Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review of Alexander


My review of David Alexander’s Goodness, God, and Evil appears in the March 2016 issue of Ratio.  It looks like the review is currently available for free online, so take a look (click on the “Get PDF” link).

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

What do you think of this counterexample to the privation theory of evil: a second nose? Alexander Pruss raised this counterexample somewhere in his blog before.

JohnD said...

"Together these claims would entail that there are degrees of being, and that is indeed a thesis that the Fourth Way itself makes use of. But it is also a thesis most contemporary philosophers will have great difficulty accepting. Alexander should thus address this issue head on if he hopes to make the Fourth Way plausible, but he does not do so."

Is there anyone currently who defends the degrees of being thesis in print, specifically in the context of the fourth way?

Anonymous said...

JohnD,

See Gyula Klima's "The Theory of Predication Underlying Saint Thomas Aquinas's Metaphysics of Being", particularly the last section "The Great Chain of Being" - http://faculty.fordham.edu/klima/BEAQ.HTM

See also Barry Miller's work on existence. His Stanford Encyclopedia article on existence is a good introduction to his ideas - http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/existence/

For a related idea - there are ways of existing - see William Vallicella's "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis" in Novotny and Novak, eds. Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

Phenomenal conditions themselves are a relentless force, a machine, a cycle of beginning, change, and end, a destiny, and a presumption that always contain an equal balance of positive and negative factors. The entire realm of phenomena, or "Nature", is, in itself, a binding form, an inevitability that is without freedom or happiness. This phenomenal realm is, in itself, what has traditionally called "evil".

Many human individuals presume themselves to be religious when they are merely persuaded, in their minds and only ever to a partial degree, by certain consoling ideas, or beliefs, relative to their own future, the conventional "rightness" of their behaviors, and so forth. But, typically, such religious people suffer from profound separative tendencies, fears, and doubts, which are always present in the superficial unliberated psyche of the usual man in Nature, and which cannot be dissolved or transcended by concepts generated in the superficial mind.

And, unfortunately, such people nearly always project themselves via self-righteous opinions that tend to exclude and negate other individuals, whose social, and particularly sexual, behaviors and religious beliefs are different from their own.

Anonymous said...

Part 2:
We are defined and controlled by all that we have not transcended.

The righteous presumptions and behaviors of such superficial and conventionally religious people are a Life-negative and socially pernicious influence. Such individuals give lip service, or mental acknowledgement to the Divine, because such service consoles them in their hell-deep mortal fear. but they do not, and can not truly serve all beings in love, as an expression of the unbounded liberality and Wisdom of our prior and Eternal Happiness.

The conventionally religious mind is not free, not liberated from the binding force of phenomena, or the dreadful and marvelous Machine of Nature. In this manner, conventional religion is often bound up with tendencies, motives,, expressions, and self-serving philosophies that are "evil" and not "good".
Therefore, anyone who is moved by arguments of a religious kind should consider all of it to the point of ecstatic surrender, awakened Wisdom, and a profoundly activated love of all beings, expressed through non-threatening service, tolerance, compassion, and help.
Be more sensitive to the "evil" that is always persuasive in your fear, regardless of the glamor of your experiences, your beliefs, and your metaphysics.

Chris Lansdown said...

Professor Feser,
Why not explain moral disagreement by analogy to heresy ("taking"), where one aspect of morality/human nature is so over-valued it eclipses another? E.g. Some African cultures over-emphasize familial bonds and consequently de-emphasize obligations to strangers, while American culture over emphasizes duty to self and de-emphasizes duty to others. (This would of course work synergistically with the morality-is-hard explanation.)

DDT said...

But, typically, such religious people suffer from profound separative tendencies, fears, and doubts, which are always present in the superficial unliberated psyche of the usual man in Nature

Your entire two-parter is nothing but bare assertions, the stuff of a would-be preacher without argument or evidence, lecturing those you which to caricature in lieu of understanding or fairly engaging.

Physician, heal thyself.

Timocrates said...

@ Anon,

"Phenomenal conditions themselves are a relentless force, a machine, a cycle of beginning, change, and end, a destiny, and a presumption that always contain an equal balance of positive and negative factors."

Well, firstly, getting such cycles of change out of "an equal balance" is problematic. Equality implies harmony or non-change especially in physics: it implies stasis or rest. Logically though, of course, change does include a necessary balance, in that every change is from one to another; hence, the not-white becomes white. But something tells me this is not what you are thinking about when you speak of a positive and negative balance of factors?

"This phenomenal realm is, in itself, what has traditionally called "evil"."

I can't think of too many traditions, whether past or present, that think of Nature as evil. Quite the contrary, in my opinion: most traditions - even if they are 'negative' toward body or matter as such - typically spare and salvage nature as such as something either basically or irreducibly good or, at the very least, not evil and a precondition, source, cause or measure/criterion for goodness.

That being said, you are not far wrong about the sort of evils religious people can be susceptible too. But you ignore the equally bad - if not often worse - evils that irreligious people can fall into, especially selfishness, which has little checks against it outside of social norms usually enforced quite brutally by the law, which steps in only after it is too late and the individual has been virtually consumed by vice. It removes the effects not the causes that generate the anti-social (and ultimately anti-self) tendencies in people caused by irreligion.

In the same vein, how can you fail to perceive that religion, by and large, does almost always and everywhere at least constantly try to instill in people a sense of the transcendent? How do you fail to condemn a materialistic, consumeristic practical atheism that everywhere tends to the momentary and the fleeting, to a preoccupation with one's own well-being only or exclusively? Where is your righteous anger at this tendency that chokes out even the desire for the transcendent in people? And what religion can compete with that one at least here in the West?

Finally, I honestly think you - like so many of our contemporaries - are rather projecting your own preoccupation with sexuality onto us. But you are closer to the truth if you can see the connection between the importance of love and sexual behavior; that the dispute between religious people and contemporary moderns in the West really does boil down to love; and what really is love.

Craig Payne said...

"Be more sensitive to the 'evil' that is always persuasive in your fear, regardless of the glamor of your experiences, your beliefs, and your metaphysics."

No.

DDT said...

But you are closer to the truth if you can see the connection between the importance of love and sexual behavior; that the dispute between religious people and contemporary moderns in the West really does boil down to love; and what really is love.

The problem is that moderns reject love, and instead embrace selfish pleasure. For many irreligious, the maturity that love demands of them is a burden, something they aren't adept at. But at the same time they don't want to entertain the possibility that there's more than pleasure to consider, so they insist that everyone else withdraw not just from criticism, but even speculation that they may be wrong.

So you end up with people like Anonymous, who are not wrapped up so much in hate explicitly as they are in anti-love. Putting it another way, they only will celebrate love if love is entirely what they want it to be, entirely on their own terms. Love can only be service to the desires they already approve of, to goals they already desire, to pleasure they already want. If love is different from what their religion-substitute (politics) demands it to be, they want no part of it. Hence, anti-love.

Tony said...

We are defined and controlled by all that we have not transcended.

"Eat of this fruit, and you will transcend all limitations, you will be as gods. " It's been tried before. Pay no attention to the fact that, once you lose your definition (because you won't be defined anymore) you lose all else. For to be, as a creature, is to be defined by being created, and "becoming" not-a-creature can be nothing other than passing away into not-being, it is incoherent nonsense for a thing-created to "become" not-created. It can instead change to not-being.

as an expression of the unbounded liberality and Wisdom of our prior and Eternal Happiness.

Why, why, why do pantheists and panentheists and associated characters always refer to that "prior" state or condition, and never, ever attempt to explain what Purpose was supposed to be served by the Transcendent All-Inclusive One, perfect, complete, and Eternally Happy, performing an act of alienation, separation, divorce of one part of Itself from another part and thereby introduce "evil" and unhappiness? "Hey, I have an idea: being perfectly happy is boring, let's make EVIL and MISERY so we can have something to bitch about through the long dull years of absolute happiness than which nothing could be better. Because being able to moan and bitch about it will make it better. Better yet, let's change eternal reality and make sure that evil and misery are permanent, eternal parts of reality, so that "all that is" is eternally better with evil added thereto. (Heh, that will also put paid to those silly partial beings mired in misery talking about a crazy "prior" state of Happiness, if we make Unhappiness to be eternal just like Happiness.)"

Timocrates said...

@ DDT,

I think our differences are largely semantic on this topic. I mean what is meant by selfish pleasure if not self-pleasing love or an inordinate love of self? I think we say something is a selfish act or someone becomes selfish exactly when someone fails to consider what is due to others or, more abstractly, fails to perceive a transcendental which, by nature, is something greater than ourselves, or at least worthy of our respect, such as Justice. At the same time we also rob ourselves of some good; hence, for example, an egotist deprives himself at the same time of social companionship. A wall is erected, so to speak, to external sources or causes of goodness to or in us: the lines of communication of goodness are severed. So while it may not seem we are actively doing anyone else any harm, we are notwithstanding at least really harming ourselves. Therefore an ideology that promotes selfishness is promoting harm to individuals and can no longer pretend to claim it is 'only' a self-hurting doctrine that does no harm to others. So, even if we grant something of a license to individuals that they may freely choose to deprive themselves; notwithstanding, it does not follow they have a right to promote such harmful activities (presumably as if they were actually good) to others.

Mikael said...

Has Edward Feser responded to this challenge from Vincent Torley?'cause I searched...and I found nothing.And some problems raised by Vince are really worth-responding.

Mikael said...

Oh,I forgot the link:))):http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/an-aristotelian-proof-of-the-existence-of-god/

Mikael said...

Vincent Torley writes:"It is a fallacy to argue from “There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else” to “There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality.” It is a fallacy to argue from “There must be an Ultimate Cause for the existence of any particular thing” to “There must be an Ultimate Cause for the existence of all things.” It is an equivocation to claim that the First Cause possesses all perfections, when one has only established that it possesses perfect attributes only (with no defects). It is a non sequitur to claim that the First Cause must be unique because it possesses all perfections, when one has only established that the First Cause is devoid of imperfections.".These seem to be serious objections.How would you respond to them?

Tony said...

Maybe I am missing something, MiKael, but these are all dealt with

"It is a fallacy to argue from “There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else” to “There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality.”

I don't think Vincent can really mean this. Or if he does he is missing the point of the thesis. If hypothesized Being A is a being whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by another, then it is impossible that A has potential. By reduction to the absurd: suppose that A has potential with respect to x (i.e. A is potentially x but not actually x). If he has potential, he can be actually x. (It is metaphysically incoherent to say it's "potentially x" but cannot become actually x.). Now, either A can actualize itself with respect being x, or not. If A can actualize itself to x, then it must HAVE that actuality x, for the effect is not greater than the cause. So A has actuality x. But that's absurd, since we assumed that it is in potency with respect to x, not actually x. So we must conclude that A does not have the power to actualize itself with respect to x. But it CAN BE actual with respect to x, and therefore CAN BE ACTUALIZED with respect to x. Therefore, it can become actual with respect to x only by the power of another agent. Therefore, it is not true that A is a being whose power does not need to be actualized by another, which is contrary to the supposition.

It is a non sequitur to claim that the First Cause must be unique because it possesses all perfections, when one has only established that the First Cause is devoid of imperfections."

Worse and worse. First of all, A-T does not posit that the First Cause is "perfect" in the sense that it meets with all of the qualities appropriate to its form, like a "perfect human" is devoid of all HUMAN imperfections. That's not what is meant by "perfect". In saying the First Cause is "devoid of imperfections" is meant that it is devoid of all lack of being as such. If there is ANY KIND of perfection, it is not lacking in that. It has, unlimitedly, the ultimate possible degree of EVERY KIND of perfection, that's the meaning here for "devoid of imperfections." It is devoid of any limits to any possible good or perfection: if it is good to know, it is devoid of any lack of knowing, so it is omniscient. If it is good to love, it is devoid of any limit to loving, it is all-loving. If it is good to be just, it is devoid to any limit in justice, it is infinitely just. If being able to do is a good, it is devoid of any limitation on doing, it can do anything that is metaphysically possible to do as omnipotent. So, yes, in the A-T sense, "devoid of imperfections" just is "having all perfections" because it means "not having any limitations of any sort".

And the fact that there cannot be 2 such beings stems from the absolute transcendence implied by that absoluteness of perfection: There cannot be 2 because any supposed distinction between Being A and Being B would, of necessity, be a limitation for each one of them. That which made A be apart from B would make B not absolutely perfect and omniscient. What separates things is, per se, their limits (at least on one side). If there were two such, then one's absolute power to act would impose limits on the other's power to act.

Mikael said...

Thanks,Tony.You seem to have very well-prepared answers,as always.So devoid of imperfectios=perfect=infinitely good=infinitely just etc...Ok.Regarding causality,while of course I subscribe to the principle and I know that quantum mechanics does not undermine the principle,there are lots of people that remain unconvinced.Can we say that since the world manifests intelligibility at the macroscopic level,and since the macroscopic level is 100% dependent upon the microscopic level,wouldn't it be outrageously absurd to say that at the microscopic level events are uncaused?I mean...can we make predictions about QM if no causality is involved?Can we interpret radioactive decay as a reduction from many potencies to a single act,reduction that follows from the nature of the substantial form of the decaying atom?(I know I'm incredibly annoying interfering in the discussions with so many questions but I just want to make up my mind about these issues.Sorry.And thanks!)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

"There cannot be 2 because any supposed distinction between Being A and Being B would, of necessity, be a limitation for each one of them.... What separates things is, per se, their limits (at least on one side)."

This assumes that there needs to be something to distinguish the two, but why accept that assumption? Why not instead think that their difference is a brute fact? After all, if we assume A and B need some "distinguisher", their distinguishers themselves will need their own distinguishers, which will also need their own distinguishers, and so on ad infinitum.

The only way out of this regress is to posit some brutely distinct distinguishers, in which case wouldn't it be more parsimonious to say that A and B are themselves brutely distinct?

Best,

ML

Scott said...

"[I]f we assume A and B need some 'distinguisher', their distinguishers themselves will need their own distinguishers, which will also need their own distinguishers, and so on ad infinitum."

I don't see why. What if A has something B lacks but B doesn't have anything A lacks? In that case there aren't two "distinguishers" to distinguish.

More fundamentally, though…

"The only way out of this regress is to posit some brutely distinct distinguishers[.]"

…an arguably better way is simply to deny that there's such a thing as being "brutely distinct" in the first place (i.e. to accept the Identity of Indiscernibles): if A and B are indistinguishable, they are not two but one.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

"What if A has something B lacks but B doesn't have anything A lacks?"

If B lacks something A has, then B isn't a perfect being - but the relevant question is: why can't there be two perfect beings? That is, why can't both A and B have perfect goodness, omnipotence, omniscience, etc.? Such a possibility seems perfectly coherent. It seems the best answer here is to rely on the Identity of Indiscernibles. But there's no good reason to accept that principle, besides a bare appeal to intuition, and the principle faces counterexamples (Max Black's spheres, and some quantum phenomena).

Best,

ML

Timocrates said...

@ Mikael,

"Vincent Torley writes:"It is a fallacy to argue from “There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else” to “There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality.”

It is also a fallacy to argue from 'if A, then B.' Because those we kindly call liberals also said so. Because they don't like logic. Or thinking. Or people.

But it is a fallacy to argue from, "Timocrates says that liberals (and associated species) are idiots" to "Timocrates is a bigot."

Furthermore,

It is a fallacy to say "Timocrates is wrong." Moreover, it is a fallacy to think, "Timocrates cannot be right."

Greg said...

Since the topic of discussion seems to have drifted from Alexander's book, maybe it's worth putting this here.

Greg said...

@ ML

If B lacks something A has, then B isn't a perfect being - but the relevant question is: why can't there be two perfect beings?

Since A is perfect, A's essence is A's existence, and since B is perfect, B's essence is B's existence. But A and B have the same essence. So A and B have the same existence. So they are identical.

But there's no good reason to accept that principle, besides a bare appeal to intuition, and the principle faces counterexamples (Max Black's spheres, and some quantum phenomena).

I am not sure how I feel about Max Black's purported counterexample. Part of its force depends on how one understands indiscerniblity. In the principle, it just involves sharing of all properties, which might be slightly different from what the term connotes: Would some observer be able to discern which is which?

It seems like the counterexample relies for its force on the latter connotation. To an observer both spheres look the same, so both have all of the same "properties"; if those are understood as surface-level properties like size, shape, and color, as well as relational properties that relate one sphere to another of particular size, shape, and color, etc. But a Thomist might legitimately doubt that the properties of the spheres are limited to those. For instance, one of the spheres has designated matter that the other does not.

Greg said...

(I am usually skeptical of unspecific appeals to quantum mechanics in philosophy, so I did not comment on that purported counterexample of the identity of indiscernibles.)

Anonymous said...

Greg,

"But A and B have the same essence. So A and B have the same existence."

It depends on what you mean by "same". There's sameness in the sense of numerical identity (Superman is the *same* person as Clark Kent), and there's sameness in the sense sharing an essence (two humans share the *same* essence). Your inference only works on the former sense of "same", but why think that A and B have numerically identical essences? This is precisely the point in dispute here.

"But a Thomist might legitimately doubt that the properties of the spheres are limited to those. For instance, one of the spheres has designated matter that the other does not."

But if designated matter is what distinguishes the two, this raises the obvious question: what distinguishes the designated matter of sphere 1 and sphere 2? Either something or nothing (it's a brute fact that they're distinct). If the former, then the regress continues, but if the latter, then why posit designated matter in the first place? This dilemma applies not only to designated matter, but to whatever the Thomist can come up with the distinguish the two spheres.

Best,

ML

Greg said...

@ ML

There's sameness in the sense of numerical identity (Superman is the *same* person as Clark Kent), and there's sameness in the sense sharing an essence (two humans share the *same* essence). Your inference only works on the former sense of "same", but why think that A and B have numerically identical essences?

That is fair. I would like to argue that the two senses of sameness merge in perfect beings, and I have some thoughts about how to do that.

Particularly, one can distinguish between immanent essence and "global" essence (essence "in the mind of God," one might say). In humans, immanent essence and global essence are not the same. Your humanity is not humanity as such. But a Thomist might hope to give an account of the relationship between the two.

So perhaps we can argue: If X is perfect, then X's immanent essence is X's global essence, and X's immanent essence is X's existence. So if A is perfect and B is perfect, then A = B.

I will think of whether I have a non-circular argument for the general principle invoked here.

...

Greg said...

...

But if designated matter is what distinguishes the two, this raises the obvious question: what distinguishes the designated matter of sphere 1 and sphere 2? Either something or nothing (it's a brute fact that they're distinct).

Distinguishing isn't some operation. "Designated matter distinguishes the two" in the sense that sphere 1 has this designated matter and sphere 2 does not.

I have a quarter (A) and a dime (B) on my desk. Why is it not the case that A = B? Among other things, A is larger than B. So they are distinct. In no sense is it an "obvious" or even obviously coherent question to ask what distinguishes that which distinguishes A from B (that is, what distinguishes the size of A from the size of B). This is to attempt to reify "distinguishing" in some strange way that I cannot understand. One can ask why A is not B, though this question is apparently ambiguous. Its answer is probably uninteresting; A was made in this plant, B was made in that plant; this plant makes coins of this size, that plant makes coins of that size. In that sense it is not the case that "nothing" distinguishes the size of A from the size of B, but the "something" that distinguishes them is not a further distinction.

This does draw out another problem with Black's thought experiment, which is that his universe may not possibly be a complete state of affairs. Perhaps if the spheres exist, something else must exist too, and there must be explanations of why one has designated matter that the other does not. But that only bolsters the identity of indiscernibles.

In any case, even if you could ask this "obvious question," I have no idea why it should be thought to undermine the prospective Thomist's response to Black's counterexample. Even if there were a regress of distinctions, that would not call into question the fact that the spheres are distinct but also "discernable" (in the sense of having different properties), and that's all one needs to defeat the counterexample. You suggest that grasping the "nothing" horn undermines the point of positing designated matter, but I don't see what the force of that question can be unless the Thomist had no reason to posit designated matter besides answer Black. Which is false.

In any case, the problem might be more general. The counterexample has no force unless it claims that the spheres are distinct and indiscernable. Thus if you consider half of one of the spheres, it is also distinct from any half of the other sphere (though perhaps indiscernable from one of the halves). Call that half A. Then A is a part of one sphere and not a part of the other. So one sphere lacks a property that the other has. The response, I suppose, would have to be to deny that "has A as a part" is a property, which might be plausible if you are restricting yourself to the sort of surface-level properties I mentioned before, but which I do not find convincing. (This conception of properties reminds one of pre-Kripkean attempts to handle transworld identity.)

Scott said...

Since we've gone off-topic and I agree that the discussion might be better transferred to the Classical Theism forum, I'll keep my comment brief. But on the Max Black two-spheres scenario, two observations of possible relevance: (a) I've always liked Brand Blanshard's discussion of it in Reason and Analysis, and (b) I also recall an argument (though not the source) that the two-sphere scenario is mathematically equivalent to a one-sphere scenario by a change of metric.

It's also cheating to bring in an observer, since the scenario expressly excludes observers. The question is whether there can even be "two" such spheres, not whether an excluded-by-hypothesis observer would be able to tell them apart. Introducing an observer is pretty close to begging the question, especially if we do so in order to ask whether he can tell the "two" apart (as of course he could if there were "two," since they would presumably at least stand in different spatial relations to him).

DavidM said...

Ed wrote: "artifacts have only a derivative kind of teleology which presupposes that of natural substances, and natural substances in turn have their teleology intrinsically rather than in a derivative way."

But from a Thomistic perspective, all secondary causality (including the final causality of natural substances) is a derivative kind of causality which presupposes that of the first cause. Cf. e.g., SCG III.100 n.3: “Since God is the prime agent..., all things which are posterior to him are, in a sense, his instruments” - i.e., their (natural or artifactual) teleology is subordinate to and derived from the supernatural, super-eminently 'designed' teleology of divine providence (in which the rational creature's particular dignity to participate). "For he it is who works in us to will and to work for his good will".

As for the etiological-independence argument (that knowledge of function is independent of knowledge of etiology/history/origins), this applies to the function of the heart, sure; but also to the function of a phone, surely?

DavidM said...

should read: "(in which it is the rational creature's...)"

Glenn said...

Mikael quoted Vincent: "It is a fallacy to argue from "There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else" to "There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality."

Tony responded: I don't think Vincent can really mean this. Or if he does he is missing the point of the thesis. [Etc., etc.]

What follows is another way to look at what Vincent might have been missing. This is intended neither as a replacement for, nor an improvement upon, what Tony had to say, and shouldn't be taken or used in either of those two ways. It is simply another way of looking at the matter:

1. Mikael's quotation is taken from Vincent's An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God?

2. Three and a half weeks later, in his On not putting all your theological eggs into one basket, Vincent wrote something very similar: "It is a fallacy to argue, as Feser does, from 'There must be an Actualizer whose power to actualize does not need to be actualized by anything else' to 'There must be an Actualizer which is totally devoid of potentiality and incapable of being further actualized – in other words, a Being Who is Pure Act.'

3. The second quotation, from Vincent's 'theological eggs' post, is immediately preceded by a parenthetical statement, which is not to be found in his 'Aristotelian Proof' post: "(Of course, God's Being or substance is entirely actual and contains no potency, but God's Being alone cannot explain the existence of the world, since God has to perform some creative act in order to make the world. In so doing, He timelessly actualizes Himself, as I will show.)"

4. According to the parenthetical statement, even though God's Being or substance is entirely actual and contains no potency, God nonetheless (timelessly) actualizes Himself.

5. Vincent's solution to the apparent conundrum is two-fold: a) God's Being and God's Existence are not quite the same thing; and, b) it is God's Being which lacks potency, and God's existence which has it.

6. Bypassing a) and going directly to b)... the reasoning offered for the claim that God's existence has potency, goes something like this (when colloquialized):

John Doe is a creature who came into being. John Doe's continuing existence is sustained by God. But God can sustain John Doe's existence only if John Doe exists, and there was a time when John Doe did not exist, so there was a time when God did not sustain the existence of John Doe. Since there was a time when God did not sustain the existence of John Doe, and God is now sustaining the existence of John Doe, God's ability to sustain the existence of John Doe once was only potential but now is actual. Therefore, a potential in God had to have been actualized. Since God is not moved by another, it must be God who moved Himself, i.e., God actualized Himself.

7. One obvious implication of that is that John Doe is living proof that God is mutable.

(cont)

Glenn said...

8. Except that, and of course, John Doe is not living proof that God is mutable. At least not on an AT account.

To wit,

9. There is this from ST 1.9.1:

Article 1. Whether God is altogether immutable?

Objection 1. It seems that God is not altogether immutable. For whatever moves itself is in some way mutable. But, as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit viii, 20), "The Creator Spirit moves Himself neither by time, nor by place." Therefore God is in some way mutable.

Reply to Objection 1. Augustine there speaks in a similar way to Plato, who said that the first mover moves Himself; calling every operation a movement, even as the acts of understanding, and willing, and loving, are called movements. Therefore because God understands and loves Himself, in that respect they said that God moves Himself, not, however, as movement and change belong to a thing existing in potentiality, as we now speak of change and movement.

10. Then there is this from ST 1.19.1:

Article 1. Whether there is will in God?

Objection 3. Further, according to the Philosopher (De Anima iii, 54), the will moves, and is moved. But God is the first cause of movement, and Himself is unmoved, as proved in Phys. viii, 49. Therefore there is not will in God.

Reply to Objection 3. A will of which the principal object is a good outside itself, must be moved by another; but the object of the divine will is His goodness, which is His essence. Hence, since the will of God is His essence, it is not moved by another than itself, but by itself alone, in the same sense as understanding and willing are said to be movement. This is what Plato meant when he said that the first mover moves itself.

11. And, lastly, there is this from SCG 1.13.10:

It is to be noted, however, that Plato, who held that every mover is moved [Phaedrus], understood the name motion in a wider sense than did Aristotle. For Aristotle understood motion strictly, according as it is the act of what exists in potency inasmuch as it is such. So understood, motion belongs only to divisible bodies, as it is proved in the Physics [VI, 4]. According to Plato, however, that which moves itself is not a body. Plato understood by motion any given operation, so that to understand and to judge are a kind of motion. Aristotle likewise touches upon this manner of speaking in the De anima [III, 7]. Plato accordingly said that the first mover moves himself because he knows himself and wills or loves himself. In a way, this is not opposed to the reasons of Aristotle. There is no difference between reaching a first being that moves himself, as understood by Plato, and reaching a first being that is absolutely unmoved, as understood by Aristotle.

12. So, the above criticisms by Vincent, of Dr. Feser's 'An Aristotelian Proof of God', seem to be, at least in part, due to an overlooking of the fact that, or due to a failure to accept that, it is perfectly fine for an Aristotelian proof, involving motion, to employ or rely on the more stringent Aristotelian sense of motion rather than the less stringent Platonic sense of motion.

Glenn said...

Bump:


DavidM said...
Ed wrote: "artifacts have only a derivative kind of teleology which presupposes that of natural substances, and natural substances in turn have their teleology intrinsically rather than in a derivative way."

But from a Thomistic perspective, all secondary causality (including the final causality of natural substances) is a derivative kind of causality which presupposes that of the first cause. Cf. e.g., SCG III.100 n.3: “Since God is the prime agent..., all things which are posterior to him are, in a sense, his instruments” - i.e., their (natural or artifactual) teleology is subordinate to and derived from the supernatural, super-eminently 'designed' teleology of divine providence (in which it is the rational creature's particular dignity to participate). "For he it is who works in us to will and to work for his good will".

As for the etiological-independence argument (that knowledge of function is independent of knowledge of etiology/history/origins), this applies to the function of the heart, sure; but also to the function of a phone, surely?

laubadetriste said...

@ML, @Greg, @Scott: re: Max Black, etc.:

I believe I may once have sketched the beginning of a Thomist reply to that.

Luckily my doctorate was in errata...

laubadetriste said...

↑Let me emphasize that I was summarizing someone else.

Anonymous said...

If everything has a cause, then what caused God? The theist responds by saying that God has no cause. But why can't the universe be the thing that has no cause? The theist has no answer, because it's plausible that the universe has always existed. The cyclic model purports to show that the universe has always existed and has always been expanding and contracting with no origin. Also even if the universe has a cause, it doesn't mean that God is the cause. The multiverse has wide support among theoretical physicists and cosmologists. There is a universe generating mechanism that exists and is uncaused and has created an extremely large amount of universes and we happen to be in one of the universes that is life-permitting. I've seen theists respond that the universe generating mechanism must have a cause, but that's just a double standard. If there is a cause to the universe, why must God be the only cause that is uncaused?

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: But why can't the universe be the thing that has no cause? The theist has no answer,

Liar.

Fred said...

Mr. Green, I doubt he's lying. He is more likely just ignorant. Perhaps some links to Ed's posts on the subject would help. If he persists after reading those, then you are obviously right about him.

Jason said...

@Anonymous
If everything has a cause, then what caused God?

No reasonably minded philosopher would say that. You are missing something very important. Maybe look it up here and most specifically here

laubadetriste said...

↑What Jason said. This is *really* old news.

Shawn said...

I hear atheists accuse religious people being anti-scientific all the time, but maybe they're the ones who are anti-scientific? All of the scientific evidence clearly points to the universe having a beginning, so we should accept what the evidence tells us rather than desperately concocting theories to obviate the need for a beginning. The funny thing is, if you're an atheist, you don't even need to reject a beginning. You can just say the universe is a brute fact (although that's not particularly coherent), or you can say the universe was caused by something else but not God. I still know atheists who reject the big bang theory, and say that it'll one day be trumped by a new theory that shows the universe never had a beginning. But religious people are anti-scientific, ha. As for the multiverse, it's not even scientific because it's not empirically verifiable. Just admit you're doing metaphysics for once.

Doc said...

I would like to point out that, in your 7+ years of blogging about various pieces of philosophy, you have never had an article which included the word pokemon. I don't know what that means to you, but I find it significant

Timocrates said...

@ Anon (above),

You wrote,

"If everything has a cause, then what caused God? The theist responds by saying that God has no cause. But why can't the universe be the thing that has no cause?"

Because neither the universe itself nor any of its physical contents - even only those contents that presently exist at most only potentially but at one time preceded and presumably became or now compose all things - are the kinds of things that can or could be without a cause or causeless. They are through-and-through all of them material composites that include or are involved in potency. This becomes clearer when we define and describe them.

Before nuclear physicists in the 30's effectively blew-up simple atomism, it was generally believed that the atoms were the irreducibly basic stuff of reality. But even atoms involve potency regardless of whether or not they are transmutable, divisible or further reducible to even more elemental things (such as they are now believed to be). A materialistic theory of the universe will necessarily tend to posit some irreducibly basic incorruptible element whenever a causal hole, so to speak, starts to clearly present itself. That hole always needs to be plugged for the universe to appear in some wise self-explanatory and self-existent; otherwise, we would have to start looking outside the universe. But even incorruptible physical things remain involved in potency.

DavidM said...

"There is a universe generating mechanism that exists and is uncaused and has created an extremely large amount of universes and we happen to be in one of the universes that is life-permitting."

Interesting theory. Some important questions that remain, it would seem:

In what sense is this 'mechanism' (the uncaused cause of the universe, sometimes known as God) a mechanism?

How do we know that Mechanism (i.e., God) has created an extremely large amount (i.e., number) of universes? (It seems to me that apart from supposing some supernatural revelation, it is in principle impossible to know that any universes other than our own exist.)

If Mechanism were truly a mechanism, wouldn't its causal powers be limited to generating other mechanisms? In which case, where did we come from (beings who - we have good reason to believe! - are not mere mechanisms, but who understand, who are capable of having true and false beliefs, etc.)?

Mr. Green said...

Fred: Mr. Green, I doubt he's lying. He is more likely just ignorant.

Oh, certainly. I was just playing along, because he seemed to be aiming for humour. Someone would have to be remarkably ill-informed to the point of gross intellectual dishonesty if he couldn't manage thirty seconds on Google to find out there are a profusion of such answers — but then, this is the Internet, so I suppose one can't rule it out.

However, then I read this line:
>The multiverse has wide support among theoretical physicists and cosmologists.

… and I knew he was launching a comedy routine.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: What do you think of this counterexample to the privation theory of evil: a second nose?

I think it doesn't pass the smell-test. For example, Dr. Pruss mentions it here: Do theists have to believe the privation theory of evil?, and Heath White's comment there is right on the nose — the point is that evil is not a substance, not that it always is present, er, absent as a hole. (And anyway, is a hole the absence of dirt, or the presence of more air?)



Greg: (I am usually skeptical of unspecific appeals to quantum mechanics in philosophy, so I did not comment on that purported counterexample of the identity of indiscernibles.)

Indeed. A good rule of thumb is that they signal equally bad physics and metaphysics ahead. Of course, in this case, an appeal to QM would simply be pointless, because actual data from physics couldn't tell us anything until we already interpreted it in light of our understanding of identity.

Mikael said...

Thank you for your responses.Aquinas holds that you cannot demonstrate that a causal series ordered per accidents must terminate in a first member.But I think that's false.An actual infinite is defined as a set which cannot be modified by additions or substractions.So before an event E(I understand an event as being the acutalization of a potency) happens,if there is no first member,there is an actual infinite number of events taking place before E,so E cannot happen.The problem is that this is available also for E-1,E-2,E-x...,so nothing could ever happen(and this is stupid because we experience change).So I think that an infinite regress is impossible even if we are talking about order per accidents causal series.Does Ed think the same?Cause I saw a speech and he said that he thinks that when Aquinas argued that an accidental ordered causal series can (in theory) extend backwards to infinity,he was mistaken.

Tony said...

After sniffing out the best answer, Mr. Green's comment wins it by a nose.

Scott said...

I agree with Mr. Green about Heath White's comment. It may sound odd to call an extra nose a "privation," but it surely represents a falling short of perfection for a human substance. A five-legged squirrel is as clearly imperfect qua squirrel as a three-legged one.

Tony said...

This assumes that there needs to be something to distinguish the two, but why accept that assumption? Why not instead think that their difference is a brute fact? After all, if we assume A and B need some "distinguisher", their distinguishers themselves will need their own distinguishers, which will also need their own distinguishers, and so on ad infinitum.

ML, in addition to the other answers to this above by Greg, Scott, and DavidM, I will only point out the sheer incoherence of the attempt here to say that the two are "different" but not different.

If they are really two, then they are not each other. If A and B are not really the same thing, then A is not B. That is nothing other than saying A is different from B. So far, I think, you will agree.

We say and agree they are different. And THIS is nothing other than to say that in some respect A and B differ. It is both impossible to really have, AND impossible to positively think, of A differing from B but A not differing from B in some respect. So, like the person who can mouth the words of disagreeing with the principle of non-contradiction but cannot actually THINK in a manner consistent with disagreeing with it, so also here: a person can string together sentences with words that individually to have meaning but all together has no meaning: a person cannot actually think the thought coherently that "I understand A to be really different from B but is not in any respect different from B". A person who says such a sentence does not have a coherent understanding for A. You cannot understand A to be really different except in virtue of a difference, i.e. different in some respect. Any attempt to say otherwise is simply to refuse to assert what is understood in difference: any effort in which you assert "no, all they are different "by" is that A is not B, nothing more" is either a mere refusal to consider that aspect in virtue of which the mind grasps their being different, or an admission that your mind does not ACTUALLY distinguish them as different, only nominally. The whole idea collapses into incoherence.

We have no need to spend time arguing against an argument of this sort: "I wish you to imagine that A and B do not differ in any respect, though I of course do distinguish them myself. Now, prove to me why A and B must be one...in the face of knowing that I understand them distinctly via a difference."

Black's counterexample is fraught with so many difficulties and equivocal terms that it is hopeless: "number", "property" and so on. It suffices to say that this sphere manifestly differs from that sphere, and relying on identifying qualities by which they differ when they manifestly differ in quantity is sheer confusion.

Brandon said...

On privation and evil, it's worth noting that, on Aquinas's account, at least, since goodness consists in species, mode, and order, there are three different kinds of privation that can be involved in evil -- lacking the appropriate kind of good, lacking the measure appropriate to a good, and lacking the ordering to the appropriate end. For instance, to the extent that anything is bad for us, it has to be because it's a lack of something we need, or because we have it excessively or deficiently with respect to our real need, or because it interferes with achieving what we need to be complete.

Tony said...

An actual infinite is defined as a set which cannot be modified by additions or substractions.

Mikael, this doesn't seem like a good definition to me. If you have the infinite set of counting numbers C = {1, 2, 3,....}, that set is infinite in the standard sense of not having its cardinality any specific finite number. It has more elements in the set than any specified number. But you can add to the set 0, or -1, and get a different set than the set of counting numbers. (I will refrain from calling it a "larger" set, though obviously adding another element makes it "more" than it was in some sense). Again, if you take the set of integers I={...-3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3...}, and add to the set the number 1/2, you have made a different set by adding a new member.

Thus any set that is infinite in some respect but not infinite in ALL respects can be modified with the addition of something in respect of which it is limited. So only the "set" of "everything", which is infinite in ALL respects, could have the attribute of not being able to be modified by the addition of something. But even there, you would have to define "everything" as not only all things that actually are, but may be, because the set of all things that are can be added to by God creating a new thing and adding it to all that is. And I am pretty sure that you don't want to run your argument on the basis of a so-called "set" of "everything" (meaning both all that is actual and all that may be), because it is well established that this is not a well-defined set.

matthew murray said...

Hi guys. I am new to this blog and was wondering if someone would be so kind as to help me out with a very difficult philosophical/ ethical issue (the abortion issue).i know it has nothing to do with this topic but im not sure where else to reach out for some assistance. I'm no philosopher and those who comment on this blog are quite sharp.

I'm having a bit of beleif crisis with this issue. I'm finding some serious logical flaws with the life side, so anyone willing to try to correct me would be greatly appreciated. My email is rocaao21@aol. Com - if someone can reply to me there. Thanks so much!

Greg said...

@ matthew murray

You might want to sign up and ask your question on the Classical Theism, Philosophy, and Religion Forum. A lot of us are over there.

Scott said...

Greg beat me to it; I was going to post the same thing.

That might be better than a private e-mail conversation. After all, a whole bunch of us could write to you at once, and then you'd have a lot of juggling to do. Moreover, on the forum you get everybody's eyes on everybody's replies, so we can interact more.

Timocrates said...

@ Tony,

This was an excellent post: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/02/review-of-alexander.html?showComment=1455901473927#c1562947461849272809 - thanks for sharing it.

---

I think not only Dr. Feser's review but also the posts here have done a really good job explaining and defending the privation account of evil. The second nose example also certainly generated some fine thinking. I think it is clear now that having a second nose does really take away or deny some good to the man who has it; and more generally, since we literally can clearly see that things like second noses actually take away some good from someone (e.g. beauty or comeliness) it is easily shown thereby that evil really is always involved with privation.

matthew murray said...

Ok, done!

matthew murray said...

Thanks Scott.Hope you guys can help guide me.

matthew murray said...

Thanks Scott.Hope you guys can help guide me.