Monday, June 6, 2016

Four Causes and Five Ways


Noting parallels and correlations can be philosophically illuminating and pedagogically useful.  For example, students of Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosophy are familiar with how soul is to body as form is to matter as act is to potency.  So here’s a half-baked thought about some possible correlations between Aquinas’s most general metaphysical concepts, on the one hand, and his arguments for God’s existence on the other.  It is well known that Aquinas’s Second Way of arguing for God’s existence is concerned with efficient causation, and his Fifth Way with final causation.  But are there further such parallels to be drawn?  Does each of the Aristotelian Four Causes have some special relationship to one of the Five Ways?   Perhaps so, and perhaps there are yet other correlations to be found between some other key notions in the overall A-T framework.

Consider first the most general concepts of A-T metaphysics and their interrelations.  As I suggest in Scholastic Metaphysics, the entire edifice is grounded in the distinction between act and potency (or actuality and potentiality), which I spell out in chapter 1 of that book (after the prolegomenon of chapter 0, which refutes scientism etc.).  Chapter 2 then shows how, from the theory of act and potency, we can derive the notions of efficient causality and final causality.  Efficient causality involves the actualization of potency.  Final causality enters the picture insofar as a potency is always directed toward a certain outcome or range of outcomes as toward an end. 

Chapter 3 goes on to show how form and matter, which are the main constituents of a physical substance, also follow from the theory of act and potency.  Prime matter, which is the material cause of a physical substance, is the pure potentiality for the reception of form.  Substantial form, which is the formal cause of a material substance, is what actualizes prime matter.  Chapter 4 then shows how the distinction between essence and existence, which (unlike the distinction between form and matter) applies to immaterial substances as well as to physical substances, also follows from the theory of act and potency.  The essence of a thing is, by itself, merely potential; existence is what actualizes that potential so that we have a concrete substance. 

So, we have the following six fundamental A-T concepts: the act/potency distinction; efficient cause; final cause; formal cause; material cause; the essence/existence distinction. 

Now consider Aquinas’s arguments for God’s existence (which I discuss and defend in detail in chapter 3 of Aquinas).  The first of the Five Ways is the argument from motion or change to a divine Unmoved Mover.  The Second Way is the argument from the existence of series of efficient causes to a divine Uncaused Cause.  The Third Way begins from the fact that things come into being and pass away and argues for an absolutely Necessary Being.  The Fourth Way argues from the degrees of perfection to be found in things to the existence of a Most Perfect Being.  The Fifth Way argues from the existence of final causes to a divine Supreme Intelligence which directs things to their ends.

Aquinas also famously presents, in On Being and Essence, an argument from the existence of things in which there is a distinction between essence and existence to a divine cause which is Subsistent Being Itself.  This is sometimes called “the existential proof” and its relationship to the Five Ways is unclear.  In Aquinas I suggested that the argument corresponds to the Second Way, but that is certainly not obvious, and not everyone would agree with the suggestion.  As what I say below indicates, a case could certainly be made for reading it another way.

Hence, we (arguably) have in Aquinas at least six different arguments for God’s existence: the Five Ways plus the “existential proof.”

Perhaps you see where this is going.  Is there an interesting correlation between the six fundamental A-T metaphysical notions, on the one hand, and the six arguments for God’s existence on the other?  Arguably so.

Motion or change entails, for A-T, the actualization of potency, so the First Way naturally correlates with the theory of act and potency.  The Second Way, as already noted, naturally correlates with the notion of efficient causality. 

What about the Third Way?  Well, the way it gets to an absolutely Necessary Being is by beginning with things that are the opposite of that -- that is to say, with things that are generated and corrupted, which come into being and pass away.  Note that (contrary to what many modern discussions of the Third Way imply) these are not exactly the same things as “contingent beings” in the contemporary sense of that term.  When contemporary philosophers talk about a “contingent” thing, what they mean is a thing which might in principle not exist.  Angels would in this sense be contingent, since although they are immaterial substances and thus incorruptible, they could have failed to exist had God not created them.  For Aquinas, by contrast, angels are necessary rather than contingent, precisely because they are incorruptible in the sense that nothing in the natural order of things can destroy them.  What differentiates them from God is that they still have to be created and sustained in being by God, so that they have necessity in only a derivative rather than absolute way.  Obviously, then -- and as some critics of the Third Way do not realize, leading them to get the argument seriously wrong -- Aquinas does not use the word “necessary” the way contemporary philosophers do.  And to start with something like an angel would for him therefore not be a good way to start an argument like the Third Way.

What he starts with are things that are material and thus corruptible in a way immaterial substances are not.  Hence the Third Way plausibly correlates with the notion of material cause.  That is to say, just as the First Way essentially begins with the notion of act and potency and works to God as the purely actual actualizer of potency, and the Second Way begins with the notion of efficient cause and works to God as the source of all merely derivative efficient causal power, the Third Way essentially begins with the corruptibility entailed by the notion of material cause and works to God as what is absolutely incorruptible and thus necessary in the strongest possible sense.

The Fourth Way is famously the most Platonic-sounding of the Five Ways.  Aquinas’s account of how what has goodness in only a limited way participates in that which is Goodness Itself, that which has being in only a limited way participates in that which is Being Itself, etc. calls to mind Plato’s account of how things are what they are because they participate in the Forms.  Of course, Aquinas is an Aristotelian rather than a Platonist -- and thus has an Aristotelian rather than Platonic conception of form -- and (as I argue in Aquinas) what are in view in the Fourth Way are, specifically, what the medievals called the Transcendentals (being, goodness, truth, etc.), and not just any old thing for which Plato thinks there is a Form.  Still, there is arguably a special correlation between the Fourth Way and the notion of formal causation. 

The Fifth Way, as already noted, obviously correlates with the notion of final causality.  And the “existential proof” obviously correlates with the distinction between essence and existence.  If the existential proof really is (contrary to what I suggested in Aquinas) a distinct argument from the Second Way, the basis of the distinction might be this: While both arguments are concerned with explaining the existence of things and both arrive at God as the ultimate explanation of their existence, the manner of approach is different in each case.  The Second Way approaches the issue by way of the notion of the efficient causation of a thing’s existence; the existential proof approaches the issue by way of the notion of a thing’s essence/existence composition.

If all of this is correct, then the idea is that from each of the six basic explanatory notions, we can work to God as ultimate explanation.  And the correlations would, again and in summary, be as follows:

Act/potency                 →        First Way

Efficient cause              →        Second Way

Material cause             →        Third Way

Formal cause               →        Fourth Way

Final cause                   →        Fifth Way

Essence/existence        →        Existential proof

Again, though, I present this as at most half-baked.  Perhaps further reflection would complete the baking process and give us a well worked out and defensible set of correlations along these lines.  But perhaps it would instead result in somewhat different or somewhat looser correlations, or show that only the more obvious correlations (e.g. between the Second Way and efficient causation, the Fifth Way and final causation) are really defensible.

131 comments:

Unknown said...

Thank you for the post, Dr. Feser

Unknown said...

(cont.)... but regarding the difference between the 1st and the 2nd wyas, what actualizes a potency is not, by definition, an efficient cause? I´ve always thought of the 5 ways and four causes as being somehow related, but this "splitting" of the 1st cause baffles me.

(Sorry for the somewhat broken english, I'm an old time brazilian reader of your books and fan of your work).

DNW said...



Nothing wrong with musing out loud.

Kiel said...

Unknown, the way I see it is that the First Way reasons from the activities of an thing to an Unmoved Mover (via something accounting for the thing's matter-form composition) but the Second Way reasons to God as accounting for why a thing is what it is (via the essence-existence distinction).

So the point isn't that God is an efficient cause in each but rather the premises for and the reasoning to that efficient cause.

Shane Scott said...

Great stuff - I just wonder if Third Way is more like the existential argument than the Second Way. The statement of it in the ST ("Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity") obviously builds on the causation argument in the Second Way, but also argues to the idea of essence/existence.

Anyway, thanks as always for your work!

Brandon said...

Unknown,

One possible way of thinking about it is that 'efficient cause' can have a broader or narrower sense. There is no efficient cause in the strict and proper sense in Aristotle himself (although he occasionally says things that tend in such a direction) -- for Aristotle, what we call 'efficient cause' is just an origin of change (a motive or moving cause). But later Aristotelians, like Avicenna and Averroes, noted that there does seem to be a perfectly sensible set of causal questions that don't fit this. For instance, if God creates the world out of nothing, he isn't being a moving cause in Aristotle's sense. Or if the world always exists, it seems we can still ask what causes it to be so; and even if we wanted to say that the world just always existed by nature, and so had no cause, the question ("What causes this always to exist?") still seems intelligible, even if the correct answer is 'nothing'. But in the strict Aristotelian account you couldn't even formulate the question. So they (Avicenna especially) generalized the account to cover these questions as well by proposing the notion of a cause that originates existence, not just change. But ever since, you can use 'efficient cause' in the general sense to mean 'one of these originating causes, whatever it may be' or in the specific sense to mean 'one of the originating causes that aren't moving causes in Aristotle's sense'. The first way and the second way both deal with efficient causes in the general sense; but the first way deals with moving causes (cause of change) and the second way deals with efficient causes in the specific sense (cause of existence rather than change).

Brandon said...

I'm inclined to think that this scheme is essentiall right, although I don't think the 'existential proof' is a sharply distinct proof from the Second Way. That is, I think, the relation between the First Way and the Second Way is something like:

1st -- moving cause -- act/potency
2nd -- efficient cause -- existence/essence

The 'existential proof' can be seen as a glossing of an efficient cause argument explicitly in terms of the existence/essence distinction.

I remember reading someone who argued that the Third Way was concerned with the material cause; but I don't recall offhand who it was.

All of Aquinas's Five Ways are generalizations of earlier arguments -- to take the obvious example, the First Way obviously comes from Aristotle's Physics, but it is put at a more general level so that a lot of the complications of Aristotle's original arguments simply don't arise for the First Way itself, and if Aristotle is wrong about particular details in his argument, it doesn't necessarily cause a problem for the more general version Aquinas has formulated in the First Way.

The argument that the Third Way is generalizing is in Aristotle's De Caelo, where it's about the heavens. (Aquinas notably generalizes it so that the argument does not depend on any particular view about the heavens, or any view about the heavens at all.) It might be interesting to look at the original argument that's being generalized, to see if the material cause connection is more obvious there -- one possibility is that the original arguments involve reflection on these four causes, and that Aquinas is just reformulating them at a more general level that does not depend on precise differences in philosophical accounts. Thus the Fourth Way is not immediately obviously about formal causes, but the Platonic antecedents certainly were -- Aquinas is just re-setting the argument at a more general level, so that it doesn't depend on specifically Platonic assumptions.

Eduardo said...

Pesky Brazilians! We are everywhere!!!!

Okay guys, time to take a step towards seriousness. What book should I read to begin understanding philosphy? Where would one see the first steps? Aristotle maybe? Plato? Socrates?

Btw Doc Phaser, so it is ... Six ways? Should we be getting ready for Summa 2.0? ;-)

hektikpecs said...

Not 5 minutes before reading this blog post, I read the same thing in Thomas Joseph Whites "Wisdom in the Face of Modernity" where he explicates this same idea at length, drawing on Maritain et al.

Essential reading for anyone wanting further exposition of this idea. Although I myself would not see the Fourth Way as embodying formal causaltity; I would ascribe that to the Third, and rather see the Fourth as exemplifying *exemplar* causality.

Dennis said...

@Eduardo

Try Phaedo, Cratylus, then, Theatetus, Sophist, Statesman (the trilogy) while reading The Republic (preferably the translation by Joe Sachs). Then move to Parmenides. Once you're done with that, the usual way to do Aristotle is; Categories, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Physics and Metaphysics. Since he's hard to read, it'll take a little while for you get into his groove. You would then have to move to contemporary introductions to a more subject oriented, rather than author oriented study, but I leave that up to you and these are just my picks.

DNW said...

Re and to Eduardo:

Agree with Dennis on Plato though I think you should include The Laws as a corrective for The Republic. Reading through Plato may not give you acceptable answers, but what it will most certainly do, is outline the big questions.


I have a one volume collection of the works, and it even includes works of dubious authorship ... including crap like Rival Lovers.

As regards the Organon I think the Topics and On Interpretation are accessible, and worth it just to come across lines like this "Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images. This matter has, however, been discussed in my treatise ..."

I would not myself try the Prior and Posterior Analytics early as logic texts per se, as they are not only occasionally difficult to clearly grasp, but the exact meaning of some of the formulations is apparently disputed ... or was. Easier in my opinion to rely on a classic school room logic text such as Copi's as I have mentioned many times before.

I also recommend The Politics, as he discusses various forms of political organization and what these imply for the status of "citizen". "The previous remarks are quite enough to show that the rule of a master is not a constitutional rule, and that all the different kinds of rule are not, as some affirm, the same with each other. For there is one rule exercised over subjects who are by nature free, another over subjects who are by nature slaves."

But I only say this as regards Aristotle as a "casual reader"; never having actually done much class room work on his texts during the time I was in school.

Eduardo said...

Thanks for the reply DNW and Dennis

I always liked philosophy, just never took it seriously... Time to change that bit by bit.

DNW and his fetish over politics hehe... It has always been the crux for you hasn't it?

I will go slow, take notes for every claim/proposition/phrase. Reflect in those lonely hours of the day... Which to me is the whole day! XD... T_T.



James Chastek said...

We might be able to coordinate the five ways with just the four causes if we distinguish formal causes into intrinsic and extrinsic ones (where extrinsic causes are exemplars, or the form within the agent by which it acts).

1.) The First Way is based on the premise "omne quod movetur" which STA claims is based on material causality (specifically, the divisibility of mobile bodies)
2.) The Second Way is explicitly about agent causality
3.) The Third Way is based on generation, which is defined relative to the intrinsic form that arises.
4.) The Fourth Way is based on the way in which things are imperfect participations in an ideal or exemplar.
5.) The Fifth Way is explicitly about final causality.

If we explain them this way then STA might be seen as following the order of knowing: we can know material causes first, then agents, then forms, then the combination of agent and form, then purposes.

DNW said...

"DNW and his fetish over politics hehe... It has always been the crux for you hasn't it?"


You might say yes, after a fashion, since it has been thrust upon us here in the US in a way that it never had been before.

Realism, and its abandonment by the postmodernists is at the crux of the diminishing of political liberty we are currently seeing.

Thus my specific area of interest is the logical incoherence of the intraspecific moral claims made by persons who hold that categories are unreal in the first place, except as acts of projective will on the part of a ... something or other ... which has no essence.

These willing-things (formerly known as men), then go on to make verbal noises as if they are still talking from within the framework which was in the past based on the notion of natural kinds and the entailments presumed to be validly drawn from them.

But now, when one of these will or appetite-things wells up before you and begins presumptuously bleating as if it were an objective moral fellow, you know damn well that - if you take their own ontology seriously - they cannot be; having no shared or convergent interests as an objectively like-kind, nor any real objective significance.

The more unmoored from objective categories the claims of the postmodern left become, the more strident the demands.

In a sense their only reality as an existent, is to be found in eliciting a reaction from others, lacking as they do, any grounded notion of inherent meaning or value. Only insofar as they are socially noticed and affirmed, do they exist at all.

I find this very curious, and wonder what it must be like to live in such a head.

I have also been puzzled as to why their tendencies to provoke political violence have not met with the expected result. It may be that we will soon see this happening as their no-limits demand for attention, validation, and the transference of resources, just had not gone far enough in the past to actually accomplish it.

Moonfall said...

Two suggestions for further reading on the "six" ways. The first is Maritain's "Approaches to God," in which he lays out the five ways and then adds another of hi own. The second is Gavin Kerr's, "Aquinas's Way to God," which is a tight analysis of the possible "sixth way" from "On Being and Essence". I've only just read this once over, found it helpful, but I don't think I have a solid grasp of it yet.

We should also note that in his final version of "Thomism", Gilson stated that he no longer thought that there is a proof for the existence of God based upon the dependence of beings, and concludes that, " The De ente et essentia does not contain a proof of the existence of God."

P. 83, note 85.

DNW said...



Hey by the way Eduardo,

What's the latest on the impeachment? Has whatshername been banished to Devils Island yet?

Steven Dillon said...

Suppose that the five ways are arguments for that which is God. On this way of understanding them, we would need additional arguments to determine how many there are of that which is God. Maybe there is a correlation between arguments for monotheism or polytheism and the principle of differentiation.

Eduardo said...

DNW

She has been kicked out of office so she will be judged by the Galactic Senate headed by Judge Dredd, or something like this but wayyyy less cool. She hasn't been banished yet XD! But it all points for a Impeachment, and she will be banished to the dustbin of History if anything.

Her name is Dilma... And she sucks... Her looks sucks... She just plain sucks XD!

Actually it all seems that the new political movement is all about re-writing reality, since there are no objective facts and life sucks big time no matter what you do, we can just cook our cake and eat it. How many times one sees fit.

Anonymous said...

@Steven Dillon,
I take it you are unfamiliar with the Thomistic conception of the uncaused first cause.

Eduardo said...

Now Devil's Island wouldn't be a bad place for most of our politicians. 90%

President of the Deputies Chamber is going to jail for spending our millions in trips

His Vice will probably lose his term. The guy tried to revert all by himself the voting to start the Impeachment process (I think I wrote mandate somewhere else... Oops!)

Head of the Senate is going down too, for trying to stop a federal investigation, along with other 2 stooges. One guy who was arrested in this federal investigation delivered recordings so the Justice could ease the punishment.

The Vice-President is probably into this investigation as well, so who knows, but he may soon be F'ed as well. At least his wife is 48 years younger and pretty. So there is that.

The leader of the Right (read Light-Left) is going down too for corruption, good and old public money stealing and bribes.

There is actually a Deputy that is being accused of murder!!! OF MURDER!!!!

It's a mess I tell you

Steven Dillon said...

@Anonymous - I assume the Thomist isn't just interested in correlating her arguments for classical theism to A-T metaphysics without also correlating her monotheistic or polytheistic interpretation of classical theism to A-T metaphysics.

Moonfall said...

Stephen Dillon:

Yes, Aquinas does provide additional arguments demonstrating that there can be only one uncaused cause. Thus, the argument when complete, is an argument for monotheism.

Moonfall said...

And pardon me for misspelling your name. Can't believe I did something so careless.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Four Way is related to gradients (like gradients of temperature, chemical concentration, radiation, magnetism and gravity). Most gradients point to a source. In the case of the Four Way the gradient points to the source of being.

Anonymous said...

I forgot "heat" which is the example used by Aquinas.

Gerard O'Neill said...

This is waffle. I'm off to find something more intellectually stimulating.

Fred said...

Word to the wise: Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it's "waffle."

Eduardo said...

Actually to Gerard everything is waffle just check earlier posts.

It is funny that, the comment box is nothing more but a way for people to vent their feelings. Combox is like a space where the author asks: "How you feel about this?"

If I thought like Gerard about Math, I would have never got passed High school.

Steven Dillon said...

Moonfall: In the texts about polytheism that I have looked at, it seems Aquinas wants to address a plurality of what is 'God', or First and ultimate. But, he doesn't seem to follow through. Instead he addresses a plurality of things that would not precede everything else -- even being in relation to one another -- and thus a plurality of what is First and ultimate, but rather he addresses a plurality of things that need to be differentiated from each other in order to be individuals, or one of things that depend in other ways.

Maybe the quinque viae are monotheistic, but that doesn't seem to follow from Thomas' objections.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Eduardo: You had mentioned that your English is not the strongest (perhaps not a first language?). Therefore, for beginning in philosophy, before jumping into Plato, Aristotle, and so on, how about just a textbook? I personally like "The Philosophical Journey" by William Lawhead, but there are other good ones as well. For Thomas, a good beginning is "A Shorter Summa" by Peter Kreeft.

It all depends on what you mean by "beginning" in philosophy. If you are already acquainted with the overall subject, then by all means jump into Plato.

Craig Payne said...

"Maybe the quinque viae are monotheistic, but that doesn't seem to follow from Thomas' objections."

Dear Steven Dillon: If God is seen as the cause of all being other than Himself, in what way could there be more than one?

Steven Dillon said...

Craig: There's a lot to say in answer to that question, but I'd want to say at least two things.

First, in order to frame the issue fairly, we can't start by using the term "God" to denote something like an individual (with its attendant pronouns). That would be to take monotheism for granted and beg the question. Rather, the term "God" should generically describe all that is Divine (even if that turns out to be only one), similar to how the term "man" can be used generically to describe all that is human, with the usual analogous qualifications. Otherwise, the question is loaded.

Taking this into account, the question now becomes how there can be more than one of that which is God if what is God, however many that may be, causes all being other than itself. Without the monotheistic undertones, the question loses its bite.

The second thing I'd want to say is that if there really were many Gods, it would be impossible -- even in principle -- for any of them to be included among the "being" that is caused by what is God: that which is God is ipsum esse subsistens, and so could not be included in creation without committing a category error.

I'm hoping to have a paper come out this summer in Walking the Worlds that expands on how multiple Gods could each be First, in the course of giving an ontological argument for polytheism.

Timocrates said...

If I recall for Aristotle though, an important distinction is that motion is a kind of combination of act and potency but distinct from both because neither actual being nor potential being necessitate motion: motion is the actualization of a potentiality. Hence, though something exists that could be moved to become something else doesn't necessitate that it will be moved and become something else. To be sure, though, motion is still more on the side of act than potency (to actualize something is a natural enough expression; to potentialize something, however, sounds quite awkward). Motion is always an act.

So there may be arguments to God from act, from potency and from motion as such or from form, matter and from motion or from material cause, formal cause and from motion. Recall though that motion itself can't be reduced to an efficient cause as such because it is not necessary that an efficient cause actually produce an effect or a cause something to be in motion (e.g. a builder does not necessarily have to be building).

That for me might be one other way to have Five Ways and Four Causes though, to be sure, Saint Thomas is often said to have added a fifth cause; namely, the existential one.

Eduardo said...

Craig Payne

Well my native language is Portuguese, but understandig English is a-ok hehehe. But I see what you mean, well a textbook is a good start, I was a bit of a textbook junkie, just wanted to read them all, but University took over and never went on to go full throttle.

Thanks for the tip, I will read those textbooks first, before plato.

By Beginning I meant something like babysteps out of the craddle. To me it looks like the fundamentals are everything! I might have a pyramid-like view of knowledge, that could be wrong but it seems to make sense.

DNW said...

"Well my native language is Portuguese, but ... English is a-ok"

The naturally occurring question is: Why resort to or bother with English, when there is certainly a great amount already translated into ...

Oh ... Well well, who woulda thunk it? http://www.obrasdearistoteles.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=71


Having no idea what Castilian looks like to a Galician/Portugese speaker, I wonder if a Spanish version of Aristotle would be accessible ... perhaps like an American reading mid 18th century English ...

DNW said...

Hm.

Maybe not. Not that I could judge.

According to the comparative versions rendered my Mr. Google:



ENG. - "Given that the purpose of this project is to ensure the Portuguese reader’s access to Aristotle’s thought and work, thus contributing to the general knowledge of the author in Portugal, it is understandable that all technical demands have been reduced to the minimum and the critical apparatus restricted to that which simply allows us to achieve that goal while maintaining the quality and rigour of the translations."

ESP - "Dado que el objetivo de este proyecto es garantizar el acceso del lector portugués al pensamiento y la obra de Aristóteles, contribuyendo así al conocimiento general de la autora en Portugal, es comprensible que todas las exigencias técnicas se han reducido al mínimo y el aparato crítico restringida a lo que simplemente nos permite lograr ese objetivo, manteniendo la calidad y el rigor de las traducciones."

PORTU - "Dado que o objectivo deste projecto é assegurar o acesso do leitor Português ao pensamento e obra de Aristóteles, contribuindo assim para o conhecimento geral do autor em Portugal, é compreensível que todas as exigências técnicas foram reduzidas ao aparato crítico mínimo e restrito ao que simplesmente nos permite alcançar esse objetivo, mantendo a qualidade e rigor das traduções."

Craig Payne said...

"Taking this into account, the question now becomes how there can be more than one of that which is God if what is God, however many that may be, causes all being other than itself. Without the monotheistic undertones, the question loses its bite."

Dear Steven Dillon: Well, I still think the question is good. If there is more than one of that which is God, then each one of them would have potential--each one would have the potential to be greater than or lesser than all the others. In other words, none of them would be maximally perfect, since all of them would have potential. And if not maximally perfect, then none of them would be God.

Again, if God is maximally perfect, having no potential for improvement, in what way could there be more than one?

Craig Payne said...

Dear Eduardo: One more tip: If you buy "The Philosophical Journey" on Amazon, get an older edition. There is virtually no substantive difference, but the price difference is enormous. (Academic publishers--yeesh.)

DNW said...



"I personally like "The Philosophical Journey" by William Lawhead"


Seems to be a free PDF download on numerous sites. Don't know if it is pirated or not

Steven Dillon said...

Craig: If we're talking about a plurality of things that "would have the potential to be greater than or lesser than all the others", then we're not talking about a plurality of Gods. It's no less impossible for several maximally perfect Gods to be imperfect than it is for one maximally perfect God to be imperfect.

Because it is its pure actuality that precludes the divine nature from having the potential for improvement, and not the amount of Gods there are, that which is divine would lack this potential regardless of how many Gods there are -- whether there is only one, or unfathomably many more.

Moonfall said...

Steven Dillon:

You note that you have read some texts on polytheism. If you have not, you might also look at Thomas' Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard; Book 1, Distinction 2, Question 1, Article 1; Utrum Deus Sit Tantor Unus. You might also look at the brief discussion by Etienne Gilson in "Thomism," sixth edition, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2002 (1964), page 105 and the notes referred to therein.

OceanD said...

@Steven Dillon, how would you differentiate between two or more maximally perfect gods?

Craig Payne said...

"Because it is its pure actuality that precludes the divine nature from having the potential for improvement, and not the amount of Gods there are, that which is divine would lack this potential regardless of how many Gods there are -- whether there is only one, or unfathomably many more."

Maybe I'm missing your point. You are correct that God is pure actuality, with no potential for improvement. But then you go on to say that there could still be more than one--even "unfathomably many more."

But if there is more than one, each one would then have potential for improvement. Each one, for example, could be greater than all the others, but isn't. Each one, therefore, would lack a perfection and would not be "maximally perfect."

In other words, none of them would be God.

I guess I've stated this about as clearly as I can, so I'll back off now. If God is "that than which nothing greater can be conceived," what you are describing does not seem to be God.

Steven Dillon said...

Moonfall: Thank you for the references.

OceanD: If there were two or more Gods, they would each have to be First and ultimate, thereby preceding even being in relation to one another and requiring their 'identities' -- so to speak -- to be non-relational.

Silentmatt said...

Anything of which there could be more than one in some real respect is composite, since there must be a real distinction between what is common to the many and unique to the one. But whatever is composite cannot be ultimate. So there can only be one God.

Steven Dillon said...

Silentmatt: The premises are true, but the conclusion does not follow. It is precisely because each God would be ultimate that none would depend on a unifying principle in order to be divine.

Steven Dillon said...

Silentmatt: The problem with these sorts of objections is that they assume each God could be ultimate only in relation to one another. But, this fails to treat each as if it really were a God, and thus First, ultimate, and prior even to relation with other Gods. Their ultimacy would have to be 'self-contained' and non-relational.

This idea is foreign to Scholasticism, which is why the Scholastic objections to polytheism fail to consider it. But, it's present in Neo-Platonism, especially in Proclus -- and I see no reason why a Scholastic can't carry the idea over. Edward Butler has done invaluable work in expounding the idea in Proclus. I've found the following papers especially insightful:

https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/gods-and-being.pdf

https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/henadic-manifold.pdf

Gerard O'Neill said...

Infinite regress is only a problem if you want it to be.

stephen castleden said...

4=5. The most accurate statement on this blog.

Moonfall said...

There are other references which might be useful in this discussion, and they express the ideas better than I can from memory. See; SCG, Book One, Ch 42 (That God is One), "On the Power of God," question VII, Article III, (Is God Contained in a Genus?)(the answer demonstrated is, "no", leaving the clear implication that God is absolutely unique-see also Sum. Th. I, Q. iii, A. 5).

It is not true that the ideas of Proclus are foreign to or unknown to Scholasticism. See; Aquinas, "Commentary on the Book of Causes," esp. Proposition 3 and Proposition 6. Aquinas was the first scholar to recognize that the Book of Causes was actually drawn from Proclus' "Elements of Theology." See his preface to the commentary.

In addition, Aquinas made great use of the Divine Names of Psuedo-Dionysius, which was itself heavily influenced by Platonism in general and Proclus in particular. See: Fran O'Rourke, "Psuedo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas," University of Notre Dame Press, 2005 (1992), especially Chapter Five, p. 117, et. seq.

Talon said...

Gerard, are you claiming an individual is free to ignore objections to infinite regress if they "want" to, rather than y'know, actually answer them with rational argumentation? Goodness, this would certainly explain your combox contributions of late..

OceanD said...

@Steven Dillon,
OceanD: If there were two or more Gods, they would each have to be First and ultimate, thereby preceding even being in relation to one another and requiring their 'identities' -- so to speak -- to be non-relational.

Sorry, I may be missing something, but even if they are non-relational and their ultimacy is 'self contained' I think my question still stands how would you differentiate between them?

Steven Dillon said...

Moonfall: Aquinas was familiar with some of the works of Proclus, but because of the way Proclus was interpreted, Thomas was not familiar with Proclus' henadology. Monotheist commentators on ancient philosophers started a tradition that we are only now overcoming, one on which guys like Plato, Aristotle and Proclus are supposed to have thought there was one ultimate principle, and then the Gods beneath that. Butler goes into this a little for Proclus in the links I provided. For Aristotle, see Richard Bodeus' Aristotle and the Theology of the Living Immortals, for Plato see Gerd van Riel's Plato's Gods. Wayne Hankey goes into this as well, see for example his God’s Care for Human Individuals: What Neoplatonism Gives to a Christian Doctrine of Providence.

OceanD: Differentiation is a way of distinguishing between entities with a common nature. But, Gods would not have a common nature, otherwise that common principle would be more ultimate than they, and they wouldn't be Gods (i.e. First and ultimate). Each God would be 'individual' in an irreducibly unique and non-relational way.

Moonfall said...

Well, Bodeus' analysis of Aristotles practical use of common Greek polytheism in his Ethics, etc. hardly supports the henadology of Butler. Butler, after all, is interested in a present revival of polytheism, and I doubt very much that Bodeus would follow him there. But Aquinas was aware of the polytheistic mileux and undercurrents in the platonism of Proclus' time. While Aquinas does not specifically name Proclus in those discussions, Aquinas does discuss the possibility of polyheism in several places. He would not do that if he thought the question irrelevant, or if he was unaware of it as a living problem in the traditions upon which he was drawing.

I do thank you for the references. I will take a look at them with seriousness. I read a great deal in polytheistic literature some forty years ago, so I am not unfamiliar with some of the concepts you mention. I chose a different path then, and it was certainly right for me to do so.

Steven Dillon said...

Moonfall: No, I don't think Bodeus would go for a revival in polytheism either. And I thank you for the references as well, I'm particularly eager to read Fran O'Rourke's work.

Ultimately, it seems to me that if henadology is shown to be incompatible with Scholastic thought, it will be because the latter can make no sense of henadic unity. At the moment, I'm content -- as one committed to Scholasticism -- with seeing it as a novel addition.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Talon
My point is about the limits of the human intellect. What may seem to be a problem for the human mind isn't necessarily a problem for the Universe.

Moonfall said...

Well, bear in mind that Aquinas had a copy of Proclus before him when he was commenting on the Book of Causes, and he did recognize that the writer of De Causus had modified Proclus writing to eliminate the polytheism in the Theology. I will be interested in your proposed essay as Find it difficult to imagine how you deal with the Good and the One in Proclus and Plotinus. As one writer on Aquinas noted in the 1930's, it was here that Aquinas faced full blown polytheism. ( I will try to dig up the actuL source of this so I can quote it accurately).

Anonymous said...

...and on that note of complete cop out some news from the Great White North. 1-The Conservative Party of Canada has voted not to oppose gay marriage. Not by spinning the issue to imply the integration of gay people into traditional marriage (which is impossible), but by changing the definition of marriage. Well at least they're honest. Of course once you change the definition of something it cannot be the same thing etc...2-In another spate of Canadian solidarity with the English language the bill before parliament speaks not of assisted suicide (oxymoron), but assisted dying (euphemism). Course if they really want to be honest they might try murder.3-The Anglican Church of Canada, indeed the whole Communion will decide on the issue of gay marriage shortly. So it's lose,lose for Anglicanism as the two sides cannot be reconciled. Schism ahoy!...sorry for the interruption...what was O'Neill on about...

Moonfall said...

Steven:

Found the reference. Interestingly it was not a reference to polytheism in the neo- platonists, but to Aristotle. Referring to Aquinas, it states, "Here again there was a definite tradition confronting him....decidedly in favor of a ...pantheistic interpretation of Aristotle...", A. E. Taylor, "Philosophical Studies," Macmillan, 1934.

Steven Dillon said...

Moonfall: That's actually what I'm working on now: the Good and polytheism. I think Butler has already shed some light on this from a more Proclean perspective (e.g. https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/on-the-gods-and-the-good-final.pdf); but, from a Scholastic view, I want to address what is man's final end on polytheism? My concern here has more to do with issues like the necessity of Divine revelation and the nature of religion, but I'll touch on the matter before anything else.

Brandon said...

from a Scholastic view, I want to address what is man's final end on polytheism?

I presume that you would look at him sometime, anyway, if you haven't already, but I think Iamblichus would be a good source for reflection on this (he also has the advantage of being less abstract in his handling than Proclus is, which I think is an advantage on this particular topic).

Gerard O'Neill said...

Anonymous

*Heterosexuals have treated the institution of marriage with contempt. Extending it to LGBTI folks isn't going to hurt.

**The right do die (yes, suicide) I consider to be a fundamental human right. No-one was consulted on being born, so the right to opt out should be non-negotiable.

Craig Payne said...

To Gerard O'Neill:

"Extending it to LGBTI folks": I'm not familiar with the "I." Incestuous? Or is that where you draw the line?

"The right do die (yes, suicide) I consider to be a fundamental human right. No-one was consulted on being born, so the right to opt out should be non-negotiable." Unless I am mistaken, I believe people already can commit suicide whenever they want to. Or are you talking about the government stepping in to force physicians to be complicit in murder? Or are you talking about enforcing some sort of societal approval of self-murder?

Silentmatt said...

Steven Dillon,

I'm not sure I understand the objection. My argument is that whatever is ultimate must be simple, and whatever is simple cannot be many in any respect, since to be many in any respect, is to have something in common with something else, while having a really distinct principle unique to itself. So divinity must be utterly one and not many. Polytheism, the idea that there are many gods, surely just is the idea that, in respect of godhood, unqualified being, etc., there are many. On this conception of polytheism, polytheism is surely false.

It seems, as far as I can make out, that you are asserting the possibility of a kind of multiplicity that precedes commonality. It seems that this must be an utterly obscure notion. What, after all, would they be many of?

Gerard O'Neill said...

Craig Payne

We all know that euthanasia is a hard topic, and I've changed my views somewhat as time has gone by. For someone in the final stages of a terminal illness, it's hard to argue that dragging the misery out for another 24-48 hours is worth it. Doctors give lethal dosages in this situation all the time; I wouldn't describe it as murder.

Anonymous said...

I think you are describing a part of palliative care when pain management comes with the unavoidable risk of overdose and death. It is unfortunate that the increasing popularity of calls for euthanasia are already sapping funding from palliative medicine, which if supported with vigor can deal with virtually every situation. Of course the materialist world view will have none of that. Not when there is a quick fix (voice dripping with irony) to be had. All these troublesome ill folks so much neater, cost effective, and progressive. We can even convince ourselves we are being compassionate, so that's alright. Yay pragmatism!

Steven Dillon said...

Silentmatt: "Polytheism, the idea that there are many gods, surely just is the idea that, in respect of godhood, unqualified being, etc., there are many. On this conception of polytheism, polytheism is surely false."

This is the understanding of polytheism that the Scholastics object to, one on which there is a "what" that many "whos" have in common. It is the structure of plurality that obtains among beings. But it is precisely the structure of plurality that is denied of the Gods in henadic polytheism, and what would have to be denied of a plurality of what are truly "Gods." In henadic polytheism, the Gods are "henads" or absolute units. Each unit is radically and irreducibly unique, peculiar and incommunicable. They are not unified together by a common principle (or by what's called a "monad"). This is, as you say, a "multiplicity that precedes commonality" and it is the only multiplicity that could consistently be attributed to what is Divine, since commonality entails composition, and composition is repugnant to what is Divine.

But, is this notion "utterly obscure"? It can be difficult to grasp from a Scholastic perspective because the concept is fundamentally foreign to Scholastic thought, but the same is true of Divine Simplicity for many non-classical theists. There can only be a multiplicity without commonality among Gods because each God as First and ultimate would have to precede even being related to one another. It is only by picturing a plurality of Gods together as a group that the idea of many Firsts and ultimates seems obscure. But, they wouldn't be in a group, alongside each other, for then they wouldn't each be First and ultimate.

Timocrates said...

@ Gerard,

You wrote,

" Doctors give lethal dosages in this situation all the time; I wouldn't describe it as murder."

That is a lie. To do so is murder and every doctor knows it. No doctor does this. The FUBAR marine on D-Day was not given a lethal dose of anything by a medic but rather a large quantity of pain killer. It was the job of the Germans or the Japanese soldiers to kill our marines; not our medics.

Timocrates said...

@ Gerard,

You wrote,

"*Heterosexuals have treated the institution of marriage with contempt. Extending it to LGBTI folks isn't going to hurt."

This is like saying that in the past heterosexual men often beat their wives; therefore, allowing them to beat all women can't hurt further the dignity of all women.

Marriage is not and cannot be extended to homosexual partnerships because homosexuality as such is not even sexuality any more than masturbation is. Or, if masturbation is to be construed of as sexual, then homosexuality is only sexual in the same sense that masturbation might be called sex. I think the greatest frustration of homosexual activists is that for all their power to redefine reality according to law, they cannot actually make homosexuality fertile instead of sterile. Consequently homosexuals will always be angry with the fact that human nature desires children and offspring but this very desire is anti-homosexual and one the homosexual lifestyle cannot supply or provide.

Glenn said...

Steven Dillion,

In henadic polytheism, the Gods are "henads" or absolute units. Each unit is radically and irreducibly unique, peculiar and incommunicable.

How might a henadic polytheist respond to the following objection:

If each unit is unique, then each unit has something which each of the other units does not. If each unit has something each of the other units does not, then no single unit is complete. If no single unit is complete, then it could not be the case that two or more units are complete. Further, if no single unit is complete, then each unit is deficient in some way. And if each unit is deficient in some way, then all that can be had is a multiplicity of imperfect units.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Glenn: I'm going to use the occasion of your post to repeat what I posted earlier:

But if there is more than one, each one would then have potential for improvement. Each one, for example, could be greater than all the others, but isn't. Each one, therefore, would lack a perfection and would not be "maximally perfect."

In other words, none of them would be God.

Glenn said...

Craig,

Quite alright. I was thinking of your earlier comments when I wrote that.

;)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, this may be somewhat off-topic. But I was wondering if you wouldn't mind commenting on Bill Vallicella's views on demonstrating God's existence, here http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2016/06/god-and-proof.html
. Thank-you for all you do.

Moonfall said...

I'd like to see that, too.

Steven Dillon said...

Glenn: The units described in your objection are dependent beings because they are "complete" only on the condition that they do not lack something. Moreover, what one has is directly related to what another lacks, and so none of these units is First and ultimate. For these and other reasons, your objection is not to henadic polytheism.

It seems to me that the deeper problem with this objection, and others that have been given, is a hidden assumption that there can't be many Gods unless they each has something in common. But, this is to hold what would transcend being to the standard of plurality that only obtains within being. In the world, plurality is structured 'monadically', whereby things are unified together into a group or class by having something in common with one another. Because of the dependence and complexity it involves, this kind of plurality could never be true of what is Divine, and so whatever kind of plurality we entertain attributing to what is Divine, it can't be this, and it is precisely the sort that henadic polytheism denies.

Glenn said...

Steve Dillion,

Glenn: The units described in your objection are dependent beings because they are "complete" only on the condition that they do not lack something. Moreover, what one has is directly related to what another lacks, and so none of these units is First and ultimate. For these and other reasons, your objection is not to henadic polytheism.

The objection I gave has to do with a statement you made. And I did not ask whether the objection I made was a good objection against henadic polytheism or not, only how a henadic polytheist might respond to the objection given (in response to your statement). For ease of reference, here again is your statement:

In henadic polytheism, the Gods are "henads" or absolute units. Each unit is radically and irreducibly unique, peculiar and incommunicable.

Are you or are you not claiming that each unit is different from all the other units?

If you are, then consider the objection (to your statement) repeated.

If you are not, then what purpose does the term 'unique' serve in your description of the units?

Steven Dillon said...

Glenn: One way a henadic polytheist could respond to your objection is by distancing their position from what it is you're taking issue with. That's my preferred method, it saves time.

Because henadic unity is non-relational, it does not consist in being different from anything: it's positive, not negative. So while the henads are different, it is not because they have differences, but because each is utterly itself.

Maybe your concern is with what each henad's 'identity' is or would be; but, in contrast to your objection as stated, this is a matter for epistemology: they'd be there whether we know what they are or not.

Glenn said...

Steve Dillon,

Glenn: One way a henadic polytheist could respond to your objection is by distancing their position from what it is you're taking issue with. That's my preferred method, it saves time.

What I'm taking issue with is what you said. So, if you're going to distance yourself from what I'm taking issue with, then you're going to distance yourself from what you said. And if you're going to distance yourself from what you said, then you'll be effectively retracting what you said (even if only temporarily).

Because henadic unity is non-relational, it does not consist in being different from anything: it's positive, not negative. So while the henads are different, it is not because they have differences, but because each is utterly itself.

If the henads are different, then they are different from one another, or only different from anything not a henad. If the henads are different only from anything not a henad, then the henads themsleves are just copies of one another, and so are not unique. But if the henads are unique, i.e., if the henads are different one from the other, then are differences between them. And if there are differences between them, then no explanation offered for how or why those difference exist will alter the fact that those differences do indeed exist.

Maybe your concern is with what each henad's 'identity' is or would be; but, in contrast to your objection as stated, this is a matter for epistemology: they'd be there whether we know what they are or not.

My concern is as stated in the objection I gave.

Glenn said...

(Sorry, s/b "My concern is as implied by the objection I gave." (And as originally given, as well as subsequently reiterated, by Craig Payne.))

Tomislav Ostojich said...

"Infinite regress is only a problem if you want it to be."

I agree with your implied thesis that if there is infinite regression then the universe is fundamentally an irrational place. This, in fact, is what all theistic apologists have argued, from Aristotle to Leibniz to Kirpke: it's not impossible that there is no God, only that the universe would be senseless and irrational if God really wasn't there.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Tomislav

There is a certain appeal of a god who exists to maintain order and stop the world from falling into chaos. The biological world, for example, seems unlikely to have arisen from pure chance, but on closer inspection is riddled with randomness.

But again I reiterate my main point: Just because a human mind might an infinite regress "senseless" or "irrational" doesn't make it a problem for the physical universe.

Eduardo said...

Gerard

Very simple. What is the REASON that leads you to believe there is no problem for reality to have an infinite regress?

Ridled in... Randomness? .... What? You mean the evolution from one especies to next is random (maybe) I suppose, because if you gonna appeal to well determined chemical reactions and physical phenomena, wellllllll; That is not really random.
Anyways even in this case, your argument fails, yeah maybe people are inclined to say that organs can't come about in random processes, still I could just point out to the theory of evolution and sort of make the point that things can come about without human-like objectives, which means I have an argument to why random processes produce highly organized things. See ARGUMENT, is still there.

Btw... Random does not equal without purpose, have you ever randomly spread sugar in your drink? Was that without purpose?

I just randomly sent air into several random areas of my lungs... I meant to do it just now, it had a purpose.

Gerard, you have no point! That is your position, now make your argument, and the thrust of the argument will be your point ō_o.

Innocence said...

https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/henadic-manifold.pdf

Page 10 of this PDF discusses how differentiation is understood in respect to Henads. It's quite complicated and one would have to be familar with Proclus to understand terms like "supra-essential forms". I personally don't completely get the argument but Butler elaborates about this issue in many of his articles and papers in Philpapers. The argument sort of reminds me of the subsistent relations that Aquinas uses to explain how trinitarian relations among the three persons is possible when each of them are unique and distinct, of course the premises are different since once argues for unity and simplicity of one.

Tomislav Ostojich said...

"There is a certain appeal of a god who exists to maintain order and stop the world from falling into chaos."

You are completely misrepresenting what I said. I did not say that if there was no God that the universe would fall into chaos. What I am saying that if we've gotten to the point where you have a dilemma such that you have to admit that God exists or concede that infinite regression is possible, it is clear that you have to abandon all traditional conceptions of rationality to affirm atheism.

Rationality has nothing to do with the maintenance of the universe. It has to do with how deal with the "justified" part of the definition of knowledge as "justified true belief." I cannot believe that you are so careless with your reasoning that you can just freely derive "Oh, Tom thinks that God is needed to maintain the universe" from "if there is no God then the universe is an irrational place."

I'm not going to debate with you further.

Innocence said...

Actually, Proclus’s Elements of Theology opens its analysis of the first principle by emphasizing its simplicity. So it is a similar argument per se.

Glenn said...

Innocence,

https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/henadic-manifold.pdf

Page 10 of this PDF discusses how differentiation is understood in respect to Henads. It's quite complicated and one would have to be familar with Proclus to understand terms like "supra-essential forms".


It doesn't seem clear that "supra-essential forms" might be something other than an oxymoron.

According to Butler:

a) the supra-essential is that which lies beyond being (see 2nd para of page 1 at the link (URL) above);

b) "In a passage from his commentary on Plato's Parmenides, Proclus explains that: [...] In this passage there is nothing whatsoever about the One Itself; rather, it is a question of a straightforward contrast between henads and forms or, more simply, beings" (see PDF-pages 17-18 in Butler's Essays on the Metaphysics of Polytheism (EMP)); and,

c) "Proclus explains" that there are "no supra-essential forms" (ibid, PDF-page 156).

Apparently, the henads are supposed to be supra-essential; that is, the henads are supposed to be prior to form, prior to being. ("[F]ormal being is ultimately a product, and effect of hedanic existence." (See footnote 7 on PDF-page 20 of EMP).)

- - - - -

Since the henads are prior to being, the henads necessarily are nonbeings.

Indeed, the multiple [g]ods in the polytheism of which Butler speaks necessarily are nonbeings:

"Being has a wide and a narrow sense in Proclus. In the wide sense, it refers to everything that is, excluding only the two kinds of nonbeing: privations, which fall short of existence, and the Gods, from whose superabundant existence Being radiates." (EMP, PDF-page 105.)

Timocrates said...

@ Gerard,

You wrote,

"The biological world, for example, seems unlikely to have arisen from pure chance, but on closer inspection is riddled with randomness."

And again the complete opposite is the truth. Not even Richard Dawkins subscribes to random evolution; the closer the inspection of the biological world, the less randomness one finds.

Richard Dawkins vs Cardinal Pell on (Australia's TV program) Q&A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD1QHO_AVZA

Tomislav Ostojich said...

The right do die (yes, suicide) I consider to be a fundamental human right. No-one was consulted on being born, so the right to opt out should be non-negotiable.

This is without a doubt the perennial philosophy question.

And the answer is that you have a moral obligation to live even if you didn't consent to it. Just like how people can have a moral obligation to fight in wars even if they didn't consent to the war in question.

Innocence said...

In pdf pages 116-117, Butler states that each God is simple and they are superior to all division, composition and fragmentation. He also in page 118 I think, states that the henads are not mediated by the One but are immediately all in each. So I am not sure that he states that the henads are non beings, only that they don't have attributes by participation. So I am not exactly sure that Proclus considered henads to be either non beings, or sort of like lesser beings like angels who were prominently utilised by medieval theologians, but rather as each individual simple deity that doesn't compromise simplicity. So according to divine peculiarity, each being is comprehensive of all things while still being named from its peculiarity. It's sort of like the doctrine of trinity I imagine, only each being is considered to be a God rather than being purely subsistent while sharing the same essence.

Mark Slempf said...

Can someone help me to understand how the First Way makes any sense. How can Aquinas argue that motion/change can't have an infinite regress, if Aquinas believed that a per accidens causal series could indeed be infinite? Aren't all series that involve change, by their very definition, per accidens causal series?

Glenn said...

Innocence,

In pdf pages 116-117, Butler states that each God is simple and they are superior to all division, composition and fragmentation. He also in page 118 I think, states that the henads are not mediated by the One but are immediately all in each. So I am not sure that he states that the henads are non beings[.]

If A=B, and B=C, then A=C. If the henads are the gods, and the gods are nonbeings, then the henads are nonbeings. Butler says the henads are the gods [1], and he says the gods are nonbeings [2], so Butler says the henads are nonbeings. [3]

- - - - -

[1] Specifically, "The henads are also the Gods", p. 2.

[2] Specifically (and again), "Being has a wide and a narrow sense in Proclus. In the wide sense, it refers to everything that is, excluding only the two kinds of nonbeing: privations, which fall short of existence, and the Gods", p. 75. If the gods are one of two kinds of nonbeing (privation being the other), then each god is a nonbeing.

[3] This conclusion also may be inferred from the follow found on p. 2: "If a logic really distinct from that applying to beings applies to supra-essential entities, the henads shall no longer seem, as they otherwise might, a mere structural complement within the system." (Since supra-essential entities are not beings (see a) in my prior comment), they are nonbeings.) The conlusion also may be inferred from Butler's assertion that "each henad or God is superior to Being", p. 126.

- - - - -

Likely, what is blocking you from seeing what Butler is saying, is that you are thinking that since God is Being, each of a multiplicity of gods must itself be a being.

But this is not what Butler is saying.

What Butler is saying is that, according to Proculus, Being is constituted of nonbeings (p. 107), and that it is the gods who are those nonbeings of which Being is constituted (ibid).

Glenn said...

("from the follow found" s/b "from the following found", and "Proculus" s/b "Proclus")

Brandon said...

How can Aquinas argue that motion/change can't have an infinite regress, if Aquinas believed that a per accidens causal series could indeed be infinite? Aren't all series that involve change, by their very definition, per accidens causal series?

Aquinas would very definitely reject the notion that all series involving change are per accidens causal series; whether a causal series is per accidens or per se depends on how the causes are related to each other. His argument for an impossibility of infinite regress gets its conclusion from the nature of a series of causes causing other causes to cause, not from causes only related per accidens.

Also, note that Aquinas holds that a per accidens causal series can be infinite only because it is possible that a cause related to the whole series as per se cause -- like God -- could make it so.

Mark Slempf said...

His argument for an impossibility of infinite regress gets its conclusion from the nature of a series of causes causing other causes to cause,

Can you expound upon this relationship?

My assumption was that Aquinas believed that a per accidens series can be infinite because an accidental property has no real existence of its own, but only in relationship to an object. Therefore, having no actual existence, it needed no cause for non-existence.

Can you explain why a set of toppling dominoes is a per accidens causal series, and a hand moving a stick, moving a rock, is a per se causal series, when physics tells us that the two series of events are essentially identical?

Why do some per accidens causal series need a cause, and some don't?

Innocence said...

Ah ok that makes sense. So how are they contrasted with God in Abrahamic religions? Is Yahweh/Jesus/Allah a nonbeing?

Glenn said...

Innocence,

Ah ok that makes sense. So how are they contrasted with God in Abrahamic religions? Is Yahweh/Jesus/Allah a nonbeing?

How the nonbeings of Proclus (as given by Butler) might be constrasted with God in the Abrahamic religions may be had from what was said and referred to in my last comment. That will also answer your second question (the specific answer to which is, "No, God in the Abrahamic religions is not a nonbeing.").

Brandon said...

Mark,

The per accidens of 'per accidens series' doesn't have much to do with accidents in the substance-and-accident sense, or at least not in a direct way that, I think makes it helpful to understand one in terms of the other. There is actually no one kind of series that is per accidens. Rather, one should think of a difference as just that in a per accidens series, causation is not the actual effect of the cause, while in a per se series the cause causes its effect to cause something else.

While I've occasionally come across the dominos toppling example as an example of a per accidense causal series, I don't myself actually think that's right. Aquinas's own example of a per accidens causal series is that a grandfather's begetting of a father does not cause the father's begetting of the (grand)son. The hand's moving of the stick, in contrast, does move the stick to move the rock. The reason the difference is significant is that if the hand-stick-rock is an example of a per se series, we can consider hand-stick to cause the rock to move; or you can consider hand to move stick-rock. That is, we can simplify the series by taking causes or effects to be united in causing or being effected, because they actually are. In a per accidens series you could only do one step at a time, no matter how long it is.

Why do some per accidens causal series need a cause, and some don't?

Aquinas's view is that all per accidens causal series need a cause (or, sometimes, set of causes). Causal series are not causeless, even if the cause of the whole series is nothing more than the sun giving the energy for it to work; as I previously noted, Aquinas thinks all per accidens causation depends on some kind of per se causation. What I take it you are really asking is why some per accidens causal series have a first in the per accidens series and others don't. And Aquinas's view here is also a bit nuanced -- he doesn't think any per accidens series actually regresses infinitely, he just thinks there are conditions in which it's possible for one to do so (for instance, if God had created the world with an infinite past), which is why we can't rigorously prove otherwise.

Innocence said...

Oh yeah I don't know how I forgot, God is a being itself and not a being or a non being.

Innocence said...

Sorry, Being itself I meant. Being in itself is a continental term.

Mark Slempf said...

Brandon,

The problem that I see with your interpretation of per se and per accidens causal series, is that if it's correct, then there must in actuality be three types of causal series. One type would be the one that you describe as a per accidens causal series. It's one in which the members of the series don't get their causal efficacy from the members that preceded them in the series. An example of which is the father and son. The son doesn't get his ability to be a father from his own father.

But that still leaves two types of causal series, those that are simultaneous, and those that aren't. And the difference is so profound that they must be differentiated. Because in a non-simultaneous series like the falling dominoes, the preceding dominoes can cease to exist and the efficacy of the proceeding dominoes is unaffected. One can destroy the preceding dominoes without consequence. But if God were the first cause in such a series, then it would mean that God is no longer necessary as a sustaining cause of the world. He simply set the big bang in motion, and that was that.

So we would need a third type of causal series. One that includes simultaneity. Like Aquinas' analogy of a hand moving a stick, moving a rock. In this case, the continuing existence of each member of the series is essential to the efficacy of the series. With the first cause in the series ultimately being the source of all of the causal power in the series. It's only in this type of series that God can be said to be a necessary cause.

So to illustrate it analogously, we have three types of series, the father/son/father, the dominoes, and the hand/stick/rock. Each series has its own distinct characteristics. God can't be said to be the first cause in the father/son/father series, because that series contains no actual causal relationship. Neither can God be said to be the first cause in the dominoes series, because the existence of the first cause in that series, isn't a necessary sustaining cause. It's only in the third type of series that God is a necessary cause.

I would posit therefore, that the dominoes are in fact a per accidens causal series, and the hand/stick/rock is a per se causal series, and that the father/son/father series isn't a causal series at all. It's only a causal series in the dominoes sense, in that the father causes the son, but it's not a causal series in that the father doesn't cause the son to be a father.

I hope that this explains why I think the dominoes rather than the father/son/father is the per accidens causal series.

Brandon said...

But that still leaves two types of causal series, those that are simultaneous, and those that aren't.

Your nonsimultaneous series is in fact just a complicated network of different causal series; a domino knocking down the next domino is, at the time it exercises its causality, simultaneous with its effect (the force applied to the next domino), and the entire series is possible only through the continual operation of gravity.

Also, as I noted in my previous comment, (1) there is no single kind of series that is called per accidens series, since any kind of causal series that's not per se is per accidens; and (2) the father/son/father is in fact Aquinas's own example of one kind of per accidens series, so if we're actually talking about interpretation of Aquinas, you simply can't ignore this fact in interpretation of what Aquinas means.

The father/son/father is also pretty clearly a causal series, so I don't know your reason for denying that it is: the grandfather is very clearly a significant factor in the causal explanation of the existence of the grandson.

Brandon said...

Actually, scratch the part about interpretation of Aquinas -- now that I think of it, it is Suarez rather than Aquinas who likes to use the father/son/father example. (It would, however, be an example of per accidens causation for Aquinas, on his explicitly stated principle that whenever the effect lies outside the disposition of its cause, it is to that extent per accidens.)

Aquinas's own preferred example of per accidens causation is the removing of an impediment to action.

Brandon said...

Two more things:

(1) An example of which is the father and son. The son doesn't get his ability to be a father from his own father.

This is obviously wrong: the son very clearly gets his ability to be a father from his own father. The point is that his actual begetting of his son is not caused by his father's begetting of him.

(2) If in the dominoes example you are only saying that the first domino's falling is a per accidens cause of the 23rd domino's falling, which is a per accidens cause of the last domino's falling, and thus they are examples of a per accidens causal series in this particular sense, then I would agree that this per accidens causal series is one of the strands in the entire causal system. But note that this will be a per accidens series for the same reasons as the grandfather/father/son series: the first unit's causing is not itself causing the later unit's causing, and the later effects are not themselves part of the original causing.

Mark Slempf said...

"Your nonsimultaneous series is in fact just a complicated network of different causal series; a domino knocking down the next domino is, at the time it exercises its causality, simultaneous with its effect"

You're mistaken, the falling dominoes aren't simultaneous with the cause. Dominoes don't have, as part of their essential nature, the property of falling. Therefore none of the dominoes are the cause of the falling.

"The father/son/father is also pretty clearly a causal series"

Oddly enough, it's not. A father doesn't cause his son to be a father. There's no causal connection between the two things. A causal connection is when one thing causes another thing to happen. A father doesn't cause his son to have a son.

"This is obviously wrong: the son very clearly gets his ability to be a father from his own father."

I will admit that this is easy to misunderstand, but it's still true. In metaphysics the son doesn't get his ability to be a father, from his father. It's the result of the son's form as a man, and he doesn't get this form from his father.

"If in the dominoes example you are only saying that the first domino's falling is a per accidens cause of the 23rd domino's falling, which is a per accidens cause of the last domino's falling, and thus they are examples of a per accidens causal series in this particular sense, then I would agree that this per accidens causal series is one of the strands in the entire causal system. But note that this will be a per accidens series for the same reasons as the grandfather/father/son series: the first unit's causing is not itself causing the later unit's causing, and the later effects are not themselves part of the original causing."

If you simply look at each series and ask what the effect is, and what the properties of the objects in the series are, then the difference becomes more apparent. In the case of the dominoes, falling isn't part of the nature of being a domino, so the cause of their falling must lie outside of the dominoes themselves. But when it comes to the son, being a father is indeed part of the nature of being a son. So the cause of each son being a father doesn't lie outside of the son, it lies within the son.

It's all very metaphysical. It's about tracing the cause.

Brandon said...

Mark,

(1) Simultaneity of causation has nothing to do with what is part of a thing's essential nature. It has, as the label explicitly says, to do with whether there is a separation or not between the cause's causing and the effect's being caused. When a domino is pushing another domino down, its causing of the next domino to fall is not separated from the next domino's being caused to fall.

(2) The fact that a father doesn't cause his son to be a father means that it is not a per se causal series, as I have already pointed out. (If your claims on this point were accurate, there would be no per accidens series at all.) But a son's existence depends causally on his father; and the father's existence depends on the grandfather; and so forth. That was what every reasonable person calls a causal series.

(3) Your claims about what happen "in metaphysics" are conflate efficient causation and formal causation, which are distinct kinds of causation.

(4) Being a father is not "part of the nature of being a son". If it were part of the nature of being a son, it would follow that all sons would necessarily be fathers. And I notice that you seem to have conflated the ability and the act, as you previously did.

(5) Your claim about the distinction between the domino case and the father-son case amounts to a distinction between what scholastics called violent change on one hand and natural or voluntary changes on the other. It is not relevant to any of this discussion.


None of your claims are even coherent as interpretations of Aquinas. Aquinas is very clear that formal properties are caused by the generator of the form (he says it explicitly in SCG 1.13); Aquinas is very clear that changes of any kind are caused by things other than themselves (this is argued in both SCG 1.13 and in the Commentary on the Physics); and as I have explicitly pointed out twice before, there is more than one kind of thing that gets called 'per accidens' (Aquinas is very explicit about this in his discussions of fate and chance in the Commentary on the Metaphysics). Where are you getting any of your claims from?

Gerard O'Neill said...

Tomislav

"I'm not going to debate with you further."

Looking at your last two replies that comes as a relief...
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Timocrates

I was thinking of this work in particular when I wrote that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_and_Necessity

Talon said...

Gerard,

"I'm not going to debate with you further."

Looking at your last two replies that comes as a relief...


This is hilarious coming from you, Tomislav offered argumentation, which you haven't addressed or rebutted. You claim infinite regress is no problem, argue for it then and explain why should someone just accept an irrational premise (infinite regress), when a rational one is available to them?

Eduardo said...

Talon

He can't really argue for anything. In his mind he is master debater since no one can find an error on his non-arguments or he is just chin checking us because fear.

SinSeeker said...

I have a question about an earlier post you wrote on Aquinas. I tried to post a comment there, but it’s presumably too old to stick, as it’s been in moderation for a few days. It was your "Straw men and terracotta armies” (March 22, 2009) post. In that post you make the following statement:
"Take what everyone “knows” to be the “basic” Cosmological Argument for God’s existence: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause, namely God. This argument is notoriously bad: If everything has a cause, then what caused God? And if God needn’t have had a cause, why must the universe have one? Etc. The thing is, not one of the best-known defenders of the Cosmological Argument in the history of philosophy ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And, for that matter, not anyone else either, as far as I know. And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but also by professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.”

But, when I go to William Lane Craig’s website (1), I find this:
"One approach to answering this question is the Cosmological Argument.
It goes like this…
Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause."

Swinburne of course, is not so straightforward, as he favours an inductive approach (2):
"[I]f there is no God, the existence of a complex universe is not much to be expected (...) because (...) it is vastly improbable a priori that there would be anything at all; and because, if there is anything, it is more likely to be God than an uncaused complex physical universe. P(e|~h & k) is low. (...) [I]f there is a God, clearly he can create a universe. (...) [The] probability that God would create [humanly free agents is 1⁄2]. (...) [T]hese creatures would need to have bodies. (...) [So] the probability that a God would create a physical world will be no less than 1/2. (...) [I] conclude that [P(e|h & k)] is quite high. Since P(e|h & k) > P(e|~h & k) and so > P(e|k), by the relevance criterion P(h|e & k) > P(h|k), and so the argument from the existence from a complex physical universe to God is a good C-inductive argument."

While not as crude as Craig’s approach (unsurprising, as we are considering a real philosopher rather than an apologist), Swinburne does cover the three elements of this "notoriously bad” and “stupid” argument - an existent universe, a cause for that universe, and that cause being God.

Is you reading different sources to me, or are you referring to other people who just happen to have the names William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne? Any clarification you can offer will be appreciated. Thanks.

BTW, kudos for the obligatory attacks on Dawkins and Dennet on that earlier post, wouldn’t be an apologist website without them. :-)

(1) http://www.reasonablefaith.org/transcript-kalam-cosmological-argument
(2) The Existence of God, p. 151-152

SinSeeker
“Pursuing a sacrilegious curiosity” (Augustine - Confessions 3.3.5)

Glenn said...

SinSeeker,

But, when I go to William Lane Craig’s website (1), I find this:
...
Whatever begins to exist has a cause.


Actually, the significant thing here is not what Craig says, but what he does not say. While Craig does say, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause," he does not say, "Whatever exists has a cause."

See the difference?

The first statement covers only whatever begins to exist (or what now exists, and at one time began to exist), while the second covers that, as well as whatever exists, yet never began to exist (i.e., whatever has always existed).

Whatever begins to exist (or what now exists, and at one time began to exist) once was not. But whatever exists, yet never began to exist (i.e., whatever has always existed), never was not.

The CA does not claim that whatever exists -- be it that which was once was not, or that which never was not -- has a cause; it claims only that whatever exists, and once was not, has a cause.

- - - - -

Dr. Feser:

What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause. These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”

See his, So you think you understand the cosmological argument?

SinSeeker said...

So, can you give me an example of "whatever has always existed"?

Don Jindra said...

SinSeeker,

"So, can you give me an example of 'whatever has always existed'?"

God's creator. :)

Glenn said...

SinSeeker,

Whether there is such an example, whether I can give it, and whether I might be willing to do so are questions separate from the question of whether Craig's "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" legitimately counts as a minor counter-example to Feser's statement that, "The thing is, not one of the best-known defenders of the Cosmological Argument in the history of philosophy ever gave this stupid argument [of, ‘Everything has a cause,…’ etc.]. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne."

If you're still having difficulty seeing and understanding the difference between "everything as a cause" and "whatever beings to exist has a cause", then consider the possibility that the difference between those two statements is not wholly unlike the difference between the two statements in each pair of statements here:

a) "Every event can be explained by causal laws", and "Every natural event can be explained by causal laws"; and,

b) "Every event has an explanation that may be eventually discovered by intelligent and diligent effort", and "Every natural event has an explanation that may be eventually discovered by intelligent and diligent effort".

Eduardo said...

And how is God's creator Jindra?

SinSeeker said...

Glenn

I do understand the difference between "everything has a cause” and "whatever begins to exist has a cause.” However, making this distinction implies that there is something that did not “begin to exist.” I am asking for an example of what this “something” is.

Anonymous said...

@ sinseeker: No it doesn't. Anymore than 'All bachelors are unmarried' vs 'Married men are not bachelors' implies the existence of married men. In any case, candidates for things that did not begin to exist: propositions, mathematical objects, eternal universes, God etc.

Don Jindra said...

SinSeeker,

"However, making this distinction implies that there is something that did not 'begin to exist.' I am asking for an example of what this 'something' is."

It also implies Nature began to exist. There's no reason for making the distinction if an eternal Nature is assumed. The distinction is a shell game. It makes us watch for this elusive 'began to exist' while 'change' is the only thing on the table.

Eduardo said...

Sinseeker might not be talking about a eternal universe... His question seems to be rigged with assumptions that are conclusions from other arguments.

Eduardo said...

Jindra are you saying you always existed?

And the answer to that is the example you are looking for Sinseeker.

SinSeeker said...

@ Anonymous: Your bachelor example is not equivalent. “Whatever begins to exist” is a subset of the set “everything.” "Whatever doesn’t begin to exist” is the set difference, which together with the subset, includes all of the elements of “everything.”

Anonymous says: "candidates for things that did not begin to exist: propositions, mathematical objects, eternal universes, God”

Propositions begin to exist when the object of the proposition begin to exist. The ontological status of mathematical objects can be debated, but I think they are ultimately grounded in our existence as physical beings in this universe, so I would argue that they began to exist. Eternal universes would, by use of the word “eternal," imply they have no beginning to their existence.

The interesting example for this discussion is of course God. Feser uses the same linguistic trick as every other theologian before him - if you define God with certain characteristics, you can avoid certain questions and implications, and follow this up with haughty accusations of superior understanding. In the case of the cosmological argument, if you define God as not needing a cause, and define everything else as needing a cause, you can then claim that God as the cause of everything else.

Glenn said...

SinSeeker,

Anonymous said that the existence of married men is not implied by the propositions 'All bachelors are unmarried' vs 'Married men are not bachelors'. He did not claim that the second proposition is related to the first proposition as a subset is to a superset, and the truth of his claim does not require the existence of such an analogic relation between the two propositions.

Anyway, the fact that prior to posting here you understood the difference between "everything has a cause" and "whatever begins to exist has a cause" tells me all I need to know about you.

Have a good day.

SinSeeker said...

Glenn says: "tells me all I need to know about you”

You should put your mind-reading chip in for a service, there’s still quite a lot to know about me. :-)

Glenn said...

It wouldn't be the first time there was a malfunction in the implant, and I won't discount the possibility that I might be pleasantly surprised to learn a little more of the very much more about you which I do not know. However, it is not something I'll be pursuing. At least not at present. Meanwhile, enjoy the evening, and those which are to follow.

SinSeeker said...

I'll enjoy the afternoon in my part of the world, but thanks for the sentiment and the same to you. :-)

Don Jindra said...

Eduardo,

I am but a piece of nature. Yes, the fundamental components that make me have always existed. That's my assumption. SinSeeker needs to look no farther.

Eduardo said...

Did YOU existed forever in time?

Simple question. Should be a yes, no, or I don't know. What you are saying is matter is forever, so therefore Jindra always existed.

Thank you for telling your forever universe belief. Let's see the arguments for that belief. Go on... You will just have to have lived forever and be aware of the entire universe orrrr; make a metaphysical argument that you yourself consider it all bullshit.

Please start ;-)



Don Jindra said...


Eduardo,

"What you are saying is matter is forever, so therefore Jindra always existed."

You should become more acquainted with the the concept of change and less practiced in non sequitur.

Eduardo said...

Jindra

SinSeeker wanted an example for something coming to existence. Gonna go on a wild guess and assume you haven't always existed. You said: "but wait! The particles that make me are eternal!"

Well, if that is the answer to the question, then it seems you are saying you are eternal. Maybe you mean as potential existent, but the Kalam seem to just contend that if something was not actual in a period of time, but it is in another period of time, then that coming into actuality has a cause.

Oh and saying you began to exist does not assume nature began to exist. You seem scared at the Kalam's ultimate conclusion otherwise you would have never made that comment, since you know, you made a non sequitur :-P

Don Jindra said...

Eduardo,

"Well, if that is the answer to the question, then it seems you are saying you are eternal."

Only if you consider me to be me even when "I" was scattered through the universe in a radically different pattern. That is a fun question, though. Was that seemingly random pattern of matter and energy directed to become me, even 5 billion years ago? Did that stuff have something like foresight or "final cause" to condense into me? If so, we almost have to say it *was* me. I wouldn't go that far, though Aquinas and Jerry Coyne might.


"the Kalam seem[s] to just contend that if something was not actual in a period of time, but it is in another period of time, then that coming into actuality has a cause."

As I've said many times before, if that's all the Kalam says, then it has no bearing on the "coming into being" of nature itself. It's two entirely different meanings for "coming into being." So the way Kalam is used by William Lane Craig and others is a misuse. It's false advertising. It's bait and switch. I'm not scare of that. It's easily dismissed.



Eduardo said...

Well matter may have a final cause of... You know... Becoming people eventually. Some of these people happen to be Jindra.
You really don't understand final cause Jindra. 5 freaking years bro...

Well that second part there it is a interesting point. If something goes from non-being to being would I be able to conclude that has a cause.
But well I personally think that the Kalam simply applies to all meanings of "began to exist". It contends that anything that falls under coming to being, that "coming" has a cause. So it would be no bait and switch at all.
That is a funny thing I never thought about it ever since I started reading Feser.

Btw... You dismiss almost anything here Jindra =_='

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

"Only if you consider me to be me even when "I" was scattered through the universe in a radically different pattern."

"If so, we almost have to say it *was* me. I wouldn't go that far, though Aquinas and Jerry Coyne might."

If the matter making you up now is the same matter that was scattered in a radically different pattern in the past, why wasn't it you then?

Is it because Don Jindra's "essence is property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is?" and some Jindra property was lacking from that hunk of stuff?