People have been asking me to comment on David Goldman’s review of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. The reason is that among Goldman’s criticisms of Dreher (some of which I agree with) are a set of objections to metaphysical realism, which has its roots in Plato and Aristotle, was central to the thought of medieval philosophers like Aquinas, and was abandoned by nominalists like Ockham – an abandonment which prepared the ground for some of the aspects of modernity Dreher rightly deplores. (I’ve discussed the nature and consequences of this philosophical shift myself in several places, such as The Last Superstition.)
Goldman’s opening shots are directed against the realist claim that things have mind-independent essences or natures. Goldman writes:
[This] “essence”… is bound up with the idea that collections of things, or universals, have a metaphysical existence independent of the individual members of the collection. That is what William of Occam denied. Neither Plato’s theory of Forms nor Aristotle’s theory of Universals ever quite worked… At the age of 18 months my older daughter used the term “Wah-Wah” to refer to any four-legged animal, before she could differentiate between dogs and cats. Did she fail to grasp the essence of dogs and cats, or merely accept an arbitrary name for the two beasts? Metaphysical realism says the former, Nominalism the latter.
End quote. I’m not sure why Goldman thinks this example proves anything. One problem is that his argument presupposes a false dichotomy. True, his daughter did not know the essence of either a dog or a cat. But it doesn’t follow that all she grasped was some label she had arbitrary slapped onto these animals. Four-leggedness is a universal, and it is what Scholastics would call a “proper accident” of dogs and cats (and other animals too), which flows or follows from their essence. While her intellect had not penetrated to the essence of these animals, it did abstract out from them a feature which really is characteristic of mature and healthy specimens, even if it is a relatively superficial feature.
Another problem with Goldman’s objection here is that it seems to presuppose that realists think that the essences of things are fairly easy to determine from cursory inspection. That is the reverse of the truth. For Plato, inquiry into the essence of a thing begins with consideration and philosophical criticism of various proposed definitions – Socratic dialectic, which, let it be noted, is not employed by most 18-month-olds. And the point is to get us ultimately beyond observable features (like four-leggedness) to an essence which only the intellect, and not the senses, can grasp.
For the Aristotelian realist, meanwhile, we first have to sift out the proper accidents of a thing from its mere contingent accidents. That requires observation of a wide variety of specimens of a kind, and the noting of which features naturally tend to vary between specimens, which vary only in immature or damaged instances (such as the occasional three-legged dog), and so forth. Then we can inquire into the essence as that which underlies and grounds (but is not to be identified with) the proper accidents. As the technical jargon indicates, while the layman certainly might have a rough idea of the essence (or at least of the proper accidents) of everyday things, a rigorous account of essences is for the Aristotelian not possible without careful philosophical and scientific investigation.
It may be that Goldman is taking it for granted that the caricatures of Aristotelian-Scholastic thought one finds in early modern thinkers like Bacon, Descartes, Locke, et al., and which have been repeated ever since in countless histories and pop philosophy books, are more or less accurate portrayals. Here’s my tip for those commenting on medieval and early modern intellectual history: Never do that. (Contemporary historians of medieval and early modern philosophy – including, let it be noted, secular historians with no theological ax to grind – have mostly moved beyond these caricatures. Unfortunately, their work has had little effect on non-experts.)
Goldman develops his objection further, as follows:
The same problems that Plato and Aristotle encountered persist through the 20th century in the form of paradoxes in set theory. Do infinite sets have an independent metaphysical existence or are they simply arbitrary constructs by the mathematicians? That is related to the famous problem of the Continuum Hypothesis, which Kurt Gödel and Paul Cohen showed to be independent of any known system of mathematical logic. Georg Cantor, who discovered transfinite numbers and demonstrated that there are different densities of infinity, hoped to prove that the rational numbers and the real numbers constituted the first two such densities, and that no other kind of infinity could be identified in between them. Gödel’s answer appears to be that there are an infinite number of infinities, but we do not know in what order to put them, a conclusion that pleases neither Realists nor Nominalists, and has not created a consensus among mathematicians, let alone philosophers.
End quote. Needless to say, multiple complex issues are raised in this passage, but for present purposes it will suffice to make two points. First, Goldman once again presupposes a false dichotomy. We are not limited to regarding sets as either “hav[ing] an independent metaphysical existence” or as “simply arbitrary constructs.” The first option commits us to something like Plato’s “third realm” of abstract objects, and the second to the idea that mathematics is essentially a free play of signs. The Aristotelian, of course, rejects both positions. As with universals and mathematical objects in general, the Aristotelian view is that the abstractions of set theory do not exist as Platonic objects, but are nevertheless by no means the free creations of the mind. Rather, the intellect abstracts them from real, mind-independent features of concrete particulars.
(While Aristotelian realism has always been on the menu of options where the problem of universals is concerned, it has, unfortunately, been neglected in modern philosophy of mathematics. Fortunately, James Franklin’s recent book An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics has begun to remedy that.)
Second, set theory and mathematical logic are, of course, exact sciences and paradigms of objective knowledge. Their results are ironclad; you are not going to change them by tinkering with the symbols we use to express them. That is, of course, a well-known problem with interpreting them nominalistically, and it is a problem that cannot be conjured away merely by citing difficulties with the Platonist alternative. And if both nominalism and Platonism are judged problematic, that is itself an argument for the conclusion that there must be a third alternative – an alternative which is, of course, precisely what the Aristotelian claims to possess.
Goldman has other arrows in his quiver. He says:
It wasn’t William of Occam who overthrew the medieval order, though, but Leibniz and Newton, who demonstrated – against Aristotle – that there are indeed objects in our mind that are not in our senses that nonetheless are provably real: for example, the arbitrarily small (“infinitesimal”) increments of movement of cannonball in flight that the Calculus can sum up into a positive number…
Here too, however, Goldman seems to misunderstand the Aristotelian position. To be sure, Aristotelians do indeed hold that all knowledge is grounded in sense experience. But they also hold that the intellect is capable of abstracting out from what is observed patterns that could not themselves be observed. For example, the senses reveal particular triangles and trees to us, and the intellect abstracts out the universals triangularity and tree-ness. These universals could not themselves be observed. You can observe this or that particular triangle, but you cannot observe triangularity in the abstract; you can observe this or that particular tree, but you cannot observe tree-ness in the abstract; and so forth. This is why, for the Aristotelian, to have a concept of a thing is not the same as being able to imagine it. You cannot literally imagine triangularity in the abstract, because anything you can imagine is going to be merely some particular triangle or other – a black right triangle, say – rather than what is common to all triangles. Still, it is only by working over the raw material provided by the senses that the intellect can proceed to abstract out these patterns. In the absence of this raw material, the intellect would be inert.
Now, early modern rationalists and empiricists did not like this particular combination of views, and each responded by preserving one half of the Aristotelian position and chucking out the other half. Rationalists agreed with the Aristotelian that concepts cannot be identified with mental images and went beyond anything we could observe. But the rationalists judged that, if that is the case, then (contra Aristotle) concepts cannot really be derived even indirectly from sensory experience. Hence their adoption of the doctrine of innate ideas. Modern empiricists, meanwhile, agreed with the Aristotelians that sensory experience must be the foundation of all our concepts. But they judged that, if that is the case, then (contra Aristotle) the intellect cannot really arrive at concepts that go beyond anything we could experience. Hence they tended to identify concepts with mental images and to conflate the faculties of intellect and imagination. (This is the source of all the metaphysical mischief we find in Berkeley and Hume. Correct this one simple error and their entire systems collapse. But I digress.)
Goldman’s problem is that he is essentially attributing to the Aristotelian the account of concept formation that we find at least implicit in Locke and explicit in Berkeley and Hume. For only given that modern empiricist position can the sorts of examples Goldman cites seem problematic. Goldman might yet reject the Aristotelian position for other reasons, but it is no objection at all to point out that we have concepts of things we cannot directly experience. For that is just what the Aristotelian himself has always affirmed.
(For readers interested in the dispute between realism and nominalism and related issues, I might note that my forthcoming book Five Proofs of the Existence of God deals with these matters in considerable detail, in a long chapter devoted to the Augustinian argument from eternal truths.)
Goldman has one last objection against metaphysical realism. It is this:
Unlike Rod Dreher, I don’t see the Middle Ages as a model to return to. The mathematicians and physicists overthrew Scholasticism, and the philosophers came trundling along afterward to sweep up the pieces. Thanks to them we live in a world where no-one need starve, where mothers need not bury half their infant children, and where I can tap the entire store of human knowledge from the device on which I am now writing. The theology that attended the scientific revolution assigned extraordinary freedom and responsibility to individuals...
Once again, though, Goldman presents us with a false alternative. He seems to think that to embrace the metaphysical realism of Aquinas and Co. requires rejecting the scientific and political benefits of modern society. But that simply isn’t the case.
It is true that the “mathematization” of nature facilitated the predictive and technological successes of modern science, with all the good that has come from them. But this is in no way incompatible with the central claims of metaphysical realism. It merely reflects a difference in emphasis. The ancients and medievals were more interested in the why of things than in the how. They wanted to know our first cause and last end, and thus tended to focus on issues like the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. The specific mechanisms by which the material world operates were, for them, of merely secondary interest. The moderns, by contrast, turned their attention precisely to those mechanisms, and in general made of intellectual life a more practical and this-worldly enterprise than it had been for the ancients and medievals. It is hardly surprising that, having turned their attentions to the precise workings of this world, they found out more about them than their predecessors had.
Similarly, emphasizing as they did the social nature of man and the eternal destiny of the individual soul, the ancients and medievals were less concerned than the moderns are with improving political arrangements in a way that would encourage individual initiative and liberty.
Naturally, one could criticize the ancients and medievals for being insufficiently attentive to improving life in the here and now. But by the same token, one could also criticize the moderns for having swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. A conservative like Goldman would surely agree that the aspects of modernity he rightly celebrates have their downside too. Respect for science too often degenerates into scientism; respect for individual initiative and liberty too often degenerates into contempt for traditional institutions and the demands of social order.
Be all that as it may, the fact that modernity has brought us certain benefits simply does not by itself show that it was in every way an improvement over what came before, or that the ancients and medievals have nothing to teach us, or that there isn’t a baby out there who got thrown out with the bathwater and needs to be retrieved.
Goldman gets Gödel and Cohen wrong, too. The continuum hypothesis is independent of ZFC, the 'usual' foundational set theory, but not *every* mathematical system. It's provable in the system ZFC+(V=L), for one thing. If he can't get the math right, why should we trust the conclusions he draws from it?ReplyDelete
The Calculus isn't built on infinitesimals these days either.Delete
Also, the "ghosts of vanished quantities" are not things in the world that have somehow entered our minds without being sensed. They are abstracted from the sense experience that a thing is here and then is there.Delete
As I understand these things, if you include CH as an axiom and exclude the Axiom of Choice, you can prove AC from ZF+CH, an indication to me that CH is true.
Besides, how could anyone "discover" facts about infinities (which are not empirically observable) unless infinities have mind-independent essences?
Fr. Geoff, actually it is, or at least can be. Non-Standard Analysis has put infinitesimals (in the form of "hyperreal numbers") on a rigorous basis since the 1960's. But of course they aren't necessary, since limit analysis suffices.Delete
Thank you very much for answering my question on Thomas and mathematics.ReplyDelete
"He seems to think that to embrace the metaphysical realism of Aquinas and Co. requires rejecting the scientific and political benefits of modern society. But that simply isn’t the case."ReplyDelete
If someone could direct me to some reading that justifies/helps make the case for this statement, I would greatly appreciate it.
"further reading" is what I should have written.Delete
This book might be helpful to you.Delete
I would just go read Feser's The Last Superstition. That statement is a big part of his thesis in that book.Delete
Sobieski and D Baum: Thanks to both of you.Delete
Math Guy is correct and Goldman is wrong about the continuum hypothesis. The axiom of constructibility (also known as V = L), together with Zermelo-Frankel set theory and the axiom of choice, imply not only the continuum hypothesis but the generalized continuum hypothesis.ReplyDelete
Also, Kurt Gödel was a mathematical realist who did not regard his work on this topic as a devastating problem for realism--something could be true would being provable within a certain system.
Hi Tim, yes, I should have made that point about Gödel. And in fact, of course, the incompleteness theorems are commonly taken to refute formalism (which is essentially a riff on nominalism), so it is doubly odd that anyone would think Gödel's work a blow to realism.Delete
Hi Ed. I am looking forward to your book on the five proofs, and I need to read Franklin's book on Aristotelian mathematics. At APU, David Williams is an Aristotelian realist in mathematics. He normally teaches in the High Sierras campus so I rarely see him, which is a shame. I should have written "something could be true WITHOUT being provable solely from the axioms accepted at a particular time, e.g. ZFC"Delete
something could be true WITHOUT being provable solely from the axioms accepted at a particular timeDelete
This was the theme of my science fiction story "Places Where the Roads Don't Go," in which Dr. Feser makes an honorary off-stage appearance.
I am a metaphysical realist of sorts, but an Augustinian realist, if that is the right word. I think Plato is sneaky ("true opinion" as a dodge to work in intermediate states of being) and Aristotle is sloppy. Philosophy starts to become interesting to me with Augustine, Cusa, Leibniz and R. Isaac Luria. I just don't think the debate between Nominalists and Realists is important, and that was my criticism of Dreher. One can add axioms to ZFC that "prove" CH, but Paul Cohen (who with Goedel proved the independence of CH from ZFC) that he thought the continuum too rich to be encompassed by CH, and intuitively considered it false. There is a small Aristotelian Realist school in mathematical philosophy but it is deservedly small and isolated. Nicholas of Cusa (in Idiota de Mente) explicitly states that musical intervals are described by irrationals (which musicians already were employing for tuning). This had a direct influence on Leibniz as I showed in a First Things essay ("The Divine Music of Mathematics"). The fact that Aristotle allows for intellectual perception of patterns that cannot be discerned directly from sense perception does not in any way mitigate the chagrin of the Aristotelians at the introduction of irrationals and later the Calculus. I made a case for an Augustinian metaphysical realism at the conclusion of this article: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol20Goldman.pdf.Delete
Nice article. Thank you.ReplyDelete
In the comments, Goldman claims that the "Aristotelians" (I suppose scholastics) had a big problem with irrational numbers being real, and consequently hated it when music started incorporating them in its tuning (he also claims this is why there were no great Catholic physicists before the 20th century). He links to this article of his own:
Do you have any comments?
(Forgive my responding to your obliging people with reaction to an article with a demand for reaction to yet another article. I'm curious if you have thoughts, but I know you're unreasonably busy).
I have just now read the article and I have to say that Goldman is sloppy. His characterization of the square root of 2 as 1 plus 2 fifths plus 1 tenth plus 2 hundredths etc. is simply wrong. So is his analysis of the third and fourth lines of the Ancient Mariner containing fourteen syllables. The fourth line clearly contains six syllables. Goldman's claim would require "By thy long grey beard and glittering eye" having only 8 syllables, and in spondees at that. Surely "By thy long" is an anapest, and there are at least 9 syllables in the line.
Thank you for the reply. He wrote 2 where he should have written 4 -- is that what you mean? Otherwise I'm not sure in what sense his characterization of sqrt(2) was wrong.
Interesting point re: RotAM.
Still, the historical question remains as to whether this was in fact a controversy.
On further inspection, I see that he messed up basically all the fractions in his equation.Delete
As to the substance of Goldman's article, it is a mixed bag. He rightly points out that using, as we do now, the geometric mean to go from one semitone to another involves increasing the frequency by 2 to the power of one twelfth, which is an irrational number. And medieval scholars probably viewed numbers like this that cannot be expressed as a ratio two whole numbers as somehow being against reason (Latin: ratio) and thus unsuitable for music.
However, Goldman seems to confuse certain other issues. Rational numbers, just as much as irrational numbers, can be expressed as the limit of convergence of infinite series. One third can be expressed as three tenths plus three hundreds plus three thousandths etc. So it is unclear to me what the connection between algebraic irrational numbers (like two to the one twelfth) and transfinite numbers are. The set of algebraic irrational numbers has the same cardinality or order of infinity as does the set of rational numbers. And, unless I am mistaken, the intervals used by Nicholas of Cusa and Prosdocimus, were all algebraic not transcendental. So I can't make any sense of Goldman's thesis.Delete
I am being really sloppy myself in these blog posts. It should be "three hundredths" not "three hundreds."Delete
By the way, one mistake that I am sure is not Goldman's fault but that of First Things (a great magazine to which I subscribe, but fallible as we all are) is the use of 21/12 and 22/12 when 2 to the power of 1/12 and 2 to the power of 2/12 are respectively intended. My point is that these are algebraic numbers (not transcendental numbers like pi or e), and that the set of algebraic numbers has the same cardinality as the set of rational numbers, or the set of whole numbers for that matter. Goldman must know that Cantor's diagonal method was used to prove this. I fail to see how these numbers are therefore transfinite in Cantor's sense.
Thank you. It's true that rational numbers can also be written as infinite series of other rationals. But irrational numbers are distinct in being expressible ONLY in this fashion, and not also as a simple ratio. I assume that's what Goldman was highlighting?
Like you, I'm not entirely sure what the connection he wants to draw between irrational numbers and transfinite numbers, although possibly he means that each can only be constructed by taking a completed infinity of some sort.
I'm curious -- you say that the medievals may have objected to irrational numbers. I assume that this was not based on a core interpretation of Aristotle, and that modern Aristotelians have no problem with them? What about completed infinities (such as the set of all integers)?
You are correct about what Goldman was highlighting, but I am not convinced that it is enough of a distinction for his claim that irrational numbers are connected to transfinite numbers in a way that rational numbers are not.
It was the ancient Greeks, including the Pythagoreans, who freaked out at irrational numbers. It was nothing specifically Aristotelian or medieval; and Aristotle's metaphysics is certainly compatible with irrational numbers. There are many other extensions to the number system (negative numbers, complex numbers, quaternions) that bring advantages but also come with a "cost."
The ancients and medievals believed in an infinity of (rational) numbers between 1 and 2. Algebraic numbers are numbers that are the solution to a polynomial solution that has whole numbers as the coefficients. So the equation X to the 12 = 2 has the solution 2 to the 1/12 . The algebraic numbers CAN be put into a 1 to 1 correspondence with the whole numbers, so they are no more transfinite than are the rational numbers. And, to repeat myself, all the numbers associated with intervals discovered by Nicholas of Cusa etc. are algebraic. So Goldman's entire music of the infinite mystic nonsense is a load of rubbish.
The issue is more complex: the tempered semitones are powers of the 12th root of 2, and determining them is a problem of the same order as trisecting the angle. One finds in tuning textbooks of the late 15th century Philo of Byzantiums 8th century approximation (with movable straightedge), for example. So the countability of the algebraic numbers doesn't solve the problem. Cusa did not know this, but his immediate successors did.Delete
Your article certainly gives the impression that there is a connection between the tempered semitones (powers of the 12th root of 2 i.e. algebraic irrational numbers) and Cantor's transfinite numbers. Certainly, algebraic irrationals cannot be represented in terms of finite sums or products of whole numbers, only by infinite sums. But this does not make them transfinite relative to the whole numbers the way (as Cantor showed) that the real numbers are transfinite relative to the whole numbers.
In any analysis of medieval thought, the issue of transfinite numbers is unlikely to shed much light -- likewise different orders of infinity -- because these things were only discovered in the late 19th century. It's true that David did refer to such things in passing in his article, but I don't take that to be the most interesting aspect. (I don't think I see any claim in his article that rational numbers, whether algebraic or otherwise, are "transfinite" -- just that they raise analogous issues).
David, thanks for stopping by the subthread! Could you point to a source for Catholic/scholastic distaste for these tuning systems, based on irrational numbers specifically? Thanks!
Fair enough. There is plenty of interesting material in the article and I know very little about music theory. I just don't see it as a big challenge to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.
For most of this week, I have been grading Biblical Studies papers so this provided a nice change of pace for me.
I've appreciated your posts, Tim.Delete
No great Catholic physicists before the 20th century? Uh, Galileo wasn't a great physicist?Delete
Well, I think he meant between Newton and the 20th century. Sorry, my fault for shortening. (I'm also not claiming it's true, but I do think I misrepresented the claim).Delete
Thank you, SMack. I have enjoyed your contributions also. And the question of the extent to which a group's science was hindered by its aversion to irrational numbers is an interesting one.Delete
When is your "forthcoming book" on the five ways coming forth?
(Please do keep writing books!)
His forthcoming book is not on the Five Ways of Aquinas, but rather 5 different proofs of God: Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Augustinian, Thomistic, and Rationalist. If memory serves me correctly, I think the release is toward the end of this year. Cannot wait!
Although Goldman doesn't mention it, I've seen many times that existence of vagueness(Ontic Vaguness?not sure if thats the correct word to use) such as, exemplified in the famous Paradox of the Heap is taken to be a good argument against all forms of Realism(specially against essentialism) is that good argument against realism? even if not it seems it would imply that Natures have vague boundaries, which seems absurd..ReplyDelete
Heaps are not things. Only things have essences.Delete
You mean they are not substances?Delete
It is my understanding that the AT view only requires that certain substances have an internally generated telos and form. It doesn't require that all of the categories that we use have an essence independent of human purposes. To be sure those categories often have constraints independent of us, but their telos and form are generated by us.ReplyDelete
Surely, the essence of trees is arbor-trary.ReplyDelete
Ouch. Go to your room without dessert.Delete
(Actually, I'm with William Safire on this one. He once told Dick Cavett "Never apologize for a pun. The worse they are, the better they are.)Delete
You truly are a shameless man.Delete
(My last comment is with tongue firmly in cheek)Delete
Thursday, I think that is mostly correct, but I would modify "certain substances" to reflect that the Aristotelian notion of "substance" has a narrower sense to it than might be used colloquially. As a result, it is usually going to be true that a "thing" that is subject to category problems of the sorites type is not really "a substance" according to Aristotle: a "heap" of things is by nature many things, and only by some sort of equivocation or analogy (or, at a minimum, by derivation) "a thing".ReplyDelete
The term substance in AT is used in a broader sense than it is coloquially: it includes living things, like plants and animals, as well as the elements and compounds we usually refer to as substances.Delete
Also, artifacts are certainly things, even though they are not substances.
But generally thing is a very broad category and I'd be comfortable including heaps as things.
TOF, that's sappy. :-)ReplyDelete
I'm very intrigued by Franklin's book you mentioned. Have you read it, Ed?ReplyDelete
Will you be devoting a post to Dreher's Benedict Option?
I left a few comments in reply to SMack concerning the mathematics of Goldman's other article on the divine music of mathematics. From a Biblical Studies perspective, Goldman's worst mistake might be his claim that Ecclesiastes [in Eccl 3:15] "asserts that time is neither the cosmological ideal of Plato nor the perceived motion of Aristotle, but rather God's time" and translates the last clause in Ecclesiastes 3:15 as "only God can find the fleeting moment," a decidedly tendentious translation. Goldman is grabbing at any straw he can to attack Aristotle, and clearly reads too much into Ecclesiastes here. You have shown that Goldman's philosophical argument is bad, Math Guy has shown that his understanding of the continuum hypothesis is bad, his exegesis is bad, his discussion of the connection between music intervals and transfinite numbers is problematic, and I find his scansion of poetry suspect. He should probably stick to music criticism.
As a modernity addict myself I recognize most critiques of the Benedict Option to be little different than "I can quit any time I want to."ReplyDelete
The mathematicians and physicists overthrew Scholasticism.ReplyDelete
This made me laugh. Math has never done any such thing and mathematical reduction of physical phenomena is a curse to understanding not a blessing. There are plenty of idiots now who think that a mathematical formula defines rather than merely describes the nature of some motion, whether actual or potential.
Furthermore, virtually every physical and mathematical formula for a motion merely approximates the motion regardless of how useful this is for prediction.
The quantization of energy is also spurious and underlies a lot of the nonsense in modern quantum physics. There is no empirical reason to deny that energy transfers are potentially infinitely divisible just as any body is. The obsessive preoccupation with reducing things to corporeal atoms has absolutely no basis whatsoever with experience or observation especially in the case of energy transfers; in fact, it is counter-intuitive based on what we actually observe and experience. Positing ludicrously small atoms of energy was necessary in order not to offend observation and experience that saw and sees no reason to posit minimum quantities of discrete energy transfers, except for the sake of theory. It is also practically non-falsifiable because no one could hope to isolate a small enough transfer of energy to really put the theory to any kind of test.
This sort of sleight of hand is simply rampant in modern physics; and no doubt, even if and when we do manage to isolate and measure sufficiently small enough transfers of energy with accuracy they will simply say the actual atoms of energy are really just smaller or - gasp - potentially divisible into sub-atomic units of energy - and on and on we go.
Now if you actually stupid the fundamentals of modern physics it wont be long before you realize that much of it is equivalent to Aristotelian physics and even rides on Aristotle's work, such as in the case of potential gravitational energy. An honest physicist will tell you that it is practically redundant to assign the cause of this energy as extrinsic to the object: in all cases you would get the same result whether you assumed it was the earth's gravitational pull causing this potential energy or the object's own mass causing its own weight.
I have read honest and sincere enough physics test that will sometimes use whoppers like the fact a man weighs slightly less on top of a mountain or in an extremely deep well as proof of the theory of gravity as if these were points of the ignorance of pre-modern physicists; but that was expected by even the pre-moderns because they would not confuse air with Euclidean void space. Mountains and the deepest mines are neither high or deep enough to cause any measurable difference in a person's weight: it's just the air pressure (less air above you on a mountain pushing down on you and more in a deep mine). Such false examples and proofs of gravity ride on the very confusion caused by Newtonian idealizations.
Finally, mathematical descriptions of motions are loaded in themselves with all sorts of philosophical and physical problems when you try to break them down in terms of time and moment, if we atomize the moment. Math can only ever do or even describe motion between t1 and t2: in a moment a thing isn't accelerating or gaining velocity because it can't both be going x speed and x+y speed at the same time; and the second you try to atomize moments and go "from moment to moment" mathematically inevitably will produce a moment in between the two moments.
How do you explain the photoelectric effect if arbitrarily small transfers of energy are possible?Delete
Now if you actually stupid the fundamentals of modern physics ----I think you mean "study", not "stupid", unless there is an "are" after the "you".Delete
Yes. You say that there is no reason to posit minimum energy to be transfered, other than theory. I am suggesting that the photoelectric effect gives such a reason.Delete
The Newtonian and Scientific "Revolution" In Brief:ReplyDelete
Or what actually changed from Aristotelian physics to modern physics.
From Natural Place to Gravity:
In Aristotle's physics there was only one massive and dense body in the universe; namely, Earth. In modern science there are many; therefore, earthy or massive and dense things will be attracted not only to the earth but any other earth-like body, with the massiveness or density of the body deciding where it will finally (and naturally) go or end up.
Conclusion: No revolution whatsoever; but in reality, a kind of generalization of Aristotle's physical principles.
From Primary Motion being Circular to Primary Motion being Linear: Aristotle thought local motions were all ultimately reduced to a circular motion; whereas, Newton makes linear motion the most basic and fundamental. However, and in reality, perfectly linear motions prove very rare. But it simply doesn't matter anyways as making the debate really boils down to whether or not the universe is potentially eternal or not; whether or not it could always have been and always continue to be or whether it will go through cycles or whether it will possibly even inevitably come to some kind of end (at least in terms of motion or movement and time).
Conclusion: No revolution whatsoever.
From Preceding in Physics from the Physical Real and Actual to Preceding from the Ideal
(Or From Aristotelian Realism to Platonic Realism):
Newton begins with abstract idealizations as the basis of physical reality that finally explains it, though somewhat mysteriously as we have little or not experience with things like void space and cannot even in principle have things like point-particles. Newton's mechanics gives strength to Plato's claims that all science is based upon physically unactualized ideal universals, to which this world only approximates. These Ideal things coupled with mathematics are the most knowable and mysteriously also the most causally explanatory even in spite of the fact that nothing in the physical world is ever identical to or with them. Because in reality would will virtually never generate an actually perfectly linear motion (because multiple forces will likely be present acting on the object and because the object can't actually be a point-particle but will have all sorts of accidents - like its exact shape and mass, etc., etc.) Newton's mechanics and maths only approximate - though often very exactly - the real world. Aristotle's physics doesn't try to substitute mathematical descriptions, which because of the above are always in practice going to be wrong, with physical reality but notwithstanding predicts in general but exact terms what will happen. In either system you could employ mathematical formulas to describe and predict what will happen to things; but in Aristotle's system it is always wrong to claim any idealized system - insofar as it is ideal - is a physical system having a 1:1 relationship to actual reality.
Conclusion: A regression from Aristotle's physics to the problems and paradoxes of pre-Aristotelian physics, be it the problem of the universal ideal as causally related to reality or the paradoxes of trying to generate a 1:1 relationship between math and motion.
From Admitting Teleology to not Admitting It: Aristotle made plain that change isn't even conceivable without a terminus and that if you deny inherent tendency as intrinsic to nature and natural things than either an inconceivable chaos would result or literally nothing would ever happen at all; modernists produce termini but don't realize it and think because of this they are much smarter than Aristotle.
Conclusion: No revolution whatsoever.
Well what actually has refuted aristotelian concept of change is modern relativistic physics ..and A-T can't deal with it ..Delete
and A-T can't deal with it ..Delete
Sure it can, with ease.
But feel free to get more specific.
Sure it can, with ease.Delete
No, they can't really wrap their head around the fact that modern science and philosophy has eliminated this concept of Dynamic Change A-T arguments seem to require ,so instead of developing better arguments they opt for giving these awful retorts that somehow denying change is incoherent..
This is false. Let's say that perdurantism and At are incompatible. So what? Most resources that I'm familiar with (for example, the Stanford encyclopedia on temporal parts, or the Oxford book philosophy of time) say that influential is compatible with relativity and that the edge that presidential has in regards to relativity is pretty weak. You have to pull in a lot more than modern science to make the case for perdurantism. And there is nothing awful about the arguments about denying change either. Maybe they are wrong (I don't think so), but they aren't awful. But hey, why go for careful argumentation when you can just settle for derogatory remarks?Delete
Replace "influential" with endurantism and "presidential" with presidential in the above remark.Delete
Well its not just persistence thats at issue here, its seems to me that arguments like first and fifth way requires existence of dynamic change the kind of change as common sense views it and this requires accepting some robust form of Presentism combined with some thoroughgoing A-theory of time and that is clearly incompatible with relativity..Delete
and to reply to this with the claim that accepting eternalism somehow denies the change is clearly a bad reply because it presupposes that there can only exist dynamic change...
And all these disagreement(even if mistaken) bodes poorly for Arguments and Metaphysical system who's proponents claim it to be a knock down "Refutation" of their opponents system ..
Suffice to say it proves that Timocrates's claim above that scientific revolution leaves A-T unscathed is false..
No. John West pointed out in a previous thread that what AT theorists were trying to uphold was alterational change. This is why I brought up endurantism, since you are arguing against alterational change which is not an exclusive feature of A-theory and presentism. If you think that AT requires A theory and presentism, then it is up to you to make the case. There are clearly AT theorists who don't subscribe to that combination, so the onus is on you to prove why they are wrong.Delete
Furthermore, while A-theory/presentism is in the minority, it is still a significant minority with some very prominent philosophers who make good arguments. There's nothing clearly incompatible with it.
Finally, AT theorists don't just say that eternalism denies change. They give argue for a certain account of change, then give further arguments for why something like four-dimensionalism cannot genuinely account for change.
(And for the record, I'm not convinced that AT theorists can't be perdurantists/B-theorists. I don't think it is the best route to take, but Alexander Pruss has at least some sympathies towards Thomism and is a perdanturist/B-theorist. At least I think he is, I could be wrong.)
"Presentism combined with some thoroughgoing A-theory of time and that is clearly incompatible with relativity"Delete
Ofcourse it isn't. A-Theories have already been proposed that are completely compatible with relativity . . .
Yes,unfortunately I didn't manage to have any substantive exchange with John on this topic as what I was doing at that time was essentially thread jacking...
Now look the problem is this aspect is what I found most problematic with Feser's arguments in TLS and Aquinas and he doesn't even mention it much less try to address it there, besides those works I haven't really done much extensive reading of A-T metaphysics but its not unreasonable of me to expect it there given they claim to be Knock down "Refutation" of opposing views or sound reconstructions of misunderstood arguments. is it?
its only on this blog where only one user has pointed out to me that B-theory/Eternalism and A-T arguments are not in fact incompatible(while all others simply retort with A-theory is obviously true because its the only one that allows change) but I am still unclear exactly how ..it seem to me me that A-T arguments clearly require that what ever exists, exists now it seems to me that its this aspect of reality that makes Act/Potency distinction true in the first place .. if all moments of time are equally real then Act/Potency distinction collapses and so does A-T..
Now I might be mistaken on this and Atists have to point exactly how ...
This is actually off topic ..so I would make a thread on this very topic on Classical theism forum...please direct any of your comments and remarks there..
Ofcourse it isn't. A-Theories have already been proposed that are completely compatible with relativity . . .
No,they haven't.they are only compatible with some extremely revisionist interpretation of relativity which are mistaken..as they require rejecting the results of empirical experiments
maybe you mean some kind of eternalistic A-theories(such as the moving-spotlight view),there are only handful of philosophers that actually defend such a view, and I don't see exactly how those would help A-T as they don't clearly help Craig..
"they require rejecting the results of empirical experiments".Delete
Do they? How can a physical interpretation reject results of empirical observation when its an interpretation of said results.
Regarding the mathematical formalism of SR, A-theoretical interpretations are identical with B theories. But perhaps I'm wrong, could you give me examples?
Like Neo-lorentzian interpretation requires accepting the existence of Aether even if we can't detect it ..this brings William Lane Craig lots of Flak, as he repeatedly makes this point that it is only due to logical positivism that Einstein accepted Minkowskian interpretationsDelete
Accepting something that can't be detected is not "rejecting the results of empirical experiments". Especially when rival hypotheses suffer from incoherent charges like empirical incoherence. Also, John Bell noted the independent reason for Lorentz's interpretation and the Aether because of the violation of the Bell inequalities. The Aether isn't some ad hoc idea postulated willy-nilly. Bell also noted Lorentz's interpretation is consistent with Relativity.Delete
Im over at the classical theism forum. Lets continue over there.
Now look the problem is this aspect is what I found most problematic with Feser's arguments in TLS and Aquinas and he doesn't even mention it much less try to address it there, besides those works I haven't really done much extensive reading of A-T metaphysics but its not unreasonable of me to expect it there given they claim to be Knock down "Refutation" of opposing views or sound reconstructions of misunderstood arguments. is it?Delete
He talks about it in other works, and has an upcoming book on philosophy of nature that should go into more detail. And if you haven't done an extensive reading of AT or philosophy of time, how can you be in a good position to be making sweeping claims like this?
its only on this blog where only one user has pointed out to me that B-theory/Eternalism and A-T arguments are not in fact incompatible(while all others simply retort with A-theory is obviously true because its the only one that allows change)
That's not what they did. They pointed out that change is self-evident and based on direct experience. They pointed out why denial of change is problematic for various reasons. An outright affirmation of A-theory didn't come into it, only the desire for a model that accounted for the reality of change. Furthermore, it's not at all not clear that a replacement theory of change like the one you advocated is either strictly incompatible with AT (for example, Alexander Prusss likes b-Theory/perdurantism and is someone with at least strong sympathies to Thomism), or that a replacement theory of change provides an actual description of change instead of an outright denial of change. This is indicated by the fact that there are b-theorists/perdurantists are perfectly willing to bite the bullet and say that time is an illusion and change isn't real.
but I am still unclear exactly how ..it seem to me me that A-T arguments clearly require that what ever exists, exists now it seems to me that its this aspect of reality that makes Act/Potency distinction true in the first place .. if all moments of time are equally real then Act/Potency distinction collapses and so does A-T..
To be blunt, most of you arguments are based on "it seems like to me", but you then go on to castigate your opponents for only relying their intuitions and presuppositions. This is hardly fair. This is why I tried to clarify matters by pointing out that the case against change seems to be based on endurantism vs perdurantism, and why modern physics is of little help in this debate. I'm not saying this to be hard on you or to dismiss your concerns, but it seems like some humility is in order, especially since philosophy of time is such a complicated subject. I'll look into the forum discussion, but I'm pretty sure that some of the posters over there aren't presentists and don't have a problem with AT.
Galileo already formulated relativism. What about it? What bearing does it even have to my post? Aristotle used density and rarity ; we just say mass. Same thing.Delete
Modern physics just takes natural teleology for granted. When one body collides with another we expect e.g. A motion in a certain direction to result not the tooth fairy to become reality or reality to become the tooth fairy. This also implies essential causation as primary and prior to accidental motion such as luck or chance or random production.
For atoms to move they must first have a capacity to be moved that precedes the actual motion. Motion itself necessitates act and potency. Indefinite motion proves that motion is a mean between act and potency as in a potentially infinite linear motion and trajectory. The direction is an end as the word `DIRECTion` implies.
"No,they haven't.they are only compatible with some extremely revisionist interpretation of relativity which are mistaken..as they require rejecting the results of empirical experiments"
This is simply false. You keep asserting these alleged compatibilities, but the only thing you are doing is foisting positions on Aristoteleans that they are not bound to.
Eternalism follows from SR or GR as much as the doctrine of eternal recurrence follows from Poincaré's theorem -- that is, it does not. Extra, substantial metaphysical premises are doing the real work in these alleged entailments.
Eternalism follows from SR or GR as much as the doctrine of eternal recurrence follows from Poincaré's theorem -- that is, it does not. Extra, substantial metaphysical premises are doing the real work in these alleged entailments.Delete
Ohh Really? how can Present be privileged if there is just no privileged reference frame or there is just no absolute simultaneity? ...
And apart from science there are indeed very good philosophical arguments against A-theory ...thats why most of them are B-theorists ..
"Ohh Really? how can Present be privileged if there is just no privileged reference frame or there is just no absolute simultaneity? ..."Delete
Yes really. To say that Eternalism is not entailed by SR or GR without substantial metaphysical hypothesis (that are doing the real work) is almost a truism; in particular it does not commit me to the being a presentist in the way you are imagining (in which presumably I would have to assert either an absolute frame of reference or that every two observers must agree on what events are compresent).
And since you are all too happy to foist positions I do not hold to me, allow me to retribute the favor: since you are an Eternalist you buy into MacTaggart's arguments. In particular, you buy his argument that change is an illusion. Since change is not real, it follows you yourself cannot change. If you cannot change, no argument I could give could change you, and since no argument I could give could change you, it is futile to argue with you.
And since you are all too happy to foist positions I do not hold to me, allow me to retribute the favor: since you are an Eternalist you buy into MacTaggart's arguments. In particular, you buy his argument that change is an illusion. Since change is not real, it follows you yourself cannot change. If you cannot change, no argument I could give could change you, and since no argument I could give could change you, it is futile to argue with you.Delete
ohh Boy, First of all I have never said that I am an eternalist, only that it seems to me that A-Tists can not be..
And secondly there maybe some confusion here ,Although B-theorist view could be defined as etrnalistic in the sense that no real objective difference between past,now and future exists ..it doesn't mean that they accept his argument for unreality of time ..instead what they mean to do is to reject the premise of Mctaggarts that says that Real change could only occur if A-series exist and opt for the view that time is exhausted by B-series..so your assertion that under such a view change is illusion is false, its just that it is characterized by B-relations
"And secondly there maybe some confusion here"Delete
Yes there is. In particular, what do you think the first sentence in the second paragraph "And since you are all too happy to foist positions I do not hold to me, allow me to retribute the favor" means?
And by the way, McTaggart *argues* that real change necessitates an A-series, it is not merely a "premise". The real gist is whether B-Theorists can evade the conclusion while holding on to everything else.
grodrigues, I'll advise you to please offer your comments on forum thread ..I am just not paying much attention here..Delete
"to reply to this with the claim that accepting eternalism somehow denies the change is clearly a bad reply because it presupposes that there can only exist dynamic change."
This is obviously a straw man. The reply is that change cannot completely be removed, because our "illusion" of change will itself be a change. The eternalist has the hoary burden of showing how an illusion cannot involve change. Good luck with that..
Also, a philosopher of science no less (and a considerably prominent one), Healey has noted the problem of 'empirical incoherence'. For if our experience is an illusion it undermines the entire scientific method. How can you use observation to infer our experience is illusionary if our experience actually is illusionary? It certainly cannot be wholly illusory. That would be incoherent. As Healey notes that this would be to approach change in the way early moderns approach colour by relocating it to experience that has no correlate with the external world.
And science hasnt demonstrated there is no change. That is to take specific physical interpretations of science over others and make draw philosophical ideas from it.
The Fifth way doesn't depend on dynamic change. Just check Swineburne's argument from temporal order which he admits is pretty much the Fifth Way.
The Second Way explains contingency (essence/existence) and the Third way reasons from substances (Hylemorphism). Both are untouched by change. Seeing as Ed has defended the First Way as an explanation of the existence of substances (and essence/existence, Form/matter are particular outworkings of act/potency) the first way is untouched.
Also, as this blog post touches on scholastic realism, Augustine's argument from universal truths is untouched.
Neither does A-T need to assume change to get act/potency and then the rest. If scholastic realism is true, things instantiate universals. That entails hylemorphism and essentialism. The existence of qualia and intentionality points toward Hylemorphism as well. That form depends on matter and matter on form points towards to essence/existence distinction. Much more can be said for these powerful arguments.
Also, the mind-body problem has already been noted, but just how much bigger does that problem get if our experience is illusionary?! I wouldnt want to have to face that situation.
One more point. Four dimensionalism has serious problems in accounting for identity. But the A-T system is powerful acrosd the board. Accounting for causation, regularity, laws of nature, substances, modality, identity, contingency and the problem of universals among others. If a purported result in science shows this to be wrong you would hope it be well supported result! It turns out not so much to be the result of science but a physical interpretation of it. The power of scholasticism gives reason to reject that interpretation, especially as there is no adequate replacement for it.
This is obviously a straw man. The reply is that change cannot completely be removed, because our "illusion" of change will itself be a change. The eternalist has the hoary burden of showing how an illusion cannot involve change. Good luck with that..Delete
well the problem is that eternalism/B-theory doesn't mean eliminating the change completely it would only imply that change doesn't involve things going out of being and coming into being like the common sense experience it ..this is my contention ..that Act-potency distinction requires this kind of Dynamic change..(I might be mistaken but right now I can't see how)
And science hasnt demonstrated there is no change. That is to take specific physical interpretations of science over others and make draw philosophical ideas from it.
well it might be you are conceiving of change the wrong way...and that one interpretation clearly has more evidential support over other..so no one is arbitrarily preferring one over the other...
The Fifth way doesn't depend on dynamic change. Just check Swineburne's argument from temporal order which he admits is pretty much the Fifth Way.
Check out Vincent Tworley's critique of fifth way and Feser's arguments ...he develops this objection more clearly.. and also observes that Dr.Feser's system relies on no less than 21 metaphysical assumptions each more problematic and controversial than the other..
Although Vincent himself says that he doesn't buy into B-theory but he still makes the point that it could undermine Feser's Arguments.Delete
Check out Vincent Tworley's critique of fifth way and Feser's arguments ...he develops this objection more clearly.. and also observes that Dr.Feser's system relies on no less than 21 metaphysical assumptions each more problematic and controversial than the other.Delete
Torley has also written, at length, about lots of claimed problems - "each more problematic and controversial than the other" - about evolutionary theory, naturalism, naturalistic views of the mind, and more.
He doesn't observe. He asserts. Big difference. And he's not exactly reliable, or even well-motivated. (He once talked about his attacks on Feser were out of a fear that his views would result in the Vatican condemning Intelligent Design.)
Torley has also written, at length, about lots of claimed problems - "each more problematic and controversial than the other" - about evolutionary theory, naturalism, naturalistic views of the mind, and more.Delete
Thats fine I am not a naturalist anyway .
He doesn't observe. He asserts. Big difference
have you read his article he its a very lengthy treatment,so it doesn't seem like assertions to me ..
And he's not exactly reliable, or even well-motivated. (He once talked about his attacks on Feser were out of a fear that his views would result in the Vatican condemning Intelligent Design.
WOW, Really?, I am not aware of that, can you link me to it (or tell me where)? his long article seemed like a fair treatment as opposed to an attack ..
and Beside all that I was only referring to one little objection he develops against Dr. Feser's Presentation of Fifth way which I found plausible ..
so its nothing on me :)
"it might be you are conceiving of change the wrong way".Delete
Maybe, or maybe not. Perhaps you could point out my mistake.
"one interpretation clearly has more evidential support over other" Not with regards to Special Relativity. All physical interpretations start from the same, identical data. The main preferences are going to be based on philosophy.
Callum and CZ,ReplyDelete
I have stared a thread on this topic Here..
what we are discussing here is not exactly on topic(earlier I just wanted to make a brief comment on Timocrates claim)..so we are basically thread-jacking .
I request you too direct your comments and remarks on the topic there..
Dear David Goldman,ReplyDelete
The first time the twelfth-root of two was used to give the ratio between notes in Western music was in 1605, but the treatise went unpublished until the early 1800's (1834). There were approximations, such as from Galileo's father, using 18/17, for instance, and some early Chinese methods, but by 1650, Newton's method gave correct answers to any degree of accuracy (unlike Simon's method of 1605, overestimated the root). It is true that lute players favored equal-temperament as early as 1450, but organ tuning was, almost exclusively, equal temperament until the late Renaissance, when other tunings were used (that were not equal temperament).
Which treatise on tuning from the 1400's are you referring to? Obviously, lute players could use string lengths to approximate 2^1/12, but it is impossible to correctly construct this number by straight edge and compass (proven in 1837). Also, Philo did not, to my knowledge, develop a method to derive the twelfth of two, but dealt with doubling the cube. Could you give some references?
The Masked Chicken
Re David Goldman's statement about no great Catholic Physicists between Galileo and de Broglie, I submitted the following list in his comments box: Allesandro Volta (inventor of the battery, hence "volts"), Amedeo Avogadro (Avogadro's law), André-Marie Ampère (electomagnetism, hence the "amp"), Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (Coulomb's law), Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis (the Coriolis effect), Léon Foucault (Foucault's pendulum), Joseph Louis Lagrange (Lagrange points). He responded that the big breakthroughs came from Leibniz, Newton, the Bernoullis, Euler, Gauss, Jacobi, Riemann, Weierstrass, Planck, etc. These are all great physicists, except that some seem to be primarily mathematicians. I am not competent to say whose work is more important. I thought these partial lists might interest some of you.ReplyDelete
Good list, thanks. Speaking of mathematicians, you could add Augustin-Louis Cauchy, who was not only Catholic, but quite fanatically so, and who helped construct the modern real number system a century before de Broglie. He also was a fairly bad person, so you wouldn't want to brag too much, but at least his philosophical beliefs did not prevent him from helping develop the number system.Delete
Feser writes: “Modern empiricists, meanwhile, agreed with the Aristotelians that sensory experience must be the foundation of all our concepts. But they judged that, if that is the case, then (contra Aristotle) the intellect cannot really arrive at concepts that go beyond anything we could experience.”ReplyDelete
I understand the meaning here is that according to Aristotelians the foundation of all concepts is sensory experience (and perhaps all experience), but this does not imply that we cannot arrive at concepts that go beyond experience. That based on particular experiences we can form concepts that in a significant sense transcend those experiences. - I agree so far.
“Hence they tended to identify concepts with mental images and to conflate the faculties of intellect and imagination. This is the source of all the metaphysical mischief we find in Berkeley and Hume. Correct this one simple error and their entire systems collapse.”
Berkeley used a particular language, but his meaning is quite clear: All our being is experiencing. Thus our knowledge of concepts is also a kind of experience (one who knows something has an experience someone who doesn't hasn't). In particular: We have a given set of experiences (say the sensory experiences related to observing quantum phenomena), we have a set of experiences of thinking about them, and we experience forming at a new concept of abstraction (in this case quantum mechanics). So where exactly is Berkeley's “simple error”? Can anybody explain that to me?
I have been an idealist long before I read Berkeley. My reasoning was really simple: As a matter of fact my own being is experiencing and nothing but experiencing. So I should have good reason before believing that there is any other kind of thing (or “substance”) beyond experiencing, and I have never seen any such reason. On the contrary I've seen physical realism getting entangled in many conceptual problems. Not least the fact that given modern science physical realists have a hard time agreeing among themselves about the most basic parameters of such a “mind-independent” physical reality. Also, given theism, I see no reason why God, instead of making creatures experiencing the world, would also make the world for them to experience. I mean surely the greatest conceivable being agrees with Occam's razor. Why believe that God would choose the round-about way of creating a mind-independent world? In any sense that mind-independence makes sense on theism? Why should theists choose to believe in such a superfluous complexity? I can understand the non-theist's conundrum, but I wish somebody would explain to me why (apart from ancient and in many ways primitive thought) a theist should believe in such a complex metaphysics? What's the reason? What's gained by it?
I have tried but I could not find a single argument against idealism that I find is better than hand-waving. And sometimes based on gross misunderstandings as evidenced by using premises such as “according to idealism physical things don't exist”.
Finally even though most AT metaphysicists are physical realists, as far a I understand it AT metaphysics itself is not incompatible with idealism.
I have been an idealist long before I read Berkeley. My reasoning was really simple: As a matter of fact my own being is experiencing and nothing but experiencing.Delete
Berkeley used a particular language, but his meaning is quite clear: All our being is experiencing. Thus our knowledge of concepts is also a kind of experience (one who knows something has an experience someone who doesn't hasn't). In particular: We have a given set of experiences (say the sensory experiences related to observing quantum phenomena), we have a set of experiences of thinking about them, and we experience forming at a new concept of abstraction (in this case quantum mechanics). So where exactly is Berkeley's “simple error”? Can anybody explain that to me?ReplyDelete
This is very definitely not Berkeley's view; Berkeley rejects the possibility of abstraction, in his later thought makes a sharp distinction between notions and ideas, and would, I think, also reject quite firmly the view that 'all our being is experiencing' -- minds have a very different place in Berkeley's system than their experiences. It is, however, the rejection of abstraction (which is connected to the conflation of imagination and intellect) that is in view in Ed's comment.
“Berkeley rejects the possibility of abstraction”
Well I'm very definitely not an expert on Berkeley or Locke, or about their disagreement on abstract ideas. On the other hand it's surely not like one of the greatest philosophers in the Western tradition claimed that abstract ideas such as 2+2=4 cannot be formed, are not knowledge, or cannot be communicated. I have the sense that he rejected the suggestion that there is a sharp divide between particular and abstract ideas. For example I'd agree with Berkeley that abstract ideas cannot be known or communicated at the absence of particular ideas and their respective experiences. Try for example to communicate the idea that 2+2=4 to an intellect that has never had the experience of counting. I think Berkeley tried to show that all knowledge (including abstract knowledge) is not only grounded on experience but cannot be separated from it.
I am thinking that many a philosopher when thinking about another philosopher commits the same kind of mistake many an atheist commits when thinking about theism: They fail to think from the point of view of the other. Criticize all you want; but criticize after understanding what the other person is saying. And to do this don't read the words the way you think and therefore use them, but in the sense they use them.
“I think, also reject quite firmly the view that 'all our being is experiencing' -- minds have a very different place in Berkeley's system than their experiences.”
Since I believe I understand Berkeley's main idea (and why he thought it was obviously true) I think he would agree with my meaning of “all our being is experiencing”; which in any case I posit not as a claim to be argued about but as a factual description of our condition. That in Berkeley's terminology “mind” and “experience” have a very different place is irrelevant. The human experience is complex and structured, and every philosopher chooses different terms to refer to different parts. I prefer to use the term “experience” for the whole thing: for that which characterizes all that a conscious being is. The human conscious being has sensory (amenable to quantitative measurement) experiences, qualitative experiences of one's surrounding (such as colors), experiences of cognitive awareness (that obviously A=A, that obviously some things are good and other bad), the experience of active thought, the experience of instantaneous thought of insight, the experience of freedom of will, the experience of a cornucopia of feelings (pride, fear, anger, and so on), etc. I wish there were a philosophy of the human condition, and some standard terminology.
On the other hand it's surely not like one of the greatest philosophers in the Western tradition claimed that abstract ideas such as 2+2=4 cannot be formed, are not knowledge, or cannot be communicated.Delete
That's literally exactly what Berkeley argues: we do not form abstract ideas, they are not what anyone actually calls knowledge at all, and their supposed abstractness is inconsistent with communicating them. On his account we don't need to communicate abstract ideas with particular ideas; we only have particular ideas so there are no abstract ideas to communicate. (And at least once early on he goes farther, arguing that the Pythagorean theorem is not even the right sort of thing to be true; it's a recipe or procedure for getting results we know to be useful.) You don't get to make up your own fake Berkeley; Berkeley does not say things lightly. All we have is this or that particular idea suggesting other particular ideas to mind, and sometimes we don't even have that, since very often we just have words -- particular ideas of sounds or marks moved around as counters without any further idea, and, indeed, no need for any at all.
The human experience is complex and structured, and every philosopher chooses different terms to refer to different parts.
Berkeley isn't sharply distinguishing the words 'mind' and 'ideas' to talk about "all that a conscious being is"; what he means by 'idea' is the opposite of 'what a conscious being is', by definition. We don't have 'experience of active thought'; Berkeley would regard that either as an equivocation of words or as a flat-out contradiction. His position depends entirely on insisting that they are completely different things and that the failure to recognize this is one of the chief failures of other philosophical systems. He says this explicitly more than once. Berkeley's view is the reverse of what you are suggesting: you can use the same word to cover such completely different things, if you really feel the need, but any unity is purely verbal, ignoring the fact that they are completely different, and will lead you astray if you take it seriously.
<<...our souls are not to be known in the same manner as senseless, inactive objects, or by way of idea. Spirits and ideas are things so wholly different, that when we say "they exist," "they are known," or the like, these words must not be thought to signify anything common to both natures. There is nothing alike or common in them....>>
It really seems like you think I misunderstand Berkeley. I believe I understand him well because the way I understand him makes it clear why he thought idealism is so obviously true. But perhaps you are right and I misunderstand him. Or perhaps you misunderstand him. No matter. What we are discussing is not the historical truth about what the good bishop really thought, but the philosophical truth about how things really stand. So let's go back to the gist of our discussion concerning abstract ideas.
So I take it we agree with Aristotle and with modern empiricists that all ideas are grounded on experience. I would say any experience, but perhaps Aristotle thought only of sensory experience. My argument does not ride on this point, so let's consider those ideas that are grounded on sensory experience. Some of such ideas are “particular” in that they correspond directly to such sensory experiences, such as seeing a triangular shape. Others though are “abstract” in the sense that we abstract them from many particular ideas – thus (I am following Feser's example here) we form the abstract idea of the triangle. We agree that one never has the sensory experience of triangles, so when forming the abstract idea of the universal triangle we arrived at something new, something “beyond” the sensory experience. So far so good.
Now consider the following question: Is it possible for an intellect that doesn't have the sensory experience of shapes (say an intellect that has only sensory experiences of sounds) to form the abstract idea of triangle? Or, to use my own example, could an intellect that has never experienced counting form the abstract idea that 2+2=4? How would you answer this question?
My own answer is no. It's not only that we derive abstract ideas from particular ideas, but also that there is no way around that. Abstract ideas exist only grounded on particular ideas, and thus can be formed by and communicated to only those who have the relevant particulars. If you disagree than I would like to hear some counterexample. Have you ever formed an abstract idea which is *not* derived from particulars?
Some more questions in the same neighborhood:
Can somebody who has never had the experience of something that is beautiful form the idea of beauty?
Can somebody who has never entertained a rational thought form the idea of rationality?
Can somebody who has never theorized form the idea of Occam's razor?
It really seems like you think I misunderstand Berkeley. I believe I understand him well because the way I understand him makes it clear why he thought idealism is so obviously true.Delete
You repeatedly say things directly contrary to what he says; and your explanations of how the difference is merely verbal are inconsistent with yet other things. You definitely do not correctly understand Berkeley. There is no mystery as to why Berkeley thought idealism true requiring your hypothesis; he gives a sophisticated set of arguments for it, and so tells us directly himself.
We are in fact discussing the historical truth of what Berkeley thought, not the philosophical truth about how things really stand; the discussion was specifically about what error Ed was attributing to Berkeley.
Fine, so let's leave the historical truth about Berkeley at one side and focus on abstract objects, which is Feser's main subject matter in the OP. Feser writes that the intellect derives abstract ideas from particulars, but does not make it clear whether on his view that's the only way. If it's the only way (as I have argued above) then it follows that abstract ideas can be formed by and communicated to only those intellects who have the relevant particulars. I wonder if you agree.
You are free to talk about whatever you want, but I was explicitly talking about the historical question concerned with Berkeley, and that line of discussion is not relevant to it.Delete
All our being is experiencing.ReplyDelete
So, a person who is unconscious is nothing? They have no being, because they are not experiencing.
So I should have good reason before believing that there is any other kind of thing (or “substance”) beyond experiencing,
But you have not experienced ME. Hence you can have no reason to believe that your kind of being is like my kind of being. You cannot have a basis for thinking that other beings who experience have their experiences like you do, for you cannot experience their experiences and they cannot experience yours. You should have utterly profound skepticism about what others are like, and that you don't is merely the result of unfounded prejudice.
I mean surely the greatest conceivable being agrees with Occam's razor.
Occam's razor is merely an epistemological prejudice. It has never been proven and could never be proven.
The simplest reality is that where there is a God and nothing else, not even the appearance of anything else. That God created meant that God wanted more than pure simplicity, he wanted complexity and abundance and profusion. Occam is against God.
“So, a person who is unconscious is nothing? They have no being, because they are not experiencing.”
Interestingly enough one of the most basic objections to idealism was the thought: “A pebble buried deep somewhere that nobody has ever experienced doesn't therefore exist?” Berkeley's answer was that God, the metaphysical ultimate, always experiences the pebble which thus always exists. But should God find it good to not experience that pebble, then indeed that pebble does not exist.
So to answer your question when we are unconscious we are still there for we are in God's experience. Having said that I'd like to point out that it is not given that when unconscious we are not experiencing. The only thing we know is that after coming out of unconsciousness we experience not remembering anything about the time we were unconscious. For all we know we are always having experiences, albeit experiences which are not such to be remembered. - Nothing much rides on this last point, but I'd like to precise.
“Hence you can have no reason to believe that your kind of being is like my kind of being.”
Actually through empathy I have some direct awareness of your experiencing. In any case we made to experience our neighbors as persons, persons of the *kind* we are – so that's one belief for which no reason is required. Still from proper experience we have reason to believe that the qualitative way people experience life (and that's the by far more significant way) is not identical. There is much room for error if one believes that all people experience life in exactly the same way. I think it's reasonable to hold that saints on the one hand and extremely evil people on the other experience life quite differently than you and me (I am here assuming that you are neither a saint nor an extremely evil person).
“Occam's razor is merely an epistemological *prejudice*.”
Oh no. Occam's razor is one of those epistemological truths we are immediately aware of.
“It has never been proven and could never be proven.”
It has never been proven and could never be proven that the past exists. So what? For obvious reasons to hold that rationality consists of having “proofs” for all one's beliefs is a fool's errand. What holds is that one should always have a reason for holding a belief, but it's always the case that a rational person does not pick a belief by tossing a coin.
“That God created meant that God wanted more than pure simplicity, he wanted complexity and abundance and profusion. Occam is against God.”
I am afraid you misunderstand Occam. His epistemological principle is that one must not unnecessarily multiply entities. But even if one applies that principle to metaphysics, if God delights in creating in abundance (as Augustine thought) then it is necessarily so that God will do so.
Coming back to our subject matter, I wish somebody made some suggestion why on theism one should believe that a different substance than experiencing exists. On the face of it that's an entirely unnecessary multiplication, and thus clearly violates Occam's principle.
Or, if you prefer, ignore Occam. What does the theist gain (in any sense of the word) by assuming that apart from experiencing there is some different substance called “matter”? I see no gain whatsoever, whether theoretical or practical. Any suggestions?
Dianelos All our being is experiencing.Delete
Me So, a person who is unconscious is nothing? They have no being, because they are not experiencing.
Dianelos So to answer your question when we are unconscious we are still there for we are in God's experience.
So, "what we are" is God experiencing us like an author "experiences" a character in the book he is writing. We have no free will, all we have is whatever God attributes to us, whatever "experiences" that God decides we shall "experience" in whatever kind of experience we shall have them, whether in the way He decides Dianelos does or in some other way.
Actually through empathy I have some direct awareness of your experiencing.
Actually you merely imagine that you empathize with my experience. And, to the extent that you imagine your feelings match mine, this is the result of your sensory data (which is purely yours, not 'ours'), not "direct" awareness of my experience. It's pure BS for you to declare that you have direct awareness of my experience. Not even Berkeley in his fevered nonsense would have dreamed up such a nonsensical thing.
In any case we made to experience our neighbors as persons, persons of the *kind* we are – so that's one belief for which no reason is required.
This makes no sense at all. I mean it: it doesn't even track grammatically.
Probably you meant to say "we are made to experience our neighbors as persons".
Which is also complete nonsense, but at least it is grammatically sound. I for one do not have some "other person" awareness faculty that pings when a person is ... what, close enough? Thinking of me? Thinking like me? Being like me?
If you have such a faculty, then you are unlike me. Do you experience all 7 billion of the people now alive? What about the 75 billion of the past?
Oh no. Occam's razor is one of those epistemological truths we are immediately aware of.
O for goodness' sake. This has got to be one of the stupidest things you have said yet - and that's saying something.
The Razor isn't a "truth", it is an analytical tool: of 2 otherwise equal competing theories, accept the simpler over the more complex.
The Razor does not declare that the simpler is TRUE. It says to accept it - or, in some formulations, "prefer" it. Of the formulations that cast it as if it were stating a proposition, it is stated as "the simpler is often correct". Some refuse to even attempt to claim that it is "more" often correct.
Today, we think of the principle of parsimony as a heuristic device. We don't assume that the simpler theory is correct and the more complex one false.
Newton's physics was a great theory, and nice and simple too. Just so happens that it was wrong. Time and space, it turns out, are not fixed. The "humours" theory of illness was a nice, simple theory, with 4 humours. Too bad it was wrong. Ptolemy's astronomy was nice and simple, with all heavenly motions being circles. But it was wrong. Dalton thought that oxygen and carbon atoms were indivisible, the smallest units of matter. He was wrong too.
In fact other than in math, hardly anything that pre-modern scientists thought was the true theory of X is what scientists today think is true of X. Some medical professors caution their students that at least 50 % of what is taught today will turn out to be wrong in a 100 years.
When, using the Razor, we accept a theory until new data displaces it, we don't assert that the theory is TRUE based on the Razor, we use it and run with it and prefer it to more complex theories explaining the same data. It is a tool of preference.
What does the theist gain (in any sense of the word) by assuming that apart from experiencing there is some different substance called “matter”? I see no gain whatsoever, whether theoretical or practical. Any suggestions?Delete
Reality. It's all it's cracked up to be.
Nothing more need be offered than that.
What justification does Berkeley has fr\or positing a God that experiences things and keeps them in existence?
God is obtained in A-T by lines of inquiry that idealism rules out. So how does idealism obtain the concept of God?
“So, "what we are" is God experiencing us like an author "experiences" a character in the book he is writing.”
No, not like the author experiences a character in the book he is writing. When we form an idea (or just wave a hand in front of our eyes) then we experience something new. But our human condition is limited, and one clear limitation concerns the kinds of new experience we may will into existence. God is not thus limited and has willed into existence personal creatures who are conscious, possess free will, have a rational mind, and so on, namely us.
“Actually you merely imagine that you empathize with my experience.”
The fact that the cognitive faculty of empathy does not fit your worldview does not mean that it is “imaginary”. It's interesting to observe how naturalists claim that our cognition of good and evil, of beauty, of justice, of principles of reason, even our capacity of freedom – are all “imaginary”. A worldview that entails that most of what is significant for us is “imaginary”, is probably imaginary itself :-)
“Probably you meant to say "we are made to experience our neighbors as persons".”
Right, that was a typo.
“I for one do not have some "other person" awareness faculty that pings when a person is ... what, close enough? Thinking of me? Thinking like me? Being like me?”
Please search for “the problem of other minds” .
If you have such a faculty, then you are unlike me. Do you experience all 7 billion of the people now alive? What about the 75 billion of the past?
“The Razor does not declare that the simpler is TRUE.”
Right, it only declares that it is unreasonable to believe that the more complicated is true.
“Newton's physics was a great theory, and nice and simple too. Just so happens that it was wrong.”
Newton's physics revealed an order (or a pattern) present in a particular set of phenomena. That order is still there, so Newton's physics remains true, and in the vast proportion of cases is still used today.
Your confusion comes from assuming physical realism. Physical realists hold that scientific theories describe reality. Since on physical realism the reality that general relativity describes is different than the reality Newton's mechanics describes, physical realists hold that Newton's theory has been falsified.
“Ptolemy's astronomy was nice and simple, with all heavenly motions being circles. But it was wrong.”
Again, I think you are smisunderstanding Occam's razor. It applies to the particular domain one reasons about. So, for example, a police detective devising a theory about a crime need not concern herself with how many dimensions spacetime really has. So, if one *only* reasons about approximate planetary orbits then one should use the simplest theory that fits one's goals, and if simple circles fit the bill then that's fine. To assume anything more complicated would be unreasonable. Now the domain of the physical sciences is the order present in the whole set of physical phenomena, and that's why it is reasonable to try to find theories that are more precise or have broader applicability. But still Occam's principle applies: among two different theories that are equally precise and broad it is unreasonable to believe in the theory that is more complicated. Exactly the same principle of reason applies to the police detective.
“Reality. It's all it's cracked up to be.”
Reality is not something one gains – it's always there. We were talking about our knowledge of reality, and I was pointing out the fact that what we directly know of reality is experiencing – everything else we think we know about reality comes from reasoning. And indeed through reasoning we discover marvelous and deep order present in our experiencing.
My question was about what is gained by assuming there is in reality something of a different kind than experiencing. I notice that you have not suggested any answer.
“What justification does Berkeley has for positing a God that experiences things and keeps them in existence?”
Epistemology requires taking a first step. Berkeley (and many other philosophers, for example Plantinga nowadays) starts with the assumption of theism, namely with the assumption that the metaphysical ultimate is the greatest conceivable being. There is nothing to prohibit the philosopher from starting in any way she sees fit; how far she gets will reveal how wise her initial choice was.
But Berkeley is not what's significant here; metaphysical truth is. I assume you are not an idealist. So I'd appreciate it if you answered the question I put above: We have direct knowledge that experiences are part of reality; what does the theistic philosopher gain by assuming that apart from experiences there exist in reality other kinds of things?
“God is obtained in A-T by lines of inquiry that idealism rules out.”
I have the impression that Aristotle starting with generally accepted principles of reason and using mainly experiences of physical things argued (rather successfully in my mind) that the metaphysical ultimate must be simple, immutable, outside space and time, and so on. Thus, on theism, these are attributes of God as far as being the metaphysical ultimate goes. But non-theists too are free to accept Aristotle's reasoning so far. What distinguishes theism is really the premise that the metaphysical ultimate is of a personal nature, indeed of the greatest possible nature. I am not aware that Aquinas has successfully reasoned that this is so. I have the impression he has only kind of hand-waved in the general direction.
Take for example Aquinas's fourth way. Even if one completely accepts its logic in that transcendentals that come in degrees point to one maximum (or that there is in reality the best thing that causes the goodness of all lesser things) it does not follow that this maximum (or best thing) is the greatest conceivable. I can easily conceive a reality which will produce all the experiences I have in which God does not exist but only an imperfect demiurge. In other words I can conceive of a creator who is less than the greatest being I can conceive. One might try to fix this problem using Plato's theory of ideal forms, but that metaphysical theory is not at all proven and in our context would amount to begging the question. What's more Feser argues it's the wrong way to understand the fourth way.
Time and space are fixed. Masonic delusions to the contrary notwithstanding. To get time and space moving you have to submit your intellect to making time and space movable and malleable bodies.Delete
"Second, set theory and mathematical logic are, of course, exact sciences and paradigms of objective knowledge. Their results are ironclad; you are not going to change them by tinkering with the symbols we use to express them." I think this might be the root of your debate with Craig about actual infinities. I remember him saying, in his debate with Quentin Smith, that we might need to drop the mathematical playground we have acheived through set theory or something to that effect, it has been a while since I've read it.It makes sense that he would deny the infinitude of past events if he denied that infinities were even abstract objects.ReplyDelete
Bill SolomonApril 9, 2017 at 7:26 AMReplyDelete
"It makes sense that he would deny the infinitude of past events if he denied that infinities were even abstract objects."
The term "abstract object" is oxymoronic. An abstraction is a brain process with no physical realization outside the dynamic processes of the brain.
An object is a physical entity that is existent independent of any human perception of it.
To combine the terms "abstract" and "object" is irrational.
I'm not sure whether you're entirely correct in your criticism. I'll have to think about it some more. But if you like you can substitute mathematically valid for abstract.Delete
If we substitute "mathematically valid" for "abstract" I believe you mean to use the term "mathematically valid object". But that term suffers from the same condition of being an oxymoronic term. Mathematical expressions are abstractions, not externally existent objects.Delete
Thus, Craig is correct in objecting to the actual infinite. We know of no infinite objects, or infinite processes, and indeed, an infinite time sequence of events is irrational as Craig holds.
Where Craig errs is in thinking his proposed alternatives are any more rational. In fact, his proposed alternatives are just as irrational as an actual infinite time sequence of events.
That is why no human being has solved this ancient riddle and published the solution into general circulation.
The origin of existence, motion, and causation remain unsolved problems for us all.
However, the strong evidence we have, conservation, is for an infinite existence in combination with some fundamental shortcoming in human thought that causes us to consider an actual infinite to be irrational when it somehow is not.
There is nothing wrong with your terminology. If you google "abstract object" your first hit will probably be to a SEP article which matches your intended use pretty well.
@stardusty I am unsure if you are objecting to my terminology from a position of nominalism or of Aristotelian thought. If Aristotelian thought, then I believe you could substitute mathematical truth for mathematical object, and come away fine. If nominalism then I doubt anything I say will convince you, since you already read this blog and have not been convinced of nominalism's falsity; because the arguments I've seen here are better than I could come up with.Delete
Bill SolomonApril 9, 2017 at 2:09 PMDelete
"@stardusty I am unsure if you are objecting to my terminology from a position of nominalism or of Aristotelian thought."
Neither, but most certainly not Aristotelian thought.
My objection stands by the words I used, not by agreement or disagreement with any particular school of thought.
" the arguments I've seen here are better than I could come up with."
Perhaps, but why hold a position you cannot articulate in your own words?
If you use a term like "abstract object" I think it likely you have a rationale for doing so. I have found for myself and others that if one is unable to explain a position in one's own words then one does not actually understand that position.
grod made a rather indistinct reference to some sort of result of a google search. I do not base my positions on that sort of indirect reference to an algorithmic return of some other person's work.
An "object" is an entity that is existent independent of human perception of it.
An "abstraction" is a brain process with no realization outside the dynamic processes of the particular brain engaging in that particular abstraction.
The 2 terms are simply incompatible. If we consider an abstraction we are not considering the abstraction itself as an object. If we are considering an object then the object itself is not an abstraction. Thus, the term "abstract object" is oxymoronic.
Dear Stardusty Psyche: I am thinking about justice. What is my object of thought?Delete
About 2 years ago, you helped me with some basic metaphysical principles on one of Dr. Feser' Comment sections. I'd like to chat again with you if possible. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig PayneApril 10, 2017 at 5:22 PMReplyDelete
"Dear Stardusty Psyche: I am thinking about justice. What is my object of thought?"
That depends on the associated assertion you might also be making, and I would not want to equivocate on the word "object".
There is no justice object with a realization outside a brain process, such as your thoughts.
Or do you mean by "object" "purpose"? If so, I have no way of determining that since my mind reading skills are a bit rusty.
What is the object of your question ?-)
Thinking about your post some more it occurred to me that justice and morality are closely related, if not synonyms.
A prime reason I reject so strongly the term "abstract object" is that from time to time I have heard that a moral absolute is an abstract object, that a moral code somehow exists outside the individual's brain process.
Morality is relative and personal so to assert an existent moral object or justice object that is somehow realized outside of a brain process that is called an "abstract object" is merely invoking an oxymoronic term.
You are well on your way. When human beings lie we actually damage our brains. They are just learning now that absolutely the wages of sin are death.
timocratesApril 16, 2017 at 8:58 AMReplyDelete
You are well on your way."