Thursday, August 6, 2015

Unintuitive metaphysics


At Aeon, philosopher Elijah Millgram comments on metaphysics and the contemporary analytic philosopher’s penchant for appealing to intuitions.  Give it a read -- it‘s very short.  Millgram uses an anecdote to illustrate the point that what intuitively seems to be an objective fact can sometimes reflect merely contingent “policies we’ve adopted,” where “the sense of indelible rightness and wrongness comes from having gotten so very used to those policies.”  And of course, such policies can be bad ones.  Hence the dubiousness of grounding metaphysical arguments in intuition.

As longtime readers know, I agree completely.  But contrary to what some critics of metaphysics seem to think, the dubiousness of this method of doing metaphysics doesn’t entail that metaphysics itself is dubious.  All it entails, of course, is that that particular method is dubious.  Millgram himself is aware that this is all that follows -- he says that he doesn’t think metaphysics has to make dubious appeals to intuition, only that “a lot of it does” in fact do so.  And that is certainly true of contemporary metaphysics.

Which is odd, since it most definitely is not true of Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) metaphysics, or of a lot of other traditional approaches in metaphysics.  So why on earth do many contemporary philosophers -- whether they are sympathetic to metaphysics as a discipline or suspicious of it -- think that the resort to intuitions is essential to it?

The reason, I think, is that it is commonly supposed these days that the only thing for philosophy to be, if it is not some kind of natural science, is “conceptual analysis” -- identifying the constituent parts of a concept, explicating its relations to other concepts, and so forth.  And “conceptual analysis” is understood as the investigation of the way we happen to “carve up” the world conceptually and linguistically. 

To be sure, for the early modern rationalist, how we so “carve up” the world necessarily corresponds to the world as it is in itself, at least where our most fundamental concepts (substance, causality, etc.) are concerned.  For the Kantian, while these concepts do not correspond to the world as it is in itself, the mind nevertheless has to “carve it up” in just the ways it does.  For early analytic philosophy in its various forms (Russell’s logical atomism, Wittgenstein’s early and later philosophies, logical positivism, and so forth) the analysis of language could determine the boundaries of intelligible discourse, and decisively show certain ideas, arguments, and problems to be meaningless, confused, or in some other way conceptually unsalvageable. 

But contemporary philosophy has abandoned anything as ambitious as all that.  For many contemporary philosophers, “conceptual analysis” can at best reveal the way our minds have been contingently molded to “carve up” the world -- by evolutionary forces, say, or by the surrounding culture, or what have you.  On this view, “conceptual analysis” can reveal the deepest assumptions that underlie the way thought and language “carve up” reality, the ones abandonment of which we would have the most difficult time making sense of or adjusting to, because such abandonment would have such wide-ranging repercussions.  These are the “intuitive” elements of our conceptual scheme. 

Precisely because they are so fundamental and widely shared, the contemporary metaphysician thinks these “intuitions” well worth investigating, and something which can yield powerful premises for philosophical argument.  But because they are also widely taken to be contingent -- perhaps reflecting only the molding forces of evolution, history, culture, etc. rather than objective reality -- and thus in principle revisable, critics of contemporary metaphysics understandably question the significance of conceptual analysis.  They judge that any metaphysics worthy of our attention can only be that which is implicit in natural science. 

Now this bifurcation between conceptual analysis and natural science is essentially a riff on Hume’s Fork, which divides respectable propositions into “relations of ideas” and “matters of fact.”  And the two bifurcations face similar problems.  Hume’s Fork itself is neither true by virtue of the relations of the ideas expressed in it, nor by virtue of the empirically ascertainable facts.  Hence it presupposes precisely the sort of third perspective it purportedly rules out.  And the same thing is true of the distinction between conceptual analysis and natural science.  This bifurcation is not itself something arrived at via conceptual analysis, nor (unless we frontload some question-begging premises) is it something confirmed by any findings of natural science.  Hence the very attempt to maintain that philosophy can only be either a kind of natural science or an exercise in conceptual analysis itself presupposes that there is a third kind of thing for it to be.

This third kind of enterprise is what A-T philosophers and other traditional metaphysicians take metaphysics to be.  The failure to see this leads to persistent misunderstanding.  For example, Ladyman and Ross, in their influential book Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, dismiss contemporary “conceptual analysis”-oriented metaphysics as “neo-scholastic.”  But the epithet is inept and ill-informed, since mere “conceptual analysis” is precisely what A-T and other Scholastic writers claim not to be doing.  Consider also the difficulty (usefully discussed by Gaven Kerr in chapter 3 of his fine book Aquinas’s Way to God: The Proof in De Ente et Essentia) of comparing Thomist and analytic conceptions of existence, since for the Thomist the issue is irreducibly metaphysical whereas the analytic tradition has, by contrast, tended to approach it from the point of view of semantics and formal logic -- thereby in effect confining discussion, question-beggingly, to the “conceptual analysis” or “relations of ideas” side of the post-Humean divide.  The analytic critic of Thomism thus tends to talk past, rather than directly address, the Thomist’s arguments.

That the very attempt to wedge metaphysics into the Procrustean “either natural science or conceptual analysis” bed presupposes that there is something outside that bed suffices to show that metaphysics need not rest on intuition-cum-conceptual-analysis.  But there are other considerations that show the same thing.  We can see this both from a consideration of the things to which we apply the concepts the conceptual analyst analyzes, and from a consideration of the minds which do the analyzing.  In both cases, the “policies” and “habits” referred to by Millgram presuppose that which is not a product of mere policy or habit.

Consider first, then, Millgram’s examples of something’s being a road, of something’s being the right lane or left lane of the road, and of something’s being the correct lane to drive on.  These are, of course, matters of convention, and if we had deep “intuitions” to the effect that any of these is an objective matter of fact, such intuitions would (as Millgram rightly emphasizes) merely be a product of our being habituated to certain contingent polices we’ve adopted while forgetting that they are just contingent polices.  But these conventions presuppose that which is not mere convention.  That there is ground for us to build roads on is not a matter of convention, the raw materials out of which we build them are not the products of convention, the fact that cars would tend to crash into one another if there were no policy of driving on one side of the road rather than the other is not a matter of convention, and so forth.  And even if we tried to show that one or more of these factors were somehow a matter of convention, we would still inevitably be left with something that was not.  Again, the policies, habits, etc. that ground some of our intuitions always presuppose something which is not a product of mere policy or habit.  (This is one of the implications of Aristotle’s discussion of nature versus art in the Physics -- a distinction which, as I have argued many times, points to the deeper distinction between substantial form versus mere accidental form.)

Now, metaphysics, as A-T and other traditional metaphysicians understand it, is concerned precisely with the investigation of what the world must be like apart from our conventions, habits, and the like.  Of course, natural science is concerned with that too.  But natural science focuses on material reality, on the material reality that happens to exist, and on those aspects of material reality susceptible of prediction and control.  Are there, or could there be, real things that are not material things?  Could there have been a material world radically different from the sort we in fact have?  If there could have been, are there nevertheless features it would have to share in common with any other possible material world?  And are there features of material reality which are not susceptible of mathematical modeling, or of the prediction and control that natural science focuses on?  However one ends up answering such questions, they are not, or at least are not entirely, questions that natural science itself can answer.  That’s what makes them metaphysical.  And say what you will about the prospects for answering them, they are precisely not the study of how we happen intuitively but contingently to “carve up” the world conceptually, because their whole point is to find out what things must be like apart from how we happen contingently and intuitively to carve them up.

Then there are the minds which set the “policies” Millgram speaks of, which form the “habits” in question, which have the “intuitions,” etc.  Since conventions, policies, etc. presuppose the existence and operation of minds having a certain nature, the existence, operation, and natures of minds cannot themselves coherently be said to be the products of convention, policy, etc.  (Crawford Elder develops this point in chapter 1 of Real Natures and Familiar Objects.)  And when we consider not just the contingent details about what our minds happen to be like, but what any possible mind would have to be like in order to be the sort of thing which can form conventions, formulate policies, etc., we are asking a metaphysical rather than merely empirical scientific question.  And once again, whatever one thinks of the prospects for answering it, it is precisely not a question about how we merely “intuitively” happen to carve up reality.

So, those are three reasons why metaphysics need not be, and (properly understood) cannot be, mere “conceptual analysis” and “intuition”-mongering.  First, the very attempt to wedge all inquiry into either natural science or conceptual analysis presupposes that there is a third alternative.  Second, the things we produce by convention, policy, habit, etc. inevitably presuppose some rock bottom level of mind-independent phenomena which are not the product of convention, policy, habit, etc.  Third, the mind itself cannot be the product of convention, policy, habit, etc.  The first point suffices to tell us that there can be such an enterprise as metaphysics in its traditional form.  The second two points tell us what its subject matter is -- viz. the rock bottom features of mental and extra-mental reality, whatever they turn out to be, which both our contingent conceptual practices and even natural science must presuppose. 

For the A-T metaphysician, these features are described by the theory of act and potency, hylemorphism, the doctrine of the four causes, the essence/existence distinction, etc.  Of course, establishing all of that requires detailed argumentation, and of course other traditional schools of metaphysics (Neo-Platonism, idealism, Leibnizian rationalism, etc.) will disagree with it.  But none of this argumentation boils down to a mere appeal to intuition or conceptual analysis, and the evaluation of it cannot be settled by appeal to natural science.  Furthermore, the attempt to wave it all away by stomping one’s foot and insisting that natural science and conceptual analysis are the only two things metaphysics could be, simply, and massively, begs the question.  There just is no rational alternative to engaging the arguments head on. 

A lot more can be said, and is said in Scholastic Metaphysics

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed.,

About act-potency: You describe the act-potency distinction and the rest of the philosophy
of nature as the necessary pre-conditions of empirical phenomena or the fact of change. I was wondering, is this a transcendental argument? If it is, how do you know that the categories of the philosophy of nature, although they maybe good transcendental descriptions of change, are the actual, exclusive preconditions of change. What if there are other possible descriptions of change not involving act-potency.

Daniel said...

The reason, I think, is that it is commonly supposed these days that the only thing for philosophy to be, if it is not some kind of natural science, is “conceptual analysis” -- identifying the constituent parts of a concept, explicating its relations to other concepts, and so forth. And “conceptual analysis” is understood as the investigation of the way we happen to “carve up” the world conceptually and linguistically.

Modern metaphysicians of a Realist stripe who practice something like might prefer the term essential analysis rather than conceptual - that is what they're analyzing is the necessary relationship between essences, objective features of beings (including the mind) rather than our thoughts qua mental activity. This kind of analysis is closer to what Elder himself does in the retorsive argument against conventionalism than sub-Kantian psychic book-keeping.

Just thought I'd throw this in as a defense of the idea if not the actual practice of analysis.

Daniel said...

EDIT: Not that people here really need me to tell them these but perhaps the greatest disaster with the Rationalists was the confusion of essences with 'ideas' - when Descartes' talks of 'clear and distinct ideas' he clearly really means essences but doesn't want to say it for fear of appearing technical and thus unappealing.

Dylan said...

Actually, I think few contemporary metaphysicians think they're doing conceptual analyses. The real problem is Moorean methodology, taken to be the view that there are certain things ("Moorean facts") that we can be more sure are true than we are that any argument to the contrary is sound. This methodology is ok if there are only a few Moorean facts (I take "I exist" to be one). But oftentimes we count way too many of our beliefs to be Moorean facts.

Metaphysicians are being charged with this problem. But in my experience they aren't the main offenders. In fact, many (most?) contemporary metaphysicians think common sense metaphysics is incoherent, and that we must reject some part of it. Ethicists and epistemologists are worse offenders it seems to me. I'm an epistemologist myself, and it drives me crazy.

Jayman said...

This is somewhat off-topic but an atheist is in the process of reviewing The Last Superstition here. Appropriately, he has just hit the chapter on metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

I think the below link will be useful to the reviewer's issue with simultaneous causality:

http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2005/08/simultaneous-vs-instantaneous.html

The reviewer also has an issue with calling formal causality a 'cause' rather than just a 'description.' However, IIRC, Feser stated that what a 'cause' is, or what can be classified as a 'cause' is a question of metaphysics in the first place regardless of what 'cause' means in everyday or scientific language.

From the review: "Again, you're simply just take the effect of a natural event and label that as its "goal." It's typical ass-backwards type thinking. The end result of the thing has no sway over the initial state of the thing, it's just what contingently happens to result. This is dysteleology, not teleology. Teleoglogy is when the end goal determines the initial state or course of events getting there and is the purpose of why the whole thing exists. That is not the case with laws of physics that have regular patterns."

Is the first line a strawman/oversimplification? It seems like one, but I can't be sure. Anyways, this objection can be answered with the argument which explains how regularities in nature entail final causality, because without final causality, regularities in nature would be absurd. Also posts like this:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/03/can-you-explain-something-by-appealing.html

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

The two objections you cite about formal and final causes have the common defect of reading "cause" as "efficient cause." If teleology is real, the objection seems to suppose, then the end reaches back toward the cause and pulls it into fruition.

But the reason "cause" is used is just that the four causes answer different "why?" questions - and the answers are not commensurate.

Unknown said...

The end result of the thing has no sway over the initial state of the thing, it's just what contingently happens to result.

As to that last part are the following statements contingently or necessarily false?

1. The instance of Blueness caused the explosion
2. the number 12 burnt cotton

Don Jindra said...

This post was on the vague side so I followed the link to "On 'intuitions'” where I read this:

"What is good for us is defined by the ends which nature has set for our various capacities. Our feelings and intuitions can facilitate the realization of those ends but they do not define the ends. Rather, the ends determine the reliability of the feelings and intuitions."

This raises a lot of questions, but the most important question for me is this: The claim is that nature's end(s) define the good, but what makes that more than an intuitive claim?

R Gillmann said...

Intuition is fine as a faculty of perception but not as a faculty of judgment. Moral intuitions give us a clue about morality but cannot make moral judgments for us. We do well to take moral intuitions seriously while we investigate further.

Mike Bond said...

The meta-goings-on-here is whether or not truth is a viable object of metaphysics and philosophy in general. Once all the desiderata, all the sophisticated and not so sophisticated arguments and sophistries are shown to be what they are (i.e. variously self-defeating, as is the case with Hume's fork) - and despite the varied and certainly problematic nature of truth, I'm struck that it certainly is, even if often aporetic and needful of being approached on the via negativa. As such, I'm similarly struck that systems and arguments that posit that truth is not a viable object rather quickly, even immediately, descend into power-seeking as their foremost concern.

(I don't interpret Hume's fork as explicitly positing that truth is not viable, but it effectively arrogates truth to itself, via a kind of willful occlusion, thus denying other and further inquiry - as such it inherently is a power grab, not an inquiry after truth in a probative manner and reflecting the highest and deepest probity.)

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think that Ed's problem is not with intuitive metaphysical judgments per se, but only with certain sorts of such judgments (e.g., those made prior to experience, or based on little more than habit/custom). There's just now way that A-T metaphysics can be justified on the basis of nothing more than the bare facts of our experience alone since we cannot directly observe potencies, essences, causal powers, etc. via our sensory faculties; rather, the validity of these metaphysical categories must be inferred by an intuitive process of some sort that even Ed would be willing to endorse.

Scott said...

[T]he validity of these metaphysical categories must be inferred by an intuitive process of some sort[.]

Why do you call inference an "intuitive process"?

You seem to be suggesting that anything we can't directly observe via sensory perception must be known through "intuition" or not at all.

Scott said...

What if there are other possible descriptions of change not involving act-potency[?]

"Change" implies something constant or persistent that undergoes the change; otherwise we'd have simple replacement ("First there was X and now there's Y"). So the least we can have is "First A was X and now A is Y."

In order for A to be Y now when it wasn't Y before, A has to be the sort of thing that can become Y. It also has to be the sort of thing that isn't just Y automatically by nature; otherwise it would always be Y.

That short account already includes act and potency without using either of the terms. Any alternative account will either also include them, or leave out the "change" it was supposed to explain.

Anyone who disagrees will need to propose an alternative that accounts for change but doesn't rely on any power to undergo change. On the face of it, that seems impossible because contradictory. So unless an example is forthcoming, the "What if?" is baseless.

Scott said...

(Actually, even simple replacement requires that X be the sort of thing that can cease to be and Y the sort of thing that can come to be. So I'd argue that we still have act and potency by implication even in that case.)

Anonymous said...

Scott,

You seem to be suggesting that anything we can't directly observe via sensory perception must be known through "intuition" or not at all.

It seems to me that just as we have sensory faculties that allow us to perceive various things about the physical structure of reality, so also we have intuitive faculties that allow us to perceive various things about the metaphysical structure of reality (e.g., the reality of the past, change, causal powers, essences, other minds, moral facts, an external world independent of our minds, etc.) along with the fact that a true account of reality must be logically consistent. So, for me, "intuition" is a catch-all for things known in the latter sort of way, however we choose to understand it.

Scott said...

So, for me, "intuition" is a catch-all for things known in the latter sort of way, however we choose to understand it.

In that case Ed doesn't have a problem with "intuitive metaphysics per se" according to your understanding of "intuition" (which includes e.g. reasoning), but he does have a problem with it according to his own.

(I also expect he'd be likely to disagree, as do I, that your use of the term is apt. But that's a separate issue.)

Anonymous said...

I am probably complicating matters more than need be, but I have been unable to fully jump onboard the A-T bandwagon because I just don't "get" natural philosophy or metaphysics. The reason I have one foot in the bandwagon at all is because I think the atheists have consistently shown themselves to be ignorant fools, and I have been impressed with the logic and rigor of A-T/Catholic folks. The latter have shown how the views of the former lead to some absurd conclusions, so my confidence in A-T is based (so far) on the fact that the alternative seems to be unacceptable.

But man, I just don't "get" some of these basic concepts. Like "act" and "potency." What the hell are they, and how do they cash out in real, physical things as opposed to just concepts in our mind? Why can I not help thinking of them as these sort of ghostly things that hover over physical objects. The books I have read so far treat of them in a few paragraphs, usually as the solution to the Parmenides/Hearclitus debate, and that's it. The problem is, I need something like a meta-metaphysics, something that guides me through ingrained suspicion.

Anonymous said...

(I also expect he'd be likely to disagree, as do I, that your use of the term is apt. But that's a separate issue.)

Maybe so, but at the moment I lack a better word (or phrase) with which to describe/label our ability to make basic metaphysical judgments of the sort I have already mentioned above.

Edward Feser said...

Why can I not help thinking of them as these sort of ghostly things that hover over physical objects.

The problem is that you are not strictly thinking here at all, but rather trying to form mental images, and thus coming up with these goofy pictures of ghostly things hovering about and the like. It's like doing mathematics while supposing that numbers are literally little squiggles that look like "2," "3," etc. Or it's like doing physics while supposing that particles are really like tiny billiard balls or that there's some invisible fluid through which waves travel.

As these examples indicate, the problem is in no way with A-T metaphysics per se, but rather with a kind of crude pictorial thinking to which some people are for some reason prone when metaphysical topics come up, even though they know better than to fall into it where science is concerned. So, my advice is to stop trying to picture things -- you'll always misunderstand so long as you do -- and start thinking in a stricter sense, which requires abstracting from visual images and the like.

I've addressed this before:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/08/think-mcfly-think.html

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Maybe you should try James Ross's book Thought and World. He isn't using the terms 'act' and 'potency', but he is trying to articulate what sort of work form as active structure is doing in cognition.

Daniel said...

@Ed,

If you're ever going to carry out further Crusading against Imagism may I suggest you take it up to dear old Ludvig's Picture Theory of Propositions, surely the apotheosis of that stupid line of thought? Why complain about Hume's Fork being incoherent? After all it's a disposable instrument to be thrown away after use only at which point will one see the world aright

Dennis said...

@Anonymous


"As these examples indicate, the problem is in no way with A-T metaphysics per se, but rather with a kind of crude pictorial thinking to which some people are for some reason prone when metaphysical topics come up, even though they know better than to fall into it where science is concerned."

This really sums up everything. It surprises me that people fail to 'get' basic concepts and then blame A-T metaphysics to take the fall for their inability. Adding to what others have said, it would be wise to look into what contemporaries call dispositions as well.

Scott said...

@Dennis:

It surprises me that people fail to 'get' basic concepts and then blame A-T metaphysics to take the fall for their inability.

Anon didn't blame A-T metaphysics for his/her inability to "get" basic concepts. S/he asked for help, and got it.

Dennis said...

@Scott

Thanks for the clarification, but I do meet a lot of people online who make the same objection, and are quite rude about it when they go about their business in clarification, thankfully anonymous wasn't this way.

Dennis said...

Hence my little quirk. Had missed that part out.

Scott said...

@Dennis:

Fair enough. I just didn't want to put off anyone who has genuine questions and asks them honestly.

Dennis said...

@Scott

Oh yeah, me neither. I apologise if I came off that way.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: Why can I not help thinking of them as these sort of ghostly things that hover over physical objects.

I think part of the problem is simply that it's not a trivial matter to absorb it all, especially when you live in a culture that implicitly and explicitly teaches so many contrary errors. And of course, we cannot help trying to imagine even abstract ideas, even though it gets in the way. But like learning to swim or ride a bicycle or play the piano, you have to start out slowly, consciously plotting how to move your body — you'll never be proficient if you don't get past this level, but you can't just skip over it. The solution is same in each case: practise. Just keep trying to think in A-T terms, and one day you'll notice that it's all fallen into place and you're doing it without even trying.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous

"But man, I just don't 'get' some of these basic concepts. Like 'act' and 'potency.' What the hell are they, and how do they cash out in real, physical things as opposed to just concepts in our mind? Why can I not help thinking of them as these sort of ghostly things that hover over physical objects."

Ghost is apt -- as in putting the ghost back into the machine, or keeping it there, depending on frame of reference. My biggest problem, after its implied mysticism, is with its uselessness. Hydrogen has a potential to bond with oxygen. People have a potential to like sweet foods. Basically, the A-T philosopher would have us believe sentences like that explain a fundamental truth about reality. But they merely state or restate trivial empirical findings. So in that way I don't 'get' what the fuss is about.

Anonymous said...

I think I finally understand the problem with my previous comment from an A-T perspective. For the A-T metaphysician, it is by virtue of our rational faculties that we are able to comprehend the world revealed by our faculties of sensation, hence it is by virtue of these rational faculties that we can make various sorts of basic metaphysical judgments. Therefore, to deny that the past is real, that things persist over time, or that there is causation is to, strictly speaking, be engaged in irrational speculation (i.e. speculation that is contrary to what is discerned by our rational faculties). And this is a different account of what it means to be engaged in irrational speculation than what is typically presupposed among contemporary philosophers, who frequently take for granted that irrational speculation is nothing other than strictly illogical speculation.

The problem, then, with the language of intuition is that all manner of things might seem intuitively reasonable to us and would not necessarily rise to the level of something that can be accepted on the basis of our rational faculties. However, dubious appeals as to what seems intuitively reasonable to us are now common among contemporary philosophers because they lack a category for identifying the sorts of basic metaphysical judgments that we can make, having cashed out what it means to be rational in exclusively logical terms.

How does this sound to everybody?

Anonymous said...

Don Jindra,

The whole point of metaphysics, as I understand it, is to provide a rational account of the world that is as plausible as can be, not to develop new conceptual tools for how to predict and/or control the world. From a certain anti-intellectual point of view, the latter is all that really matters, so that we should only engage in the project of providing such an account to the extent needed to do the more important work of predicting/controlling the world for our purposes; however, not everyone shares this point of view, and that's why there are people who are interested in the study of such things as metaphysics, mathematics, logic, etc. purely for their own sake.

Scott W. said...

Just for fun: New Atheist declares there is no God because ALIEN LIFE! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/earth-20-bad-news-for-god_b_7861528.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

Scott said...

Scott W.:

Live link here for convenience. Yep, pretty silly post, but it looks like the comments have it covered.

Scott said...

How does this sound to everybody?

Sounds pretty good to me as far as it goes, and you've certainly hit the main problem (i.e. that what seems "intuitive" may in fact not be rational).

One further point to keep in mind is that, in traditional parlance at least, "intuition" is regarded as a kind of direct insight beyond discursive reason. On that view "intuitively reasonable" would arguably be an oxymoron (or perhaps a pleonasm, on the understanding that what is known through intuition must be intrinsically "reasonable" even if we didn't arrive at our knowledge through rational thought).

AT any rate the word is currently used to mean so many things that it's almost useless unless its precise sense is specified.

Anonymous said...

What Millgram calls "intuition", I would just call "conditioning".

Glenn said...

Don Jindra,

This post was on the vague side so I followed the link to "On 'intuitions'” where I read this:

"What is good for us is defined by the ends which nature has set for our various capacities. Our feelings and intuitions can facilitate the realization of those ends but they do not define the ends. Rather, the ends determine the reliability of the feelings and intuitions."

This raises a lot of questions, but the most important question for me is this: The claim is that nature's end(s) define the good, but what makes that more than an intuitive claim?


Your claim is that the claim is that nature's end(s) define the good. But what makes your claim equivalent to or synonymous with the quoted claim?

The quoted claim occurs in a context. The context in which the quoted claim is made makes clear that it is 'moral good' to which the quoted claim pertains. But 'moral good' and 'the good' are neither equivalent nor synonymous. And 'moral good' is neither equivalent nor synonymous with 'the good' for the simple reason that 'moral good', which is a specific type of good, but not the only specific type of good, is hierarchically lower than, i.e., is subsumed by, 'the good'.

So, while the question you ask is about a claim, it is about your claim, and not about a claim made by Dr. Feser in his 'On intuitions' post.

Hydrogen has a potential to bond with oxygen. People have a potential to like sweet foods. Basically, the A-T philosopher would have us believe sentences like that explain a fundamental truth about reality. But they merely state or restate trivial empirical findings. So in that way I don't 'get' what the fuss is about.

Actually, a person whose potential to understand A-T philosophy has yet to be actualized might well fail to 'get' that what the A-T philosopher would have us believe is that there are fundamental truths about reality, the explanation of one or more of which might, on certain occasions, involve the employment of a statement such as, e.g., 'Hydrogen has a potential to bond with oxygen' in an illustrative capacity.

David said...

We may perhaps think of how Aquinas, following Augustine, spoke of "intuition," i.e. as a kind of vision or seeing, which gives us self-evident first principles that ground all our judgments. For example, consider De veritate, q. 8, a. 15: “. . . we know principles by simple intuition without discourse . . ."("nos sine discursu principia cognoscimus simplici intuitu”). Or consider De veritate, q. 10, a. 8: "But, if we consider the knowledge which we have of the nature of the soul in the judgment by which we decide that it exists in such a way, as we had apprehended from the deduction mentioned above, we have knowledge of the soul inasmuch as 'we contemplate ("intuemur") inviolable truth. This is the truth from which we define to the best of our powers not the kind of mind each man has, but the kind it ought to be according to eternal norms,' as Augustine says. We see ("intuemur") this inviolable truth in its likeness which is impressed on our mind to the extent that we know some things as self-evident. We examine all other things with reference to these, judging of them according to these."

It is often overlooked that Aquinas spoke of "intuition" not only in the case of sensible intuition, but also as a kind of intellectual seeing of self-evident truths by an act of understanding ("intellectus"). Such intellective intuitions (e.g. of the principle of non-contradiction and other logical axioms, and of practical, i.e. ethical, first principles) are the basis of all demonstrations and other exercises of discursive reason("ratio"). This do not contradict his oft-stated view that "all knowledge begins with the senses." The habits by which we intellectually intuit self-evident principles are preceded by sense perception, but they go beyond sense perception. See, for example, De veritate, q. 16, a. 1, where he speaks of the natural habit of "synderesis," by which we know first principles of practical reason. Unlike the angels, we must first receive something from sense.