Thursday, June 30, 2016

Prior on the Unmoved Mover


William J. Prior’s Ancient Philosophy has just been published, as part of Oneworld’s Beginner’s Guides series (of which my books Aquinas and Philosophy of Mind are also parts).  It’s a good book, and one of its strengths is its substantive treatment of Greek natural theology.  Naturally, that treatment includes a discussion of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover.  Let’s take a look.

After a lucid exposition of Aristotle’s conception of the universe and how the prime Unmoved Mover fits into it,  Prior tells us that “there are at least three objections that could be raised to Aristotle’s cosmology, apart from the obvious ones raised by modern science” (p. 161).  The first concerns the “self-absorbed” character of the Unmoved Mover.  Since he contemplates only himself, he cannot be said to know or providentially govern the universe.

Prior’s second objection concerns the idea that the Unmoved Mover moves the world by virtue of being a final cause -- in particular, by being that which everything in its own way strives to emulate.  A final cause, says Prior, needn’t actually exist in order to be efficacious.  For example, the house a carpenter intends to build is the final cause of his activity, and in some sense it explains that activity even before the house is actually constructed.  But in that case, why couldn’t the Unmoved Mover function as the explanation of the movement of things even if he doesn’t actually exist?

Prior’s last objection concerns the idea that the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality, without potentiality.  Aristotle explains everything else in terms of both potentiality and actuality, and he holds that nothing could be purely potential.  So how could there be something which is purely actual, and not the actuality of some potentiality?

 Some of these objections can, I think, be dealt with briefly and those who have read what I’ve written about Aristotelian arguments from motion or change to the existence of God (in Aquinas, in Neo-Scholastic Essays, and elsewhere) will know how the responses would go.  First, as to Prior’s allusion to science, as modern Thomists have shown, the basic idea of the Aristotelian argument for a divine Unmoved Mover in no way depends on outdated assumptions in Aristotelian physics, astronomy, and cosmology.  The theory of actuality and potentiality can easily be extracted from all that, and that is what is essential to the argument.

Second, Prior’s last objection falsely assumes that actuality and potentiality are equally fundamental.  But in fact actuality is more fundamental.  A potentiality as such is always grounded in some existing actuality.  For example, the potentiality that a match has to generate flame and heat is grounded in the fact that it is actually made of phosphorus rather than some other material.  Take away the actuality and the potentiality goes with it.  But actuality as such is not similarly grounded in potentiality.  (Another way to look at it: The debate over whether the distinction between actuality and potentiality is a real distinction is essentially a debate about potentiality rather than about actuality.  That is to say, no one denies that actuality is real; what some deny is that potentiality is really anything more than a certain kind of actuality.  See Scholastic Metaphysics for a lot more on that subject.)

Hence, unless Prior has some independent argument for the claim that actuality and potentiality are after all equally fundamental aspects of reality, his last objection has no force.

The response Thomists would give to Prior’s first objection, of course, is that (whatever Aristotle himself thought) the Unmoved Mover does know the world, by virtue of knowing himself as cause of the world.  That is to say, he knows the world in something like the way a novelist knows what happens in the story he has written -- not by way of any kind of observation, but rather by way of knowing his own thoughts as author of the story.

Of course, that supposes that the Unmoved Mover is the efficient cause of the world as well as its final cause (just as an author is the efficient cause of the story he writes).  That brings us to Prior’s second objection, which I think is his most interesting objection.  It is true that Aristotle, certainly as usually interpreted, regards the Unmoved Mover as a final cause rather than an efficient cause.  Since Thomist and other later appropriators of the Unmoved Mover argument hold that he is also an efficient cause, they are not open to Prior’s objection.  But is Aristotle himself open to it?

I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons.  First, Aristotle would have been open to it if his argument for the Unmoved Mover had been along something like the following lines: Natural things tend to act in ways that are in some respects like something divine and unchanging (e.g. heavenly bodies move unceasingly in circular orbits, species of living things carry on forever even though the individual members come and go).  Therefore they must be “aiming” at emulating something like an Unmoved Mover.  If this were Aristotle’s argument, Prior could reasonably ask why this Unmoved Mover would have to actually exist in order for things to “aim” at emulating it in this way.

But that is not Aristotle’s argument.  Though he brings in the idea of final cause when he comes to the question of how exactly the Unmoved Mover relates to the world, the idea of final cause is not itself what leads him (in Book 8 of the Physics, for example) to conclude to the existence of the Unmoved Mover.  Rather, he essentially reasons in terms of efficient causes.  (This is why Thomists and other later Aristotelians could quite plausibly argue that the Unmoved Mover really is an efficient cause as well as a final cause.)  And efficient causes have to exist in order to explain their effects.

Second, it seems that, even if his argument were what Prior needs it to be in order for Prior’s objection to have force, Aristotle could still respond to Prior by appealing to his principle that nature does nothing in vain.  Hence, for example, animals seek food because there really is food out there for them to get to.  Of course, this or that individual animal might fail to find it in time and thus starve to death, but if there were no food at all for any animals ever to get to, their natural desire for food would be vain (and of course none of them would ever survive).  In Aristotle’s view, nature is never perverse in that way.  It doesn’t put desires into us which could never even in principle be realized. (Of course, there are desires that cannot possibly be realized, e.g. a strange desire some person might have to be a fish.  But precisely because they cannot possibly be realized, they would not for Aristotle be natural desires.  They would be disordered or aberrant.) 

So, if nature does nothing in vain, then it seems that Aristotle could reply to Prior by saying that if things have a natural tendency toward the Unmoved Mover, then there must be an Unmoved Mover.  Otherwise this tendency would be in vain.  (Obviously someone might go on to object to the Aristotelian principle that nature does nothing in vain, but that is beside the present point that Aristotle would have the resources to respond to Prior’s objection even if his argument were the way Prior needs it to be in order for Prior’s objection to get off the ground.) 

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Could you say the same thing for the argument for desire? Desire seems to be a completely teleological notion, we could draw the same distinction between natural and aberrant desires. Would this then make that argument work?

Anonymous said...

I meant argument from desire.

Tom said...

I've always been confused by the claim that God knows creation in knowing Himself. I get how God could know possible creations by knowing Himself, however, as to how God knows what He actually creates, this is problematic. God is a necessary being, therefore, how is it possible for God (in knowing Himself) to know anything contingent?

Perhaps you can say that God knows contingent things by knowing what He Himself does. But this is problematic too. For if what God does is identical to God (which makes sense, if we are proponents of divine simplicity and wish to characterize God as His activity, e.g. God is God's understanding) then we are back to the problem raised above. However, if God's doing is not identical to God, then it must be a creature (on classical theism since God has no accidents). But then the problem is not solved, merely restated from "how does God know creatures?" to "how does God know creatures by knowing creatures?" Besides, saying God knows creatures directly seems to imply multiple objects for God's knowing which implies multiple acts, contrary to simplicity.

Thoughts?

Thanks

Craig Payne said...

Dear Tom: I still think your stated problem can be resolved by differentiating between the pure actuality of complete and perfect knowing, and the content of that which is known. The pure actuality of knowing is unchanging, eternal, and necessary--it is necessary that God knows all things including all contingent events--but the content of that knowledge (the events themselves) can be contingent without affecting the being of God in any way. Perfect and necessary knowledge, in other words, is not changed by the imperfect and contingent content of that which is known.

Steven Dillon said...

Tom - Self-knowledge is not perfect unless it is exhaustive, and it is not exhaustive unless it involves knowing oneself in every respect in which one can be considered. One of the respects in which 'God' can be considered is as imitable. Since we can only attribute perfect knowledge to God, we must say his self-knowledge is exhaustive and thus that it involves knowing himself insofar as he is imitable. But, in knowing himself as imitable, he knows all the ways in which he can be imitated -- through being that is actual, potential, contingent, necessary, material, formal, etc.

These are not discrete acts of knowledge, nor a bundle of discrete acts: God's act is simple and undifferentiated, but we understand it by considering it in different respects.

James said...

> But in fact actuality is more fundamental.

So would you say that actuality is Prior to potentiality? Eh, eh?

Don Jindra said...

1) Nature doesn’t put desires into us which are impossible to realize.
2) Desire x cannot be realized.
3) Therefore desire x is unnatural (it was not put there by nature).

We *could* accept the conclusion. But a skeptic could assert 1 simply begs the question.

We could also do the (I think) absurd. We could use John's desire to be a fish as an anti-materialist proof of dualism. If nature didn't put that unnatural desire there, what did?

Tom said...

@Craig: Fair enough, but that doesn't seem to solve the problem of HOW God knows created things. It implies that in doing so, God's act of knowledge doesn't become contingent. That said, the question remains: in virtue of what does God know contingent things?

@Steven: This applies to God's knowledge of possibilities. Knowing Himself as imitable is the same as knowing all possibilities. However, this is not what produces the problem. The problem is how does God know ACTUAL contingent things? And the problem isn't just how does God know their natures but how does God know THAT they are actual?

Brandon said...

And the problem isn't just how does God know their natures but how does God know THAT they are actual?

In a sense, this gets the matter backwards; it's not as if they are actual and then God knows that they are actual; God's knowing they are actual is a logical requirement of their being actual at all. So the real question that is being asked is not about God's knowledge -- the question is how does God make contingent things actual.

George R. said...

A final cause, says Prior, needn’t actually exist in order to be efficacious. For example, the house a carpenter intends to build is the final cause of his activity, and in some sense it explains that activity even before the house is actually constructed. But in that case, why couldn’t the Unmoved Mover function as the explanation of the movement of things even if he doesn’t actually exist?

This objection is easily answered. True, the final cause does not have to exist in reality, but it must at least exist in mind, as it does in Prior's carpenter/house example. And, of course, the mind in which the final cause exists must exist in reality. So even if the Final Cause acting as the Unmoved Mover did not exist in reality, it would still have to exist in the Mind of God.

Also, Ed's contention that the Unmoved Mover is the efficient cause as well as the final cause of motion is problematic for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it tends toward occasionalism; for if the Unmoved Mover is the efficient cause of every motion, what is there left for the natural agent to be the efficient cause of? It's true that that God is both the Final Cause and the Efficient Cause of being, but that's because natural agents cannot be the cause of being. But if we want to admit that natural agents can be the efficient causes of particular motions, we cannot then posit a supernatural efficient cause for those same motions.

Secondly, since every efficient cause must act for the sake of an end (final cause), it's obvious that the final cause must be the first principle of all motions no matter who or what the efficient cause may be. Therefore, the efficient cause cannot be a first principle of motion, since the final cause is always prior.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for the interesting post. I completely agree with your claim that the First Mover has to be regarded as the efficient cause of the world, as well as its final case. Aquinas' simile of the hand moving the stick, which moves the stone, makes this quite clear.

I'd like to comment on your statement: "A potentiality as such is always grounded in some existing actuality. For example, the potentiality that a match has to generate flame and heat is grounded in the fact that it is actually made of phosphorus rather than some other material." The example you provide here relates to active powers, but the same could be said of passive powers, as well: the potentiality that a match has to be burnt is grounded in the fact that it is actually composed of combustible material. So if potentialities are always grounded in actualities, then how can one maintain that there's a real distinction between the two? And what is the advantage of positing the distinction in order to explain change, as Aristotle does?

I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that what we need to postulate in order to explain change is not act and potency as such, but actualities on multiple levels. To explain why a match burns (let's call that a level-1 actuality), you need an underlying level-0 actuality (the match tip contains actual phosphorus), combined with a level-1 non-actuality (the match was not actually burning, until now) plus another level-1 actuality (someone is now striking the match, making it burn), and an underlying level-0 actuality (the person striking the match has hands whose finger movements are responsive to signals from the person's brain, including the signal that tells them to pick up an object). Is anything else required?

jmhenry said...

I recently began to the epic journey of reading Frederick Copleston's series A History of Philosophy. I just finished Volume 1, Greece and Rome, and Copleston says the same thing -- that Aristotle's Unmoved Mover is only a final cause and not an efficient cause. Or, at least, that the Unmoved Mover is only an efficient cause as a final cause. Is this a point of disagreement among scholars of Aristotle?

bmiller said...

Vince Torley,

Dr Feser said:

"But actuality as such is not similarly grounded in potentiality. (Another way to look at it: The debate over whether the distinction between actuality and potentiality is a real distinction is essentially a debate about potentiality rather than about actuality. That is to say, no one denies that actuality is real; what some deny is that potentiality is really anything more than a certain kind of actuality. See Scholastic Metaphysics for a lot more on that subject.)"

Vince Torley said:

"I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that what we need to postulate in order to explain change is not act and potency as such, but actualities on multiple levels."

I wonder if you missed the quoted part in the original post? It seems you are in agreement that everyone agrees that actuality exists, but some disagree about the nature of potentiality.

SK said...

"So if potentialities are always grounded in actualities, then how can one maintain that there's a real distinction between the two? And what is the advantage of positing the distinction in order to explain change, as Aristotle does?"

In Scholastic Metaphysics, Feser defends the thesis that things can be truly distinct even if they are not separate. For example in a circle, the circumference and area of the circle are truly distinct but they both cannot exist apart from each other. In the same way actuality and potentiality in an object that changes can be truly distinct even if you can't separate them. So Feser can say the potentiality of the match to burn is grounded in the match that has actuality.

Timocrates said...

@ Dr. Feser,

I am surprised you say that the modern, tax-payer funded intellectual objects to Aristotle's cosmology on the basis of "the “self-absorbed” character of the Unmoved Mover..." I take it you understand him as disqualifying the objections raised by those raised in our "public" education systems, which is obvious (though tragic).

But I understand why you, as a philosopher, pick out this critique especially. It is true that the God known to reason definitely looks like this self-absorbed, self-enclosed character (which begs the question of the existence of Creation in the first place). But that same reason knows this is a ridiculous caricature almost immediately; otherwise, we would not be here.

Aristotle's cosmology is not crazy at all. Aristotle's proof against the absolute vacuum still stands. God made *things*, not 'nothings,' which is all the devil and liars can produce.

I don't we Catholics can persuade by reason dyed in the wool "nothingness-ners." It's a non-starter. We have to start from the obvious fact there is no such existent as nothing, and proceed from there.

One of the earlier Church fathers ridiculed vacuum-ess-ers, so to speak. And rightly so; because nothing does not exist.

If we admit one absurdity, we have no grounds to object to all the rest that follow.

George R. said...

Vincent Torley, you wrote:

"I completely agree with your claim that the First Mover has to be regarded as the efficient cause of the world, as well as its final case. Aquinas' simile of the hand moving the stick, which moves the stone, makes this quite clear."

This, I believe, is a very subtle, delicate, and important issue. I touched upon it in my comment above, and I said that I found Ed's position, which is also yours, to be problematical, although I have to admit that I am not married to my opinion and find yours and Ed's to be attractive in some ways. In fact, I myself have written in these comboxes that the system of teleology includes three components: the thing moved (the natural thing), the end toward which it is moved (the final cause or the good), and that which moves the former toward the latter (the First Mover). So it would seem that I would have to admit that that things in nature are moved extrinsically by both a final cause and an efficient cause moving things toward their end. Moreover, it does seem that in the writings of Aristotle and Thomas the First Mover is acting as an efficient cause of motion.

Nevertheless, I maintain that the difficulties that arise from this positon render it ultimately untenable. First of all, it must be understood that the First Mover is the cause of all motions, not just some. In other words, the First Mover is not just the cause of the first domino falling, but of each individual domino falling as a result; for each succeeding domino that falls is being moved toward it's end just as much as the first; and the final cause is the principle of each motion. Therefore, if the First Mover were the efficient cause as well as the final cause, then the First Mover would be the efficient cause of all motions, leaving the natural agents to be in reality the efficient causes of none. In short, occasionalism obtains. Therefore, in my opinion, the notion that the First Mover is the efficient cause as well as the final cause of all motion results in an undue deprecation of natural being.

But none of this follows necessarily. That which moves something toward an end does not have to be an efficient cause at all, but can simply be a more ultimate final cause. For example, someone drives to the gas station in order to fill up his tank (final cause), and he is moved toward this end by his intention to make a trip to Cape Cod (more ultimate final cause). In like manner, natural things are moved toward their particular ends (final causes), and these particular ends themselves receive their efficaciousness as principles of motion from the Ultimate End, the Ultimate Good, the Final Cause, the First Mover.

None of this, of course, is to deny that the Creator is the Efficient Cause of the natural world itself. That would be the height of absurdity. But rather I maintain that through creation the Creator imparted to natural creatures the power to be true efficient causes of motion, and not just instrumental causes.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi SK and bmiller,

I've been having a look at Ed's arguments regarding potency, act and real distinctions in "Scholastic Metaphysics" (pp. 72-87). Rather than reply to them in detail, I'd like to pose a more general question: if (as Ed admits) potency is grounded in act, then in what sense can we say that the invocation of potency in order to explain change does any extra explanatory work which could not be done by invoking the underlying actuality which grounds the potency? Putting it another way: if B is supposed to explain A and C is supposed to explain B, then why not just explain A in terms of C, and have done with it?

In his book, Ed argues (p.78) that since change is the actualization of a potency, then the denial of a real distinction between act and potency would seem to imply that change is not real, either. But that assumes an Aristotelian view of change. If instead we define change as an attribute taking on a new value, then there's no need to deny the reality of change. (In the case of substantial change, the attribute is a defining attribute; in the case of accidental change, it's a non-defining one. Attribute, by the way, isn't the same as "property"; it simply means anything you can predicate of some individual x. If x belongs to a natural kind F, then F is a defining or substantial attribute of x.)

Ed also argues that (a) surely, there's a real distinction between a perfection and the capacity for that perfection; and (b) the denial of a real distinction between a substance and its powers would imply that the various powers are not really distinct from one another. In reply to (a): there is indeed a real distinction between an underlying attribute and its value, and that's all we need in order to explain the fact that there's a real distinction between a perfection and the capacity for that perfection. In reply to (b): the objection assumes that powers inhere in the substance they belong to, as one-term properties of that substance. But if powers are inherently relational, then the reason why power A and power B are really distinct is simply that they have different objects, which are really distinct.

Finally, Ed argues (p. 79) that that a power is an accident, so it must be really distinct from the substance it belongs to. But then he goes on to say (p. 190) that gold is the substance, together with its accidents (in opposition to the substratum and bundle theories). If that's the case, then gold isn't really one thing any more. Anyway, the argument that powers inhere in a substance seems to be a purely verbal one: a power is always a power OF something. But we could redefine a power as a relation between a thing and one of its various objects.

One might object that a relation is itself an accident, in the Aristotelian sense of the word. But whereas a substance is thought to be metaphysically (or really) prior to its accidents, what I'm proposing is that the relations corresponding to causal powers are constitutive of a substance: we can only understand the "whatness" of a thing in relation to other kinds of things. What we call substances are simply the items connected by these relations.

I've been writing off the top of my head here, so it's quite possible there is a hidden contradiction that someone will spot between the various views I've been putting forward.

Timocrates said...

@ Vincent,

I think you are quite right to bring into relief the 'problems' of an Aristotelian account of change; that being said, however, there remains the eternal problem of change.

If X becomes Y, then logically either X is Y or X is not Y. In either case, it is absurd to say X becomes Y. The boy becomes a man. The man learns. But how can this be? Charcoal, for example, is not wood; otherwise, we would not bother trying to make the former from the latter (it would be a redundant process).

How also, Vincent, are we to escape the infinity of relations? If our knowledge of substances is based upon relations - and given that relations are infinite - how do we construct an epistemology? For surely we know things. I may be wrong to assert that the bat is blue, but surely bats and blue things are real things. I mean here that no one can give me the number identify of an infinite magnitude - but I know magnitude and I have some idea of the infinite; in fact, this is the reason I know that no one can give me the number of an infinite magnitude.

Now to your direct question: denying the reality of potency denies the reality of real change. Merely ascribing relations results in all things being the same, but this is unacceptable (not least politically). Moreover, even relations involve potency. Or else tell my why you will laugh at me if I tell you your chair is related to Gandalf the wizard? It may as well be Gandalf the wizard. Or if I speak about the nasty characteristic of water's beings always burning hot?

Our language does dictate a necessary distinction between act and potency; however, to point this out only causes the sceptic to deny the truthfulness of language, which involves him in an absurdity. Because he states that language is not meaningful.

I think you are right, however, to bring out that unless we define potency meaningfully, then we may as say that when we speak of potency, we mean something like relations.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

SK: So Feser can say the potentiality of the match to burn is grounded in the match that has actuality.

You: I'd like to pose a more general question: if (as Ed admits) potency is grounded in act, then in what sense can we say that the invocation of potency in order to explain change does any extra explanatory work which could not be done by invoking the underlying actuality which grounds the potency? Putting it another way: if B is supposed to explain A and C is supposed to explain B, then why not just explain A in terms of C, and have done with it?

- - - - -

Also you: If instead we define change as an attribute taking on a new value, then there's no need to deny the reality of change. (In the case of substantial change, the attribute is a defining attribute; in the case of accidental change, it's a non-defining one. Attribute, by the way, isn't the same as "property"; it simply means anything you can predicate of some individual x. If x belongs to a natural kind F, then F is a defining or substantial attribute of x.)

If change is defined as an attribute taking on a new value, and an attribute is simply something predicated of some individual x, then change would be defined as something predicated of some individual x taking on a new value.

What would it mean for something predicated of some individual x to take on a new value?

Would it be possible for something predicated of some individual x to take on a new value even though the individual x itself remains as it is, both prior to the something predicated of it taking on a new value, and subsequent to that something predicated of it taking on that new value?

If so, then the proposed definition is such that an individual x can change even though that individual x itself remains unaltered.

If not, then mustn't something happen to or with an individual x before it can be legitimately said of the something predicated of it that that something predicated of it has taken on a new value?

If something must happen to or with an individual x before it can be legitimately said of the something predicated of it that that something predicated of it has taken on a new value, then why define change indirectly in terms of what happens to the value (of something predicated of it) as a result of what happens to or with the individual x, rather than directly in terms of what happens to or with that individual x?

- - - - -

Why say of a match which is burning that it is burning because something predicated of it -- say, "the match is burning", or "the match is not burning" -- took on a new value?

Why not say in a less complicated and less indirect way, i.e., why not say in a more simple and more direct way, that the match is burning because it had a potential to burn, and something occurred which actualized that potential?

Timocrates said...

@ Vincent and Glenn,

I also think - in furthering what I understand as Glenn saying - that it is simply wrong, in the modern sense, of expecting the notion of potency to do 'some further explanatory work'. It doesn't in the same sense that the principle of identity - in the modern, practicalist sense of "science" - doesn't do any "explanatory work." It can't, because we can't even begin to explain without presupposing it; otherwise, gravity* is literally (and without analogy) just an airplane or a rocket lifting up in the air.


* I have to confess that I think the modern notion of gravity is simply false. I could give many reasons, but my first one is that - given the seemingly concomitant notion of the void or the vacuum - it would be literally impossible to stop moving locally.

Timocrates said...

Happy fourth of July to all my American friends and compatriots, whether believers or unbelievers. I hope you all have a fun day!

May God bless freedom and continue to imbue in us all the best of the human spirit,

Tim.

Gene Callahan said...

@George R.: "Therefore, if the First Mover were the efficient cause as well as the final cause, then the First Mover would be the efficient cause of all motions, leaving the natural agents to be in reality the efficient causes of none."

Right! This is an excellent proof of this point!

grodrigues said...

@George R:

"Therefore, if the First Mover were the efficient cause as well as the final cause, then the First Mover would be the efficient cause of all motions, leaving the natural agents to be in reality the efficient causes of none."

Prof. Ed. Feser would deny such a conclusion. And you ought to know it because in the comment section of Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos in a response to *you*, he wrote:

"The latter claim, about efficient causal power, is the proper, Thomistic "concurrentist" middle ground between occasionalism (which threatens to collapse into pantheism) and mere conservationism (which threatens to collapse into deism). Concurrentism holds, contrary to occasionalism, that secondary causes are true causes, but also, contrary to mere conservationism, that not only the existence of secondary causes but even their causal efficacy must nevertheless at every moment be derived from God. God must in that sense "concur" with every secondary cause's efficient-causal act. Though a secondary cause has (contra occasionalism) real causal power, it nevertheless cannot do anything unless God acts with it."

Nothing you say even suggests that concurrentism collapses in occasionalism.

George R. said...


grodrigues, I have no problem with concurrentism as it is there defined. The question is whether the First Mover is the Final Cause of each motion or also the Efficient Cause.

Let me try to illustrate where I stand on this. There is a First Cause of all natural being; there is natural being, which is the effect of this cause; there are the ends (final causes) toward which the substances of natural being are directed; finally, there is the glory of God, or the ultimate Good (the Final Cause), for the sake of which God wills all subordinate final causes as well as the natural beings directed toward them. In my opinion, these things taken together are a sufficient cause for motion. Conditioned upon this reality, natural agents, acting for the sake of their particular ends, are alone the efficient causes of certain particular motions in the natural world. Of course, the First Mover, is the Cause of the causality of these efficient causes, but given this Cause, which is the Final Cause, it is not necessary for the First Mover to further act as an efficient cause of a particular motion in order to get that motion going.

DrYogami said...

Can anyone recommend any good Thomist books/writings on free will particularly with regard to the whole modern debate on compatabilism/hard determinism?

Dennis said...

@DrYogami

The Scholastics drew a distinction between necessity-by-supposition and absolute necessity. On the supposition I have just had fries, it's necessary that I ate my fries. However, it's not absolutely necessary that I ate fries (I could've eaten something else, it wouldn't be against my nature to do so).

I'm not sure about Thomist books/writings, but I would recommend Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum's, "Getting Causes from Powers." It's a fabulous book that does away with any kind of necessity in causation. It's tough reading, and I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for, but it does deliver.

DrYogami said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I'd like to hear more from others as well. Also, I'm not sure if Ed or the other commenters on this blog have tackled this 6 part review of The Last Superstition:

http://protagoras.typepad.com/adrift_on_neuraths_boat/2010/07/fesers-superstitions-chapter-i.html

http://protagoras.typepad.com/adrift_on_neuraths_boat/2010/07/feser-chapter-2.html

http://protagoras.typepad.com/adrift_on_neuraths_boat/2011/10/feser-chapter-3.html

http://protagoras.typepad.com/adrift_on_neuraths_boat/2011/10/feser-chapter-4.html

http://protagoras.typepad.com/adrift_on_neuraths_boat/2011/10/feser-chapter-5.html

http://protagoras.typepad.com/adrift_on_neuraths_boat/2011/10/feser-chapter-6.html

I'd like to see what commenters on this blog think (and maybe Ed himself could chime in)

Craig Payne said...

DrYogami: Eleonore Stump has a good discussion of free will in her book simply titled "Aquinas." However, last I checked, it's quite expensive.

grodrigues said...

@DrYogami:

In a word: worthless.

Second paragraph:

"He cites Frege as motivating his Platonism. This naturally makes me wonder what Feser thinks about Russell's Paradox, and more importantly of course Gödel's theorem. But he never talks about such subjects, nor does he talk about subjects like the axiom of choice or Euclidean vs. Non-Euclidean geometries. It makes it hard for me to take seriously his analogy between mathematical and philosophical knowledge when he seems to have such a poorly developed theory of mathematical knowledge."

Russel's paradox and Gödel's theorems are as relevant to the issues discussed in TLS as Perelman's proof of the Poincaré conjecture using Ricci flow methods pioneered by Hamilton: none at all. Neither does Prof. Feser present any "theory of mathematical knowledge", poorly or otherwise, because once again, it is simply irrelevant to what he is doing. What could be the motivation for this name-dropping (and yes I did my own name-dropping and could do even more, because as someone with a phd in mathematics and having actually done research in the thing, I can smell a poseur miles away), I will leave to those more adept at psychoanalysis.

For another tiny example, but an illustrative one, in the first chapter, we find this little two-sentence gem:

"The naturalistic world view rejects ultimate authority. That's what it is to be a naturalist."

When a *metaphysical* stance gets reduced to a programmatic method to conduct our rational lives, then the whole review is junk, because (1) that is emphatically what naturalism is *not*, delusional wishful-thinking on the part of the members of the sect notwithstanding, (2) Prof. Feser *explicitly* says in the book that he will not appeal to any religious arguments but only what can be established by natural reason, so by the author's lights Prof. Feser must count as a naturalist, (3) even religious arguments, that is, arguments relying on divine revelation, are arguments and can be rationally defended (although by their very nature, the defense will be different and indirect) and finally (4) of course, the author does not reject "authority" wholesale, for he will have a countless number of beliefs that he will accept based solely on the authority of those making the claim -- unless that is, and to give just one example, that he has gone through all the physics, from Hamiltonean classical mechanics to the standard model, both the theoretical and the experimental aspects, and furthermore has a large hadron collider in his basement with which he can satisfy himself that it is indeed reasonable to believe that the Higgs boson exists.

Unknown said...

Would it be possible to have several uncaused, infinite, eternal causes?

David M said...

@George: There are intrinsic causes (formal and material) and extrinsic causes (efficient and final). God is not the intrinsic cause of any creature but he is the extrinsic cause of every creature, both finally and efficiently. Necessarily, any created efficient cause is not just efficiently created by God when it comes into being but is also efficiently conserved by God for as long as it continues in being. In him we live AND move AND have our being (we exist, in accordance with some substantial mode of being, AND operate, act as efficient causes). The efficient concurrence of the first mover is necessary in all secondary efficient causation. The question shouldn't be: But why can't natural agents act alone without God's efficient concurrence? It should be: But how could any creature (any natural agent) possibly be conceived as acting alone, on its own power, without divine concurrence? It is actually inconceivable.