Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Links for thinkers


David Oderberg’s article “Death, Unity, and the Brain” appears in Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics.

Nicholas Maxwell at Aeon calls for a revival natural philosophy.  Gee, maybe someone ought to write a book on the subject.

Philosopher Kathleen Stock on gender dysphoria and the reality of sex differences, at Quillette.  At Medium, philosopher Sophie Allen asks: If transwomen are women, what is a woman?


At National Review, Tucker Carlson on America’s cultural decline.  At First Things, Chris Arnade on back row America.  Arnade’s book Dignity is reviewed at The Week, The University Bookman, Counterpunch, and The Federalist.

At 3:16, Richard Marshall interviews philosopher and Aristotle scholar Christopher Shields.  What Is It Like to Be a Philosopher? interviews historian of philosophy Peter Adamson.

At Areo, Darel Paul on the anti-intellectual religious fanaticism of the “Great Awokening” now plaguing some college campuses.

At Aeon, Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson on science’s blind spot.

John Skalko’s Disordered Actions: A Moral Analysis of Lying and Homosexual Activity is now out from Editiones Scholasticae.  Walter Farrell’s The Natural Law According to Aquinas and Suárez has just been reprinted by Cluny Media.

At the Washington Examiner, Suzanne Venker argues that feminism has harmed millennials.  At Metro, political scientist Eric Kaufmann predicts a return to sex as procreation rather than recreation.

At Quillette, neuroscientist Larry Cahill on the differences between male and female brains.  Cahill is interviewed at Medium. 

Kenneth Francis on the vicissitudes of grammar, at New English Review.

At Scientific American, physicist Marcelo Gleiser says that atheism is inconsistent with scientific method.

Confused by the messy continuity of the X-Men series of movies?  The Wrap sorts it all out for you.  Kyle Smith at National Review defends the underrated Iron Man 2.

The Chronicle Review interviews economist Glenn Loury about affirmative, politics, and academia.

Kathrin Koslicki’s Form, Matter, Substance is reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.  Also reviewed is Rani Lill Anjum and Stephen Mumford’s What Tends to Be: The Philosophy of Dispositional Modality.

Political scientist Kristian Niemietz on the endless self-delusion of socialists, at Quillette.  National Review reports on Sotheby’s auction of F. A. Hayek’s personal effects.

Speaking of Quillette: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the thought police are not fans.

At Claremont Review of Books, Robert Royal asks: Is the pope Catholic?  Diane Montagna at LifeSite reports on the pope’s latest remarks about capital punishment.



John Schwenkler at Commonweal looks back at G. E. M. Anscombe.  Anil Gomes at The Philosophers’ Magazine looks back at P. F. Strawson.

Catholic theologian Matthew Levering is interviewed at Crux.


At The Daily Mirror, Larry Harnisch laments that there are no good books about the Black Dahlia murder.  Harnisch has long been the go-to guy for debunking nonsense written on the subject.

92 comments:

  1. Since we mentioned Aristotle's Revenge, I think I might ask a physics related question.


    What do you guys think about this alleged evidence for retrocausality in quantum mechanics?:http://discovermagazine.com/2010/apr/01-back-from-the-future

    Apparently, measuring particles at 3 different times gets you the result that the intermediate temporal measurement is a combination of both the past and the future measurement, seemingly proving that causation can work backwards in time.

    One of my main questions is basically the following: If this is true, what are the implications for classical metaphysics?

    Can A-T metaphysically allow backwards temporal causation in some cases?

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    1. JoeD,
      I'm on the phone so you don't get a link, but please ask this on the blog 'The Quantum Thomist' by Nigel Cundy.

      In answer to your second question I'd assume that, if it is indeed possible, it wouldn't be problematic if we didn't assume uncaused changes of states and the potencies still get actualized by another, albeit in a weird temporal relation. What I like about A-T is it's seemingly, to me, ability to adapt to several theories of time, but I could be corrected by people more knowledgeable on this topic than I am.

      Like I said, show this to Dr. Cundy, but, regarding the fact that it is a pretty old article and because it happens so often these days, I'd bet money that this is an idea based on strange interpretations of data with nonsensical presuppositions in the ballpark of Hawking claiming the universe created itself because of the law of gravity.

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    2. @Dominik,


      Quote:"if it is indeed possible, it wouldn't be problematic if we didn't assume uncaused changes of states and the potencies still get actualized by another,"


      That shouldn't be a problem then since retrocausality is, as the word suggests, a type of causality, just the future acting backwards in time.


      Quote:"What I like about A-T is it's seemingly, to me, ability to adapt to several theories of time,"


      I like that too. One of the reasons why this is the case is because A-T deals with concepts that are so fundamental and easy (such as actuality, potentiality, essence etc.) that most theories just can't help but take them from granted at least implicitly, which is what allows A-T to give a shrug of theoretical indifference to anything that works on these concepts in the first place.

      And not just time, but space and matter too! A-T can accomodate both an atomist view of reality where matter has a bottom layer beyond which there exists no further matter and no more division can occur, AND a continous view of matter where everything is indefinitely divisible as well!

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    5. Philip Rand,

      Nobody can understand what you're saying. It never happened once.

      You are a misfit for this forum.

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    6. A-T metaphysics applies to substances and it is not self-evident that quantum entities are substances in the required sense.
      Hence, experimental results from quantum mechanics have no bearing on A-T and vice-versa.

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    8. @Gyan,


      Could you please elaborate on that at least a bit? Why shouldn't quantum entities be considered substances in the relevant sense?

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    9. Philipp,
      construe an argument as to why “causality“ is refuted. Otherwise you are just wasting space.

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    11. JoeD,
      The quantum entities such as electron or its wave function etc are posited entities. They are posited to help explain certain experimental results. Per the understanding of the physicists themselves, the quantum entities don't exist in the sense everyday things exist.

      There have been good work on the A-T understanding of quantum phenomena such as by Oderberg. They differentiate between the classical objects and quantum objects. It is the classical objects that exist in the most unqualified sense and may be substances in the A-T sense. The quantum objects exist primarily as mathematical objects.

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    12. Phillip Rand,
      The phenomena is actual experiment, the actual instrument reading. The quantum objects are just posited to help understand or predict the instrument readings. The matter was thus regarded by the quantum physicists such as Heisenberg themselves.

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    14. Philip,
      first of all, your view of causation seems to be restricted to a mechanistic concept.A-T causation also includes “enabling“. So even if I transmit a thought to you telepathically, I am still the source of you having that thought. I'm still actualizing your potential to have the thought this way. The thought didn't arise from nothing or was a brute fact.

      Secondly:
      https://www.amazon.com/What-physics-defence-classical-theism/dp/1729617689/ref=mp_s_a_1_6?keywords=what+is+physics&qid=1561449239&s=gateway&sprefix=what+is+phys&sr=8-6
      And I urge people to read it so we get over the idea that every development in QM is a threat to A-T philosophy. The author is a lecturer in Quantum Field Theory. I already mentioned his blog above

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    16. @Philip Rand
      [i]"The Feynman positron theory is an example of backward causation."[/i]

      There is really no intrinsic problem with backward causation for A-T.
      --
      [i]ecent quantum work in Cambridge(UK) also defeat the concept of causality, i.e. the measurement of counter-factual communication.[/i]
      No it doesn't, as counter-factual communication does not violate causality in itself, I think you are confused on what exactly counter-factual communication is.

      [i]"It has been demonstrated that information can be transmitted between sources telepathically, i.e. counter-factual communication rather than causally, "[/i]

      This makes no sense. At best Counterfactual Quantum Communication, mush like entanglement and quantum teleportation are a problem for locality, not causality.

      Counterfactual communication simply means a type of quantum communication where no particles travel between two recipients based on the quantum zeno effect.

      There is still [i]causality[/i] in the process. Also the idea that there is no carrier is a bit misleading, as there is still a laser beam and several interferometers needed. Counterfactual communication is still sub-luminal, unlike some magical telepathy, you are seeming to claim.

      Fundamentally counterfactual communication is based on counterfactual causation theory, where causal claims can be explained in terms of counterfactual conditionals of the form “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”.

      This does not really posit any significant problem to A-T.

      [i]Then I can compare it to see if it matches QFT[/i/]

      No you can't because you do not even understand basic concepts, as your writings show, let alone the intricacies of QFT.

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    17. @JoeD.

      Well indeed *alledged* is the word. No one has proven retro-causality is real. Some experiments have been done that are analogous to what retro-causality is, but it's not actually retro-causality.

      That said even assuming there is such thing as retro-causality, it wouldn't be a problem. It might be more a problem for presentism and some theories of time, rather.

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    18. FM

      Pleased that you accept backward-causation.

      However, you are gravely mistaken concerning the logical trajectory of the backward-causation.

      Because in fact, this means that the A-T Metaphysics concept of newness violates the A-T Metaphysical First Principle of Non-contradiction.

      So, retro-causality (as you phrase it) turns out to be a large anomaly.

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  2. I'm interested in a number of things you have posted here on sexual ethics. On a similar note, I have been considering what parenthood and family consists of. That is, in what sense(s) of "cause" am I the cause of my children? Is there anything anybody here knows of that addresses that sort of question specifically? The reason I'm interested in this at the moment is because I have been considering a thought experiment that, if I'm understanding the distinctions of "cause" and how they relate, shows that some human could have my and my wife's DNA, but that is not our son.

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    1. If by cause you say the Aristotelian four causes, i think the parents would be their son eficient cause.

      I supose it would be possible to someone to have the DNA of you and your wife and not be your son yes.

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    2. You are an efficient cause of your son.

      Someone having you and your wife's DNA would be chance. Your son having you and your wife's DNA is not by chance though. That's the difference.

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  3. I was wondering what I should read next, looks like you have answered that one for me.

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  4. Typo in: "Nicholas Maxwell at Aeon calls for a revival natural philosophy. "

    Add an 'of' unless you mean to talk about a natural philosophy appropriate for Evangelical tent revivals specifically. 😋

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  5. What's up with Richard Marshall's philosopher interviews? Is there a story there? It looks like he's left 3am and is hosting all of them himself now at 316.

    Anyway, thanks for the links.

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    1. He did an interview of Holly Lawford-Smith, who is a feminist who rejects the notion that transwomen are women. When 3AM was attacked for this, the editor removed the interview, and Marshall resigned.

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  6. Dear Dr. Feser,
    Is there any available E-book format of you recent book "Aristotle's Revenge"?

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  7. Oderberg's article is far from convincing, both in terms of the empirical question and in terms of the moral one. It reads (to me, anyway) like a simple knee-jerk reaction of modern science and medical practice.

    Granted the A-T definition of death is when the soul separates from the body, such that what remains is a corpse (not a human body in the strict sense), and possibly a disembodied human soul (A-T not being able to prove, in the strict sense, that a human soul actually does survive death in every case, but only that it possibly does).

    One relevant question is an empirical one: what empirical markers produce, to a given degree of certainty, knowledge that such separation has actually occurred?

    Oderberg's rejection of cessation of brain activity as such a marker relies on the fact that some other bodily functions (e.g. wound healing, etc.) can exist even in the absence of a functional brain. This, he maintains, makes the brain not the absolute "principal of integration" and thus the person might in reality still be alive. But this ignores two facts: 1) science shows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that cognitive functions cannot exist without a functional brain; and 2) the brain is what coordinates bodily functions such that the organism, as a whole, can continue to stay alive (he admits that humans will die even according to his criterion soon afterwards without a functional brain unless kept alive by artificial means). Oderberg doesn't even mention 1), nor the respectable and historical position among A-T philosophers (even if rejected by many today) that an organism with a body incapable of cognitive function is, in fact, only animated by an animal soul, not a rational one. As for 2), he disposes of it with a form of special pleading: when given a function (e.g. respiration) which cannot occur without a functional brain, he says that could occur from outside and isn't absolutely necessary for life anyway (even though it is for a human adult); when given another function (e.g. wound-healing) for which perhaps biochemical processes would suffice for its explanation, now all of a sudden the necessity of a functional brain matters (even though wound-healing could also occur from outside).

    The other is the moral one: even if a non-functional brain does not give absolute certainty the person is dead, is the likelihood of such sufficient to proceed with the harvesting of organs, given that such may be the only way to save another life? Oderberg simply glosses over this question altogether, calling the process "killing".

    Yet, Thomistic moral theology does admit the possibility of exposing another's (or one's own) life to risk for a suitably grave reason. It's considered moral to speed down the highway in order to get a critical patient to the hospital, even though it does increase the risk to other drivers. So we are comparing the possibility (however unlikely) of death for the donor to the certainty of death for the recipient. Oderberg may well argue that this is apples and oranges: in one case, we know exactly what our action is (driving fast) but are unsure of its actual consequences; in the other, we are not sure exactly what our action is (killing or not), but were we to know that, we would certainly know the consequences. My response would be: and so? An executioner need not take into account the possibility of the condemned man's innocence, even though, were the man actually innocent, it would change the nature of the executioner's act (it would, objectively, be a murder).



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    1. I’m not sure of the answer, but I wonder about the implications of this argument for the other end of life. A common argument in support of abortion is that there is no person with a right to life before “brain activity” (since electrical brain activity starts at five week—before the woman even knows she’s pregnant—they usually mean some level or quality of “brain activity”). This argument is commonly countered by claiming that any attempt to quantify what level of brain activity guarantees a right to life is ad hoc and arbitrary. Therefore, a right to life is attached to the nature of the organism as a human being. If that is the case, must arguments against abortion also be against organ harvesting for the same reasons?

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    2. It depends on what type of argument against abortion is going to be made.

      Many medieval philosophers held that "ensoulment" only occurred some time after conception, when the fetus became suitable or fit for a human soul. Prior to that time, it was only animated with an animal soul and thus not human, strictly speaking. They were still morally opposed to abortion 1) as a form of contraception and 2) because the actual time of ensoulment was not known to certainty.

      On the other hand, arguing against abortion because "a right to life is attached to the nature of the organism as a human being" is begging the question - assuming the organism is in fact human.

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    3. Let me ask a different way: If someone said abortion before "brain activity" is morally acceptable, what would your response be? Agree? Disagree? Why?

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  8. Kathrin Koslicki’s Form, Matter, Substance is reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

    Interesting, but leaving me cold. I simply do not see how "individual forms" can be correct. It seems to defeat the very notion of hylomorphism, and re-raises the Third Man. If the form of Fido and the form of Rover are NOT the same, then surely there must be a form of whatever is common to f-Fido and f-Rover, and THAT is the form of dog. Now, one can argue that it's not an infinite regress, (and I confess I'm not clear on this) but a finite, one step one. But even then, I don't see what work f-Fido and f-Rover are doing.

    I'll add that, to my mind, the argument from "crossworld identity" would seem to tell against the notion that the idea of possible worlds should be taken all that seriously. Sure, possible worlds can be a (sometimes) useful model. But to make it a fundamental of ones metaphysics? I'm extremely skeptical.

    I also have a problem with it in that it seems to deny the idea that it is matter which individuates. And overthrows one of Aristotle's objections to Plato, that the latter had effectively made universals themselves into particulars.

    I've been roasted for this before, but my take would seem the natural way to read it (including what Ed has written). I'd love to him discuss this more specifically.

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  9. So what exactly is the A-T answer to transgenderism? Or, more accurately, how does sex fit in? (I'm assuming we're not accepting the original idea that a female is a mis-formed male.) It's frankly a lot easier to simply ridicule the notion that "gender is a social construct" as something no rightthinking person or "real man" would hold than to come up with a rigorous argument against it.

    Male/female can't be "nature", strictly speaking, for what both men and women are by nature is rational animals.

    So if sex is an accident, is it an accident of the body or the soul? And, either way, accidents can be changed. Why can't a man change into a woman, or vice versa, just like he or she could change hair color?

    And finally, what are the markers of male/female and why?

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    1. I have similar question in mind.It seems to actually counter trans movement we would need an immutable base for being a male or female but it doesn't seem like there is one. The biological differences seem to have no metaphysical impossibility to change.

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    2. I have similar question in mind.It seems to actually counter trans movement we would need an immutable base for being a male or female but it doesn't seem like there is one. The biological differences seem to have no metaphysical impossibility to change.

      I don't think that actually follows. Assuming A-T's theory of soul and body, the soul is the form of the matter that becomes a person's body when it is ensouled matter: the form needs the matter to be individual, but the matter needs the soul to be matter of a specific human being. Once there is a unity of soul and matter, the soul is individuated as human with respect to certain features of THAT matter, not the features of just ANY matter. For instance, there is a notional difficulty of plopping an adult human person's soul (say, after death) into the body of some other human being, because that second body is particular in a number of properties and accidents that are connatural to the second person and not compatible with the first: the second person has habits of body that are not compatible with the first person's habits of soul. E.G. one might be left handed, the other right handed. One might be a great athlete, the other a quadriplegic. One might be a trained musician, the other tin-eared. One might be blind, the other a great photographer. The soul of one might be made habituated to thoughts of a certain sort (say, of math, or a language, or sexual fantasies), that have formed neural pathways in the brain, that would bewilder the other's soul. One might have memories of being married, the other of being a life-long celibate nun. These are all clearly "accidents" in the A-T sense, but are not as changeable to a soul as being able to put on and take off a shirt. The actions that a person does, and the memories of how the actions played out, help mold the character of the person and formulate habits of soul that are concrete aspects of his personality. They are "accidents" in the A-T sense, in that a person can be either a coward or courageous and still be a human being either way, but one can hardly say that a person can change his character merely by choosing once that he prefers to be courageous rather than cowardly, or by putting on the body of a courageous person.

      There is a sufficient body of evidence that the human being gradually expresses itself, from conception toward birth, in the manifestations of one sex or the other through the unfolding of the processes that are dictated by different DNA, so that the full-fledged visibly-manifested male baby is the work of a hundred thousand minute biological processes that the fetus underwent in utero. Once these events have happened, one might change the physical organs, or even the hormones, through intervention, and still not completely unravel the formation that occurred to the soul itself during the first period of development. The accidents of the body affect the soul in real ways, they are not mere movies shown on a movie screen.

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    3. It seems what one could gather from your remarks here is that changing sex is just very difficult but again it doesn't appear to be metaphysically impossible or even scientifically impossible.

      Exactly how many of those processes should express a certain sex to count the person as member of that sex?
      All these processes are directed ultimately towards enabling the person to take one half of reproductive activity and if someone is transitioned towards that end then they can be said to have a changed sex.
      Like if is became a reality for a male to become pregnant I would consider him a female.

      But I want to say despite these sorts of observations I don't support the trans movement.

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    4. Tony,

      Thanks for your detailed response.

      But the transgender argument would be precisely that those hundred thousand minute biological processes that normal males underwent in utero didn't actually happen in a specific case, and thus the normal "male" formation didn't happen, leading to gender dysphoria, as the "biological" male is psychologically much more like a female.



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    5. It seems what one could gather from your remarks here is that changing sex is just very difficult but again it doesn't appear to be metaphysically impossible or even scientifically impossible.

      Again I see more difficulty than you are allowing for: the changes that occur in the soul as a result of development in the body might be reversible conditions of the soul, but then again might not be reversible. There is no a priori presumption that they are fully reversible just because the body can undergo changes, just as a murderer cannot be made to not have committed murder by after-the-fact changes (such as being forgiven). Some things are not reversible.

      Exactly how many of those processes should express a certain sex to count the person as member of that sex?

      But the transgender argument would be precisely that those hundred thousand minute biological processes that normal males underwent in utero didn't actually happen in a specific case, and thus the normal "male" formation didn't happen, leading to gender dysphoria, as the "biological" male is psychologically much more like a female.

      My answer is that because the development of being male-in-full-expression is the result of many steps, there can indeed be cases where some of the steps are completed and not all. This could imply as an outcome a person who is not fully manifested as a male. The world has long known of birth defects, "sports", and the so-called "monsters" (in the much older sense) - those who are abnormal in that their physical form is human only imperfectly. That someone's physical arrangement is imperfectly male does not per se imply that they are "really" female. That's really poor logic.

      It is of course equally possible for a person to undergo some of the developmental steps toward being a female-in-full-expression without going through all of them, and thus constitute an instance of a person being female not-perfectly.

      In either case, male or female, where the person undergoes so few of the developmental steps that it is unclear to us which sex is the one involved, it is illogical to jump to the conclusion that "we were wrong to say 'he is male', really she is female". It would be more logical to say something like "this person's body is so defective in the manifestations of a human sex that they do not represent clearly either the definite manifestation toward male-in-full nor the definite manifestations toward female-in-full, and as such they suffer from an incomplete sexual manifestation; we are unable to say with certainty whether this person's sex if manifested fully would be male or female." conceptually, such a person could be accorded the social space to choose to be treated under one sex rather than the other, not because we (or the person involved) would be certain which sex they really bear, but because we are unable to assert definitively that they DON'T bear the sex they would prefer to ally with. However, this sort of condition would (a) be recognized as a deformity, (b) the social permission to grant them the choice of which sex to be treated as would not be in the least equivalent to a social admission that they "are" that sex, and (c) it seems to be quite rare, as we are quite easily able to identify the biological sex of most people with gender dysphoria. For the latter, what seems to be more valid is that they are male but imperfectly or female but imperfectly, and the dysphoria is the inward subjective experience of the defect.

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    6. Like if is became a reality for a male to become pregnant I would consider him a female.

      Let's assume a person is born with all of the male accoutrements, and grows up as a normal male. And (let's hypothesize) that he is grabbed by kidnappers, forced to undergo the work of medical practitioners who change out his male organs for female ones, provide a full workup of female hormones, and is eventually made pregnant and gave birth to a child. I would not conclude that this person "IS" a female because he got pregnant and bore a child. For one thing, the formation of mental and affective architecture that occurred when he was growing up as a male would be that of male architecture: he would think and learn to respond to the world interiorly the way a male does. Changing out his physical organs does not reverse that architecture of the soul. (There is, also, the whole business of this scenario being (in his case) involuntary, but according to your original statement this should be irrelevant.)

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    7. We could also note that when he got pregnant and bore a child, the child would not have his DNA, but some other woman's, because he got her ovaries. Thus, although the guy would have had a child, he would not have given birth to HIS OWN child, one that reproduces his own genetic line.

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    8. Let's take a hypothetical case.

      Physiologically, insofar as there are testes, etc., one develops as "male-in-full".

      However, psychologically, and in terms of brain development, one develops as "female-in-full".

      Is this person male or female? Why?


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    9. Hypothetically: if one develops normally with testes and without disruption of the male hormones and without the abnormal presence of female hormones, one does not develop psychologically in terms of brain patterns as female-in-full. Doesn't happen, unless something goes haywire, such as a disruption of the male hormones or presence of other chemicals interfering with their operation. Then you get a person who is damaged by abnormal development. If they are physiologically fully manifested as male, then I would say they are male, and if the person did not fully develop the male mental and affective architecture, I would say he is a male with abnormal development. I think it is compatible with A-T philosophy to say that the accidents that are present with initial operation of the soul and develop into a proper physiological setup as male is what brings about (in normal operation) the normal mental and affective architecture as male, and thus the failure to achieve the latter is a defect of the operation of the male initial arrangement, not the presence of female initial arrangement.

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  10. While I generally agree with the thrust of the articles at Quillette, I'm constantly annoyed by the authors' and the commenters' blind acceptance of Enlightenment mythology and conventional wisdom about religion and the Middle Ages. One of their posts actually said that the medieval Church rejected rational debate. Another claimed the Medievals knew nothing about cosmology. They've published articles by Jerry Coyne, and a particularly egregiously dumb article called "In Defense of Scientism." The commenters are even more blindly gnu than the posters (except maybe Coyne). So I tend to take them with a grain of salt.

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  11. @Vince S: the argument that the zygote is a person with human rights is usually made by Thomists from the definition of person as a supposit, or individual substance, of a rational nature. The nature dovetails with the essence. Since the substantial form is the form of human, i.e. rational animal, the zygote, already has the substantial form. Given that DNA codes the information that constitutes the formal cause of the human, it is held that already, the zygote "has an active potentiality for rational thought in the sense that it has a natural potentiality to develop a capacity
    in hand for such operations... A human being’s proper form is thus present in the matter
    constituting him or her from the moment his or her development begins... Evidence that a zygote or early
    embryo has an active internal principle guiding its ordered natural development
    into a being that actually thinks rationally is sufficient, I contend, to conclude
    that it is already a rational being. It has an active potentiality for rational
    thought and is thus informed by a rational soul." ~ Jason T. Eberl, “Aquinas’s Account of Human Embryogenesis and Recent Interpretations,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 30 (2005) 379–394 at 387, 392.

    Do you have a response to this thesis that hominization is immediate and not delayed (as Aquinas thought it was)?

    Tx, F

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    1. St. Thomas Aquinas did not, like Aristotle, have the advantage of technology that we have today.

      The Definition of Soul is "Self-movement". Aristotle taught that once movement was detected, it had Soul and hence abortion was wrong. Once the Zygote forms, we know thru technology that there is movement, i.e. cell division. It is Life. And it isn't animal or plant life but human life. So please forgive St. Thomas Aquinas if the science of life was not clear.

      We know now that life begins at conception because of Technology.

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    2. ficino4ml:

      Dr. Eberl is merely arguing by assertion.

      Thomists have always known that an embryo has an active internal principle guiding its development into a being that thinks rationally (or to be specific, at least into a physical entity fit for the reception of a human soul), just like an acorn growing into an oak tree. They have never claimed this development is a miracle (which is the only other possibility).

      This does not entail that an embryo has the substantial form of a human. And the only argument that can be made in favor is one by assertion, as Dr. Eberl does.

      I'll agree it is consistent with Thomism to say that an embryo is infused with a human soul at conception, and this humanity provides the internal principle towards the eventual development of organs necessary for cognition. But the conclusion is not forced by Thomism. It is also consistent to say that an embryo, at conception, is not as yet suitable for the reception of a human (rational) soul. It indeed eventually grows into a physical organism fit for such reception, when ensoulment occurs. And this is what many medievals thought. But note the former says the embryo is a rational being in actuality; the latter says it is only a rational being in potency. And they are not the same thing.

      It seems to me much is this is arguing to convenience, because it would be so much more convenient for the pro-life position if an embryo were substantially human. But it doesn't substitute for rigorous argument.

      WLindsayWheeler:

      Again you are just arguing by assertion when you say "it isn't animal life, but human life." And to pretend that the medievals were unaware of growth of an embryo (even if they were unaware specifically of cell division) is beyond ridiculous.

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    3. Vlnce s,

      You are only addressing the uninteresting part of Eberl’s claim, and not the relevant part. He’s not saying that physical development advances until such a point where the rational nature can then come into being where it wasn’t before. He’s saying the rational nature is there all along and subsists in the “biological human” (as you call it) in potential.

      Because it is potential does not mean it isn’t there; it means it isn’t actualized. What isn’t there, can’t be actualized. We don’t see rational natures coming into being in deck furniture, because it is never there in potential. You wouldn’t say something like this: “I was never a zygote. I actually used to be a tube of toothpaste that had a rational nature pop into it out of nowhere.”

      If you were anesthetized for surgery, would you possess a rational nature, or would you be merely biologically human?

      In any case, what is the point of this? Are you arguing for acceptance of abortion up until some point at which some criteria are met to make abortion unacceptable? If that’s what you’re doing, how would you do so without making an ad hoc argument?

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    4. Yes, I know Eberl is saying that, but he isn't proving it. He's just arguing by assertion.

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    5. The Thomist, though not all Scholastics, believes in the singularity of substantial forms. We have rational souls, according to the Thomist, and these incorporate the functions of vegetative and animal souls, but we don't have vegetative or animal souls. Substances only have one substantial form, and souls are forms That being the case, it seems a lot simpler to say that conception is when the rational soul enters us. This after all is the only obvious time when a new being is created between that point and death, and the other option would seem to make the zygote another being from the adult. It would just be a preparatory stage, providing proximate matter.

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    6. I gave a positive proof and an negative proof: We don't find rational natures popping up anywhere but within human biological material, therefore it must be there already. And secondly, if you attempt to claim any point along the continuum of development is the point where the human biological material becomes a rational human, you will be forced into an ad hoc argument and/or special pleading (which is also what I think Jeremy Taylor is saying above).

      It looks to me like you are the one who is arguing by assertion. You know this damages your case because you've spent no little time talking about how so-and-so person thought the soul was infused at some later time, etc. whoever you are arguing against there, it isn't Eberl.

      Look, I get it, you just hate A-T apparently, but why spend so much effort trying to find "gotchas" on every little issue. Thanks for the discussion.

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    7. Jeremy Taylor:

      "It seems a lot simpler to say" is not a probative argument.

      T N,

      Think critically a little.

      What I am saying is that we do not know at exactly what point a developing (biological) human is infused with a rational soul. Because it is rational to think that God would not infuse a rational soul in a corporal being as yet unfit for its reception. This is why many medieval Scholastics held ensoulment only occurred some time after conception. I'm not arguing for any specific point.

      "We don't find rational natures popping up anywhere but within human biological material, therefore it must be there already. "

      That is a logical fallacy. If all Xs are Ys, it doesn't entail all Ys are Xs. "We don't find pineapple trees anywhere but in tropical climates; therefore we can conclude pineapple trees must exist in all tropical regions, even those we haven't been to."

      The counter-argument is that we do not find human cognition anywhere but in humans with a functioning brain; therefore, a fetus that has not yet developed a brain is unfit for the reception of a rational soul.




      WLindsayWheeler:

      You haven't been paying attention have you? A-Tism holds that humans CANNOT produce humans (properly so-called) right out the get-go, or any time after that.

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    8. Vince S,

      Whatever you mean by “ensoulment”, you are using it to put time in between “biological material” and “rational animal” and that is exactly the problem; you are asserting what you must prove, and you are not addressing Eberl’s point.

      “fetus that has not yet developed a brain is unfit for the reception of a rational soul.” This is question begging because of the potential/actual distinction.

      Maybe the Medieval thinkers posited the question of ensoulment because they thought the entire new human was contained within the male semen, so they had to explain why it wasn’t a human while in the male--I don’t know or care. But asserting that “it is rational to think that God would not infuse a rational soul in a corporal being as yet unfit for its reception” is just question begging because of the potential/actual distinction in Eberl’s argument.

      You are, again, not addressing the point that the “rational animal” exists anywhere the “biological material” exists because it is an unactualized potential. Saying that we don’t find cognition outside of a human brain, isn’t relevant. Eberl is not arguing that “rational nature” requires actual cognition; he’s arguing that it requires potential cognition, which the zygote/fetus/whatever clearly has.

      You can’t just pick a random fallacy and accuse your opponent of it. I argued that the “rational animal” and the “biological material” exist together by metaphysical necessity (for reasons that I gave). No one is arguing that pineapple trees must exist in all tropical areas by metaphysical necessity.

      I’m not expecting you to pick a time for “ensoulment”; I’m arguing that no such time can exist between “biological material” and “rational animal”.

      I think it’s probably time to move on. Thanks for the discussion.

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    9. Vince,

      If you mean demonstrative, so what? Clearly, my point was meant to be an appeal to the most likely conclusion, not a demonstrative argument.

      Anyway, your response to TN shows you don't grasp the very point I was making. Why, on a Thomist perspective, be two separate beings, one created at conception and another at a latr point? It just seems unnecessary. For the Thomist, there is only one human substantial form. Why the need for a preparatory stage? Why can't the zygote simply have rationality in potency? You seem to be smuggling in the perspective on those who pin personhood on consciousness alone. An acorn is presumably the same substance as the mature oak. Why wouldn't the zygote be the same substance as the mature human?

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    10. T N,

      This is what's frustrating about Thomism and Thomists. They've got the right basic metaphysics but haven't learned how to think critically. It's why the Galileo fiasco happened and why this discussion is going on in circles. And here, you're asserting I must "prove" something, when in fact I am claiming that something wasn't proven.

      A zygote does not necessarily have potential cognition, by metaphysical necessity, anymore than than the earth must be the unmoving center of the universe by metaphysical necessity. If you could PROVE that it did, then I would agree it is a rational being and human. But you can't. You just assert it because it agrees with your worldview which you refuse to question.

      And just like the Jesuits who refused to look through Galileo's telescopes, you refuse to look at modern neuroscience which clearly shows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that a brain is necessary for cognitive function even considered in potency. Let me ask you, do you think that zygotes can, in fact, think? If they cannot, then cognition does not exist, even in potency, at that stage.

      Jeremy Taylor:

      OK, but I deny it is even the most likely conclusion, given the neuroscientific data. In fact it is highly unlikely.

      Another frustration: reality is simply more "messy" than Thomists think it should be. It would be nice and "neat" if the earth were the unmoving center, heavenly bodies were incorruptible and moved in perfect circles. But it isn't and they don't.

      If the final cause of humans is to perform acts of virtue, then why the need for the preparatory stages of pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood, when such acts are impossible? Why doesn't God just zap everyone into existence as a fully formed adult? Or at least engineer procreation so that everyone comes into existence as a fully formed adult.

      So, yes, the zygote could theoretically have rationality in potency, but the scientific data tells us it doesn't. Why the need for this preparatory stage? We don't know. But the fact that reality would be "neater" if it didn't exist is not an argument versus the data which shows that it does exist.

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    11. Vince,

      You seem not to have grasped what potency is in Aristotelian philosophy. In talking about neuroscience, you seem to think that the potential must be ablr to be realised right now, but just isn't, just as I could realise my potential for speech by opening my mouth and saying something. That I'd necessarily the case. An acorn is an oak tree to the Thomist, even though it has to grow into a mature oak.

      I am not sure what is the relevance of your comments on the world being complex. It seems like a non-sequitur, unless you are suggesting we should expect things to be as compplex as possible. Otherwise, it is hard to see why we still shouldn't look for the simplest explanation/analysis.

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    12. Vince S,

      Again, we only see cognition/rational nature develop within human "biological material", we do not see it develop in ritz crackers or toothpaste. Therefore, human biological material possesses the potency for rational nature. The argument does not, and cannot, depend on state of development. I can't keep saying it so that you can keep avoiding it. Have you ever seen a rational nature develop out of house paint? No? That's because it isn't there in potency, right?

      Galileo . . . Jesuits . . . uh huh.

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    13. @Jeremy Taylor: re your "An acorn is an oak tree to the Thomist.."

      Do you mean, the germinated acorn? In Aristotle, a seed is not the organism of which it is the seed. Seed has soul and is soul potentially, GA II.1 735a8-9, II.3 737a17-18.

      The seed and the fruit are this body potentially, DA II.1, 412b26. Once the seed germinates, then there is a tiny oak with nutritive soul, and its final cause is immanent in it. Before it germinates, it doesn't have soul and is not an oak, so the formal cause of the particular oak in question is not actual anywhere, and thus, neither is the final cause undergoing actualization. The formal and final cause are potential in seed, and seed is a potential organism but not alive. The resultant plant or animal comes out of the seed, Physics 190b. What makes the seed fertile is a special kind of heat, which is not fire but the pneuma enclosed within the seed and foam, GA 736b29-737a1.

      ??

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    14. Ficino,

      Yes, I suppose. My botany could be better. You get the point, though.

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    15. Jeremy Taylor,

      Every potency need not be actualizable in the here and now (I can't stand if I'm tied to a chair) to be a true potency but the hindrance must be due to external factors, whereas I am claiming a zygote cannot perform acts of cognition due to an intrinsic deficit with it (it doesn't have a brain). X cannot have a potency for Y if Y is impossible for all X's.

      I'm curious if you think it would be possible for God to infuse a rational soul into the body of a horse to make a new being, let's call it a morse. Or whether the brain of a horse is not fit for acts of cognition and thus unfit for the reception of a rational soul. If you're a Ockhamist or Scotist voluntarist, sure. But if you're a Thomist, such an action would surely go against the rationality of God?

      T N,

      Cognition is not the same thing as rational nature. It's true I used the ambiguous term "rationality" (sorry), but what I meant was cognition. Rational nature is what something is, cognition is what it does.

      Yes I agree a rational nature is present in potency in a zygote (obviously, since it eventually develops into a being with rational nature). But it's not present in act (or at least, I'm saying it's not proven to be). And therefore cognition is not present even in potency.

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    16. What the reason for thinking your first paragraph is the correct Thomistic view? I have the potential to speak Turkish, but not in the same way I have the potential to speak English, as I am fluent in English and know no Turkish (the terminology is second versus first potentiality or potency). You seem to be imposing an alien understanding of potency on Thomists, unargued.

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  12. I'll leave it others to wrangle with the philosophical stuff about zygotes and humanity, but just in case anyone doesn't know, the Church does have a magisterial answer. See the "Declaration on Procured Abortion" footnote 19:

    --This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.--

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    1. (2) is valid. (1) is nonsense. If there is no rational soul, it is not a human life, strictly speaking.

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    2. In any case, Scott, this declaration dates from 1974. I believe that JPII advanced the mark significantly in his pontificate, with pretty explicit and pretty definitive language supporting the position that a being has human nature from the moment of conception, though I am paraphrasing here since I don't have the actual language in front of me. I don't recall which text explicitly, so I will have to look around for it.

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    3. I looked up the references, here is what I think has been going on:

      The Church started the process of refining the position about the existence of the zygote as a human person from conception on, as early as the solemn definition of Mary as the Immaculate Conception. Although it remained then implicit, one can see the direction: is at least probable, if not absolutely necessary, to hold that if Mary was conceived immaculately, this implies that it is from conception that ordinary men are the subject of original sin, and the subject of sin is a person - a subsistence of a rational nature. One cannot, so the argument goes, intelligibly call Mary the Immaculate Conception, without intending to use the term to distinguish her from the rest of men who are not so conceived, because they are conceived with sin. That’s clear. But if men are normally the subject of sin from conception, they are persons from conception.

      Admittedly the conclusion is implicit rather than explicit in the solemn dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But it is hardly a difficult conclusion to draw, or requiring many steps.

      The Declaration on Procured Abortion, 1974, was intended to address the evil of abortion, which the Church had condemned from the earliest times, even before there was any sort of alignment of settled thinking on when the fetus becomes a person. Since the Church had always taught abortion was a grave evil, she did not need to settle the question of personhood in order to continue to teach that. However, she made it clear that personhood beginning at conception is compatible with what the Church had always taught as regards the essentials of human life.

      The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith moved the argument forward another step, with Donum Vitae in 1987:

      This teaching remains valid and is further confirmed, if confirmation were needed, by recent findings of human biological science which recognize that in the zygote* resulting from fertilization the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted. Certainly no experimental datum can be in itself sufficient to bring us to the recognition of a spiritual soul; nevertheless, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of this first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?

      Thus, while CDF did not absolutely and definitively close the door on the a position that personhood starts later than conception, it certainly staked out the position that personhood starts at conception as something “further confirmed” and to which modern science provides a “valuable indication”. It follows up with posing a question that is difficult to answer clearly and confidently. This is the Church teaching but NOT doing so definitively; she is proposing this with confidence that it is reasonable and safely preserves all that must be held, but she is not insisting – yet – on our assent.

      Donum Vitae added the following, which in its way is actually more definitive:

      he human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. This doctrinal reminder provides the fundamental criterion for the solution of the various problems posed by the development of the biomedical sciences in this field: since the embryo must be treated as a person,

      The “must be treated as a person” phrasing leaves precious little leeway to locate any space for finding that the being is not a person from conception.

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    4. The 2008 CDF Document Dignitatis Personae returns to the same subject, and pushes the notion still farther down the road. After quoting Donum Vitae, it says:

      Indeed, the reality of the human being for the entire span of life, both before and after birth, does not allow us to posit either a change in nature or a gradation in moral value, since it possesses full anthropological and ethical status. The human embryo has, therefore, from the very beginning, the dignity proper to a person.

      As I understand it, CDF here, while refraining from making a solemn definition that would make the teaching definitive, is nevertheless stating directly the personhood of the embryo “from the beginning”. At least, this is so if it is impossible for a being to have the “dignity proper to a person” while not actually being a person, which (I take it) is a valid thesis. A thing which is not a person might have dignity _close_ to that of a person, might have dignity related to that of a person by the most fulsome status of being intimately connected to a person, but it could never have the dignity proper to a person without being a person. One may take it that CDF is pointing in the direction that will, at some opportune moment, take the form of a pope making a solemn declaration that the human fetus “is” a person from the moment of conception, in terms only slightly more direct than what Dignitatis Personae says above.

      I admit that on a historical basis the Church was unsure when the status of personhood started, and was willing to entertain theories that it wasn't until "quickening". But clearly those theories owed more than a little to the ignorance we had of embryology, and were better suited to a culture that also believed in the spontaneous generation of flies. She has advanced her teaching beyond the level of it being an open question whether human personhood begins as late as 40 days after conception, and this can be seen as a true development of doctrine. There is remaining only a miniscule step before it attains the status of a definitive doctrine. The position certainly holds at least the character of requiring religious assent.

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  13. @Vince S: blogspot just ate my response. So to keep it short, re this of yours:

    "This does not entail that an embryo has the substantial form of a human."

    Thomists I read would reply that we know from genetics etc. that the zygote already has human DNA. So, they would conclude, its substantial form is the form of human. Its DNA rules it out that the zygote has the substantial form of a plant, or the embryo of a non-rational animal.

    I'm used to reading pro-choice authors say that the zygote/embryo is human life but that it is not a person with human rights.

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    1. "Thomists I read would reply that we know from genetics etc. that the zygote already has human DNA. So, they would conclude, its substantial form is the form of human. Its DNA rules it out that the zygote has the substantial form of a plant, or the embryo of a non-rational animal. "

      That is simply a non sequitur. It simply equates biological human with rational animal, without support.

      A toenail also has human DNA, even when removed from the body. Therefore, its substantial form must also be the form of human? In fact, so does a corpse.

      Catholicism teaches a human (rational) soul is created directly by God. Therefore, without specific Divine intervention, all human procreation could produce by itself would be an animal soul. When does God intervene in this manner? We simply do not know exactly. Neither faith nor philosophy nor science can tell us.

      And I think A-Tism also itself upholds that humans by themselves cannot produce another human soul; all they are capable of producing is matter fit for the infusion of a soul, so the same problem presents even if you don't take Catholic teaching into account.

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  14. "And I think A-Tism also itself upholds that humans by themselves cannot produce another human soul; all they are capable of producing is matter fit for the infusion of a soul, so the same problem presents even if you don't take Catholic teaching into account."

    Yes, Aristotle says in De Generatione Animalium that rational soul or intellect is not carried directly by male semen in conception, but comes in separately "from outside the door."

    I agree with your conclusions. Thomists want the ground of personhood to be something actual in the embryo, not merely the embryo's future. And I am not convinced that their argument for sufficient, person-guaranteeing ACTUAL rationality in the embryo/fetus doesn't in the end simply rest on assertion. There seems a sleight-of-hand going on with "actuality" in this context. But I haven't worked it all through. The usual response at some point in the discussion will be to hear the Thomist say that the opponent simply fails to understand Aristotle/Aquinas/analytic Thomism or whatever.

    The linchpin seems to be the definition of human as "rational animal" and the definition of person as "a supposit of a rational nature." From those definitions it is deduced that the embryo qua human has a rational nature, therefore is actually rational in whatever sense is sufficient to save the argument.

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  15. Dear Dr Feser,

    Can I ask a question that has nothing to do with these links?
    I've recently been reading "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" and I think that it's terrific as an explanation and defense of Thomistic thought.
    You defend Aquinas' Five Ways in one section with clarity and precision. You praise his Third Way extensively and, I think, you definitively refute counter-arguments such as the idea that it is a case of a quantifier-shift fallacy.

    However, there is one flaw, which will be fatal if it cannot be refuted, that you do not deal with. The argument goes as follows: "We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence."

    The argument successfully concludes that a time has to exist when nothing will exist. Yet who's to say that this time just hasn't happened yet? Who's to say that this time is just something that will come one day, but has yet to emerge?

    I'm sure that you'll have considered this argument and will refute it with ease, but I do want to know what is wrong with it and how the argument can be defended in light of it.

    Many thanks,
    James McGinley

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    1. James,

      This IS a quantifier shift fallacy, and attempting to make an argument for God out of material causes alone is doomed to failure anyway no matter how you slice it.

      1) It is possible for corruptible beings to continue to exist forever (meaning that the set of existing corruptible beings will never become an empty set), even if every individual corruptible being goes out of existence at some time. Why? Because (it is possible that) their going out of existence only happened with the coming into existence of some other corruptible being.

      2) It is possible for corruptible beings to have existed forever in the past (meaning that the set of existing corruptible beings never was an empty set), even if every individual corruptible being came into existence at some time. Why? Because (it is possible that) their coming into existence only happened with the going out of existence of some other corruptible being.

      And in fact, of course, this is what we see: things are generated out of something else, and decay into something else. Things don't just pop into existence without a material cause.

      No doubt the Thomist will argue that it is possible for 1) and 2) to not be the case. But for this to work as proof of the existence of God, the Thomist needs to not only prove the epistemic possibility of 2) not being true, but that it actually isn't true. And he can't.

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    2. Dear Vince,

      I really don't want to get into an argument here. I'm no Thomist, and I'm, as we've seen, certainly not a proponent of Aquinas' Third Way, so your efforts are fruitless, because I'm not keen on defending arguments that I don't believe in.

      Nonetheless, I'm not entirely sure your objection holds. But I really can't be bothered to argue- I'm already having a few vicious debates online, and I'm far from keen to start another. Instead, I'll leave it to Dr Feser, as he has written a good article, including extracts from his book on Aquinas that deals with these problems: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-some-alleged-quantifier-shift.html

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    3. James,

      If you don't want to argue, fine. But Feser's post doesn't refute my objection.

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    4. Feser doesn't refute your argument for the simple reason that it is not relevant. The third way is not the Kalam Cosmological argument. Both Aristotle and Aquinas argued with an eternal universe in mind. So the Thomist can happily concede your points (1) and (2) and still give the argument. Because “eternal“ isn't equal to “necessary“

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    5. Vince,

      1) It is possible for corruptible beings to continue to exist forever (meaning that the set of existing corruptible beings will never become an empty set), even if every individual corruptible being goes out of existence at some time. Why? Because (it is possible that) their going out of existence only happened with the coming into existence of some other corruptible being.

      Keep in mind, though, corruptibility deals with things that are matter/form composites, so anything which falls under that domain is at issue here. Given that, whatever corruptible being results from the corruption of the previous being will still face the same issue. Now, we have one of two options here:
      1. Substances are infinitely divisible into other substances.
      2. There is some bottom corruptible being on the chain.
      The first option seems to go against the grain of current evidence, and I also don't see how infinitesimally small substances could compose a being with dimension. The second option avoids your point here though, because in that case, it will not corrupt into some other such a being.

      2) It is possible for corruptible beings to have existed forever in the past (meaning that the set of existing corruptible beings never was an empty set), even if every individual corruptible being came into existence at some time. Why? Because (it is possible that) their coming into existence only happened with the going out of existence of some other corruptible being.

      If we keep what I said above in mind such that we only ever have a finite set of corruptible beings, then if we live in a past-infinite universe, we should already have seen the corruption of everything. If it is possible for each individual member to go out of existence (including all its constituent virtual substances as discussed above), then in this case, it should be possible for the entire set to corrupt given enough time. And if you reply that each corruption will result in a new substance, then I refer you to my response to 1).

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    6. Dear Dominik, Vince S and ccmnxc,

      Vince- thank you for being understanding. I do think that the post does deal with your objection, but I may have misinterpreted it at the time. Could you magnify your point?

      Dominik- I am quite aware that it is not the kalam cosmological argument. I don't see why the objection would only work for Craig's argument and not Aquinas'- try reading my post again because you may have misunderstood it. If not, please could you explain what you mean in a little more detail.

      ccmnxc- This is a very interesting response to Vince's objection, and I am interested to see his reply. I personally can't see any good objections to it, so I'm inclined to think that your counterarguments hold.

      Many thanks,
      James McGinley

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  16. That is actually a valid question, what is a woman? I enjoyed The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir on that subject.

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  17. @ T N: it sounds as though you are saying that the criterion for personhood, or ground of it, is something that exists in the embryo potentially. But THAT is just what Eberl and other Thomists want to reject. They want the personhood of the embryo/zygote to rest on something possessed actually not potentially.

    I think you are right to say that the embryo has potentiality for cognition. The problem is that it is not clear that it has actual cognition-- let alone "intellect"-- in any coherent sense. As I see it, the Eberl-style account boils down to species membership as the criterion or ground of personhood: if it's a human substance, it's a person. But where's the rationality that makes the human a person? Not there yet, not even the systems of organs needed.

    The usual argument against pro-choicers is that their criterion of personhood is arbitrary and that it is vulnerable to infanticide reductiones. I don't think these attacks are successful, but they require longer discussions.

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  18. I think that you are confusing things. To the Thomist, the person is the form. The human form is that of a rational animal, but that doesn't mean that the person is the intellect. The person is present, though, whenever the form, and that is presumably (as TN and I said to Vince above) at conception.

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    1. No confusion on my part. And the person is not the form in Thomism. The person is the rational animal, which is a form-matter composite entity. Aquinas does not equate form and essence of a corporeal substance.

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    2. I'm aware of that, I almost wrote embodied form, but just wrote form for the sake of brevity, as it doesn't seem especially relevant in the current discussion (indeed, we arr talking about embodiment).
      Also, technically the soul can exist separately from the body for Aquinas, if in a diminished sense. I'm not sure how this answers my point though. As you allude to, it is literally the species membership - and being an individuated member of the human species - that makes someone a (human) person, according to Thomism. But you then seem to have an issue with this. But the fact that a zygote doesn't have actual rationality hardly seems troubling to its personhood on Thomist account. There's nothing in the Thomist account that entails the rationality that is defining to our species must be always actual, rather than potential.

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  19. @ Jeremy Taylor: the reason why I replied as I did to T N is because, unless I misread, Eberl wants rationality of the embryo to be somehow actual not potential. Eberl wants an actuality, not only a potentiality, on which to base the claim that the zygote/embryo is a person, and that actuality has to be the rational faculty - since that is defining of the "person" that is the human being, as over against other animals that are not rational. It's not enough for Eberl just to say that the zygote is potentially rational.

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    1. Yes, I think that you are misreading him. He seems to be saying just what I was saying. He seems to be saying that a zygote is a person because it has in it an active principle that will guide it to rationality - its nature or (embodied) form. It is actually a rational animal in sense it is human, not that it is rational at that time.

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    2. Actually, I think we're in agreement about Eberl. I was putting a lot of weight on "somehow." the actuality in his view is the zygote's rational nature, not the exercise of the rational faculty.

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  20. So I'm out of town for several days and return to find my combox crapped up by two race-obsessed oddballs, one from the left and one from the right, making comments that are increasingly unhinged and in any event irrelevant to anything I linked to in the original post. So I've decided just to delete all of it. Any further comments along those lines will also be deleted.

    As always, please stop feeding obvious trolls. I prefer to moderate with as light a hand as possible, but it's harder to do that when people respond to these fools -- and I admit I've taken the bait myself from time to time -- and end up destroying a thread.

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  21. In terms of the article on cultural decline in the USA I think that Alan Bloom [Closing of the American Mind] dealt with that problem in the sense that he thinks everything starts from the universities. But he does not give any answer clearly. But to my mind it seems that being aware of the problem is already a step forward.[Some of the hints include hegel, Kant, and the Republic and the Bible. But these are mainly hints. The major thing that he thinks is a solution is the Republic. But that does not seem like such a great idea to me.]

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  22. Phillip Rand,
    I am protecting nothing, but pointing out a crucial distinctions between the things tangible and the things posited (in some theory).

    The tangible things exist prior to any theorizing. The A-T metaphysics deals with tangible things--the substances and it is not self-evident that the posited things are substances in the A-T sense.

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    2. Phillip Rand,
      Sorry but I don't get your comment or its relevance to what I wrote.

      I talk of tangible things and you give "tangible electrodynamics example"--a very non-tangible thing indeed.

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  23. W.r.t. to the article about conservatives having more children leading to conservative countries in 100 years, maybe. Do realize that the left is more willing to use sperm donors and various unconventionial reproduction techniques. When an artificial uterus is finally developed, children will be bred in special facilities for that purpose. Genetic engineering will likely play a role. With the left increasingly dominating the culture and undermining moral norms, I don't see why that couldn't happen. That should give conservatives something to chew. The idea that you can just lay back, wait it out, and "think in centuries" may be just wishful thinking.

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