each other to actualize their potential(being together), and couldnt n=be the first cause, otherwise it would just be a brute fact?

I think that's a fair summary of what we're saying in combination.

I'm saying that if A's nature is such that it can combine with B as a part of a greater whole, then the potency to do so must be part of A's nature, and this potency can't be actualized without B. In that case neither A alone nor the composite entity A-B can be pure act, even if A-B has always existed, because even in that case A includes an actualized potency. It can be argued on other grounds (again, follow the link) that the Prime Mover must be pure act, without any potencies (actualized or not), and so we can't have arrived at the Prime Mover with A-B.

Anonymous said...

@Scott
Would there still be a prime mover even if there was an eternal quantum field as some atheist uses this as an excuse instead of the multiverse.

Scott said...

Would there still be a prime mover even if there was an eternal quantum field as some atheist uses this as an excuse instead of the multiverse.

The point is that the Prime Mover whose existence is established by the cosmological argument(s) has to have certain features (unity, simplicity, aseity, and so forth) that a quantum field doesn't have. It doesn't make any difference whether the quantum field is "eternal," any more than it makes any difference whether the parts of the "multiverse" were ever in fact physically separate. Both require further explanation in terms of something else.

Anonymous said...

@Scott
Thanks for all of your help as I now better understand the cosmological argument. It is not whether or not the universe began to exist, but about how change occurs in the first place. Though I still have one more question I would like to ask. Since humans and animals are self-movers could it be said that an eternal multiverse/quantum field is also a self-mover like humans but eternal and therefore requires not external cause. I don't endorse this view, but I want to properly understand and defend the argument.

Daniel said...

@Anon,

The Thomist would say that though there is a strong sense in which humans determine their movements they are not 'self-moved' the sense we're talking about.

Even if we grant that humans are self-moved it's only because we're beings possessed of volition and free choice, something a quantum field lacks (if the quantum field has material parts the problem arises anyway).

If rational agents are self-moved could an immaterial being that isn't God be the cause of the universe? and claim this is as far as the First Way can go. Since the immaterial being would be contingent and thus have essence separate from existence arguments like the Second Way would still hold.

Daniel said...

Edit:

That should read 'Scotus and Kenny would claim this is as far as the First Way can go'

Scott said...

It is not whether or not the universe began to exist, but about how change occurs in the first place.

Yes, Aquinas's First Way in particular is about how changes can be occurring here and now and not how they may have gotten started somewhere way back in time. In general, the present existence of something requires an explanation no matter how long (even infinitely long) the thing may have existed in the past.

Since humans and animals are self-movers could it be said that an eternal multiverse/quantum field is also a self-mover like humans but eternal and therefore requires not external cause.

Humans and (nonrational) animals are "self-movers" only conditionally and only in a sense. What happens when "I" move "myself" is really that some part of me moves another part of me, and even this power involves secondary causation, which I don't have apart from God's primary causation.

And here again, the reason we require external causes isn't that we aren't "eternal" but that our existence isn't self-explanatory. No matter how we analyze our self-motion, we clearly do require external causes in order to exist; so, by analogy, should an allegedly self-moving quantum field, whether or not it's "eternal."

Anonymous said...

@Scott,
If an Atheist said that an eternal multiverse/quantam field is the first cause , I could just reply that it cannot be so due to the fact that based on what we know about them they are changing, and they cannot do so on their own as in order for them to go from potency to act in the same regard would mean that they would be potency and act at the same time, which would be impossible, and they would require further explanation for these changes, otherwise it would just be a brute fact

John West said...

I'm not sure “just” is the right word here. Glancing through Scott's replies he's discussed the act/potency analysis of change (which your interlocutor probably denies), the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the real distinction (between essence/existence), the distinction between temporal first causes and logical first causes (this is particularly important to understanding his point about eternality not cutting it). His replies are obviously on point, but (while I don't think anyone's made it) I think we should avoid the mistake of acting like they're “easy” replies. It may take some footwork to unpack all of that, especially to atheists.

Make sure your interlocutor's doing some work to explain his proposals. We're not even sure there is a multiverse or quantum fields (is Everett's even compatible with quantum field theory?), or that if there is a multiverse, that multiverses have quantum fields, or that if there is a multiverse with a quantum field, that it's possible for a quantum field to have eternality. Don't let your interlocutor just keep throwing baloney at you to keep you on the ropes. Make sure he's doing some work too.

Scott said...

John West writes:

I think we should avoid the mistake of acting like they're “easy” replies.

Absolutely agreed. I don't think anyone has claimed otherwise either, but it's certainly worth emphasizing that nothing we've said in this thread amounts to a knockdown reply that's guaranteed to drop an atheist in his/her logical tracks. Entire books have been written about every one of the sub-points at issue here.

E.Seigner said...

If an Atheist said that an eternal multiverse/quantam field is the first cause , I could just reply that... otherwise it would just be a brute fact

The problem is that atheists are generally comfy with brute facts. There's hardly ever any certainty you can change anyone's mind. You can only make sure you don't stop your inquiries at brute facts yourself.

Scott said...

Yes. George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, for example, is quite explicit in its rejection of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and its acceptance of the physical universe as brute fact.

Anonymous said...

@Scott, Daniel,
Thank you guys for your help,
I found some articles on why an eternal something could still not be the first cause and God would still be required
https://thomists.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/notes-on-the-relationship-between-faith-and-reason/
https://thomists.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/hume-causality-and-the-fallacy-of-composition/
Do you think they accurately represent why only God is the first cause.
PS does anyone know where dguller is, I heard he embraced the first cause argument a while ago and Aristotalein philosophy and I was thinking about asking him why stuff such as an eternal multiverse/quantum field did not suit with him(as he used to be an atheist, and this is what they commonly use as the first cause instead) and why he accepted it must be something like God.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Smith does say that on p. 146:

"The 'principle of sufficient reason' is false; not everything requires an explanation. As repeatedly emphasized, the natural universe sets the context in which explanation is possible, so the concept of explanation cannot legitimately be extended to the universe as a whole. Even the advocate of sufficient reason cannot adhere to this principle consistently: after applying it to the universe, the theist attempts to offer god as an exception to the principle, usually under the guise that god is his own sufficient reason for existing. But if god can be his own sufficient reason, there is no basis on which to argue that the universe cannot likewise be its own sufficient reason, in which case there is no need to posit god in the first place."

It may be noticed that he uses the term 'god' and not the term 'God'. Back on p. 5, he explains why he might use one term and not the other:

"[I]t is necessary to mention that I employ the term 'god' in two different ways. I use it with a lower case 'g' (god) to refer to the generic idea of a god, i.e., the general notion of a supernatural being, apart from any specific characteristics. I use the term 'God' (with an upper case 'G') to refer specifically to the God of Christianity, along with its various attributes, such as omnipotence, omniscience and so forth."

If Smith's employment of the term 'god' on p. 146 is consistent with his explanation on p. 5 for how he'll intends on using the term, then when he asserts on p. 146 that there is no need to posit god in the first place, he is saying there is no need to posit God as devoid of omnipotence, omniscience, etc.

I think I'll concur.

;)

Glenn said...

(s/b "...he intends...")

John West said...

Anonymous wrote: PS does anyone know where dguller is, I heard he embraced the first cause argument a while ago and Aristotalein philosophy and I was thinking about asking him why stuff such as an eternal multiverse/quantum field did not suit with him(as he used to be an atheist, and this is what they commonly use as the first cause instead) and why he accepted it must be something like God

The legendary DGuller -- again!

For what it's worth, Anonymous, the terms "quantum field" and "multiverse" really just obscure the issue. At root, "quantum field" is just a placeholder for "most fundamental unit of physical matter" in your interlocutor's objection. The quantum fieldness of the quantum field doesn't actually play any part in it. It's just the old necessarily existent philosophical atom, or atomos, objection to cosmological arguments with a bunch of extra baggage that isn't actually doing anything in the objection.

Likewise, the "multiverse" objection is just the "necessarily existent universe" objection, moved a step back to accommodate the (ever more contrived) Big Bang Theory. So neither objection is new, and there are oodles of work refuting both of them.

Daniel said...

Might I take this opportunity to recommend Stephen Parrish's God and Necessity: A Defense of Classical Theism, which contains a nice section on Necessary Universe theories along with the more boring Brute Fact alternative.

(He has another book, The Knower and the Known, which deals with the Mind/Body problem and supposedly contains a variation on the Proof from Eternal Truths though I haven't checked it out yet)

Scott said...

@Daniel:

Both of those links take me to The Knower and the Known Here's God and Necessity.

Thanks. They look interesting.,

Mr. Green said...

Young and Rested: That Jesus was quite clearly a person makes it hard for me to see exactly how to understand the claim that he was also God when God is not a person or a being, but being itself.

Au contraire, it makes it easier to understand! Remember that God is not "impersonal"; we should think of Him as being more than personal, not less. But if God were a person, like a man or some other creature, then it would be problematic for Him to be both one kind of person and a human kind of person at the same time. Having two different natures would seem to be contradictory since having a nature just means being this kind of thing and not something else. But it is because God as divine is beyond having a nature (strictly speaking, God is supernatural), that taking on a human nature does not contradict His beyond-natural-ness. The non-classical theist depicts God as having a nature, albeit a really big one, which is too limiting.

Mr. Green said...

Glenn: Smith does say [...] But if god can be his own sufficient reason, there is no basis on which to argue that the universe cannot likewise be its own sufficient reason

<blink>

The next time I hear that line, I think I'll invite the speaker to jump off a cliff. You know, on the grounds that if a bird can fly, there is no basis on which to argue that a man cannot do likewise.

Greg said...

As repeatedly emphasized, the natural universe sets the context in which explanation is possible, so the concept of explanation cannot legitimately be extended to the universe as a whole.

I'd also be interested to take a look at the book on this point, since he says "As repeatedly emphasized". One has to be clear about what the 'natural universe' is. If it's everything that exists, in the sense of everything you can quantify over, then it doesn't exclude God. If it's everything mutable, then it is not clear what would prevent us from extending the concept of explanation to it as a whole, especially if some analysis forced us to (i.e. showed that, if the universe does not have an explanation other than itself, then some thing in the universe does not have an explanation other than itself). If it's something else, then one has to be careful that one doesn't rule out other legitimate forms of explanation or otherwise beg any questions.

Greg said...

It's a lot like Russell's assertion that causality only makes sense within the universe. But if you want to grant some principle of causality in the universe, then you open yourself up to the argument that that principle of causality cannot hold only in the universe.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green and Glenn:

If I recall correctly, that line appears not far from the part where Smith approvingly quotes Nathaniel Branden to the effect that "Existence—not 'God'—is the First Cause." What's interesting (and ironic) is that, understood correctly and without the false contrast between "God" and "existence," that statement would basically be right.

Unfortunately both of them, despite their regular bandying about of the term "existence," treat it in the end as synonymous with the physical/natural universe. That their own outlook doesn't entitle them to treat "existence" as anything over and above specific existents occurs to them no more than it did to their hero Rand.

Thus we get Smith "arguing" that if anything can be its own sufficient reason, then everything can be.

Daniel said...

That criticism is derived from Kant ('causation' having no application beyond the phenomenal) and thus singularly irrelevant without that former's system of Transcendental Categories.

@Scott,

Thanks!

Glenn said...

Scott,

Good memory. Smith's quoting of Branden to the effect that "Existence—not 'God'—is the First Cause" is just 7 pages prior.

- - - - -

Two sentences later, Smith opines, "[B]efore something can act as a cause, it must first exist—i.e., it must first be part of the universe."

What I find, let me say, interesting about his book, in which he not infrequently appeals to the need for logic and evidence (which logic and evidence seems to be curiously absent re the above opining), is that Smith, having dispensed with the preface, begins his case against God by quoting from Thomas Paine: "I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinion upon religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine..."

It's almost as if he means to advise or warn his readers that his case against God is founded on his opinion.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

Two sentences later, Smith opines, "[B]efore something can act as a cause, it must first exist—i.e., it must first be part of the universe."

And, heh, the first part of that statement is not only true but admitted by every classical theist who has ever lived (with the possible but arguable exception of those who have held God to be beyond the distinction between existence and nonexistence). That's exactly why Ayn Rand was wrong (and culpably silly) to characterize theism as premised on the "primacy of consciousness" as opposed to the "primacy of existence" (a point on which I took her to task in my world-renowned book).

But if the bit after the "i.e." means "part of the physical/natural universe"—as it must if it's to make the point that Smith wants to make—then there's some equivocation in the air, not to mention the faint aroma of a question being begged.

So it seems Smith's almost-warning is well taken. His case is founded on his opinion, even when he doesn't know it.

Daniel said...

All the talk of Simplicity in this thread and elsewhere reminds me of something that's been on my mind for a while. I wonder: might we offer a slight emendation of Scotus' Modal Argument using a Simple being instead of an Uncaused Cause?

1. A concrete Simple Being possible
2. Of its nature a Simple Being cannot come to be or pass away
3. If such a being cannot come to be (be caused) but is possible it cannot be contingent and therefore must be necessary
4. A concrete Simple Being is necessary

Conclusion (follows from 1 and 2): a concrete Simple Being exists

The phraseology would need tightening up, especially for premise 3, but it seems fairly sound. One point in its favour is that it can encompass accounts of Divine Simplicity which don't involve the Real Distinction.

Any thoughts?

Scott said...

@Daniel:

I haven't read Ross's "Scotist" argument and I wouldn't presume to evaluate it based on a blog post that even the poster admits isn't necessarily a good match with what Ross actually wrote. But two premises seem to me to be pretty questionable.

1. An Uncaused Producer [or, in your version, a Simple Being] is logically possible.

I think Aquinas, at least, would say that this is just what we don't know. That's the basis of his objection to Anselm's ontological argument, namely that although the argument is sound if the notion of a maximally perfect being contains/implies nothing repugnant to reason, we simply don't have sufficient direct insight into the divine nature to know whether that's the case. I think he's probably right, and if so, a similar objection should apply to the two versions of premise 1 above.

2. Anything logically possible is either actual or potential.

On the face of it this premise seems to me to be, not to put too fine a point on it, not altogether unfalse. There appears, for example, to be nothing contradictory in the notion of a mermaid, a phoenix, or a unicorn, but we can't conclude from that fact that our universe harbors any real potencies (actualized or otherwise) for any of them.* And in this argument, we'd be begging the question if we assumed there was anywhere beyond our own world for such potencies to "live," as it were. Assuming there are no actual mermaids, we have no reason to think that mermaids are "potential" just because they're (so far as we can see) logically possible.

In that case, the argument at issue shows only that if an Uncaused Producer or a Simple Being exists, then it's actual. Which we kinda knew anyway, didn't we?

----

* If those examples don't persuade you, try a Euclidean isosceles right triangle. We have every reason to think the notion of such a triangle is logically consistent, but we also have every reason to think that our universe harbors exactly zero potency to produce anything other than more or less close approximations to it.

Greg said...

I think Scott's complaints are well-founded. I also think that they more or less apply to Ross's version of the argument.

John Zeis (I think a theist and one of Ross's students) wrote an article "Ross's antimony and modal arguments for God's existence" that gives similar objections to (1).

Interestingly he doesn't take as much issue with (2). But I suspect that even the later Ross would take issue with (2). In Philosophical Theology, though, he certainly did hold that if God did not exist, then his non-existence would have to be rendered explicable by some inconsistency in the concept of God. (Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. Zeis's paper contains a concise rendition of Ross's argument.)

Anonymous said...

@Scott
I asked the atheist what he meant by eternal quantum field/multiverse and he said that he meant eternal inflation where this occurs: "the very early Universe was dominated by exponential growth, and at some point the growth needed to stop and the energy needed to be converted into matter and radiation. The difference is that in eternal inflation, the growth need not have stopped all at once. Instead, little bubbles of space could have randomly stopped inflating, or fallen onto trajectories which would lead to inflation’s end. The bubbles’ interiors would be in a lower energy state (less vacuum energy means slower inflation), and since they’re in an energetically favorable state they would expand into the inflating exterior. This is much the same as little bubbles of steam growing and expanding in a pot of boiling water: a steam bubble nucleates randomly, and then grows by converting water into more steam. If the Universe weren’t expanding, or if it were expanding slowly, each bubble would eventually run into another bubble and the entire Universe would be converted to the lower vacuum energy. But, in a rapidly expanding universe, the space between bubbles is growing even as the bubbles are themselves growing into that space. If the expansion is fast enough, the growth of inflating space will be faster than its conversion into lower-energy bubbles — inflation will never end." and that "ternal inflation would mean that everything that we see, plus a huge amount that we don’t see (hidden behind our cosmological horizon), all came from a single bubble amongst an infinity of other bubbles. ". I'm not sure how I could respond to this, and I'm wondering if you can help

Scott said...

I'm not sure how I could respond to this[.]

The best way, I think, is to continue studying the basics yourself and stop worrying about how to answer off-topic "replies." There's nothing in this latest reply that we haven't already been addressed, and indeed there's nothing in it that even attempts to explain how a "single bubble amongst an infinity of other bubbles" could possibly fail to require further explanation. But you need to have a pretty firm grasp on the essential arguments yourself in order to able to present cogent responses along those lines, and having such a grasp has much more important rewards than being able to tell atheists when their arguments miss the point.

John West said...

In short, the atheist copy-pasted what this guy said on January 21, 2014:

http://www.earlyuniverse.org/eternal-inflation-and-colliding-universes/

Scott said...

@Daniel:

I should probably make explicit that your own premise 3

3. If such a being cannot come to be (be caused) but is possible it cannot be contingent and therefore must be necessary

raises a question similar but not identical to that raised by Codgitator's premise 2. It's simply not clear that anything logically possible must be either contingent or necessary—as opposed to, say, merely nonexistent. The most you can get from your premise, it seems, is that if such a being did exist, it would be necessary rather than contingent. But you can't get its actual existence just from its logical possibility.

Scott said...

A couple of posts back, "that we haven't already been addressed" s/b "that we haven't already addressed."

Daniel said...

Thanks for the responses.

I think Aquinas, at least, would say that this is just what we don't know. That's the basis of his objection to Anselm's ontological argument, namely that although the argument is sound if the notion of a maximally perfect being contains/implies nothing repugnant to reason, we simply don't have sufficient direct insight into the divine nature to know whether that's the case. I think he's probably right, and if so, a similar objection should apply to the two versions of premise 1 above.

The old saw that we do not know if a maximally great being or what have you is possible... The main problem I have with this objection is the theist is committed to hold that it is possible - if the theist cannot make this claim and defend it then the criticism holds for any theist argument*. True there may be some hidden inconsistency theists haven't noticed but that holds for any argument or concept. In short we can only seek to prove what hold to be possible.

(Ofcourse Theists including Thomas lay out arguments for the coherence of the Divine Attributes and such all the time)

To give a rough analogy: suppose one is responding to a Theist Personalist’s arguments for the incoherency of Divine Simplicity. One points out how these objections fail and thus we have no substantial reason to doubt the coherency (thus possibility) of Divine Simplicity. True the critic may then say ‘well, for all we know there may be an objection that does show DS is incoherent; we just haven’t found it yet’ but until such time as they follow up on their prediction we have no need to grant them anything.

*This of course is what a lot of early atheist philosophers of Religion e.g. Flew, Martin et cetera pressed forward that the notion of God was incoherent independent of any OA worries. Without the assumption of the coherence/possibility the Natural Theological project cannot get off the ground.

2. Anything logically possible is either actual or potential.

Which for one reason is why I was careful not to conflate potency with possibility. If the moral of the previous thread was not to take modality as solely reducible with act and potency then I agree.

It raises a question similar but not identical to that raised by Codgitator's premise 2. It's simply not clear that anything logically possible must be either contingent or necessary—as opposed to, say, merely nonexistent. The most you can get from your premise, it seems, is that if such a being did exist, it would be necessary rather than contingent. But you can't get its actual existence just from its logical possibility.

How so? Taking the above distinction in hand if a being does not exist it must either be contingent or contradictory i.e. impossible. To make points like this clear the argument could be hashed out in terms of Possible Worlds.

@Greg,

I’ll look up the article. Not that you implied so but I was of course not necessarily endorsing Ross’ own approach to Natural Theology or views on said argument as much as the argument itself.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

The main problem I have with this objection is the theist is committed to hold that it is possible - if the theist cannot make this claim and defend it then the criticism holds for any theist argument*. True there may be some hidden inconsistency theists haven't noticed but that holds for any argument or concept. In short we can only seek to prove what hold to be possible.

The theist does hold that it is possible, but he doesn't have to hold that one can advance a probative argument against an atheist in which the possibility is known prior to the actuality.

In other words, Aquinas shows that God exists and has these attributes. We don't understand them fully, but the via negativa shows us something more about them than we could have come to know prior to knowing of God's existence. But if the theist wants to turn around and construct a modal argument, he would have to establish the coherence of the concept of God apart from whatever he has learned from pursuing one of the non-modal arguments. It's not quite a matter of avoiding hidden inconsistencies but of having something to talk about.

John West said...

Daniel,

How so? Taking the above distinction in hand if a being does not exist it must either be contingent or contradictory i.e. impossible. To make points like this clear the argument could be hashed out in terms of Possible Worlds.

Well, hold on a second. when a proposition isn't contingent, all that says is that it's not (possibly true and possibly false, but not (necessarily true or necessarily false)).

In contrast, if a proposition is possibly true, then it's (possibly true, possibly false, or necessarily true, but not necessarily false). So given the proposition "Possibly, (a Simple Being exists)", the proposition “A Simple Being exists” can still be false, even if it's shown that it can't be contingent.

John West said...

edit: So given "Possibly, (a Simple Being exists)", the proposition “A Simple Being exists” can still be false, even if it's shown that it can't be contingent.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but I have GOT to read Feser's take on Jerry Coyne's new book, preferably a chapter-by-chapter takedown a la Alex Rosenberg...

Scott said...

@Daniel:

The main problem I have with this objection is the theist is committed to hold that it is possible - if the theist cannot make this claim and defend it then the criticism holds for any theist argument*.

Most theistic arguments aren't modal arguments. (They also don't purport to prove the real existence of a definiendum from nothing more than its definition.) Greg has already explained the importance of this point, so I won't rehearse his explanation here.

Which for one reason is why I was careful not to conflate potency with possibility.

It's unfortunate, then, that as your example you linked to a version of the argument that wasn't so fastidious. ;-)

@Daniel:

Taking the above distinction in hand if a being does not exist it must either be contingent or contradictory i.e. impossible.

Not if you intend these terms to have anything like the meanings they have for Aquinas and Thomism. For Thomists, something is "contingent" if it has an inherent tendency toward corruption or nonexistence, and "necessary" otherwise. That something does not in fact exist does not in any way show that if it did exist, it would have any such inherent tendency.

As a counterexample, consider the soul of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes never existed as anything other than a fictional character, so there isn't any "soul of Sherlock Holmes" in the real world. But if there were, it would be immortal just as our souls are, and for the same reasons. For Aquinas it would therefore, if it existed, be a necessary being, albeit one that received its necessity from God rather than possessing it of itself. The one thing it couldn't be is contingent.

Now, you can of course use those words with other meanings. But if you do, your replies won't have any bearing on my objections. (They'll also be vulnerable to John Wests's, but again, I won't rehearse those here.)

To make points like this clear the argument could be hashed out in terms of Possible Worlds.

Only at the risk of removing them even farther from the realm of relevance to Thomism. As you well know, from a Thomistic point of view, "possible worlds" ontology gets things entirely the wrong way round and in any case has nothing to say about the sort of necessity and contingency at issue in the arguments you're discussing.

Scott said...

Oops, I wound up with an extra "@Daniel" in that post. The whole post is a reply to the same Daniel, so ignore the second occurrence.

Daniel said...

@Greg,

Why so? Surely the coherence of the concepts involved underpin those other arguments. How we first arrive at the concepts in question is a genetic issue irrelevant to their coherence. Even when we set out to prove something’s actual we tacitly presuppose that it’s possible.

And that brings us to the second point: one can understand the concepts discussed by Thomas or any theist without necessarily accepting the argument in context of which they were originally discussed. For instance a Scotist might say that God as Actus Purus in the First Way is coherent but cannot be reached by that argument. One might even hold that as they stand all of Thomas' own arguments fail but that the notion of God he derives from them is coherent.

(On the epistemic side the OA proponent gets the initial ‘something to talk’ about from being acquainted with degrees of Being and Goodness in the word – that though is strictly speaking a detail about the cognitive possibility of metaphysics in general and isn’t specific to this argument)

@John,

I wasn't talking about the modal status of propositions though but beings e.g. a contingent being is one which exists in at least one possible world and an impossible being on which exits in none (as opposed to doing so in terms of act and potency).

Scott said...

I should probably have written: For Thomists, something is "contingent" if it has an inherent tendency toward corruption or nonexistence, and (metaphysically) "necessary" otherwise.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Sorry - I posted the response to Greg before seeing your reply.

Does not the Thomist hold that something contingent if its essence is distinct from its existence? Hence the angels being contingent despite having no potency and thus tendency towards corruption.

Most theistic arguments aren't modal arguments. (They also don't purport to prove the real existence of a definiendum from nothing more than its definition.) Greg has already explained the importance of this point, so I won't rehearse his explanation here.

To which I have replied saying that to ask how we arrive at the concepts is to change the subject.

As you well know, from a Thomistic point of view, "possible worlds" ontology gets things entirely the wrong way round and in any case has nothing to say about the sort of necessity and contingency at issue in the arguments you're discussing.

Not to get pernickety but I was using Possible World Semantics to illustrate a point not necessarily endorse any contemporary ontological account of said semantics.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

Even when we set out to prove something’s actual we tacitly presuppose that it’s possible.

But we don't use that presupposition as a premise in the proof.

Moreover, if we do succeed in proving that it's actual, then we've also proven that our presupposition was correct: it is possible. That's different from a modal argument, which can show only that if something is possible, then it exists.

I wasn't talking about the modal status of propositions though but beings e.g. a contingent being is one which exists in at least one possible world and an impossible being on which exits in none (as opposed to doing so in terms of act and potency).

Why? If, as you say, you're being careful not to conflate potency with possibility, then your possible-worlds analysis can't possibly capture what Thomism means by contingency. (It doesn't even capture what Thomism means by possibility, but that's another subject.)

I see upon previewing this post that you've replied again while I was composing it, but I'm afraid I don't have time to incorporate a response; we have dinner guests arriving shortly.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Why? If, as you say, you're being careful not to conflate potency with possibility, then your possible-worlds analysis can't possibly capture what Thomism means by contingency. (It doesn't even capture what Thomism means by possibility, but that's another subject.)

It might not given the enlarged account vis via derived necessity you gave earlier but it's a close enough analogy with the essence distinct from existence meaning I had in mind. I’m aware the possible world and modern account of essences differ but its broad enough to illustrate the point I had in mind. If it helps people we can speak of ‘Objective Potency’ for this kind of logical possibility.

I see upon previewing this post that you've replied again while I was composing it, but I'm afraid I don't have time to incorporate a response; we have dinner guests arriving shortly.

Important point was what Thomists mean by contingency. Anyway hope the evening goes well.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

Surely the coherence of the concepts involved underpin those other arguments. How we first arrive at the concepts in question is a genetic issue irrelevant to their coherence. Even when we set out to prove something’s actual we tacitly presuppose that it’s possible.

I really don't think that this is true.

If we have to know that something is possible before proving that it is actual, then all proofs that purport to prove that some being necessarily exists beg the question.

Whatever is actual is possible. That's a necessary condition. In trying to show that something is actual, we cannot know that any one of its necessary conditions do not obtain. If we are to prove that God exists, we have to presuppose that it has not been shown that it is impossible that God exists. But that is not the same as presupposing that it is possible that God exists (unless we are equivocating between metaphysical and epistemic possibility).

If some set of conclusions follows from first principles, then that set of conclusions is consistent. That's at least my presupposition, that the human intellectual task is not entirely hopeless. But prior to the argument I haven't assumed the possibility of God's existence.

John West said...

Daniel,

I'm aware of that. That's why I assumed possible worlds semantics.

But having run it through a proof tree (after a couple initial mistakes, from trying to scratch it out in a combox), it seems possible falsehood doesn't follow from non-contingency and possible truth. So, that checks out.

One other problem though, how do you ground possible worlds semantics without tacitly presuming God exists?

Greg said...

If we have to know that something is possible before proving that it is actual, then all proofs that purport to prove that some being necessarily exists beg the question.

I should add that I'm assuming that there's some cogency to the line against Plantinga's ontological argument, that it begs the question in the premise that a maximally great being possibly exists.

But suffice it to say: It could not be a presupposition of all arguments for God's existence that God's existence is possible. For take one of those arguments like Aquinas's First Way. Aquinas's argument doesn't use that tacit premise, to be sure; I would be interested to hear which inference he makes demands it. So then you can delete the tacit premise and the argument remains sound, if it were sound before.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

And that brings us to the second point: one can understand the concepts discussed by Thomas or any theist without necessarily accepting the argument in context of which they were originally discussed. For instance a Scotist might say that God as Actus Purus in the First Way is coherent but cannot be reached by that argument. One might even hold that as they stand all of Thomas' own arguments fail but that the notion of God he derives from them is coherent.

I want to think a bit more about this point. I am inclined to reject it as well, for one theme of Aquinas's arguments that I have always liked is that it is difficult to give a satisfactory account of the divine attributes apart from arguments for God's existence (though I think this claim has to be weakened somewhat). For instance, omnipotence is notoriously difficult to formulate; the Thomist almost picks the attribute out ostensively (or, I suppose more accurately, by the description: the attribute that makes that possible).

You raise a slightly different issue (or, at least, this is what you have said suggests to me). Maybe one could find the Thomistic account of the attributes coherent if one follows the arguments, even though one goes on to reject the arguments. But I think I am still inclined to doubt that one really comes to the same understanding; I think that, insofar as one finds several of the Five Ways deficient, he will find that the Thomistic account of omnipotence lacks something, misses some point, glosses over a distinction, or emphasizes something that is not an issue. (These are, admittedly, not all issues of coherence.)

Daniel said...

@John,

Ah okay, thank you. The argument structure I gave in the combox was pretty thrown together - I'll go through it properly later on or over the weekend.

One other problem though, how do you ground possible worlds semantics without tacitly presuming God exists?

Yes, that's a worry for me as well. As yet I can't give any clear solution to it. My stop-gap is something to the effect that both Platonism and God do the same work - if it can be proved on the grounds of the former that the latter is workable then it can be collapsed into the former.

(Maybe though is the admission that beings have modal properties is enough to employ the semantics even before we find out what ultimately grounds such properties)

@Greg,

I should add that I'm assuming that there's some cogency to the line against Plantinga's ontological argument, that it begs the question in the premise that a maximally great being possibly exists.

I'll slot in my response to what you said in the previous post about epistemic and metaphysical possibility here. The onus is on the critic so show that Plantinga or anyone else's claim that said being is metaphysically possible (the proponent will typically argue the individual coherence of the attributes he takes to comprise the being in question) is false. Until such time as they do the proponent has prima facia justification in his claim to metaphysical possibility.

The proponent of these arguments doesn't just assert possibility - he or she backs up this claim by analysing the concepts involved and defending them against prior objections. So we're not getting our justification for metaphysical possibility from nowhere.

Daniel said...

@Greg,

Thanks for the further responses. As with Scott earlier they crossed as I was writing that reply. I'll give a proper response later I hope.

One quick point: Surely your last sentence about someone finding the Thomist account of an Attribute lack something, misses a vital distinction et cetera could equally hold for someone who accepts the or any of Thomas arguments? Or (more interestingly) even if one accepts the account given and Five Ways could still claim they fail to establish that account by themselves.

Daniel said...

@Greg,

One last thing:

I am inclined to reject it as well, for one theme of Aquinas's arguments that I have always liked is that it is difficult to give a satisfactory account of the divine attributes apart from arguments for God's existence (though I think this claim has to be weakened somewhat). For instance, omnipotence is notoriously difficult to formulate; the Thomist almost picks the attribute out ostensively (or, I suppose more accurately, by the description: the attribute that makes that possible).

I would contest this. Surely an educated layman could come to understand Omnipotence as the power to bring about whatever's possible and good without any knowledge of specifically philosophical notions like the Thomist account of causality and such? Ditto for the other Divine Attributes.

If it's a question of how God has these attributes e.g. God Omnipotence's being due his nature as Pure Act and the Principle of Proportionate Causality then I concede it's very hard if not impossible to talk about it away from the context of other proofs.

John West said...

[With apologies for the previous typos]

On the other hand, Daniel, why couldn't the concrete, Simple Being exist only in worlds where it exists, rendering it possible in the other worlds? So, on the supposition that the concrete, Simple Being exists, it is unable to at some point have not existed or to cease to exist. But I'm not sure it follows from the truth that the concrete, Simple Being is unable to have at some point not existed or to cease to exist in the worlds it exists, that it exists in every possible world (PW). In other words, I'm not sure the sense of “necessary” used when you say that “Of its nature a Simple Being cannot come to be or pass away" is the same as the sense you're using when you say “necessary” in the PW sense of “existing in every PW”.

Daniel said...

On the subject of Epistemic and Metaphysical Possibility. One might make the same claim about any being: let us say that one makes it about a unicorn, in other words though they claim for all we know a unicorn might be possible we have no ground for saying that it is metaphysically possible. But I think that's highly dubious - surely we can make plausible claims to a unicorn being metaphysically possible based on our knowledge of similar existent beings e.g. horses, horned ungulates and so forth.

The same however can be said in the case of a Maximally Great Being. Throughout our worldly existence become acquainted with Being, Goodness, Causal Powers (Active Potencies) and more. Of course there is a gap between common tangible properties and mereological parts as in the case of the unicorn and the rarefied transcendental properties now under question, but that does not de facto bar us from making the case, particularly as we do so more thoroughly by unpacking the coherence of each Divine Attribute or 'Great Making Property'.

Not that it's a particularly strong factor but there are professional atheist philosophers of religion who consider some of the Divine Attributes to be coherant

John West said...

... To draw an analogy, say you have an immortal guy. Since he's possible, he exists in at least 1 possible world (we'll say only one to keep it simple). In that one world, it's impossible for him to have not existed or to cease to exist. But does that mean that he exists in every other PW, or just that there's just an immortal guy, living in one PW?

Daniel said...

@John,

That's actually the part which concerns me most. The phraseology there may have too strong a temporal overtone. What I'm asking is what could explain the Concrete Simple being’s existence in the world in which it exists: I’m tactically assuming that a being which is not caused by another is either A. a Brute Fact (which I'd say is incoherent) or B. a Necessary being. Of course if it can be a Necessary being in that one world the argument gets going properly.

John West said...

Daniel,

I’m tactically assuming that a being which is not caused by another is either A. a Brute Fact (which I'd say is incoherent) or B. a Necessary being

But I think this implies that there's an implicit, abductive inference in the argument of the form (not a quote) "the only beings that are not caused by another are either Brute Facts or Necessary Beings" (A v B). Since the PSR holds, brute facts are metaphysically impossible. Hence, the only beings that are not caused by another are Necessary Beings. Ergo, ...

But the problem is that if the argument has -- requires -- an abductive inference, the argument's conclusion no longer follows with deductive certainty.

Daniel said...

Apologies, with that admission I can just conclude that I've made the argument dependent on some version of the PSR and thus far less interesting.

(Also that last post was a mess of conflicting usages of 'necessity')

Final Divine Attribute thought: Most atheists seem committed to the coherence of at least one Divine Attribute i.e. Omnibenevolence. That wasn't what I had in mind though.

Daniel said...

John,

Sorry posts crossed - yes, I think you're right there.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

The onus is on the critic so show that Plantinga or anyone else's claim that said being is metaphysically possible (the proponent will typically argue the individual coherence of the attributes he takes to comprise the being in question) is false. Until such time as they do the proponent has prima facia justification in his claim to metaphysical possibility.

The proponent of these arguments doesn't just assert possibility - he or she backs up this claim by analysing the concepts involved and defending them against prior objections. So we're not getting our justification for metaphysical possibility from nowhere.


Well, the first point I would make is Zeis's: A parallel argument, premising the possibility of God's non-existence is apparently possible. The atheist can defend that against objection, since what objection could there be to it other than an argument that God exists?

But then one can also ask why the coherence of individual attributes (or all of them, for that matter) should support the thesis of metaphysical possibility. I think that view was a bit more plausible when Ross and Plantinga were writing. But as I said, the Ross who wrote Thought and World would presumably reject it.

I don't know, perhaps I just don't feel the force of the claim of metaphysical possibility. I might be wrong in that. I don't think it's a matter of 'onus,' though; I don't think any philosophy is a matter of onus. Claims and disclaims alike should be substantiated.

Surely your last sentence about someone finding the Thomist account of an Attribute lack something, misses a vital distinction et cetera could equally hold for someone who accepts the or any of Thomas arguments? Or (more interestingly) even if one accepts the account given and Five Ways could still claim they fail to establish that account by themselves.

I am not certain that I see what you are getting at here, but if you are asking whether someone could find (some of) the Five Ways sound but reject some of the arguments for divine attributes, then I say: of course.

Surely an educated layman could come to understand Omnipotence as the power to bring about whatever's possible and good without any knowledge of specifically philosophical notions like the Thomist account of causality and such?

I am still not settled on what I want to claim here. But the simple account of "Omnipotence as the power to bring about whatever's possible and good" is, while I think intuitively fairly informative, circular. For what's possible other than what God can bring about?

I think the classical theist answer to these questions is most satisfying and intelligible if one accepts one or multiple of the Five Ways. What it's possible for God to create are instances of those forms possessed by the divine intellect. But this is a very incomplete answer without knowing what the divine intellect is and in what sense it can possess 'forms'. Those answers demand and account of simplicity and, I think, proportionate causality. But by that point, I think one is close to providing a sketch of one of the Five Ways.

As I've said, I am a bit on the fence about these claims.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

One might make the same claim about any being: let us say that one makes it about a unicorn, in other words though they claim for all we know a unicorn might be possible we have no ground for saying that it is metaphysically possible. But I think that's highly dubious - surely we can make plausible claims to a unicorn being metaphysically possible based on our knowledge of similar existent beings e.g. horses, horned ungulates and so forth.

The same however can be said in the case of a Maximally Great Being. Throughout our worldly existence become acquainted with Being, Goodness, Causal Powers (Active Potencies) and more. Of course there is a gap between common tangible properties and mereological parts as in the case of the unicorn and the rarefied transcendental properties now under question, but that does not de facto bar us from making the case, particularly as we do so more thoroughly by unpacking the coherence of each Divine Attribute or 'Great Making Property'.


Well, I am pretty sympathetic to Kripke's view that unicorns are not metaphysically possible (unless, that is, it turns out - epistemically speaking - that they are actual).

It is possible for there to be a horse with a horn glued to its head. Perhaps it's also possible that there be some being that resembles a horse and has a horn that it grows 'naturally'. Setting aside that the latter case isn't sufficient for unicorns existing, these judgments of possibility have a lot to do with our knowledge of potencies: that we could glue a horn to the head of a horse, or that there might be some possible evolutionary chain that leads to the being that resembles a horse and has a horn that it grows 'naturally'.* I think those are the most reliable sorts of modal judgments we can make. But we aren't doing something analogous in Plantinga's argument; in the unicorn case, I don't think our judgment of metaphysical possibility is linked to conclusions about coherence of horse properties with the property of having a horn.


*I actually remember someone on here arguing that unicorns are biologically impossible. I think it's likely that there are no plausible evolutionary chains, but I would doubt that someone could really argue that it is metaphysically impossible for such a being to arise. The disagreement probably arises from different senses in which biologists and metaphysicians talk about possibility.

In any case, Kripke, though he'd agree that unicorns are metaphysically impossible, would probably not sympathize with the person who argues they are biologically impossible. His complaint is that the fictional natural-kind term for unicorns is fixed in myth, and therefore the sort of species with which unicorns could be identified is underdetermined. The biologist proceeds by assuming that unicorns, if they existed, would be some species immediately descended from horses, possessing a horn.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

Does not the Thomist hold that something contingent if its essence is distinct from its existence?

That's a different sense of contingency, and my understanding is that although Aquinas relied on it in some of his early work, it doesn't represent his mature views. At any rate it's not the sense at issue in my objection to the proposed argument.

Aquinas acknowledges in his Third Way that there are absolutely necessary beings that receive their necessity from another (and are therefore not God). In particular he's well known to have held that angels and the human soul are by nature incorruptible, and thus "necessary beings" in the sense I've described.

PeterJ said...

Thanks, I just read Lewis's essay. " He asks us to consider a child born to a woman locked in a dungeon, who tries to teach the child about the outside world..."

That made me think of a lovely 14th-century Irish poem by Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dalaigh, "A Child in Prison", also inspired by Plato's allegory of the cave. Maybe a little off-topic here—but it's a beautiful religious poem—any excuse to share it!
A pregnant woman (sorrow's sign)
once there was in painful prison.
The God of Elements let her bear
in prison there a little child.

And the child, knowing nothing of any other world, doesn't understand his mother's sadness:
He said one day, beholding
a tear on her lovely face:
'I see the signs of sadness;
now let me hear the cause.'

The mother tries to tell her child about the outer world:
'A great outer world in glory
formerly was mine.
After that, beloved boy,
my fate is a darkened house.'

But the boy (lucky for him!) can't grasp all that, and continues happy:
And so is the moral given:
the people there in prison
are the people of this world,
imprisoned life their span.

This can be found in "An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed," an Irish anthology with translations by Thomas Kinsella.

Daniel said...

@Greg,

Well, the first point I would make is Zeis's: A parallel argument, premising the possibility of God's non-existence is apparently possible. The atheist can defend that against objection, since what objection could there be to it other than an argument that God exists?

Certainly the atheist can argue for impossibility in which case it's up to challenger i.e. the theist to show the falsity of their first premise. Both the atheist and the theist should present prima facie reasons in support of their point - in the atheist's why X Attribute is incoherent or incompatible with another. Obviously as a theist I hold that we can give a preliminary account and that the contrary arguments the atheist gives to support his fail.

If on the other hand the atheist dos what you mention above and claims that it's possible for God not to exist then they just beg the question (or deny that God is the being the OAer talks of) since a Maximally-Great Being's being a Necessary Being is true by definition.

But then one can also ask why the coherence of individual attributes (or all of them, for that matter) should support the thesis of metaphysical possibility

Because it shows them as free from any internal contradiction which is the mark of impossibility. That they are compossible is of course a further question.

I am still not settled on what I want to claim here. But the simple account of "Omnipotence as the power to bring about whatever's possible and good" is, while I think intuitively fairly informative, circular. For what's possible other than what God can bring about?

I don't think one would classify possibility in terms of what God can do - something's possible if its nature does not contain a contradiction. The layman wouldn't put it quite that way but it's a fairly intuitive account which one could draw out by thinking of things like square-circles et cetera. (Of course this dove-tails nicely with Divine Exemplars)

The accounts of Omnipotence in question aren't as muscular as those derived from Five Ways type arguments but they would permit the adherent to answer prima facia objections to the Attribute - for instance could give the correct answer to the Paradox of the Stone or the question of whether God can sin.

Have not theologians been contemplating and answering objections to the various Divine Attributes for longer than they have been setting out strictly structured Five Ways style arguments? I’m thinking of Augustine, and some of the very early Fathers e.g. Justin Martyr in particular. Also later on one had Kantian inspired philosophers and theologians who would have defended certain Attributes against charges of incoherence though not endorse any argument from Natural Theology (except maybe moral ones).

Regarding Kripke and unicorns I am strongly opposed to references for fictional beings at any rate. I'm going to stick with the unicorn in this instance though for the sake of the argument we can substitute any non-existing animal of a reasonably familiar type.

But we aren't doing something analogous in Plantinga's argument; in the unicorn case, I don't think our judgment of metaphysical possibility is linked to conclusions about coherence of horse properties with the property of having a horn.

Re the last part, why so? Surely this is the way we arrive at the majority of possibility claims throughout our lives even in something as simple as what we intend to do later that day (thinking of how the world might be and how things could be).

Daniel said...

@Greg (continued),

I don't think it's a matter of 'onus,' though; I don't think any philosophy is a matter of onus. Claims and disclaims alike should be substantiated.

I thought the standard was that the onus is on the critic of an argument. I agree though that both the theist and the atheist Ontological Arguer should flesh out their claims that such and such is coherent/incoherent.

I don't know, perhaps I just don't feel the force of the claim of metaphysical possibility. I might be wrong in that.

For my part I’m happy to admit such arguments aren’t undoubtable or even the strongest the Natural Theologian has access to – I think they are plausible though and that the Thomism rejection of them stems largely from ‘custom and habit’ (it’s interesting to compare with the Thomist’s long-held suspicions to arguments purporting to demonstrate the finitude of the past). At the end of the day the theist is going to have to answer incoherence/impossibility objections anyway so they may as well go with it and turn their replies into a prima facie argument for coherence/possibility.

John West said...

Daniel,

I thought the standard was that the onus is on the critic of an argument. I agree though that both the theist and the atheist Ontological Arguer should flesh out their claims that such and such is coherent/incoherent.

In most formal debates, the onus is on the person putting forward (or "for") the proposition. So, if I propose a cosmological argument, the burden of proof is on me. In contrast, if an atheist puts forward an argument from evil, the burden of proof is on him. He's the one making the argument.

(Though, I agree that everyone has the onus or at least ought to, even in formal debates.)

Daniel said...

In most formal debates, the onus is on the person putting forward (or "for") the proposition

Doesn't it amount to something like this for instance

The atheist states their argument e.g. the Logical Problem of Evil giving at least plausible reasons to take each premise e.g. gratuitous Evil exists because of squashed children, injured bambi deer et cetera as true.

Now that they have presented their argument and given justification for each premise the burden shifts to me to point out where their argument fails.

(So in the case of the Ontological Argument the proponent sets out reasons to think each premise plausibly true when presenting the argument. Once they've done that it's over to the other side to try and spot faults)

John West said...

The atheist states their argument e.g. the Logical Problem of Evil giving at least plausible reasons to take each premise e.g. gratuitous Evil exists because of squashed children, injured bambi deer et cetera as true.

Now that they have presented their argument and given justification for each premise the burden shifts to me to point out where their argument fails.


Oh, okay. I see what you're saying. Yeah, that's right. I mean, it depends a little on the format of the debate (ie. the other side might have their own opening before doing rebuttals). But yeah.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

If on the other hand the atheist dos what you mention above and claims that it's possible for God not to exist then they just beg the question (or deny that God is the being the OAer talks of) since a Maximally-Great Being's being a Necessary Being is true by definition.

How can this be begging the question, unless the OA-proponent is begging the question too? The OA-proponent argues:

(1) It's possible that God exists.
(2) If God possibly exists, then God necessarily exists.
(3) Therefore God necessarily exists.
(4) Therefore God exists.

The OA-opponent argues:

(1') It's possible that God does not exist.
(2) If God possibly exists, then God necessarily exists.
(3') Therefore God does not necessarily exist.
(4') Therefore God does not possibly exist.
(5') Therefore God does not exist.

If defending against objections and sketching out the divine attributes is sufficient to support (1), then why should not similar approaches be sufficient to support (1')? There is less to demonstrate as being consistent, but that certainly isn't a demerit of (1'). (For that reason, "defending against objections" is something of an odd, certainly imperfect measure of plausibility of a modal claim. Defending against specious objections would not support a claim. So how does one individuate non-specious objections? There are probably fewer non-specious objections to true claims.) But if (1') begs the question against the theist, who believes God necessarily exists, then certainly (1) begs the question against the atheist, who believes God necessarily does not exist.

And as I've said, how could one argue against (1') except by providing an argument that God exists? Due to the stalemate, the OA is unavailable. This can be drawn out, I think, if you consider what sort of objections you would have to raise to God's possible nonexistence. You would, presumably, have to argue that something remains unexplained if God does not exist in some possible world. At that point, you are treading on the domain of traditional arguments for God's existence.

For that reason, prima facie at least, it seems that the atheist can raise much more serious objections to (1) (problem of evil, for instance) than the theist can raise against (1'). Unless, that is, the theist wants to adopt a different approach entirely, which is what I recommend.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

Regarding Kripke and unicorns I am strongly opposed to references for fictional beings at any rate.

I think Kripke would agree, if I understand you correctly. 'Unicorn' does not refer to a fictional being; it pretends to refer to a real being. But since there are no unicorns by whose "overflow conditions" (to use Ross's term) future reference is constrained, it remains undetermined whether any actual entity would in fact be a unicorn.

Surely this is the way we arrive at the majority of possibility claims throughout our lives even in something as simple as what we intend to do later that day (thinking of how the world might be and how things could be).

Well, I like Scott's example of a Euclidean isosceles right triangle. The concept is evidently coherent, but I couldn't claim that it is possible, because it may not be the case that anything has the potential to create one.

In general, I believe our modal intuitions about what could come about (i.e. what existents or potential existents have the potencies to bring about) largely match up with those things that have coherent natures. Whatever has an incoherent nature is impossible. But there might be things that cannot be brought about even though their nature is coherent; so I disagree that "free[dom] from any internal contradiction" is "the mark of impossibility."

I think they are plausible though and that the Thomism rejection of them stems largely from ‘custom and habit’ (it’s interesting to compare with the Thomist’s long-held suspicions to arguments purporting to demonstrate the finitude of the past).

I think I agree here. I am sometimes suspicious of the Thomist line on both counts. (I tend to try to argue against the OA whenever it comes up because it makes me uncomfortable, but it would be nice if some version of it worked.)

When I was a materialist, I would say that my chief suspicion of OAs was more that I didn't think that things like 'power' and 'good' were meaningful predicates - or, if they were, that they had any ontological import.

John West said...

To what formulation of the PSR were we all referring?

I just want to be sure, because I think there is a case that can be made against every necessary truth having an explanation. Consider, for example, Goedelian undecidables.

John West said...

For my part, it's either Pruss's "Necessarily, every contingently true proposition has an explanation." or Davies's (which I think matches Thomism's) version that applies only to existents.

I'm undecided when it comes to necessary truths.

Greg said...

I think Kripke would agree, if I understand you correctly. 'Unicorn' does not refer to a fictional being; it pretends to refer to a real being.

Sorry - I went to verify Kripke's views, and while he does talk about pretending, he does also allow that there are fictional beings.

But I think the point about the impossibility of unicorns existing holds whether or not you reject his fictional ontology. (Though it's also not that relevant to the rest of our discussion.)

John West said...

One other quick criticism of OAs, which may be redundant at this point. One subject that comes up in philosophy of mathematics is that some proofs are more explanatory than other proofs. For instance, brute force proofs rarely explain much about why the theorem holds. In contrast, the proof for infinite primes explains precisely why there are infinite primes. The Five Ways are extremely explanatory demonstrative proofs, but I don't think the ontological argument explains much. Since I don't actually care much about apologetic uses of the proofs, I think that counts against them.

John West said...

"... counts against [ontological arguments]"

Daniel said...

Proper post to Greg coming later on

@John,

I disagree in as much as once we admit an Omnipotent Necessary Being with casual powers the temptation to ground the existence of contingent things in its activity becomes almost impossible. Once we have the being we can use it for hypothetical explanations.

(Leftow has added that we can bring OAs more in line with CAs by considering 'being that which the existence of all contingent beings depend' as a further Great-Making property)

John West said...

Daniel,

I disagree in as much as once we admit an Omnipotent Necessary Being with casual powers the temptation to ground the existence of contingent things in its activity becomes almost impossible. Once we have the being we can use it for hypothetical explanations.

I'm going to have to get you to unpack that.

Daniel said...

@Greg,

Very sorry - totally misread your hypothetical atheist's agreement as claiming that God was being which could possibly not exist as in a contingent being,

Well, I like Scott's example of a Euclidean isosceles right triangle. The concept is evidently coherent, but I couldn't claim that it is possible, because it may not be the case that anything has the potential to create one.

In general, I believe our modal intuitions about what could come about (i.e. what existents or potential existents have the potencies to bring about) largely match up with those things that have coherent natures. Whatever has an incoherent nature is impossible. But there might be things that cannot be brought about even though their nature is coherent; so I disagree that "free[dom] from any internal contradiction" is "the mark of impossibility."


To clarify are we taking 'Euclidean isosceles right triangle' as analogues to the good old 'Square-Circle'? I didn't take up Scott's mention of it as I wasn't sure if he meant this or something which could exist but not in the merely three dimensional space of our universe (assumedly the former?). If the former then I'm guilty of being rather slack with terminology - I was giving something as incoherent if any of its component properties are incompatible on Broadly Logical grounds. Of course here I'm tacitly saying that our modals intuitions begin with experience i.e. being acquainted with things like colours, shapes et cetera, which you agree with. In that case though aren't we at least prima facia justified in claiming 'Euclidean isosceles right triangle' is incoherent (maybe we can flesh this out by asking for numeral statements since these have an even sharper modal outline as it were).

I don't see why the incompatibility of varying properties need always be explained in terms of anything other than the properties themselves (which is what I mean by the freedom from internal contradiction as a mark of the possible).

I agree though that there are going to be points when our modal intuitions falter and become less reliable.

Daniel said...

Continued.

If defending against objections and sketching out the divine attributes is sufficient to support (1), then why should not similar approaches be sufficient to support (1')?

Well, if the opponent wants to do the same then they have to give reasons equivalent to the sketching out part. So if that's what you mean then yes they can take a similar approach - the theist is just going to challenge the reasons they give (regardless of whether said theist endorses the OA or not). But if they just assert (1') against the theist who has given a prospect analysis of the Divine Attributes for (1) then their argument is far the weaker.

For that reason, prima facie at least, it seems that the atheist can raise much more serious objections to (1) (problem of evil, for instance) than the theist can raise against (1').

Would not the objection they raise against (1) be the very same elaboration they use to support (1')? Depending on the sort of argument they give e.g. Logical as opposed Evidential Problem of Evil I think one would still have to reply to it even if one offered a different proof like the Cosmological Argument - otherwise there would be an epistemic stalemate.

When I was a materialist, I would say that my chief suspicion of OAs was more that I didn't think that things like 'power' and 'good' were meaningful predicates - or, if they were, that they had any ontological import.

I would agree in the case of something like 'Omnibenevolent’ which in a hard-naturalist scheme like Mackie’s would be absolutely relative. One of the more interesting strategies a naturalist could take is to try and turn the argument round and use it in favour of a (more) Naturalist friendly Spinozism.

I think I agree here. I am sometimes suspicious of the Thomist line on both counts. (I tend to try to argue against the OA whenever it comes up because it makes me uncomfortable, but it would be nice if some version of it worked.)

Well, there are always variants like the Gödelian version which treat the issues of properties and possibility differently. Don't really know enough about them to comment at any depth though.

I think the great appeal with OAs and their like is that they establish they go straight to the core of what God has to be. Even if one does not except the conclusions one sees that the being Natural Theologians are talking about cannot be something on a par with a flying pig or a teapot orbiting the sun, something, however, improbable that just happens not to exist. Also for myself there’s a special interest in arguments that do not make knowledge of God's existence counter-factually dependent on the existence of contingent beings (of course I can't push this too far or we but up against the point Descartes was trying to make with the cogito).

I am obviously very sympathetic to the Five Ways arguments I’ve studied in any depth (as well PSR arguments) though I sometimes worry the Real Distinction is going to prove agonizingly difficult to establish, particularly in the case of any temporally limited debate.

Daniel said...

@John,

@John,

If we have a priori reason to think a Necessary Being with immense casual powers exists then it's plausible that said being might be the answer to various questions such as why the universe exists. Since we already have the being we are spared the need to struggle for exact formulations of the PSR which avoids Modal Collapse problems - there might even be Brute Facts, only since know there is a being capable of these things already it seems reasonable to take it as the prime suspect.

(Even the proponents of Brute Facts may well admit an explanation is better than a Brute Fact - and that their Brute Fact option only comes in when all available cosmological arguments are shown to be wanting for other reasons)

Scott said...

@Daniel:

To clarify are we taking 'Euclidean isosceles right triangle' as analogues to the good old 'Square-Circle'?

No. An isosceles right triangle isn't a contradiction in terms; it's just a right triangle with two equal legs, and therefore with sides in the ratio 1:1:√2 (the last being the hypotenuse).

The reason it can't exist/be produced in our physical universe is the same reason any Euclidean plane figure can't: it's a Euclidean plane figure. Any actual "triangly thing" in our universe is going to be three-dimensional (even if it's really thin), its sides will have nonzero thickness, and so forth.

John West said...

Daniel,

Thanks.

If we have a priori reason to think a Necessary Being with immense casual powers exists then it's plausible that said being might be the answer to various questions such as why the universe exists. Since we already have the being we are spared the need to struggle for exact formulations of the PSR which avoids Modal Collapse problems - there might even be Brute Facts, only since know there is a being capable of these things already it seems reasonable to take it as the prime suspect.

Well, if you already have God in your ontology, you may as well put him to work.

My concern had more to do with learning about God. It was more that I'm not sure the OA tells us much about why God is a Necessary Being with Causal Power. While obviously such concerns don't effect the strength of the argument, I think there is something positive to be said for proofs that give us more information.

(Even the proponents of Brute Facts may well admit an explanation is better than a Brute Fact - and that their Brute Fact option only comes in when all available cosmological arguments are shown to be wanting for other reasons)

Whether there are brute facts is a subject that interests me, because I would like there to be an explanation for every mathematical truth. It's at least intuitively plausible that there is. Unfortunately, Gödelian undecidables give reason to suspect there are brutely factual necessary truths, unless perhaps those truths is grounded in something deeper.

John West said...

That should read: "... are grounded"

Anonymous said...

@Scott, and everyone else
I'm still discussing with my opponent on whether or not the multiverse is necessary, and I made these points against it.
1. In the multiverse our universe is contingent and depends upon the mutliverse in order to exist and be the way it is. Since the multiverse itself is composed of universes that like our own depend on the existence of other universe and our contingent, this would mean the multiverse is composed of contingent beings and if so, it cannot be necessary, as I believe it is metaphysically not possible for it to do so. It's like saying having an infinite series of red bricks will somehow produce a blue wall.
2. Science tells us how in our universe things could have been different such as the gravitational constant and so on. If this is the case than that means it is logically possible and coherent for our universe to have been different a different one and that means it did not have to be the way it is, which makes it contingent according to Leibniz. If our universe is part of a number of a multiverse, then this would mean that a different universe could have taken the spatial temporal location of ours in the multiverse as a result of what I said above, and it would be logically possible and coherent. This would mean that the multiverse itself could have been different and did not have to be the way it is due to this possibility, and once again it would fall under the contingent category.
3. According to scientist such as Paul Davies, the multiverse's behavior itself would depend on physical laws that govern it, which would render it contingent upon those laws in order to be the way it is is, and it would be a contingent being.
She hasn't responded yet and I would like to know what you guys think about my reasons.

John West said...

Daniel,

To clarify are we taking 'Euclidean isosceles right triangle' as analogues to the good old 'Square-Circle'?

There is nothing logically incoherent about a Euclidean isosceles right triangle. It would look something like this triangle. It's just that we all live in non-Euclidean space (our universe is non-Euclidean). Since we live in non-Euclidean space and a Euclidean isosceles right triangle is Euclidean, it's impossible for there to exist an instantiation of a Euclidean isosceles right triangle -- despite that "Euclidean isosceles right triangles" are logically coherent.

At least, it seems that's what's being said.

John West said...

It would look something like this triangle.

Just to make that explicit: "It would look similar to ΔABC in the linked diagram."

Scott said...

@John West:

It's just that we all live in non-Euclidean space (our universe is non-Euclidean).

That's also true, but (see my previous post) it's not the main thing I had in mind. (Partly that's because there's no obvious reason why a non-Euclidean space couldn't have local "flat patches" where the metric was exactly rather than only approximately Euclidean.)

John West said...

Scott,

That's also true, but (see my previous post) it's not the main thing I had in mind. (Partly that's because there's no obvious reason why a non-Euclidean space couldn't have local "flat patches" where the metric was exactly rather than only approximately Euclidean.)

You had that it's a plane figure in mind, and not a 3D figure, right? So at bottom, the example is that a 2D figure can't exist in 3D space, even though a 2D figure is completely logically coherent.

Scott said...

@John West:

You had that it's a plane figure in mind, and not a 3D figure, right? So at bottom, the example is that a 2D figure can't exist in 3D space, even though a 2D figure is completely logically coherent.

Yep, exactly. See my previous post for that too.

Scott said...

And just to be as close to absolutely clear as I can manage: I'm talking about physical triangles, not beings of reason. There doesn't seem to be any reason, for example, why we can't think of a certain set of points in three-dimensional physical space as a Euclidean isosceles right triangle, at least on the assumption that physical space is infinitely divisible (and maybe we don't even need that strong a condition). But there's no physical triangular thing there.

John West said...

Scott,

I'm not even sure that beings of reason exist, so you may have been safe even before clarifying. Authors like Quine and Armstrong would say there is only one way to be, and probably collapse the distinction. But as I understand, Scholastics would say existence is a property of individuals, whereas being is rather more broad and neutral.

Glemm said...

John,

I'm not even sure that beings of reason exist, so you may have been safe even before clarifying.

If beings of reason don't exist, then the clarification attributed to Scott does not exist.

And it wouldn’t be merely case that the clarification attributed to Scott just does not exist now, but also that it did not exist before ceasing to exist some time prior to now.

Of the clarification attributed to Scott:

I presume that you apprehended it -- else why would you have commented on it?

I presume also that Scott apprehended it -- else why would he have articulated it?

And I presume that I myself apprehended it -- else why would I have experienced a small pleasure in the apprehension of it?

In short, if beings of reason don't exist (in some sense), then how might we account for the apprehension of things which do not exist (in any sense)?

John West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn said...

("...apprehension of things..." s/b "...apprehension of these things...")

John West said...

Gle[nn],

Well, on that distinction (though I originally heard it as coming from Russell), they may have being. They're real. I was saying I'm not sure they exist, though.

I have no position on the matter*. I'm not sufficiently well informed in it, and need to read way more Kit Fine before cementing a stance.* But I'm not saying they have no being. Only that I'm not sure that, if things can be real but not exist, beings of reason qualify as having existence.


*Actually, when it came up in a paper I had to write, I took the "There is only one way to be." line.

John West said...

If beings of reason don't exist, then the clarification attributed to Scott does not exist.

Well, my understanding was that existence requires mind independence. In which case, the clarification would be real, but it wouldn't exist because its dependent on minds (which is why I said I was unsure it existed).

Greg said...

@ Daniel

Well, if the opponent wants to do the same then they have to give reasons equivalent to the sketching out part. So if that's what you mean then yes they can take a similar approach - the theist is just going to challenge the reasons they give (regardless of whether said theist endorses the OA or not). But if they just assert (1') against the theist who has given a prospect analysis of the Divine Attributes for (1) then their argument is far the weaker.

It's not exactly clear to me how one determines the relative strengths of an analysis of the divine attributes and... God's non-existence.

If it weren't a necessary being whose existence were in question (or something known to be necessary, I suppose), then the 'proponent' is making the modal claim that something that is F and G possibly exists. The 'opponent' is making the modal claim that it is possible that nothing is both F and G. Here they aren't contradicting each other necessarily; that's why I put scare quotes around 'proponent' and 'opponent'.

Maybe the 'proponent' can analyze F and analyze G and claim that they're likely to be compossible. What is the 'opponent' supposed to analyze? His claim is prima facie weaker. We don't want to discredit him a priori (i.e. discredit all claims that it is possible that something does not exist a priori), since we know that there are tons of true propositions "it's possible that there is nothing F and G". If those claims are unsupportable, or always less supportable than the corresponding claim that "it is possible that something F and G exists", then it seems to me that something has gone wrong.

Maybe the 'opponent' can do more than assert his possible non-existence claim. In the case of God, he might say that he can imagine a world in which children are tortured endlessly and gratuitously. That world isn't compossible with any omnibenevolent being.

As I write this response, I find it kind of hard to think about one of F or G itself being necessary existence. Though as I understand it, different people formulate modal OAs that treat God's necessity differently. But it seems to me that if one is treating necessary existence as a property, then it is less than obvious that the possibility claim is as innocuous as other possibility claims. That is to say, grant that in general it is legitimate to support the claim "it is possible that something F and G exists" by giving an analysis of F and G according to which they are apparently consistent, where neither F nor G is necessary existence. Necessary existence is clearly, though, and odd sort of property to think about when we are trying to establish the compossibility of it with other properties. Why should we assume this modal intuition to be supportable in the same way as in the general case? Isn't the fact that one of the properties that must be shown to be compossible with the others a modal property grounds for substantial suspicion?

I'll leave it there, since I might be walking down a road that OA-defenders would not.

Glenn said...

Gle[nn],

I did it again. Sorry. Let me correct that now: "John West, [etc.]"

As for what I was getting at, it is nothing more than the suggestion, for consideration, that it may be possible that something exists in one way (or in one sense), but not in some other way (or in some other sense).

One way I've the seen distinction between real beings and beings of reason put, is that real beings are in nature and therefore are independent of the mind, whereas beings of reason are not in nature but in the reason and therefore are dependent on the mind. If this distinction is fairly accurate, then it would seem to follow that beings of reason do exist in some way or sense, though in the same way or sense that, say, an oak tree does.

Glenn said...

John West,

You had said that you weren't sure whether beings of reason exist, so I offered something for consideration. That's all.

(Well, honestly, that is part of it. The other part of it is that I had appreciated Scott's distinction (that he had been talking about a being of reason rather than a real being), and wanted to flesh it out (just a little).)

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