Friday, March 26, 2021

Tennant on Aquinas’s Second Way

Every now and then I point out examples of professional academic philosophers badly misinterpreting some traditional argument for God’s existence, or mind-body dualism, or a natural law conclusion in ethics, or some other idea that is out of step with the naturalistic zeitgeist.  This is, I think, a useful exercise, because it shows how the conventional wisdom on these matters does not rest on actual knowledge or understanding of the ideas criticized.  It is instead held in place by errors and unexamined prejudices that mainstream academics who do not specialize in these matters tend to repeat back to one another and pass on to each new generation of graduate students, who then enter the profession and also repeat them back to each other and to their own students.  This has, over time, created a general assumption that “everyone knows” that the arguments are no good and not worth investigating further, even though a little effort would show that what “everyone knows” is demonstrably false.

Here’s another example, from Neil Tennant’s book Introducing Philosophy: God, Mind, World, and Logic, which contains a very poor treatment of Aquinas’s Second Way.  I don’t mean to bash Tennant, whose book is otherwise very interesting and who is a prominent and serious philosopher.  He is in no way condescending toward Aquinas’s argument, but simply rehearsing stock objections that he honestly takes to be compelling.  But that’s precisely the point.  The fact that even a thinker of Tennant’s stature can make the sorts of mistakes he does reinforces the point that the confidence with which mainstream academics dismiss such arguments is massively out of proportion to their actual understanding of them.

Here’s how Tennant glosses the Second Way:

[Aquinas] thinks that at the point ‘in’ time ‘at which’ the physical universe came into being, there was an act of creation – an event – involving the Deity… From this alleged initial event – the ‘prime moving’ – flow all causal chains through subsequent time.  Take any of these causal chains.  According to Aquinas, if we follow it back through time, we shall (in an atemporal sense) eventually arrive at a terminus in the past: the act of creation itself.  For Aquinas, there can be no back-tracking infinitely far, without end, into the past, along a causal chain of events. (p. 227)

Readers of my book on Aquinas and longtime readers of this blog will be groaning already.  But let me explain what is wrong with this summary in the course of addressing the four objections Tennant raises against Aquinas – all of which rest on misunderstandings that are obvious to anyone familiar with Aquinas’s general metaphysical views. 

First objection

Tennant’s first objection is directed against these lines from the Second Way:

But the series of efficient causes cannot possibly go back to infinity.  In all such series of causes, a first thing causes one or more intermediaries, and the intermediaries cause the last thing; when a cause is taken out of this series, so is the effect.

Tennant’s response to this is to suggest that Aquinas fails to consider the possibility of “causal over-determination” (p. 227).  He gives the example of an outlaw shot with deadly accuracy by two bounty hunters at the same time.  Even if the first shot to reach him hadn’t occurred, the second shot would still have killed him.  Hence, Tennant concludes, Aquinas is mistaken to suppose that the removal of a cause entails that the effect will not occur.

The problem with this objection is that it overlooks Aquinas’s distinction between causal series ordered per se and causal series ordered per accidens (sometimes described by later writers as the distinction between hierarchical and linear series of causes), and wrongly assumes that it is the latter sort of series that Aquinas has in mind in the Second Way.  A linear or per accidens causal series characteristically extends over time and is made up of members each of which has independent or built-in causal power.  One of the examples Aquinas gives is that of a father who begets a son who in turn begets another (Summa Theologiae I.46.2).  If the first member dies, the series can still carry on, because the son retains power to beget a son of his own whether or not his own father is still in the picture. 

Indeed, in many per accidens or linear series of causes, it is not even necessary that some particular preceding cause have been the one that produced the later effect.  Aquinas gives, in the passage just cited, the example of “an artificer [who] acts by means of many hammers accidentally, because one after the other may be broken.  It is accidental, therefore, that one particular hammer acts after the action of another.”  That the artificer used some particular hammer to produce the effect is “accidental” or non-essential to the continuance of the series, because some other hammer could have done just as well.  In other words, Aquinas himself makes more or less the same point Tennant does: In causal series ordered per accidens, the same effect could arise via alternative causal pathways.

The reason this acknowledgement is not fatal to the Second Way is that that argument is not talking about causal series ordered per accidens in the first place, but rather about causal series ordered per se.  Now, in a per se or hierarchical series of causes, the members are typically acting simultaneously rather than over time, and that is because the members other than the first have only derivative or borrowed causal power rather than built-in causal power.  Aquinas’s example in the passage from the Summa just cited is that of a stone which is moved by a stick which is moved by a hand.  The causes and effects in this series are simultaneous.  The stone is being moved by the stick at the same moment that the stick is in turn moved by the hand.  More to the point, the stick moves the stone only insofar as it is itself being moved by the hand, for the stick has no independent or built-in causal power.  It has causal power only qua instrument of the hand.

Now, the difference between the “later” causes in a per se or hierarchical series and the “first” cause of the series has nothing essentially to do with order in time and nothing essentially to do with numerical order either.  Rather, it is the difference between that which has only derivative, borrowed, or secondary causal power and that which has intrinsic, built-in, or primary causal power.  It is the difference between an instrument and that which acts through the instrument.  When, in various places, Aquinas rules out an infinite regress of causes ordered per se or hierarchically, what he is talking about is the impossibility of there being a series of causes having merely instrumental or derivative causal power without there also being something with built-in causal power which acts through the instrumental causes.  For example, he writes:

That which moves as an instrumental cause cannot move unless there be a principal moving cause.  But, if we proceed to infinity among movers and things moved, all movers will be as instrumental causes, because they will be moved movers and there will be nothing as a principal mover.  Therefore, nothing will be moved.  (Summa Contra Gentiles I.13.15)

Similarly, elsewhere he says:

For everything that is moved by another is a sort of instrument of the first mover.  Therefore, if a first mover is lacking, all things that move will be instruments.  But if the series of movers and things moved is infinite, there can be no first mover.  In such a case, these infinitely many movers and things moved will all be instruments.  But even the unlearned perceive how ridiculous it is to suppose that instruments are moved, unless they are set in motion by some principal agent.  This would be like fancying that, when a chest or a bed is being built, the saw or the hatchet performs its functions without the carpenter. (Compendium Theologiae I.3)

Now, this is what Aquinas is talking about in the lines from the Second Way that Tennant is responding to.  When he says there that if you remove the first cause or the intermediaries, the effect will not follow, he is not denying that in a temporal regress of causes ordered per accidens, some other cause might have produced the same effect.  He isn’t even talking about that sort of series at all.  Rather, he is saying that in the kind of series where every member other than the first acts merely as an instrument, the effect will not follow if the first cause or intermediate instruments are removed.  For example, the stone won’t be moved by the stick if the hand isn’t using the stick to move it. 

(Of course, some other stick or some other person could have moved the stone, but that’s irrelevant to Aquinas’s point.  His point is that, whichever stick and whoever’s hand we’re talking about, when someone uses a stick to move a stone, the stick acts only instrumentally rather than with built-in causal power.  Hence, if you remove anything which might act through the stick in order to push the stone, the stick won’t push it.)

Second objection

Tennant next claims that “Aquinas’s central inference has the form: Every event has a (distinct) cause; therefore, Some event caused all (other) events” (p. 228).  He then objects that Aquinas is here guilty of a quantifier-switch fallacy.  (This is the sort of fallacy committed, for example, by someone who reasons that if every reader of this blog is reading it on a computer, it follows that there is some one computer they are all reading it on.)

Now, Tennant does not pretend to be quoting Aquinas here – which, of course, he couldn’t be, since Aquinas never actually explicitly says what Tennant attributes to him.  But neither does Aquinas implicitly say any such thing, and once again, Tennant is misled because he is evidently unfamiliar with Aquinas’s metaphysics of causality, which forms the crucial background context for the Five Ways.  For again, when Aquinas reasons to a first cause, what he is doing is pointing out that something can’t serve as an instrument unless there is some non-instrumental cause acting through it.  Fallacious quantifier-switch style reasoning has nothing at all to do with that.

Now, someone might claim that Aquinas must still be committing such a fallacy in supposing that there is only one such non-instrumental or primary cause operating through all the instrumental or secondary causes.  But to raise such an objection would show only that one hasn’t actually read Aquinas beyond the brief excerpt from the Summa that contains the Five Ways.  For that there is only one ultimate first cause is not something Aquinas is claiming in the first place to have established in the Second Way.  He addresses that question later, in Summa Theologiae I.11.3 (and says a lot about it elsewhere too). 

Third objection

Even more egregious is this remark from Tennant:

[Aquinas] dogmatically rules out the perfectly consistent and imaginable scenario of a class of events extending infinitely far back into the past, without there being any temporally ‘first’ point.  Each event could be caused by a strictly earlier event, while yet no event is initial within the temporal ordering. (pp. 228-9)

In his third objection, Tennant rejects the suggestion that Big Bang cosmology might repair this alleged oversight of Aquinas’s.

Now, what I said in response to Tennant’s first objection already indicates what is wrong with this one, but let’s make the point more explicit.  Tennant is assuming, as so many unwary readers do, that Aquinas is, in the Five Ways, trying to establish that the universe had a temporal beginning and that God was the cause of that beginning.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  For one thing, and to repeat, when Aquinas rules out an infinite regress of causes, he is not talking about temporal regresses, which would involve per accidens or linear causal series.  He is talking about per se or hierarchical causal series the members of which are all operating simultaneously, here and now.  He is saying that there must be a primary or non-instrumental cause operating here and now through the secondary or instrumental causes that are operating here and now.  Whatever one thinks of his position, the issue of whether the universe had a beginning is completely irrelevant to it.

For another thing, Aquinas explicitly rejects in several places any suggestion that it can be proved philosophically that the world had a beginning.  He thinks that that is something we can know only via special divine revelation rather than through natural reason, and thus he consistently avoids getting into the issue when he argues for God’s existence.  For again, to reason causally back to a temporal beginning would be to reason about causal series ordered per accidens or “accidentally,” and when arguing for the existence of God, Aquinas does not appeal to that sort of series.  Indeed, he agrees with Tennant that we can’t prove that such series have a beginning.  Instead, he appeals to per se or hierarchical causal series.

Hence, later in the Summa itself, Aquinas insists that “by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist,” because “it is not impossible to proceed to infinity ‘accidentally’ as regards efficient causes”; for example, “it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity” (Summa Theologiae I.46.2).  He makes the same point in other places, and indeed devoted one of his shorter works to arguing against those who claimed that it could be proved philosophically that the world had a beginning.  In other words, Aquinas firmly, explicitly, and repeatedly acknowledges what Tennant accuses him of “dogmatically” denying!

Fourth objection

Tennant’s final objection is to suggest that Aquinas’s argument would fail even if he were to establish a first efficient cause.  For “why should that be taken, without further ado, to be God, or even simply to be God's doing?  Why shouldn't it simply have happened, in a Godless universe?” (p. 229).

The problem with this objection is that Tennant is simply mistaken in assuming that Aquinas draws this conclusion “without further ado.”  On the contrary, there is much ado about it, beginning precisely in the pages that immediately follow the presentation of the Five Ways in the Summa.  There Aquinas argues at length that a first cause would, on analysis, have to have the divine attributes of simplicity, goodness, perfection, infinity, omnipresence, immutability, eternity, unity, knowledge, power, will, love, and so on.  Indeed, he devotes what in a modern edition comes to about 250 pages of dense argumentation to the topic just in the Summa Theologiae, and he says even more in yet other works.  In short, Aquinas does not simply assume “without further ado” that a first cause would have the attributes definitive of God.  Quite the opposite.

Again, I don’t mean to be too hard on Tennant, specifically.  There is nothing unique about his objections.  On the contrary, variations on them are constantly raised against Aquinas by mainstream academic philosophers and by mainstream academics and intellectuals from other fields (not to mention countless amateurs).  And yet they are all demonstrably based on egregious errors and misunderstandings.  Which, while it tells you nothing about Aquinas, says much about what you should think of mainstream academic and intellectual opinion. 

Related posts:

Clarke on the stock caricature of First Cause arguments

The straw man that will not die

An exchange with Keith Parsons, Part III

This is philosophy?

Warburton on the First Cause argument

The less Rey knows, the less he knows it

Straw men and terracotta armies

So you think you understand the cosmological argument?

225 comments:

  1. From all these i guess that the most embarrasing objection is four. The first three are pretty pathetic for a professional philosopher, because at least they should try to understand Aquinas, but to know what is wrong with the fourth objection you literally only have to look at the summary of the Summa! It is right there at the beggining!

    I mean, come on, don't these guys find that the book having a bunch of chapters with names refering to divine atributes right after the Five Ways a little suspicious?

    (Also, Dr. Feser, here i ask you again: can some posts of yours be translated?)

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  2. What I find baffling is that professional philosophers - who after all, are supposed to be setting the standards for rationality and objectivity - can be so uncharitable in attributing such arguments to luminaries like Aquinas; arguments which any first semester philosophy student could see through. I guess that's the power of prejudice, and chronological snobbery. We just know so much better these days, don't we?

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    1. You evidently have no experience of "first semester philosophy students." They will pretty universally believe whatever you tell them, as long as it doesn't jar their sensibilities.

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    2. @MeridianJoe, you're right. It's mind boggling that those who are supposed to know are clueless what Aquinas was arguing.

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  3. The problem is not in the intellect. When you point out this misunderstanding, they ignore you and shout louder.

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    1. Which professional philosophers do you have in mind TN, or are you just making this up? Sounds like you are bleating to me.

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    2. Exactly, TN. Maintaining shallowness with the same crap decade after decade is the only priority. Even mentioning criteria about the criteria is a political no-no, with a few exceptions that will disappear soon through faculty attrition. The like-y'know's now preen themselves with whatever the latest rhetoric is.

      The implicit "I'm so objective about how you're so subjective" is just about all that's left of academic philosophy. And anyone who disagrees is just that they're a wit supreemaciss raysiss.

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    3. The problem is in the intellect, but it's not something that intellectual arguments alone can fix.

      One of the daughters of lust is blindness of mind. So a soul consistently disordered by lust is not going to be able to intellectually see the wrongness of his views when it comes to God, who (not by "declaring a law" against it, as if he were some very mean internet moderator, but by his nature being opposed to it) is against it.

      This is the same thing with abortion. Women who commit abortion are not evil like serial killers are, but rather the blindness of mind that comes from the reproductive act causes pro-choicers to be unable to see the gravity of their action.

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    4. Machine, that's a really clever avoidance of the dreaded, not-to-be-mentioned term. I like it.

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    5. I've been online almost every waking moment since 1987. Picked that rhetoric up from either Vox's blog or nrx people on youtube. It's all constantly changing though, which is a global populist tactic now, so I'm always having to look things up online and not just the slang dictionaries. BAP's frogs is now (currently) grugs, and on and on. My suspicion is that this will overtake all languages until crypto-aggregators like urbit and k.im become widespread. But at this point they are about as widely known as the real reason why bitcoin is controversial (and no, I won't say).

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  4. I continue to be baffled by the way Aquinas speaks of the first cause as though it is the supreme member of a genus of causes. If the first cause is in a/the genus of causes, then it cannot be God, since God is in no genus - so not all that will be true of the first cause will be true of God, if the first cause is in a genus.

    If the first cause is NOT in a genus of causes, then it's mysterious how it is a cause. It's also mysterious how we can have series of causes if the head term is not a cause. If the head term of a series of causes is not a member of the series, then there is a gap unbridged, because in fact then we have a series of instruments and, to speak metaphorically, "over there" the first cause. Our explanation of how the first cause acts through the series of instruments presumes there isn't a gap, as no gap between hand of artisan and hammer. (This "gap" stuff is metaphor).

    One may appeal to the analogy of being to support a claim that "cause" is predicated analogically of the first cause and of subordinate causes. Two problems here:
    1. one doesn't have a warrant to use the doctrine of analogical predication of names of God in an argument purporting to establish the existence of God.
    2. for a demonstration to go through, terms must have the same sense throughout. If "cause" is not predicated univocally, we don't know that the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. So the Second Way won't succeed in being a demonstration and won't confer certitude.

    That Aquinas accepts that there is a genus of causes is clear in many parts of his corpus. This comment is already long enough, so I can't given many citations. but cf. In II Meta l. 3 C302-305 this whole section treats strings of movers as though each mover in the string is a mover, including the first (e.g. ante omnem secundam causam moventem requiritur prima causa movens, requiritur quod ante omnem causam mediam sit causa prima, quae nullo modo sit media, quasi habens aliam causam ante se, C303). It may be possible still to insist that the first cause is not in a genus with the others, but they are treated as though they all do the work of moving, cf. C301 “in causis efficientibus vel moventibus”, C304 causae moventes… omnes causae”). C305 every moving cause acts: “sicut autem agere attribuitur causae moventi, ita pati attribuitur materiae. Unde processus causarum moventium est in sursum…”


    Whatever does the work of moving, i.e. reduces something from potency to act, is a moving cause. The first cause reduces things from potency to act. How is it not in the genus of moving causes?

    *** Then C307 Aquinas makes it clear that there are genera causarum when he talks about “that genus” i.e. genus of material causes. So there has to be a genus of moving causes. Same follows from talk of genus of final causes, l. 4 C316.

    Then too there is the principle that the first in the order is first in the genus, In V Meta l. 13 C936, C942-943, In Librum de Causis l. 18. Similarly, “in quolibet genere est primum id quod est propter seipsum; quod enim est per se, prius est eo quod est per aliud,” l. 21 (in any genus, the first is that which is for its own sake; for what is per is is prior to that which is per something else). From this by itself it doesn't follow that the first cause is in the genus of causes, but it is a malformed genus that doesn't have a first.

    To say that the first cause is a species of one because it is pure act, while subordinate causes are in other species as being not pure act, seems to provide what Aquinas needs without his having to resort to analogical predication. But then, he couldn't argue later on that God is both the first cause and is in no genus. So I continue to be baffled.

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    1. @ficino:
      What do you think it means to say that "God is not in a genus"?

      I think that's going to be the crux of your confusion. If you have a relevant citation to work with, by all means adduce it and that should help to clear things up. I think it might help to begin with to point out that there are real genera and logical/rational genera and probably your confusion is rooted in not distinguishing the two.

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    2. Ficino,

      If we're talking about the 2nd Way as a summary of the Existential Proof (which Feser does), then there is no "genus" of existential causes, since only God alone can possibly conjoin an essence to an act of existence. That is, given that God is the only possible "cause" in the sense the 2nd Way means (giver of being), there is no genus of causes that God is in when called the "First".

      When Aquinas talks of an "order of efficient causes", then, he is just doing so for the sake of argument even though God is the only real existential cause.

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    3. @Ben: If we're talking about the 2nd Way that Aquinas actually wrote (in ST I.2.3), on the other hand, your explanation seems far too interpolative.

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    4. David, in fairness to ficino, Aquinas rules out both real genera and logical genera in God in the 5th article of question 3.

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    5. I'm baffled by texts that are so baffling that my comments about them take precedence over arguing from those texts to justify my baffling remarks about them.

      I just don't think you can know X, and you can take that item of knowledge about X to the bank.

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    6. @ccmnxc:
      In ST I.3.5 Aquinas rules out what exactly? God's being in a genus (1) in the proper sense of being a species contained under a genus (and this he shows in three ways), and (2) in the sense of being a reducible to some genus as its principle, since he is in reality the principle of all being, "whence it follows God is not contained in some genus as its principle." So he is a principle. But then he is contained in the logical genus of principle ('principle' can be truly predicated of him). Nonetheless, for the reason Aquinas gives, he is not really contained in any genus, that is, with due regard to his real nature he is not just one of the things that are the real principles of things. That's his actual argument, is it not?

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    7. ficino, does it help any to point out that from God's angle, "causing" creation is not a real relation, only from creation's angle? Would this imply that, using created beings, we can argue for a first cause because from our side it is a first cause, but that doesn't put God into a genus as per his own being and essence, only in reference to ours.

      machine, do you think we could develop a whole philosophy out of what we don't know as the prime principle? To be consistent, (or, at least, "consistent"), would all of the conclusions be stated formally as opinions?

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    8. Above I should emphasize the word 'contained,' as in 'limited to,' 'subsumed under.' That's what Aquinas says there, notwithstanding that with regard to logical predication God is a principle, i.e., logically subsumed under the concept principle.

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    9. I don't want to further clutter the combox, and as this quote applies to the "analogical predication of names of God" which you exclude from the get go, it may be off the mark, but I thought I would post it anyway:

      https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1013.htm#article2

      "Therefore we must hold a different doctrine—viz. that these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him. Which is proved thus. For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (I:4:2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained above (I:4:3), in treating of the divine perfection. Therefore the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent it imperfectly. So when we say, "God is good," the meaning is not, "God is the cause of goodness," or "God is not evil"; but the meaning is, "Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God," and in a more excellent and higher way. Hence it does not follow that God is good, because He causes goodness; but rather, on the contrary, He causes goodness in things because He is good; according to what Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 32), "Because He is good, we are.""

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    10. David,

      Admittedly I didn't dig too deep, but I drew it from the sed contra:

      On the contrary, In the mind, genus is prior to what it contains. But nothing is prior to God either really or mentally. Therefore God is not in any genus.

      Perhaps I'm not tracking with your point, but if something isn't prior to God even mentally, doesn't that rule out logical genera?

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    11. I hear what you're saying, Tony. I think Joseph Boyle would say that the same thing applies: that every denial of knowledge, or expression of the lack of it, assumes positive assertions, and that the assumptions behind those assertions, or the assumptions of any arguments based on them, are themselves just as positive as those assertions they are trying to deny.

      Most people today are just trying to 1) imply their own intellectual superiority, and/or 2) get over on others in the woak pecking order, especially those who disagree, and 3) just not have to think critically or (dread the thought) read something other than TV or magazine blurbs.

      The people in my 55+ gated community paid $250k for a new swimming pool so their kids and grandkids would visit. I'm sure my fellow boomers can continue to watch TV 6-10 hours a day but because of that new pool, their progeny will no longer consider them clueless morons consuming sugar, tobacco, and alcohol out of respect for the imminence of death.

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    12. Thank you to all who replied to my comment. There is too much to put into a one-combox reply to the replies! So just two things for now that pop into my head:

      1. @ David McPike
      @ccmncx : along the lines of what ccmncz said, I'm not seeing how the distinction between real and logical genera helps solve the problem I said I think I see. Immaterial substances created in a natural genus don’t share a genus (non conveniunt) with material substances, but they do come together with material substances in a logical genus, “in genere logico,” because immaterial substances are also in the category of Substance, “in praedicamento Substantiae”, since their quidditas is not their existence. But God, however, does not come together with material things either in a natural genus or in a logical genus, because God is in no way in a genus: “Sed Deus non convenit cum rebus materialibus neque secundum genus naturale, neque secundum genus logicum: quia Deus nullo modo est in genere, ut supra dictum est.” ST 1a 88.2 ad 4. So we can affirm some things about angels acc to a common rationem though not a rationem of species, but about God in no way, because God in no way is in a genus, ST 1a 88.2 ad 4 *** (cf. 1a 3.5, quoted already). Can God share a logical genus with immaterial substances? answer: NO, because God is not in any genus, having his existence and essence identical, unlike immaterial substances.

      Gregory Doolan has a paper on a third kind of genus, metaphysical genus, which is not named by Aquinas but which, Doolan argues, is implicit in the saint's thought. It's been a while since I looked at that paper: "Aquinas on Substance as a Metaphysical Genus," in
      The Science of Being as Being: Metaphysical Investigations, ed. Gregory T. Doolan. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

      I'll suggest that in a proof of the existence of God, it seems question begging to introduce premises, or to rely on hidden premises, that affirm the identity of God's essence with His existence.

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    13. Another interesting one from the compendium. https://isidore.co/aquinas/Compendium.htm#21

      Besides, whatever has a particular perfection but lacks another perfection, is contained under some genus or species. For each thing is classed under a genus or a species by its form, which is the thing’s perfection. But what is placed under species and genus cannot be infinite in essence; for the ultimate difference whereby it is placed in a species necessarily closes off its essence. Hence the very ratio or description that makes a species known is called its definition, or even finis. Therefore, if the divine essence is infinite, it cannot possess merely the perfection of some genus or species and be lacking in other perfections; the perfections of all genera or species must be in God.

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    14. @ccm...:
      Here's the s.c.: "Sed contra, genus est prius, secundum intellectum, eo quod in genere continetur. [But to the contrary, the genus is prior, according to the understanding, to that which is contained in the genus.] Sed nihil est prius Deo, nec secundum rem, nec secundum intellectum. Ergo Deus non est in aliquo genere. [But nothing is prior to God, neither according to the thing/reality, nor according to the understanding. Therefore God is not in any genus.]"

      So what does that mean? I think you need to go back and seriously ask yourself (as I first asked ficino), what does it mean to say that God is not in a genus? It can't mean something that implies that "God is an efficient cause" or "God is a principle" (etc.) is false, because (Fact!) Aquinas plainly states these things to be true. So insofar as that is a logical predication, i.e., the composition of two concepts, i.e., the affirmation that A is B, it is plainly the case that God is "in" the logical genera of causes and principles (insofar as S being in a logical genus P just means that P is truly predicated of S). But as Aquinas says and I've tried to point out and emphasize, it remains the case that there is a strict sense in which God (and the understanding of God, the right conception of God) is not "contained in" the genera which are truly predicated of him. He spells that narrow sense out in his response, as I've noted above.

      @ficino:
      “Sed Deus non convenit cum rebus materialibus neque secundum genus naturale, neque secundum genus logicum: quia Deus nullo modo est in genere, ut supra dictum est.” ST 1a 88.2 ad 4.
      [But God does not agree with material things either according to a natural genus, nor according to a logical genus (how so? in what sense?): since God is in no way in a genus, as stated above.]

      Good citation! Now what does Aquinas mean here? "Ut supra dictum est" (meaning: "see above").

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    15. Here's a simpler way of looking at it: If God is in no way in a genus, then what kind of thing is he? Logically, he must be the kind of thing that is in no way in a genus. But 'genus' is just another word for 'kind,' so it follows that he is in the genus of things which are in no way in a genus. (Which is apparently just nonsense, unless we pay close attention to the specific way in which Aquinas explicates what he means.)

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    16. @David McPike:
      @ccmncx

      As far as I know, "Ut supra dictum est" in ST 1a 88.2 ad 4 refers to 1a 3.5, the passage ccmncx mentioned earlier. There it is argued that God can't be in any genus at all, not even by reduction as a first principle of a genus, since the latter does not extend beyond the given genus, but God is the first principle (principium) of all being (esse), and being cuts across all genera. So God can't be in a genus realiter or logice or per reductionem.

      I don't know that Aquinas defines "logical genus." He gives an example in In VII Phys 8 C729: the incorruptible heavenly bodies and corruptible bodies "come together" in a logical genus, so "body" is not predicated of them completely equivocally. But not even this 'convenientia in genere logico' is open to Aquinas with respect to God and any creature.

      As to what must be true: we know that Aquinas holds that God is an efficient cause and a principle, but the Second Way purports to prove God's existence. So in that argument, God's being an efficient cause can't be begged as a premise.

      I hope I am not missing a point you are making.

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    17. @ficino: I agree, he's referring to ST I.3.5. You're just missing the explication I already gave of what Aquinas said there.

      In any case, that all seems irrelevant if your real problem is just that you think Aquinas is begging the question in thinking that God is an efficient cause. The whole 2nd way argument is meant to demonstrate that there must be a first efficient cause of all efficient causality, and (Fact!) that first cause is what everybody calls God. If you want to say, "not everybody! not me!" - well fine, he would be begging the question in your case. But Aquinas meant everybody he knew of, i.e., everybody worth recognizing as serious conversation partner in theological dialogue. Not to imply you're not, but Aquinas didn't suppose he was talking to anybody who would take your position. ... BTW, why would you take that position? "First Cause," si! "God," no! Okay, why not?

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    18. To be honest, he wouldn't be begging the question even in your case, since it was never a part of his argument to demonstrate that what he has shown must exist is in fact what everyone calls God. I suppose he might just say, "Oh? The first cause is not what you would call God? Well okay, but fyi that's what the rest of us call God. Nomina sunt ad libitum, but if you want to communicate with the rest of us, it's necessary that you take due account of what we mean when we use a word. And of course we'll try to do the same for you, if you care to explain yourself."

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    19. @David McPike: above you wrote this, which I take to be your explanation of what Aquinas means by saying God is in any (aliquo) genus:

      " it is plainly the case that God is "in" the logical genera of causes and principles (insofar as S being in a logical genus P just means that P is truly predicated of S). But as Aquinas says and I've tried to point out and emphasize, it remains the case that there is a strict sense in which God (and the understanding of God, the right conception of God) is not "contained in" the genera which are truly predicated of him. He spells that narrow sense out in his response, as I've noted above."

      First you supposed that I was confused between real and logical genera. Then you said that in 1a 3.5, God is placed in a logical genus of principle but is not in a real genus.

      Aquinas as I read him does not anywhere state that God is in a logical genus of "principium." If there is a passage where the saint writes that God is a member of a logical genus of principles, I will be grateful if you can cite it.

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    20. @ David McPike: here Aquinas says God is in a genus: ST 1a 4.2 r: "Deus autem ponitur primum principium, non materiale, sed in genere causae efficientis."

      It seems to me that Aquinas here problematizes his own doctrine that God's existence is identical with His essence, since God as "ens ipsum" must be above genus insofar as being is not a genus. But perhaps this passage is only an instance of predication, as you suggested above about God's being in a logical genus.

      So Aquinas seems to put the phrase "in genere" and its cogeners to use in different ways.

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    21. @David McPike: no worries if you think this question best not answered, but are you the David McPike who has a Catholic blog?

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    22. Interesting quote from the Summa Contra Gentiles 28 https://isidore.co/aquinas/english/ContraGentiles1.htm#28

      [7] Nothing, moreover, acts except as it is in act. Hence, action follows the mode of act in the agent. It is therefore impossible that an effect brought forth by an action be of a more excellent act than is the act of the agent. On the other hand, it is possible that the act of the effect be less perfect than the act of the efficient cause, since an action can become weakened through the effect in which it terminates. Now, in the genus of the efficient cause there is a reduction to one cause, called God, as is evident from what we have said; and from this cause, as we shall show later on, all things come. Hence, it is necessary that whatever is found in act in any thing whatever must be found in God in a more eminent way than in that thing itself. But the converse is not true. God, therefore, is most perfect.

      [8] In every genus, furthermore, there is something that is most perfect for that genus, acting as a measure for all other things in the genus. For each thing is shown to be more or less perfect according as it approaches more or less to the measure of its genus. Thus, white is said to be the measure among all colors, and the virtuous man among all men. Now, the measure of all beings cannot be other than God, Who is His own being. No perfection, consequently, that is appropriate to this or that thing is lacking to Him; otherwise, He would not be the common measure of all things.

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    23. @David McPike: but on the other hand there are these indicating God is not in a genus:

      ST 1a 4.3 ad 2, God is outside of every genus and is principle of all genera, i.e. God is to creatures, not as in different genera, but as “id quod est extra omne genus, et principium omnium generum.” This seems to contradict 4.1 r, which I quoted last, where Aquinas said that God is posited as a first principle in the genus of efficient cause.
      In II AnPo l. 6 n. 4 “For that which is existence itself is not a substance nor the essence of any thing in the genus of existent. Otherwise it would be necessary that that which I call entity/existing (ens) would be a genus, because genus is what is predicated of something in its essence (in eo quod quid). Ens autem non est genus, ut probatur in III Metaph. Et propter hoc etiam Deus, qui est suum esse, non est in genere.”

      I have too much I "should" be working on to do more on this problem. Fascinating in any case.

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    24. @ficino:
      There is a lot of good stuff to consider there. I especially like your citation of ST I.88.2, which I think would be really interesting to analyze in some detail. I'm reminded in this discussion of the Scotist complaint that St Thomas is rather sloppy in spelling out distinctions, at least compared to the Subtle Doctor. Perhaps that's not an entirely unfair charge.

      Exegesis of various conflicting passages aside, I would return to my original question: What do you think it means to say (or for Aquinas to say) that God is not in a genus? Or more generally: What do you suppose it means to say that anything is in a genus? You could just say, "I don't know, look at all the texts, it's confusing!" Which is true, but the first thing to note is that it could mean any number of things, so we need to spell out the different possible options and try to figure out which ones apply in which contexts, and which ones can't, given our overall understanding of Aquinas's thought. And less ambitiously and more to the point, we need to closely read his actual relevant argument and see what is justified by his actual reasoning, and not go beyond what his reasons actually justify in the way we understand the meaning of his (perhaps overly broadly stated) conclusion. That's what I've tried to exemplify in previous posts here.

      I've explained what I think about what I take to be the central question, namely the meaning of a thing being in a genus, but I'll try to spell it out again: Genera are referred to by names that function as predicates in propositions. If "S is a P" is a true proposition then this logically entails that S is in the genus P, while leaving various options open in regard to the natures of S and P and the real relationship between them.

      So you say:

      Aquinas as I read him does not anywhere state that God is in a logical genus of "principium." If there is a passage where the saint writes that God is a member of a logical genus of principles, I will be grateful if you can cite it.

      My claim is just this: Aquinas clearly says God is a principle. Logically, the truth of this proposition entails that God is in the genus 'principle,' that is, when 'genus' is taken in its broadest (most transcendental, overarching) logical sense. That follows simply and directly from the most general, properly logical (i.e., pertaining to the essence of logic) meaning of what it is for a thing to be in a genus.

      But 'genus' also has other narrower meanings, and what those narrower meanings are have to be discovered on the basis of the actual arguments justifying and explicating those meanings, such that, in this case, while logically God is "in" various genera, nonetheless he is not "contained in them," or he is not "in them simpliciter et proprie," etc.

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    25. @Daniel @6:19PM:
      I think those are some good passages exemplifying the broad logical (rational gathering, ordering, composing, dividing) affirmative use of the term genus in relation to God.

      @ficino: Yes, I have a blog, and it probably deserves to be called "Catholic" -- although that kind of determination is officially restricted to one's local ordinary, and I don't think mine likes me. At least, he seems to have taken the Bergoglian option (i.e., silent treatment) in response to some inquiries of mine.

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    26. @David McPike: in ST 1a 4.1 r, maybe a key word is "ponitur." God "is put/placed/posited" as first principle in the genus of efficient cause by us or quoad nos? Though in se God is not in any genus since God is Being Itself?

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    27. @ficino:
      I'm pretty sure that suggestion doesn't help in the least to make sense of the text or the general position of Aquinas, nor is it even coherent in itself. You can either say with Kant that we have only the "quoad nos" knowledge, and we have no access to the thing in itself (except as a practical postulate/regulative idea); or you can say with Aquinas that the quoad nos refers to what comes first in our order of knowing (discovery, understanding) as opposed to what comes first in the order of being (secundum se, quoad naturam). Aquinas's quoad nos does not refer to any contradiction between the content of our sup-posed knowledge (what we posit to be true) and the actual nature of reality. The incoherence of the proposal consists in the fact that it posits the in se as being known quoad nos, in the very act of positing the in se as being opposed to what is known quoad nos. On the one hand, the in se (God not in genus) is clearly not the quoad nos (God in genus); on the other, the in se (God not in genus) is (must be) the quoad nos (since it is known to us, quoad nos). If the quoad nos is known to us as quoad nos, and as opposed to the in se, then it must cease to be quoad nos. And sofar as the in se is known to us, it necessarily dissolves into/merges with the quoad nos.

      So I still think the issue you have to face squarely is the question: What do you think it means to say that something is in a genus? You won't get anywhere without answering that question.

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    28. @David McPike March 27, 2021 at 8:33 PM

      Where does Aquinas say that God is a principle?

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    29. https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1003.htm#article5

      But God is the principle of all being. Therefore He is not contained in any genus as its principle.

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    30. Thanks, Daniel.

      I'm wondering if at any point he says that God is not contained in any genus per se, or in any sense other than as a genus's principle but nevertheless contained in it. Because he's certainly in the genus of, say, possible objects of thought.

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    31. Re. Daniel's March 27 at 12:16PM:

      In a sense, the soul is "in" the body. Nonetheless, Aquinas says it is more true to say that the soul contains the body, than that the body contains the soul (ST I.76.3).

      Similarly, as in Daniel's passage above, notwithstanding that God is clearly "in" various genera, in at least the sense I've explained, it is more true to say that the various genera are contained in God, than to say that the genera contain God (even though the genera must in some logical/analogical sense "contain" him, otherwise the predications in which they feature would be false).

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    32. @David McKnight: thanks for the note on quoad nos.

      As something predicated of a subject, as a feature of language, genus is as you say, e.g. "animal" is predicated of man. Man is "in" the genus, animal.

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    33. Hey ficino4ml,

      Having followed along your interesting discussion with David, I wanted to ask you a few questions about your opening post. Some of the stuff you and David were talking about is over my head, so hopefully my questions are not missing the points you were making.

      “I continue to be baffled by the way Aquinas speaks of the first cause as though it is the supreme member of a genus of causes. If the first cause is in a/the genus of causes, then it cannot be God, since God is in no genus - so not all that will be true of the first cause will be true of God, if the first cause is in a genus.”

      So I think this is answered by showing that God is in all genus as their principle and measure. But it is also more accurate to say that all genus are in God eminently. I haven’t heard any discussion of the principle of proportionate causality yet. Has this been overlooked? So proportionate causality can be

      -formally: fire causes fire or I pass a twenty dollar bill to you such that I have the form of dollar bill and I pass that form to you. In this case the effect is in the cause directly.
      -virtually: I don’t have twenty dollars in my pocket at the moment as a bill, but I do have it in the bank, and I can email you an e-transfer so you can withdraw it from an ATM and thus get a twenty dollar bill. In this case, the effect (the eventually withdrawn twenty dollar bill) is virtually in the total sequence of causes. Bank, etransfer, etc...
      -eminently: Here one has the power to make the twenty dollar bill, for example, by owning a printing press. I don’t have the twenty dollar bill to give formally in my pocket, or to give virtually in my bank account, but I do have the eminent power to create dollar bills from paper.

      “If the first cause is NOT in a genus of causes, then it's mysterious how it is a cause. It's also mysterious how we can have series of causes if the head term is not a cause. If the head term of a series of causes is not a member of the series, then there is a gap unbridged, because in fact then we have a series of instruments and, to speak metaphorically, "over there" the first cause. Our explanation of how the first cause acts through the series of instruments presumes there isn't a gap, as no gap between hand of artisan and hammer. (This "gap" stuff is metaphor).”

      I think it means that God is not reducible to the genus of cause, as though the genus of cause can encompass him as an exhaustive definition of his essence. As Thomas says:

      “Now it is shown above (I:4:2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto..”

      “One may appeal to the analogy of being to support a claim that "cause" is predicated analogically of the first cause and of subordinate causes. Two problems here:
      1. one doesn't have a warrant to use the doctrine of analogical predication of names of God in an argument purporting to establish the existence of God.”

      What about eminent proportionate causality? Is that not justified?

      “2. for a demonstration to go through, terms must have the same sense throughout. If "cause" is not predicated univocally, we don't know that the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. So the Second Way won't succeed in being a demonstration and won't confer certitude.”

      I think it would be predicated univocally if we defined cause in terms of proportionate causality, no?

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    34. Ultimately, the problem of analogy versus univocality seems to boil down to two extremes - either we identify God with creation so much that he is his creation (pantehism or onto theology) or we make God so remote (by extreme analogy such that there is no point of contact with God) that he is completely uninteligible to us.

      I think the principle of causality, the principle of sufficient reason, and the principle of eminent proportionate causality, gives us a path to God that does not lead us into either extreme.

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    35. @Daniel, thanks for your interest. It's lousy that combox length and time don't permit me more than a quick response right now. More later, I hope.

      1. I haven't puzzled out all the implications of "God however is posited as the first principle, not material, but in the genus of efficient cause," ST 1a 4.1 r. When you say, however, that God is in all genera as their principle and measure, as I read Aquinas, this thesis is false. It's contradicted by ST 1a 3.5 r, which David and I discussed above. There it is stated explicitly that God is not in a genus per reduction as a principle. God is said there to be the principle of all being, and therefore is not contained in any genus as a principle.

      I don't think it's relevant whether genera of things are contained in God as their cause. What matters for the question, is the First Cause of the Second Way identical with God, the the question, is the following conjunction true: "A) the First Cause is in a genus of causes and B) God is in a genus of causes and C) the FC and God are in the same genus of causes in the same mode."

      So far it seems to me C) is false.

      As a quickie, I also don't think the PPC is relevant to the truth or falsity of the above conjunction. One might say that my conjunction is mistaken, of course.

      More later, cheers, f

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    36. I think the key word you are missing is "contained". God is not contained in any genus, but by being the first principle of all being, he is therefore related to all created genus (and their principles) in being as their source.

      With regard to principles, Aquinas says in his discussion of the Trinity, the following:

      "Now in things created a first principle is known in two ways; in one way as the first “principle”, by reason of its having a relation to what proceeds from itself; in another way, inasmuch as it is a “first” principle by reason of its not being from another."

      The way I understand this is that being the first principle of all creation makes God related to all genera contained in being. He is the eminent principle of all principles. And he is most certainly a frist principle in the sense that he is not such by another.

      So I might respond to your conjunction as follows:

      A) the First Cause is in a genus of causes and

      [dc - as the principle of all causes, related to all causes, but at the same time being "contained in none"]

      B) God is in a genus of causes
      [dc - as first principle, but not contained]
      and
      C) the FC and God are in the same genus of causes in the same mode."
      [God is related to all genera as the first cause, but contained by none.]

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    37. Another interesting quote to add from Part III Of the Grace of Christ as an Individual Man Article Whether in Christ there was the fullness of grace.

      He mentions this:

      "Now the virtue of the first principle of a genus universally extends itself to all effects of that genus"

      So, even though being is not a genus, if God is the first principle of being, and thus is related to all effects contained in being, then this includes the first principles in any genus. God, therefore, universally extends himself to all effects in every genus.

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    38. hi Daniel, I don't think your suggestions show that God in A-T is in a genus of cause in the way the First Cause needs to be in a genus of cause in the Second Way.

      1. you speak of God's being related to all created genera. But God has no real relations to any creatures in A-T. Therefore God has no real relations to any genera, since the universal has real existence in the individuals.

      2. Since as you say, being is not a genus, then the quotation you supply is not apposite. The virtue of the first cause extends itself to all effects of it as a cause, but that truth in A-T doesn't admit that there is a genus of being. You don't need to go through a genus of being to get the universality of the first cause / God's causality in A-T.

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    39. So, for 1, saying God has no real relation with his creation does not mean God has no relation to his creation at all. What Thomas seems to mean by this is that there is no necessary relation by nature.

      https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1028.htm#article1

      "Reply to Objection 3. As the creature proceeds from God in diversity of nature, God is outside the order of the whole creation, nor does any relation to the creature arise from His nature; for He does not produce the creature by necessity of His nature,"

      Right, so creation is not an act that is necessary to his nature. But he goes on to say:

      "but by His intellect and will, as is above explained (I:14:3 and I:14:4; I:19:8). Therefore there is no real relation in God to the creature; "

      So by this I take it that there is a logical relation that enables a relationship based on God's will and intellect.

      Now for creatures, there is a real relation with God because there is a necessary dependence on God by nature.

      "whereas in creatures there is a real relation to God; because creatures are contained under the divine order, and their very nature entails dependence on God."

      So God does have a logical relation to creation, just not a necessary (real) one from his perspective.

      So I don't think your point 1 stands. God certainly has a logical relation to genera, even though those genera have a real existence in individuals.


      For point 2, I can see your point. But how then should we understand what Thomas means by the first cause being the principle of being, if not in a similar way to first principles of genera?

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    40. This one goes further into the idea that God creates by his intellect and will.

      https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm#article4

      I like this part that describes the relation of God's intellect to will.

      "Thirdly, it is shown by the relation of effects to their cause. For effects proceed from the agent that causes them, in so far as they pre-exist in the agent; since every agent produces its like. Now effects pre-exist in their cause after the mode of the cause. Wherefore since the Divine Being is His own intellect, effects pre-exist in Him after the mode of intellect, and therefore proceed from Him after the same mode."

      I think to have effects preexist in the intellect of God means to have all created things preexisting in God's mind. And this would include knowledge of all causes all genera, all species, everything.

      “Consequently, they proceed from Him after the mode of will, for His inclination to put in act what His intellect has conceived appertains to the will. Therefore the will of God is the cause of things.”

      And he would relate to all of these by his will and intellect (logical relation), not by nature (real relation).

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    41. @Daniel: I was careful to say that God has no real relations to creatures in A-T precisely because, as you note, God is held in A-T to have logical or notional relations with creatures. But it doesn't follow from that, that God is in a genus in the way that the First Cause is in a genus of causes. So in my trichotomous conjunction above, I still am not seeing that C) is true, and it's even questionable whether my B) is true.

      It doesn't matter whether creatures and genera of creatures are objects of God's intellect and will. It doesn't follow that God is in a genus. The intellect that cognizes F doesn't therefore fall into the genus F.

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    42. Hey Ficino4ml,

      He doesn't fall into any genus as a finite creature might fall into a genus. I agree with that. But as Aquinas says in the Compendium, God contains all genus in their perfection:

      "Therefore, if the divine essence is infinite, it cannot possess merely the perfection of some genus or species and be lacking in other perfections; the perfections of all genera or species must be in God."

      So God in his infinite perfection is the measure and principle of all created genera. He certainly does not fall into any finite genus, but a finite genus of cause can trace itself back to God as the first infinite and perfect cause using PPP.

      Anyway, good chat Ficino4ml! Thanks for the back and forth. :)

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    43. @Daniel, not sure whether you are signing off now, but thanks in return for the back and forth.

      There are many statements made about God by Aquinas and other Thomistic writers. One of the problems I tried to get at in my original post is, when we start with the Second Way (or another argument from what is claimed is our experience), we are aiming to prove that God exists. It's question-begging to import hidden premises about God into an argument purporting to prove that God exists. We don't know from experience that God contains all genera in their perfection. So we're not entitled to insert such as a premise into an argument of the structure of the Second Way, the one in Prof. Feser's OP.

      If the conclusion of the Second Way, in order to harmonize with ST 1a 3.5, has to follow from a premise like "God contains all genera in their perfections," then I call question-begging in the sense that a contentious premise is being "begged" by the person making the argument.

      Then there is the problem of vagueness in sources like the Compendium, written for non-specialists. Surely the perfection of certain species of virtue like courage or temperance are in God only virtually, in that He causes those in creatures. They are not in God as though God is an exemplar of courage or temperance. God does not do courageous or temperate work because God does not have the passions of fear or lust. But the First Cause in the Second Way must do the work of causing, i.e. bringing things from potency to act, as any cause does. So the Compendium passage cannot be read literally to cover all genera.

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    44. Hey Ficino4ml,

      "There are many statements...It's question-begging to import hidden premises about God into an argument purporting to prove that God exists."

      So yes, the second way only gets you to admit a first cause. Just like the first way only gets you to the first mover. And now that I think about it, the fourth way is the only one that talks about genus at all! If anything the fourth way needs to harmonize with ST 1a 3.5, not the second way! And that one does not have a hidden premise like "God contains all genera in their perfections," but it does get to that as a conclusion.

      Furthermore, I don't think you are arguing that we can't get to a first cause, its just that you don't think it is God, right? But if we can clarify your problems with the second way by using the fourth way, then we are good, right?

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    45. David McPikeMarch 28, 2021 at 7:44 AM.
      Surely God's relation to genera and the universe in general can't be compared to that of the soul to the body. If that were the case, we would be entertaining some kind of God = soul of the world idea. Out of the question.

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    46. Eureka! In the fourth way, its the transcendentals! Being is not in any genus, but it is convertible with terms like goodness, truth, nobility, and the like, which in a way, can be applied to any genus! I might add the beautiful to the list, as others have done!

      Not sure how this all applied to your problems with the second way, as being a first cause or a first being or a necessary being is not easily convertible with being... but maybe we are closer to a resolution. I'll have to think of it some more. :)

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    47. Hmm.... oneness is also a convertible. Maybe being a first unmoved mover or first cause or necessary being puts them all under the the purview of oneness?

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    48. Daniel, careful, or you may wind up a Neo-Platonist! heh heh Check out Lloyd Gerson as a modern "Platonist."

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    49. Ha! I'll have to check him out! Although I'm just trying to nail down the basics of Aquinas first - a project of a lifetime. I did read a lot of Plato in university. I have to say I've bought into the Aristotelian critique of separate forms though, so not sure how far I'll get going down paths not tread or accepted by Aquinas. With seven kids, all I can manage is one philosopher at a time.

      Just googled him - he at UFT! That is my backyard! :)

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    50. https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1006.htm#article4

      "Although this opinion appears to be unreasonable in affirming separate ideas of natural things as subsisting of themselves—as Aristotle argues in many ways—still, it is absolutely true that there is first something which is essentially being and essentially good, which we call God, as appears from what is shown above (I:2:3), and Aristotle agrees with this. Hence from the first being, essentially such, and good, everything can be called good and a being, inasmuch as it participates in it by way of a certain assimilation which is far removed and defective; as appears from the above (I:4:3).

      Everything is therefore called good from the divine goodness, as from the first exemplary, effective, and final principle of all goodness. Nevertheless, everything is called good by reason of the similitude of the divine goodness belonging to it, which is formally its own goodness, whereby it is denominated good. And so of all things there is one goodness, and yet many goodnesses."

      Interesting - So God, who is being, goodness, oneness, nobility is the exemplary, effective, and final principle of all being, goodness, oneness, nobility.

      And also https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1013.htm#article11

      Secondly, on account of its universality [he who is or being itself]. For all other names are either less universal, or, if convertible with it, add something above it at least in idea; hence in a certain way they inform and determine it. Now our intellect cannot know the essence of God itself in this life, as it is in itself, but whatever mode it applies in determining what it understands about God, it falls short of the mode of what God is in Himself. Therefore the less determinate the names are, and the more universal and absolute they are, the more properly they are applied to God. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. i) that, "HE WHO IS, is the principal of all names applied to God; for comprehending all in itself, it contains existence itself as an infinite and indeterminate sea of substance." Now by any other name some mode of substance is determined, whereas this name HE WHO IS, determines no mode of being, but is indeterminate to all; and therefore it denominates the "infinite ocean of substance."

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    51. So maybe causality, movability, necessity, and finality are also extremely universal, and as Thomas said in the post above, because they are so universal, they can be more appropriately predicated to God, in the same way as the actual transcendentals are predicated of God, even though they add something to the concept of being itself, at least in idea.

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    52. And God as the "soul of the world", David, is another form of pantheism. This is always occultist, in the diabolical sense.

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    53. I have to thank you ficino4ml for this OP. Your questions have led me to a deeper understanding of what Aquinas is doing in the five ways. My understanding has moved from what had been something interesting but confusing to something certain and unquestionably true. I feel with more certainty than ever that the God of Thomas Aquinas is the same God who revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush as the great I AM who AM. I feel like I should be taking my sandles off as Moses did in the presence of something so holy, sacred, and awe inspiring.

      God bless! And thanks to Ed for this blog!

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    54. Of course, if there's some way you can compare God and creation to form and body without falling into soul-of-the-world style notions, it would be interesting to know.

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    55. I think Aquinas does that fairly well by distinguishing between real relations and logical relations, don't you think? I agree that the form and body analogy is not a good one.

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    56. @Daniel, I accept that the result of the Five Ways impresses itself on you as certain and unquestionably true. I continue to find A-T, and therefore the Five Ways, a muddle. Eric Perl (Loyola Chicago, who is a Catholic) once told me he doesn't think any of the Ways is conclusive and that he finds the proof in De Ente et Essentia the strongest. Anyway, it's good that people of different perspectives can discuss these things.

      Cheers, F

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    57. Its a good thing the five ways were not called the only ways then.

      Hopefully this thread has helped clear up some of the issues you had with the genus question. The more universal a genus is, the closer it is to a transcendental, and the more appropraite it is to be used as a predicate of God, although never in such a way as to completely contain Him. Even with being itself, Aquinas distinguishes between esse commune and esse divinum. The concept of analogy straddles the line between infinite/uncreated and finite/created, and univocal and equivocal.

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    58. Actually, the relation betweeen form and matter can be turned into an useful analogy for the relation between God and creation.

      Just as form doesn't have a real relation to matter, God doesn't have a real relation to creation - and a real relation means that two terms A and B which relate are dependent on each other to exist.

      Since God doesn't depend on creation to exist, and neither does the form depend on matter to exist - at least for rational beings like us - this means they aren't really related - really taken in the technical and specific Scholastic sense here.

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    59. Hmmmm... interesting! What say you Miguel! :)

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    60. @Daniel: actually the more I think about the First/Second Ways and God's being in no genus, the more it seems a problem. Maybe Aquinas, writing 8 million words or whatever, just made some slips?

      As I've said, the Second (and First) Way is set up so as to reason backwards along a series of causes in our experience to a first cause, which presides over all causation. If the first cause isn't a cause, or if "cause" does not have the same sense when applied to the causes in the chain as it has when applied to the first, then the argument seems in danger of being vitiated by equivocation. (I'll leave analogical predication aside for now.)

      So as I asked at the start, is God in a genus of cause? Because if not, then "cause" as a term in the argument won't be predicated univocally, and the argument won't satisfy the A-T requirements of being a demonstration that yields "scientia" as its conclusion.

      The two passages I know, where Aquinas seems to classify God in a genus of efficient cause, are these:

      1. Deus autem ponitur primum principium, non materiale, sed in genere causae efficientis, ST 1a 4.1 r. "God however is posited/placed as the first principle, not material, but in the genus of efficient cause."
      2. In genere autem causae efficientis fit reductio ad unam causam, quae Deus dicitur, ut ex dictis patet, a quo sunt omnes res, SCG I.28.7. "However in the genus of efficient cause a reduction is made to one cause, which is called God, as is clear from what was said, from which are all things."

      These passages if taken literally contradict other passages I've already quoted, in which Aquinas explicitly says that God is not in "any" (aliquo) genus, not a natural genus, not in a genus by reduction, not in a logical genus. On the last point, cf. “Sed Deus non convenit cum rebus materialibus neque secundum genus naturale, neque secundum genus logicum: quia Deus nullo modo est in genere, ut supra dictum est,” ST 1a 88.2 ad 4. "But God does not commune/share with material things, neither according to a natural genus nor according to a logical genus; because God in no way is in a genus, as was said above." Why does God not share in a genus with material things? The reason is not that God is not material, as though God could commune with non-material things in a genus. The reason is that God is IN NO WAY in a genus.

      These two passages have embarrassed translators, who tend to take out "genus" and substitute some other term. On the difficulty, see Gintautas Vysniauskas, "The Logical Intention of Genus..." in Verbum vol. 6 (2004) 79-84.

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    61. @Daniel, cont'd

      I think your answer is to say, God as first cause is the cause of all genera and the cause of all causality. So all genera are related to God.

      1. you have not yet explained how on your argument the term "mover" is predicated in the Second Way univocally of First Cause and of subordinate causes. Your exposition seems to entail that the term "cause" cannot be predicated univocally of the first cause and of subordinate causes. Reasoning backwards along a series of causes from what we observe, then, will not get you to the First cause, since on your account, the first cause isn't denominated "cause" univocally with subordinate causes. So the argument won't go through.

      2. To say that the first cause is the universal cause of the genus simply entails that the first cause is not really a cause. Aquinas makes clear that the universal cause of a genus is not a member of the genus. He uses the example, the universal cause of the genus, man, is not a man. If it were then it would be cause of itself. But A-T rules it out that anything can be cause of itself. See SCG IV.7 n. 16: "Nothing which is in a genus is the universal cause of those things which are in that genus."

      So what you've posted is Thomistic doctrine about God, but it doesn't solve the problem of equivocation in the Second Way.

      As I suggested before, to appeal to the doctrine of analogical predication to smooth away charges of equivocation in the Second Way is to import doctrines about God before one has proved from things in our experience that God exists, as Aquinas claims he has done. Slipping in auxiliary premises in an argument for God, which themselves presume the existence of and attributes about God, is an informal fallacy.

      So I don't see how any ground has been gained.

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    62. Hey ficino4ml,

      Not convinced yet? Sigh... OK. :)

      I'll take a closer look later on tonight or tomorrow morning. There is a section in the Summa about whether God can be demonstrated, and it goes into demonstrating things a posteriori, and in the replies to objections 2 and 3 it talks about how we can demonstrate the existence of something from its effects when its definition (I take it this means when its genus or essence) is not known. I suppose in this case, the existence of God would be from the effects of motion, causation, final causality, necessity, and formal causality. Anyway, that will be where I go next I think.

      Just quickly with regard to the five ways, Ed always says they are summaries, not the fully fleshed out arguments, and presupose background knowledge our current day audience does not have. So if we have to bring in a few background premises, especially where those premises have been aduced in prior sections of the summa or in subsequent sections, I think we can be OK with this (or at least I can).

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    63. @Daniel, I tip my hat to you for still being in the game! And I don't claim professional expertise in scholastic metaphysics. I just call them as I see them.

      To your first paragraph: we all know that Aquinas gives reasons why he thinks God's existence can be demonstrated/proved. My question is much narrower: as a demonstration, does the Second Way go through?

      To your second paragraph: agreed that a background in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic as transmitted by a tradition also influenced by Platonism (from which Aristotle took off) is critical for understanding scholastic philosophy from Albertus Magnus et al forward. I sympathize with theists who weary of the same Gnu atheist misunderstandings over and over! But to slip in premises about God in a proof that purports to demonstrate the existence of God is to tread on very thin ice. One's likely to commit question begging fallacies in the sense that one "begs" the interlocutor to grant contentious premises, or in the sense that the auxiliary or tacit premises presuppose the truth of the conclusion of the argument. No go in such a case. That's the fear I have about the First and Second Ways (and it's why I slipped up above and said "mover" when I meant "cause").

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    64. David, the example doesn't address what I was saying because, as is admitted, non-rational creation does depend on matter to exist. Our body is not an autonomous consciousness that can have a relation with its soul (which can only animate one body). At St. Thomas explains, a man is one thing. God and creation are not.

      The reason for the analogy is a longstanding distaste in the author for a personal relation between man and God. It's obvious on which side the dependency lies, but a personal relation it is, because God wants it. This is something, it is true, we wouldn't have known without supernatural revelation.

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    65. (Forms in non-rational creation depend on matter to exist that is, of course)

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    66. Hey ficino4ml,

      So your point here is what I want to respond to:

      “So as I asked at the start, is God in a genus of cause? Because if not, then "cause" as a term in the argument won't be predicated univocally, and the argument won't satisfy the A-T requirements of being a demonstration that yields "scientia" as its conclusion.”

      Specifically the charge that the second way violates the A-T requirements of being a demonstration. When I mentioned my intention to go down this train of thought you said:

      “To your first paragraph: we all know that Aquinas gives reasons why he thinks God's existence can be demonstrated/proved. My question is much narrower: as a demonstration, does the Second Way go through?”

      Agreed, but first we must define what kinds of demonstrations are admissible to Thomas. So in his article on demonstration, Aquinas says this:

      https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm#article2

      “Reply to Objection 2. When the existence of a cause is demonstrated from an effect, this effect takes the place of the definition of the cause in proof of the cause's existence. This is especially the case in regard to God, because, in order to prove the existence of anything, it is necessary to accept as a middle term the meaning of the word, and not its essence, for the question of its essence follows on the question of its existence. Now the names given to God are derived from His effects; consequently, in demonstrating the existence of God from His effects, we may take for the middle term the meaning of the word "God".”

      So by middle term, I take it he means first mover, or first cause, as his effects.

      "Reply to Objection 3. From effects not proportionate to the cause no perfect knowledge of that cause can be obtained. Yet from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot perfectly know God as He is in His essence."

      So your charge is that Aquinas is contradicting himself when he says God is in the genus of cause, but then says elsewhere that God is not in any genus at all. But I think you are misinterpreting Aquinas’ purpose in his proofs. He is not trying to define the essence of God, but merely the existence of God. The five ways point to the existence of God but do not put him in any genus which can define his essense. And I think this mistake comes out when you say God needs be predicated with the genus "Cause" for this proof of his existence to go through. But I would say that you are implicitly trying to define his essence when you say this, which Aquinas is not trying to do at this point.

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    67. And you can see Aquinas following this methodology in SG, after chapter 13 where he lists proofs for the existence of God. In chapter 14, following his chapter on the proofs, he starts talking about how we should start investigating the properties of God’s being now that we’ve proved the existence of God (i.e. his essence):
      https://isidore.co/aquinas/english/ContraGentiles1.htm#14


      “THAT TO KNOW GOD WE MUST USE THE WAY OF REMOTION

      [1] We have shown that there exists a first being, whom we call God. We must, accordingly, now investigate the properties of this being.

      [2] Now, in considering the divine substance, we should especially make use of the method of remotion. For, by its immensity, the divine substance surpasses every form that our intellect reaches. Thus we are unable to apprehend it by knowing what it is. Yet we are able to have some knowledge of it by knowing what it is not. Furthermore, we approach nearer to a knowledge of God according as through our intellect we are able to remove more and more things from Him. For we know each thing more perfectly the more fully we see its differences from other things; for each thing has within itself its own being, distinct from all other things. So, too, in the case of the things whose definitions we know. We locate them in a genus, through which we know in a general way what they are. Then we add differences to each thing, by which it may be distinguished from other things. In this way, a complete knowledge of a substance is built up.

      [3] However, in the consideration of the divine substance we cannot take a what as a genus; nor can we derive the distinction of God from things by differences affirmed of God. For this reason, we must derive the distinction of God from other beings by means of negative differences. And just as among affirmative differences one contracts the other, so one negative difference is contracted by another that makes it to differ from many beings. For example, if we say that God is not an accident, we thereby distinguish Him from all accidents. Then, if we add that He is not a body, we shall further distinguish Him from certain substances. And thus, proceeding in order, by such negations God will be distinguished from all that He is not. Finally, there will then be a proper consideration of God’s substance when He will be known as distinct from all things. Yet, this knowledge will not be perfect, since it will not tell us what God is in Himself.

      [4] As a principle of procedure in knowing God by way of remotion, therefore, let us adopt the proposition which, from what we have said, is now manifest, namely, that God is absolutely unmoved. The authority of Sacred Scripture also confirms this. For it is written: “I am the Lord and I change not” (Mal. 3:6);...“with whom there is no change” (James 2:17). Again: “God is not man... that He should be changed (Num. 23:19).”

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    68. So going back to your conjunction, I would add the following points:

      A) the First Cause is in a genus of causes and
      [dc - yes. This does appear to be the case.]
      B) God is in a genus of causes and
      [dc - not yet, because we are not talking about the essence of God at this point, only the existence of God. Later points would have to flesh this out.]
      C) the FC and God are in the same genus of causes in the same mode."
      [dc - False, at least in terms of genus as in defining the essence of God, because A only points to God’s existence, but does not define his essence.

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    69. @Daniel: it's one thing, what kinds of demonstration are admissable to Thomas, and another, what kinds "we" as the social we are obligated to accept.

      I leave aside the problem that in Aristotle's logic, a conclusion about a singularity, and an existence claim, are not properly "scientia." Dennis Bonnette and I had a long discussion of the form of Aquinas' arguments a year or more ago.

      As to univocity of terms in a deductive system, that too is a given in Aristotle's logic. I won't go into the texts, since not everyone here wants "irrelevant exegesis" (lol), but here are some citations:
      Universal terms in a demonstration can’t be equivocal / homonymous, AnPo 85b11, b17
      "but it is necessary that it should be true to state a single predicate of a plurality of subjects" AnPo I.11, 77a5-9

      A year or more ago I read through Aquinas' commentary on the AnPo. As is the saint's wont, he explains what Aristotle says but takes issue on those rare occasions when he disagrees. Aquinas doesn't disagree with Aristotle's general dictum that terms in a demonstration need to be univocal:
      e.g. "Et quod oporteat medium demonstrationis esse universale, patet per hoc quod oportet medium demonstrationis esse unum et idem de pluribus praedicatum non aequivoce, sed secundum rationem eamdem: quod est ratio universalis. Si autem aequivocum esset, posset accidere vitium in arguendo." In I AnPo 19.8. "And that the middle term of a demonstration must be universal is clear because of/through this, that the middle term of a demonstration must be predicated as one and the same about many, not equivocally but according to the same meaning; which is the universal meaning. If however it were equivocal, there could occur a fault in the argument."

      Of course Aquinas also has various strategies by which he uses terms, esp. terms that designate God or some attribute of God, non univocally while claiming that his argument suffers no fault. Unless we are already committed to believe certain propositions about God as true, we are not obligated to grant Aquinas this sort of move.

      At every step, we have to assess not only what Aquinas asserts but whether we are logically or otherwise obligated to accept what he asserts.

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    70. Ouch - I had the impression I was in dialog with a fellow seeker. But more and more it seems that its not that you don't understand Aquinas, it is simply that you disagree with his basic methodology and approach. Seems a little disengenuous of you.

      Well - I've learned a thing or two in the process at least.

      God bless,
      Daniel

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    71. @Daniel: I do disagree with Aquinas' basic methodology. I thought I said above that I found A-T a muddle. But I would like to understand this genus thing as a matter of better understanding a major thinker's work. I would like to ruminate more over his move of putting the definition in as the middle term, something I still haven't quite grasped.

      Thank you for the dialogue.

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    72. Miguel, that's a good observation.

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  5. But that’s precisely the point. The fact that even a thinker of Tennant’s stature can make the sorts of mistakes he does reinforces the point that the confidence with which mainstream academics dismiss such arguments is massively out of proportion to their actual understanding of them.

    How do you know Neil Tennant didn't take his T.A.R.D.I.S. to ask Aquinas himself to teach him his second way?

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    1. Probably because of the problem of empirically verifying that one really did travel to a previous point in time that can undergo an infinite number of changes from the infinite number of time travelers.

      You just can't get recognizable timepoints of the 1200s any more.

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    2. (It was a pun joke on how Neil Tennant sounds like David Tennant, who was the Tenth Doctor.)

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    3. "How do you know Neil Tennant didn't take his T.A.R.D.I.S. to ask Aquinas himself to teach him his second way?"

      Does he knows any latin? That would be a problem.

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    4. I'm sure his Sonic Screwdriver has a universal translator as one of its function.

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    5. Maybe Neil Tennant captured Aquinas better when he was in the Pet Shop Boys?

      https://youtu.be/dRHetRTOD1Q

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  6. As a quick question about Aquinas' 1st Way, does anyone know how it gets to a "purely" actual being, other than just a mover M which is unmoved to the respect of the given per se chain in question, at time T?

    Typically, "agere sequitur esse" (action follows existence) is brought in the solve the problem - if action requires reduction from potency to act, then so does existence. But "agere sequitur esse" seems to have counter examples. For example, my existence is out of my control, but it doesn't follow that my action is out of my control. For another thing, God's existence is necessary, but (given divine freedom) it doesn't follow that his action is necessary. So "action follows existence" doesn't seem to help anything here.

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    1. If the mover where not Pure Act, them it would also need a mover to be able to start the per se casual chain. It would also be a instrumental cause, so we would still need to stop at Pure Act to finish the argument.

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    2. Would it? By the fact that it has some passive potency, does it follow that it would need a mover? I have the potentiality to move my arm, but that doesn't mean it needs a concurrent mover.

      It's just in Feser's Aristotelian Proof/Aquinas' 1st way, it jumps from "It has no potentiality that needs to be actualised in order FOR IT TO EXIST", to "It has no potentiality full-stop simpliciter".

      Or to put it this way - by the fact that it's unactualised with respect to its existence, it doesn't seem to follow that its unactualised with respect to other factors, like operations, accidents, and the like.

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    3. "By the fact that it has some passive potency, does it follow that it would need a mover?"

      Yes in the case of the argument, for we end stage 1 with a cause of at least some particular change. In order to this non-pure act cause be capable of helping in the causal chain, its passive potentiality would have to be actualized, so we would still end up with Pure Act in the end, it would just take longer.

      And even ignoring that, since the non-pure act mover is, i guess, a contingent being them its existence would need to be explained by appealing to some potential being actualized, so it would need Pure Act to exist anyway.

      Since the non-pure act mover does not help, we just Occam Razor it and go straight to the Unmoved Mover, it is faster.

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    4. BenG, consider that if a thing is a mix of act and passive potency, then it's essence is necessarily distinct from its existence, since it is not just existence/actuality/subsistent being, but existence plus some condition. Therefore the essence must need be actualized by an act of existence. But that requires the actualization of a potency in itself. So if a thing is not Pure Act it means its essence is not its own existence, and that essence must be moved to act. So anything that is not Pure Act would be moved and not an Unmoved Mover.

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  7. @Ficino.
    I think that a possible solution to your problem about God and genera would be that God's superlative attributes are, in respect of analogically similar attributes of creatures, limits case and not limits simple.

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  8. "It is the difference between an instrument and that which acts through the instrument."

    But this is not the case. It's obviously not the case if the same hand-stick-rock action takes place in weightless space. The rock keeps moving regardless of what the astronaut does afterward. We are easily fooled on earth because the rock pushes back. Cause always happens both ways. The same happens in space but the pushback is harder to see. The problem with introducing the "per se" causal chain is that it cannot be shown to exist in nature. It's a model based on a misunderstanding of nature.

    Cause never happens one direction. We can't go back to a "first cause" because we'd have to follow the chain at lest two different directions. That makes a search for a single origin absurd.

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    1. Cause always happens both ways. The same happens in space but the pushback is harder to see.

      Maybe the kind of efficient cause motions that we find in inanimate "action" is that way. But there are other kinds of cause: when apple pie induces me to reach out and take a piece, my inclination toward pie does not have a equal and opposite reaction. More interestingly, when the mind is led from premise 1 and premise 2 to assent to conclusion C, the activity of concluding does not have a reaction on the premises.

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    2. "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" is a law of matter and thus applies to material causes. It cannot be shown to be characteristic of causes in general.

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    3. "when apple pie induces me to reach out and take a piece, my inclination toward pie does not have a equal and opposite reaction."

      The apple pie doesn't induce everyone. And it probably won't induce you if you've just eaten two of them. So it's not a deterministic cause like hand-stick-rock. Even so, why does it induce you? Why does it exist at all? Did you or human beings have anything to do with it? I think so. The baker saw a market. The market caused him to bake a pie. The same with the apple tree. The tree wraps its seeds in tasty fruit with the 'intent' that something, somewhere will drag it away and eat it thereby spreading its seeds. The pie example is based on reciprocal biological interests of consumer and producer.

      "More interestingly, when the mind is led from premise 1 and premise 2 to assent to conclusion C, the activity of concluding does not have a reaction on the premises."

      The Second Way is supposed to be an argument about the fundamental nature of reality, not about human will or reason. Neither Aquinas nor the gracious Mr. Feser take that POV and for good reason: It's not clear that mental states have causes outside the individual mind. If not, then each individual has within himself at least part of a 'first cause'. Therefore there is no one chain leading back to a first, there are many first causes within the human population.

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    4. So it's not a deterministic cause like hand-stick-rock.

      Ok, so it's not a deterministic cause. I don't see anywhere that the argument as it runs needs "is a deterministic cause" to work. A final cause that operates not-deterministically still operates.

      Even so, why does it induce you? Why does it exist at all? Did you or human beings have anything to do with it? I think so. The baker saw a market. The market caused him to bake a pie.

      For the purposes of understanding the pie as final cause of my motion, the fact that a baker (or I myself) baked the pie is irrelevant. If you mean to rid the world of final causes and force them all into a model of material and efficient causes by pointing to the baker or the tree, that's just begging the question. It also runs square in the face of human experience, under which we describe "the pie" as a cause of my motion by being the object of desire, and in which I choose to reach for the pie because of the desire. In stating "because of" we are stating a cause - at least, that's what we intend to be doing.

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    5. Don Jindra, the example of the stick and rock is true enough under the physical conditions provided. For a more general articulation of physical motion, we only have to look at Newton's First Law: "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."

      Or more simply, a continuous change in inertial reference frame (such as during acceleration) only continues as long as the object continues to be acted upon by an external force.

      That force is applied in both directions in a physical example doesn't show in any way that there's a misunderstanding of nature going on either, only that you misunderstand the illustration and the argument being made.

      Each thing is part of a hierarchical causal chain. You're right, it's not just back through one chain of objects, but each individual object under consideration with its own chain. Aquinas and Thomist philosophers do also address the question of whether there can be multiple prime movers for each thing.

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    6. Wes,
      Don Jindra, the example of the stick and rock is true enough under the physical conditions provided.

      Except, the hand pushing the stick and the stick pushing the rock are not simultaneous. The hand initiates a compression wave along the stick that takes a non-zero amount of time to move along the stick and to the rock.

      From what I can tell, there are no simultaneous chains of interactions. The whole notion of a per se chain is mythical.

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    7. From Scholastic Metaphysics section 2.4.1 Simultaneity

      "It is important to emphasize, however, that simultaneous does not entail instantaneous. An event is of course spread out through time. The point is that a cause's producing its effect is part of the same one event in which the effect is being produced, however long this event lasts. Once again, to quote Clarke, "it indeed takes me time to push a chair across the room; but there is no time at all between my pushing the chair and the chair being pushed."

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    8. The hand-stick-stone example applies both in space on earth.

      The difference is that in space, the force of the hand only has to overcome the inertia of the stick and stone to move the system (assuming the man/hand to be much more massive) while on earth there are multiple sources of frictional forces that have to be overcome.

      In both cases, once in motion, the hand-stick-stone system will be in motion due to the hand as long as the hand continues to apply a force. What happens at the beginning or end of the motion is not part of the example.

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    9. Daniel,

      That's not a chain of events, though. I don't deny the existence of immediate cause and effect, but again, have seen no examples for an simultaneous/instantaneous chain of events.

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    10. One Brow - Not sure I follow. I just denied that simultaneous means instantaneous.... why are you insisting it is required?

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    11. Wes,

      "That force is applied in both directions in a physical example doesn't show in any way that there's a misunderstanding of nature going on either, only that you misunderstand the illustration and the argument being made."


      I understand the illustration perfectly. The illustration is a magician's trick -- keep your eyes on this hand while the other is doing secret stuff. The illustration is meant to hide the fact -- and it is a fact -- that cause goes both ways. We're supposed to be so wowed by the force of the hand that we forget the rock is exerting its own force.

      You say, "a continuous change in inertial reference frame (such as during acceleration) only continues as long as the object continues to be acted upon by an external force" -- and that's true, but it also ignores the fact that the object acted on is also acting as an external force. There are two actors, not one. You have not said anything that challenges my claim that we cannot follow a causal chain back to one source because there is never one direction to follow.

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    12. Tony,

      "If you mean to rid the world of final causes and force them all into a model of material and efficient causes by pointing to the baker or the tree, that's just begging the question."

      That is not my goal, at least not here. This is about the supposed existence of a one-directional causal chain ending in one source, and additionally if any causal chain can be considered 'per se'. So-called final cause is irrelevant.

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    13. bmiller,

      Exactly, there are multiple forces on earth and orbiting earth. We have to consider all of them and what they are doing. We cannot limit ourselves to the hand's point of view.

      "In both cases, once in motion, the hand-stick-stone system will be in motion due to the hand as long as the hand continues to apply a force. What happens at the beginning or end of the motion is not part of the example."

      This example is designed to make important what happens at the beginning and end.

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    14. Don Jindra,

      Exactly, there are multiple forces on earth and orbiting earth. We have to consider all of them and what they are doing. We cannot limit ourselves to the hand's point of view.

      I don't think the example is limiting things to the hand POV. All components of the hand-stick-stone system are moving and the example is to explain what's causing that movement as a whole. Without the hand applying force to the stick and stone none would move regardless of the internal forces generated during the actual movement or the external forces that the hand-force must overcome.

      In this example, regardless of the net forces acting, there is movement and that movement is in one direction and direction is determined by the directed force of the hand. I guess unless you want to insist that to an observer that was moving along with hand would see no motion at all.

      This example is designed to make important what happens at the beginning and end.

      I don't think so. If I remember right it's based on an example from Aristotle and Aristotle clearly distinguished between the termini of a movement (beginning and end) and the movement between the 2 termini. He even used the example of ship-movers having to exert more force at the beginning of moving ships (to overcome inertia) to refute Zeno. Maybe you have some evidence I'm not aware of?

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    15. Daniel,
      One Brow - Not sure I follow. I just denied that simultaneous means instantaneous.... why are you insisting it is required?

      I'm saying that any causal chain (such as hand-stick-stone) is neither simultaneous nor instantaneous. There is a measurable delay between the hand pushing the stick and the stick pushing the stone.

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    16. Right. I know you've been around this blog for a while, but just wanted to check if you've read Ed's many responses to claims such as yours? Did you find them insufficient?

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-incompetent-hack.html

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    17. Daniel,

      There was a period when I stopped, and that seems like a post I would have commented within, had I seen it. Thank you kindly for showing it to me.

      It is one of Feser's annoying habits that he will repeated throw out phrases like "acting simultaneously rather than over time", and then when this is questioned, retreats to a claim that he doesn't mean simultaneous. If the events in the chain are not simultaneous, what if the difference between the chain being per se and per accidens? Since hand-stick-stone is an illustration, is there an example of an actual per se causal chain that we can trace back to a beginning point? Is there any reason to think per se chains exist (without using words meaning "simultaneously")?

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    18. Yeah - I winced a bit when he used that particular word. It seems to invite confusion and maybe a better word could be used.

      I think every full description of a per se causal chain eventually gets into a discussion of what needs to be actualized at any given point in time, and that eventually leads to a discussion of the constituent elements that need to be actualized for anything to exist at all, let alone to act at all such that even accidental chains ultimately depend on per se causal chains.

      So take the hockey stick and rock example and just forget about the aspect of time or simulaneity.

      1-The potential of the rock to be actualized depends on the stick stick actualizing it.
      2-The potential of the stick to be actualized depends on the hand actualizing it.
      3-The potential of the hand to be actualized depends on the arm actualizing it.
      4-The potential of the arm to be actualized depends on neurotransmitters to actualize it.
      5-The potential of the neurotransmitters to be actualized depends on the brain to actualize it.

      At this point, we have a per se causal chain. But in arguments fo the existence of a first mover or first cause, we can't stop there. We have to continue on.

      6-The potential of the entire process described from 1 to 5 to be actualized depends on the constituent atoms making up each physical part to actualize it.
      7-The potential for those atoms to be actualized depends on ever deeper actualizers, such as the protons, neutrons, electrons, and eventually to the laws of physics themselves, all of which are contingent and thus need an actualizer.

      Ed had an interesting discussion with Graham Oppy where Ed walked Oppy through this per se chain. Oppy agreed with Ed that given such a constitutive causal chain, you would eventually need to bottom out at some point, and it wouldn't make sense for it to go one forever. Oppy settled on what he called Simples which are brute, and unchainging. Ed of course disagreed, and unfortunatly it took the entire debate to get to this point, so they didn't get to debate this actual question.

      And of course, the details of any such causal chain need to be fleshed out by physicists.

      Does this help any?

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    19. "I'm saying that any causal chain (such as hand-stick-stone) is neither simultaneous nor instantaneous."

      This is not really relevant to St. Thomas arguments, but it is worth emphasizing that this is flatly false. All, literally all, elementary interactions, which are boson exchanges depicted as vertices in Feynman diagram, are instantaneous. Even in classical theories, including GR, this is true. What is false is that the propagation of the force fields (or boson propagation) is instantaneous, but that is a different story.

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    20. One Brow,

      Except, the hand pushing the stick and the stick pushing the rock are not simultaneous. The hand initiates a compression wave along the stick that takes a non-zero amount of time to move along the stick and to the rock.

      Simultanaeity is not instantanaeity. But the point Aquinas is making is that the continued actualization of the rock's motion (under its circumstances) is dependent upon the continued action of the stick. It is the actualization of a potency that only remains actual (in this situation under the current physical circumstances) so long as the stick continues to act upon the stick. The actualization is not once-given-and-kept, it is at all times derivative, dependent upon the continued action of the stick. Another example is a book on a shelf. The actualization of the book's position only remains actual as long as the shelf continues to hold it. Now, the physical situation is more complex, we have the gravity of the Earth, the Earth revolving around the sun, etc... But whether absolute position (perhaps described as a function) or relative position, the actualization of that potential is not something the book has in itself, but is dependent upon the continued action of other external causes.

      ***

      Don Jindra,

      [B]ut it also ignores the fact that the object acted on is also acting as an external force. There are two actors, not one. You have not said anything that challenges my claim that we cannot follow a causal chain back to one source because there is never one direction to follow.

      Why must there be only one direction to follow, or assume that's what's being claimed? On the one hand, the continued actualization of the rock's movement (under the given circumstances) is dependent on the continued actualization of the stick. We could also look at the continued action of the surface and air causing friction, and the mass causing gravity, etc... The stick is acted upon by the hand, yes, but as you say, the rock is also acting on it in reverse causing resistance, and that continued actualization of that potential is dependent upon the continued action (so to speak) of the rock. So we could go in many different directions along various hierachical causal chains to a Prime Mover, actualizing the potential of the very essence and operations of each of these individual things in turn. The question of whether there can be multiple Prime Movers/First Cause/Necessary Beings (depending upon the argument) or whether there is only one Prime Mover for all of these is addressed by Aquinas in Summa Theologica, First Part, Questions 3 and 11, and in Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 42, and in his Compendium of Theology, Part 1, Chapter 15, to name a few places. Ed has also provided contemporary explanations in Scholastic Metaphysics and his Five Proofs of the Existence of God, to name a couple, and other Thomists old and contemporary have done the same in various places.

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    21. Daniel,
      6-The potential of the entire process described from 1 to 5 to be actualized depends on the constituent atoms making up each physical part to actualize it.
      7-The potential for those atoms to be actualized depends on ever deeper actualizers, such as the protons, neutrons, electrons, and eventually to the laws of physics themselves, all of which are contingent and thus need an actualizer.
      ...
      And of course, the details of any such causal chain need to be fleshed out by physicists.

      Does this help any?


      Well, it doesn't do much to clarify the difference between a per se and a per accidens causal chain, but it is an interesting take I have not seen before.

      1) If I were to claim the causal chain from 1 through was per accidens, how would you show otherwise?

      2) Why does the process need to be actualized as a whole (which you mention in 6), as opposed to just the initial step?

      3) Why are the atoms in 7 being actualized in this process, as opposed to being basically inert?

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    22. grodrigues,
      This is not really relevant to St. Thomas arguments, but it is worth emphasizing that this is flatly false. All, literally all, elementary interactions, which are boson exchanges depicted as vertices in Feynman diagram, are instantaneous. Even in classical theories, including GR, this is true. What is false is that the propagation of the force fields (or boson propagation) is instantaneous, but that is a different story.

      Thank you for the response. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that when the (metaphorical) hand is pushing on the (metaphorical) stick, that interaction is instantaneous, and when the stick is pushing on the (metaphorical) stone, that interaction is instantaneous, but since field propagation speed is finite, the two separated interactions will not be. If not, I await your correction.

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    23. Wes,
      Except, the hand pushing the stick and the stick pushing the rock are not simultaneous. The hand initiates a compression wave along the stick that takes a non-zero amount of time to move along the stick and to the rock.

      Simultanaeity is not instantanaeity. But the point Aquinas is making is that the continued actualization of the rock's motion (under its circumstances) is dependent upon the continued action of the stick. It is the actualization of a potency that only remains actual (in this situation under the current physical circumstances) so long as the stick continues to act upon the stick. The actualization is not once-given-and-kept, it is at all times derivative, dependent upon the continued action of the stick.


      Right, the movement of the stone, as an individual phenomenon, is entirely dependent on the movement of the stick. That's one interaction.

      How does that make the chain of hand-stick-stone per se instead of per accidens? Can you determine the per se/per accidens status of an entire chain from what happens at a single interaction point?

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    24. @One Brow:

      "If I understand you correctly, you are saying that when the (metaphorical) hand is pushing on the (metaphorical) stick, that interaction is instantaneous, and when the stick is pushing on the (metaphorical) stone, that interaction is instantaneous, but since field propagation speed is finite, the two separated interactions will not be."

      Huh no, that is not what I said. At all. And since you managed to read *that* into what I said, it is obvious that what I wrote is completely garbled. And since what I wrote is completely garbled, there is little use in trying to correct you, because it is not you that needs correction, but me.

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    25. Hey One Brow

      “Well, it doesn't do much to clarify the difference between a per se and a per accidens causal chain, but it is an interesting take I have not seen before.”

      Right, so there are three marks for a per se causal series. I’m paraphrasing this from Ed’s Scholastic Metaphysics who was quoting Scotus:

      1 – There is a dependency where all subsequent causes are dependent on the action of the first cause. There is no such dependency in accidentally ordered causes. So for example, the hand imparts causal power to the stick and to the stone that the stick pushes.
      2- The first in the sequence is from a different nature and order than the rest. So for example, a rock does not have the power to intentionally use another rock as an instrument to do something. Only humans or animals can do that. The orders Aquinas is talking about here are the inanimate, the vegetative, the animal, and the sentient being (human, angel, or God). So for example, its not really the hand that moves the stick and the rock. Its the person who decides they want to do the action that starts the instrumental causal chain.
      3- The series of causes are simultaneous in the sense that over time, the cause produces effects in all subsequent instrumental causes. For example, the arm, the hand, the stick and the rock will not move without the human being deciding to act. Without the act, no motion is passed on to the instruments. Now, this process could happen in an accidentally ordered way. For example, I might get hit by lightening, that causes my arm to jerk and my hand to jerk and the stick to hit the rock causing the rock to move.

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    26. “1) If I were to claim the causal chain from 1 through was [5???] per accidens, how would you show otherwise?”

      See the criteria in my previous post.

      “2) Why does the process need to be actualized as a whole (which you mention in 6), as opposed to just the initial step?”

      A per se causal series is a common thing in nature. Every human being, animal, intelligent alien, angel, and so on can be the first cause in a per se causal series. But this concept is being deployed in a proof for the existence of God in both the first and the second way.

      “3) Why are the atoms in 7 being actualized in this process, as opposed to being basically inert?”

      They actualize all the potentials described in 1 through 5, and the atoms potential to exist in turn depend on the protons, neutrons, and electrons in step 7, and those are in turn actualized by further things. So what you end up is a dependency chain of things that must be actual for the stone, the stick, the hand, the arm, and the entire person to exist at all. The second way claims that these elements are instrumental and require a first causal agent to sustain them all in actuality.

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    27. grodriguez,

      I apologize for being insufficient on my end of the conversation.

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    28. The section of Thomas's compendium demonstrates what he means by instrumental causes.

      https://isidore.co/aquinas/Compendium.htm#3

      Just replace his bad physics with good physics and it should make more sense.

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    29. Daniel,

      Thank you. I'll look this over a couple more times, and might respond further after that.

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    30. Don, you are taking the illustration too literally. It's just an illustration for the point.

      The specifics of the illustration aren't of any specific importance.

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    31. bmiller,

      "In this example, regardless of the net forces acting, there is movement and that movement is in one direction"

      That's false. The movement is both directions. This is exactly my point. It's not possible to find a case where the direction of movement goes only one way. You could flick a speck of dirt off your finger and this would still be the case. The speck goes one way, and you go the other. The difference in mass tricks our human perspective. We can't perceive the tiny bit of movement the speck exerts on us, but that movement is nevertheless there.

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    32. Daniel,

      re: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-incompetent-hack.html

      The problem with this defense is that phony examples are used to illustrate a dubious concept. It's not clear a genuine example of the concept (instrumental, 'per se' cause) exists anywhere in nature. This leads me to wonder if the concept has any merit at all. Surely if a concept is more than fantasy, nature would provide a clear example. The defense offered looks suspiciously like an assertion that a description of unicorns proves unicorns exist.

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    33. Wes,

      "So we could go in many different directions along various hierarchical causal chains to a Prime Mover, actualizing the potential of the very essence and operations of each of these individual things in turn."

      I see no coherent way of going two different directions and winding up at one source. And if we did so, each end would run into each other in a way that suggests infinity, not a beginning.

      "The question of whether there can be multiple Prime Movers/First Cause/Necessary Beings (depending upon the argument) or whether there is only one Prime Mover for all of these is addressed by Aquinas in Summa Theologica,"

      It's been a while since i looked into these sources, but as i recall the reasoning went something like this: I've already defined what a Prime Mover has to be. It's logically impossible that my definition isn't enough for you.

      So I didn't find the argument to be worthwhile.

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    34. Hey Don,

      "The problem with this defense is that phony examples are used to illustrate a dubious concept. It's not clear a genuine example of the concept (instrumental, 'per se' cause) exists anywhere in nature. This leads me to wonder if the concept has any merit at all. Surely if a concept is more than fantasy, nature would provide a clear example. The defense offered looks suspiciously like an assertion that a description of unicorns proves unicorns exist."

      Good point. I probably linked to a bad article where Ed is more focused on complaining about the blogger he was responding to. He links to a few other posts where he doesn't have the polemics going.

      This one is interesting because it talks to your point specifically I think:

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

      "What is key is the distinction between instrumental and principal causality (or second and first causality), a distinction which the language of per accidens versus per se (which I use in The Last Superstition and Aquinas) better conveys. An instrumental cause is one that derives whatever causal power it has from something else. To use Aquinas’s famous example, the stick that the hand uses to push the stone has no power to push the stone on its own, but derives its stone-moving power from the hand, which uses it as an “instrument.” (Of course, the stick might have some other causal powers apart from the hand; the point is that relative to the specific series hand-stick-stone it has no independent causal power.) A principal cause is one that does have its causal power inherently. The hand in our example can be thought of for purposes of illustration as such a cause, though of course ultimately it is not, since its power to move the stick depends on other factors. Indeed, there can at the end of the day be only one cause which is principal or non-instrumental in an unqualified sense, namely a cause which is purely actual and thus need not be actualized in any way whatsoever by anything else. In any event, it is because all the causes in such a series other than the first are instrumental in this way that they are said to be ordered per se or “essentially,” for their being causes at all depends essentially on the activity of that which uses them as instruments. By contrast, causes ordered per accidens or “accidentally” do not essentially depend for their efficacy on the activity of earlier causes in the series. To use Aquinas’s example, a father possesses the power to generate sons independently of the activity of his own father, so that a series of fathers and sons is in that sense ordered per accidens rather than per se (though each member of such a series is also dependent in various other respects on causal series ordered per se)."

      So human beings are not examples of per se movers in an unqualified sence. Only God is unqualifiedly a per se mover where the universe as a whole is is an instrument to his first cause.

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    35. Don Jindra,

      That's false. The movement is both directions. This is exactly my point. It's not possible to find a case where the direction of movement goes only one way.

      You don't think the entire hand-stick-stone system ends up moving in one direction in the example given? And that the movement of the stick is caused by the hand and ultimately the movement of the stone also?

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    36. @One Brow:

      Let me try again, on this, the cruelest day, of the cruelest of months.

      Objection: Prof. Feser in following St. Thomas uses the hand-stick-rock as an example of per-se causal series. But, so you say, given the finite propagation speed, there is a small delay, so on a more refined analysis taking into account the best physical knowledge, this is not a per-se causal series. So Prof. Feser says it is an illustration of the concept. Fine, but then where are the actual examples of per-se causal series in nature? As far as you know there are none, and if there are none the whole First Way collapses as a complete vacuity.

      Respondeo: Not instantaneity but instrumentality, is the distincive mark of per-se causal series. But as a direct answer to the question, per-se causal series are everywhere and are in fact, the most fundamental causal series. So open a quantum field theory book on the section on Feynman diagrams. Feynman diagrams are a graphic depiction of the relevant causal situation (they are also a technical tool, but that is not relevant for my purposes here). We have vertices where interaction happens connected by either straight or wiggly lines, representing the propagation of fermions (the matter) and bosons (the force field carriers) respecitvely. The important point is, where the causal interaction happens, the interaction *is instantaneous* and it is an example of one-link per-se causal series. Therefore, the causal series depicted by a Feynman diagram is an accidental series consisting of the more fundamental one-link per-se causal series as building blocks.

      This is also true, classically speaking. The field-matter (in GR, the field would be the space-time geometry) and field-field interactions are instantaneous and examples of one-link per se causal series.

      Even in the example St. Thomas gives of an accidental series the fundamental building blocks are one-link per-se causal series: each father begetting each son. And if one objects that each father begetting his son is not really an example of a per-se causal series because there is a delay between the emission of the seed, the finite propagation speed of the seed (through a mysterious, unnamed ether) and the action of the seed on the egg; and presumably, the father could die after the emission and before the fertilization (the little death becoming an actual death, of a heart attack, say). This just means that on a more accurate analysis, a father begetting a son is an accidental causal series of one-link per-se causal series (emission of the seed, action of the seed on the egg). No matter the level of causal analysis, this is what one will see.

      Finally, and to forestall a possible objection: there are one-link per-se causal series but where are the more-than-one-link per-se causal series? This would be a misunderstanding of what St. Thomas is doing. If it is a fact that there are only one-link causal series, then it is a contingent fact about this world, to be decided by a carefully informed metaphysical analysis. St. Thomas is just covering his bases, since he cannot prove that that it is so, and it is irrelevant if it is so.

      I Tiresias, though blind, perceived the scene and foretold the rest.

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    37. grodrigues,

      I understand your point much better now (I think). I will add this to the mix of thought I am giving Daniel's explanation.

      I know you don't like me much, so I know this was a very charitable effort on your part, and I am grateful.

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    38. Daniel,

      I'll address the explanation in the quoted text. A man intends to push the stone. He uses a stick as an instrument to achieve his goal. We can all relate to that. We have that human frame of reference.

      But does this say anything about the makeup of reality? To me it does not. To me it merely says we view our acts differently than nature's acts. We consider ourselves as first order movers and we view the tools we use as subservient.

      I view the world as a human just like every one else. But I disagree that our perspective is necessarily the way things truly are. I disagree that our way of thinking trumps reality.

      As far as the stone is concerned, it doesn't matter if the stick was moved by a hand, or if the stick fell from a tree and knocked it out of the way, or if a flood moved all three. Human intent is completely irrelevant to it. Human intent is completely irrelevant to physical laws of nature.

      We look at hand-stick-stone and think: Yes, I understand. The man wants to move the stone. He found a means to do it and accomplished his goal. When a flood washes away the stone we don't think in the same way. The water had no intent to wash away the stone. But in the end, what's the difference?

      When I try to step out of my human frame of reference this is the question I keep asking. What is truly the difference? I think cause is simply cause. We invent several variations of cause. We humans like to invent categories. We have dry snow and wet snow for what is only snow. Ultimately I think there is only one type of cause and we find different ways of looking at it. We search for ways to justify these human perspectives. But that's all. It says nothing about reality itself.

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    39. bmiller,

      "You don't think the entire hand-stick-stone system ends up moving in one direction in the example given?"

      I know from experience that movement is both ways. You know the same thing. When I use a stick to move an object out of the way, I feel a jolt on my end of the stick. That's not my hand causing that feeling. It's the object expressing itself. That feeling you get is, in fact, a movement going from stone to hand. In the language of the room, the stone is using the stick as an instrument to express its desire to stay where it is.

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    40. Don Jindra,

      I know from experience that when I use a stick to push a stone my hand, the stick and the stone all move in the same direction. In fact I just laid out a tape measure on my counter and pushed a bottle with a kitchen utensil and a I observed that they all moved in the same direction a certain distance over time (so I could have calculated the velocity vector).

      The example is supposed to show that the hand is responsible for the motion of the mobile and not the moving stick and not moving stone are not. If you want to relevantly defeat the argument, you will have to show the hand is not responsible for the movement of the mobile as a whole.

      Regarding the inertia reactive force from the push one feels. Motion is not the result from equal and opposite forces. Motion (acceleration) occurs when forces are unbalanced. So I could push on a boulder but neither of us would actually move unless I pushed with enough force to overcome inertia and friction and then the boulder would be accelerating (actually moving and so F=mA). So although I can feel an equal an opposite force while pushing that does not necessarily mean anything is moving in any direction.

      One more thing regarding instanteous motion. According to Aristotle (and therefore Aquinas) there can be no such thing as an instanteous motion because motion is change over time. It would therefore not make any sense to describe change as being instantaneous since that would imply change without any time elapsing which violates the definition of motion. This makes it apparent that the hand-stick-stone example never relied on "instanteous change" since "instanteous change" would be a nonsense concept.

      So it's apparent that the example is an examination of the particular motion of a mobile (hand, stick and stone) that is ongoing over a period of time. The cause of that motion being traced to the hand and not the stick or stone.

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    41. Hey Don,

      "But does this say anything about the makeup of reality? To me it does not. To me it merely says we view our acts differently than nature's acts. We consider ourselves as first order movers and we view the tools we use as subservient."

      Yes, we are not apart from nature. That is why the person who moves the hand that moves the stick that hits the rock, is simply to illustrate a concept.

      "As far as the stone is concerned, it doesn't matter if the stick was moved by a hand, or if the stick fell from a tree and knocked it out of the way, or if a flood moved all three. Human intent is completely irrelevant to it. Human intent is completely irrelevant to physical laws of nature."

      Agreed. Nothing that is happening in the interaction changes the laws of physics. Its not suppose to challenge any law of physics. It simply illustrating a chain of causation that starts with an intelligent cause, that uses somethings as instruments. The instruments themselves do not initiate the chain of causation.

      "We look at hand-stick-stone and think: Yes, I understand. The man wants to move the stone. He found a means to do it and accomplished his goal. When a flood washes away the stone we don't think in the same way. The water had no intent to wash away the stone. But in the end, what's the difference?

      When I try to step out of my human frame of reference this is the question I keep asking. What is truly the difference? I think cause is simply cause. We invent several variations of cause. We humans like to invent categories. We have dry snow and wet snow for what is only snow. Ultimately I think there is only one type of cause and we find different ways of looking at it. We search for ways to justify these human perspectives. But that's all. It says nothing about reality itself."

      One is an intelligent cause of action and the other is not. Of course this gets into discussions of the nature of mind and of hylomorphic dualism, something you reject, I know.

      But even though we grant no changes at all to any law of physics, human beings and animals are still voluntary agents of some sort. They operate on instinct or by intelligence, or a combination of both. And all of these self movers depend on ever deeper substances for them to act at all. So they are not in an unqualified sense, self movers. They depend on the atoms, the atoms on their constituent protons, neutrons, and electrons, and then there is a further dependency on the four fundamental forces: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, and weak, and those are also dependent on further things for them to be actual at all. You have to bottom out at some point at a first actualizer, mover, or causal agent of the entire series.

      Now at this point, I don't think there is any way to deny that there is a dependency chain here, and take away the existence (actuality) of any of the Jenga blocks lower down, and everything above it topples down. So the question is, what is the character of the first Jenga block at the base of this chain of existence that provides the causal power to all the blocks above it?

      And the answer is .... Aquinas doesn't know much at this point ... but what he does know is that whatever that fundamental block is, it points to the existence of some singularity that he would call God. That singularity acts as the first causal agent, granting causal power to everything above it. It acts as the first mover, granting motion to every mover above it. It acts as the one necessary lynch pin for every other contingent thing above it. And it is the basis for all formality and finality above it. All five of the first ways point back to this singularity, which Aquinas calls God.

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    42. And here I would point you to Ed's fourth objection in his post to cap things off. The five ways prove the existence of this singularity he calls God. The following 250 pages tries to flesh out the details or essence of the singularity.

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    43. @One Brow:

      "I know you don't like me much"

      Now, what gave you this impression? I am such a kind, gentle and mild-mannered soul that I cannot possibly fathom what it could have been.

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  9. I think the pictures make a significant contribution to the awesomeness of Feser's blog. I wonder if his publishers would let him put pictures in his books too? That would be awesome.

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  10. ". . . because the members other than the first have only derivative or borrowed causal power rather than built-in causal power. . . ."

    The phrase, "other than the first", does seem to assume what is in question.

    So while I think the atheist commits the fallacy of composition in asserting infinity, whether of the simultaneous causal series or the temporal causal sequence, the Second Way and Kalam arguments seem to commit the same kind of fallacy in claiming that the total causal system as a whole needs a cause just like its components do.

    There's also George Hamilton Smith's claim that the 1st Law of Thermodynamics--that matter cannot be created or destroyed (as well as our common assumption of an enduring material reality) implies the eternality of the universe. (Atheism: The Case Against God, pages 240-241)

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    Replies
    1. The quantifier shift fallacy doesn't work because Aquinas and other theists prove that there can only be one uncaused cause in their arguments.

      The idea that the 1st Law shows that the universe is eternal begs the question because it assumes "the universe has no beginning or end, so it must not have a cause." But Aquinas's Third Way shows otherwise. It's impossible for any material thing to be absolutely necessary because material things are always composite. Only something that is simple can be uncaused.

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    2. I said nothing about multiple causes.

      Either matter can be created/destroyed or it can't. If it can't then nothing can create it or destroy it.

      If it can, then let's see the proof.

      Moreover, "always composite" is itself already an infinite series.

      And if an always-composite series is a crucial premise in an argument for God, then knowledge of God's necessary existence depends on a supposedly non-necessary infinite series of composite physical objects in order for the argument to even get off the ground.

      And I don't necessarily reject Kalam and Aquinas' simultaneous-causation argument, they could work, but I don't think they're valid as currently developed.

      But until and unless someone decisively resolves the infinity problem--in terms of persuasion as well as formal argumentation--they're going to be widely rejected or just ignored because of these and other objections.

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    3. machinephilosophy,

      First, the First Law of Thermodynamics is a description of how matter behaves according to its nature as matter, as are all such "laws of physics." But a thing having a nature separate from its existence presupposes a cause whose essence is its existence (this is the essence-existence distinction argument from St. Thomas). For the First Law to be an argument against God, you need to posit something further - namely, the existence of existential inertia. And to do that, you'd need to refute the arguments for God's existence on their own terms and show that material things do not need a cause.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "always composite is itself already an infinite series." Are you aware of the line of argument from Plotinus that the unity of composite beings requires a simple being to be the cause of their unity?

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    4. Are the components that make up composite material objects also composite themselves?

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    5. There's not an infinite division that's possible, as an infinite division would mean an actual infinite. When you break it down, you can get it down to the tiniest sub-atomic particle - the atom in the ancient sense of being indivisible - it still is a composite entity (namely, a composite of essence and existence, matter and form, act and potency, etc.).

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    6. How do you know they're indivisible?

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    7. machinephilosophy, are you objecting that it's unproved that an atom in the ancient sense cannot conceivably be separated from its form, essence, potential, etc.?

      Interesting discussion, and just trying to follow along.

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    8. Hi Teppy

      No, at this point I'm just questioning the claim that there are indivisible physical objects.

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    9. machinephilosophy,

      Do you think that an actual infinite is possible?

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    10. There's also George Hamilton Smith's claim that the 1st Law of Thermodynamics--that matter cannot be created or destroyed (as well as our common assumption of an enduring material reality) implies the eternality of the universe.

      Isn't that in a closed system? That doesn't appear to apply in an open system.

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    11. machinephilosophy, do you think physical objects that have no extension in space (infinitesimally small) are possible? Even if the physical object could not exist if divided more, could you hypothetically point to a top distinct from its bottom? It would only not be so if it could exist without extension.

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    12. machinephilosophy,

      No, at this point I'm just questioning the claim that there are indivisible physical objects.

      Photons are indivisible, to my understanding.

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    13. And photons, being (at least under one aspect) energy rather than matter leaves the question open. But that may be an equivocation on "physical" which, for these purposes, perhaps must be taken to include such things as photons (which, after all, have mass).

      But to the extent that photons are properly "physical" or "matter" for this point, and have specific characteristics, photons would therefore consist of a union of form and matter, and thus be in principle "divisible".

      Machine's pointed question can be resolved into more fine-tuned questions: are there some very small physical objects (and "objects" here may require distinguishing "things" from "quasi-things" and "virtual things") which (1) cannot be divided in ANY sense; (2) can be divided conceptually but not actually; (3) can be divided but not into smaller physical things (rather such that the result of division is not two "things" in a requisite sense); or (4) can be divided into residual physical beings that ARE physical "beings" in the same sense as the original small objects themselves. That is, it may take more fine-tuned attention to the terms "physical", "object", and "divide" to have useful answers.

      As I understand it (which is very vaguely indeed) there is some reason to suggest that quarks are so insubstantial "beings" that their is no way to conceive dividing them into smaller residual beings (even virtual). For one thing, at least under current hypotheses, quarks may not even have the property of extension, which (seemingly) would be a pre-requisite to being able to be divided into "parts" that are, themselves, extended. Or, (depending on your intention for asking about "division") are quarks themselves - if without extension - ALREADY too "fine" a division of physical being to qualify?

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    14. Wes, physicists a long time ago stopped trying to think of material stuff as being continuous stuff that, at EVERY CONCEIVABLE level of magnification, remained still "stuff" of the same sort as the macro stuff. This is where the atomic theory led us: that "stuff" is usually particulate in nature when you peer into it at higher magnification. There always remained a possibility that sufficiently high resolution, they might have found "bits" that were continuous "stuff" for all higher degrees of magnification: When atoms were discovered by Dalton et al, as of that time they thought atoms of iron were solid iron with iron-like qualities at ALL finer resolutions. When protons were discovered, they might have thought at the time that protons were solid matter with "proton-like" properties at all finer resolutions, but it turns out that quarks came out of the analysis, which are not proton-like at all. And the difficulty with quarks is that they are so insubstantial in being that they (a) seem to not even have a determinate size to begin with, and (b) it is not even clear what it would MEAN to "divide" one into smaller "bits" that have quark-like properties, or whether "division" even makes sense.

      So, although it had been hypothetically possible (back in time) to believe that we would eventually come to some small particulate bodies that have specific substantial, material characteristics "through and through" at any and ALL finer resolutions, it does not seem likely that this is in fact the case. Even if we had, it would still be questionable whether the finest particle we had found (that was a material substance "through and through" in all its extension), that it would be "divisible" in anything OTHER than conceptual terms: for instance, if the physical constraints meant that there could not even in theory be a particle smaller than, say, Plank's constant as a unit, there could never be a knife or divider that could sever a bit that size into smaller bits. So, there might have been nothing "infinitesimal" about it in practical terms, though we could always TALK about smaller units of the stuff, i.e. by making "beings of the mind" of the stuff, considered as ever smaller.

      Other than that, I find it repugnant to the mind to consider material being made up of ACTUAL material stuff that is (at every level) made up of ACTUAL bits that are always actually divided into still smaller actual bits, ad infinitum. It seems, at first glance, that we could not even in theory ever prove that there was no possible "smallest" bit size. Which might be more an epistemic problem than a real one, I admit.

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    15. @Tony,

      Last I heard, photons didn't actually have mass or were massless, which is why they can go at their own speed - all other matter would have to increase of infinite mass to reach the speed of light. But I'm open to being corrected on that.

      In fact, light is a boson particle, not a fermion, which means two or more photons can share the same spatial location without difficulty. Aquinas seemed to have denied this was possible - which is one of the complaints you could make by saying his metaphysics was in one respect outdone by science - but to me at least, it seems what Aquinas actually meant by this was something more metaphysical; two material beings can't share the same location in the sense their matter can't occupy the same dimensions as matter. And this is technically true since even two photons sharing the same location and quantum state don't share the same matter metaphysically, and so they don't share the same location in that metaphysical sense.

      As for quarks - I think Thomism, Scholasticism and classical philosophy in general are independent of whether or not matter is gunky.

      For example, Thomism is indifferent to whether matter is:

      a) Necessarily discrete - meaning there is a bottom layer of matter beyond which you can't cut or divide it further into the same or different type of matter

      2) Or if matter was necessarily gunky and infinitely divisible, meaning there is no limit to how much you can divide it and there are infinitely many levels of new particles that make up other particles.

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    16. Last I heard, photons didn't actually have mass or were massless, which is why they can go at their own speed - all other matter would have to increase of infinite mass to reach the speed of light.

      Excuse my hasty error: photons may be said to have 0 "rest mass", but of course they never are at rest. They always travel at the speed of light, and they "interact" with masses by acting as if they were affected by the mass of other things. Also, since light (and other types of photons) ALWAYS travel at the speed of light, they never accelerate, so they never get caught into the "infinite force" required for a non-zero mass accelerating to the speed of light.

      Ultimately, since E = mc^2, and photons have energy, it is a truism that photons have a "something" that has a dynamic equivalency to physical mass. I think that's enough to say it is a "physical being" of some sort or other.

      I too did not think Thomism required matter to be (at the bottom level) either continuous or discrete, it was open to either. I was just trying to suggest that, with quarks, there is no reason even to feel strongly that we should expect matter to turn out to be particulate "all the way down" ad infinitum, under Thomism or under modern physical theory.

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    17. @Tony,

      In relation to Thomism though, one of the few things that seems to have been insisted on with regards the physical world was that an actual infinite can't exist, whether it be a multitude or physical intensity, with several arguments given against that, especially relying on Aristotelian finitism.

      But could Thomism or Scholasticism still generally accept the possibility of actual physical infinities? While the tendency in the Medieval era was to reject such a thing, do modern Thomists have a different view of physical infinities?

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    18. Joe, as I understand it, the usual Thomistic antipathy to "actual infinities" has to do with physical being which is actually infinite in extent, or infinite in some other aspect that implicates infinite extension one way or another. E.G. a box that is 5 ft. by 3 ft. by infinite length in the third direction.

      What you seem to have proposed here, is something that almost would qualify as the OPPOSITE of infinite: physical entities that are "infinitely small", which is sort of like saying that they have extension WITHOUT being extended. It seems a bit of an oxymoron. If (as per Empedocles) the gross macro matter we sense is "really made up of" particles that are infinitely small, there is no good reason to think that many of them (even an infinitely many of them) could be made to constitute a physical aggregate whose size is a specific non-zero size (and, for good measure, whose size is given by the particles making it, and not by some independent act). From math, it seems unlikely that there could be found a physical principle by which an infinite number X of particles would make one rock 5 inches in diameter, and that an infinite number Y of similar particles would make a rock 10 inches in diameter. (See the cardinality theorems that prove that the set of counting numbers has the same cardinality as the EVEN counting numbers, and the counting numbers evenly divided by 5, and the counting numbers evenly divided by 273...).

      If the physical entities have no extension because size is not one of their characteristics, then an aggregate of them will not come to have a size on account of either SIZE of the parts nor of the NUMBER of the parts, but due to some separate actuality. But in that case, I don't think it makes sense to call them "infinitely small", any more than it would make sense to call a particular sound tone "not very smart" or "having infinitely small greenness".

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    19. @Tony,

      I wasn't talking about infinitely small things, but infinite amounts and infinite qualities.

      For example, could there be an infinite amount of material things in existence at the same time? Could the universe be infinite in size, or can a material thing be infinite in size or have a quality that is infinite?

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  11. Dr. Feser -- I hope you will find time to respond to some of the recent work by atheist/agnostic philosophers who actually know what they are talking about. I'm thinking specifically of Oppy's published criticism of your work as well as Joe Schmid's recent (in my view, quite impressive) work on existential intertia and the so-called "aloneness" argument.

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    1. My article "Oppy on Thomistic Cosmological Arguments" is forthcoming in Religious Studies. I'll get to Schmid when I have a chance.

      Please keep in mind that writing up a blog post on a topic like this one is usually a relatively quick matter. It takes much longer to write an academic paper. And I'm pretty much always working on one such paper after another -- not to mention the current book project that is taking me forever -- and typically have to meet some deadline I committed to long ago. So, it usually simply isn't possible to drop everything and write up a response to some recent paper as quickly as people would like.

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    2. Understood and sorry if my post came across the wrong way. Thanks for responding and all your great work. In my defense, though, you're one of, it not the, most articulate and capable defenders of classical theism writing today. I also think you're a major reason younger skeptical philosophers, like Schmid, are taking classical theism seriously rather than devoting all their time rehashing arguments against Swinburne and Plantinga. I also think that Schmid is quite astute and -- somewhat like Richard Gale -- understands that the way to attack classical theism is to challenge its internal coherence (because if it is coherent, it is true). So I'm anxious to see how you would address these objections. But point taken, I will be more patient.

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    3. This Schmid fellow sounds like a drink of cool water on a hot day for the Classic Theist.

      Someone who is actually challenging vs the lolcow gnu crowd who just recycles their rebuttals to the ANSWERS IN GENESIS and not only manages to beg the question but bores the poop oot of the rest of us with their non-starter yammerings.

      I look forward to him and Feser interacting.
      Thanks for the heads up to the rest of us guy.
      Should be stimulating.

      Peace be with you.

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    4. Why does Son of Ya'Kov use such odd language? Is there something wrong with him?

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    5. Yea, he swings from one persona to another, and generally assumes the more slang and patter laden one the more obnoxious and objectionable he becomes. He is probably mentally ill. We must show pity and compassion when dealing with him.

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    6. If you are the Unknown who had a long exchange with him recently on the Lacondaire thread, I must say that neither of you conducted yourself very well or emerged with much credit, though to be fair, Son of Ya'kov did initiate the exchange with unwarrented accusations, and proceeded to repeatedly accuse you of being an apologist for paedophilia, which you are not. I take it that you are a leftist atheist, and as such I can hardly speak on your behalf, but assuming that Son of Yakov is a Cathoic, I feel ashamed by his behaviour, which was uncharitable and an affront to God who he will have to answer to one day. Please do not imagine that most religious people are like him. As you observe though, he may well be mentally ill.

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    7. Yeah, I seemed to trigger the initial unknown in the Lacondaire post in the context of commenting on the polemical tone relating to homosexuality in the Last Superstition. I don't take back what I said, since I think it is true, but maybe there was a better way of expressing what I said. At any rate, questioning any kind of sexual license our society now affords seems to cause people to completely lose it. And such conversations typically degenerate into flame wars with little value.

      I honestly don't know what the best approach is when evangelizing our society on these issues. There is the prophetic approach, that seems to lead people to want to kill you (witness the threats of violence the initial unknown started expressing) and there is the approach that proposes a positive alternative and view of human sexuality, such as theology of the body (TOB) which is deep and beautiful, but apparently easy to ignore and complex.

      What would Jesus do ... issues of sexuality are so deep and personal. Pope John Paul II put sexuality on a level of a transcendental - at least for us as a species. This perhaps helps to explain the rage these conversations can engender.

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    8. Daniel 8.07am

      I am the Unknown you are referring to above. Both you and Unknown at 6.37am seem to be misremembering, as the exchanges in question took place on the 'Aquinas on video' thread, not the Lacondaire one.

      In your final , theologically virtue signalling contribution to our exchange, you unjustly and erroneously accused me of a ragbag of monsterous ills. Now -not for the first time - you say that I have threatened violence against you, only this time I want to kill you too. This just reinforces my contention that you are prone to misreading reality. To repeat yet again, I would organise and confront you reactionaries on the streets, in the work place and wherever else necessary if you became a significant threat to our liberal freedoms and way of life , but I think this highly unlikely as your church cannot even generate real resistance to what it sees as the continuing holocaust of industrial child slaughter in abotrion, obsessed aa it is with legalism and respectability. I have no personal gripe against you at all.

      Immediately after our exchange this Son of Yakob character appeared, making completely unfounded accusations in his usual bizarre twang ( he has two personas, which he employs at different times ). The exchange soon degenerated, but was not altogether serious , as the purpous of many of the comments - especially later on - was to wind the interlocutor up! My exchange with you, and your reactionary and repressed oppinions about sex and sexuality , had long since been forgotton.

      I am impressed by what Unknown has to say at 6.37am, and it has made me stop and think. In particular, he criticised the behaviour of a fellow Catholic, callibg him out and holding him to a higher standard. Do you not have anything to say about the conduct of this 'Son of Yakof ' fellow?

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    9. Hey Unknown at 9:25

      “I am the Unknown you are referring to above. Both you and Unknown at 6.37am seem to be misremembering, as the exchanges in question took place on the 'Aquinas on video' thread, not the Lacondaire one.”

      Agreed. But you had referenced me and our exchange on the Lacordaire thread in the 'Aquinas on video' thread.

      “In your final , theologically virtue signalling contribution to our exchange, you unjustly and erroneously accused me of a ragbag of monsterous ills. Now -not for the first time - you say that I have threatened violence against you, only this time I want to kill you too. This just reinforces my contention that you are prone to misreading reality.”

      I will admit to a lot of slippery slope type thinking that may or may not represent what you actually believe, but as you did not specify exactly the limits of the types of violence you would be willing to engage in in defense of your liberal freedoms, I felt some justification in doing so. I would gladly be proven wrong.

      “To repeat yet again, I would organize and confront you reactionaries on the streets, in the work place and wherever else necessary if you became a significant threat to our liberal freedoms and way of life , but I think this highly unlikely as your church cannot even generate real resistance to what it sees as the continuing holocaust of industrial child slaughter in abotrion, obsessed aa it is with legalism and respectability. I have no personal gripe against you at all.”

      OK – but for me this all seems like a very open ended threat. I can imagine all sorts of things that you might be willing to do in defense of your liberal freedoms and way of life. For example, this documentary made by ABC Australia presents Poland as a Catholic paradise, arrived at by democratic means, but fully embracing Catholic social teaching, putting an end to abortion on demand, and other such teachings. (Of course they didn't intend that in the video – it is very much from a liberal perspective. They make it seem all ominous and such and try to make Catholics out to be monsters.)

      https://youtu.be/mNg02F6FY_0

      Is there a limit to the kinds of violence you would tolerate in defense of your freedoms? I don’t know based on your comments. Would you just hold demonstrations? Would you burn down stores? Would you start attacking people, setting car bombs, blowing up churches, flying 747s into buildings? Where is the limit to the violence you seem to be advocating? I’m looking for some kind of principle is all.

      And bear in mind, I find it ironic that you would advocate violence to achieve your political ends when Poland obtained freedom from communist dictatorship through non violent means.

      https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/polands-solidarity-movement-1980-1989/

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    10. Any violence would be defensive in the hypothetical scenario I described and would be directed towards isolating, undercutting and neutralising your movement. Of course I would not advocate something so completely pointless and counter- productive as the burning down of stores! My focus would be on building the widest possible united front of progressive people and youth, and confronting you head on in the streets and workplaces, through strikes, demonstrations and counter demonstrations. I would seek to make it impossible for you to operate. Strategy and tactics would be decided at the time as the situation evolved, but many of the possibilities you list seem mindless, desperate and not likely to advance the cause.

      I do not oppose political violence in
      principle - it is a tactic that is sometimes necessary, practicable and and appropriate, sometimes not. Why on earth do you imagine that I would want to meet an existential crisis through pacifism ( What happened in Poland is neither here nor there ) - that is the stance adopted by your church in the face on your continuing industrial scale child murder holocaust. I would not seek to emulate its example.

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    11. So the only limit you place on the use of violence is any violence that is "not likely to advance the cause". Wow. That door is wide indeed.

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    12. Er, I did not say that as well you know. I said that ' many of the possibilities you list seem mindless, desperate and unlikely to advance the cause'.

      Unlike you I have no pacifistic and superstitious aversion in principle to violent political action ( even in the defence of an industrial level and continuing child murder holocaust), but the emphasis would be on maintaining the widest possible coalition in the streets and workplaces, and in preventing and undercutting your activities and organisation, not on a minority carrying through mindless violent acts.

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    13. Yes, but what keeps whatever it is that seems more appropriate to advance the cause from degenerating into atrocities? You talk about emphasis, but that seems so subjective. What happens if circumstances make it seem like concentration camps, gulags, and re-education centers become the best way to advance the cause? What is preventing you to go down that road? You are avowedly leftist, right? What, in principle, will keep you from following in the footsteps of the Soviet Union or China or North Korea? These are clearly the boogeymen of people on the right when thinking about leftists in general.

      And just so you know, the catholic church does have teachings on just war and violence. We are not pacifists. But we do have a principled approach when it comes to engaging in war.

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    14. 1889 Without the help of grace, men would not know how "to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse." This is the path of charity, that is, of the love of God and of neighbor. Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: "Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it."

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    15. Daniel, please help me understand your churches apparent pacifism in relation to abortion. Not that of individual members like yourself, who have limited power and courage, and who may try to make a difference through the odd vigil or attendance at a march or demo , but this great, powerful, hulking, and influential church of yours. Why is its response to ongoing child murder (as it sees it) on an industrial scale so pussillanimous, consisting mearly of homilies and instructions to the faithful to vote for this politician rather than that in elections?

      This is a serious question, as the situation suggests to me hypocracy and cowardace at the very top of your church, and a desire to maintain favour and respectability with secular powers even in the face of what it considers to be a monsterous evil.

      I must say, if it emerged that the mentally ill, or gay and trans people or members of minority ethic groups say , were being spirited away and murdered in western liberal societies where it is easy to organise politically, the outcry would be deafening and the streets ungovernable, and secularists would see to it that the astrocities stopped. What is your analysis of what appears to me to be your churches practical acquiescence to what it typifies as ongoing industrial scale child murder?

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    16. Well first, I would quote this:

      “1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility":21

      A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.22
      1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."23”

      So clearly, abortion is against the moral law, and so Catholics are not obliged to obey such laws and are encouraged to use such means as they can to stop these laws.

      With regard to recourse to violence, we need to first look at when violence is acceptable:

      “Legitimate defense

      2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65
      2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
      If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66
      2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. ”

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    17. Now, supposing that the authorities no longer have legitimacy because they are now participating in grave evils, such as abortion and euthanasia, I suppose a pretext for civil disobedience is now allowed. The next question is whether civil disobedience should escalate to civil war. And for that we have to look at Catholic just war theory:


      “ 2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

      - the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

      - all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

      - there must be serious prospects of success;

      - the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

      These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

      The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

      2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

      Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.107

      2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way.108 ”

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  12. “it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity”

    Not one of Aquinas's finest moments, to be honest. This would mean that it is possible for there to have been an infinite amount of human individuals. I'm not sure what that would even look like.

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    1. Infinite over time, but not infinite at any ONE moment. St. Thomas did in fact think that time was FINITE into the past, because he believed in God's creative act having set time in motion. But he was arguing philosophically WITHOUT ASSUMING that fact as a premise. Given that, he was able to argue that there had to be a divine being even if you don't assume the universe began at a certain moment in the past.

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    2. He is simply saying that, theoretically, it could be the case because a chain of accidentally ordered causes could go back infinitely without leading to a coherency problem.

      Sure, there could be physical and practical limitations, but his point is there is no logical limitations.

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    3. I know what his point is, and he's wrong, while Al-Ghazali is right. It's not about physical or practical limitations, it's about the absurdity of there being an infinite amount of beings or of moments. Even if we're not talking about one moment, the past is basically a series of 'nows' and, if the past were infinite, it would take an infinite amount of moments to reach the present moment. But here we are, so obviously, it can't have been infinite, or else the present moment would never have been reached.

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    4. I think philosophically it can be proven that infinite past is false.

      To arrive at “today”, “1 day ago” is required to exist first. Hence “today”’s existence is conditional on “1 day ago”’s existence. In this sense, “today” does not have intrinsic existence; in this sense, “today”’s existence is “derived” from “1 day ago”’s existence.

      Similarly, “1 day ago” does not have intrinsic existence; “1day ago”’s existence is enabled by, or “derived” from, “2 days ago”’s existence.

      If infinite past is true, then we have an infinite series of members such that EVERY member needs to “derive” its existence from its prior member. Hence it is an infinite series of non-existing members because EVERY member is “waiting” for its prior member to exist first. Such an infinite series would be an infinite series of non-existing members (ie non-existing days). So if time/days extends to an infinite past, then time/days is impossible to exist. Today would not exist.

      But today exists, so infinte past is false.

      This proves that the past is finite instead of being “begin-less”.

      :)

      Cheers!

      johannes y k hui

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    5. In any case, it is actually impossible for a series which terminates today to be infinitely long. The very thing that distinguishes infinite series from finite ones is that the former do not have an end and the latter do. That's why, as Aguirre and Kehayias wrote in their paper about a quantum account of the beginning of the Universe "it is very difficult to model a quantum state that is periodic forever and then evolves". It is better to say that it is impossible and meaningless to do such a thing. You can't arrive at the end of forever. That's what we have the word "never" for.

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    6. Thomas discusses issues such as the possibility of an infinite past at ST I.46.2. Especially relevant here is obj. 8 (that an infinite past entails that an actual infinite number of souls exist), as well as (more interestingly, I think), obj. 6, which touches upon a number of the objections that I'm reading above.

      Thomas's reply is quite simple, really, and is worth a read. In particular, it answers quite well the arguments that I'm reading above to the effect that, to quote Unknown [April 2], "it is actually impossible for a series which terminates today to be infinitely long."

      Also relevant here is ST I.7.4, co.

      In all, I think that Thomas is correct: the finitude of the past is an article of faith, and not something that can be proven philosophically.

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    7. René,

      I've read St. Thomas' answer to this question. But I think the point still stands - a per accidens series is one that has an end (namely, today). But quantitatively infinite series are never-ending. The non-existence of past events or causes is irrelevant; it's still a causal series - you can count the number of members.

      The phrase "infinite past time" even contains an implicit contradiction.

      Infinite - unachievable, unactualizable.

      Past time - (has been) achieved, (has been) actualized.

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    8. Unknown,

      You say to think that the reason that a series cannot be infinite if it has a terminus "at one end", so to speak. However, this is demonstrably false. For example, a series consisting of all positive whole numbers is infinite, even though it has a terminus "at one end", namely, the numeral 1.

      Once this is understood, your points fall apart.

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    9. Sorry for the terrible grammar above. I'm writing with a baby on my knee.

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    10. René,

      I suppose I could have worded that better: I don't mean a "terminus"; I mean an "end". Whatever direction a series is increasing in, if it is infinite, then it has no end to that increasing. The word literally means "unending" and that is how it's used in most of mathematics.

      Cheers.

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    11. Anonymous 10.36am

      You say that with an infinite past it would have required an infinite number of moments to get 'here' , yet 'here we are ', which you see as a reductio ad absurum. But surely this would only be so if we started off at a moment an infinite time ago, and then 'set off'. But that is no what an infinite past involves - there would be no first moment to set off from !

      If the past is infinite we can perfectly well account for how we got here from any of the moments in it - by a finite succession of moments - so there is no problem in accountinh for how we got here per se.

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    12. @Anonymous 1:02 AM,

      While this response might be true for the traversal argument, a similar objection could be made that an infinite past implies a literal infinity that has been finished linearly, which is incoherent as an infinity can't be finished since it's, well... infinite, or that it can't be fully counted in the sense of a linear series applying to infinitely many members.

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    13. But a literal infinity hasn't been FINISHED linearly as moments are still accruing. The past infinity of moments is growing in size, but will always be infinite. Just one of those odd things about infinity.

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  13. reasonable,

    I don't think this works. You're right to say that today does not have "intrinsic existence", but it doesn't "derive" its existence from yesterday; it derives its existence from God's sustaining act. Its relation to yesterday is merely accidental. Today cannot be conditional on yesterday's existence, since yesterday (as with all past events) doesn't exist. An infinite number of past events then wouldn't be problematic, since non of them would exist! Only some chain of concurrent dependence (in my view) can be proven to be finite.

    And besides, it's not as if it's impossible for God to eternally create a material world. I don't see any logical problem with that.

    "By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist, as was said above of the mystery of the Trinity" - Aquinas.

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    Replies
    1. Hi BenG,

      I think if one can steel-man what I wrote, and then one try to demolish the steel-man.

      As I mentioned, “derived” is used in the sense of a day cannot exist without its prior day having begun its existence and hence in this sense a day’s existence is conditional on its previous day having existed first. In this sense a day’s existence is “derived” or “conditional” on its previous day having existed first.

      If every “day” (ie every member of) of the infinte series is to wait for its previous day to start existing first, then no “day” would exist.

      :)

      Cheers!

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    2. Amend: “I think one should use a steel-man approach to interpret what I wrote first, and then attempt to demolish the steel-man. Interpret my text in its most sensible manner first.”

      :)

      Cheers!

      johannes y k hui

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