Sunday, March 10, 2019

2019 Aquinas Lecture


In January I gave the 2019 Aquinas Lecture at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, on the theme “Classical Theism and the Nature of God.”  Before the lecture I was kindly awarded the Order of St. Thomas Medal by the Center for Thomistic Studies.  You can watch the video of the lecture at the CTS website.  (Click on the “Aquinas Lecture Series Videos” link.)  That’s the medal you’ll see me wearing.  The waiter joke at the beginning makes reference to something said in Steve Jensen’s opening remarks, which are not in the video.

33 comments:

  1. Congrats Ed! Great lecture by the way. Just recieved Aristotle's Revenge in the mail. Fantastic read so far!

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  2. I'm wondering if the principle of proportionate causality:

    What ever is in an effect must be in its cause in some way...whatever is in some effect must be in its total cause (the whole collection of factors that went into producing it) in some way or other, either formally, or virtually, or eminently.

    has ever been compared to the 2nd law of thermodynamics:

    "Energy is the ability to bring about change or to do work. ... The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that "in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state." This is also commonly referred to as entropy."

    I know we are comparing metaphysical principles with laws of physics - but if metaphysics is truly more fundamental than physics, I don't see why one couldn't analyze this law from the perspective of proportionate causality.

    For example, is the second law only concerned with formal causes, and not virtual or eminent causality?

    Cheers,
    Daniel

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    1. Second law, in statistical thermodynamics, is stated as a tautology. In statistical thermodynamics, the second law says verbatim "the event that is most likely to happen will be most likely to happen."

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    2. I think that Daniel Shields mentioned this briefly in a recent paper in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. It was Everything in Motion is Put in Motion by Another: A Principle in Aquinas’ First Way.

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    3. Hi Cogniblog - That sounds like final causality - only final causality is not a tautology because it references powers.

      Are there different kinds of thermodynamics?

      Thanks,
      Daniel

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    4. Thanks for the reference Anonymous. I found it, but I don't have the cash to pay for a subscription.

      I did a search through some of my books, and found a reference to the 2nd law in Aquinas and Modern Science: A New Synthesis of Faith and Reason by someone called Gerard M. Verschuuren. He makes an interesting claim about how "...if the sequence of DNA were fully determined by chemical bonds, DNA would not be able to store or convey any information at all. Purely physical processes would be bound to lead to a destabilization of information. A mixture of chemical substances will ultimately act according to the second law of thermodynamics and revert to the most probable state of chemical equilibrium. Instead, DNA bears information, but as with a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, its chemistry is irrelevant to its content. So it is not the causa materialis of DNA itself that creates information."

      And in another place "As George Gilder of the Kennedy Institute at Harvard University puts it, "Information is defined by its independence from physical determination: If it is determined, it is predictable and thus by definition not information." Put in Thomistic terms, at the heart of the material we find the immaterial, but the immaterial needs the material, for without a signal there could be no message." and "The genetic code is immaterial and should be distinguished from the material it is written on."

      So on this claim, the second law actually points to the conclusion that formal causes must be immaterial - at least with regard to complex beings like humans beings, and human DNA. Mater, left to itself, will always revert back to its most basic form.

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    5. I suspect I'll be finding some interesting commentary on such subjects as well in Ed's new book. Likely in chapter 6.

      6. Animate nature

      6.1 Against biological reductionism
      6.1.1 What is life?
      6.1.2 Genetic reductionism
      6.1.3 Function and teleology
      6.1.4 The hierarchy of life forms
      6.2 Aristotle and evolution
      6.2.1 Species essentialism
      6.2.2 Natural selection is teleological
      6.2.3 Transformism
      6.2.4 Problems with some versions of “Intelligent Design” theory
      6.3 Against neurobabble

      Daniel

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  3. Or perhaps more generally, can it be said that virtual and eminent causality are restricted to creatures with intellect?

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  4. Congratulations Ed,

    Omer

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  5. Wonderful news, Ed. Richly deserved.

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  6. Sadly only the lectures from 2017-2019 are available, I was really interested as to what Peter Kreeft had to say about "Thomistic Personalism"

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  7. Off Topic --
    Does anyone know if Dr. Brian Leftow of Rutgers is Catholic? In watching his discussions in the "Closer to Truth" series, I got the sense that he is. He also co-authored a book on Aquinas with Fr. Brian Davies. However, he also held the chair at Oxford formerly held by Richard Swinburne...and for some reason I find it difficult to imagine Oxford appointing a Catholic for that particular position.

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  8. Leftow, one of the best contemporary philosophers of religion, is an Anglican.

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  9. Also off-topic:

    I found this Reddit thread in which numerous atheists "debunk" (a.k.a., completely misunderstand) Feser's Aristotelian Proof from "Five Proofs of the Existence of God." If anyone needs some humor, here you go!

    https://www.reddit.com/r/DebateAnAtheist/comments/avkc7b/can_anyone_point_out_the_flaws_in_fesers/

    One of my favorite parts of the thread is the posting of a link about quantum entanglement proving time is an emergent phenomenon from 2013, which contradicts leading philosophers of physics, like Tim Maudlin, who have spoken about the reality of time a lot, even since then (as you can see here, in this interview with him from 2017 https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-defense-of-the-reality-of-time-20170516/). Yikes!

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    1. I would look into it, but I don´t have the nerves anymore to dive into just one more thread about atheism on Reddit. Seldom has a community which self-describes as championing reason and rationality been so devoid of reason and rationality. And the subreddits are pretty much Jerry Coyne´s and PZ Myers´ combox under a different name.

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  10. Apparently, things just emerge 'out of time'. Dear oh dear.

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  11. GermyClean's comment is not really off-topic, so I let it stand. The Aristotelian proof is one of the themes of the lecture, after all, so: clearly on-topic.

    The Leftow exchange is perhaps too general to be either clearly on-topic or off-topic, though I guess since Leftow's work is clearly relevant to the discussion of classical theism, it's sort of on-topic.

    However, two other comments in this thread were very clearly way off-topic, and they have been deleted.

    Guys, seriously, if you begin a comment with "This is off-topic, but..." please don't bother posting it because I'm almost certainly going to delete it. NO THREADJACKING!

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  12. Professor Feser, Aquinas thought that there cannot be two angels of the same species. Each angel is a unique species. S.Th. q50 art 4

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    1. At around 12 minutes you say that Gabriel and Raphael share the same angelic essence or nature. But I just noticed that you added 'they belong to the same genus anyway'. Apologies.

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    2. Hello Dr. Feser,
      I had the same doubt. You seem to imply that angels are distinct because of their existence (act) and not by their essens (potency). I thought potency was the principle that allows distinctions (for example, if there were two gods you can only distinct them by their potency, thus they wouldn't be truly God; or in material beings, matter -potency- is the principle of individuation). Can you clarify these please?
      Thank you,
      Gonzalo

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  13. The University talk does not show how the recently coined term theistic personalism aptly describes a position opposed by "Classical theists" "most" of whom, according to the lecture, believe in a personal God (if there are exceptions as affirmed, St. Thomas would not be found in its ranks). Since the problems referred to have to do with an anthropomorphic type God, why not simply continue to use that term? Hardly a reason to drop the constant reference to personal God of the Thomist revival. St. Thomas states:

    “Person” signifies what is most perfect in all nature—that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature. Hence, since everything that is perfect must be attributed to God, forasmuch as His essence contains every perfection, this name “person” is fittingly applied to God; not, however, as it is applied to creatures, but in a more excellent way; as other names also, which, while giving them to creatures, we attribute to God; as we showed above when treating of the names of God”

    A WW III in a teacup (the broader Catholic or Thomistic world has little idea of this calamity in progress) over something called theistic personalism would be about as comprehensible as one over theistic goodness in view of what St. Thomas says. Let's stick to terms that are not misleading and which are clearly understandable and apt like anthropomorphism. It refers to a longstanding error, like that of an impersonal "God".

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    1. Miguel,

      That's a fair point. Personally, I prefer the "neo-theism" label to the "theistic personalism" label. That's why I tend to use both when I comment on this issues. The reason I use the latter term at all (as opposed to just sticking with the "neo-theism" label) is that Brian Davies has done such important work on this topic -- indeed, we really owe it to him for calling Thomists' attention to the importance of the issue -- and he tends to use the term "theistic personalism" (which, as far as I know, he introduced). So, to relate what I'm saying to what he is saying and to call people's attention to his own work, I've tended to use both terms.

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    2. In fact, the best term is in some ways David Bentley Hart's label "monopolytheism." Since I gather that Hart sort of meant it as a joke -- and since its targets (Plantinga, Swinburne, et al.) would of course not accept the label -- it's a bit awkward to use it as a straightforward or neutral label for the view. But Hart's coinage really captures what is wrong with neo-theism/theistic personalism.

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    3. Also there are types of thought within Thomism that take the 'personalist' label. I'm thinking of people like Mark Spencer. It's not identical with the theistic personalist group in that they tend to maintain immutability and simplicity etc but also strongly reject theistic determinism and human free will being source incompatibilism. (Really, they seem to be a group that defines itself in opposition to those like Lagrange and Banez). I think Eleonore Stump might be considered one.

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    4. That's "reject theistic determinism and maintain human free will being source incompatibilist"

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  14. How do you explain this experiment, which shows causality is not sufficient to explain nonlocal quantum correlations?

    http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/8/e1600162

    These experiments might falsify Thomistic causality. I would greatly, greatly appreciate your thoughts.

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    1. I'm not Feser, of course, but this article would probably be helpful if you haven't read it already. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/oerter-contra-principle-of-causality.html

      (I hope this isn't thread-jacking.)

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    2. Those experiments don't actually show that causality isn't enough to explain nonlocal quantum correlations. All it does is show that causation between the two observed values in the experiment wasn't enough to explain the correlation between them. That doesn't mean that causality itself can't explain the correlation; it just means that we need some other causation to explain it.

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    3. @Robert,


      Wait, did they actaully rule out instantaneous causality in that paper?

      I've skimmed some parts of the paper, and they proclaim that even instantaneous causal influences between one measurement outcome and the other are ruled out by their results.

      But how is THAT even possible? If someone makes a measurement which instantly affects the other measurement, how is that amenable to physical testing? Isn't instant causality supposed to be, well...instant? Happening exactly when one does a measurement?

      Aren't such non-local correlations examples of formal causality, whereby the correlations happen instantly as a matter of the very nature of the interaction?

      How did they rule out that type of causality?

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    4. I tried reading the article, but the terminology is too specific to that field for a newcomer to follow. At least that's what I found. It's not in English.

      Did the article claim that the experiments rule out non-deterministic causality as an explanation? Including such that acts faster than light?

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    5. So I read the article, but didn´t understand too much of the theoretical physics applied here. However I don´t see an attack on the Aristotelian notion of causality with potentials and actuals here, only that strict local causalities aren´t possible in this quantum environment. This is ermitted though by A-T metaphysics. I try to ask an expert here though.

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