Sunday, March 4, 2018

It’s the latest open thread

It’s your opportunity once again to converse about anything that strikes your fancy.  From film noir to The Cars, Freud to cigars, set theory to dive bars.  As always, keep it civil, keep it classy, no trolling or troll-feeding. 

Previous open threads linked to here, if memory lane is your thing.


  1. 1)Is a Catholic permitted to believe that the New Heaven and New Earth will be the universe that already exists right now but glorified?

    Or are we required to believe that the New Earth and New Heavens are a completely new reality?


    2. I am not taking the time to research this answer, so I am not sure about the exact limits of acceptable Catholic interpretation.

      However, I would guess that, given Paul's quotation of the relevant passage from Isaiah in his Epistle to the Romans, and his application of it to Christian believers, that it would even be permissible to believe that the new heavens and new earth exist now, as the Church.

    3. The first link given by Thor has a very good answer.

    4. By "exist now" you presumably refer to the Church Triumphant.

    5. Dear Anonymous: No, not necessarily. Some interpret the "elements" of the world as the old elemental spiritual systems which are now "burned up" by the New Creation, which is Christ's Body. Again, take a look at that link given by Thor.

      Toward the end of Revelation, John is told that he would see the Bride of Christ, and then he is shown the New Jerusalem "coming down from heaven." You could plausibly equate the two, which would mean we are now in the New Jerusalem, the New Temple, the New Heavens and Earth, which are all different names for the Church, the Bride.

      It's not a popular interpretation; I'm just saying it is plausible.

  2. 2) The objection from Quantum Mechanics to the PC and PSR is based on the fact that a particle could have decayed a second earlier, as well as later, yet there is nothing that makes the particle decay at one specific time rather than another.

    This doesn't seem to have been adressed by Dr. Feser, since QM objections aren't only claiming that QM phenomena are indeterministic or spontaneous, but rather behave like free will, namely that decay could have happened just as easily earlier rather than when it actually did, and there is no trigger, either extrinsic to the particle or intrinsic, that could cause that to happen.

    Of course, unless formal causality could include spontaneous free-will like "rather than" behaviour, the above objection is defused and moot.

    1. You said: “there is no trigger, either extrinsic to the particle or intrinsic, that could cause that to happen.”

      Off the top of my head I’d take issue with the claim that there is nothing “intrinsic” to the particle that could cause that to happen.

      I don’t see why the Thomist couldn’t respond by saying that that’s just how particles behave given their nature. Meaning that the particle, given its nature, has the potentiality to decay at any point in time.

      The efficient cause of the particle/particles doesn’t have to constantly be in act. Just like the author of a novel doesn’t constantly have to be writing it in order to be its efficient cause.

      Again, this is off the top of my head...if you had an actual link to the paper you drew that objection from it would help me a lot more.

    2. Indeterminism of the quantum phenomena are entirely unlike free will. The free will pertains to an agent with an intellect and a will such that the agent can deliberate over possible actions and then choose among them.

    3. @Anon 11:43,

      "I don’t see why the Thomist couldn’t respond by saying that that’s just how particles behave given their nature. Meaning that the particle, given its nature, has the potentiality to decay at any point in time. "

      The particle may have the potentiality to randomly decay at any particular time, but the question still remains:

      Why exactly did the particle decay at t2 rather than t1 or t3? It's potentiality to decay could have just as easily been actualised earlier or later, so it seems we still have to answer how it decayed at one specific moment when it could have just as easily done at another.

    4. Let’s clarify then:

      You’re basically asking what causes the passive potentialities to be actualized at T2 rather than T1 or T3.

      I’m going to go ahead and assume (correct me if I am wrong) that you’re referring to when an unstable atomic particle transforms into multiple other particles.

      To go further, this type of decay is “spontaneous” in the sense that it could have transformed at t1, t2, and so on - but that does not mean that it’s without cause (which seems to be the overall implication of your argument).

      But from what I’ve seen from the research, these types of transformations involve several different fundamental forces.

      Efficient cause: Fundamental forces.

      Final cause: Transformation from unstable atomic particle into multiple other particles.

      Material cause: obvious.

      Formal cause: obvious.

      Given your responses in other posts it seems like your concern was whether or not it could be said that all forces were acting at the same time - to which I said that an efficient cause needn’t be in constant act to be considered an efficient cause (author example).

      In this case, the fundamental forces seem to explain why the particle decays at t2 rather than t3, meaning that they have powers that actualized the passive potentialities within the unstable atomic particle at T2 rather than t3.

  3. 3) How would a Thomist explain other quantum phenomenon such as entanglement?

    4)Since all of quantum mechanics follows specific patterns and laws, an argument could be made that all QM based objections can be defeated simply by showing how patterns and laws are basically formal causality, thus showing how causality isn't refuted by QM. What do you think?

    5) QM-based objections point out how some QM seem to have no efficient cause. Thomists are right to point out that QM-events do have all other 3 causes, namely formal, final and material.

    My question would be: Can a Thomist accept events that lack one or more of the 4 causes without thereby abandoning the Principle of Causality?

    1. Surely QM has all four causes and Q-particles can be considered as substances or virtual parts of something else?

      It is worthwhile knowing that not everyone embraces all four causes (although I disagree with just using the three).

    2. JoeD this may not answer all of your questions, but Daniel Castellano sheds some light on QM from an AT perspective.

    3. @Thor,

      The question here is how random radioactive decay can have an efficient cause, since it's formal cause is the nature of the radioactive particle.

      So it seems we have a case here where not all 4 causes are operating for the same goal or at the same time, which is why I'm asking if a Thomist could accept things with less than all 4 causes and still not abandon the Principle of Causality.

    4. @JoeD

      You ignored my response it seems.

      The efficient cause of a thing needn’t always be in act, just as the author working on a novel does not always need to be writing the novel in order to be its efficient cause.

      My point is that all causes don’t need to act at the ‘same’ time.

    5. There's simply no reason to say that a Quantum phenomena doesn't have an efficient cause. Only in a vastly deficient the count of efficient causality like the glosses usually given in modern introduction courses would one say that a Quantum phenomena has no such thing. It poses no more challenge for efficient causality than Free Will does: namely the actualizer of the potencies of the thing seems to be the thing itself of itself. Unless the quantum scientist is claiming that Quantum phenomena literally come from nothing at all, and they do not say this and cannot say this, then there is simply no reason to understand no efficient cause to be present. Certainly there is no efficient cause in the 'one billiard strikes another' understanding of efficient cause, but that was never all that was understood by efficient cause.

  4. Prof. Feser, how are you getting along after Richard Carrier's latest devastating criticism of Five Proofs?

    In all seriousness, I wonder if he might be the most incompetent critic of classical theism I've yet had the displeasure of reading. Others like Coyne are bad enough, but there's a sense in which their naive empiricism / scientism is at least somewhat understandable, if not forgivable. On the other hand, Carrier claims to at least have some respect for philosophy, yet he's so very bad at it. It's odd.

  5. "From film noir to The Cars, Freud to cigars, set theory to dive bars."

    How long did that take?

  6. Did you read any of my recent posts my good man? :D

  7. So I was thinking, we could discuss the problems with the following.

    First question. Does Carrier actually know the area of philosophy he aims to critique or is he applying to a pseudo intellectualism to maintain a supply of attention?
    What about the coherence and intelligibility of the actual blog post?
    Is there anything worthwhile in such a blog post for intellectually serious atheists?

  8. Hey, Prof Feser, do you ever plan on writing anything about Communism and/or Socialism? I recall you briefly referring to Communists as inhabiting an "intellectual sewer" in *The Last Superstition*, but I'd be interested in seeing a thoroughgoing Thomistic takedown of the key ideas that Marx et al rely upon. Of particular interest to me is the question of human nature - Marx briefly addresses the question, but his opinion amounts to a denial of the existence of what Natural Law theorists mean by "human nature" (as far as I can tell he seems to use it to mean "how people act given the societal influences on them", which is of course a ludicrous). Given the surprising upswing in Millenial Communists or at least Communist-sympathisers, I think such a work would be timely.

    1. I believe there is a book Socrates Meets Marx that may interest you. Not the most academic treatment but still worth reading.

    2. In recent years Marxists have been scrambling to recapture some "right" to speak with a presumably binding or prescriptive ethical voice.

      This obviously becomes necessary when those to whom they are preaching decide to take the materialist premises of the Marxist to heart and then turn them around on the Marxist. That is to say upon the Marxist thing's implied categorical claim to moral recognition and human consideration on the basis of ... what? ... its species being and potential per se ...?

      Which doesn't work if one evaluates the other as having little potential or utility or happen to and find it wanting for your own evolutionary project ...

      I mean, on what basis does the Marxist have to be included in? Does any system of solidarity logically necessitate that all members of some species be included?

      The Marxist then has to find a way of sidestepping that question ... in the following instance it seems by positing that individualistic egoism - say throwing down the weak and stepping on their necks for example - is something akin to a false consciousness.

      Anyway here's one effort.

  9. Just wanted to let you know that Carrier decided to 'reply'.

  10. And considering how Christianity clearly teaches that we will be resurrected, and will live forever in a New Earth and New Creation, what is the best description of it?

    There are basically 2 main views of the afterlife, which can be imaged as a linear line.

    Let us call them Clementian minimalism (named after Clement of Alexandria) and Hartian maximalism (named after David Bentley Hart).

    Clementian minimalism is a view of the afterlife that is basically almost exclusivist in terms of how overwhelming the Beatific Vision will be and/or how little we will focus on and enjoy other things.

    People who've held such views may include: Saint Augustine, Blessed Cardinal Newman, Saint Benedict and perhaps Aquinas.

    This view generally emphasises the Beatific Vision to the point of making other things completely uninteresting and even to the point of us being unable to take enjoyment from any other thing.

    Saint Augustine, for example, seems to have taught that our interactions with other humans in the afterlife will be minimal or insignificant. Cardinal Newman seems to have taught that the afterlife is going to have God as it's sole object of worship, almost like a temple, except spread everywhere, in contrast to C.S.Lewis's affirmation of the ordinary life and it's simple pleasures. And Aquinas is infamous in some circles for his rejection of there being any animals in the New Creation (flowers and plants being an exception). He also seems to have believed that even after the resurrection we will mostly be contemplating God without an active life.

    Jesuit Father J. Boudreaux also mentions how some in his own time were of the opinion that the Beatific Vision will overwhelm our faculties so much we would basically be like motionless statues. And there are also some in our own time who speculate about the sheer power of the infinite sight of God overwhelming, like the sun does to a flashlight, all creatures.

    This view ranges from more minimalistic to less, with some holding that the Beatific Vision will overwhelm us to the point we literally will be unable to look at anything else, to those who hold we will be able to interact with other people, but it won't be a significant part of our happiness and the only non-human living beings that will make it are plants.


    1. By contrast, the Hartian maximalist view is, as it's name suggests, the complete opposite, holding that the New Creation is going to hold a host of creatures and pleasures, far too innumerable for us even to imagine, and instead of overwhelming our faculties, it will make them more active and more gratified than they have ever been, even with creatures.

      Proponents of this view include, but are not limited to: Peter Kreeft, Father J.Boudreaux, Randy Alcorn, C.S.Lewis and D.B.Hart.

      This view like the Clementian one, also ranges from being less maximalist to more.

      Father Boudreaux, for example doesn't mention any animals or landscapes in his book about Heaven and denies that we will eat food as we understand food currently (which is minimalist), but does say that all of our senses will be gratified, including the sense of taste, but with incorruptible objects that will be more refined and exquisite. Peter Kreeft goes farther than this, allowing that we will be able to eat though we wont need to, since Christ ate food when he was Resurrected and not just to prove he wasn't a ghost. The minimalist side of Kreeft is that he believes we will have so much joy that other people are saved that we will no longer care what we will be or do in Heaven, which he admits sounds unattractive, but only shows how we "don't have enough joy". He also claims there will be no private property in Heaven and even that there will be no privacy since truth-telling is a virtue, which means that even though keeping silent and having secrets is not morally wrong per se, the aesthetics of communion and collective joy will triumph over the Gnostic impulse for secrecy. As for his more maximalist side, Kreeft argues that there will be animals in Heaven both domesticated and wild (since otherness is a proper pleasure) and even says we may get our pets back. Randy Alcorn goes even further by allowing that we will eat, sleep and even be able to bruise ourselves for sports and the good stretching it can offer, as well as have private property and privacy. C.S.Lewis champions the idea of the ordinary life and God being the source of all earthly pleasures and as such Heaven being a place of pleasure as well. It must also be noted that Kreeft is a Lewis scholar and many of his views on Heaven are based on Lewis's own thoughts. David Bentley Hart needs no introduction, since his love of aesthetics over cold rationality is well know , which leads him to conclude that there will be animals in the New Creation and only God knows what other aesthetic wonders as well.

      So which view of the afterlife would be more likely, from a Thomistic point of view? Is there some sort of consensus or are we allowed to hold both of the main views described above, with there being no decisive answer to prefer one over the other, but simply speculation to go by?

    2. JoeD, of course I don't know - but at least in this case I can safely say: nobody else does either. Because God has not told us enough to settle the issue, I suspect we are not supposed to put too much stock in any specific answer nor invest too much time or effort in wondering about it. Some, but not too much.

      My own vague opinion is that neither the minimalist nor the maximalist view is entirely accurate. (i) The minimalist view is wrong because Christ and Revelation make a fairly big DEAL about the new heavens and earth and the new state of existence with resurrected and glorified bodies after the Final Judgment, in the sense that the latter state of affairs matters. But their depiction of heaven is fairly adequate to the state of affairs in the the in-between period, after death and before the second coming: the joy of the Beatific Vision and the communion of saints. Why, then, does resurrection matter?

      (ii) I think the maximalist view is shown inadequate because there is no marriage or family-making in heaven. The sexual function of our bodies will have no natural purpose. Whatever physicality we have, it won't be found in sexual expression. If not that, then what makes us so certain that it will be found in eating, drinking, or sports? If there is satisfaction of the sensual appetites not through activity but via some end-run around the "normal" processes, it will be "taken care of" without activity. For all of them.

      On the other hand, the language, the metaphors found in Scriptures, do use human-type depiction of activities which occur part-after-part, such as: singing.

      I don't think anyone has any way of being able to sort out how we can do any physical activity forever more and a day without it growing BORING after a while (do you know how long "forever" is?), unless there is infinite variation in it. Can there be, for example, infinite variation in song? In dance? Well, not in songs or dance of a given length, but if we admit the first song taking 1 minute, the second taking 2 minutes, the third taking 4 minutes,...etc, there is no SPECIFIC limit to the variation possible, only limits to any given song.

      I think it more likely that we will indeed use our bodies in physical activity, but have little hope for such behaviors as eating and drinking as such, since there is at best only a nebulous sense in which (with a glorified body) eating forever more can be done for the greater glory of God, whereas singing of God's goodness obviously does satisfy that. Is there any other activity that is coherent with the Beatific Vision, participation in eternity, and glorified bodies? Probably, but I don't know what.

  11. Prof. Feser and everyone,

    What authors writing from an orthodox Catholic (preferably but not necessarily Thomistic) point of view would you recommend on the following themes?

    - The soul;
    - Classical natural law;
    - Philosophy of science;
    - The Resurrection;
    - The Trinity;
    - Truth of the Catholic Faith in general;
    - Any other topics that you think Catholics who want to have a firm understanding of their faith (as well as honest seekers trying to find their way to faith) should be well acquainted with, especially in these times of extreme skepticism, nihilistic scientism and pagan (post-)modernism.

    Specifically, I'm looking for well written books that can serve as introductory material for highly interested beginners, but which are nonetheless intellectually serious, academically rigorous and of sufficiently broad scope and depth (in the spirit of Edward Feser for philosophy, Brant Pitre for theology and biblical scholarship, James Hannam for history, Chesterton for apologetics, etc.).

    1. Feser has given a large bibliography here:

      On philosophy of science specifically, see, which has links to three bibliographies, on philosophy of nature (, evolution and intelligent design (, and Adam&Eve (

  12. I know that even if condoms were effective and efficient(I don't know CLEARLY if they are) It would be MORALLY wrong to use them to prevent procreation, even as a prophylactic, but I want to know if one can do a good case from a scientific side or scientific-based rejection of condoms(some scientific studies on this) are flaw?

    By the way, how much authority do you give to scientific studies?

    1. The biggest secular objections to condoms are their ineffectiveness (typical failure rate of 15% per year) compared to other means of spacing pregnancy. They run the risk of causing allergic reactions, UTI's, chaffing, etc. They cost money, (about $1 each). They can increase the risk of pre-eclampsia in women (studies have shown that regular exposure to a husband's seed, which is avoided with condoms, can reduce the risk for pre-eclampsia in pregnancy). And finally, the most obvious, is a decrease in the intimacy of the marital act. For starters insofar as they interrupt the natural progression of sex (you have to stop and apply a condom). Secondly, there is a literal barrier between the couple. It's like kissing between Saran Wrap. That's what I would start with.

    2. Well I don't really need sources about the intimacy statements. That seems to be common knowledge with plenty of anecdotal evidence. I've never met a man or a woman to prefer condoms haha. The effectiveness is shown here:

      The CDC agrees with many other sources you can find online. I should note that their Feetility Awareness Methods (FAM) effectiveness is skewed because it includes the "rhythm method" and makes a concession for condom use during fertile periods. Considering you can only get pregnant during fertile periods, using condoms during fertile periods would put a cap on the effectiveness of FAM so that it could never be more effective than condoms. In reality FAM typical use effectiveness is around 90% to 95% with perfect use between 95% and 100%. I also don't need sources for chafing and allergic reactions. Again, anecdotal evidence abounds for that. Anyone allergic to latex or vinyl can be allergic to condoms. Here is one source for the preeclampsia risk factor:

    3. Scott Lynch

      " I've never met a man or a woman to prefer condoms haha" True haha.

      So, you were able to quote 2 sources and for a different conclusion. Let me check them out and see the data and results. I think 2 sources are weak if you want to make a case from science

    4. I agree. You should be able to find more with a throrough Google search. The link to preeclampsia is less well established than the very well documented 15% to 20% failure rate.

  13. Dr. Feser, how would to respond go the recent discovery that Neanderthals produced art (which would seem to indicate a capacity for abstract thought)?

    1. Depends on a number of things. At what point does something move from the pragmatic, instinctive or representative to the truly abstract?

      Animals can use 'artistry' of sorts (such as building nests) and they can solve problems fitting to their nature and appetites.
      If Neanderthals are rational that just pushes back our ancestry further back. After all paleoantropology leaves a lot to be desired in terms of objectivity and independent confirmation (as far as I can gather).

    2. Interesting explanation. Would you be at all willing to explain how abstract thought (which seems to be the linchpin of the Thomist intellect/soul argument) necessarily implies immateriality? For me, qualia/intentionality have always seemed more compelling.

    3. I'm not sure how Dr. Feser would respond, but I don't see a problem for Thomism there. Humans are the only rational animals that exist now (at least on Earth), but there is no reason in priciple that humans must be the only rational animals that have ever existed on Earth. If neanderthals were rational animals, then they had immaterial souls just like we do.Do you see a problem for Thomism there?

    4. If Neanderthals had rational souls, then they WERE humans from an A-T perspective. A human is defined as a rational animal from the A-T perspective. It is possible for a particular Neanderthal to have homo sapient ancestry as well. Neanderthals are thought to be able to produce fertile offspring with Homo sapiens. It might be a stretch to consider them a separate species even from a taxonomical stand-point. Making these kinds of judgements from paleo-archaeology alone is very dodgey. You really have to take many findings with a grain of salt.

    5. It poses an issue for Humani Generis, which is binding for Catholics, not Aristotelian thought per se.

    6. iwpoe

      How is that?Explain to me how is that, please

    7. @jamie lopez

      Ed has explained it better than I will. see:

  14. Do any of you have advice on how to engage materialists in discussion? A lot of the arguments in philosophy of mind require meditative thought to grasp, and as such even my good-natured materialist friends tend to disregard them as stupid. For example, the proposition that science cannot provide a solution to the mind-body problem sounds colossally faith-based/god-of-the-gaps-y until you realize the deep conceptual divide between first-person consciousness and neurochemistry (which in itself must be conceptually grasped before it’s “dialectically” understood). Any thoughts on good arguments to propose to lead to greater understanding? Already tried the zombie/Chinese nation arguments, to no avail...

    1. Have you studied anything in the area of epistemology or the division of knowledge?

    2. I have, to a reasonable extent. I do like that way of framing the argument though...

      A sample discussion:
      "By science's very methodology, it is philosophically impossible that it could find an explanation for consciousness.
      - "We just haven't done enough research."
      "Well, no. Qualia and intentionality have no way of following from material laws of nature."
      - "Are you taking that on faith?"
      "No, it's purely a question of method. From the laws of physics, it's entirely conceivable that the knocking around of particles could produce a world exactly similar to the one we live in now, with the exception that no one's conscious (i.e. zombies). Similarly, assuming that purely physical laws could cause consciousness seems to imply absurdities (like the Chinese nation argument)."
      - "But clearly that's not the case. And computers already demonstrate advanced thinking and intentionality."
      "They're not really conscious in any meaningful sense—and even if they did demonstrate "thinking" or "intentionality" (which they don't, in a philosophical sense), they wouldn't necessarily have first-person conscious perception."
      - "We just haven't gotten advanced enough. And these are things that humans probably can't just conceptually understand."
      "That's special pleading."
      - "So is God."
      (ad infinitum)

    3. You need better friends for discussing philosophy probably.

    4. I have a question about teleosemantics:
      Can anyone please point me in the direction of papers / blogs / books that might offer a Thomistic way to improve / overcome problems in teleosemantics such as indeterminacy of content, Koons and Pruss’s version of swampman in the great grazing ground, and what to do about intellection?
      I have so far Ed’s essay on Kripke and Ross; Koons and Pruss on why functionalists must be Aristotelians. Any further ideas?
      I don’t want to just reject teleosemantics, but show how a wider understanding of teleology than just biological or evolutionary function can give a naturalistic account of mind (although naturalistic in the Aristotelian sense), which seems to be the goal of functionalisms like teleosemantics....
      Thank you!!

    5. This is maybe approaching things from a different angle, or a somewhat different issue, but to argue for the legitimacy of metaphysics, I would argue that virtually everyone holds a metaphysical belief in an external world outside of mind. There is no strict philosophical proof for it. There is no way to scientifically answer the question. And yet we normally believe that such a thing probably exists, and that it's s reasonable belief to hold.

      So then, there is nothing *in principle* wrong with metaphysical beliefs supported by hopefully good-ish arguments.

      I think that's pretty difficult to deny as a line of argument.

      An opponent would either be forced to take up an extreme skepticism, or insist that there *must be* a world outside of mind because we can "see it". (Which of course would just be a naive mistake.)


  15. Dr.Feser, I would like few words from you on work of Philosopher Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson he is a Neo-Aristotelian philosopher working on a project named "Scientific Essentialism: Modernising The Aristotelian View"

    Detailed description below:

    In it he appears to be critical of what seems like the act/potency view A-T takes.

    From the description...
    "In this project I will critically examine recent discussions of powers and their role in causation, on the basis of my previous research (in particular 2002, but see also 2007, 2013, and forthcoming), which in turn rely on Bunge (1959). Particular focus is on the finding that a central feature of the Aristotelian view of causation is arguably falsified by modern physics. Roughly, the Aristotelian view depicts interactions between objects as involving a unidirectional exertion of influence of one object (the ‘agent’) upon another (the ‘patient’). The notion of power is accordingly understood to involve a distinction between active and passive powers, which account for the ability of an agent to influence, and the ability of a patient to be influenced, respectively. However, according to modern physics, unidirectional actions do not exist; all interactions are perfectly reciprocal (Resnick, Halliday & Krane 2001). If this is right, all notions deriving from or influenced by the idea of unidirectional actions, risk being false by the same measure. This flaw, although serious, is not fatal, and in my previous work I have sketched a way to modify the Aristotelian view to accommodate the reciprocity of interactions (2002). Indeed, I think this modification serves to strengthen the essentialist view of properties, causation and natural laws."

    One of the earlier work he refers to is his paper titled "Causal production as interaction".
    His criticism and how the view he puts forward himself would affect your arguments would be worth engaging I think.

  16. Since Thomists aren't Scotists and believe the difference between God and creation is one of kind, not of degree - even INFINITE degree, is an infinite essence possible?

    That is, could God in principle create an infinite angelic intellect, but one who's essence is still distinct from his existence? Or if not angelic intellects, could God create an infinite material essence, such as an infinitely long yet very thin line of ink?

    Can there be infinite intensities such as infinite heat, force, density?

    The above is important because the equations for black holes describe the Red Shift that occurs when a black hole rips apart right to actually increase to infinity and become infinite, so I'm wondering if Thomists can accept that.

  17. Also, is it acceptable for Thomists to believe that there are instantiations of infinity in nature that are of the cardinality of the real numbers?

    That is, that there are a multiplicity of objects, or things that are the size of or have a quality that is, not only infinitely big like the natural numbers, but the infinity of the real numbers, which is bigger than the infinity of the naturals and is uncountable / unlistable?

    1. Tomislav OstojichMarch 4, 2018 at 2:37 PM

      Infinity is a characteristic, like kindness. This characteristic can further be partitioned into uncountable infinity and countable infinity. This division helps us categorize reality and use logic.

      Here is an example. A volume is a part of a space such that a countable number of the part can fill the space entirely. Let us assume that a perfect flat (no thickness) piece of paper in 3-d Euclidean space is a volume. Therefore we would need an uncountable number of sheets of the piece of paper to fill the space. But an uncountable number is a contradiction in terms--like a married bachelor. Therefore an area is not a volume. Do you see by this example how dividing infinity into countable and uncountable can help us think logically about the world?

    2. @Tomislav Ostojich:

      "A volume is a part of a space such that a countable number of the part can fill the space entirely."

      Huh? This is not the definition of volume.

      "Therefore we would need an uncountable number of sheets of the piece of paper to fill the space. But an uncountable number is a contradiction in terms--like a married bachelor."

      The second assertion does not follow from anything you said, and is nothing but sheer assertion, and the first is no different in kind than saying that there are an uncountable (in the specific, technical mathematical sense) number of points in the real line.

      "Therefore an area is not a volume."

      Of course an area is not a volume. What exactly is your point in stating the obvious?

      I do note that it is provably true that there are space-filling *curves*, that is, curves that pass through every point of the square, cube, 4-cube, ..., n-cube -- and the construction does not use any more choice than elementary analysis does, so constructivists need not bother (at least on that score). The Hahn-Mazurkiewicz theorem even goes further and characterizes all topological spaces that can be "curve-filled" and it covers a *very* wide chunk of the spaces commonly used -- e.g. it contains all connected, compact manifolds. What this piece of mathematics says or does not say about our world is another story.

    3. @grodrigues,

      What are your thoughts on the question of whether or not Thomists could accept physical infinities that are of a bigger cardinality than the natural numbers (i.e. the number of galaxies being the cardinality of aleph-1 or the real numbers)?

    4. @JoeD:

      There can be no uncountable number of non-overlapping physical objects occupying a non-zero volume for simple mathematical reasons, even if the space-time manifold has infinite 4-volume.

    5. @JoeD:

      By the way, you can replace volume (and drop the non-overlapping condition) with any other observable with positive spectrum such as energy.

    6. @JoeD:

      In my previous comment, forgot to add the hypothesis that the observable must be additive.

    7. @grodrigues,

      Can the space-time manifold have an uncountably infinite 4-volume, thus accounting for the possibility of non-overlapping uncountably-infinitely many objects?

      Or is this also problematic, which entails that there really cannot be more physical objects than aleph-0?

    8. @JoeD:

      "Can the space-time manifold have an uncountably infinite 4-volume, thus accounting for the possibility of non-overlapping uncountably-infinitely many objects?"

      Since volume is as an (extended) real number, the sentence "uncountably infinite 4-volume" is meaningless. The same for every other extensive or additive quantity (which are usually given as integrals of intensive quantities like field densities) like energy, mass, charge, etc.

      Even in QM, where technically the observables are unitary operators on the state Hilbert space, the set of possible values is given by the spectrum which is always a subset of the real numbers (note: minus some technicalities I do not want to go into), so it makes absolutely no sense to speak of "uncountably infinite energy" or whatever.

    9. @JoeD:

      Now that I have dashed your hopes, let me raised them up again. The result I mentioned in March 5, 2018 at 5:42 PM has some fine print that I omitted -- fine print that physicists merrily pass over and with good reasons. Specifically, I took manifolds as being second countable (as most textbooks do), and therefore sigma-finite.

      *If* you drop this requirement, the result fails. One simple example of such a would-be manifold is the long line. You can view the real line as gluing a collection intervals parameterized by *the first infinite ordinal*. But why stop there? If you don't stop you get what is called the long line -- a space that is still locally euclidean but no longer second-countable or sigma-finite. Another example is given by taking uncountable disjoint unions of your favorite manifold (informally: a multiverse consisting of an uncountable, causally disconnected collection of universes).

      The long line differs from the real line in other respects (it is not contractible, path-connected, the differentiable structure is not unique, etc.) but the real problem, from a mathematician's viewpoint, is that second-countability is equivalent in manifolds to paracompactness or metrizability, and without paracompactness there are no partitions of unity, and without partitions of unity... oh crap. In particular, it cannot have any Riemanninan metric, so large chunks of differential geometry, including physics as we know it, is down the drain. For that matter, it cannot have *any* metric. How much of geometry survives I do not know, but it sure ain't pretty. Measure theory is in better shape, because I *think* (but do not quote me on that) that the space is still localizable, but there are still all sorts of weird things and undefined stuff. Not being path-connected would mean that large chunks of the space cannot have causal interactions with wherever a zero-dimensional intelligent microbe would be located, so for all practical purposes it is as if they did not exist and were part of another universe so to speak. And of course, undefined, weird stuff is not bound to make physicists happy. But then again, when has undefined stuff ever stopped them (lookin' at you, Feynman integrals)?

      Could such a space be the formal model of an actually existing space? I don't know, I have not thought about it and would not even know where to start, but the difficulties as I layed them out are pretty steep to overcome. Then again, I am just a lowly mathematician with an interest in AT. Mathematics is easy peasy when compared with metaphysics or philosophy of nature, maybe the AT metaphysical ninjas around here could say something more definite. Perhaps when Prof. Feser releases his book on the philosophy of nature (which is where this question belongs to), my head will clear up.

    10. @grodrigues,

      So as I understand you, a model of space where uncountable infinities of things are really possible is questionable in terms of it's actual metaphysical possibility, but even if it were metaphysically possible, a large part of our natural models of space, geometry and even our human intuitions about space would be down the drain, right?

      And what would this entail for the possibility of models of space that can have a cardinality of objects in them that is beyond the real number line, and extends to aleph-2, aleph-3 and so on?

      Would such models of space where we have super-uncountable infinites of spatial extension and collections of objects(aleph-2 cardinality), hyper-uncountable infinities of spatial extension and collections of objects (aleph-3 cardinality) and beyond be even more problematic under this paradigm?

      Also, judging by your comments on A-T, are you yourself a Thomist as well? That is, do you accept Thomism?

    11. @JoeD:

      "So as I understand you, a model of space where uncountable infinities of things are really possible is questionable in terms of it's actual metaphysical possibility, but even if it were metaphysically possible, a large part of our natural models of space, geometry and even our human intuitions about space would be down the drain, right?"

      Right. The only plausible possibility is a variation of my second example: a multiverse consisting of an uncountable collection of causally disconnected universes. Each universe behaves well, but the whole multiverse is only a topological space with no significant geometry -- which is no problem because the components are causally disconnected anyway.

      "And what would this entail for the possibility of models of space that can have a cardinality of objects in them that is beyond the real number line, and extends to aleph-2, aleph-3 and so on?"


      First, by "uncountable" I only mean an infinite cardinal strictly larger than aleph-0. For almost everything I wrote it can be as large as you want, even into the large cardinal arena. Second, that the cardinality of the continuum, or the real line, is aleph-1 is the continuum hypothesis, a statement provably independent of ZFC, and in a very strong sense, since among other reasons, and roughly speaking, given a model of ZFC + CH one can build a model of ZFC + not-CH by forcing. In fact, ZFC places very few constraints on the actual value of the cardinality of the continuum. Specifically, we have the following theorem (the proof is, again, by using Cohen's forcing technique):

      Theorem: Let alpha be a non-zero finite number or an ordinal whose cofinality is not the first infinite ordinal. Then it is consistent with ZFC that the cardinality of the continuum is aleph-alpha.

      "Also, judging by your comments on A-T, are you yourself a Thomist as well? That is, do you accept Thomism?"

      Yes. I have been a very vocal and loud(mouth) defender of the main AT theses and arguments in this and the few other blogs I frequent. Recently, I have gone more into lurker mode and speak almost only about what I can rightfully claim some expertise on, mathematics and to a lesser extent physics (contrary to the mob of fakes, frauds, trolls and gnus), mainly because I have a short temper and end up piling abuse on my obtuse opponents, which is not only a very miserable form of entertainment, but -- go figure -- not very good for the soul.

    12. @grodrigues,

      "The only plausible possibility is a variation of my second example: a multiverse consisting of an uncountable collection of causally disconnected universes."

      Or an infinitely big universe with causally disconnected parts as well, especially since some cosmologists say that an infinite universe is already an actual possibility given the flatness of the universe / it's Euclidian spatial structure which can theoretically go on forever.

      "First, by "uncountable" I only mean an infinite cardinal strictly larger than aleph-0. For almost everything I wrote it can be as large as you want, even into the large cardinal arena."

      So the long line is a universal model for all cardinalities bigger than aleph-0, and can contain them all?

      Even if the cardinality were of an inaccessible, or even indescribable large cardinal property?

      "Second, that the cardinality of the continuum, or the real line, is aleph-1 is the continuum hypothesis,"

      I'm aware of that, I was just assuming to for the sake of argument since it seemed more orderly and straightforward to assign aleph-0 and aleph-1 to their respective supposed number sets.

      And one more question, if you don't mind, since you yourself are a mathematician:

      Does the large cardinal hierarchy go on forever? Or does it have an upper limit?

      What I mean by this is the fact that the large cardinals go on with higher levels, first with inaccessibles which are larger than all alephs, then with indescribables which are much bigger than the inaccessibles, then with the compacts and supercompacts which are even more large, and then the Vopenka's, almost huge and huge, and finally the rank-into-rank axioms.

      But there are a few cardinal properties that are even bigger than all of the above, yet are inconsistent and thus non-existent, such as the Reinhard and Berkeley cardinals.

      My question then would be whether or not the large cardinal property hierarchy goes on forever, or if there has to be some upper limit beyond which one cannot go without becoming inconsistent.

    13. @JoeD:

      "So the long line is a universal model for all cardinalities bigger than aleph-0, and can contain them all?"

      The set of all cadinals does not exist, so the long line cannot "contain them all" -- you *must* stop at some point in the cardinal hierarchy, although you can go as high as you like, even a large cardinal if your base Set-theory is ZFC plus some large cadinal axiom, and then it is trivial that it contains such a cardinal. Of course, I should have spoken of long lines -- plural -- since they cannot be all isomorphic, if nothing else for simple cardinality reasons. The common definition takes the cardinality of the continuum, but as I said there is no need to stop there.

      "Does the large cardinal hierarchy go on forever? Or does it have an upper limit?"

      The question does not have an answer because there is no definition of what counts as a large cardinal axiom. The best that I can tell you -- and I am *far* from being a Set-theory expert, I just know enough to fake one reasonably well -- is that if you characterize large cardinals as critical points of elementary embeddings, then Reinhardt cardinals give an upper bound. Conceivably, there could be some argument that would somehow bypass the very general incompleteness phenomena (e.g. if T is consistent, then so is T + con(T), and you can iterate this procedure by transfinite recursion and obtain consistent theories with higher consistency strength), that would put an upper limit on extensions of ZFC by large cardinal axioms, but I know of no such argument and absent a definition of what counts as a large cardinal axiom, it is hard to see how one would stumble upon such an argument -- but here I must stop, because I am out my depth and you should really ask a Set-theory expert.

    14. @grodrigues,

      "The set of all cadinals does not exist, so the long line cannot "contain them all""

      True. But can't we characterise the long line as an inconsistent multiplicity then?

      " you *must* stop at some point in the cardinal hierarchy, although you can go as high as you like,"

      If we can go as high as we want in the cardinal hierarchy, doesn't that mean the hierarchy is infinite, and thus with no stopping point?

      Or do you mean something else with that statement?

    15. @JoeD:

      "But can't we characterise the long line as an inconsistent multiplicity then?"

      I have no idea what an "inconsistent multiplicity" is.

      "If we can go as high as we want in the cardinal hierarchy, doesn't that mean the hierarchy is infinite, and thus with no stopping point?"

      No. All I mean is that you can pick a cardinal as high in the hierarchy as you want, not that the hierarchy goes on forever -- which I note is an ambiguous sentence and could be read in a couple of mutually inconsistent ways.

      Look, the construction of the long line is by transfinite recursion on the chosen cardinal: perform gluing on a successor ordinal and take the colimit (or inductive limit) on a limit ordinal. For details about it, see Steenbach's "Counterexamples on Topology".

  18. How do you reconcile the real distinction between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and divine simplicity?

    1. Short answer: divine simplicity means God has no parts. Parts, by definition, are ontologically prior to the whole they compose. The three persons of the Trinity are not ontologically prior to the Godhead. According to the theology of the Trinity espoused by the Latin Church Fathers, God is tripersonal precisely because God is One Being, rather than the other way round. (The Eastern Church Fathers seem to differ on this point: as far as I can tell, they consider the Father to be the fount and source of unity of the Trinity, thereby making the Father ontologically prior to the unity of the Godhead. But even the Eastern Fathers would reject the view that all three persons are prior to the Godhead, which would indeed make them three parts.) My two cents.

    2. Just a thought: If the possibility of things is a Creation, as Cantor's paradox indicates, then the Creator must transcend number. It would not be simpler to be one thing, rather than three.

    3. That would take a book to answer! There is a pretty good blog called Reading the Summa. It walks you through the first 100 questions of the Summa. Read that (as well as his blog on medieval theories of relations) along with questions 27 - 43 of the Summa to get started. You will still not understand the Trinity when you are done, but it should be enlightening.

    4. As I said in the last open thread to someone else:

      You could try C.E. Rolt's commentary in a translation of Pseudo-Dionysius:

      Which has discussion of the Trinity.

      Also: "The Doctrine of God (Contours of Christian Theology)" by Gerald L. Bray, has a little bit that could be relevant to this, and you could probably find it for a few dollars second-hand.

      Basically, the above sources appear to introduce a distinction between God as Trinity and God as absolute.

      See also certain mystics like Meister Eckhart:

      "Another bold assertion is Eckhart's distinction between God and Godhead (Gottheit in German, meaning Godhood or Godliness, state of being God). These notions had been present in Pseudo-Dionysius's writings and John the Scot's De divisione naturae, but Eckhart, with characteristic vigor and audacity, reshaped the germinal metaphors into profound images of polarity between the Unmanifest and Manifest Absolute."


    5. Sean,

      I asked a similar question in the last open thread. Someone directed me to this article:

  19. Hi everyone,

    I recently wrote an Aristotelian critique of Nietzsche's ethical system proposed in the Genealogy of Morals for a college class. Unfortunately it didn't quite fit the essay requirement (it was intended to be a research paper rather than a philosophical argument), so I wasn't able to submit it as such, but I'm considering expanding it and submitting it elsewhere. Would love any of your feedback.

    Here's the link:


  20. Does anybody know of a good analysis of the "religious submission of mind" required of Catholics for ordinary but not-infallible teachings of the Church? Feser delved into the 4 or 5 categories (depends on how you divide them up) of things to which we are obliged to accept, starting with the highest, "divine and catholic faith", here:

    But this fairly glosses over the details. What I am bothered with, specifically, is this: the concept of the "ordinary" teachings of the pope and bishops, to which we owe "religious assent", are capable of a very great deal of VARIATION in how firmly they are presented. That is, a bishop can teach X all the way from "as we saw from St. Augustine, and St. Anselm, and St. Catejan, X explains why Christ did Z,and does so very wisely, but X has not been taught universally nor infallibly by the Church yet" on the top end, to "here's an analogy that I like to use to talk about the commandments: X..." at the bottom end of definitude. "Religious assent" at the top end, where you will to mold your mind to the teaching offered, seems eminently reasonable. At the bottom end, where the bishop clearly does not intend that the way HE likes to think about the matter binds the way YOU should think about the matter, it does not seem reasonable to call our obligation to the latter something as formal as "religious assent". Or, frankly, ANY kind of "assent".

    But there is a perfectly uniform gradation from the top end to the bottom end. There is (so far as I have ever found) no claim that there is a way to set forth a specific dividing line between the kinds of teachings that the bishop puts forth to which you OWE religious assent, and the bishop's teachings to which you own no more than a polite attention because he is, after all, the bishop. Saying that it is "according to his expression" just states THAT there is a perfectly gradual variation, and implies then that "religious assent" itself varies in definitude from that top end to the bottom, so that giving the bishop "polite attention" JUST IS giving his quaint analogy "religious assent".

    Which, I am pretty sure, eviscerates the whole meaning of the term. So I don't think that's it.

  21. Dr. Feser,

    Thanks very much for all your work, you have helped me so much, and I know you have helped many others. I was just wondering if you had any plans to come to the UK for a conference or speaking event any time soon.

    Thanks again, and God bless,
    Steve Mc

  22. Someone ought to produce a study or long
    article comparing various different historical and contemporary theories of Divine Simplicity. People speak of DS as if it were one single theory when in fact it had numerous different historical interpretations (nowadays people just run it together with Aquinas version). Hell, even there is still great difference even between individuals sympathetic to Aquinas e.g. Miller and Vallicella.

    This would be of great service partly because it would allow us to make headway in the dispute with (mainly) Protestant philosophers of religion who dismiss that theory straight out without even being clear on what it means. 'Theist Personalist' has became a thought terminating cliche, thrown around as an excuse to blank out controversy by ignorant theologians and overly eager new-comers to Catholic natural theology alike. Likewise DS has only to mentioned and certain philosophers *I'm looking at you Welty* run a mile. In order for any constructive problem solving to go on everyone involved in the debate needs to be clear on what is being discussed.

  23. Dr. Feser,

    I was wondering if you (or anyone else) had any thoughts on Thomism or Molinism in terms of the relationship between God's soverignty and mankind's free will. My very limited understanding is that Catholic's are free to hold either position, and that Thomism in this context came much later than Aquinas and is just loosely based on his teaching, so I thought you might not necessarily be a Thomist in this particular context. It's probably not the most important question, but I'd appreciate anyones thoughts on the topic.

    Thanks again and God bless,
    Steve Mc

    1. Personally I think Molinism raises the right questions, but may not itself be the final and complete solution.

      Because Thomism is a 'system' Thomist philosophers are very wary about pulling at threads in case everything unravels (in the sense that the system as a whole needs adjustment).

    2. Steve,

      I think Thomists historically have rejected Molinism because they argue that the view implies that God's knowledge relies on his creatures. That, of course, is a violation of fact that God is pure act.

      Reformed theologians argue very similarly, if not the same (if they accept classical theism). See, for example, Dr. Travis Campbell's critique of Molinism.

    3. Doesn't the Catholic Church, along with the Eastern Orthodox, support synergism as opposed to monergism?

    4. Thanks very much for your replies.

      I have tended to like the Molinist view from a pastoral perspective, when addressing something like say the problem of evil. I wasn't sure about it philosophically though, and I think those are good criticisms.

      Thanks again for taking the time to reply, they're very helpful and I will check out Dr. Campbell's critique.

      God bless.

  24. Look at Carrier's recent reply to your reply. Be prepared to have your mind blown

  25. Steven Pinker's new book "Enlightenment Now" is reviewed by John Gray in The New Statesman. It's a shellacking:

  26. >call themselves rationalists
    >reject PSR and take the universe to be a brute fact

  27. Some websites for Thomists: is website I just discovered, by a fairly unknown author who has published this book:, available for free on google books. PDF on his website, along with other stuff.

    Also, a new blog: This guy is also fairly unknown.

  28. I know I asked for this posts, and I am very thankful that Dr. Feser for granting it. And no, I'm not going to delete this comment (lately I've been making comments and then deleting them). Anyway two questions:

    1. How do Thomists justify deductive logic? Do they use induction to justify deductive logic?

    2. Does it bother anybody that, according to natural law, some things we regard as venial (e.g. lying) are categorically wrong (in all circumstances, in all times,...) but some things that we regard as very serious (e.g. killing) are NOT categorically wrong. Does this bother anybody?

    1. Regarding 2: Not really. You are getting things a bit confused. Killing is a general action, while lying is very specific kind of action.

      Killing isn't necessarily wrong, but murder is necessarily wrong. Similarly communication is not necessarily wrong, but lying is necessarily wrong.

      It would be better to compare killing in general to communication in general, and it may seem more clear as to why killing is a much more serious game.

      As for 1, I'm not quite sure what you mean. You may need to expand on that.

    2. It is not uncontroversial in Catholic theology and ethics to consider every untruth a lie in the moral sense. There has been a very real debate over this. Granted both Augustine and Thomas are on the absolutist end of the spectrum, but their view is certainly not universal, even among the Doctors of the Church. This is also why there were amendments to the CCC (a living document, meant as a teaching guide etc. not as a consistently authoritative document in and of itself).

    3. 1. Nope! Deductive logic can be based on principles which are self-evident, and so do not and cannot require proof. While a certain premise might be defended inductively, nevertheless an overall argument could be deductive in nature.

      2. Nope! Categorical wrongness does not determine gravity. Besides, we could re-frame the issue as such: "ALL murders of innocent people are gravely wrong in their object, but at least SOME lies are only venially wrong."

      I think that in your above example you used "killing" too broadly, since not all killing is serious (in fact, most killing is not serious; consider the millions of skin cells that you kill just by rubbing your hands together).

      I hope this helps.

  29. I don't connect with religious sentiment. But if I did, it would not be through preaching or apologetics. It would be through something like Handel's Messiah or this:

    Grace VanderWaal's cover of River by Leon Bridges

    1. If that is the case, you might try reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. It is apologetic, but very rhetorical as well. It is almost like reading poetry. The arguments are things that could be grasped by a 10 year old, but have a very strong intuitive appeal and they reflect Catholic Orthodoxy (and even Thomistic thinking).

    2. Don Jindra, I would comment that if there is a God, then truth, beauty, and goodness are pathways to apprehend him. All VALID pathways, that is. Different people need different pieces of reality for the way their innards work.

      The trick is to be able to sort out with confidence what is really beautiful, or really good. Because truth is more capable of precision / definitude I think it poses a kind of testing mechanism for the other two, and (perhaps) there is no vice versa to that. If so, then while a person might be drawn to God more through apprehension of the good or the beautiful than via truth, even for him truth will not be irrelevant in the pursuit of the good or the beautiful.

  30. Have just finished reading first chapter of Five Proofs (Good read!). A question: why does linear causality (as opposed to essential causality) not require a first cause? Does this not potentially result in an infinite regress, and essentially, non-neing? Some clarity needed here for myself. Thanks.

    1. One may allow linear causes to regress to infinity purely for rhetorical reasons. But I agree with you; I think linear series also cannot be infinite for the very similar reasons that hierarchical ones can't; even if causes are separated in time, C will only cause B which will cause A as long as C exists, but C itself will only exist if it has been caused by something else. The conditions for the existence of any series are never fulfilled if there is no first uncaused cause. The problem is the same as that involved in the "cause of itself" paradox; something can only "cause itself" if it exists, but it can only exist if it is caused by itself, which is absurd. The same reasoning applies to a linear series, however; whatever can cause something can only do so if it first exists. And that is the case for any typw of cause: whether material, formal, efficient or final.

      A few hardcore thomists might say (perhaps) that this is because there really is no linear series without a hierarchical one, so when we speak of the existence of causes in a linear series we are already talking about a hierarchical one. This still makes it the case that no linear series can extend from infinity, however. Because existence will be required for something to be causally effective, it will have to first have been caused by an existing cause, and so on, and if there is no first cause then the conditions for the existence of any of them is never fulfilled and we have the same absurdity as the idea of a thing causing itself to exist.

    2. @Miguel,

      Really? I thought that a linear series cannot extend forever for the same reason the Fibonacci sequence must have a first member; namely, it's a causal series and causal finitism must be true.

      It's similar to the infinite transversal argument, except it's analogous to counting numbers forward, except you include the infinite negative number line as well.

      Since the number line stretches to infinity both on the positive side and negative side, one literally cannot be in the process of continously counting numbers off the number line infinitely backwards, since counting as a process by definition must have a beginning, and the negative number line literally does not have a first member to start with.

      But in order to even be able to count in a successive fashion, you must have a successive time, so time itself cannot stretch forward without a beginning for the same reason one cannot be in a successive process of counting without a beginning. There simply must be a first number that one starts with to begin the process of successive forward counting, and so there simply must be a first moment of time one starts with to begin the process of successive forward passage of time.

      What do you think?

  31. I was wondering if anyone could help me with good links to articles responding claims the OT was forged from Babylonian and other texts. And also things about the reference to Christ in Josephus being forged.

    Things I've read generally don't take claims like that seriously but I want to get some more solid information to respond with when things like this are brought up.

    Thank you

  32. Some interesting links.

    Does he actually have qualifications? Has anyone asked the universities?

  33. @JoeD
    Are you saying that QM teaches that particles decay for no reason? If it does I find the claim simply laughable and perhaps even lazy.

    Is the time of decay really itself indeterminate to time or is it just that we do not know the determining factor? That particles would decay some sooner, others later doesn't even strike we as all that wonderful: it's claiming there is no reason or cause for it that produces or wonder or astonishment.

    1. @Timocrates,

      But the problem here is, why exactly did a particle decay at this specific time when it could have just as easily decayed earlier or later?

      There isn't anything outside the particle that determines it (as Bell's inequality shows).

      In other words, we know there is no extrinsic determining factor, so the only option would be to say that it's in the nature of the particle to behave like that.

      The problem with the above response seems to be that it only avoids having to answer the question of why an indeterministic particle randomly decayed at this specific time rather than other.

  34. I've been thinking about a logical proof of the existence of God, lately, based on Cantor's paradox, and I wonder if it could be the God of Catholicism that is proved to exist?

  35. I wonder what folks here say to Andrew Loke's argument that any model of the Incarnation where Jesus has two consciousnesses (e.g., Lonergan, Morris, Swinburne) attributes contradictory states of awareness to Jesus.

    His argument goes like this: No matter which of Jesus's consciousnesses entertains a truth with the indexical "I," that "I" refers to the same self: the one person who is Jesus.

    But if that's the case, Jesus's two consciousnesses presumably assert these two statements:

    SC1. I am aware of the date of my Second Coming. (Divine Consciousness)
    SC2. I am not aware of the date of my Second Coming. (Human Consciousness)

    Both of these statements use "I," and therefore attribute contradictory states of awareness to one and the same self.

    I only recently discovered Lonergan and haven't explored his two consciousness model. Does he avoid this? Can he? Can anyone who holds to a two consciousness model?

    Vernerable commentors, what say you?

  36. Anyone have thoughts (or recommended books) on the best way to justify that moral duties exist? I have never thought that merely appealling to divine commands works very well.


  37. @Red
    That is just unacceptable for A-T as it would result in the multiplying of singular acts (one act or event becoming actually many). All the author does is smuggle in a Humean causality into A-T.

    Further, A-T doesn't exclude reciprocity in action (in fact the unity of agent and patient in act implies reciprocity): A-T to my understanding would just understand reciprocity in action-reaction as a seperate and distinct action (hence RE-action, so I think A-T is right according to modern physics/mechanics).

    1. Yes, I am having a difficult time gasping his point fully, he does talk about your point about reciprocity in action-reaction as a seperate and distinct action in "Causal Production as interaction"though.

  38. Has Feser ever replied to the suggested problem that Jesus was a failed eschatological prophet in the Olivet Discourse?

    "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled"

    I don't think it's easily dismissed, as e.g. plenty of preterist Christians will agree with skeptics that it's giving a first century prediction; and we know that this kind of failed prediction is rather common in the history of religion both inside and outside of Christianity. It doesn't seem strange at all if the early Christians made the same mistake as many other religious movements have also made. Of course that point may be strengthened or weakened depending on whether early Christinaity shows many similarities with such religious movements; or many significant differences.


  39. Existential Thomists hold that God is the principle of existence and that the actual in the order of being is potential in the order of existence, which itself neither exists nor doesn't exist. How does that square with God being pure act? Is this a different kind of potentiality synonymous with contingency in some way? How does the Trinity of persons enter into the picture vis-a-vis this picture of God?

  40. From a Thomistic perspective, would some forms of interspecies sex be morally licit? From my understanding, bestiality is wrong because (1.) it is not proper for a rational agent to copulate with a non-rational agent and/or (2.) the telos of sex, namely the preservation of the species, is frustrated when the sexual act between agents of different species is either intrinsically sterile or it results in offspring that are intrinsically sterile.

    Now supposing we made contact with rational extraterrestrials, it would seem that if the human and the alien were genetically compatible (and their resulting offspring were fertile) then their sexual union would be acceptable. It would also follow that genetically compatible humans and aliens could also MARRY in the fullest sense of the term.

    Obviously it's EXTREMELY implausible that two species separated by light-years would be genetically compatible. Furthermore, artificial techniques to create offspring between two genetically incompatible species would be immoral. But is it possible in principle for inter-species sex to be morally licit, or are homo sapiens limited to homo sapiens full stop?


  41. @JC
    While ancient sources of history are often comparable to the Bible (e.g. the Babylonian-Chaldean sacred king lists agree with the Bible that there was a universal flood and the pre-deluvians appeared to live wonderfully long lives (even much longer than the Bible claims) and in the number of generations of Cain's (royal) descendants/heirs, there is a radical difference in interpretation. The pagan/heathen saw the equivalent of Adam's sin or Cain's murder and the wars/killing this triggered as more or less right or good (with the devil/serpent being basically an enlightening and liberating character).

    We should not be surprised that sometimes there is a lot of similarity between ancient pagan myths and histories and the Hebrew scriptures: what should surprise us is the radically different interpretation of their meaning or significance.

  42. @Anon 7:59
    The problem is neither the Apostles nor Christ's followers generally appear to have understood that this teaching of Christ precluded them (or anyone) from actually dying before Christ's second coming.

    Further, "this generation" can be understood in many ways, including e.g. the generation as being the Church Age of grace (the new testament dispensation) or even just fallen humanity/Adam's progeny. In this interpretation it would exclude humanity from ending totally in its present condition until the Second Coming and a new generation, a new heaven and earth.

    Perhaps also it was understood as the end of the temple age and the beginning of the Church age, with the general ressurection being its final fulfillment.

    You can argue too that by being united with Christ in the Church "this generation" is preserved like being in the ark of Noah till the end of the world, where they will then receive and enjoy their final and definitive deliverance from death and sin (in the resurrection).

    The Apocalypse of St John is in the same theme and it speaks of a regeneration in Christ as occuring even now, so generation might not refer exclusively to one natural generation.

    1. To second this—It's notable that this objection, which seems so obvious and so serious to us, was considered neither in the first century. While people like Albert Schweitzer and Reza Aslan have argued that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet owing to these statements—and a failed one, given that they didn't come to fruition—this doesn't mesh at all with the fact that we see no debates over the validity of these prophecies in the first and second centuries. After all, if Jesus had made imminent predictions of the end of the world, wouldn't opponents of Christianity immediately jump on this to disprove his claims? And wouldn't there be notable debates over these claims around the turn of the century, perhaps resulting in the falling away of a significant portion of the faith (similar to modern-day prophetic movements)? Surprisingly, we see none of these—there are no internal debates over the prophecies, and opponents seemed to take for granted Jesus' miracles (objecting instead that they were of demonic provenance). In this light, the suggestion that the "prophetic predictions" really weren't what they seem to us now (removed by two millennia, and not knowing the Jewish apocalyptic genre) is much more plausible. They may well refer to the crucifixion, the destruction of the temple/Jewish diaspora, etc. rather than "the end of the world"—which, looking at some of Jesus' other statements, he appears to claim no knowledge of (not the Son, but only the Father in heaven knows that day and hour etc.). Again, the Jewish apocalyptic genre is one we don't really have knowledge of today, which leads to such writings as the Gospel of John (which David Bentley Hart argues has NOTHING to do with the end of the world) being interpreted as such.

    2. *Apocalypse of John, not Gospel. Oops:)

    3. How much do we actually have from critics of Christinaity from that time? Maybe some debates with Jews that survive in Christian works?

      Anyway, there are Biblical texts like 2 Peter and the end of John 21--

      Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”

      That can be read in a way that suggest early Christinaity was indeed having to deal with critics and the problem of a failed prophecy. So the text above would be read as having to explain away the issue. See e.g. The Historical Figure of Jesus by E. P. Sanders which uses this line of argument.

      Now Christians would presumably want to read those texts in a different way; but it's going to be question-begging to say that there is *nothing* that suggests that early Christianity had to deal with a problem over this.

      Also First Clement 23--

      So let us not be double-minded; neither let our soul be lifted up on account of His exceedingly great and glorious gifts. Far from us be that which is written, "Wretched are they who are of a double mind, and of a doubting heart; who say, These things we have heard even in the times of our fathers; but, behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened to us.." You foolish ones! compare yourselves to a tree: take [for instance] the vine. First of all, it sheds its leaves, then it buds, next it puts forth leaves, and then it flowers; after that comes the sour grape, and then follows the ripened fruit. You perceive how in a little time the fruit of a tree comes to maturity. Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, "Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;" and, "The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom you look."

      So apparently this issue caused some believers to doubt.

      And apparently modern-day prophetic movements can sometimes overwhelming keep hold of believers, even after a failed prediction. Common sense may say that they should be torn apart, but for some reason they can survive the problem. The JWs are still out there, and maybe even busier than other Christians in trying to evangelise!

      As for what the texts are speaking about in the Olivet Discourse, compare with 1 Thess. 4/5. It's just very difficult to imagine that it isn't speaking about an eschatological event. Or we could turn to the evidence of the church fathers, that from what I know, when it comes to Matt. 24:30-31, entirely supports the reading that it's speaking about the 2nd Coming.


    4. Should probably be spelled "Christianity"...


    5. Greg,

      All this is true, but the question is not whether early Christians thought the world was ending soon (which is clearly yes, at least for many) but if Jesus himself predicted this. And to me the evidence indicates that this is not the case. Keep in mind how Jesus fulfills and inverts the expectations of the Jewish messiah—how he rebuilds the temple, brings the God of Israel to the Gentiles, and ushers in a new age. While Jews historically interpreted this in a highly eschatological sense, bringing about the end of days as many fundamentalists now envision it, the new age Jesus brought in was of a decidedly spiritual sense—the kingdom of heaven, not of this world. Given the earth-shattering newness of God incarnate, it is unsurprising that many early followers believed themselves to be in the Last Days. But this does not necessarily indicate Jesus falsely prophesied, which would result in at least some labeling him as a fraud (of course many DOUBTED, but whether they accused him of this OBVIOUS FAULT is what's at stake).

      And of course interpreting a lot of those passages in your sense is as much begging the question:)

      That said, I'm only faintly educated in many of these matters, so I'm sure many others (are you there, Dr. Feser?) could expand on this more effectively.

    6. Timocrates said:

      "Further, "this generation" can be understood in many ways..."

      If it were just one verse, then the problem would presumably be easier to deal with; but there are multiple verses and lines of argument used, and you could appeal to a cumulative case where you have various verses that can all be easily read as pointing in the same direction.

      Yes, you could take the texts individually, and give them all a different interpretation. However there still may be a weight of evidence coming from the multiple verses taken together on what many people would think is their plain meaning.

      And the case for a first century prediction is good enough that some Christians accept it. Quite a few books are out there. See e.g. "The Last Days According to Jesus" by R. C. Sproul, or "Last Days Madness" by Gary DeMar. N. T. Wright also takes a preterist style reading of the Olivet Discourse in his "Jesus and the Victory of God".


    7. Greg,

      At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is not really the question at stake. It's not "did many early Christians believe in an immanent second coming," or "the case that Jesus predicted an immanent second coming can be well-defended from points of scripture, and has been by many scholars," but "did Jesus make predictions that proved inaccurate." And the answer to that is clearly no. After all, this is just so OBVIOUS an objection to Jesus that surely its early critics would latch onto it, and they just so clearly don't. In Against the Christians, third century polemicist Porphyry doesn't even mention this prophetic objection in his critique of Christianity—in fact, he instead attacks the validity of the Book of Daniel's prophecies (a rather fringe target if Jesus himself made false predictions). Celsus, the foremost early critic of Christianity, similarly makes no such objections, instead attacking the validity of the virgin birth and alleging that an all-powerful God would surely choose an upper class person to carry out his word (notably, Celsus didn't deny the fact that Jesus performed miracles). And finally, the great apologists and exegetes of scripture (Origen, Augustine, etc.) don't even address this objection as a consideration—a rather odd fact, given how thorough their work is.

      The fact that a few modern writers interpret the passages as prophetic (and failed at that) is an anomaly, analogous to the theistic personalism that is discontinuous with church tradition yet so widely discussed today. It springs from the criticism of Schweitzer et al who read this anachronistic interpretation into scripture, provoking discussion, debate, and even partial acceptance of it on behalf of Christians.

      To summarize a rather lengthy post, I don't pretend to have a definitive interpretation of the "apocalyptic" passages, but viewing them as problematic is an entirely recent innovation. The passages themselves are quite cryptic, and given that those most recent to the event (and thus best able to interpret them), both critics and apologists, see nothing at all problematic with them is enough to indicate that the Schweitzer view is unwarranted and anachronistic.

    8. Patrick Magee said:

      "but "did Jesus make predictions that proved inaccurate." And the answer to that is clearly no. After all, this is just so OBVIOUS an objection to Jesus that surely its early critics would latch onto it, and they just so clearly don't."

      Firstly I would say your basic approach here is pretty questionable. It's saying that we don't need to examine the textual evidence, because Jesus *just couldn't* have said that, for such and such reasons. But the only way you can strictly know what Jesus did or didn't say, is to examine the textual evidence itself. It's a very risky approach to be saying, "Well if he said that, this type of evidence would show up, and we don't have that type of evidence, so he couldn't have said it". That's all very well, but it's an a priori judgement that could be refuted by the evidence of the texts themselves.

      Secondly, I don't know how you can be so sure about what early critics of Christianity did or didn't say, because a lot of it appears to be lost.

      "Porphyry was a prolific author who wrote about a whole range of topics. There are some sixty works attributed to him, but most of them are now lost or survive in mere fragments.... we know that Porphyry wrote on such diverse subjects as grammar, philology, rhetoric, and geometry. Against the Christians is perhaps Porphyry's best known title. Of this large work only some fragments have survived."

      Now presumably we get some additional details of what it contained from Christian response to it; but we know every line of argument he used? I'm not sure how much access Celsus would have had to the gospels? But again, I don't think we can know all of his arguments for sure.

      Also, there is evidence that early critics were indeed attacking Christians over this issue in 2 Peter 3:

      "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."

      The meaning of "fathers" in this context is disputed. But even ignoring that, it certainly looks like it's talking about accusations of a failed prophecy over the 2nd Coming, as it goes on to quite clearly speak about the 2nd Coming.

      So it seems they were having to produce apologetics already at an early stage, (late first century, or early 2nd century work possibly I think), to counter the claim that the prophecy had failed.

      Or even if you disagree with that interpretation of 2 Peter 3, it's going to be question-begging to say that there is no evidence of early critics bashing Christianity over this issue.


    9. We don't have the whole of Celsus or Porphyry, but we do have whole extant texts refuting both—neither of which reference this line of argument. So no, it's not question begging unless we are to assume that the vast majority of these refutations were lost as well. And, once more, no one doubts that there were early Christians who believed Christ's return was immanent—which, whatever your view is, is entirely unsurprising, given the expectations of the Jewish Messiah.

      Also, it doesn't matter if Celsus had access to the Gospels (although it's largely believed he did). Unless you're holding to an inspired/traditional account, the Gospels would have been adduced from oral accounts anyway, and anything specific to them would likely be attributable to their authors. So Celsus wouldn't have needed them anyway to argue against Christianity.

      That said, it does seem like we're at a bit of a standstill here, so I'd definitely recommend contacting Dr. Feser if you'd like a more knowledgeable source. At any rate it's an aging thread.

    10. My mention of possibly "question-begging" was over 2 Peter 3. That text appears to *arguably* give evidence of the very thing you say doesn't exist:

      "this is just so OBVIOUS an objection to Jesus that surely its early critics would latch onto it, and they just so clearly don't"

      2 Peter 3 can easily be read as the early Christians having to produce some apologetics, because they were indeed getting bashed over the head by critics over this issue of a failed 2nd Coming prophecy. This isn't just a case of, "there were early Christians who believed Christ's return was imminent". Rather, this looks like early Christians were getting mocked by critics for a failed prophecy. And I would consider a roughly first century source like this, to be better than a third or fouth century source anyway. But yeah, as far as I can tell, *arguably* this is a case of early critics latching on to the problem.

      Trying to be critical of the New Testament material from oral accounts may be a lot more difficult. How much would a non-Christian even get to know about? It's not really the same as having a text to study.

      Anyway, interestingly, I did come across a fourth century source that does deal with the issue of a failed 2nd Coming, although it doesn't actually mention the "this generation will not pass" verse.

      "And Paul's lie becomes very plain when he says, "We which are alive." For it is three hundred years since he said this, and no body has anywhere been caught up, either Paul's or any one else's. So it is time this saying of Paul became silent, for it is driven away in confusion."

      "We must mention also that saying which Matthew gave us, in the spirit of a slave who is made to bend himself in a mill-house, when he said, "And the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, and then shall the end come." For lo, every quarter of the inhabited world has experience of the Gospel, and all the bounds and ends of the earth possess it complete, and nowhere is there an end, nor will it ever come. So let this saying only be spoken in a corner!"


  43. @Neophyte
    If the extraterrestrials were naturally genetically compatible with us then I just think they would be or have to be human. Cross-species mating only works naturally with other animals when the mating partners are already pretty close to each other but even then are often sterile (e.g. mules).

    But another consideration is this: are the bodies of the offspring from such a hypothetical union actually worthy of rational animals? You wouldn't want the body of a horse, for instance or any other animal really as they lack utility and dignity in most cases as a body of a rational creature.

    1. There is nothing in principle impossible with an alien race being wholly compatible with humans - i.e., being "human" in every sense EXCEPT for that of being descended from Adam and Eve. C.S. Lewis, in Perelandra outlines the possibility, namely, that God specifically creates a new race of humans.

      I would hazard a guess that mating (and marrying) between Adam's descendants and aliens would be morally licit in principle: marriage and sex is for children, and the children would be just as rightly human as we currently have within the race descended from Adam.

      What I caution with, though, is the additional problem of original sin. If an alien race (a la Perelandra) is not descended from Adam, and is free of original sin, it is nearly inconceivable that they could WANT to mate with us. A person who is not brought low by the effects of original sin would not easily be a fitting partner for what we think of as a "standard" human, i.e. one who has had the effects of original sin from conception.

      For example: (A) damaged intellect. We make mental errors, and forget things, and in various ways are subject to mistakes and failures of thought ALL THE TIME. I would suppose that a non-fallen alien would have an effective IQ well above 300, maybe in the 400s or higher. Can you imagine someone like that wanting to marry an effective moron with an IQ of a mere 170 or less?

      (B) Inclination to sin: the alien is not inclined toward sin, instead at every moment he is inclined to give glory to God in his every act and choice. Us...not so much. More especially, many of the Fathers (St. Augustine most explicitly) suggest that even at our best, the conjugal act is normally attendant with venial sins of excess attention to physical pleasure. Marriage would entail a perfect alien being dragged through conjugal relations with someone who at best might achieve the act with only minimal sin.

      (C) Matching up in longevity. Marriage is a partnership of the whole life (see canon law). A non-fallen alien will live forever, us, only about 80 years or so. There is a fundamental disjoint in their outlook on their futures.

      Although it might not be immoral in principle, it would be so nearly impossible in practice that it would be for good, that I don't see it making sense. Now, if the aliens also were fallen, all that goes away, and I say its fine.

    2. @Tony,

      "For example: (A) damaged intellect. We make mental errors, and forget things, and in various ways are subject to mistakes and failures of thought ALL THE TIME."

      Are you implying that a unfallen and/or resurrected rational animal would have absolutely no defect in his memory and judgements, such that he isn't able to forget and ignore even the simplest and most banal memory but most remember it as clearly as he would other more astonishing memories, and that it is impossible for sinless resurrected beings to make even the simplest mistake, such as solving a highly-complex math problem and getting the answer wrong, or making a false conclusion as to, say, what place a random rain-drop will fall when he sees it in the air?

      Or are you making a more general point that both unfallen aliens (and by extension resurrected humans) would be much more astute and knowing, such that the mistakes we ordinarily make woul be very unlikely for a creature in such a state?

    3. "I would suppose that a non-fallen alien would have an effective IQ well above 300, maybe in the 400s or higher."

      Do you have a habit of pulling things out of thin air? That whole paragraph was silly, to put it charitably.


      Why do you assume such aliens would be free from original sin? If they are free moral agents, they could just as well have found themselves in the same condition. In some non-modern biological sense, they, too, would be human, i.e., beings composed of both material and immaterial faculties.

      Why do you assume that humans before the fall were not capable of error, or even sin? After all, isn't original sin THE original sin? Adam and Eve were free moral agents who chose to sin. Even if they hadn't, there's no reason, ceteris paribus, why we shouldn't expect one of their descendants to have committed original sin. Furthermore, why shouldn't be expect Man before the Fall to be capable of error of a morally licit kind?

    4. Joe, I am fairly confident that it is standard Thomistic fare that in the state of original justice, a human is not capable of making an unintentional intellectual error, and this includes errors of memory. No mistakenly thinking "he said X" when he didn't. There are various ways of getting to that conclusion, and I don't want to belabor it all that much because I don't think any of this is important, but one is that the intellect is ordered to knowledge, error defeats its ordering, and in the state of original justice such defeat is not fitting. Aristotle, too, had some comments about the intellect making a mistake of reasoning which to my mind (implicitly) suggests that such mistakes would not found in the state of original justice.

      In that state, "banal" memories would be relegated to the proper and due file directory for banal memories, and pulled out when fitting to do so. It's not like a perfect human will be thinking about weird and unfitting stuff all day because he has the ability to think about them.

      None of this means that an unfallen human would be able to state correctly such things as "what place a random rain-drop will fall when he sees it in the air". He will not know everything, nor know everything that he might want to ask. But he would correctly say when he has enough information to make a definite conclusion, and when he has only information to make a probable judgment, such as "it is more likely than not to fall within X square foot, but it may not fall there". He would not be inclined to assert more than the evidence warrants (which we have to constantly correct in ourselves).

      I would GUESS that an unfallen person could also make a poor judgment call about, say, a future event based on giving weights to estimating factors, that turn out to be unsuccessful weighting ratios. But even there, if the weights he assigned to the 7 factors were appropriate GIVEN the information he had, this would merely represent an event falling outside the more probable set, which happens all the time naturally, it is not an intellectual error. It would only be an error of the intellect if he assigned such weights not warranted by the knowledge he had at the time. And this is what I say is not clear could happen.

      I don't think anybody in the resurrected state makes any mistakes at all. They are, in addition to resurrected, experiencing the Beatific Vision, and I think this precludes error. (It does not imply having ALL knowledge, though.)

    5. Do you have a habit of pulling things out of thin air? That whole paragraph was silly, to put it charitably.

      Anon, obviously I did not intend to provide a detailed rationale as to why they had such a high IQ, but I gave one small hint: they will have perfect memory. I don't know if you have ever run into people with eidetic memory, but in my reading it seems to me that the condition is very substantially a help toward having a high IQ.

      The second hint is that of NOT MAKING ERRORS. If, when you asked yourself, "does knowing A, B, and C tell me anything about D", that you never erred in concluding that "D is true" or "D is false" given A, B, and C, then your IQ is going to be considerably higher than otherwise.

      The third is so obvious I did not think it worth mentioning: I assumed that sin and the effects of sin slow us down. Even if we only consider the effect of spending time on useless avenues of thought that are sure dead ends, the speed benefit for someone who does not make mistakes will show up as higher IQ. But I think there would simply be better processing speed, because sin and its effects tends to kludge up everything that it can.

      Why do you assume that humans before the fall were not capable of error, or even sin?

      If might have noticed that I did not assume that it will be true, I assumed it as a hypothetical: If it IS true, then... Also, at the end I noted the alternative option, if it is not true.

      Even if they hadn't, there's no reason, ceteris paribus, why we shouldn't expect one of their descendants to have committed original sin.

      Actually, there are some issues in that. Although it does seem likely, on the surface, that God would permit just the same test that Adam and Eve experienced would be played out on all their descendants, it is not that easy when you think through the results. For one thing, if you have some people sinning and some not, you will effectively have 2 VERY different groups of people - so different, frankly, that it is not clear that they can really inhabit the same societies. Many of our laws exist solely because of the need to restrain sin (including effectively all of the penal system). But such laws would constrain non-sinner perfect humans in unnatural ways, such that their society would be damaged thereby. It's not easy to see how they could live side-by-side. (C.S. Lewis speculated that the testing would be permitted only upon the first parents, not on all of society. That doesn't determine the truth, I just mention it to point out that others consider the possibility to be arguable.)

  44. @JoeD
    Well does QM claim there is no cause at all for particle decay? Or just not to know it? I would be surprised if QM goes so far as to suggest particle decay isn't a natural process but having causes for it. Now if the process overall has causes and a rational explanation, then I think we have good reason to suspect the othwerise random seeming final decay of a particle also has its reasons.

    1. AFAIK, QM doesn't claim anything. It is a descriptive formalism. As far as interpretations of that formalism are concerned, there are several and this acausal interpretation you seem to be hinting at is only one (Copenhagen).

    2. @Timocrates,

      Quantum Mechanics as parts of it's formalism requires that there be no deterministic or indeterministic hidden variables on the local level.

      Which leaves us with non-local hidden variables. The most prominent of such theories that managed to survive Zelinger's experiments that ruled out all sorts of non-local theories was the Bohmian interpretation.

      This interpretation is a completely deterministic interpretation of QM, that basically restores a Newtonian view of the world with strict and complete predictability. So far, this interpretation has not been ruled out via experiment, and it may even never be ruled out as such in principle because the De Broglie / Bohm interpretation is an interpretation of the formalism, by definition not susceptible to experimental verification or falsification because it is supposed to be an interpretation of the already existing experimental data and observed laws, not an additional theory that adds some new theoretical predictions that can be experimentally tested in principle. The De Broglie / Bohm interpretation is basically completely experimentally consistent with all of the results of QM and is thus experimentally correct.

      The problems with the Bohmian interpretation, however, start appearing when one looks outside of the realm of QM and into relativity and quantum thermodynamics / chromodynamics, where certain experimentally observed contradict the interpetation's central supposition of a guiding pilot wave, and relativity also plays an imporant part in the objections to the Bohmian interpretation, since the pilot wave that the interpretation posits would lead to certain observable disturbances in the underlying structure of relativity, which have been ruled out, which is why contemporary Bohm supporters are looking to make an extension of the theory that is completely compatible with relativity and other domains. So far they haven't succeeded.

      But if one accepts constructive empricism in the philosophy of science, one will in prinicple be able to make an alternative interpretation of QM that is completely compatible with a deterministic view of efficient causality as such. Which means that even if the Bohmian interpretation were to be completely chucked out, we would still have a guarantee of there being some alternative interpretation that is compatible with a more strictly deterministic metaphysics (I say alternative because the standard interpretation of QM is called the Copenhagen interpretation, which aside from positing the claims that originally lead to objections to the Principle of Causality, also makes some other hefty metaphysical claims about reality, such as that a thing literally cannot be said to actually exist in physical reality if no precise and consistent measurement can be had of it, as well as some other assumptions which are notorious for leading to idealism).

    3. @Timocrates,

      (continuing from the previous comment)

      But leaving aside the Bohmian interpretation and it's problems, and the possibility of always having an open window for alternative interpretations if one's metaphysics demands something to be true that some physicists erroneously hold to be incompatible with the empirical data, one is left with having to deal with the Copenhagen interpretation of QM.

      The Copenhagen interpretation basically ends up positing that radioactive decay can happen at multiple points equally well, which means that when actual decay occurs, it happens for no extrinsic reason, and intrinsic reasons are seemingly problematic because the nature of the particle doesn't explain why it decayed at precisely this point rather than that. It also posits many other things that supposedly question the PC, such as virtual particles, quantum entanglement, Bell's inequalities and etc.

      But what is remarkable is that, even though hydrogen decay seemingly doesn't have a specific cause, it can easily be influenced with particle bombardment, and there may be hints that the overlaying quantum vacuum or maybe other such things also have an influence on the decay and other strange quantum phenomenon. But leaving aside even that, the random indeterministic and seemingly uncaused particle decay (and every other phenomenon in QM as well) follows certain patterns: radioactive decay only occurs with radioactive material and has a probability distribution that makes decay at one set of points more likely than another set of points - even though no specific point (singular) is as such more likely than others, quantum entanglement follows certain laws such that an observation of one particle will instantly influence another particle in the same way and not the opposite way and in such a manner that predictions can be made out of it, and Bell's inequalities are basically a firmly established way of how the quantum-mechanical formalism at it's most fundamental form looks like and as such makes predictions of what we should expect in certain interactions - clearly revealing a law-like pattern and experimental predicability which wouldn't be expected at all if such phenomenon are a blatant violation of the Principle of Causality as such (since if the PC were false there would be absolutely nothing about violations of causality that would manifest themselves to an orderly human understanding and law-like formulation) - and the inequalities were also used to rule out various local hidden variables which means that it has an instrumental use as well.

      Since quantum mechanics is obviously a branch of science with it's own laws (otherwise there would be no point in making experiments, observations and writing down formalisms and rules and an entire system of how things tend to work out) we clearly have what an Aristotelian would call formal causality (since laws are to the Aristotelian a modern way of renaming formal causality), which naturally creates final causality. And the underlying existence of the particles in question also establishes material causality, leaving only efficient causality in question.

      When it comes to the efficient causality, this is where the obections come in. A radioactive particle can decay at various points and decay just as easily. Yet if it decays at one point in time, it's a mystery as to why it decayed at that particular time since it could have just as easily decayed at another time, and the same problems would appear had it decayed at other points.

      In other words, we know via Bell's inequality that there are literally no physical objects or hidden variables that could influence a particle sufficiently enough to decay at any particular point at all.

      Which is basically the main objection QM has to offer to the Principle of Causality. Well that and a list of other such ontologically random and allegedly uncaused phenomenon such as quantum entanglement, quantum vacuum generation fo virtual particles etc.

    4. Dear Timocrates

      As someone who's been looking at QM and its' interaction with the Scholastic principle of causation for the past 6 months let me briefly summerise.

      a) It's not that we don't know what causes radioactive decay / spontaneous emission (e.g. we know that the weak force is responsible for the decay of the less stable heavy elements and the zero point energy of the QED field for the spontaneous emissions in a hydrogen atom), its that on a quantum level we can only predict the probability of such an an event occurring at any given time.

      b) what you have to realize is that when attempting to interpret what QM actually says about reality scientists are straying into philosophy as the interpritations give the same answers to the same measurements.

      c) I would recommend Dr Stephen Barr's article "Faith and Quantum theory" at first things as a starting point. It's a popular level article but very good.

    5. What other books would you recommend on the subject?

    6. I can't really recommend any popular level works as my knowledge comes largely from being married to theoretical physicist, as well as courting her for 6 years prior to bells.

  45. Here is a question that puzzles me about the ”hard problem of consciousness” and the A-T philosophy of nature:

    I completely agree that the modern mechanistic-objective conception of matter made the mind-body -problem more difficult that in once was, by treating matter as something utterly devoid of subjective point of view. Actually this made the ”hard problem” impossible to solve, as f.ex. Nagel, Swinburne, and of course Feser has shown.

    But how does the A-T -view solve the problem, exactly? At one point in the history of the cosmos, there were only inanimate objects and later vegetative souls. Then came the sensitive and rational souls, which had the capacity to experience from the subjective point of view. What explains this - capacity to experience - in the case of sensitive and rational souls? There still seems to be a jump from ”objective ontology” to ”subjective ontology”. So there still seems to be a hard problem of consciousness, even if you abandon the modern conception of matter.

    The only solutions seem to be (a) panpsychism/russellian monism, according to which matter itself contains consciousness, or (b) theism, according to which the First Cause has the power to produce the subjective point of view. A-T philosophy of course agrees with (b), and is compatible with (a), but how does A-T _by itself_ produces a solution that is separate from (a) and (b)?

    1. But the A-T view of the soul implies theism, because only a divine being can create something like an human immaterial soul, i.e., the soul cannot arise from matter alone.

    2. But if this is the case, then the A-T view doesn't seem to bring any advantage to forms of theism that accept the modern conception of matter (regarding the hard problem of consciousness). God can create an immaterial soul, subjective point of view, regardless of one's conception of matter. So, if the A-T view requires divine action in order to explain qualia, then the A-T view has no advantage; "modern theism" can explain the same via divine action in the same way. But if this is the case, why say that the modern conception of matter created the hard problem, if the A-T conception of matter can't solve the problem either?

    3. First, I would say that most modern theist philosophers are committed to dualist
      (substance) views of mind; A-T philosophers propose hylemorphic dualism. Now, most thomist philosophers say that the human soul has an operation which is independent of matter, whose name is abstraction, i.e., to grasp universals, which are immaterial. So, in my opinion, I think an A-T could say that qualia can be explained by a physical process (although, I think it cannot). Regarding the divine creation of the human soul, here God isn't an ad hoc
      A hypothesis, an A-T has independent reasons to believe in God's existence

  46. @Patrick
    Thank you for contributing that reflection. I find thinking about objections to Christianity in that manner is often helpful. It's also good for dealing with claims that the gospels are just a rework of pagan myths (if that were true, surely the pagans themselves would have pointed it out).

  47. I have a couple of questions about the immaterial soul in the A-T ontology as explicated by Dr Feser.

    First, concerning free will, I don't see how locating the will in an immaterial component explains incompatibilist freedom. Either there are always antecedent conditions sufficient to determine our thoughts and actions or else there occurs a seemingly random element. Neither scenario accounts for personal responsibility. the dilemma of chance vs determinism seems to be in place regardless of whether the mind is material or not. I don't see how making the mind immaterial goes between the horns of that dilemma, but then I could never really get a handle on libertarian free will in any context.

    Second, concerning the afterlife, the immaterial soul is said to be constituted solely by our intellect and will, while all the other facets of our selves are functions of the body and hence are sloughed off at death, leaving us in a horribly diminished state. I don't see how such an afterlife can be construed as personal _survival_ since so much of our identities are aspects of neither intellect nor volition. In what way do _I_ continue to exist if I'm reduced to my intellect? Currently I'm a lot more than that and I'd kind of like to hang onto the other stuff. I've read a lot of this blog material as well as The Last Superstition but I don't recall this point being addressed adequately.

    1. St. Thomas talks of the intellectual memory, does he not? I think that because intellect remains, intellectual memory remains, and this is enough for the persistence of the personal survival, the "I" in the necessary sense. The "I" remembers sufficiently for the one experiencing the afterlife is in continuity with the "I" who made choices during life.

      I don't recall with clarity the specific position of Thomas on the persistence of the use of faculties of soul that normally require the use of bodily organs, but I thought that Thomas allows for the persistence of experiential activity of such faculties by God intervening and supplying supernaturally what is normally supplied by bodily organs. Thus, a person could feel emotions, and even sensory things like the pain of fire, without skin and nerves to be burned by fire. Actually, this makes sense because even the intellect normally cannot operate without the brain as a material seat of the imagination, so even thinking would require God to intervene with aid. I think.

    2. Does the intellect undergo motion when it is operating? If so, how can something immaterial change?

  48. Have you ever considered the fact that UFOs have flight (and other) characteristics very similar to angels?

    Maybe it is time reinvigorate the Thomist study of angelology. It might go some way to solving the UFO conundrum.

    1. UFOs are angels, but the bad kind of angel.

    2. Both of you are either high, or trolling. Go read what Thomas actually wrote about angels instead of leaving asinine comments.

    3. I'm neither high not trolling and I did read what Aquinas said about angels- and what amazed me was that his description of angels suggests that they are similar in very many respects to angels. For three: (1) both are aerial, (2) both are (seemingly in the case of UFOs) not subject the laws of physics or biology, and (3) both display purpose intention. Hence my post.

    4. Actually I did read what Aquinas said about angels (and Gilson and Stump) and what amazed me was the extraordinary similarity between the two (in some but not all respects. For three: (1) the are both aerial; (2) both display purpose and intelligence; and, (3) neither are subject to the laws of biology or physics.

  49. Throwing my hat into the ring! This one has been bugging me for a while and I'm sure there is someone here who can help.

    A thing is either just the sum of its parts or more than the sum of its parts.

    If a thing is just the sum of its parts, it’s not clear the thing exists at all since positing the thing in addition to its parts overdetermines it.

    However, if a thing is more than the sum of its parts, what is there in addition to its parts? Are the parts informed somehow by the whole? Would they act differently? Does the whole have causal effects apart from the parts?

  50. Gary, would it help to distinguish what sense of "being" and what sense of "parts" you are talking about?

    For physical matter that is extended, say a block of ice of 8 cubic inches (2 inches on a side), the "whole" of the block is stated with the 8 cubes that are 1 inch on a side. Those 8 "parts" cover the whole of the "parts". If, that is, you mean the parts that are extended, i.e. parts in the sense of material cause. It is impossible that a material being extended in space be "more extended" than the extendedness of the sum of its material parts.

    But what about the form? Is the form a part? But what about existence "added" to the essence? Is "existence" a part? Certainly not in the sense that the 8 cubes are parts, that's for sure. But surely an actual horse is "more being" than a horse merely conceived in the mind, so in 1973 Secretariat "is" more than Secretariat "is" now. But Secretariat as conceived in 1973 isn't more physical extension than as conceived now. So, by keeping straight "being in what sense" you can clear up some of the questions, I think.

  51. Is Aquinas a libertarian or a compatibilist regarding free will?

    I would say that Aquinas is a libertarian.

    I know that the foreknowledge argument commits a modal fallacy, and also for Aquinas doesn't make sense to say that God "foreknowledges" something. But could someone also says that the knowlodge of a law plus the states doesn't imply determinism, because it also commits the same modal fallacy?

    Perhaps I am not grasping Aquinas' undestading of a nature's law.

  52. Does anyone have any thoughts on how we ought to integrate insights from less intellectual exercises, such as contemplative prayer and fasting, into our systems of philosophy and theology? Reason is often exalted as the supreme human virtue, yet I find that the spiritual life is not often maximally enriched through intellectual means. I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to ask here, but I it seems to me that there is something more fundamental to our encounters with the ineffable mystery than in our reasoned reflections; however, mystic experience does not appear very useful in the material world without some form of concrete expression. What do you do when what you have seen of God does not fully jive with what you have reasoned about God? Stuff like that.

    -Matthew H.

  53. Anyone here read Eric Reitan's The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic?

    He's a very good philosopher, and Dr. Feser is quoted in the chapter that challenges natural law theory.

  54. Someone else might have pointed this out--I haven't visited or scrolled through the threads here in the past few weeks. Anyway, here is a very long critique of Feser's five proofs for God (written by a believer, btw, motivated by concern that Feser's God leaves no room for free will.)

    The darn thing is so long I couldn't read it. But I don't have much of a head for metaphysics.

    1. I do hope Ed rebuts it at some point, but from what I can tell the argument isn't super coherent. The author's objection to the Aristotelian proof seems to rest on 1. misunderstanding the notion of Aristotelian causality (he somehow interprets the coffee cup example to be an example of material causality; he also tries to argue that the Thomistic hand-stick-stone example is actually an example of an accidentally ordered series, which is clearly false) and 2. pretty willfully ignoring Ed's argument for the unity of the actualized actualizer (arguing that there's no reason that such an actualizer might not have potentialities, even though this would entail an actual "part" and a potential "part"). Also, not to engage in any ad hominems, but the author's also an Intelligent Design proponent, so I'm gonna take Ed's philosophical views over his :)

  55. Any thoughts on Thomas Metzinger's eliminativist philosophy of mind? His opinions from what I can tell are close to R. Scott Bakker's, who was the topic of a pretty lively discussion here a few years back. Would people here feel that Metzinger operates under similarly false presumptions?

  56. Also, I cam across this interesting interpretation by David Chapman, arguing against Alasdair McIntyre, of why philosophical/universal ethics presents such intractable problems:

    "We’ve done without a foundation for ethics for a few million years. Ethics has been happening all that time anyway. Maybe someday someone will find a foundation, in which case great. In the mean time, we might want to devote some resources to an engineering approach, rather than the mathematics/philosophy one, and figure out how to incrementally improve things.

    That means giving up on tidy theories, but seems more likely to be useful. Ethical theorizing so far has been almost entirely useless; professional ethicists mainly admit that they never actually apply their ideas to everyday practice.

    A good starting point is to figure out how ethics has worked as well as it has, sans foundations. This is an empirical (and phenomenological) question, not an a priori one. There’s lots of ways of coming at it; the evopsych stuff on altruism and signaling is clear recent progress.

    So what one observes is that, in practice, ethics isn’t one clear thing. It’s a group of evolved kludges. The kludges evolved biologically, culturally, and in individual development. They address various loosely-related problems (e.g. “what do I do in this emergency,” “how should I live, in general,” “how do I justify myself,” “how do I judge others”). Relatedly, one observes that, in practice, the kinds of justifications people give loosely correspond to deontology, consequentialism, and virtue, usually muddled up. None of them works by itself, and they don’t work very well together either, but trying to choose just one of the three is not likely to work out.

    This is not to commit the “appeal to nature” fallacy of supposing that good is defined by what people have evolved to consider good. It’s just a preliminary to trying to do better.

    We shouldn’t expect a general methodology for converting empirical understanding into “doing better,” and there’s no guarantee that actual ethical progress comes from better understanding. Still, it seems plausible and practical, whereas the “find the ultimate solution to the ethics problem” doesn’t. To me.

    Taking an engineering attitude leads to questions like “what do we want ethics for?” and “how ethical should we be?”. These questions can’t even be stated in terms of ethical foundationalism, much less investigated. Yet “how ethical should I be?” is, I suspect, one of the most pressing and common ethical questions for most people. It accounts for a lot of dysfunctional everyday ethical activity.

    Looking at “so how does ethics work now?”, one thing that sticks out is that the moral landscape is fragmented—by modernity, and even more so now by globalization. “We might as well make sure we’re all operating inside the same moral tradition so we can talk to each other” is a nice fantasy, but it isn’t going to happen. Any engineering approach has to take fragmentation as a given."

  57. Would love your thoughts on Distributism

  58. I am curious as to what people think about Jordan Peterson

  59. Not that anyone is reading these any more, but: Do you have a perspective on making Cardinal Newman's internal structure of mental acts in "Grammar of Assent" match up at all with scholastic analysis? Is it possible? A dead end?

  60. Dr. Feser, I am teaching a High School course called disputed questions. Which I use to treat some apologetic topics. I try to get the students to look at both sides of a question and engage their interlocutor. I do that using the framework of a Thomistic article. They write one article a week. I am looking for fundamental questions. They had fun with should NFL players stand for the National Anthem? They did not do so well with are universals real? The high testosterone kids (seniors in an all boys school) were not real rational with: Is lust a vice?

    Do you have any suggestions for questions to ask?