Thursday, November 14, 2019

Oppy and Lim on Five Proofs

Graham Oppy’s article “On stage one of Feser’s ‘Aristotelian proof’”, which responds to some of the arguments I give in Five Proofs of the Existence of God, has recently been posted at the website of the journal Religious Studies.  I will be writing up a response.  (In the meantime, readers who have not seen it may be interested in my recent debate with Oppy on Capturing Christianity.) 

In the Fall 2019 issue of Nova et Vetera, Joshua Lim kindly reviews Five Proofs.  From the review:

Each chapter on a given proof is divided into two stages.  In the first stage, Feser begins with a description (first mover, incomposite being, necessary being, etc.) and argues for the existence of a thing that corresponds to that description.  In the second stage, he shows how that thing must also have various attributes that are typically ascribed to God (simplicity, unity, goodness, intelligence, omnipotence, etc.)…

It is the second stage of this twofold division that constitutes the most helpful contribution of Feser’s work.  Contrasting Feser’s two-stage manner of proceeding with Thomas’s famous quinque viae in Summa theologiae I, q. 2, a. 3, highlights the former’s advantages…

[T]he relationship between the being whose existence is proven (i.e., God) and the attributes that are traditionally predicated of God (simplicity, immutability, goodness, intelligence, perfection, and so on) is shown more quickly and directly…

Insofar as natural theology falls under the purview of both theology and philosophy, this book is a good primer for budding philosophers and theologians on how natural theology is done… Feser’s work will greatly benefit both kinds of thinkers.


  1. Thats what I call a full schedule. A chapter in a book, the responses to Five Proofs, responses to Aristotles Revenge and soon the author meets critic event for the latter.

    I still have a question though about Oppys objection to the PSR when it comes to creation which he posed in the Q&A session, that if Gods reasons to actualize one world rather than the other, wouldn't that lead to at least a brute fact about Gods reasons when one wants to avoid modal collapse? Ed got cut off there.

    1. Ed doesn't seem to hold to a PSR that requires logical necessitation, so I'm guessing he would say God has some reason for creating one world rather than another, but that reason is not logically sufficient for Him to pick that and only that world.
      I know Alex Pruss has argued that the worlds God has to choose from are incommensurable anyway, so God's creation of any particular world is underdetermined by the goods each particular world poses:

    2. Thanks for the paper and your answer. I know that the scholastic version of the PSR differs from the Rationalist one, hence I wasn't really worried about modal collapse and was merely paraphrasing the objection in the context of the question to the best of my recollection. But I was still curious for Eds response, but the moderator cut him off when he was about to answer.

    3. Any other interesting tidbits from the Q&A? Cameron, the person who runs Capturing Christianity, said he would release the Q&A video to non-patrons but has yet to do so. I heard that Oppy believes the Thomistic concept of God is more plausible than the theistic personalist account. Hearing that from an esteemed atheist philosopher is quite gratifying.

    4. If you go back to the thread post-debate here, in the comments someone has posted the link to the Q&A.

    5. I cant find the link, can you post it here

  2. It is great fun to see Prof Feser debate a sensible Atheist. One can only roll one's eyes at yer typical Gnu so much before getting a headace. Plus Gnu Atheist are boring.

  3. Dr. Feser, it's a pleasure to be in this combox.

    I have a couple of questions regarding the objections I've seen online to Five Proofs.

    First, does the PPC really entail that God is omniscient? Hugh Jidiette has argued pretty emphatically that the PPC only commits one to believe that universals pre-exist in God eminently, as in a power, not virtually, as in an intellect. This objection I've also seen at the blog Entirely Useless. Could you respond to these objections? Here's the links:

    Also, could you interact with Steven Dillon's Henadic Polytheism? You mentioned it in your Five Proofs link page awhile back, but I've yet to see an answer(and I'm not demanding one, I know how busy you are). I think I have some good answers here, but I'd like to see your take on it.

    Ryan, a 16 year-old Thomist;)

    1. I’m a Thomist since I’m 14 (I made 15 this month)

    2. I have thinked a little bit about the first one. Your trouble it seems to me is that you think that the form of things existing in an intellect is a case of them existing “virtually”. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Remember that for Thomist in a act of cognition the exact same form exists both in the intellect and in the concrete substance. So it is an instance of the effect existing FORMamly in the cause (in the case that an intellect creates according to some concept it that preexista in it). The different is about the form existing intellectually rather than concretely, but it is a case of the effect existing formally in the cause.

      With that in mind what Thomist has to prove is that those concepts preexist in God neither virtually, nor eminently, nor formally-concrete, leaving only the formally-abstract option.

      Clearly they cannot exist concretely. Nor can they exist eminently because, as you said, to exist eminently is the exist in a power and that means to exist in way that is potential. But no potential can exist in God. So they cannot exist emminetly. Much less can they exist virtually because to exist virtually also entails existing as potential, and it further entails existing as a potential that the thing cannot actualize by its own (like the virtual fire a match has),and God is “alone” the cause of everything (there cannot be more than one Purely Actual Actualizers). God, being purely actual, has those things in a way that is actual, which entails having them formally.

      I’m not so familiarized with the virtual, eminent, a formal distinction though, so I may be missing something. For sure those concepts do not exist in God in the distinct way they exist in our minds “Divine Simplicity”. But nor can they exist in any way that is less than formal and therefore actual. Nor can there be anyway to exist somehow “more” than formal given that the formal correspond to being actual and nothing can be more actual than actuallity. But as you have higher level of actuality you may also have higher levels of formal preexistence. So not only thos concepts preexist in a mind, given that they preexist in a super-formal-abstract way they exist in a Supreme Mind.

      Any thoughts??

    3. 1- let's say the forms can exist in the First Cause as a mere power (the power to create such forms) or intellectually. I don't see how Thomist Guy's argument works. To have the power to cause such and such forms does not entail any passive potentiality. It can be some sort of active potency. The First Cause has active potencies - it can potentially cause contingent entities, and it can actualize that by creating them. This is an active potency, not a passive potency.
      So I do not see why the first cause must have the forms intellectually, instead of just having them as powers. Both are compatible with the first cause not having any passive potencies.

      2- in any case, what exactly is the argument for establishing that the first cause has no potencies whatsoever? The Aristotelian Proof gives us a purely actual first cause of beings. It could just be purely actual w.r.t. existence, and not to other perfections. If it is claimed that we still need a purely actual actualizer for any perfection, still we could end up with (for instance):

      Multiple actualizers: First Cause A which is purely actual w.r.t. existence and a perfection X, but with some potencies for other perfections, and First Cause B which is purely actual w.r.t. existence and a perfection Y, but with some potencies for some other perfections. And no single first cause which is purely actual w.r.t. every perfection and with no potentialities whatsoever.

      The only way to establish a purely actual first cause would be by stipulating that there can be only ONE first cause, so that all perfections/potentialities are ultimately actualized by the same First Cause.
      Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of thomists arguing for the uniqueness of the First Cause on the basis of its pure actuality. I think this gets things backwards.
      One would have to first use an argument like that of Avicenna to establish uniqueness, which does not require absolute pure actuality.

      3- I still don't see how we can argue the First Cause is intelligent simply by appealing to the PPC. The First Cause must have the power to create every form; this does not (at least not obviously) mean that it must have these forms the way an intellect has them. If anyone can clarify, please do.
      I think a more promising route would be this:
      The first cause (or at least one first cause, if there were many) must have each of its attributes essentially, since otherwise the possession of such an attribute would be a contingent fact in need of explanation > intelligence is a purely positive perfection that is caused by the First Cause > the First Cause has intelligence in some way > there would be no reason why the First Cause would NOT be able to be intelligent (as opposed to merely being able to cause intelligence), so it is possible for it to be intelligent > but if it is possible for the First Cause to be intelligent, it must be so essentially, as previously established > so the First Cause is essentially intelligent.
      It is complicated but I at least find it plausible.
      But my preferred way of establishing intelligence/personhood of the First Cause is simply by a combination with other arguments, like teleological ones. The First Cause creates an orderly universe with complex structures, relatively simple laws, life, meaning, intelligent beings, moral agents, etc. It seems very plausible that whatever is at the foundation of reality (like the First Cause) is not only be supremely powerful, but also personal and intelligent.

    4. Thanks for your reply. I don’t have much time now. Let me just make a couple points:

      First: With regards to your proposal that the first cause may me purely actual with regards to existence but not with regards to other things, the answer lies on the idea that the most ultimate actuality of a thing is it’s existence and everything follows upon that. Action follows being as the principal states. So do properties and faculties it seems to me. So if something is purely actual with regards to its existence it must be purely actual full stop. A plant is “plant” with regards to its being (it has the essence of a plant) and also with regards it it’s mode of action and it’s faculties. It acts like a plant and has the faculties of a plant. I don’t see how something could be purely actual with regards to existence and not with regards to everything else given the existence is the “source” of all the rest, not merely in the sense of being pressupose but as actually defining what follows from it

      Secoundly, another line of argument for the inttectual nature of the First Cause goes directly to analize, instead of starting with he nature of the created world. This line say that the more actual something is the more immaterial it is. And to be immaterial is to be intellectual. Therefore Pure Act is also Supreme Mind. I will not argue for those premises now, though I accept them

    5. I think there might be some problems with the first statement (can't something just necessarily exist, be purely actual w.r.t. existence, but have some other passive potency, so long as this potency would not change its nature if actualized?) but nevermind.

      I also don't like the "to be immaterial is to be intellectual" argument, at least in deductive form. As an abductive argument it is fine - arguably, the only candidate being we have for something that is both immaterial and causally effective is a mind, or something like it. So it would be reasonable to say the First cause is a mind in this case, to avoid inflating our ontology with other unknown entities. But I don't see it as being deductive. After all, couldn't there possibly be some non-intelligent immaterial being? Concepts are also immaterial but are not minds or intellects.

      I think Feser tries to strengthen his argument by saying something about how the First cause would be a cause not just of all substances, but also of all their relationships and so on... Something like that. But I still do not see clearly how PPC itself would lead us to positing intelligence in the first cause. I'm just not convinced, it'd be good if Feser would write a blog post clarifying that.

      I believe the best way to derive intelligence from the first cause with ppc really has to start from the existence of intelligence in the world. Intelligence is a perfection, and the first cause must have it in just the same degree (or higher) in order to create it. Plausibly, this would entail the cause is itself intelligent.
      But that assumes intelligence is a perfection, and that it does not require a brain. Which is fine, but some materialists will resist it.

      Just from PPC alone I don't know how we can derive intelligence.

    6. Also: to anyone who is interested in the cosmological argument and in how we can infer the First Cause is God, I strongly recommend dr Joshua Rasmussen's book "How Reason Can Lead to God". It is very simple, easily readable, but has very good arguments.

      Alongside Feser's "Five Proofs", it is one of the best books on the subject today that manages to be both sophisticated and accessible.

    7. I mentioned the immaterial is intellectual argument just as a secondary point. The idea behind it is that matter is only capable of having one form at a time. Something immaterial on the other hand can have many forms. But to have other forms i this way just is to be a mind. Aristotle day that the soul is in a sense everything for precisely this reason. Let’s put it in deductive form:

      1. Something immaterial can have other forms while something material can only have it’s own form
      2. But to have more than your own form just is to be mind
      3 Therefore: anything immaterial is a mind and therefore intellectual

      Remeber also that materiality is associated with potency. So the more actual something is the more immaterial it is. Even animals have kind of immateriality (look for a post by Edward Feser called “Progressive Dematerializarion” ir something close to that)

      So Pure Act is immaterial. But anything immaterial is intellectual. So Pure Act is intellectual.

      As for concepts being immaterial I think that’s misleading. For something to fall on the material or immaterial distinction it has to be a substance (material or immaterial) but a concept is not a substance given that Platonic Realism is false (I’m assuming you are not a Platonic Realist). A concept exists in a mind in a abstract way where the mind in immaterial. It may also exist in a concrete material substance (the concept of a cat existing in an actual cat for instance). But of itself it is neither material or immaterial it seems to me, give that it is not a substance.

    8. But that assumes being immaterial is sufficient for having abstract forms in itself like a mind does. This is what I'm challenging. I agree that it is a necessary condition - material things cannot possess multiple forms in themselves, so minds must be immaterial. But this does not mean that every immaterial thing is automatically a mind.
      Minds must be immaterial, because minds can have multiple forms in itself. Immateriality would allow for such a thing. But still something could be immaterial and not have any intellectual power. At least it isn't obvious that it's not possible. So immateriality would be a necessary condition for intelligence, but it might not be sufficient.

      Again, why can't we just have an immaterial substance with the power to create things and their forms? It would have all forms in itself in a virtual way, as a power to produce them.

    9. Aw, such adorable lil Thomists we have here.

  4. Also, could you give some more in-depth defense of the essence-existence distinction on this blog? I've seen some objections from Oppy and Scotistic philosophers like Lukas Novak at Maverick Philosopher that I think need to be addressed. Here are the links again:

    I'm reading through Scholastic Metaphysics right now, and I'm planning on buying Gaven Kerr's book on the De Ente proof, but I'd really like to see an in-depth, systematic, analytic defense of the distinction.

  5. Also, here's some objections from Dillon and Jonathan David Garner regarding the doctrine of creation and the proofs for God:

    Garner's objections aren't quite as good, but he's intelligent and I'd like to see some fruitful discussion from his objections.

  6. RYoung,
    Feser has interacted with Dillon in the past, just type his name into the search bar. Also in regard to your link about objective morality and God, you will also find posts by Feser here, particularly in his exchange with Keith Parsons and in the post "Atheistic Teleology?".

  7. @RYoung

    Dillon doesn't appear to be the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. See Feser's reply to his question on monotheism.

  8. @Dominik Kowalski Has Feser responded or interacted with Garner at all?