On his radio show yesterday, Dennis Prager acknowledged that one reason he believes in God – though not the only one – is that he wants it to be the case that God exists. The thought that there is no compensation in the hereafter for suffering endured in this life, nor any reunion with departed loved ones, is one he finds just too depressing. Prager did not present this as an argument for the existence of God or for life after death, but just the expression of a motivation for believing in God and the afterlife. But there have, historically, been attempts to develop this idea into an actual argument. This is known as the argument from desire, and its proponents include Aquinas and C. S. Lewis.
An obvious objection to any such argument would be that it is manifestly delusional to suppose that something is real simply because we want it to be. After all, the frustration of desire happens all the time – unrequited love, failed careers, empty stomachs, and so forth. Yet you might suspect that, precisely because this objection is so obvious, it must be missing something – that proponents of the argument from desire are not in fact reasoning in so crude and manifestly fallacious a way. And if so, you’d be right.
Hence, consider Aquinas’s argument from desire for the immortality of the soul. One version can be found in Summa Theologiae I.75.6:
[E]verything naturally aspires to existence after its own manner. Now, in things that have knowledge, desire ensues upon knowledge. The senses indeed do not know existence, except under the conditions of "here" and "now," whereas the intellect apprehends existence absolutely, and for all time; so that everything that has an intellect naturally desires always to exist. But a natural desire cannot be in vain. Therefore every intellectual substance is incorruptible.
Another, longer version can be found in Summa Contra Gentiles II.55.13.
Now, notice first that Aquinas does not say that just any old desire is bound to be satisfied. What he says is that “a natural desire cannot be in vain.” Let’s consider both of the italicized parts of this statement.
First, by a “natural” desire, Aquinas means a tendency toward some end that a thing has just by virtue of being the kind of thing it is – that is to say, by virtue of its essence. (To put the point in more technical terms, he is talking about immanent final causes grounded in substantial forms.) So, consider a tree’s tendency to sink roots into the ground so as to take in water. That would be an example of the sort of thing Aquinas has in mind, and as that example indicates, a “desire” of the sort he is talking about needn’t be conscious. For a tree is not conscious, but it still “desires” water in the sense that by virtue of its nature it will send out roots so as to acquire it.
Human beings, of course, do consciously desire things, and sometimes what we consciously desire is some end toward which our nature moves us. Water would be an example here too. Given our animal nature, we need water and will seek it out. Some of our desires, however, are not “natural” in the relevant sense. For example, suppose I desire a copy of Captain America Comics #1. That would not be an unnatural desire, to be sure, but neither is there anything in my nature that directs me toward that particular end. Simply qua human being, I will not be directed toward the end of acquiring a copy of that comic book, in the way that I am qua human being directed toward the end of acquiring water.
However, some desires can also be positively unnatural. A strong desire not to drink water would be an example -- illustrated by the woman in the movie Ed Wood who claims to be allergic to it. A real-life and only slightly less bizarre example would be the woman with a compulsion to eat household cleanser. Less extreme examples of strange compulsions, habituated vices, etc. are familiar from everyday life. As such cases illustrate, that a desire is very strong and deep-rooted does not suffice to make it “natural” in Aquinas’s sense.
What does Aquinas mean when he says that a natural desire cannot be “in vain”? He can’t mean that such desires are always in fact satisfied, because he is as aware as his readers are that they are very often not satisfied. For example, trees, people, and other plants and animals die of thirst all the time. What he means is that a thing couldn’t naturally be directed toward some end unless that end were real. Such desires can be fulfilled at least in principle even if they are not always fulfilled in fact. Hence if trees, human beings, and other plants and animals are naturally directed toward seeking out water, there must really be water out there for them to seek (even if they don’t always find it). If there were not, the desire for water would be in vain.
So, to refute the key premise that Aquinas’s argument rests on, it will not suffice to find examples of unfulfilled desires, or even unfulfilled natural desires – which are, of course, so easy to come by that it should be obvious even to the hostile reader that that is not what Aquinas had in mind. What one would need is an example of a desire that is both “natural” in Aquinas’s sense and also “in vain” in the sense of being unfulfillable in principle because its object is unreal. And examples of that sort of thing are far from obvious.
Indeed, even people who would not think of themselves as sympathetic to Aristotelianism or Thomism will essentially apply Aquinas’s principle without realizing they are doing so. For example, if a paleontologist digs up the remains of a heretofore unknown species of animal and finds that it has many long, sharp teeth, he will suppose that there must have been living in this animal’s environment other kinds of animal that it preyed upon, even if the paleontologist has no independent evidence of such other animals. For otherwise, the animal’s possession of such carnivorous teeth would be in vain. (And even if it were finally judged that the carnivorous teeth are vestigial, this doesn’t affect the basic point, because even in that case they would have originally existed for meat-eating purposes.)
Now, what Aquinas does in his argument from desire is to add to this premise about natural desires a further consideration about human nature, specifically. Other animals have only sensory knowledge, which is directed toward the here and now. Human beings, by contrast, are rational animals, and their sort of knowledge – intellectual knowledge, which involves the grasp of universal concepts and universal truths – is directed beyond the here and now, indeed toward “all time.” But whatever is like this, Aquinas says, “naturally desires always to exist.” In the Summa Contra Gentiles passage, he says that creatures with intellects “know and apprehend perpetual being [and] desire it with natural desire” (emphasis added). Hence we must have perpetual being, or our desire for it would be in vain.
Needless to say, even given the qualifications I’ve made, this argument needs further spelling out if it is to be convincing. And an objection raised by John Duns Scotus might seem at first glance to torpedo it. He writes:
As for the proof that man has a natural desire for immortality because he naturally shuns death, it can be said that this proof applies to the brute animal as well as to man. (Philosophical Writings, p. 159)
Scotus’s point is that if such a proof would fail in the case of brute animals (which it certainly would in Aquinas’s view, since he denies that such animals have immortal souls), then it must fail in the case of human beings as well.
Now, a non-human animal will, no less than a human being, be inclined as long as it exists to try to keep itself in existence. Scotus is right about that. But it doesn’t follow that brute animals have the same desire that Aquinas is attributing to human beings. To see why not, you need to get your Scotus on and draw a distinction. Consider the two claims:
(1) X always has a desire to preserve itself.
(2) X has a desire to preserve itself always.
(1) is true of brute animals, but (1) does not entail (2) and (2) is what Aquinas says is true of human beings but not true of brute animals. It is only if we blur the distinction between (1) and (2) that brute animals will seem to have the same desire Aquinas attributes to us.
But Scotus also raises a more challenging objection. In order to know that a thing has a natural desire to preserve itself always, we first have to establish that it has a natural capacity for perpetual existence. And if we knew that, we would already know that it is immortal, which would make an argument from desire redundant (Philosophical Writings, pp. 158-9).
Scotus is, I think, correct that a natural desire D presupposes a natural capacity C. But once again – the Subtle Doctor would be pleased – we need to draw a distinction. Even if the existence of D presupposes the existence of C, it doesn’t follow that knowledge of the existence of D presupposes knowledge of the existence of C. That is to say, the presupposition in question is metaphysical but need not be epistemological.
Consider, once again, the paleontology example. The existence of carnivorous teeth presupposes, in a metaphysical sense, the existence of prey who might be eaten. The former would not exist unless the latter did, whereas the latter could exist whether or not the former did. But it doesn’t follow that our paleontologist would first have independently to establish the existence of the relevant sort of prey in the environmental niche in question before judging that the teeth serve a carnivorous end. His general knowledge of the kinds of teeth there are suffices for that. Hence, if all he knows at first is that a certain environmental niche was populated by a kind of animal having carnivorous teeth, he can go on to conclude that there must also have been prey of the relevant sort living in that niche. He does not have to remain agnostic on that question pending direct evidence. The presupposition in question is not an epistemological one.
In the same way, Aquinas can argue that there is a natural desire for perpetual existence – and he does so on the basis of the nature of intellectual (as opposed to merely sensory) knowledge – and then go on to conclude that there must be a natural capacity for such existence. Knowledge of the desire can be prior to knowledge of the capacity, even if the capacity itself is metaphysically prior to the desire.
So, does Aquinas’s argument work? I think that when all the relevant metaphysical background theses and the subsidiary arguments are spelled out thoroughly – and I haven’t addressed all of that here – it plausibly does work. However, anyone who is convinced of the soundness of that larger body of philosophical claims is also likely already to be convinced of the immortality of the soul by other and more straightforward Thomistic arguments. So, while Aquinas’s argument from desire is a useful and illuminating part of the overall Thomistic view of things, it isn’t the most effective standalone argument for immortality.
Compare the situation with Aquinas’s Fourth Way of arguing for God’s existence. I defend the Fourth Way, along with the rest of the Five Ways, in my book Aquinas. But one has to do so much general metaphysical stage-setting in order properly to understand how the argument works that, for purposes of establishing God’s existence, it is much more efficient to use a relatively more streamlined argument like one of the other Ways. Once one is independently convinced of the overall Thomistic system, the Fourth Way provides a very important and illuminating part of the story. But it’s not a good way to break into the system.
Or at least this is the case given the situation that happens to exist in contemporary philosophy. In a context where broadly classical (Platonic or Aristotelian) metaphysical presuppositions were widely accepted, arguments like the argument from desire or the Fourth Way would be much more plausible standalone arguments. But when those larger background presuppositions are not taken for granted and are even treated with some hostility, it is generally more effective to make use of other arguments.
Wow, this actually fits in quite nicely with another argument made by Aquinas which also just so happens to unintentionally tie into the argument from desire.ReplyDelete
The Argument from Infinity.
In the summa contra gentiles, Aquinas makes an argument in favor of God's existence by the fact that the human intellect grasps the concept of infinity.
For if the human intellect can always think of a greater number then any given one, there must be something that is infinitely intelligible, otherwise the human imagining of infinity and it's conceptualisation would be pointless and in vain, which it cannot be.
Therefore, there must be something infinitely intelligible.
And this thing man call God.
Now, there has been some pretty solid change when it comes to the concept of infinity in recent years.
For example, Georg Cantor proved there are higher levels of infinity, some bigger than others.
The infinity of all of the natural numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, ...) is indeed infinite.
Yet it is smaller than the infinity of the real numbers because you cannot put the reals and naturals in a one-to-one correspondence ratio.
And it turns out you could arrive at that result by using both the Diagonal Argument that Cantor used originally to prove it, but also by powersetting the set of all natural numbers.
The set of natural numbers is therefore called a listable or enumerable infinity, while the set of the reals is called non-listable or non-enumerable.
And it turns out you could powerset the set of all reals. And then that set. And then that set ad infinitum.
In other words, there are an infinity amount of different infinities, all bigger than the last.
But that is not the end of it! Oh no, how naive that would be! There are numbers bigger than even the infinity of all of those infinities.
They are called large cardinals, and they are literally bigger than any infinity you could formalise with standard mathematical notation (powersetting is part of that standard notation).
There are various degrees of them, such as Inaccessible, Mahlo, Vopenka, supercompact etc.
In fact, we don't even know if the large cardinal hierarchy goes on to infinity. The largest large cardinal are the rank-into-rank axioms, because going any farther would be inconsistent with the standard axioms of mathematics.
But they are speculated to go forever as well. And guess what, that's not the end of it either!
For the set of all sets, including any and all large cardinals that do exist and could ever exist, even an infinite amount of large cardinals, is called the Universe of sets, which is symbolised with the letter V.
And that is unimaginably bigger than all of the previous stuff I mentioned, because it contains all of them by definition.
But, that is also not the end of it! For people have attempted to define the universe of all sets as a special ''hyperinfinite number'' and have constructed universe sets even bigger than those. Which also can go on forever!
Now what this shows is that humans have a desire to build even bigger and bigger things.
Infinity is itself a quasi-religious idea to play with, as can be seen from the interest and curiosity one will raise when one were to claim ''Let me show you how to count past infinity!''
Indeed, humans have a natural desire to explore and gain more knowledge, and infinity is always associated with the esoteric and the unknowable.
Which is why the desire to build past infinity itself might give us a hint of the existence of God.
That desire to go beyond even infinity could not exist in vain, for there must be something which satisfies that human desire, something infinitely big and infinitely intelligible.
And that could just be an argument for the existence of God based on the human concept of ''limitlessness'' or ''endlessness'', even if it goes beyond traditional infinity.
What do you think?
To play Devil's Advocate:ReplyDelete
With regards to your paleontology example, the paleontologist would have to presuppose that animals have the capacity to be edible in the first place. This correlates to the soul's ability to survive death. If the soul cannot survive death, it is possible that this will to survive death is a superfluous result of rational thought (that has other evolutionary/survival advantages). For example, if animals were never known to be eaten, one COULD suppose that the teeth served a carnivorous purpose; however they could also assume they served an unknown purpose (eating fleshy textured plants, etc). Since we have the framework of knowing that animals are eaten, we can make a safe assumption that the animal was carnivorous. Similarly, if there were a few other species of non-human rational animals and we knew for a fact that their souls survived death (through revelation or frequent apparitions etc.), then we could make a safe assumption that human desire for immortality is the result of a capacity for immortality. Unfortunately (ignoring miracles, revelation, and natural theology), we do not have that luxury. That is why, as Dr. Feser says, this is skmewhat lacking as a standalone argument.
Thus, I would say that this is more of a supporting argument that corroborates other arguments for immortality and God rather than demonstrating these concepts independently. I would I think that the argument from morality also is in a similar category. Such arguments are still important as they can be very "illuminating", as Dr. Feser says.
Why would the critic have to furnish an example of a natural desire that was impossible to fulfill? If the argument is presented as a deductive demonstration, couldn't the critic just point out that the concept of an unfulfilled natural desire doesn't entail a contradiction?ReplyDelete
If it were put forward as a strictly deductive demonstration, the critic would need to *prove* that 'unfulfillable natural desire' was not contradictory; the most direct way to do that would be to point to a natural desire that is, in fact, impossible to fulfill, although there are other, more complicated and indirect ways to do it.Delete
But very few people take arguments from desire to be strictly demonstrative arguments rather than probable deductions; the claim is that there is good reason from the nature of the case to think that all natural desires are in-principle fulfillable; and this does seem to require specific counterexamples which can then put the claim into question.
Pardon me, that last line should say "unfulfillable natural desire."ReplyDelete
“But a natural desire cannot be in vain.”ReplyDelete
Right. I think it stands to reason that God would not create the human soul such as to desire what in fact is not true.
And I notice that our natural desire is for the universal salvation of all. As is God’s of course.
Remember, the idea is that natural desires can be fulfilled *in principle*. As far as I know nobody has ever suggested that all cannot be saved in principle. I could say that our natural desire is that everyone have enough food to eat, but I would badly misunderstand the argument if I thought that implied that everyone in fact does have enough food to eat.Delete
Don’t you find it reasonable to believe that all natural desires of rational souls created by God will be fulfilled in the end, in the eschaton? Especially when it’s God’s desire too? :-)Delete
But let’s stay with the view you express. Hellists claim that universal salvation cannot obtain even in principle because it would violate God’s justice, or because it says so in the Bible, etc.
If one agrees that universal salvation can obtain in principle, then one must also hope that it will obtain. But many hellists reject even this so-called hopeful universalism. They appear to be certain of the reality of hell.
With regards to your paleontology example, the paleontologist would have to presuppose that animals have the capacity to be edible in the first place.
Well, in fact the paleontologist does actually have that datum in hand.
The parallel would be, I suppose, not that "it is possible for man to live forever" but that "it is possible to live forever". And we have that datum already also, for God and the angels. And, it would not be necessary to have actual knowledge of angels in reality (as per divine revelation), but theoretical knowledge of them, as one of the possible categories of being: If God had deigned to create spiritual intelligences, they would live forever. It is sufficient to know of the possibility.
That is a good point. You simply need to demonstrate that immortality of any kind is possible, and then you can form a strong argument for the immortality of the human soul. However, this presupposes the existence of an immortal God or at least immortal beings. I think that would beg the question against an atheist who does not accept that metaphysical framework. For that reason, though, I would never offer this argument on a standalone basis but only after the existence of God was accepted.Delete
However, this presupposes the existence of an immortal God or at least immortal beings. I think that would beg the question against an atheist who does not accept that metaphysical framework.Delete
Scott, I admit that it presupposes at least some elements of the Thomistic metaphysical framework. But there are indeed non-religious people who are willing to grant the possibility of purely intellectual beings, ones without bodies. Indeed, it is a not uncommon feature of New Agers of various sorts. For these, the argument that mortality can only occur because of a physical body (never mind whether it is it is only because it is naturally possible to separate the body and soul) can work to show that angels would not be mortal. Depends on how they would deal with an intelligent life without a body.
The paleontologist's example proves only that a natural ability cannot be in vain. A desire is another matter.
One might argue for the existence of a natural desire for immortality in man on the basis of the nature of intellectual knowledge. However, one could object that intellectual knowledge is of universals, which are timeless. No-one aspires to a timeless existence (I certainly don't). Rather, what people want is an everlasting existence. They want time to continue forever. And that's not what intellectual knowledge is like. How would you respond to this argument?
Well, I find it hard to say that a desire is a different matter. If nature does nothing in vain, as the argument assumes, then we will not have vain desires, as was argued above. But if I understand you correctly, you seem to think we can have desires that serve some purpose, but are impossible to fulfill in themselves. So they aren't truly in vain, even though they mislead us to believe things that don't exist.Delete
Is that correct? Because if it isn't, then I don't know what to say.
Hi Grace and Rust,Delete
Thank you for your post. An atheist could argue that a natural desire might be useful if it promotes the survival of the species, even if it has no object corresponding to it. For example, people who hope for a hereafter are more likely to marry and have large families than people who don't. From an evolutionary perspective, that's a good thing. Natural selection would favor such individuals.
I think I can see an atheist giving that argument, although that leaves me with the suspicion that he just considers evolution a tool for beating theism with.Delete
The explanation you offer requires nature to take a somewhat tortured path to get where we are now. First we have beings who require some motivation to reproduce, and then the motive comes along later. We should expect nature to produce beings that simply have the drive and instincts to do this sort of thing. (For what it's worth, Dr. Budziszewski gives a similar line of argument here. Not that that makes the argument a demonstration...
Grace and Rust,Delete
As for the desire for immortality, we do indeed have animal species that are immortal and can potentially live forever.
Lobsters are a good example of this, since they can in principle live forever, and they die only because of predators hunting them, and because they need to periodically change shells and sometimes this process can suffocate the lobster (in fact, the longer the lobster lives, the bigger it will be, and the bigger it is, the more likely it will suffocate).
A much better example is a species of jellyfish called Turritopsis dohmii which, when injured, reverts back to it's infancy polip stage and starts life all over again.
The only reason this jellyfish dies is if it is eaten by a predator.
And many geneticists think that the gene that causes the jellyfish to be immune to all diseases and reverse the aging process could be implanted in humans in such a way as to create actual natual immortality in humans.
And the possibility of this type of natural immortality is especially relevant to the debate of whether or not a desire for immortality can make an argument for the fact that we are immortal.
@Vincent: No-one aspires to a timeless existence (I certainly don't).Delete
I'm not at all sure that's true. I can't recall the title, but there is a Yeats poem on exactly the UNDESIRABILITY of a temporal immortality. And to be honest, that spoke to me; in the ordinary way we use the word, a timeless eternal life is the only kind I can see as desirable. Others have expressed ideas like this; Charles Williams, for one, and (very famously) Hamlet. Even C S Lewis expressed it at times - when he talked about his resistance to theism and immortality.
But part of the trouble here is the word "desire". Ed, and Lewis, and Aquinas can qualify it as much as (should be) necessary, but the ordinary usage creeps in. We've seen this with other words, "motion" and "cause" being the most common. How may times have we seen non-trollish questions about formal and final causes which, at the root, show that the question is really reading efficient causation into their ideas. It's hard to shake, and I don't absolve myself, by any means.
But isn't the very fear that living forever could be boring and undesirable itself a desire that points towards something that could fulfill it?
If temporal immortality were actually complemented with an infinity of possibility, and endless amount of things that bring us joy and pleasure and satisfaction (AKA God), wouldn't that be enough to make sense of eternity?
Here is a relevant quote from a writer and animation critic called John Enter. From his DeviantArt post Forever:
''Some people, religious or not, fear the concept of forever. That immortality is a kind of hell in itself. Assuming you don't get imprisoned forever or get your limbs chopped off, it would get boring eventually. This is not true. 20 years ago, we didn't have the internet, whose effects on the world are still not fully realized. It's probably only second to the printing press in invention when it comes to changing the world. 40 years ago, video games didn't exist. One of the biggest mediums in the world. 60 years, television. 300 years ago, one of the biggest superpowers in the world wasn't even a country yet. Experience dictates that the future only becomes more exciting than the past, and the world changes now faster than it ever has in the past.''
He seems to have a rather optimistic view about whether or not a temporal immortality would be boring or not.
Of course, this misses the fact that all information and amount of physical possibilities in the universe is finite and thus all experiences would get boring after experiencing a certain amount of time, infinity that is.
But still, this does tell us something revealing about human nature.
Namely, there are 2 desires in humans: to live forever, and to never be bored.
Indeed, these 2, when put together, reveals that the human soul hungers after things which the universe cannot provide, something which is very odd if both of these desires are in vain. Indeed, this hints at the idea of Heaven, for our human heart has a hole that just so happens to only be fulfillable by the divine.
Indeed, as I pointed out in the first comment that was posted in this comment section, humans naturally tend to reply with a lot of curiosity and interest if you were to propose that you could show them how to count beyond infinity, or reach endlessness itself, or tell them how many times we can beat infinity and how many layers there are to the truly endless.
It is almost as if humanity has a desire to appreciate the infinite, to truly enjoy eternal bliss. If so, we would expect death, then, to come to us as a bitter surprise, something none of us plans for, and in fact something which is against all our plans as if we would naturally extend ourselves and our being forever into the vast wilderness out there. Which is exactly what we find.
David Bentley Hart himself echoes a similar sentiment on his lecutre on death, when he says how humans always plan ahead towards a potentially never-ending future, thereby hinting that our true fulfillment is found both in temporal immortality, but also equally infinite possibility and opportunity.
I think that it is not a coincindence that we would have such two seemingly opposing desires. One of perpetual preservation and endless life, and one of horror at the prospect of eternity due to potential boredom or dissatisfaction with that limitlessness that lies beyond us.
These 2 desires, seemingly opposed to each other and ruling each other out, nevertheless compliment each other, like a marriage between Heaven above and Earth below that may give us an opportunity to enter into the New Heaven and New Earth.
Huh...New Heaven and New Earth, two members seemingly opposed to each other, even with an expectation of the destruction of either one of them at the hands of the other, coming together and becoming reborn into glory, both remaining and being perfected together...maybe the Biblical poets really were on to something there..
I was aware of the jellyfish example for a while (and spiders are like lobsters in the above respect). I don't know exactly where you're going when you suggest "the possibility of this type of natural immortality is especially relevant to the debate of whether or not a desire for immortality can make an argument for the fact that we are immortal."
My first guess is that you mean by providing a possible way of fulfilling this desire, we can justify thinking that it's not a vain desire. But if that's so, it's only a very small step in the right direction, because the natural desire Aquinas offers is to be unkillable. Anything that can be destroyed by natural means is corruptible by nature.
''I don't know exactly where you're going when you suggest "the possibility of this type of natural immortality is especially relevant to the debate of whether or not a desire for immortality can make an argument for the fact that we are immortal."Delete
My first guess is that you mean by providing a possible way of fulfilling this desire, we can justify thinking that it's not a vain desire. But if that's so, it's only a very small step in the right direction, because the natural desire Aquinas offers is to be unkillable. Anything that can be destroyed by natural means is corruptible by nature.''
Well, I first meant it as an objection because natural immortality of this sort might undermine the idea of eternal life or eternal youth that Christianity offers.
Though I am starting to think that this mistaken.
However, recent developments in technology suggest that we could indeed augment our body with various types of technology to achieve not only the ability to basically continue living forever, but also to be immune to diseases and even to any and all types of injury or physical mutilation.
The problem with this is that the brain would still be corruptible and it would itself start to die after 200 years or so of life.
However, if geneticists are correct, and the jellyfish gene can be implanted inside of our own cells, then even the brain might not be much of a problem as the gene could just revert the brain back to youth or generate new brain cells, thus guaranteing immortality both from old age, diseases, injuries and the natural corruption of the brain over the centuries.
But what do you think?
Hi again, JoeDDelete
"Well, I first meant it as an objection because natural immortality of this sort might undermine the idea of eternal life or eternal youth that Christianity offers."
I'm somewhat surprised by that answer, though I suppose I can see where you were coming from when you made that point. Christianity claims to be the only way to obtain eternal life (and by supernatural means, no less!), whereas if natural means are possible, then the Christian claim is falsified. But I think the example of natural immortality isn't strong enough to pose that problem. For example, I doubt the "natural immortals" could survive the temperatures necessary for thermonuclear fusion. Or the Big Rip.
Actually, an example immediatly comes to mind of the forces generated by a black hole, which are, according to the equations anyways, infinite, This means that nothing in the physical universe can resist the destructive powers of a black hole. And natural technological immortality seems obviously vulnearable to such an infinite force. Heck, black holes are so powerful that space and time do not exist in the center, and it is hard to see how anything natural could survive that. But furthermore, this type of natural immortality would be derivative from nature and man's technological capabilities, so even natural immortality, however good it might be, will still have limits it seems by virtue of the fact that it uses natural things as a basis.Delete
Grace and Rust, I don't see how - within the kind of limits you posit, "natural immortals" would be a problem. Didn't the Medievals (and their descendants for some centuries after) believe there were such beings. Aereal spirits, faery, and the like. Even if their existence was not positively affirmed, it was not considered fully impossible. (I don't recall St Thomas addressing this though.)Delete
@JoeD: That doesn't really meet my point. It was Yeats who used boredom; I just used it as one example of someone who wasn't convinced. Obviously, Lewis and Williams are more serious examples.Delete
My own emotional* response is more like not wanting to be bothered. And your description of a "non-boring" heaven leaves me cold. It calls up images of grownups insisting that I should join in with enthusiasm. (C S Lewis did express something like this.)
My point is that the emotional sense of "desire" is not enough, and tends to lead one away from the point. For the feeling of desiring immortality simply isn't universal. I've never felt it - honestly. (Probably because my worst sin is sloth.) I truly feel, and have as long as I can recall, that those who posit annihilation are guilty of wishful thinking. To me, it sounds restful. And unlikely, even independent of the arguments.
Now, once again, I don't think this proves a thing. It is a caution to avoid reading the ordinary sense of "desire" into the argument, and has absolutely nothing to do with the real point that, if we are naturally directed toward God, that is evidence of God.
*And that's all I really think it is, not the basis for a proof at all.
From your description of not wanting to be bothered you sound as if you prefer being alone to company. And if that is so, then rest assured that when I say infinite possibility, I mean infinite possibility. So if you want to spend eternity alone in nature, or wherever it is, you would be free to do so technically, though humans are still social creatures and will require some company eventually. Or maybe you are refering to the idea that death is like sleep, and not wanting to be bothered means sleeping through eternity. Well, John Enter whom I cite points out how death is a state of true nothingness, where neither rest nor peace nor memory nor pain nor pleasure exist. It is a state deeper than sleep because it is ontologically deeper than sleep. And as Enter points out, descriptions of death as sleep or peaceful because there is no pain fail to mention that there is no pleasure either. And the reason we don't have fear of sleep is because we are naturally drawn to it as a state of rest and because we know that we will eventually wake up and because sleep is still a state of existance, albeit an unconscious one at that. Basically, death is neither peaceful nor restful because there is nobody there to enjoy tese things in the first place when it comes to death.And as for desiring immortality, D.B.Hart in his lecture on death points out how it's not that humans actively desire to live forever, but rather that their thoughts about the future extend into a potential forever and how humans don't really always think about death but rather ignore it in everyday life as if they were going to live forever.In other words, humans naturally assign meaning and value to themselves and their experience, and death is just the polar opposite of value or meaning as it is the very termination of all our experience, a big division by zero that makes all our thoughts worthless because of the sheer absolute annihilation they go through, including any positive thoughts one could have about it in the first place, because complaining about being bothered requires a rational agent that has value and values certain things over others, all of which are completely destroyed by death thus making death of a completely different ontological category than anything else humans know and have experienced.In fact, it calls up images of an angry adolescent complaining and blaming his parents for giving birth to him and insisting that nobody asked him about whether or not he wanted to be born, all the while completely missing the fact that the only reason he even can complain is because he exists in the first place.Delete
Lots of interesting comments! Re C. S. Lewis' views of immortality, Art Lindsley's article, "C. S. Lewis on Life and Immortality," is well worth reading, at http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/53 .
For an intelligent atheistic critique of the argument, see "A Critique of the Argument from Desire" (at the Tafacorian Thoughts blog) at https://tafacorianthoughts.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/a-critique-of-the-argument-from-desire/ .
Although I'm skeptical of attempts to argue for immortality based on the human desire for a hereafter, I do think that one can argue that "God does nothing in vain" (as distinct from the Aristotelian adage that "Nature does nothing in vain," which only applies to functions, in my opinion.) If God made us with an innate desire for communion with Him, then there must be an opportunity for this desire to be realized, in the world to come.
My reaction to George LeSauvage's statement that those who posit annihilation are guilty of wishful thinking, and that a temporal immortality would be undesirable, was one of total incredulity. Come on, George. There are lots of interesting things you could spend eternity doing, without getting out of bed: learning languages, reading books, creating new games, playing games, talking to interesting people whom you've never met (remember that the number of humans who have ever existed is estimated to be around 100 billion), and above all, communing with your Creator.
George writes: "[A] timeless eternal life is the only kind I can see as desirable." I disagree. I certainly don't want to be frozen in time, even if it means being frozen in bliss. If there's no stream of consciousness, then there's no me. That's the one thing I will not give up, for anyone or anything, for it would be tantamount to giving up my humanity. A timeless eternity is for God to enjoy, not man.
Besides which, Christianity tells us that our bodies will be resurrected on the Last day. Now, no matter where Heaven is located - whether in this cosmos or out of it - the notion of a timeless body is an absurdity. Hearts beat in time, and not out of it.
@Vincent: Believe or not, what I said is exactly how I FEEL, and have always felt. The idea of non-existence sounds restful to me. I don't see what's so great about consciousness, considered subjectively.Delete
This is not presented as an argument except as a caution against conflating desire as something we consciously feel (the ordinary sense), and desire in the sense Ed seems to be using, of being directed toward something, by nature.
@JoeD: As I see it, you are arguing for a subjective emotional value which we should place on existence, along with an objective value. That is what I am cautioning against. The trouble is that you keep going back to what I should like about the immortality, which to me is just missing the point.Delete
If you (and Vincent) wish to argue that such feelings are a character flaw, and, if not sinful per se, at least the effects of sin, you will get no argument from me. (That is exactly what I think it is. Read Thomas on Sloth; he nails it.) But to deny that they are real is raw dogmatism. And they are not unique.
I DO accept that existence is good, per se. I reject the notion that this belief can be built on the fact that people usually feel it is. You have to work from classical philosophical principles, not from modern demi-romantic attitudes.
Well, for folks like John Enter, who is an agnostic who absolutely fears and hates death, the argument from desire might do wonders.Delete
But what I was getting at in my comment is the objective superiority of existence, not a romantic one.
To show what I mean, let us take your belief that death, or rather, annihilation, will give you rest.
You personally seem to put value into the idea of annihilation because it would give you rest, therefore, there must be something you value about rest in order associate death with something good.
But death just IS the end of all experience and value, including any percieved notion of rest.
By definition, you will not get the rest you want out of death because death is the end of all value, and basically makes it like you never existed in the first place.
Let us also consider the fact that you need to exist in the first place in order to make any judgement on death.
Even if you consider annihilation a restful thing, you only do so qua existing human being. But death is the end of that existence, which means that all your thoughts become annihilated, including the thought that death is restful.
This is what death is, which is the end of all meaning and it's own meaning is that it has no meaning.
And in order to even be able to consider death as restful, you need to have the foundation of your own existence.
And since death destroys that foundation it simply cannot be possible for it to be restful, since there is nobody there to experience that rest.
This annihilation is literally the ABSENCE of rest, as well as the absence of pain and the absence of boredom, which means it is the absence of everything!
As such, it is simply false to suppose death will give you anything, including rest.
JoeD. Now you're on the right track. The only qualification is that, from an emotive standpoint, the possibility of not fearing annihilation still stands. That doesn't mean it is ultimately coherent (a view I tried to distance myself from). My points were simply these:Delete
1. That here, even more than usual, the difference in meaning between the sense of "desire" in the argument, and the meaning most give it nowadays, is dangerous.
2. That this tends to infect us all; hence the arguments I've seen, e.g., arguing the absence of boredom. I really think that misses the point, as do all efforts to say how much fun the afterlife will be. Those always ultimately seem to come down to what the speaker likes.
Pure conjecture, inspired by the Great Divorce: Perhaps these differences are indications of how differently, if saved, we will see the Beatific Vision.
Really, we don't know all that much about what the afterlife will be like. I will say that Vincent is right on this point: that the bodily resurrection must mean that there is some sense in which we can speak of "time" in heaven. But I would go no further; it's probably only true by analogy, and we just don't know enough to say much. What little we have regards the Risen Christ. Just how much of what was observed would apply to us, as adopted sons of God, and how much was peculiar to Him as the Incarnate Word? Beats me.
"Argument from desire"ReplyDelete
--Really? The mind boggles with incredulity.
"What he means is that a thing couldn’t naturally be directed toward some end unless that end were real"
--No case has been made that things are naturally directed toward some end.
And on and on...
How does this sort of "argument" make any sort of rational sense to anybody? Is it that the author acknowledges certain obvious defects only to go on to employ slightly less obvious defects?
"But it doesn’t follow that our paleontologist would first have independently to establish the existence of the relevant sort of prey in the environmental niche in question before judging that the teeth serve a carnivorous end. His general knowledge of the kinds of teeth there are suffices for that. "
--What does "general knowledge of teeth" mean if it does not relate the shape of teeth to that which is being chewed?
"So, does Aquinas’s argument work? I think that when all the relevant metaphysical background theses and the subsidiary arguments are spelled out thoroughly – and I haven’t addressed all of that here – it plausibly does work."
--This seems like classic theistic misdirection argument. In other words "the key to the argument is over there, so don't worry that I have not presented it here".
"In a context where broadly classical (Platonic or Aristotelian) metaphysical presuppositions were widely accepted, arguments like the argument from desire or the Fourth Way would be much more plausible standalone arguments."
--Right, if one accepts a variety of indemonstrable principles then something as unsupportable as the "argument" from desire might have some sort of personal appeal.
Imagine if scientists proposed an argument for gravity from desire, or an argument for electromagnetic radiation from desire. In my view the fact that Aquinas made this argument and some theists still give it any credence whatsoever only indicates how baseless the notion of god is.
As usual, you go badly wrong right off the bat. That things are naturally directed toward some end is something I've argued for many, many times in various places. You can't reasonably expect me to repeat every relevant argument every time I write a blog post. Every post would turn into a book. Either do your homework before opening your mouth, or kindly keep it shut.
The rest of your comment just gets even worse.
Look, perhaps you mean well, but your posts are routinely of very, very poor quality and you seem incapable of learning from criticism. And you post way too often and drive out significant discussion.
I doubt you can improve the quality of your comments, but please cut their length and frequency or I start deleting.
To everyone else:
STOP FEEDING TROLLS already. It's YOUR FAULT when they keep crapping up threads.
Cut it the hell out already. Jeez, what does it take to get the point?
STOP FEEDING TROLLS already. It's YOUR FAULT when they keep crapping up threads.Delete
I'll take this opportunity to apologize for my role in that, Dr. Feser. I don't really comment all that often anyway, so I didn't see the harm. Live and learn, I guess.
Edward FeserJune 21, 2017 at 10:17 PM SD,Delete
"That things are naturally directed toward some end is something I've argued for many, many times in various places.... Either do your homework before opening your mouth, or kindly keep it shut."
--When I said "No case has been made that things are naturally directed toward some end." I was speaking both generally and specifically. I have searched for some sort of case to be made that things are naturally directed toward an end and have never encountered any such sound argument. I also did not see one here in this post.
" you seem incapable of learning from criticism."
--How often do adults actually change their opinions dramatically based on a couple conversations? For most of us change is slow, over many interactions, and composed of very small steps that in the aggregate might amount to substantial change.
" And you post way too often and drive out significant discussion."
--I think any objective tally of original posts will show I start no more conversations than many other posters, and most of my posts are in response to responses to my posts, in other words, conversations.
" but please cut their length and frequency or I start deleting."
--Again, I think that an objective look at the length is a matter of responding to points put to me.
"they keep crapping up threads."
--Interesting that you consider my arguments "crapping", but I find very little in the way of specific rational argumentation coming from others.
As far as "crapping" is concerned it is certain theists here who engage in continual ad hominems and expletives. It find that sort of thing boring and adolescent so I just ignore it.
"Cut it the hell out already. Jeez, what does it take to get the point?"
--I don't somehow enjoy antagonizing people, certainly not a site owner. When a person takes the time to thoughtfully make arguments I respond in kind.
If a person uses ad hominems or expletives I just shrug and ignore, or I might try to pick out a few actual arguments from the noise and address them.
You are an academic. Surly you expect vigorous disagreement whenever you publish. I don't see the academic value in branding critics as "trolls". I prefer to argue on the merits of the argument, and thus far with respect to the argument from desire I simply cannot find any sound arguments presented here or elsewhere.
Here is one take "Briefly and roughly, the argument states that humans’ natural desire for eternal happiness must be capable of satisfaction, because all natural desires are capable of satisfaction. "
But why should all natural desires be capable of satisfaction? We simply want things. Why would we presuppose that wanting a thing makes it possible to realize that thing? It just does not follow.
In other formulations the premise "Nature makes nothing in vain" is simply unsupportable.
The argument from desire is related to the Fifth Way by things acting toward and end, thus desire indicating acting toward an end that requires god. But as in the First Way, Aquinas begs the question in the Fifth Way, this time by merely assuming "designedly" and then later asserting an intelligent directer.
I realize you are too busy to get into lengthy blog discussions but if someone cares to form specific rational counter arguments to my logical points, absent the all too frequent ad hominems, expletives, and invective labels that could be interesting.
most of my posts are in response to responses to my posts, in other words, conversations.Delete
Everyone take note of this: another good reason not to respond to him.
I don't make this comment wishing to get in any debate with you, SP. I won't respond. But I would take the time to ask if you had ever considered the problem might be you? You are widely considered a troll, here and elsewhere. This is not a place where all atheists or non-Thomists are called trolls. So don't you ever wonder if the strong reactions are due to your particular behavior?
AnonymousJune 23, 2017 at 1:07 AMDelete
" This is not a place where all atheists or non-Thomists are called trolls. So don't you ever wonder if the strong reactions are due to your particular behavior?"
--If I were engaging in ad hominems, or posting off topic, or using expletives, or failing to engage on the rational merits then some sort of personal criticisms against me would be justified.
I have used techniques such as presenting a specific conditional statement, or using logical notation, or pointing out the words that form a logical fallacy.
I typically quote the OP, or quote Aquinas, or quote another poster and then respond direct to that quote. How are these discussion techniques invalid?
I am at a loss as to the vociferous responses others exhibit. I am not qualified to psychoanalyze them through the internet, although several seem to feel they are qualified to tell me what my motivations are.
I find Stardusty's posts some of the most interesting, well-reasoned and educational on this blog, his comments often help me understand things better or think critically about things, and he has a real gift for the clear exposition of issues. I wonder if the problem is a reluctance on this blog to acknowledge the extent to which belief in God can only be based on personal will rather than definitively proven as well-founded based on solid argument?Delete
You find lies and assertions with no arguments (just sometimes with a sort of argument) the most interesting... LOL.Delete
Thanks, but your attempt to maintain a narrative for StarStruck is in vain, maybe you are his buddy or his fan.
''I find Stardusty's posts some of the most interesting, well-reasoned and educational on this blog, ''
I also find Kent Hovind's videos on astronomy, physics and paleonotology very enlightening, engaging and refreshingly interactive as well!
They are probably the most well researched documentaries I have ever seen, combining ground-breaking new research into cryptozoology, creation science and scriptural study with the best that 18th century natural science has to offer to us!
I suggest though watching his videos on the proper exegesis of Genesis first, which is as professional in it's method as it is it in it's simplicity, where he also goes into amazing detail when it comes to analysing scripture, using only the King James versions of the Old Testament to reveal never-yet seen connections between events that are bound to impress even the most indifferent viewer, and shows how the KJV is by far the most reliable translation of the Bible using King Henry VIII's own text to back it up too!
But I especially suggest you watch his videos on the philosophy of evolution and how the theory is deeply intertwined with the Aryan supermacist philosophy of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, which uses probably the best and most first-hand historical sources by a variety of seasoned scholars to prove what the entire Democrat infested science lobby doesn't want you to know!
jc, oh dear.Delete
Perhaps you can back up your claims in detail. Please show how his arguments are brilliant.
Eduardo, he could be SP.
If it is him, than please Ban him already.Delete
But considering how triggering Religion-related topics are, I think people like StarVoodoo can actually get fans for all of his antagonizing shenanigans that he doesn't like to do...
I recall JC popping up before to defend Don't Jindra (who also has praised SP's posts before). He probably isn't SP then. I suppose imbecilic gnus might think anyone aggressively attacking theists is spot on. Until jc actually shows in detail how SP's poibts are well-reasoned and interesting, his commentary is worthless.Delete
"I find Stardusty's posts some of the most interesting, well-reasoned and educational on this blog, his comments often help me understand things better or think critically about things, and he has a real gift for the clear exposition of issues"Delete
This made me laugh
Anonymous, I don't recall praising SP's posts in the past. Maybe you could refresh my memory. Btw, I do not aggressively attack all theists. In fact, I like some theists much more than I like some atheists (Sam Harris comes to mind).Delete
> If I were engaging in ad hominems, or posting off topic, or using expletives, or failing to engage on the rational merits then some sort of personal criticisms against me would be justified.Delete
Fallacy of false tetralemma. Assumes that all trolling must be either ad hominems, posting off topic, using explicitives, or failing to engage on the rational merits, and if it isn't one of those four, it cannot be trolling.
Tomislav OstojichJune 26, 2017 at 2:15 PMDelete
" Fallacy of false tetralemma."
--Nope. My conditional statement is true as stated.
" Assumes that all trolling must be either ad hominems, posting off topic, using explicitives, or failing to engage on the rational merits, and if it isn't one of those four, it cannot be trolling."
--Nope, I didn't say iff. Those are your words, not mine, and your words are not my problem.
However, you did commit the strawman fallacy.
> Nope, I didn't say iff. Those are your words, not mine, and your words are not my problem.Delete
Then you're posting something offtopic, as nobody asked whether doing X, Y, Z and W would justify an accusation of trolling. And because you said
> My conditional statement is true as stated.
I will remark that your conditional statement itself is an example of an offtopic remark, and therefore I personally criticize you for being a troll and such criticism, because your conditional statement is true, is justified. Q.E.D.
Tomislav OstojichJune 26, 2017 at 9:11 PMDelete
"Then you're posting something offtopic, ... I personally criticize you for being a troll "
--If posting on the topic of trolling is off topic and therefore itself trolling then you, numerous posters, and the site owner are all themselves trolls for posting on the topic of trolling.
Give it up dude, you got caught out trying to strawman me, probably because you have no counter arguments to my points above on the core topic of this thread, the argument from desire.
For example Todd Buras acknowledges that C S Lewis and others present unsound formulations of the argument from desire.
Others here deny that "end" means "purpose" but that only waters down the argument to a mere tautology formed by using slightly different words that mean effectively the same thing, equivalent to "stuff tends to do what stuff is inclined to do".
If you are so concerned about posting on topic I suggest you focus one the rational construction of the argument itself.
out of all the stupid trolls here, you are the most entertaining one.Delete
Ed, i'm a little hesistant to ask this as it's off topic, but what is your opinions on an aspect of Aristotelian ethics which says every moral decision you make has 2 consequences; the immediate result of the act and the forming of a person's character. JP2 wrote a book on this so I guess it's Catholic but is it Thomistic?ReplyDelete
If it's off topic, don't ask it.
I'll be putting up another open thread soon -- save it for then.
Another great post Dr.FeserReplyDelete
I think someone should publish something like this argument, it would be a nice Thomistic contribution to the recent Debate regarding Axiology of God and a nice argument for Pro-Theism..
As for the argument itself, what does intellect apprehends existence absolutely and for all times mean? does it mean that it grasps universals that are timeless?
It just seems so strange to me that someone like Dennis Prager, a very intelligent man, can build his entire worldview on the foundation of a desire. Not that I don't find Dr. Feser's defence of the argument from desire convincing, I do, but Prager rests content with the desire, rather than an argument from desire. The British columnist Peter Hitchens does the same. And such figures, in their social and political commentary, are usually very assertive about the need to accept reality rather than wishful thinking.ReplyDelete
Prager did say he has arguments too. He was just focusing on something else for the purposes of that show. So he may agree with you that the mere desire would not be enough.Delete
Peter Hitchens is basically a fideist. He doesn't believe that philosophy or reason can show that God exists or that God doesn't exist. He doesn't seem to have a lot of philosophical knowledge. His opinions of philosophy seem to be based on his experience of mid-twentieth analytical philosophy, especially philosophy of language, and he seems to think all philosophy is just logic-chopping.Delete
Still, if you accept his premises about us being in complete equipoise between theism and atheism, then there is something in his claim that, for moral, social, and cultural/aesthetic reasons, we should choose theism. But it obviously is not the strongest argument for God's existence. I think he'd also have to work on his premises to make the argument, or at least rhetorical force of it, stronger. For example, if you could show there was good reason to think naturalism/materialism false, then it would be rhetorically stronger. Many people assume science has made materialism/naturalism very likely, and imaginatively view the cosmos implicitly as materialistic, making the choice between choosing to believe in theism seem more of a leap to them.
John Michell, from Fortean-sceptical premises, used to sometimes argue for a similar choice of theism (and anti-Darwinianism). But his interest was less about social morality and stability than Hitchens's, and more about personal contentment.
I wish Hitchens would stop saying it's a toss up. People might believe him. He admits he has no head for philosophy but he insists that God's existence can't be demonstrated. I've suggested he stop doing this but to no avail.Delete
Simple Darwinian argument: desire for immortality is an evolutionary response to higher consciousness. Animals don't need it because they aren't self-conscious. But in order to preserve the will to live in a conscious being he had to be able to contemplate immortality. If he could not then he would become obsessed with death (as some people to) and become purposeless. A Darwinian would say that the immortality delusion is evolution's way of making sure that us conscious beings get on with it.ReplyDelete
Fortunately for me, I think that Darwinism is a stupid, vulgar materialist doctrine on par with crude Marxism or Freudianism. But I've seen some sympathy for it thrown around on here.
Vincent Torley and I started a conversation on this above. You might be interested, since I think this Darwinian response is implausible at best, and I explain why in my latest comment.Delete
I've been trying to cut back on sugar in recent years because I know a natural desire can be strongly directed toward a harmful end. The objection could be made that the end is not properly my wife's brownie pudding, but a more natural food source. But, frankly, brownie pudding hits the spot better than grapes. An artificial substitution is desired more than what should be the real object of my desire.ReplyDelete
So I'm wondering the same about immortality with the gods. Maybe the desire toward that end is just as misplaced as my desire for brownie pudding. For some, a homespun god hits the spot. For others, not so much -- because that desire is not actually toward the natural end.
To refute Aquinas, one does not have to prove the object of the desire is unreal, merely that the object is misplaced, or artificially substituted for the real object.
It's kind of OT, for which I apologize, but I've long had a problem with Prager on religion. He seems to be a complete devotee of the "command" theory of ethics, even going so far as to imply that outside the Judeo-Christian revelations, people have no morals. Not imperfect, not seen through a glass darkly. The fact that I've never seen him even nod in the direction of the Classical Theist answer makes me think he isn't even aware there is a debate.ReplyDelete
I hope I'm misreading him, but it's arisen so often, always without any qualification, that I can see no other way to take him.
DJ: the relevant natural desire is for "sweet-tasting things", of which there are many varieties and instances, but none of which constitute the fundamental object of the desire. (For one thing, none of them represent "sweetness" and no other traits.)ReplyDelete
Tony, Is the fundamental object of the desire for "sweet-tasting things" or nourishing things that happen to be sweet? I think the later.Delete
Let's grant that a natural desire for X entails that X is real. Let's also grant that we naturally desire immortality.ReplyDelete
Superficially, these premises appear to entail that my immortality is real, just as a matter of pure logic.
But I think that this appearance is an illusion. It's an artifact of grammar. Aquinas's argument still fails, unless something further is said.
For consider: We say that the tree naturally desires water. But what we mean, more precisely, is that the tree naturally desires to be at water. The tree is trying to include water within the space that the tree occupies. And so, from what I granted above, it does follow that water exists.
But let's try the same analysis with immortality, and see how far it gets us. We say that we naturally desire immortality. But what we mean, more precisely, is that we naturally desire that we will be alive at every future time. We want to include every future time t within the duration of time through which we will live. And so, from what I granted above, it does follow that every future time t will exist. ... But that tautology is all that follows.
Return to the tree. The tree naturally desires water. And it follows that water exists. We might further say that the tree naturally desires to take in water. But it does not follow that a taking in of water will happen for that tree.
Likewise, we naturally desire to live at a future time t. And it follows that time t will exist. But it does not follow that our living at time t will happen. Hence, it does not follow that we are immortal. All that follows is that there will be times t "to be immortal at". It does not follow that we will in fact do that, any more than it follows that the tree will ever actually make it to the water that it desires.
I'm not sure how this argument is supposed to work. The existence of all future times and the existence of immortality are not strictly synonymous, and thus it is illegitimate to shift from the desire for one to the desire for another -- it is analogous to saying that the desire for water is a desire to be at place p. This looks very much like illicit substitution into an intensional context.Delete
The same problem arises for saying that 'we naturally desire immortality' means, more precisely, that 'we naturally desire that we will be alive at every future time'; the idea, no doubt, is that if one is immortal, one is alive at every future time, but that doesn't allow for substitution. It could be, for instance, that the natural desire for immortality is (as Aquinas tends to frame it) a desire to live incorruptibly; when considering how incorruptible life is measured, one might well put the measurement in terms of all future times, but it does not follow that the measurement is included in the object of the desire. Again, it looks like an illicit substitution into an intensional context.
@Brandon: I'm not sure how this argument is supposed to work. The existence of all future times and the existence of immortality are not strictly synonymous, and thus it is illegitimate to shift from the desire for one to the desire for another -- it is analogous to saying that the desire for water is a desire to be at place p. This looks very much like illicit substitution into an intensional context.Delete
This is precisely my point: The existence of all future times and the existence of immortality are not strictly synonymous. I'm arguing that Aquinas's premises only get him to the conclusion that future times will exist. He hasn't established that we will in fact live at those times.
Another way to say it is that "immortality" and "incorruptibility" are not properly thought of as objects of desire in the same way in which water is an object of desire for the tree, and tomorrow is an object of desire for the person who is standing at the gallows to be hanged today.
We say that we desire immortality, but the object of desire itself is more properly tomorrow (and days thereafter). We want to "possess" tomorrow, where here "possessing tomorrow" means "guaranteed to be alive tomorrow".
Analogously, the tree desires water. The object of desire is, properly speaking, water itself. The tree wants to "possess" water, where here "possessing water" means "to be taking in water".
But the "no vain natural desire" argument doesn't guarantee that we will possess the object of our desire. It only guarantees that the object of our desire exists (or will exist). The tree's desire for water entails that water exists. It doesn't entail that the tree possesses or will ever possess water. Analogously, our desire to possess tomorrow and the days thereafter entails that those days will exist, but it doesn't entail that we possess those days, which is what immortality requires.
(Perhaps I'm not taking "immortality" in the right sense. Perhaps immortality is supposed to be only the capacity to live forever, rather than a guarantee of living forever. But this is a much weaker claim. It seems only to say that we would live forever if no in-principle-preventable external thing and no in-principle-correctable internal flaw annihilated us. That kind of immortality would seem to be consistent with our in fact being annihilated eventually without exception. Is that what Aquinas is talking about?)
But the "no vain natural desire" argument doesn't guarantee that we will possess the object of our desire. It only guarantees that the object of our desire exists (or will exist).Delete
The posited object in this case is one's own life, though.
I don't understand some of your claims and examples; they involve a strange shifting from concrete to abstract and back again. Men on gallows don't typically desire 'tomorrow', for instance, and, indeed I'm not sure what that would even mean. 'Tomorrow' is just a measurement applied to things by treating the sun as a clock. What one desires on the gallows is life, or some action of life, or some feature of life; this may be clock-measurable, but whether it is clock-measurable is a distinct question from whether the action of life is in fact desired under the clock-measurement. Similar things can be said about this talk of 'possessing tomorrow'. We desire life, not measurements of it, although one can make sense of desiring life qua measured a certain way.
Perhaps immortality is supposed to be only the capacity to live forever, rather than a guarantee of living forever.
I'm not sure I know what you mean. When Aquinas speaks of these things, he is speaking of natural properties or features -- a thing that is corruptible is something that by its nature ceases to be. The only way to have the capacity to be incorruptible is actually to be incorruptible (a point that goes back to Aristotle). But 'incorruptible' does not mean 'unconditional'; God, to use the standard scholastic example can annihilate incorruptible beings, because 'incorruptible' only says that a thing has no natural tendency to cease to be; it does not (on its own) set a limit for what other causes can do.
Nevertheless, a real basic objection to the primary argument might be made: that the desire for immortality is, really, a mere instrumental reality, so that the person can go ON enjoying the other goods that are good to have in fulfillment of human nature. People only desire the immortality for the sake of of other things desired, and so the immortality itself is not the basic object of a natural desire.ReplyDelete
I think that this argument might also fail, but I am not confident about it. The counter is this: unlike for animals, humans think ahead and plan ahead and consider the prospects of the future. It is, then, one of the aspects of the good life to do this well. This is why, as Aristotle indicates, the happy life of virtue includes prudence, wherein the man takes satisfaction in acts of prudently preparing for this future good by today's work or avoiding that future evil by accepting today's disciplines and difficult acts: a life lived for pleasure in this moment, without due care for the prospect of tomorrow, is an unhappy life, because it cannot be lived in its human fullness, which unavoidably includes thinking of how things will go well tomorrow.
The happy life even today REQUIRES the reasonable prospect of a happy future. This fails if one knows either that all of his future will be unhappy, or if one knows he has no future beyond a very short one.
The Evolutionary ObjectionReplyDelete
Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the only objection that really needs responding to is that from the possibility of naturalistic evolution: perhaps the desire to survive is in us because all of evolution selects for that which tends towards reproductive success. Thus, it is only natural that humans would wish to live forever--the desire to survive being programmed into us by the "Blind Watchmaker".
How might we respond to this evolutionary scenario? If we say, "well that's just an evolutionary just-so story?" and ask why we should assume naturalism is true, then wouldn't that just leave us with an agnostic position regarding the argument from desire: it is either right or not, but we must suspend judgement?
Whatever else may be problematic about the argument.I don't understand how evolution is supposed to be relevant to the argument. If the background metaphysics is correct.Delete
it seems the issue of how or why the eye for example was selected is irrelevant to whether sight is natural to the eye, similarly if it is correct that desire for immortality is natural to intellect then it seems the evolutionary story or what sort of survival advantage it brings is irrelevant to the argument..
what am I missing here?
Evolution is relevant because a naturalistic evolutionary account of human beings would supply all the characteristics of man that the Thomist takes as indicative of the naturalness of the desire for eternal life. And it seems to me the naturalist has been given no reason to reject his explanatory alternative.Delete
"it seems the issue of how or why the eye for example was selected is irrelevant to whether sight is natural to the eye"Delete
The naturalist seems right to object here that the survivability conferred by visual organs may be what makes them appear "natural" to humans in the Thomistic sense.
Evolution is relevant because a naturalistic evolutionary account of human beings would supply all the characteristics of man that the Thomist takes as indicative of the naturalness of the desire for eternal life. And it seems to me the naturalist has been given no reason to reject his explanatory alternative.Delete
Again I don't understand where the conflict is supposed to lie here it doesn't seem that the argument is saying that non-naturalism is the best explanation among the competing views of our desire to live forever. Nothing in the argument seems to exclude evolutionary story here..
The naturalist seems right to object here that the survivability conferred by visual organs may be what makes them appear "natural" to humans in the Thomistic sense.
But thats a really confusing objection, how can survival advantage change Substantial forms and Final Causes of substances? .. this seems as absurd as saying that eye could have evolved to digest food..
“So, to refute the key premise that Aquinas’s argument rests on, it will not suffice to find examples of unfulfilled desires, or even unfulfilled natural … What one would need is an example of a desire that is both “natural” in Aquinas’s sense and also “in vain” in the sense of being unfulfillable in principle because its object is unreal. “ReplyDelete
--First, the use of the term “natural” in this context is circular with the term “not in vain” in this context.
“by a “natural” desire, Aquinas means a tendency toward some end that a thing has just by virtue of being the kind of thing it is”
“What does Aquinas mean when he says that a natural desire cannot be “in vain”? ... What he means is that a thing couldn’t naturally be directed toward some end unless that end were real. Such desires can be fulfilled at least in principle.”
Thus Aquinas is not making an important premise, rather, merely defining 2 terms on a related basis and then defying the reader to provide an example by which they are not so related.
To be natural is by virtue of being what it is. To be not in vain is to be real. This sort of circularity is accomplished by defining 2 seemingly different terms to mean essentially the same thing, but the definitions employ different word choices to mask this equivalence of definition. From there Aquinas uses one term to lead to the other, and in the process he has merely defined his way to a tautological premise.
This circularity technique can be illustrated as:
A = C Definition
B = C Definition
A leads to B Presented as a premise, but really just the transitive property of equality by definition
Beyond my first objection are counter examples observable because Aquinas is referring to active organisms or objects in nature, not pure mathematical abstractions.
I have a natural desire for my heart to continue beating indefinitely. As long as I have been aware of my own heartbeat I continually have desired that it continue beating. I expect there will never be a day when I cease this desire. But that desire cannot in principle be fulfilled.
Many other such particular examples can be cited. They take the form of some process that ordinarily functions as part of a system that can be imagined to continue indefinitely, but in principle cannot continue indefinitely.
Continuing on, the argument from desire then turns on the assertion that things do have a “tendency toward some end” or as Aquinas says in the 5th way “achieve their end”. Feser asserts on June 21 of this thread “That things are naturally directed toward some end is something I've argued for many, many times in various places.”
Ok, fine, but given that after the obvious objections have been acknowledged this becomes a key premise in the argument from desire, I was left without a specific reference to argue against, preferring to quote actual words from a particular reference. So I searched for “Feser naturally directed toward some end”, got some hits, but did not find any specific argument for this claim.
So I tried to find some reasoning behind the teleological argument, but fared no better. I found many bald assertions that things simply do have a tendency toward an end, but no arguments to support that assertion.
Where would this end reside? How would a thing know what end it is supposed to be going toward? In one example I read a match is supposedly directed toward a flame, but the match was quite obviously intelligently designed, so how is that an example of a natural tendency of things in general? Perhaps you say that is not a fair example on my part, but without any specific reference to a particular argument for the assertion that “things are naturally directed toward some end” that would not be surprising.
Perhaps “directed toward” means “pointed toward” in this context. So what is a water molecule pointed toward? Joining a raindrop? Flowing through my veins? Assisting in the drowning of a baby? How does this water molecule decide what to do with itself? How does any object know which way it is supposed to point?
This reminds me of a similar defense of the argument from desire by Todd Buras over at Baylor. Here's a link for those interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk9tYcsj-U0ReplyDelete
At 14:00 Buras acknowledges that typical formulations of the argument from desire, and that of Lewis, are demonstrably unsound. His goal then becomes altering those arguments to avoid making an unsound argument.
At 24:00 he explicitly abandons Lewis’s goal of arguing for the existence of god, instead limiting his point to asserting god is possible. Yet he then goes on to equate these 2 assertions, claiming speciously that even atheists would agree. To do this he uses the ontological argument, which suffers from the non sequitur that a logical possibility must necessarily be realizable, among other defects.
At 30:00 he makes an argument from an asserted absurdity of life. But why should we presuppose that life is not absurd? Just look all around you and in the media every day. Life clearly is, in many ways, quite absurd indeed.
At 34:00 he fails to answer a question about counting to infinity as an example of a natural desire in vain. All he does is change the question and answer a different question.
Thus, overall, Buras does at least acknowledge that longstanding arguments from desire are simply unsound. He then makes an effort to address the deficiencies of those arguments but only fails to rescue this fundamentally unsound argument for god, the argument from desire.
Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the only objection that really needs responding to is that from the possibility of naturalistic evolution: perhaps the desire to survive is in us because all of evolution selects for that which tends towards reproductive success.ReplyDelete
Jo F, doesn't the evolutionary claim rely on a supposition that "to incline toward X is a survival trait"? But in most (if not all) of the cases of "survival traits" that we actually understand for how they bring about survival, are cases of an X where actually acting precisely for enhances survival. But there's a problem here: acting for "survival for the next 10 minutes (or day, or month, or 10 years)" is not the same thing as surviving forever, and it is not necessarily the case that acts that reside in the former set are wholly included in the set of acts for the latter: it could be (just for example) that if you always choose acts taken because you desire t live "for the next K period" where K is finite, you tend to live M years, whereas if you were to choose act because you desire to live "for immortality" you would tend to live for N years, where N > M. On the other hand, it might be possible that N < M, i.e. acting due to an inclination for immortality could be a negative survival trait compared to acting with a desire for a for finite survival. WE JUST DON'T KNOW that having an inclination for immortality is a survival trait.
Alternatively, can the evolutionist provide an example of a trait of a basic inclination or desire in nature where that type of animal or plant never manages to satisfy the inclination?
"Alternatively, can the evolutionist provide an example of a trait of a basic inclination or desire in nature where that type of animal or plant never manages to satisfy the inclination?"Delete
Does he have to? What would it prove that the naturalist can't conceive of a counter example--that the basic desire for anything must have an object which can satisfy it? I'm not so sure, but perhaps there is an inductive argument there worth some attention. However, this may be a working counterexample: I think we all have the basic inclination or desire to never have bad things happen to us, for example, and this is never satisfied for anyone.
"doesn't the evolutionary claim rely on a supposition that "to incline toward X is a survival trait?"
I don't think so. The naturalist doesn't have to presuppose that the desire to live forever confers survival advantage. Rather, he can simply presume that the desire to live has been selected for and that there has been no evolutionary pressure to keep him from using his mind to conceive of an eternal life and, since he has the desire to live, such an idea is desirable to him. So, then, the desire to live forever need not have survival value if the naturalist simply accounts for this desire as a coincidental product of the desire to live. This account doesn't seem unreasonable to me and it is an alternative explanation that needs to be refuted if we are to expect the reasonable naturalist to see force in the Thomistic argument from desire.
Would a direct teleological framing of the argument not be more simple and convincing? As always this blog post is well written, but the last time I read about this kind of argument I thought it was more solid.ReplyDelete
Would you consider coming at this topic again from a more causal angle. (I know you touched on this, and no I am not asking you to give the foundation or repeat what you have written before elsewhere)
RE: Evolutionary ExplanationsReplyDelete
Purported evolutionary explanations of the desire for eternal life do nothing to refute the argument from desire. The naturalist would have to presuppose that to cite survival value or an extension of the desire to live etc. entails that the desire does not correspond to reality. They cannot just sneak that assumption in though!
The question is not how we may or may not have arrived at this desire. Nor is it a question of the desire might be beneficial. The question is whether the desire corresponds to reality. And merely citing how or why we might have this desire misses the point and ignores the metaphysical groundwork of the argument.
Such a purported explanation actually seems to commit the genetic fallacy.
I am reminded of something (not completely relevant) David Bentley Hart once wrote about the vacuity of evolutionary explanations as purported exhaustive explanations:
If I should visit you at your home and discover that, rather than living in a house, you instead shelter under a large roof that simply hovers above the ground, apparently neither supported by nor suspended from anything else, and should ask you how this is possible, I should not feel at all satisfied if you were to answer, ‘It’s to keep the rain out’—not even if you were then helpfully elaborate upon this by observing that keeping the rain out is evolutionary advantageous.
"The naturalist would have to presuppose that to cite survival value or an extension of the desire to live etc. entails that the desire does not correspond to reality"
By a desire's "correspondence to reality" are you referring to its having an existing object that can satisfy that desire? I'm not sure how else to understand what it means to say a desire is veridical or correspondent with reality, so that's what I'll assume as I try to answer the rest of your response.
The question is whether the desire corresponds to reality. And merely citing how or why we might have this desire misses the point and ignores the metaphysical groundwork of the argument.
I don't think that's right. It's this simple: either the desire to live forever comes from our evolutionarily-derived desire to survive or it came from God. Now, if the naturalist can just as easily explain the existence of this desire as the theist can in his own way, then the naturalist needs to be given a reason to reject his explanation.
Notice that the desire to survive is enough to explain the desire to live forever, since the desire to survive is the desire to not die and death at any point is something which frustrates the desire to not die.
The central claim of the argument from desire here is this: a thing couldn’t naturally be directed toward some end unless that end were real.Delete
Let me put it this way: the naturalist has to argue how there can be a natural desire when the end toward which that desire is directed does not exist.
Ask yourself: does the desire to live forever being an extension from the desire of creatures to survive (evolutionary explanation) mean that the end toward which the desire for eternal life is directed does not exist? If you think so, you have to offer some argument why. At this stage, you are assuming your conclusion.
That is, you assume that to explain its evolutionary origins has anything to do with whether the object of that desire is real. And that indeed is a genetic fallacy.
You offer a false choice. (1) evolutionary-derived and (2) God are not mutually exclusive, as, to put it simply, they are not competing explanations. God is not cited as an explanation at that level; rather, the reality of that natural desire, regardless of how it came about or its benefits or whether it is an extension of another desire, must mean that the end toward which it is directed is real.
“Let me put it this way: the naturalist has to argue how there can be a natural desire when the end toward which that desire is directed does not exist.”
Right. And the naturalist may do this by describing a naturalistic reality that is compatible with all of the human condition and in which natural desires point towards ends which do not exit.
“That is, you assume that to explain its evolutionary origins has anything to do with whether the object of that desire is real. And that indeed is a genetic fallacy.”
The genetic fallacy characterizes arguments which are based on the mechanisms that produced a belief to prove that this belief is false. An example would be for a naturalist to use natural evolution to explain why we feel nature is unintelligible unless we assume the existence of final causes. But the current case is different: The naturalist offers an opposing defeater, namely the description of a reality in which natural desires of rational beings may very well not point towards something which is real.
Now all arguments work on a particular set of background assumptions. It seems to me that the argument from desire works having theism as the background belief, and proves that on theism the soul is immortal. Incidentally even though I agree with the principle that on theism natural desires point towards what’s real I disagree that we have the natural desire to live for ever. I agree with George LeSauvage in this because I find that if one thinks about it eternal life in the sense of never-ending individual experience is anything but desirable but is an inconceivable calamity. Infinite life is not natural with finite beings. My solution is in understanding theosis as the event where the individual self is extinguished within God while one’s consciousness expands to become identical to God’s. In that simple view there is no end to our experience but there is an end to our self.
It is interesting to note that the English word “end” and the corresponding Greek word “telos” have two very distinct meaning: that of the goal and that of stopping, of not being there anymore. I say perhaps a deep order of reality has slipped into our everyday language?
So, the desire to live forever may simply be the expression of the desire to survive from creatures (humans) that happen to be conscious of time.ReplyDelete
"Such a purported explanation actually seems to commit the genetic fallacy."
This isn't about simply providing an explanation to undercut the theistic explanation of the desire for eternal life. Rather, this is about the naturalist's having a viable alternative explanation for the existence of this desire which must be refuted if he is to be expected to accept the theistic explanation offered by Aquinas.
(1) There's nothing 'theistic' about the explanation; the argument is not an argument for the existence of God.Delete
(2) As has been pointed out multiple times to you, e.g., by Red and by Jason, it needs to be established that it is in fact an alternative explanation rather than an explanation that may be true regardless.
It's this simple: either the desire to live forever comes from our evolutionarily-derived desire to survive or it came from God. Now, if the naturalist can just as easily explain the existence of this desire as the theist can in his own way, then the naturalist needs to be given a reason to reject his explanation.Delete
Jo, I think you are maybe thinking about the argument in terms of some sort of Abductive design argument types but that doesn't correspond to anything in the argument presented in the post. There isn't anything in the argument which amounts to a sort of inference to best explanation or simplest explanation..
desire to survive is enough to explain the desire to live forever, since the desire to survive is the desire to not die and death at any point is something which frustrates the desire to not die.
but again that won't be relevant to the argument the argument is not saying that reality of immortality is the best explanation why we have desire to live forever.but runs on the fact that things have natures that point towards some ends. nothing in it excludes any evolutionary story just as sight would be natural to eyes regardless of why they were selected.
If one wants to attack the argument through Darwinism, then one would need some sort of general argument that can show that Darwinism calls the Background Philosophy of nature into question but thats a different claim that would need establishing first...
After reading your well-written post again, I've come away with another objection that I think needs to be addressed. You say that a sufficient counterexample to the argument would need to be "both 'natural' in Aquinas’s sense and also 'in vain' in the sense of being unfulfillable in principle because its object is unreal." I want to offer some counterexamples which appear serviceable to me:
Would not the desire to never have bad things happen to oneself be natural in the Thomistic sense for humans? And yet it seems unfulfillable--we all die, have loved ones that die, or have lived in a world that is less than perfect.
Or would not the desire to not die be natural in the Thomistic sense, and yet unfulfillable in principle because the heat death of the universe is guaranteed by the second law of thermodynamics?
JasonJune 25, 2017 at 1:42 AMReplyDelete
"Purported evolutionary explanations of the desire for eternal life do nothing to refute the argument from desire."
--There is no sound argument from desire. None has been presented in the OP, nor has one been referenced anywhere in this thread, and my searches for one all return no results.
(see June 24, 2017 at 10:04 AM)
One reference was cited to a video of Todd Buras
In that video Buras acknowledges that the arguments for desire put forward by C S Lewis and others are all unsound. Buras attempts to salvage the argument but fails.
(see June 24, 2017 at 1:34 PM)
" The naturalist would have to presuppose that to cite survival value or an extension of the desire to live etc. entails that the desire does not correspond to reality. They cannot just sneak that assumption in though!"
--It is the theist who assumes that things do have a “tendency toward some end” or as Aquinas says in the 5th way “achieve their end”.
Desires are real experiences. The notion that things in general act to "achieve their end" or that there is some sort of purpose or goal that things act toward is mere conjecture. It is the theist who is attempting to "sneak that assumption in though".
For educational purposes for those watching:Delete
"it does not follow that every agent knows the end or deliberates about the end"...
"and to intend this (and end) is nothing else than to have a natural inclination to something."
- Aquinas, De Principiis De Naturae
Anyone who slanders final causality who presents it as something other than what Aquinas says here is simply not talking about final causality as the Aristotelian/Thomist does. The notion that we project purpose onto things is simply a strawman and is not final causality at all.
Jason: Yes. The funny thing is that most of those who put forward such arguments have at least read the 5 Ways. And if one does so, with the slightest attention and recall, one MUST understand that "not knowing the end" is key to pleading the fifth (If I may so put it.)Delete
JasonJune 25, 2017 at 7:19 PMDelete
"and to intend this (and end) is nothing else than to have a natural inclination to something."
- Aquinas, De Principiis De Naturae"
--Which has all the rhetorical force of "stuff does what stuff does"
" The notion that we project purpose onto things is simply a strawman and is not final causality at all."
--If an "end" is not a purpose, or a goal, or an objective, or a target, but merely an inclination, or tendency, or pointing then
"That things are naturally directed toward some end" becomes "things are naturally directed toward the things they are inclined to do", which is just a tautology formed by using slightly different words that mean effectively the same thing.
For any organism within a species that does not have the inclination or desire to stay with its partner forever or indefinitely (as in the case of rats, for example, but not in the case of humans usually), it has the natural desire to reproduce with every member of its species of the opposite sex; but this too is unfulfillable in principle (and therefore in vain), as no rat could ever successfully reproduce with every female rat in its lifetime.ReplyDelete
There is literally no evidence whatsoever that rat tendencies are concerned with "every member of the species" in any way, shape, or form rather than some considerably simpler and more general object (e.g., to reproduce).Delete
What do you mean? Do you deny that rats all have the natural desire to reproduce with as many members of their species as possible, indeed, with every member if this were possible. But the existence of competition and the struggle for survival cause this to be impossible, and so I think this presents a working counterexample to the Thomistic argument from desire.Delete
Do you deny that rats all have the natural desire to reproduce with as many members of their species as possible, indeed, with every member if this were possibleDelete
Yes, this is quite literally exactly what I said there was no evidence for, as opposed to some simpler and more general object, like just reproduction.
Yes, there is overwhelming evidence that the lower mammals have the natural desire to reproduce with as many females as possible. Just read any general treatise on biology. It's in their nature. They will attempt to procreate with every female of their species as they can as many times as possible.Delete
No, there is overwhelming evidence that the lower mammals have the natural desire to reproduce. Your claim is entirely in error and exhibits a failure to understand how biological explanations work.Delete
(1) There is no rat behavior explicable in terms of 'desire to reproduce with every member of their species if possible' that is not explicable in terms of 'desire to reproduce' combined with environmental factors (exposure to females). No rat behavior in any particular context will require consideration of the entire species; it will require nothing but desire to reproduce combined with environmental occasion and stimulus for it.
Nor is this surprising. It is a common feature of real biological explanation; flocking behavior, for instance, is extremely complex, but anyone attempting to argue that this requires a biological disposition to these complexities specifically is merely speaking mumbo-jumbo, as you are in the reproductive case. Flocking behavior requires only a very simple set of biological dispositions; the complexity arises out of interaction of these biological dispositions with the environment (e.g., other animals with the same dispositions).
(2) If one elides the two descriptions ('desire to reproduce' and 'desire to reproduce with as many females as possible'), as you seem to have done, it is very much a textbook example of a logical error -- it is the illicit substitution into intensional contexts I mentioned above in reply to Tyrrell McAllister.
(3) Evolutionary explanations themselves do not generally allow for the precision you are attributing to the desire. The behavior can be as complicated as one wishes, but selection tends to simplify stable dispositions to the minimum that still preserves sufficient self-preservation and reproduction. This does not strictly eliminate the possibility of some very specific disposition that somehow (in some way you have not specified) takes into account all the members of the species rather than being focused on particular kinds of behaviors, since things can arise by random genetic drift and the like; but there is no evidence of any mechanism -- mathematical, physical, chemical, or physiological -- that would allow a rat to take into account a conceptual notion like 'every member of its species' or an explicitly counterfactual notion like 'members of its species if it were possible'. On the other hand, the mechanisms for natural desire for reproduction are (relatively) straightforward: the physiology of a system geared for reproductive behavior which can be activated by specific stimuli -- scents and sights and the like. No need whatsoever to bring in all the members of the species as a specific object, and no need whatsoever to suggest that the rat has a desire for a counterfactual situation for which environmental factors could not possibly select.
Thus the counterexample appears to depend on either a logical error and/or a very sloppy understanding of how biological explanation works.
BrandonJune 25, 2017 at 3:02 PMReplyDelete
"Yes, this is quite literally exactly what I said there was no evidence for, as opposed to some simpler and more general object, like just reproduction."
--Perhaps even simpler. I doubt a rat thinks "I want some baby rats, I want to reproduce". I think it more likely the rat simply responds instinctively to stimuli in the moment and instinctively has sex.
In the Thomistic sense of "natural desire", rats "desire" to reproduce with every other rat existing. As Dr. Feser established above, the word "desire" as used in the Thomistic argument from desire need not be conscious.Delete
From his original post:
First, by a “natural” desire, Aquinas means a tendency toward some end that a thing has just by virtue of being the kind of thing it is – that is to say, by virtue of its essence. (To put the point in more technical terms, he is talking about immanent final causes grounded in substantial forms.) So, consider a tree’s tendency to sink roots into the ground so as to take in water. That would be an example of the sort of thing Aquinas has in mind, and as that example indicates, a “desire” of the sort he is talking about needn’t be conscious.
It is in this sense that rats have the natural desire to procreate with every other existing rat, and yet they do so in vain.
Jo F June 25, 2017 at 3:40 PMDelete
" As Dr. Feser established above, the word "desire" as used in the Thomistic argument from desire need not be conscious.
From his original post:
First, by a “natural” desire,"
--Ok, my read of that was an emphasis on the word "natural", but the below tends to support your reading of the whole term "natural desire".
OP Aquinas means a tendency toward some end that a thing has just by virtue of being the kind of thing it is – that is to say, by virtue of its essence. ... So, consider a tree’s tendency to sink roots into the ground so as to take in water. That would be an example of the sort of thing Aquinas has in mind, and as that example indicates, a “desire” of the sort he is talking about needn’t be conscious.
"It is in this sense that rats have the natural desire to procreate with every other existing rat,"
--That still seems to be a bit of a leap. Perhaps the male rat's so called natural desire is to have sex with any receptive female he encounters, not every female rat alive.
" and yet they do so in vain."
--While I strongly disagree with Feser on the very notion that things somehow act toward an end or a purpose (see June 24, 2017 at 10:04 AM) I don't see that you logically excluded a more limited so called natural desire of the male rat.
Prager is jewish. A afterlife, according to jesus/bible, is based on faith in Jesus death as atonement for our evil .ReplyDelete
This matters when saying one will see loved ones in the afterlife. Don't blame me.
Jo FJune 25, 2017 at 7:53 AMReplyDelete
let me try restating two different counter examples which may be less contentious:
A sufficient counterexample to the argument would need to be "both 'natural' in Aquinas’s sense and also 'in vain' in the sense of being unfulfillable in principle because its object is unreal." I want to offer some counterexamples which appear serviceable to me:
Would not the desire to never have bad things happen to oneself be natural in the Thomistic sense for humans? And yet it seems unfulfillable--we all die, have loved ones that die, or have lived in a world that is less than perfect.
Or would not the desire to not die be natural in the Thomistic sense, and yet unfulfillable in principle because the heat death of the universe is guaranteed by the second law of thermodynamics?
Would not the desire to never have bad things happen to oneself be natural in the Thomistic sense for humans?Delete
I'm not sure it would; whether bad things happen to us is mostly a matter of what other things do to us, and not either a feature of our own existing or an action within our own scope of acting. This contrasts with, for instance, a desire to avoid bad, which is something that is indeed fulfillable by actions within our natural scope of action.
Jo FJune 25, 2017 at 6:45 PMReplyDelete
"A sufficient counterexample to the argument would need to be "both 'natural' in Aquinas’s sense and also 'in vain' in the sense of being unfulfillable in principle because its object is unreal.""
--Yes, but in the case of inanimate objects or lower organisms "natural desire" is circular with "not in vain" by definition. The transitive property of equality applied to the definitions of each term exposes this tautology.
To ask for an example of a lower organism or object that has a natural desire in vain is to ask for an untrue tautology, which is an irrational request.
"I want to offer some counterexamples which appear serviceable to me:"
--Still, cases involving self aware beings can be easily formulated as counter examples.
"Would not the desire to never have bad things happen to oneself be natural in the Thomistic sense for humans? And yet it seems unfulfillable"
--Indeed, and it is the ability of a higher intelligence to naturally form desires for good reasons of self preservation, and to wish them to go on indefinitely, when they cannot in principle go on indefinitely that allows us to cite numerous counter examples, such as this latest one of yours.
Wouldn't many atheists question whether desire to preserve oneself always is natural rather than a misinterpretation of the desire to always preserve oneself? Certainly many people, on contemplating infinitely extended existence have recoiled.ReplyDelete
Why does Aquinas use the term "natural end" instead of just "end?" Is it to contrast with "unnatural" ends like artifacts? Like Feser's vine-hammock example?ReplyDelete
Nevermind, my question was answered in the OP.Delete
Ed, I wonder if at some point you'd consider writing a post (if you haven't already) on Doxastic Voluntarism?ReplyDelete
In the current post you open with Prager's acknowledgment about:
> ...one reason he believes in God...
But to the extent that talk of *reasons* for belief suggests a choice in the matter, I've rarely if ever found that matches my own experience. I am not aware of ever having chosen a belief (certainly not directly, but of course that's partly the point). Rather than choosing, I feel I *find myself with* my beliefs which I experience as essentially ineluctable. To be sure reasoning, to the extent I am a reasoning man, can play a part in that "finding myself with", but that part is not anything like enabling me to choose.
Or, so I thought in my twenties.
At some point not long after college, it occurred to me that if God does not punish for behaviors outside our control, and if beliefs are an example of such behaviors, then I should not be afraid of testing any and all of my beliefs. If the result was that some cherished, orthodox views, hitherto adhered to by me, were to fall by the wayside, well so be it. Not my fault God; you can't pin that rap on me.
And regardless of the merits or otherwise of the underlying argument, I'm glad I came to (found myself with) that view because then and there I decided to embark on what became a couple of decades of enthusiastic testing, a process that has never really ended although has now progressed from that initial analytic phase of gleeful destruction into one characterized more by careful synthesis and construction (and not a little re-construction), a major part of which is being sustained by the same systematically skeptical approach but fed by the likes of the über rigorous Aquinas, brought to my attention by the likes of yourself (so thanks for that!) I think my grasp on the nature of things is better and stands in better relation to the eternal that it had before that process of discovery.
Nevertheless, although the overall outcome seems positive, I do sometimes wonder if that was more by luck/grace than any kind of security arising from that now perhaps less-than-solid minor premise asserting that beliefs are not subject to choice. For sure I still cannot relate to the idea of *direct* control of any given belief. To that extent, direct doxastic voluntarism still seems hard to accept. But the other variety, whereby we may, via our directly chosen behaviors, apply broad *indirect* directional pressures on our beliefs, well that sounds quite plausible, and not little terrifying. (And I'm not unaware, although apparently I was back then, that my very decision to test my younger self's beliefs was an example of such a directly chosen behavior that would soon indirectly affect my beliefs.)
But what says Aquinas and friends; to what extent are we responsible and, more the the point, culpable for our beliefs?
And specifically: if indirect DV is indeed part of the way of things then what of the conundrum of how to decide, in the face of an ostensibly important belief about which we have some doubt, whether or not to pursue a behavior which may result in said belief being (involuntarily) discarded?
Interesting comment, Peter.Delete
I am inclined to believe that you are right about our not "choosing to believe" where we are speaking of logically demonstrable truths. I don't "choose" to believe that 4 is an even number. But for contingent truths it's trickier. There is a distinction between cases where we really do judge the preponderance of the evidence; in others things do seem clear. E.g., it is not a judgement call that the 1927 Yankees were better than the 1962 Mets, but against the 1975 Reds, well, there's an argument. But in the nature of the case, this cannot be demonstrable in the mathematical sense; it's a moral certainty.
Where it does get really tricky is at your last point, when speaking of action. As I see it, you really raise two questions. One, it seems to me, depends on just what sort of behavior you are talking about. If you mean reasoning out the matter in doubt, that's one thing, but there is also the fact (at least to Aristotelians) that by forming a habit you make it easier or harder to believe certain things. While people often say they are skeptical about "everything" I doubt that is ever true. But we do form habits of skepticism toward some things. (A common form is the assumption that if a book is old enough, it can be ignored.)
But there is also the case where we have to act, without sufficient reason to really make a choice. There, if ever, we do choose what to believe, granting that that choice and the belief are provisional. But for most people those are isolated enough that they are not habit-forming. (Cops are often not so lucky.)
Or maybe I've missed your point. I often do.
Peter, have you heard the phrase "I refuse to believe..."?Delete
It implies that I could "not refuse to believe", also. Which is voluntary.
You should read Josef Pieper on Faith, in his Faith, Hope, Love:
As a brief example: as a strictly scientific matter, a certain percentage of spouses are actually unfaithful. More narrowly, there is a smaller percentage, non-zero, that are unfaithful but do so without any outward evidence to suggest they might be unfaithful. Let's say that percentage is 0.1%. As a strict mathematical probability, I would be unable to know (in the sense of mathematical rigor) that my wife is one of the faithful ones, rather than one of the 0.1% that are unfaithful but gives no outward evidence of it. Nevertheless, my confidence in my wife's faithfulness is not 99.9%, it is full. Complete. Entire: I choose to believe in her wholeheartedly. I have left no room in my mind (and heart) for doubt on the matter.
This act of the mind is led by an act of the will, a choosing.
The philosophical skeptic argues that in doing so, one does violence to the mind, which should be led only by the evidence and nothing else. I offer, in response: it is right for a man to believe in his wife. Believing IN a PERSON is not the same sort of thing as estimating the probability of a truth.
Tony, yes I've heard the phrase but it doesn't really help much since it as vulnerable to being a category mistake as is "I choose to believe". To assume otherwise is to beg the question.Delete
As to your own example, why not test it it. Just for a second, choose not to believe in your wife's faithfulness. Better still, try choosing to believe she has been unfaithful. And I don't mean consider what it might be like *if* you believed that. I mean actually believe it.
Or, if that's too close to the bone (although it was you who raised the topic) try this. Find an opaque cup, and after making sure it is empty, cover it with something like a cloth or a plate or similar, so you cannot see inside. Have you done that?
OK, now believe there is a gold ring in the cup.
”my very decision to test my younger self's beliefs was an example of such a directly chosen behavior that would soon indirectly affect my beliefs”
Right. I think the human condition is characterized by a dialectic between how one chooses to live and what one chooses to believe: Beliefs affect how one will choose to live, and how one chooses to live affects what one will choose to believe.
Actually it’s more complex than that: How one chooses to live also affects one’s experience of life. Not only in the obvious quantitative sense but also in the qualitative sense. So, for example, if one decides to be charitable and forgiving to others then the quality of one’s experience of others will be transformed. And what one believes also affects one’s experience of life. So, for example, if one believes that all humans are God’s creatures and that Christ suffered the cross for each one of them then, again, the quality of how one experiences other people will change, and I say change dramatically. So it seems to me that the dialectic of the human condition has three main factors: one’s willful choices, one’s experience of life, and one’s beliefs. Thus I explain the fact that reasonable, intelligent, educated, well-meaning people are atheists by assuming that their experience of life is quite different than mine: in a way they have constructed the atheistic world they inhabit.
Anyway, I think a philosophy of the human condition is sorely missing. The human condition is the foundation of all knowledge. Without clarity about the human condition philosophy becomes kind of blind.
Peter, it is of course true that the act of belief that I mentioned is, like most human acts, subject to habituation. I can no more "decide to believe my wife is unfaithful" for a few minutes, in order to try the experience, than I can decide to stop being a mathematician for a few minutes to see how that feels.Delete
Also, the act of belief (of which the act of Faith in the Trinity and in Jesus who is God and man is one instance) is an act in which the intellect assents to a claim more wholeheartedly than the evidence warrants, it is NOT an act in which the intellect assents contrary to what the evidence indicates. The will is not doing violence to the natural light of reason, it is helping the mind bridge a gap the intellect cannot bridge on the basis of the evidence alone, for the sake of good. For, we are MEANT to believe in persons with our whole hearts. That is why the Greatest Commandment is to love God with your whole heart, not "to the extent of the concrete evidence".
Read Pieper on faith.
Would it be correct to characterize an end as a "state" (like a more stable atomic nucleus) and a desire as a "behavior" (like nuclear decay)?ReplyDelete