Monday, June 15, 2015

Cross on Scotus on causal series

Duns Scotus has especially interesting and important things to say about the distinction between causal series ordered accidentally and those ordered essentially -- a distinction that plays a key role in Scholastic arguments for God’s existence.  I discuss the distinction and Scotus’s defense of it in Scholastic Metaphysics, at pp. 148-54.  Richard Cross, in his excellent book, Duns Scotus, puts forward some criticisms of Scotus’s position.  I think Cross’s objections fail.  Let’s take a look at them.

First, a brief review of the distinction.  As longtime readers are aware, the key difference between the two kinds of causal series has to do with whether their members have their causal power in a derived or underived way.  Consider the causal sequence: x → y → z.  The series is essentially ordered if, in the very act of causing z, y borrows from x the power to do so.  Hence, in the stock example, the stick pushes the stone only insofar as it derives from the hand the power to push it.  A series is accidentally ordered if, in the act of causing z, y does not borrow from x the power to do so.  Hence, in the stock example, a son can beget a son of his own whether or not his own father is still alive.  (I’ve discussed this distinction at greater length in earlier posts, such as this one, and in various books and articles.  Again, see Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed discussion.)

Cross labels an essentially ordered series of causes an “E-series,” and an accidentally ordered series of causes an “A-series.”  His main criticism of Scotus’s use of the notion of an E-series is contained in the following passage:

In the late Reportatio (closely paralleled in the Ordinatio) Scotus argues from the following premise: “In essentially ordered causes… each second cause, in so far as it is causing, depends upon a first.”  Put in this way, it follows straightforwardly that there must be a first member of an E-series.  But the premise is question-begging, and I can see no reason for wanting to accept it.  It requires that a first cause is necessary as well as sufficient for any effect in an E-series.  But this is not so… [I]n any causal series there is a sense in which the existence of earlier causes is necessary for the existence of later causes.  But we cannot infer from this that a first cause is necessary for some effect.  There are sometimes many different ways in which the same effect can be produced.

Taking account of this objection, we could loosely reformulate the premise as follows: “In essentially ordered causes, any later cause, in so far as it is causing, depends upon an earlier cause.”  Put thus, the premise looks wholly plausible.  But there would be no problem with an infinite E-series thus construed.  Howsoever many prior causes there were, any one of them would be logically sufficient for any later effect. (p. 19)

There are several things to say about this.  To begin with, note that there are two senses in which something might be characterized as “first.”  We might mean that it comes at the head of some sequence.  This is what we have in mind when we say that Fred was first in line for the movie, or that Ethel was the first to arrive at the party.  We mean first as opposed to second, third, fourth, fifth, etc.  Let’s use “firsts” when what is intended is this sequential sense of the word.  But we might mean instead, when we characterize something as “first,” that it is in some way more fundamental or essential relative to other things, or that in some respect it has a higher status.  This is what we have in mind when we characterize something as being “of the first rank,” when we describe someone as “first among equals,” or when we give the title “First Lady” to the wife of the President of the United States.  We mean first in the sense of principal or primary as opposed to secondary.  Let’s use “firstf” when what is intended is this sense of the word, which involves some kind of fundamentality or eminence.

Now, something can be firsts without being firstf, and something can be firstf without being firsts.  The U.S. Army Chief of Staff would be the firstf soldier in the Army even if he were not the firsts to join the Army, indeed even if he were the last to join.  And in theory a certain Army private could be the firsts soldier insofar as he joined before any other living soldier did, even though he has never gotten any further in rank and thus is far from being firstf.  The Firstf Lady of the United States is obviously not the firsts lady ever to have lived in the United States.  Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy is not concerned with the firsts philosophy ever devised by a philosopher (Thales, say) but rather with firstf philosophy, i.e. that branch of philosophy which deals with the most fundamental philosophical issues.  When First Comics was founded in the 1980s, the company was not claiming to be the firsts comic book company, but rather aspiring to be the firstf comic book company.  And so forth.

Now, suppose that when Scotus or some other Scholastic says that “in essentially ordered causes… each second cause, in so far as it is causing, depends upon a first,” what is meant is firsts.  Then it is easy to see why Cross would raise the objections he does.  For why should a second (or third, or fourth) cause require a firsts?  If Scotus were just stipulating that you couldn’t have a second, third, fourth, etc. cause without a firsts cause, then he would be begging the question (as Cross accuses him of doing), since Scotus’s critic doesn’t see why a firsts cause is needed and hasn’t been given a reason to change his mind.  And if Scotus reformulates his position as the claim that “in essentially ordered causes, any later cause, in so far as it is causing, depends upon an earlier cause,” then (as Cross indicates) even if this is true, it will not entail that there is a firsts cause.

The problem, though, is that this is simply not what Scotus and other Scholastics mean.  In the proposition that “in essentially ordered causes… each second cause, in so far as it is causing, depends upon a first,” what is mean is firstf, not firsts.  In particular, the claim is that in essentially ordered causal series, causes which have their causal power in a merely secondary or derivative way require a cause which has its causal power in a primary or underivative way.  And there is nothing question-begging about that, even if the point needs greater spelling out than Scotus gives it in that one quoted sentence considered in isolation.

When I point out that a stick cannot move a stone by itself but requires something else to impart to it the power to move stones and other things, I am not begging any questions but rather saying something that no one would deny, not only because we all know from experience that sticks don’t move stones by themselves but also because it is evident from the nature of sticks that the reason they don’t in fact move other things by themselves is that they can’t do so.  For they simply don’t have the built-in power to do so.  Neither am I begging any questions when I point out that the same thing is true of the arm which movies the stick.  Like sticks, arms all by themselves not only never do move other things but couldn’t do so given their nature.

Nor am I begging any questions when I go on to conclude that such a series of causes requires something which imparts the power to move things without deriving it from anything else -- for example, a human being, who can use his arm to move the stick to move the stone, without the need for someone else to pick him up and move him while he does so.  Here too I am saying something which is not only obvious from experience, but also evident from reflection on the natures of the causes involved.  For one thing, human beings have by nature a built-in power of movement that sticks, stones, and arms do not.  For another thing, in general what is derivative presupposes that from which it is derived.  Even Scotus’s critic would have to admit that the stick’s movement of the stone cannot be accounted for unless we appeal to something from which the stick derives its causal power, such as the arm.  And the critic would have to admit that accounting for the arm’s movement requires a similar appeal, for the same reason.  But any further member we posit which, like the stick and the arm, lacks built-in power, will just raise the same problem all over again.  So, we cannot account for the motion we started out with -- that of the stick as it moves the stone -- until we get to something which does have built-in or underivative causal power.

Positing an infinite regress of derivative causes is no alternative.  Suppose I owe you money, you demand that I pay up immediately, and I offer you an IOU instead.  Suppose you refuse to accept it on the grounds that you doubt I’ll ever be able to back it up with real money.  Suppose that, in order to ease your doubts, I offer you a second IOU to back up the first.  Naturally, you refuse that IOU too, and on the same grounds.  Now it would be absurd to suppose that if I go on (Dumb and Dumber style) to offer you an infinite series of IOUs, each backing up the previous one, then you will suddenly have a reason to abandon your doubts and accept my IOUs.  Similarly, it is absurd to suppose that positing an infinite regress of causes having merely derivative causal power somehow solves the problem that positing one, two, three, etc. derivative causes was unable to solve.

In any event, even if someone were for some reason to try to resist this line of argument, there is nothing question-begging about it, and neither does it fail to offer a reason for thinking that there must be a cause with built-in or underived causal power.  So, Cross’s charge that Scotus either begs the question or fails to give any reason for supposing that an E-series requires a first member cannot be maintained, at least if what Scotus has in mind (as he surely does) is a firstf cause and not merely a firsts cause.

What about Cross’s point that “we cannot infer… that a first cause is necessary for some effect [since] there are sometimes many different ways in which the same effect can be produced”?  The idea here seems to be that even if in the case of the stick moving the stone (say), the stick does so only because a person moves the stick with his arm, there are nevertheless other ways in which the stick might be moved.  For example, it could be tied to some machine which moves it about, and by which it is able to move a stone.  But the problem with this objection is that it shows only that, in the E-series in question, this or that particular firstf cause is not necessary.  It does not show that some firstf cause or other is not necessary in any E-series.

Cross raises a couple of further objections in an endnote.  First, he suggests that:

We might be inclined to argue that, if there were no first cause to an E-series, we could not find the real cause of any effect… Richard Swinburne notes that this argument falls victim to what he labels the ‘compIetist fallacy’: if y causes z, then it really does explain the existence of z, even if y itself requires explanation. (pp. 161-62; Cross is referring to remarks made by Swinburne in the second edition of his book The Existence of God)

The trouble with this objection is that to say that something is not a “complete” cause is simply not the same thing as to say that it is not a “real” cause, and to say that something is not a “complete” explanation is simply not the same thing as saying that it is not a “real” explanation.  Does the stick in our example really move the stone?  Of course.  Does its motion really explain the motion of the stone?  Yes indeed.  But is the stick the complete cause of the motion of the stone?  Of course not.  And neither does its motion completely explain that of the stone, precisely because it would have no power to move the stone at all if it did not derive it from the person who uses it to move the stone.

Finally, Cross says:

Scotus's argument is made more complicated by his claim that even if per impossibile there were an infinite series of causes, each one would have to depend on some first cause that was outside the series… But this just blurs the distinction between an E-series and an A-series.  On Scotus's initial definitions, an E-series will be self-sufficient; it will not depend on any cause outside itself. (p. 162)

The reason Cross thinks this blurs the distinction between an E-series and an A-series, it seems, is that Scotus and other Scholastics hold that an A-series need not have a first member, whereas an E-series must have one.  But Scotus’s allowing for the sake of argument that an E-series might regress infinitely will seem to blur the distinction between an E-series and an A-series only if we fail to keep in mind the distinction between a firsts cause and a firstf cause.  When Scotus allows for the sake of argument that an E-series might regress infinitely, he is not saying, even for the sake of argument, that an E-series might lack a firstf cause.  Rather, he is allowing for the sake of argument that it might lack a firsts cause, and saying that even if it lacked one, it would still require a firstf cause.

For example, suppose the stone was being pushed by a stick, which was being pushed by another stick, which was being pushed by yet another stick, and so on ad infinitum.  Such a series would not have a firsts member.  But there would still have to be a firstf member outside the series to impart motion to it, because of themselves a mere series of sticks, however long, would have no power to move at all.

So, Cross’s objections all fail.  But someone might still wonder how all this supports an argument for God’s existence.  For of course, Scotus, like Aquinas and other Scholastics, intends to argue for a single and divine first cause.  Yet a person who moves a stone with a stick is only one firstf cause alongside many others, and a non-divine one at that.

But pointing out that an E-series must have a firstf member, and illustrating the idea with the stick example, is by no means the whole of a First Cause argument for God’s existence.  It is only part of a much larger line of argument.  For one thing, while a person who moves a stone with a stick is a firstf cause relative to that particular series, it does not follow that he is a firstf cause absolutely, full stop.  Indeed, relative to other E-series, he will himself be an effect.  For example, his existence at any moment depends upon the existence and proper configuration of his micro-level material parts.  And in a metaphysically more fundamental way, it depends on his substantial form being conjoined with prime matter, and his essence being conjoined with an act of existence.  The regress this entails will be vicious unless it terminates in a cause which is purely actual and thus need not be actualized by anything else.  And a purely actual cause turns out on analysis to have the divine attributes.

But that’s a whole other story (for which see chapter 3 of Aquinas and several of the essays on natural theology in Neo-Scholastic Essays).

57 comments:

1. I'm pretty sure, between the experiences of numerous people within these comboxes and without, as well as my own, that essentially ordered causal series are the single most commonly misunderstood point in Scholastic metaphysics. Right up there with "But glasses and airplanes aren't natural!" over in natural law. Was this always the big sticking point?

2. Well, at least the Federal Government seems to think you can back up a debt by issuing an infinite series of IOUs behind it. Who says philosophical claims aren't open to empirical falsification?

3. Wait... A Thomist defending Scotus from a Scotist? My world is turned upside down!

4. http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/wrongthoughts.html

5. young and restedJune 15, 2015 at 1:29 PM

Thanks for the post. I don't know why it took so long, but I feel like the destinctions between different types of causes are starting to clear up for me.

If I may ask a brief question....how exactly does this relate to Aristotle's unmoved mover? I have heard that phrase thrown around a lot and I've never really looked into it, but I sense from the name that it involves thinking in a similar vein to this post.

6. @Ed:

When you wrote:

Now, something can be firsts without being firstf, and something can be firstf without being firsts

How did you get the subscript in your post?

7. @John West:

The page source shows that he's using the HTML "sub" tag: first<sub>f</sub>, which either he entered by hand or was automatically created. Apparently the tag works for him and not for us because he's the blog owner and not posting from the comments page, which is more restrictive about HTML.

8. @young and rested:

If I may ask a brief question....how exactly does this relate to Aristotle's unmoved mover?

Basically by their being the same thing, at least according to Aquinas and the (relevant) other Scholastics. Aquinas's First Way (which deals with change) shows that there's an Unmoved Mover, and his Second Way (which deals with causation) shows that there's a First Cause; each one is intended, and of course argued, to be the very same God of classical theism. Aristotle himself used both expressions (in Greek, of course).

9. Thanks, Ed, for posting this. I was confused about one thing however. You say that Scotus allows (only for the sake of argument) infinite regress of E-series, but Scotus never allows for an infinite regress of E-series, even for the sake of argument. He only allows it for A-series. See http://www.logicmuseum.com/wiki/Authors/Duns_Scotus/Ordinatio/Ordinatio_I/D2/Q2B, from 48-55 for Scotus' arugment. You see that he only admits infinite regress in A-series. He only says that if the existence of an E-series is denied, then an infinite A-series is still impossible.
@young and rest: Aquinas argues similarly for E-series in Summa Contra Gentiles, including the major points Scotus has in his argument, though without the terminology of 'essentially ordered series of causes."
But I agree with Lee Faber... a little weirded out by a Thomist defending Scotus from a Scotist. I must admit I had the same issues when I read Cross' criticisms. Thanks again!

10. I don't think Cross is really a scotist at all. Although most of his work is about Scotus, the spirit of Duns' mind seems totally alien to him; he describes it like he's documenting a foreign culture. He seems to disagree with a lot of fundamental points.

11. Picture an electric fan whirling away. Where does it get its power from? --well, from that extension cord. Ok, where does that extension cord get its power from? --can't you see, from this other extension cord that it's plugged into! And so on.

It should be clear that an infinite series of extension cords cannot of themselves turn a fan's motor. There has to be some connection to a generator of electricity. from which the current originates--a first cause.

Same argument could be made of an infinite series of aqueducts. It's no good saying this aqueduct gets its water from that one, and that one from a prior one, and so on for ever. It's ridiculous to say that an infinite series of pipes or channels could of themselves produce a flow of water out of the last pipe without needing to connect any of them to a source of water.

JDJL

12. Scott,

The page source shows that he's using the HTML "sub" tag: first [tags not accepted within italics], which either he entered by hand or was automatically created. Apparently the tag works for him and not for us because he's the blog owner and not posting from the comments page, which is more restrictive about HTML.

Shame. Thanks.

13. Mr Feser: I am reading your TLS book and am finding it fascinating. I was laughing pretty hard when you said how most modern philosophers laugh at Aristotle's view of causation, but consider profound Hume's beliefs about a brick potentially turning into a rabbit in mid-air.

14. John West: >"The page source shows that he's using the HTML "sub" tag […] and not posting from the comments page, which is more restrictive about HTML."
Shame. Thanks.

Firstâ‚› post!!! …to use a subscripted 'S'. Of course, I used the Unicode character U+209B, which means it’s a total crapshoot whether any given reader will be able to see it or not. Unfortunately, there’s no subscripted ‘F’ character, for some strange reason — they apparently didn’t add any after the firstá¶  few, so I’ll have to stick with superscripts instead. (It would have been more consistent to do so for my firstË¢ one too, but oh, well.)

15. @ David T

This isn't actually properly true. We are capable of expanding our debt indefinitely insofar as we are capable of assigning more government revenue to payment, which is a function of government revenue, revenue allocation, our creditor's terms, and by extension the revenue base (the American economy and world economy more generally).

1. Were no lenders present, then no debt expansion.
2. If government revenues shrank (without compensating factors), no debt expansion.
3. If the government were unwilling to allocate revenue *to* debt payment, no debt expansion.
4. If the revenue base shrank, then very likely 2 (and somewhat more likely 1 & 3).

This has happened in other states. They suffer a debt crisis.

16. young and restedJune 16, 2015 at 5:29 AM

@Scott

"Basically by their being the same thing" haha, nice.

Thanks for the response.

17. Why are essentially ordered causal series always presented as linearly ordered?

It is not the case that there is always a first (of whatever subscript) term in an order unless it's linear and many causal relations are symmetrical. The earth pulls the moon and the moon pulls the earth. The position of each particle in the earth is caused by all the other particles in the earth, each of which has their position (partly) determined by the one we first thought of.

Place a stick (at least, a big enough one) in one of the emptier regions of space along with a stone (at least, a big enough one) and the stick will move the stone. And the stone will move the stick, without any other member of the series.

18. Mr Green,

Firstâ‚› post!!!

Ah man, now I wish I'd thought of that.

19. Why are essentially ordered causal series always presented as linearly ordered?

Essentially ordered causal series are asymmetric because that directly follows from their definition; if we're looking at causal symmetries, we're looking at a different kind of causal relation than essentially ordered causation.

20. Yes, because then we are talking about A-series, which is symmetric-- if I understand what you mean by symmetric. Also, I am not sure what Tony means by linear. An E-series requires the contiguity and simultaneity of all causes producing the effect. An A-series is linear-- again, if I am understanding what is meant here. If I am misunderstanding, I'd appreciate the clarification. Thanks in advance.

21. Wouldn't the infinite chain of sticks pushing the stone be an A-series, since the causality of each member in the series is of the same "nature and order"? (their ordering just happens to be spatially accidental, rather than temporally so) - in which case this wouldn't be an apposite example (per impossibile) for Scotus of an infinitely regressing E-series.

22. Hi Credo in Unum Deum

What I mean by a “linear” order is one that can be written in one line, like the order produced by “taller than”. Roy is taller than Jeff who is taller than Cheryl, etc. “Is a colleague of” is not linear in this sense: if Roy is a colleague of Jeff then Jeff is a colleague of Roy. (This is what I meant by “symmetric”: if the relation goes from A to B it also goes from B to A).

The significance is, if the order is linear, then it must either be infinite or have a first (and last) term. “Roy, Jeff and Cheryl” is finite and, so, has a first term in the order of “taller than” (Roy) and a last term (Cheryl). There is, though, no first term in the order of “is a colleague of” and no last term in the infinite series “is one smaller than”.

A-series tend to be ordered in time and, as “later than” produces a linear order, then if the series is not infinite then there is a first and last term. But it can be argued (and pre discovery of the Big Bang was commonly argued) that the series of causes extends infinitely into the past. The infinity of an essentially ordered series is much harder to argue and, so, it looks like there must be a first term.

This, though, is not the case if the E-series isn’t linear (as in the examples I gave).
Of course, as Brandon says, an E-series may be defined in such a way as to ensure a linear order. But that just means we have a third class of causal orders (let’s call them J-orders), and haven’t got very far. What we think is an E-order may actually be a J-order. Or we may have found an E-order that terminates in a J-order.

23. This, though, is not the case if the E-series isn’t linear (as in the examples I gave).

Of the examples you gave, we have what's just relational (Taller than, colleague of), and causal (the moon pulls the earth and the earth pulls the moon). Only the causal looks relevant.

Say the earth pulls the moon. We still go down the causal series, onto a first cause. It doesn't really matter that the moon is also pulling the earth, as that series will go down the same route as well.

24. But that just means we have a third class of causal orders (let’s call them J-orders), and haven’t got very far.

But it's an essential part of any standard Aristotelian account of causation that there are multiple ways in which cause and effect can be related to each other, and thus it's not as if one could ultimately skip the step of how the causal orders are related, anyway.

I'm not sure what it would mean for a regress of causes to terminate 'in a causal order' rather than in a cause. Reciprocal causation of the sort you have in mind has been since Aristotle himself regarded as a derivative kind of causation; Aristotle's own particular reason for thinking this was his argument that, in addition to what is essentially required for causation (act and potential), it requires some notion of extensive contact to make it so that the act of A actualize the potential of B and the act of B to actualize the potential of A are linked simultaneously. The gravitational example shows that a crude notion of contact won't do; but it still shows that Aristotle was right that 'J-orders' are more complicated fish than 'E-orders' -- in the gravitational example, for instance, we'd need the notion of a field, or something similar, to make any sense of it as causation.

25. to make it so that the act of A actualize the potential of B and the act of B to actualize the potential of A are linked simultaneously

Sorry, the above should be: to make it so that the act of A to actualize the potential of B

26. @Tony Loyd:

Just adding briefly to previous comments.

An essential causal series is one in which each element's causal powers are derived from or "passed along" by a (logically) previous member. In your example, the Earth's causal power to pull the moon isn't derived from the moon.

27. @Tony Lloyd:

Sorry I misspelled your name in my previous post!

The infinity of an essentially ordered series is much harder to argue and, so, it looks like there must be a first term.k

Depending on just what you mean here, I think this may get the order of the argument the wrong way around. The claim at issue, as I understand it, is not that an essentially ordered causal series can't extend backwards to infinity and therefore must have a primary cause. It's that such a series, by nature, must have a primary cause in order to account for the derived causal powers of its members, and therefore can't (simply) extend backwards to infinity.

28. Tony Lloyd,

Your example of a stick moving a stone (and the stone moving the stick) in space due to their gravity is a good illustration of how E-series pop up everywhere. For your stick to be capable of moving said stone "all by itself," it has to have gravity. But for its gravity to be active, the stick requires mass. For mass to be active requires Higgs boson. So you still have a sequence exactly what Scholastics are talking about. Instead of:

Stone <--pushed by-- stick <--pushed by-- hand

..you have:

Stone <--pushed by-- stick <--pushed by-- gravity <--pushed by-- mass <--pushed by <-Higgs

...with the word "pushing" being something more like "actualize."

So again we are moving to more and more fundamental aspects of reality, and must bottom out in the realest aspect of reality. I.e. something purely actual.

29. @Martin

"So again we are moving to more and more fundamental aspects of reality, and must bottom out in the realest aspect of reality. I.e. something purely actual."

You are right that this is a series of increasing fundamentallity, but it's not at all clear to me that this sequence in partical physics is a proper case of what you're claiming. For, is a Higgs *more* actual than mass?

Also, and maybe this is a Feser question, but is the distinction between actuality and potentially quantitative? Is God most actual in the sense that God has the most units of act? If not what exactly does it mean to claim that something is more actual than another? It seems odd to use the metaphor of "borrowing" or "deriving" actuality from God, since that too might suggest a quantitative relationship- I take away some actuality from the pool of actuality that is god. For if the relationship is quantitative then it looks to me like an infinite progression would appear again, except not on the level of time.

I fear that we can't think like moderns, where we treat everything as if it were on the same level and ultimately exchangeable and flexible with everything else at some basic level (as energy or most basic particle or what have you) and also think like ancients, where things are thought to proceed in true hierarchy.

30. @iwpoe

>For, is a Higgs *more* actual than mass?

There is nothing in the argument that requires each element in an E-series to be of increasing actuality. Just that things that are potencies being actualized imply the existence of something purely actual. In fact, for Scholastics, macro objects composed of particles are just as real as particles, because the particles that compose their bodies are only present virtually rather than actually. Lest Scholastic metaphysics just be another form of atomism (e.g. giraffes aren't really real; they are just collections of atoms), which it isn't.

> Is God most actual in the sense that God has the most units of act?

Since "act" just means "exists," the question doesn't really make any sense. There aren't "units of exists."

> If not what exactly does it mean to claim that something is more actual than another?

I think one reason has to do with the different types of soul. Plants have a nutritive soul. Animals have nutritive + sensory soul. Humans have nutritive + sensory + intellective soul. Etc. Another reason has to do with how constrained by matter something is, since matter is in potency. So an intellectual being is partially free of matter, and God, being maxed out in intellect, is completely free of matter and therefore purely actual.

>I fear that we can't think like moderns, where we treat everything as if it were on the same level and ultimately exchangeable and flexible with everything else at some basic level (as energy or most basic particle or what have you) and also think like ancients, where things are thought to proceed in true hierarchy.

I believe these would be two different and incompatible positions. Namely atomism or materialism, and Scholasticim. So naturally you wouldn't be able to think like both, since both are incompatible with each other.

31. "There is nothing in the argument that requires each element in an E-series to be of increasing actuality."
Perhaps not - provided you aren't forgetting the principle of proportionate causality: that the perfections of an effect must be found/contained "in" its total cause (whether formally, virtually, or eminently).

32. Back to Scotus, and his argument. I should add a clarification to my criticism of Feser for saying Scotus allows (for the sake of argument) an infinite E-series. Scotus never admits the possibility of an infinite E-series, though by 'allow', Feser may have been saying that Scotus makes a per impossibile argument. He does that quite a bit (as do the Scholastics in general, I think). Later in the argument under discussion, Scotus says that, per impossibile, a non-existence thing could bring about its own existence then it cannot be first because it is brought about by something. But he's just poking fun I think and none of it can be taking very far... so with coming up with J-series from Scotus saying that such and such impossible scenario would bring about such and such ridiculous and equally impossible and absurd consequences which itself would still need some kind of weird first cause.

33. "There is nothing in the argument that requires each element in an E-series to be of increasing actuality."
Only the first cause (though not necessarily only the first cause, I think) must be a higher, or more perfect, cause-- an equivocal cause.
In discussing the three differences between A-series and E-series, Scotus says:
The second difference is that in per se ordered causes [E-series] there is causality of a second nature and a second order, because the superior cause is more perfect, but this is not the case in accidentally ordered causes [A-series]; and this difference follows from the first, for no cause essentially depends for its causing on a cause of the same nature, because in the causing of something one thing of one nature is enough.

34. @ Martin

"There is nothing in the argument that requires each element in an E-series to be of increasing actuality."

That's fine, but I was (and still am) struggling with how to understand what it means to say "we are moving to more and more fundamental aspects of reality" with respect to the series you gave. You've shown an e-series, but what about the series *implies* that we're moving to "something purely actual"? For it is not a series ordered with respect to increasing actuality. I you gave me an asymptotic series- 2.9, 2.99, 2.999, 2.9999, ... -I can see how it would be implied that that series bottoms out in 3, but if you told me that this series bottoms out in the reality of number itself or in God, I would understand how these might be understood as more fundamental, but I wouldn't understand the relation of the *structure of the series* to those. So too, I don't understand how Stone, stick, gravity, mass, Higgs... to what is most actual. They may well be founded on what is most actual, but I don't see how the series points that way.

Or, if it *is* ordered with respect to increasing actuality- and I think you mean to deny that -I'm having a hard time understanding what that means.

"Since "act" just means "exists," the question doesn't really make any sense. There aren't "units of exists."

Well, I'm not sure that prime mater, or pure potency, is the same as 'not anything at all', but that's rather far afield for the present discussion. The point was that I don't think a quantitative understanding of act makes sense (and by asking about 'units of act' I meant to point this out), but I'm also having a hard time understanding what I means to say that something is "most actual" or "most existant" except to claim that 'A has more actuality than B, which has less, as 3 > 2'.

"So naturally you wouldn't be able to think like both, since both are incompatible with each other."

Yes, but what to do? For the Higgs e-series is really thought of as fundamental in the sense of moving towards that in which everything is exchangeable while whatever e-series progresses to God is thought of in the order of *rank*. They seem rather as opposed examples than compatible ones.

35. They may well be founded on what is most actual, but I don't see how the series points that way.

I think what's relevant here is simply the knowledge that the series must have an end, and what could possibly end the series. The "amount" of potentiality in other members isn't a concern.

but I'm also having a hard time understanding what I means to say that something is "most actual" or "most existant" except to claim that 'A has more actuality than B, which has less, as 3 > 2'.

It's not a question of having more actuality so much as lacking potentiality, which is not a numeric difference but a kind difference.

36. @ Anon

"I think what's relevant here is simply the knowledge that the series must have an end, and what could possibly end the series. The "amount" of potentiality in other members isn't a concern."

That's the cosmological argument from the principal of sufficient reason, which is one way of having the argument, but it is a *different* argument.

"It's not a question of having more actuality so much as lacking potentiality, which is not a numeric difference but a kind difference."

Just so. But what *kind* of difference? And how do we account for that *such that* the cosmological argument founded upon moving to what is most actual makes sense?

Are potencies numerical additions to the actuality everything has? Then you've got a quantitative move of a different sort. You move to god by way of subtraction of potency. But I'm not sure that makes much sense, since it would mean that we are all just as actual as God but we have some additional potency things hanging off us like sand bags.

Are potencies some kind of limit to our actuality? Then you *do* have a numerical difference of degree.

That's where I'm stuck right now, mainly because starting a systematic metaphysics from the distinction between act and potency is new to me.

37. Those who haven't already seen it may find this lecture helpful.

38. Textual support for Feser's posit that Scotus just doesn't mean "first" the way Cross takes him to mean it can be found in the first two chapters of De Primo Principio as well as his use of "simply first" when referring to God in the conclusion to be argued for in the Ordinatio,De Primo and Reportatio. Feser isn't just making up the distinctions/nuances or 'first' to save Scotus and the other Medievals. It's pretty clear. I am surprised Cross somehow missed this.

39. "Is God most actual in the sense that God has the most units of act?"

No, God has one unit of act which is a formal unity and not an element. His act is the absolute cause of all other acts and the very possibility of any other act is absolutely subordinated to this Pure Act. This act is in itself singular and absolutely possible. In relation to all other acts it is called universal and necessary. Any other act is a particular manifestation of this one universal act positioned according to its degree of subordination, specific nature and material com-position.

There are only degrees of contraction. God is infinite and uncontracted. Finite things are all contracted, restricted and under privation. The stars endure while earthly things perish and what is beyond the stars is even beyond endurance. The whole endures while its parts are destroyed: Here are some parts; there is whole; here is the Whole Itself which creates its own parts.

Higgs particles don't actualize anything. Such things are actualized by the stars i.e. by position relative to the Sun. The Sun acts and the atomic structures are constituted, but the atomic structures only constitute a thing incidentally. The more one analyzes the materials of bodies then the more one does delve into potentiality. Atoms don't come together and form anything through their own act. Of their nature, atoms don't cause anything outside of what is proper for them. The actions of atoms are just lower levels of action contained in one process of action. Earthen things are actualized according to celestial orders and only incidentally according to whatever else is actualized in terms of the extensive contents of bodies. Lastly, the intensive content of any body is according to time.

40. @ Anon

Thank you for replying. I am legitimately trying to come to terms with ancient metaphysics at this fundamental level, and this is the first time in a long time I've had to force myself to struggle this much over some philosophical concepts. I was never uncomfortable with Platonic texts, but I was never this systematic either.

"God has one unit of act which is a formal unity and not an element. His act is the absolute cause of all other acts and the very possibility of any other act is absolutely subordinated to this Pure Act."

Clear, mostly, but I'm unsure of the sense of 'pure' being used, and while I'm vaguely aware of the idea of God's "formal unity", do you think you can give a gloss?

"This act is in itself singular and absolutely possible."

Not clear. I understood possibility to be in some sense opposed to actuality, and thus I understood God to have, in himself, no potency. Was I incorrect? If so, why?

"In relation to all other acts it is called universal and necessary."

Clear.

"Any other act is a particular manifestation of this one universal act positioned according to its degree of subordination, specific nature and material com-position."

Somewhat clear, though I'm not sure how I'm to take "manifestation" here. Are we literally all God's act? If so, in what sense?

"There are only degrees of contraction. God is infinite and uncontracted. Finite things are all contracted, restricted and under privation."

I'm not sure what you mean. But one often says things like the following in mathematics:

"The set of all numbers is infinite and greater than the set of all even numbers, which is also infinite."

The idea of smaller and larger infinities does not seem prima facia inadmissible, so I'm not sure if that contradicts your implicit claim that the uncontracted cannot be possessing of degree.

"The stars endure while earthly things perish and what is beyond the stars is even beyond endurance. The whole endures while its parts are destroyed: Here are some parts; there is whole; here is the Whole Itself which creates its own parts."

The Whole in the sense of God? All wholes?

I'm not sure that we're *parts* of God. And I don't think wholes endure the loss of their parts- or at least not all wholes.

"Higgs particles don't actualize anything. Such things are actualized by the stars i.e. by position relative to the Sun. The Sun acts and the atomic structures are constituted, but the atomic structures only constitute a thing incidentally. The more one analyzes the materials of bodies then the more one does delve into potentiality. Atoms don't come together and form anything through their own act. Of their nature, atoms don't cause anything outside of what is proper for them. The actions of atoms are just lower levels of action contained in one process of action. Earthen things are actualized according to celestial orders and only incidentally according to whatever else is actualized in terms of the extensive contents of bodies. Lastly, the intensive content of any body is according to time."

Lost me. I'm not sure what you're telling me at all.

41. You're being erroneously particular, but I suppose you're looking for certainty. 'Manifestation' means that a thief has been grabbed by hand of course.

I think we would have to start with the most ancient distinction between facts and principles and we would also have to ignore current notions about 'infinity' in mathematics for the time being.

Let me ask you, how familiar are you with legal codes? Latin, Greek and even Sanskrit. These distinctions are very important and you will see them everywhere using various terms which can be rendered:

1. Principle and fact.
2. Person and associate.
3. Whole and part.
4. Concept and percept.
5. Form and matter.
6. Mind and body.

And so on. All of these are to be considered distinctions and not 'problems' as the late moderns like to have it.

For example, when Plato refers to the soul as a 'moving number' he is referring to number qualitatively and not quantitatively; not even as 'abstract quantity'. Which is to say that the term 'number' is synonymous with the term 'principle' i.e. it's transumptive. Insofar as numbers and their relations are absolutely certain in themselves (certum in elegant latin means that a thing is its definition such that the relation of the definition to an object does not fall under question even if some property of the independent object seems to warrant doubt in the relationship; this is why legal certainty is also called 'harsh' since no special respect is granted to persons if they are objectified through pure certainty i.e. without equity) and universally applicable with respect to facts which are objects under law.

So, the soul is a principle and a subject to superior orders of principles (hence 'moving'), but also possessing its own material facts ('material', 'fact' and 'object' are all more or less synonymous) which it objectifies. If the soul is called a 'persona' then it is called this because it is a mask i.e. it represents principles and thus it is present to inferior entities as a mover (hence the social relationship between a legal person and an associate who is said to be moved and can only possess personality through participation in a person). Principles are 'movers' i.e. causes. Sadly, the concept of 'cause' is not understood by most people especially those who only know of techno-science. 'Act' also means 'cause' in its pure sense. Although facts may be said to be actual, it is the actuality of principles which is prior and causal. Factual actuality is made i.e. effected.

Now, Pseudo-Denys says that 'hierarchy is a state of soul' to signify the soul's microcosmic nature. The spiritual order of the soul's interior life is convertible with the spiritual order of the cosmos which is a very ancient principle of the most ancient and anonymous aristocratic jurists. This is why Aristotle speaks of 'natural slaves' having no object i.e. they don't understand this convertibility and thus can only ever be associates of a personality. The 'natural slave' has no personality and so must seek a representative in order to receive principles in the form of commands. What Aristotle means by 'natural slave' is of course misunderstood by late modern readers who tend to be too affective as it is, but also overly particular in their thinking and thus incapable of properly interpreting many and diverse texts.

Look at Nicholas Cusanus' discussion of certain issues especially in 'De Docta Ignoranta' i.e. about contraction.

As for timeless erudition there are some burning stars who will never set: Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, Georges Dumezil, Werner Jaeger, etc. However, try to attach yourself to primary texts as well because outside of a handful of trustworthy names many scholars are filled with conceits.

42. Iwpoe,

I know you asked Anonymous, but hopefully they don't mind if I but in with a couple replies:

I'm not sure what you mean. But one often says things like the following in mathematics:

"The set of all numbers is infinite and greater than the set of all even numbers, which is also infinite."

The scholastics draw a distinction between Infinite or infinite-in-all-respects, and infinitum secundum quid or infinite-in-a-respect. Consider the example of a line in Euclidean geometry. The line is finite in breadth or width, but infinite in length. So, the scholastics would say the line is (and various kinds of infinite sets are) infinite-in-a-respect or infinitum secundum quid, but not Infinite (because the line is still infinite in some respect; it still has finite breadth.) For the scholastics, only God is Infinite or infinite-in-every-respect. Anonymous means Infinite, not the mathematical infinitum secundum quid.

Clear, mostly, but I'm unsure of the sense of 'pure' being used, and while I'm vaguely aware of the idea of God's "formal unity", do you think you can give a gloss?

When a potency is reduced to act, that which is actualized doesn't go from non-being to being. It goes from one kind of being, being-in-potency, to another kind of being, being-in-act (ie. a log that has the potential to be hot is made actually hot by a fire). In God's case, classical theists say God is "only" (pure) being-in-act, without potencies.

Not clear. I understood possibility to be in some sense opposed to actuality, and thus I understood God to have, in himself, no potency. Was I incorrect? If so, why?

Possibility and potency are distinct concepts. Consider an ice cube on some planet no living entity will ever go near. The ice cube has the potentiality to be melted, but it's declared by divine fiat that the ice cube will never be melted – space is dead, and cold, so the ice cube will never be in circumstances where it would melt. So, it's impossible for the ice cube to be melted even though it has the potentiality to be melted.

Most theists would hold that God is the ontological ground of all possibility; if x is possible, x is possible in virtue of (not-contradicting) the divine nature. Though, Anonymous may just be saying that Being Itself is necessary. There are a few different senses of possible at play at the cross-section of contemporary and classical philosophy.

---

But maybe this is the wrong approach. If you had to summarize the heart of your confusion, what would you write?

43. (s/b): "[...] because the line is still [finite] in some respect; it still has finite breadth."

44. It may be too late to receive any answers to this comment but I will post it anyway in the hope that someone will still be monitoring this thread.
I am still struggling with the idea that "God lacks potency" when that statement ignores the distinction between active and passive potency. It almost never comes up in discussions like these but God, as Aquinas and Feser agree, only lacks passive potency - in that he has no potency the must be actualized by another - but is supreme in active potency - in that he can do all possible things. Here is where I lose it: the term "pure actuality" implies to me that God would have to always be doing all possible things. But God is not always doing all possible things, he is in potency towards those things he is not doing. Thus, to my mind, God is not pure act, but rather is something more like "pure active potency" in that he is filled with potency that only he can activate. I'm not sure how that jibes with Aristotelian/Scholastic thought since it implies a mixture of actuality and potency, but I can't logically find an alternative.

45. @Daniel Smith:

I'm not a huge fan of the term "active potency," at least as applied to God. Aquinas, if I'm not mistaken, adopted it from Aristotle's Metaphysics, where its meaning is clear enough: an active potency is a power to cause a change in something else, as contrasted with a passive potency, which is a power to be acted upon by something else. But if there was ever a term that applied to God only analogically, this is it.

God doesn't have one "power to create a unicorn" as distinct from a "power to create a rhinoceros" and another "power to create a rabbit." He has a power to create, full stop, which is identical with His intellect, which is identical with His will, and so on. In exercising His power to create (which He is eternally doing), He is exercising his "power to create a unicorn," by creating a world in which there aren't any—just as surely as He's exercising His "power to create a rhinoceros" and His "power to create a rabbit" (by creating a world in which these animals do exist). It's all one power (will) (intellect) (etc.). Or so it seems to me.

Any talk of "active potency" here seems to me to be "analogical" to the point of uselessness. The divine intellect is simple despite the multiplicity of its objects; likewise the divine power to create.

46. Hi Scott,

I don't think active potency can be used analogically at all. Active potency is power and God, being omni-potent, has unlimited power. To say that he has power 'analogically' seems odd to me.

As for the distinction I made: To my mind, God is not exercising all of his power all of the time, so he would not be in 'pure act'. But you seem to be saying that he is actually exercising all of his power - because he's not. IOW, by not doing everything that is possible, God is exercising his power to do everything that is possible - just in positive and negative directions. It's a bit of a stretch for me but I can see how that would make everything fit nicely with God being 'pure act'.

47. All of God's power is contained in one act. He acts towards all objects in one act. All of those objects are formal and flow from God's own subjectivity, His 'aseity'. There are no objects which God had to actualize due to some external condition. God is unconditioned, Omni-potestas; no restriction is upon His powers and therefore there is no choice, no disjunctive, between potencies to be actualized; therefore there is only one act which contains all potential and actualizes it. God is an unrestricted act of power. This is the meaning of the term 'pure act': Unrestricted causality of the highest order i.e. there is not a higher principle to determine the causal identity or end of this act. Conceive of a Law which is its own author and creates its own objects to be ordered. None of these objects are ordered for the sake of other objects i.e. none of these objects are 'material' but are all formal objectives expressing finality. God acts only towards His end without any deviation whatsoever. His end is to create entities through grace and freedom i.e. a gratuitous pouring-forth and emanating of all which is to be or will be.

All confusion arises from not distinguishing between time and eternity. God is, was and has always been doing everything which is possible; you just don't perceive it or comprehend it. You're not allowed to. That's not in your potestas. God operates in a domain which is incomparable. This is the absoluteness of God's causality i.e. 'Pure Act'.

48. @Daniel Smith:

To my mind, God is not exercising all of his power all of the time, so he would not be in 'pure act'.

As Anon says, all of God's power is contained in one act. God doesn't do some things at some times and other things at other times; in one single eternal act He makes all of time "at once." God creates an acorn in 1995 and an oak tree in 2015 does not mean that, in 1995, God creates an acorn and then, in 2015, God creates an oak tree. He creates the entire process, time and all, eternally.

But you seem to be saying that he is actually exercising all of his power - because he's not. IOW, by not doing everything that is possible, God is exercising his power to do everything that is possible - just in positive and negative directions.

Only as a way of getting the point across. That point is that, just as God's intellect is simple even though it has many different objects, so is His creative power simple even though it results in the creation/not-creation of many different objects. It's one power, eternally exercised and eternally in act. God doesn't have a separate "power to create unicorns" that He refrains from exercising and that therefore somehow remains in potency whenever there aren't any unicorns.

49. I am still on the page 93 of Edward Feser’s "The Last Superstition" and unable to understand why the essentially ordered series imply existence of the first unmoved/unmoving mover.

Feser writes:
“ …they are series in which each member depends simultaneously on other members which simultaneously depend in turn on yet others, and so on. In these sort of series the later members have no independent causal powers of their own, being mere instruments of a first member. Hence if there were no first member such series would not exist at all. If the last member of such series does in fact exist, then…the series cannot even in theory, go back indefinitely: there must be a first member.”

The problem I have with the above is that if each member exists simultaneously then in what sense there can be a lateror earlier member? In what sense one member precedes, or follows, the other?
Feser continues: “if there were no first member such series would not exist at all. If the last member of such series does in fact exist, then…the series cannot even in theory, go back indefinitely: there must be a first member.”
But I can not help but to think this is begging the question.
Really, why can not they “go back” infinitely?

Can anyone try explain it to me?

On the face of it the claim that a thing A can only change into thing A1 if it is acted upon by thing B seems plausible. But as I believe that all that exist is interconnected then the change in A resulting in its transformation into A1 is brought about not by B only, but by the totality of everything which is not A, (or the rest of universe less the A). I could write A=f(not-A)

But the “not-A” totality can not affect A without itself changing. If so can one not justifiably claim that the change of A into A1 is what brought about the change of (not-A) into (not-A)1? Or (not-A)=f(A)?

I think of a perfectly closed system (a universe for example) consisting of only three entities X,Y and Z. Let’s for the sake of simplicity assume that the only change they can undergo is the change in position (in relation to each other). Now let these “particles” be in perpetual motion causing them to collide with each other. I think there would be no way to tell which one causes the other(s) to change the path.

Let’s look at X (for example) and one shall see that its position is changed due to the effect of Y’s and Z’s change of position, which of course must have been caused by X’s change of position. And so on forever. But isn’t it the obvious case of infinite regress? To assert that something /someone must have given an initial jolt to X, Y or Z or all of them is to beg the question. Isn’t it? If so, why not?

50. The problem I have with the above is that if each member exists simultaneously then in what sense there can be a later or earlier member? In what sense one member precedes, or follows, the other?

In logical order. You might think of a sequence of natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4,…. They exist all at once, but there's a clear sense in which each element of the sequence has a logical "successor."

Let’s look at X (for example) and one shall see that its position is changed due to the effect of Y’s and Z’s change of position, which of course must have been caused by X’s change of position. And so on forever. But isn’t it the obvious case of infinite regress?

There's actually nothing contrary to the argument in there being a series of causes that go in a circle. But it's still the case that, if the series is essentially ordered (i.e. each element receives its causal power from its logical predecessor), then in order for it to be in "motion" at all, something somewhere had to initiate the motion. In a circular series, every element is just passing along what it's received, so (just as in a linear series) there must be a prime mover outside the series that imparts the motion that the elements of the series are just passing around to one another.

51. Sorry, I should also have given an explicit answer to this:

Really, why can not they “go back” infinitely?

As a matter of fact they can, as long as there's a prime mover outside the series. It's just that the backward-infinite series by itself can't be the whole story; otherwise the causal power being passed along wouldn't have a source. The source can (and must) be outside the series, imparting causal power to the whole thing.

Once that's understood, the series can extend infinitely in either direction, go in circles, do loop-the-loops, or whatever. It just can't account, all by itself, for the causal power each element transmits to the next. That requires a prime mover—if anything, even more obviously when the series is circular or backward-infinite.

52. Thanks Anon and Scott,

I realize that my objections about act and potency only apply 'within time' and that God exists 'outside time'. Perhaps it's truly not in my 'potestas' to understand these things!

53. @Daniel Smith:

I realize that my objections about act and potency only apply 'within time' and that God exists 'outside time'.

Good. Equally important, though, I think, is that you're implicitly thinking of the divine creative power as "divided" according to individual objects.

It's crucial to understand that, eternal or otherwise, the divine creative power (and act) is one power (and act), not carved up into separate powers that may or may not be exercised. That's why, when God doesn't create unicorns, He doesn't have an active potency (a "power to create unicorns") that He doesn't happen to be actualizing. He has a power to create, period, and it's identical with His intellect, His will, and so forth—each of which is also simple despite the multiplicity of its objects.

54. @ Scott:

”In logical order. You might think of a sequence of natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4,…. They exist all at once, but there's a clear sense in which each element of the sequence has a logical "successor."

I don’t see the order as logical, or illogical. Yes there is an order in natural numbers, but this order is maintained by applying the “greater than x” and “smaller than x” ordering principle - for every natural number x.
Of course, one can say that the stick is nearer the stone than the hand (which moves the stick), but this is not established by logic, but observation.
I think I can find an example where an element of an order which is spatially next to the last element of an order is “logically” (in the sense you are using it) remote from it.

”There's actually nothing contrary to the argument in there being a series of causes that go in a circle. But it's still the case that, if the series is essentially ordered (i.e. each element receives its causal power from its logical predecessor), then in order for it to be in "motion" at all, something somewhere had to initiate the motion. In a circular series, every element is just passing along what it's received, so (just as in a linear series) there must be a prime mover outside the series that imparts the motion that the elements of the series are just passing around to one another.

Actually I didn’t intend to demonstrate possibility of circular path for a cause, but to suggest that, just like in my “three particle universe”, every element of our world partakes in a change of every other element. In fact there is no way to say which element (X,Y, Z) is “carrying” a cause and which “responds” with effect. There is no way to distinguish between them (cause and effect) unless we arbitrarily select the X, or Y, or Z particle to be a last element and by doing so we define a particular process, or change. Only then talking about “predecessors” makes sense. I think the same occurs in the real universe.

”As a matter of fact they can, as long as there's a prime mover outside the series. It's just that the backward-infinite series by itself can't be the whole story; otherwise the causal power being passed along wouldn't have a source. The source can (and must) be outside the series, imparting causal power to the whole thing.

But why assume a source? The infinite regress makes source to regress with it thus freeing us from obligation to find to it a permanent place.

”Once that's understood, the series can extend infinitely in either direction, go in circles, do loop-the-loops, or whatever. It just can't account, all by itself, for the causal power each element transmits to the next. That requires a prime mover—if anything, even more obviously when the series is circular or backward-infinite.

But the essential series as I understand them are not series in the usual understanding of the word. They are not a line, open or circular, of events ending in some final event we happen to pick up for whatever reason. Rather, since everything in the world is connected, the essential series are series of different states of the universe involving every element of it. Each element “is made” of the rest of the world “less itself” like mirrors endlessly reflecting each other. endlessly. And each element can be regarded as “last”, or an effect of the interaction of all other elements. . In this sense our universe is truly infinite and being such needs no explanation (like a prime mover) for its features and qualities outside of itself.

English is not my first language so it isn’t very easy for me to express myself precisely on such complex and subtle subject. Perhaps I should follow rather than contribute to discussion.

In any case, thank you Scott for your kindly replying to me.

55. @Scott,

You know, I understand what you're saying but it's counter-intuitive to me. I've never really accepted divine simplicity for that reason.

56. I just have one question that I'd appreciate someone answering. I generally understand the argument from motion as Feser phrases it, in that it relies upon the idea that a thing in observation could be one thing or could be another, and that the argument of change operates with this assumption (that a thing possesses potential to be something else). I could be dead wrong with this understanding which is why I'm asking about it, but assuming I'm right, how do we know that all that is, in all of its forms, could be anything other than what it all is? On a quantum level, how do we know that the things that 'become' could be anything other than what they are? In other words, is it not assumed by A-T philosophers that these basic forms and substances possessed/possess potential to be anything else?

57. Is God capable of creating an infinite cause-effect chain? If yes this seems to make the assertion that such chains cannot exist false. If no then God isn't omnipotent unless we adjust the meaning of omnipotence.