Monday, March 30, 2009

Fodor and Aquinas on the Extended Mind Thesis

Jerry Fodor reviews Andy Clark’s Supersizing the Mind. Clark, with David Chalmers, has defended what they call the “Extended Mind Thesis” (EMT), according to which the traditional distinction between the mind and the world is less clear-cut than is usually supposed. There are cases where purportedly “external” objects are (so the EMT claims) really parts of a mind. For example, the notebook in which you keep your friends’ addresses and phone numbers would on this view literally be as much a part of your mind as your memory of your own address and phone number. For in its relations to the rest of your mental life and to your behavior, it functions the way your memory does. Chalmers tells us his new iPhone is, similarly, literally a part of his own mind. And so forth.

If this strikes you as odd and implausible, Fodor agrees, and in typical Fodor style he deconstructs the EMT with clarity, elegance, and humor. Take a look. But in the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, who always sought to discern whatever kernel of truth might be hidden in even the most implausible views, let me note one respect in which the EMT might at least be gesturing in the direction of an important truth.

The EMT is part of a broader trend in recent philosophy of mind called “externalism,” which comes in many varieties but has at its core a critique of the Cartesian “inner theatre” conception of the mind as a realm of subjective, self-contained facts metaphysically sealed off from the “external” world. This conception has dominated philosophy since Descartes, in the thinking of empiricists and rationalists, materialists and dualists alike. The externalist reaction is motivated in part by a desire to overcome the epistemological and semantic gaps that the Cartesian picture notoriously opens up. If all we ever have direct access to is the subjective realm of the mind, how can we know that any external world really exists? Worse, how can we so much as form meaningful thoughts about it?

The externalist suggests various ways in which aspects of the so-called “external” world actually determine, or even constitute, the contents of our thoughts, so that the subjective/objective or internal/external divide is nowhere near as absolute as the Cartesian picture implies. Contemporary writers like Hilary Putnam, John McDowell, and Robert Brandom began this revolution (in their very different ways), inspired by hints found in writers like Sellars and Wittgenstein. (When I was in grad school, externalism was all the rage. It seemed you couldn’t walk into the men’s room at UC Santa Barbara without overhearing someone muttering about it from behind the partition. I might be exaggerating slightly.)

From the point of view of Thomists, who generally regard the Scholastic-to-modern transition as an across-the-board tragedy (philosophically-speaking, that is – no one denies that modern science has made tremendous advances), all of this is very salutary indeed. Still, from a Thomistic point of view, even the externalists are sometimes insufficiently anti-Cartesian. For their accounts still often smack of the idea that the mind-world relationship is essentially about the former “representing” the latter.

To be sure, externalists often regard themselves as critics of the “representationalist” picture of the mind, where this picture involves positing inner “representations” which either mirror or fail to mirror various aspects of external reality. Given this picture, the traditional epistemological-cum-semantic problem can be summarized in the questions: How can we know whether the inner representations mirror external reality accurately? What is the source of the “intentionality” possessed by these representations, in virtue of which they count as representations in the first place? Externalists like McDowell counter this picture with the suggestion that there is no gap between the mind and what it represents in the first place; when I truly think about the teacup next to me, the teacup itself is in a sense a constituent of my thought about it rather than something external to the thought. There is no epistemological or semantic gap between the thought and the cup that needs to be bridged, for the thought just wouldn’t be the thought that it is without the presence of the cup. (Various complications are added to the story in order to deal with cases of hallucinatory cups and the like.)

But as (the non-Thomist) Michael Lockwood notes in a sympathetic critique of this approach in his book Mind, Brain, and the Quantum:

Even if the mind is, so to speak, tucked up in bed with its objects, still it seems to me a mystery how its thoughts come to be about those objects. Making the object which a thought is about literally a component of that thought obviates the problem of reference only if one somehow thinks it unproblematic that an object should, as it were, mean itself. (p. 147)

Or, to put the point another way (and perhaps a way Lockwood would not put it himself) if one regards external objects mechanistically, as devoid of final causes or intelligible natures or essences, then they will be as inherently devoid of meaning or intelligibility when you “tuck them up in bed” with the mind as they were when conceived of as external to the mind.

Similarly, while McDowell speaks of the “space of causes” and the “space of reasons” – that is to say, of the world conceived of as governed by physical law, on the one hand, and of the intentional-cum-rational structure of thought on the other – as coming together in the human organism, how exactly this is supposed to work remains mysterious if one is beholden to a broadly mechanistic conception of the material world. If a dualist interpretation is rejected (as McDowell would reject it) the claim that human beings are governed both by physical law and by irreducibly intentional-cum-rational thought processes seems obscurantist. In particular, the externalist project can come to seem to rest on uncashed and uncashable metaphors – uncashable, anyway, in the coin of natural processes conceived of mechanistically.

The way to salvage the very real and deep insights of (some forms of) externalism is, for the Thomist, via a more thoroughgoing rejection of Cartesianism. In particular, it requires a rejection of the 17th century mechanistic revolution in philosophy of nature that opened up the epistemological-cum-semantic gap between mind and world in the first place (and, as I argue in The Last Superstition, opened up countless other philosophical problems – often called “traditional” but really just modern – as well). When the natural world is seen to manifest final causality from top to bottom anyway, the intentionality that characterizes the human mind no longer stands out as something poking out from the Procrustean bed, in need of either cramming back under the sheets or lopping off altogether.

More to the present point, when the objects that make up the material world are seen to possess substantial forms or essences, the kernel of truth in the externalist metaphor of the mind and world “interpenetrating” each other stands revealed. For on the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of knowledge, when the intellect comes to understand some object, what this essentially involves is the form that makes the object what it is coming to reside in the intellect itself. It isn’t that a “representation,” understood as a kind of internal object or particular, comes to exist in the mind and in some way mirrors or correlates with the (utterly distinct) thing outside the mind; it is that one and the same thing, the object’s form or essence, exists simultaneously in the intellect and in the object known by the intellect. They are formally identical and thus not utterly distinct. (It is because the intellect can thus take on a form without becoming the sort of thing that the form is a form of that, for Aristotle and Aquinas, the intellect must be immaterial. For when a material thing takes on a form, it necessarily does become the thing the form is a form of. For example, for a material thing to take on the form of a dog or a triangle just is for it to become a dog or a triangle, while the intellect can take on these forms without becoming either a dog or a triangle.)

The analytical Thomist John Haldane calls this the “mind-world identity theory,” for as Aquinas says in his commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima, “the soul is in a way all things” insofar as it takes on the forms or essences of the things it knows, which could in principle be anything. But as the “in a way” indicates – and as the previous paragraph implies – the “identity” in question here is formal identity rather than identity full stop. The intellect isn’t identical to the dog it knows when it knows a dog, but since the same form or essence exists in the intellect and in the dog, there is at least an identity of form, since one and the same form exists in both places.

But is any of this really any better than what contemporary externalists have said? For isn’t this talk of something existing “in” the intellect itself metaphorical? It is not. Here we need to resort instead to Aquinas’s famous doctrine of analogy. When I “see” that the Pythagorean theorem is true, I obviously do not see it in the same sense in which I “see” the teacup on the floor next to me. The senses involved in these cases are not univocal. But neither are they equivocal or totally unrelated, as the sense of “see” in a reference to the Vatican as the Holy See is totally unrelated to “see” as used in the case of seeing the cup or seeing the truth of the theorem. Rather, the senses involved are analogous: there is in the event of seeing the truth of the theorem something analogous to the seeing of the cup. In the same way, the sense in which a form is “in” the dog is analogous to the sense in which the same form is “in” the intellect which knows the dog.

One of the themes of The Last Superstition is how frequently contemporary philosophers misinterpret the arguments made by Aristotelians and Thomists, because they tend inadvertently to interpret Aristotelian-Thomistic references to “cause,” “essence,” “matter,” and many other key concepts as if they meant more or less the same thing that modern philosophers mean when they use such terms. They forget, if (apart from those who have made a serious study of the history of their discipline) they ever knew, that the mechanistic revolution entailed a radical redefinition of most of the key concepts of traditional metaphysics. As Gyula Klima has emphasized in a series of important papers, a related problem is that contemporary commentators on medieval arguments in philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics are often unaware that these arguments presuppose a set of logical and semantic doctrines that are very different from but every bit as sophisticated and worked-out as those taken for granted by post-Fregean philosophers. Aquinas’s doctrine of analogy is a key example.

The conceptual revolution the Thomist would recommend is thus almost as radical as that entailed by the Scholastic-to-modern transition itself. (I say “almost” because it does not entail abandoning modern science wholesale and returning, say, to pre-modern physics and chemistry, but rather abandoning the assumptions that have come to define modern philosophy – albeit this would certainly require a reinterpretation of the philosophical significance of modern science.) But nothing less than such a radical revolution is required if the place of mind in the natural world is properly to be understood, because it was the Scholastic-to-modern transition that made that relationship problematic in the first place. (Indeed, nothing less is required if most of the so-called “traditional” problems of philosophy are to be solved, or so I argue in TLS.)

(N.B. Readers interested in an extended discussion of the relationship between the Thomist and externalist approaches to these matters are advised to take a look at John O’Callaghan’s book Thomist Realism and the Linguistic Turn.)


  1. Ed

    Outstanding post as usual.

    It is fascinating to witness yet again the return to a pre-Descarte philosophy.

    Keep 'em coming.

  2. I'm bookmarking this because I am preparing a paper along these lines. I'm attempting to reconcile the Thomistic / radical orthodoxy picture of reality with Jungian psychology, specifically his notion of the archetypes. I'm realizing it means rewriting his theory of mind, though there are hints in his late writings on "synchronicity" that he was starting to see the problems with a representation epistemology, though he largely remained throughly Kantian.

  3. I agree it is an excellent post. I especially enjoyed the conclusion, in which Feser insists upon the need for a Thomistic counterevolution which reinterprets but does not destroy modern science. This is the great project of the next century. All the most important philosohical work to be done for the foreseeable future will be done here, but it will also involve spiritual convulsions which will bring the conflicts and weaknesses of society to a head, so caveat emptor!

    One question about forms existing both inside and outside the intellect: What is it that mediates the apprehension of the form from the sensible object to the intellect, assuming we are speaking of the forms of contingent beings, not necessary truths? Presumably, there is no purely empirical process by which I can distinguish the substantial form of a contingent being from the undifferentiated background without some change immediately taking place within the intellect, though nevertheless occasioned by my perception of that being. Is this an argument for Leibnizian preestablished harmony, or am I being too Cartesian about it?

  4. Great question!
    My thought relies on Bohr's theses of complementarity and non-locality in quantum systems. I'm reading now a work called "The Conscious Universe" which explores these ideas and their relationship to epistemology.
    Complementarity says that there are two variables in the system, in the case of quantum scenarios there are the wave mechanics and the matrix mechanics. A complete description of the scenario requires a determination of both, however the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics only permits someone to describe one or the other.
    We could look at your question in light of this general principle, which Bohr argues applies across all of reality. There's the form in the intellect and the form in the object. It may be impossible to describe both.
    If we consider non-locality, this is the principle that asserts the extremely disconcerting notion that all of reality is at some level connected, since we can observe changes in one particle when its mate is interacted with, even when these two particles are separated far enough that no subluminal communication would be possible (and assuming a superluminal form of communication would violate relativity).
    I think we must realize that though we may treat them separately for the sake of applying classical categories to them, they are in some way we cannot yet comprehend, one.
    So your intuition would seem to be correct, there is no empirical means of describing these relationships

  5. To my mind, the difficulty for the Aristotelian/Thomist is to explain all the talk about 'forms' in a way that neither falls to obvious objections nor ends up making forms into ad hoc theoretical constructions designed to yield precisely the desired conclusion. Most philosophers reactionarily reject talk of forms, I suspect, because they suppose that Aristotelians conceive of them as quasi-material. Of course, Aristotelians don't think of them that way, but the question is, if they aren't quasi-material things that pass through the space between the knower and the known, what the hell are they? I'm afraid I still find them more than a bit mysterious, attracted though I am to hylomorphic metaphysics.

  6. Dr. Feser,

    I see that your book on Aquinas is now available for pre-order at

    -Neil Parille

  7. Most contemporary, non-Thomist, philosophers are imprisoned in univocal being, or some in equivocity.
    The notion of analogical being is lost on most of them.
    If forms are what St. Thomas described, then they "are" in a different mode than we "are"; in fact they "are" moreso than we "are" - material reality is a pale copy.
    St. Thomas says that a thing is with respect to how it conforms to the divine intellect. The other piece of the puzzle has to come from St. Thomas' reading of St. Augustine "divine illumination". The intellect knows a thing when it is moved to act by God

    "Just as the true is found primarily in the intellect rather than in things, so also is it found primarily in an act of the intellect joining and separating, rather than in an act by which it forms the quiddities of things. For the nature of the true consists in a conformity of thing and intellect. Nothing becomes conformed with itself, but conformity requires distinct terms. Consequently, the nature of truth is first found in the intellect when the intellect begins to possess something proper to itself, not possessed by the thing outside the soul, yet corresponding to it, so that between the two—intellect and thing—a conformity may be found. In forming the quiddities of things, the intellect merely has a likeness of a thing existing outside the soul, as a sense has a likeness when it receives the species of a sensible thing. But when the intellect begins to judge about the thing it has apprehended, then its judgment is something proper to itself—not something found outside in the thing. And the judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality. Moreover, the intellect judges about the thing it has apprehended at the moment when it says that something is or is not. This is the role of “the intellect composing and dividing.”

    For these reasons, the Philosopher says that composition and division are in the intellect, and not in things. Moreover, this is why truth is found primarily in the joining and separating by the intellect, and only secondarily in its formation of the quiddities of things or definitions, for a definition is called true or false because of a true or false combination. For it may happen that a definition will be applied to something to which it does not belong, as when the definition of a circle is assigned to a triangle. Sometimes, too, the parts of a definition cannot be reconciled, as happens when one defines a thing as “an animal entirely without the power of sensing.” The judgment implied in such a definition—“some animal is incapable of sensing”—is false. Consequently, a definition is said to be true or false only because of its relation to a judgment, as a thing is said to be true because of its relation to intellect.

    From our discussion, then, it is clear that the true is predicated, first of all, of joining and separating by the intellect; second, of the definitions of things in so far as they imply a true or a false judgment. Third, the true may be predicated of things in so far as they are conformed with the divine intellect or in so far as, by their very nature, they can be conformed with human intellects. Fourth, true or false may be predicated of man in so far as he chooses to express truth, or in so far as he gives a true or false impression of himself or of others by his words and actions; for truth can be predicated of words in the same way as it can be predicated of the ideas which they convey."

    De veritate Q1, ad 3

    It hasn't helped than Enlightenment era and later Thomists followed Cajetan's error in reading St. Thomas' doctrine of analogy.

  8. Ed

    What is your opinion of Connectionist models of the mind?

  9. Professor Feser, I'm trying to understand the four causes of Aristotle, as explained in your book.

    I think I understand them reasonably well, at least in their broads terms.

    But I'm trying to see if I find some counterexample to them, or one case where they don't apply.

    An example that you give in TLS is this: "The moon is "directed toward" movement around earth, as a kind of "goal" (you add that it's not a conscious goal of the moon; to correct some moderm misrepresentations of final causes)

    I have two questions:

    The first one: in that example and according to Aristotle, is the final cause determined by efficient cause, or viceversa? Because in that example, the moon movement is determined by gravitational forces and certain cosmic accidents, not by an intrinsic property of the moon as such.

    So, it seems that efficient causation determined the "final causality" of the moon.

    But I think you wrote that final causes determine efficient causes, not viceversa. That is, efficient causes "operate" because a previous end or final cause exist (in the intellect).So, final causes would be logical and metaphysically previous to efficient causes, not viceversa.

    Also you wrote: "Yet it is impossible for anything to be directed toward an end unless that end exists in an intellect which directs the thing in question toward it"

    Here's my second question:

    Taking the example of moon, does the above quote imply that God is actually conceiving as a end the moon moving around earth?

    Because that would imply that the existence and movement of the moon is not due to a ramdom accident (+ natural gravitational laws acting on it), but its end was metaphysically predetermined in the intellect of God.

    That is, if the moon and its end was conceived in the intellect of an eternal God, then the existence of the moon, as object, is not a contingent phenomenon, but an absolutely (metaphysically) necessary object whose end was absolutely predermined. The same would apply to any object too.

    Perhaps I've get some of your ideas wrong (I'm only a beginner in Aristole/Aquinas thinking).

    I'd like read other people comments or ideas about these questions too.

  10. Jime:
    I'm a beginner too. My ancient philosophy prof last semester said that the position of least potential energy is the final cause of inanimate objects' motion. When you lift up rock its potential energy increases. When you remove the obstacle (your hand), the potential energy becomes kinetic energy until it meets another obstacle. I learned that much in elementary school. It makes just as much sense to say that the rock's nature is such that it tends to move toward that position as it does to say that the earth acts on the rock as an agent. We can't see the force, only its effects. The earth actually moves too; it's just too slight to show. I think this is what Feser means by "intentionality" above.

  11. Jime,

    You raised a good question in "does the efficient cause determine the final cause or vice versa?" The main problem for me is I know next to nothing about astronomy or physics, so this might be a bad example for me to comment on, but I'll try.

    In this case it seems like the final cause of the moon is it's orbiting the earth, that is it's "purpose," I suppose. The efficient cause I guess would just be the natural processes which brought the moon into existence. Then, given the distance the moon was to the earth, it began it's final cause of orbiting the earth. Maybe I'm way off the mark here, but if this is how it is, then I'm also not sure how the moon's orbiting the earth determined whatever processes brought the moon into existence. So I think I'm inclined to agree with Jime, in that the efficient cause of the moon contributed to the moon's final cause. I'm looking forward to Prof. Feser's response.

    Maybe a better example would be the rubber ball mentioned in the section on Aristotle's 4 causes. The efficient cause was the people in the factory or wherever making the ball, bringing it into existence. The final cause is for the enjoyment of a child. Now in this example I think I can see how the final cause determines the efficient cause, in that the whole reason for the efficient cause (the making of the ball) was determined by the final cause, (what the ball would be used for.) The guys in the factory made the ball because of the final cause of the child playing with the ball in the future. I hope this is somewhat accurate.

    A few other quick things. Alexander Pruss made a post on Mark Murphy's letter to the APA that you might be interested in.

    Like a few others, I'm also hoping Prof Feser writes a few posts on a few of these reviews or attempted refutations that some people have already drawn attention to on this blog. I'd also be curious to hear a response regarding the review by "Beth" on amazon, not that I found much actual substance in that review.

    I heard your Aquinas book won't be out on amazon until October or so. Well, let's just say that patience is not one of my virtues (if I have any at all.) Ed, there's no possible way I could get the book before then? I might be taking a metaphysics course in the fall semester and would love to have read the aquinas book before the course starts. If not, would it be too much to ask to give us a quick summary of the table of contents to see what we'll be in for?

  12. "The moon is "directed toward" movement around earth, as a kind of "goal"

    Since Newton, we know that the the tendency isnt in moon as it is the particles that consititute the moon and the earth.

  13. Heya all. I'm curious if Ed (Poor guy, having to deal with all these questions) thinks this would be a good summary of Aristotle's four causes:

    Perhaps what's provided there will shed some light on these questions about final cause.

  14. Inanimate objects would seem not to have final causes in Aristotle's view. In whatever sense it is the moon's 'end' to orbit the earth, that sense is obviously different from the sense in which it is my end in typing this e-mail to communicate this message to the readers of this blog. In the case of conscious rational action, the end plays a causal role in producing the action. The same does not seem to be true at all of the moon, or of the tendency of rocks to fall to the earth.

    Though there are some philosophers who are so averse to teleology that they try to deny it even in the case of conscious rational action, most would accept that paradigmatic rational action is genuinely teleological. The really controversial cases are the unconscious process of living beings. These certainly seem genuinely teleological; it seems that the end of circulating blood explains why hearts beat, and that the mature state of a kind of organism explains why members of that kind typically develop in the particular ways they do.

    Some philosophers want to deny that these cases are genuinely teleological. They argue that the apparently goal-directed character of these processes is merely apparent. Hearts just beat, and blood just gets circulated as a result, and animals thereby survive, and thus it looks a whole lot like hearts beat in order to circulate blood. Call this the eliminativist position; its proponents propose to eliminate teleology from a true account of what really goes on in the unconscious processes of living beings.

    In strong opposition to that, you might argue for a strong teleological realism which maintains that the goals in goal-directed processes are explanatorily prior to the efficient-causal aspects of the processes in a way that allows for absolutely no reduction whatsoever. Some people try to defend this sort of thing in terms of 'emergence'; Thomists like Ed seem to be trying to defend a similar view without the 'emergence' language.

    The moderate alternative to either of these would be to argue that apparently goal-directed processes are genuinely goal-directed, but not irreducibly so. Here it's important to distinguish different kinds of reduction. A moderate realist about teleology could not opt for what we might call an ontological reduction, because ontological reduction is more or less just eliminativism with a different rhetorical strategy. An ontological reduction of X to Y maintains that X is nothing but Y. So, in the case of teleology: apparently end-directed processes are in fact nothing but complex patterns of efficient causation. A moderate realist about teleology might reject ontological reduction, but allow for what we might call causal reduction. Causal reduction of X to Y says that X is causally explained by Y; but (so the moderate teleological realist might argue) X can be causally explained by Y without being nothing but Y. On this view, goal-directed processes are causally reducible to complex patterns of efficient causation; nonetheless, because these complex patterns play crucial roles in the functioning of a dynamic system (i.e., organisms), there is a very real sense in which the processes are goal-directed.

    Strong teleological realists will try to argue that the moderate realist can't have causal reduction without eliminativism. The eliminativist will make the same basic move pointed in the opposite direction. The debate is virtually a mirror-image of the debate between John Searle and his critics. Searle maintains that consciousness can be causally, but not ontologically, reduced to the material processes of the brain. His dualist critics try to show that he can't reject ontological reduction without rejecting causal reduction; his materialist critics try to show that accepting causal reduction entails accepting ontological reduction (or perhaps even eliminativism).

    So far as I know, none of the major players in the debates about teleology in the philosophy of biology would countenance the idea that inanimate (i.e., non-living) objects do anything goal-directed, with the possible exception of artifacts (it is an interesting irony that moderns tend to think that artifacts give obvious, non-controversial examples of genuine teleology by virtue of being created for a purpose, while Aristotle denied that artifacts have genuine final causes.

    So, I'd be curious to hear whether Ed really thinks that the moon has genuine final causes, and if so, why he doesn't think that the goal's apparently end-directed activity is reducible to efficient causes.

  15. Indeed, the case of the moon seems even less welcoming to a teleological explanation than functional processes in organisms: the moon's orbit seems to be explained by the operation of external forces on the moon. Of course, the moon's structure has to be such-and-such in order for the external forces to have the orbital effect, but it's the external forces that do the crucial explanatory work.

    By contrast, the circulation of the blood by the pumping of the heart is a process internal to the organism, and even any teleological account of it still appeals to what the parts of the system (i.e., the heart, the blood, the blood-vessels, etc.) do. So it's at least a very good candidate for genuine teleological explanation; the orbit of the moon seems no more genuinely teleological than my tendency to fall to the earth when I jump in the air.

  16. Actually, David S. Oderberg seems to think there are cases of actual teleology even in the inorganic world. See:

  17. It has been a very interesting discussion. I'm thinking about all the above interesting ideas.

    Just I want to add the following, regarding teleology in the inorganic world. In the TLS book, professor Feser wrote: "But Aristotle takes final causation or goal-directedness to exist throughout inorganic nature as well" (and it follows with the example of the moon quoted above)

    Another commentary I'd like to do is regarding one of the Anonymous' interesting point regarding reduction of final cause to efficient causes.

    I've thought in it too, but I think it doesnt' work.

    I think that reduction of the causes, in the thinking of Aristotle/Aquinas, is not possible. Each of the causes are irreducible to each other, and all the them are needed to understand to explain any phenomenon (and to make sense of each cause).

    According Professor Feser: "You simply cannot properly understand the one apart from the other; indeed, there cannot be efficient causes without final causes" (p.64)

    But let's suppose (for the sake of the argument)that a reduction between causes is possible. If we're consistent with Aristotle/Aquinas's thinking, then the reduction never would be from final causes to efficient ones, because final causes are (somehow) "senior" (more important or essential) to all the other causes.

    According to Professor Feser: "Aquinas refers to the final cause as "the cause of causes", and for good reason".

    And then: "...efficient causality cannot be made sense of apart from the final causality. Indeed, nothing makes sense- not the world as a whole, not morality or human action in general, not the thoughts you're thinking or the words yuo're using, not anything at all- without final causes. They are certainly utterly central to, and ineliminable from, our conception of ourselves as rational and freely choosing agents, whose thoughts and actions are always directed toward an end beyond themselves" (pp. 70-71)

    This is why I think is impossible to reduce final causes to efficient causes (at least, if we respect the thinking of Aristotle and Aquinas)

    Some food to the thought...

  18. Hello all,

    Yes, so many questions! And no time to answer them in any detail, sorry. Let the following general remarks (some of them directed at more than one comment) suffice for now:

    Re: what mediates the transition from sensory awareness of particulars to abstract concepts, this is a gigantic topic. Suffice it to say that the Aristotelian-Thomistic view holds (with Platonism and rationalism, and against classical empiricism) that universal concepts are irreducible to even general images, but (against Platonism and rationalism) that they are nevertheless abstracted from images. The way this works involves the famous distinction between active intellect and passive intellect, but explaining this in a way that wouldn’t sound like mere hand-waving would take at least a post of its own.

    Anyway, forms are not quasi-material if only because form and matter are defined precisely by contrast with one another. Part of the problem here, I suspect, is that contemporary readers have a tendency to keep slipping back into modern, post-“mechanical philosophy” conceptions of matter and causation and subtly read them back into A-T claims. Hence e.g. they (perhaps) tend to imagine a thing’s form “traveling” to the nervous system the way a particle does. That’s just the wrong model altogether.

    Re: connectionism, if considered just as a simplified model of certain neural processes, it may well capture certain features of the material underpinnings of sensation and imagination. In principle, though, for reasons I’ve addressed in earlier posts, it cannot capture what the intellect does when it grasps concepts.

    Re: the moon and other inanimate objects having final causes, keep in mind:

    (a) Having a final cause doesn’t necessarily entail having a function in the biological sense; hence to say that inanimate objects manifest final causality does not imply that they play a role relative to the rest of the universe analogous to the role played by bodily organs relative to the organism of which they are a part. So to say that the moon exhibits final causality does not entail that it exists “for the sake of” providing us with light at night (for instance) or any other such thing. Biological and quasi-biological functions are just a special and more complex case of a more general, and generally more simple, phenomenon. Which brings me to:

    (b) The fundamental way in which final causality manifests itself is precisely in patterns of (what Aristotelians call) efficient causality. They are correlative, just as matter and form are. If there is a regular efficient causal connection between A and B that can only be because A “points to” or is “directed at” the production of B as its natural end or final cause. Hence a match “points to” or “aims at” flame and heat specifically, ice “aims at” or “points to” making what surrounds it at least slightly colder, etc. – rather than to some other effects or no effects at all. Without this “pointing to” or “directedness at” – that is to say, without final causality – efficient causal relations become unintelligible and we are left with all the usual Humean puzzles. (That’s precisely why Hume followed in the wake of the earlier early moderns.)

    (c) To say that final causality pervades nature does not mean that no natural phenomena are due to chance. But chance phenomena presuppose final causality. To use a stock example, the farmer finding treasure under his field is a chance event, but it occurred only because of the convergence of two non-chance events involving ends or purposes, namely the decision to plow and the decision of someone else to bury treasure at just the relevant spot. Similarly, even if we say that the moon’s existence is the result of a chance event (involving the collision of smaller bodies, or whatever) the events leading to the chance event themselves presuppose final causality insofar as they involve, at some level, regular causal patterns. Hence even if the moon qua moon does not have a final cause, its existence would presuppose processes that do manifest final causality. Moreover, qua material object it is subject to gravitation (a kind of causal regularity), and thus to that extent manifests final causality itself.

    There’s a lot more about this in TLS and in the Aquinas book. Re: the latter, sometime soon I’ll post a little info on it, including the table of contents.

  19. This song is not about me, I know, but if anyone here would like to see some related thoughts (of mine) on the topic of "extruded cognition" and Thomistic anthropology, I direct you to the following:

    My basic point is that there is something right about saying that our tools, as externals objects, do become parts of our minds, but only because our minds are already just "part" of us. I think a holistic agency theory of causation, that includes formal intelligibility, is how EMT can be "baptized."

  20. One facet of the problem has to do with the many forms of esse in Thomistic cognitive theory. (I restrict myself to Thomism since I know it better than Scholastic thought in general, and since the latter is startlingly diverse.)

    Basically, particular objects have esse naturale (i.e., their "being what they are by nature"), esse intelligibile (i.e., their "being known as what they are by suitable knowers"), and esse intentionale (i.e., their "being known as particular objects to particular knowers"). We cannot know particulars per esse naturale, so our intellect can abstract their esse intelligibile and synthetically judge them as one particular of this or that kind (via the existential copula). We cannot "take in" the esse naturale, since, as Dr. Feser notes, this would convert our intellect into the very object it beholds. We also do not, however, simply know pure abstract forms, but know them under a concretely intentional mode of apprehension -- the esse intentionale. Metaphorically, we might imagine the esse intelligibile as the formal "meat" of the being's "shell" (i.e., its esse naturaliter), and the esse intelligibile as the "flavor" of the actual meat as we eat it. It does seem to smack of trope theory, but I will not go into that now. Basically, I think the point is that the theory tries, successfully, to account for three solid facts of experience: 1. there are THINGS, 2. WE can know them, and 3. we can KNOW them.

    Animal cognition is rooted in esse intentionale, since even dogs and worms can respond to real objects, but the immateriality of the intellect enters the picture when we consider the physical indeterminacy of certain entia intelligibiles. Cue James Ross, Mortimer Adler, et al. Esse intentionale, then, might be construed as a being's potential esse intelligibile, and its esse intelligibile as a being's actual esse intentionale.

    Now, I must preempt the attacks of my betters by admitting I have probably mangled the subtlety of the Thomistic account, and I defer to Gerard Casey's discussion of this in "Immateriality and Intentionality".

    As for the complaint that Aristhomism rigs the game so that its pet terms just -- lo and behold! -- fall out from an artificial analysis, we need to keep in mind that a good theory (explanans) must exclude countless facets of experience in order to isolate and illuminate a freely chosen (small) set of problems. People often accuse the Scholastics of making up lots of terms just to make their theories fit, but much the same could be said of modern physicists! New discoveries require new terms. Hence, the nuances of esse, which I limned above, are very much entailed by putting all the pieces together (i.e., my 1., 2., and 3.).


  21. Consider this analogy:

    Human nature is analogous to an electromagnetic field. While electricity and magnetism as analytically distinct (qua entia rationis), they are formally and actually inseparable. Likewise, while we can analytically rend human nature into "body" and "mind", we cannot really destroy their formal unity.

    Further, let us "analogolyze" (my own term of art for, hopefully, restoring analogy into analytical philosophy) the forms of perceptible objects as discrete wave functions (which is just what the quantum theorists tell us everything is anyway). As we know vividly from Cartesian geometry, each function on the x-y plane has its own distinct formal intelligibility, which, of course, yields distinct material (efficient) causes on paper. E.g., x = y^2 is formally, AND THEREFORE MATERIALLY, different from x = y, x = y^3, and so forth. (Interestingly enough, this is where string theory is pointing: each thing is what it is because it "resonates" according to a certain formal structure.) Now, when it comes to us, analogized as electromagnetic wave functions, we have a dim grasp of how a thing's wave-form can "enter" us intelligibly. Were we sheer EM wave functions, we would literally assume the form of whatever wave functions we "absorbed." This would in no way destroy the thing's formal integrity and objectivity, since it itself would be existing with the same esse intelligibile, but under the form of a new esse intelligibile. At every point along its emanated substance (in whatever medium), its material structure would conform to the form of its originating wave source, such that it could simultaneously exist as one and the same "formed being" in our intentional grasp of it and outside us in the objective world. As James Chastek ( has stressed on numerous occasions, it is the hylomorphic intelligibility of objects that ensures their OBJECTIVITY, viz., our perception of a toaster does not render it a mere phantasm but actually presents the very same objective object to us, albeit via its esse intentionale.

  22. "all we ever have direct access to is the subjective realm of the mind"

    This statement seems to assume dualism already in order for "direct access" and "subjective realm" to have any meaning, in fact for the entire statement itself to have any context in which it is meaningful.

  23. Does the person internally represent particulars? Obviously, there is no form of this cat, or of Edward Feser, and so what resides in my intellect is not this cat, or, you, but and , whereas my knowledge of this cat or of you comes through the union of the phantasms and the intellect. Is that union itself a representation?