Thursday, March 29, 2012

Radio Free Aquinas (Postponed)

I’ll be on The Frank Pastore Show on KKLA radio on Friday, March 30 (tomorrow) at 6pm PST to discuss Thomas Aquinas.  (You can find a podcast of my earlier appearance on the show here.)

UPDATE: Sorry, Frank has had to postpone at the last minute -- I'll announce the new date of the interview once it's rescheduled.


  1. Dr. Feser,

    I have a comment to make on your book Aquinas, so I picked the most recent post that at all concerned him.

    So, I am dubious about the prospects of the First Way. The argument is supposed to explain the first cause of an essentially ordered series of causes that are exercising causality simultaneously, or at a given moment. I have never come across a good example of such a series, however, and I worry that the example you give in your book is not an example of causes acting simultaneously or of a series that must terminate in an Unmoved Mover. You say:

    "The potential of the hand for movement is actualized here and now by the flexing of the muscles of the hand, the potential of the muscles to flex is actualized here and now by the firing of certain motor neurons, the potential of the motor neurons to fire is actualized here and now by the firing of certain other neurons, and so forth. Eventually this regress must terminate in something which here and now actualizes potentialities without itself being actualized, an unmoved mover" (p. 73).

    I'm afraid I can't see how the various members in this series are all acting "here and now," or how they are all acting at the same moment. Rather, the series you describe is a temporally ordered one (i.e., an accidentally ordered series of causes, the kind not supposed to feature in the First Way). The motor neurons fire, not at the same time as, but before the muscles flex. And these motor neurons are caused to fire by the temporally prior firing of other neurons.

    All the chains of causality I can think of work this way. The First Way is supposed to concern a chain of causality that is vertical (i.e. whose members act simultaneously), but in fact even if there are vertical chains of causality that are finite in length (i.e. have a finite number of members), at some point the "top" member of that chain will turn out to be not an unmoved mover but rather a mover that was set into motion by something temporally prior to it. To put it crudely, the vertical line would take a left turn, and if we trace the line further back, it would look, if not horizontal, then at least like a staircase.

  2. That's odd, I come to the opposite conclusion. It seems to me that a strict determinism commits one to the idea that the entire universe is just one big essentially ordered series of events and that there are in fact no accidentally ordered series. Also, modern physics seems committed to the notion that the fundamental forces of nature act as fields which are present throughout space, so that e.g. two bodies halfway across the universe exert a continuous gravitational effect on each other, albeit an infinitesimal one. Temporal ordering really has nothing to do with it. Of course, Aquinas's first way holds under these assumptions.

  3. Anonymous, you seem to have misunderstood the essential difference between an accidentally ordered series of causes and an essentially ordered series of causes and that is, in the former, whatever B does is not dependent upon the antecedent cause, A, while in the latter, what ever Z does is dependent upon each antecedent cause, Y through to A, where A must be Pure Actuality. To return to the example Ed uses, the movement of the stone is indeed dependent on each antecedent cause. I wouldn't take the use of simultaneously too literally, though I'm open to argument. (I'm going through Ed's book on Aquinas and coincidentally just finished the section on the First Way myself.)