Friday, July 2, 2021

Schmid on the Aristotelian proof

A fellow named Joseph Schmid has written a number of articles and blog posts critical of various ideas and arguments of mine, such as the Aristotelian proof defended in chapter 1 of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  Until this week, I hadn’t read any of this material, though for some time now I’ve been getting an increasing number of requests that I comment on it.  Many of these have been anonymous and weirdly insistent or adulatory toward Schmid, which made me suspect sock puppetry rather than genuine widespread interest.  My attention in recent months has, in any event, been focused on the book on the soul that I am working on and which is way behind schedule (as well as on other existing writing commitments, most of which have deadlines).  I also have an article forthcoming in Religious Studies responding to Graham Oppy’s objections to the Aristotelian proof, and after working on that I was inclined to give the topic a rest for a while.  Hence my neglect of Schmid.  But the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  So, in hopes of appeasing the Schmid enthusiasts, this week I read his recent article “Stage One of the Aristotelian Proof: A Critical Appraisal.”  Let’s take a look at it.

Schmid develops three main lines of criticism.  The first is directed at my claim that for an ordinary substance to persist in being at any moment requires that something actualize it at that moment.  The second is directed at what I say about essentially ordered causal series.  The third is directed at my claim that the unactualized actualizer or first cause of the existence of things must be purely actual.  I’ll reply to these in turn.  I’m not going to repeat everything I say in Five Proofs or everything that Schmid says in his article.  So, what follows will presuppose that the reader is familiar with that material.

Concurrent actualization

Consider any ordinary substance that is a compound of actuality and potentiality, such as the water in a certain glass.  I claim in Five Proofs that “the existence of [such a substance] at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of [its] potential for existence” (p. 35).  I note that there are several ways one could conceive of this actualization.  One could, in Aristotelian hylemorphist fashion, think in terms of prime matter’s potential to be water being actualized by the imposition of the appropriate substantial form.  Or one could, in Thomistic fashion, think in terms of the essence of the water having existence conjoined to it.  Or one could, in reductive naturalist fashion, think in terms of the particles that make up the water being made to constitute water, specifically, rather than some other substance.  For the purposes of this part of the Aristotelian proof, it doesn’t matter which of these models one goes with.

For expository purposes, let’s go with the last model, and think in terms of a collection of particles of type P which, considered just by themselves, could potentially constitute (a) water, or (b) separate quantities of hydrogen and oxygen, or (c) some other substance or aggregate of substances.  (I say “particles of type P” rather than making reference to atoms, quarks, bosons, or whatever, so as avoid getting sidetracked on questions about the particular physical and chemical facts, which are not relevant to the specific issue being addressed here.)

The basic idea is this.  Consider a collection of particles of type P which constitute water at time t.  Though they actually constitute water at t, there is nothing in the particles qua particles of type P that suffices to make them water rather than one of the other alternatives mentioned.  Again, qua particles of type P they have the potential to constitute water, or separate quantities of hydrogen and oxygen, or some other substance or aggregate of substances.  So, there must at t be something distinct from the collection which actualizes its potential to be water, specifically.

In response to this, Schmid writes:

Feser claims that it is the matter’s potential to exist as water that is presently ‘being actualized’. But ‘being actualized’ is arguably a notion of causal actualization.  Instead of claiming the matter’s potential is presently being actualized, then, a neutral description would say that the matter’s potential to exist as water is presently actual.

But not all actualities consist in or involve reductions of potency to act.  There are things that are (i) actual but (ii) whose actuality is not an actualized one – that is, not one consisting in the (concurrent) reduction of potency to act (by some causal actualizer).  For Feser, one example of this would be God… For those who do not already accept… that substances are concurrently reducing from potency to act in respect of their actual (substantial) existence – one example of an actuality that is an unactualized actuality may very well be the present existence of the water...

Now, notice that once we alter the phrasing to the neutral ‘the matter’s potential to exist as water is presently actual right now,’ we cannot straightforwardly infer the need for a concurrent, sustaining efficient cause of the water’s existence.

End quote.  Now, there are three problems with this.  First, Schmid is wrong to claim that my characterization of the situation is not neutral.  The implication is that no one who did not already agree with my argument would characterize what is going on as the potential of a collection of particles of type P to be water “being actualized” at t – because this would entail that there is a cause of this actualization, which is precisely what is at issue.

But that is not true.  Someone (a Humean, for example) could agree that the potential in question is being actualized at t, and still go on to claim that there is no cause of this actualization – that it just happens without anything making it happen.  To be sure, I don’t for a moment think that this would be a plausible claim (for the reasons I give in the book when criticizing Hume, defending PSR, and so on).  But that is beside the present point, which is that someone who does not already agree with the overall argument could nevertheless concede the claim that Schmid is criticizing.

A second problem is that Schmid’s proposed alternative way of characterizing the situation is incoherent.  For the claim that “the matter’s potential to exist as water is presently actual right now” (emphasis added) suggests that the collection of particles of type P is both potentially water and actually water in the same respect and at the same time.  But it is a well-known Aristotelian-Thomistic thesis – one which is famously given expression in Aquinas’s First Way, and which Schmid does not challenge – that nothing can be both potential and actual in the same respect and at the same time. 

My own characterization of the situation, unlike Schmid’s, does not imply otherwise.  Again, what I say is that at t, the collection of particles of type P considered just in respect of being particles of type P is only potentially water (and potentially other things too).  The collection is actually water only when considered as particles of type P together with the actualization of the potential in question (which, I also claim, requires a cause to make it happen – though, again, that is an additional thesis).  So, while I say that the particles are potential and actual at the same time, I do not say that they are potential and actual at the same time and in the same respect. 

Again, though, Schmid’s formulation incoherently suggests that they are potential and actual at the same time and in the same respect.  In particular, it suggests either (i) that considered just qua particles of type P, the particles are both potentially water and actually water, or (ii) considered qua particles of type P together with the actualization of the potential in question, the particles are both potentially water and actually water.  But neither of these makes sense.  If, as in (i), we consider the particles just qua particles of type P, then while they are potentially water, they are not actually water.  If instead, as in (ii), we consider the particles qua particles of type P together with the actualization of the potential in question, then they are actually water, but not potentially water.  (By the way, I am well aware that the last couple paragraphs might need to be re-read a couple of times in order to understand them!  Some of Schmid’s paragraphs are like that too.  That’s just in the nature of the subject matter we are debating and the subtle distinctions it involves, sorry.)

To avoid incoherent formulations like (i) and (ii), Schmid needs to put his point some other way.  The natural way to do it is to characterize the situation as one in which the collection considered just qua particles of type P is merely potentially water, but where the collection considered qua particles of type P together with the actualization of the relevant potential is actually water.  But that way of putting it would really amount to returning to my formulation after all, rather than offering an alternative formulation.

The third problem with Schmid’s criticism is in his glib suggestion that if God can be actual without being actualized, then – for all I have shown – the water too might be actual without being actualized.  For the view of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers (like me) is, of course, not that it is possible in principle for things in general to be actual without being actualized, but rather that it is possible only for something of a very specific type to be actual without being actualized – namely, for something that is purely actual and thus without any potentials standing in need of actualization.  Water is obviously not like that. 

So, whereas Schmid seems to be appealing to some point of common ground between us as the basis for his objection, in reality he is doing no such thing.  His objection presupposes that something other than what is purely actual might be actual without being actualized – a presupposition no Thomist would accept and for which he has given no justification.  So, the objection simply begs the question.

Schmid makes some further points in response to replies he imagines I might give to his objection.  Since, for the reasons I’ve just given, that objection fails, his further points are moot.  But I’ll briefly say something about some of them anyway.

He imagines, for example, that I might appeal to PSR as grounds for holding that the existence of the water at t requires some cause at t.  But in response he says that what happened prior to t plausibly explains the water’s existence at t.  Now, I am happy to concede that what happened prior to t is part of the explanation of the water’s existence at t.  But what is in question is whether what happened prior to t is by itself sufficient to explain the water’s existence at t.  Schmid says nothing to show that it would be sufficient.  Meanwhile, I argue in Five Proofs that it is not sufficient, and (as we have just seen above) Schmid’s attempt to undermine that argument fails.

Schmid also appeals in passing to the idea of “existential inertia” as a purported alternative explanation of the existence of the water at t.  But I have criticized atheist appeals to existential inertia at length (e.g. in this article and more briefly in Five Proofs at p. 233) and Schmid says nothing in reply to those criticisms.  (At least, he does not do so in the present article, which is the only one I’ve read.  But he ought to say something about them in the present article, since the article will beg the question otherwise.)

As I pointed out in one of my recent exchanges with Oppy, one problem with the kind of existential inertia scenario he and Schmid favor is that it is viciously circular.  Existential inertia would be an attribute of any substance that has it.  But attributes are ontologically dependent on substances.  So, Schmid’s proposal amounts to saying that the water’s existence at t depends on its attribute of existential inertia, and that its attribute of existential inertia depends on the existence of the water at t – a metaphysical merry-go-round.  (Only in the case of something in which there is no distinction between substance and attributes – that is to say, something strictly simple or non-composite – does this circularity problem not arise.  That is why God alone can have existential inertia.)

Schmid also quotes a passage in Five Proofs where I speak of the existence of the coffee in a certain cup as being “actualized” by the existence of the water that makes it up, where the existence of the water in turn depends on the existence of the particles that make it up, etc.  Here, he suggests, I am dubiously characterizing what are in fact the constituents of a whole as if they were the efficient causes of the whole.

I can see why Schmid would say this, given an uncharitable reading of the passage in question, which perhaps I ought to have phrased more carefully.  But that he should have read it more charitably is, I think, clear from the fact that I there said that the potential existence of the coffee is actualized “in part” by the existence of the water.  Naturally, the constituents of a thing qua constituents are not efficient causes, but material causes.  But what I meant in that passage is that the existence of the coffee is explained by the presence of its constituents together with something that actualizes the potential of those constituents to be coffee, specifically, as opposed to some other kind of thing.

Essentially ordered causal series

A causal series ordered per se or essentially is one in which the members other than the first have their causal power only in a derivative or borrowed way.  A stock example would be a stick that can move a stone only insofar as someone is using the stick as an instrument to move it.  The stick is a secondary cause insofar as it can do its causal work only if there is a primary cause – a cause with built-in or underived causal power – working through it.  The notion of this kind of causal series plays a crucial role in the Aristotelian proof. 

Schmid claims to offer an alternative account of the notion of an essentially ordered causal series which would not have the implications the Aristotelian proof says it has.  He suggests that a necessary condition on essentially ordered series is that there is some natural tendency or causal power toward a certain outcome that the primary cause operating through the secondary causes is counteracting.  He has in mind cases like the one in which, because of the gravitational pull of the earth, a stick would fall to the ground and lie there inertly unless a person comes along to counteract this gravitational influence by picking up the stick and using it as an instrument to move the stone.

But this is simply wrong.  What Schmid is describing is at most a contingent feature of certain specific examples of essentially ordered causal series.  It is not a necessary condition of all essentially ordered series as such.  For B to be a merely secondary cause of C, all that is required is that B lack any intrinsic power to produce C.  There needn’t be (though of course in some cases there could be) a countervailing factor (whether some tendency within B or some causal power external to B) positively acting to prevent B from producing C.  There need merely be the absence in B of any positive tendency to produce C.  A primary cause A need merely impart to B the needed causal power.  A needn’t, either alternatively or in addition, counteract something that prevents B from exercising the needed power. 

Why would Schmid want to suggest otherwise?  (And suggest is all he does.  He does nothing to show that the counteracting of some opposite tendency is a necessary feature of any essentially ordered causal series.  The most he does is to propose that this is a plausible way of interpreting certain specific examples.)

The reason is that Schmid wants to suggest in addition that the existence of something like the water in our earlier example will need a cause standing at the head of an essentially ordered series only if there is some factor positively acting to knock the water out of existence – a factor which the primary cause in an essentially ordered series would have to counteract.  And the presence of such a destructive factor is, Schmid says, something I do not establish – so that (given his analysis of essentially ordered series) my conclusion wouldn’t follow.

Schmid’s own alternative account of what is going on with the water is this: The water which exists at time t – 1 will, in the absence of some factor positively trying to destroy it, simply carry on existing at t.  A primary cause standing at the head of an essentially ordered series would be needed only if there were some destructive factor that needed to be counteracted.  Since there isn’t such a destructive factor, there is no need to appeal to such a series.

The problem with this, though, is that it once again simply assumes Schmid’s “existential inertia” model of the continued existence of the water – something which, again, I have argued against in the book and elsewhere, and which Schmid does nothing to defend in the present article.  In particular, Schmid will have to assume that model in order to make sense of the suggestion that the water will continue to exist at t in the absence of any destructive factor working positively to knock it out of existence.  So, yet again he simply begs the question.

It is important to emphasize that there is indeed a burden on Schmid to defend his existential inertia model, in order for his objections in the current article to have any force.  He seems to think that it is enough for him that I have not proved that there is a destructive factor positively working to knock the water out of existence.  And indeed I have not proved that, but I have not tried to, because it is irrelevant.  What I have done is argue against the existential inertia model, and if my arguments are correct, then the sheer existence of the water at t will need a cause even in the absence of anything positively working to destroy it. 

Schmid also claims that I have failed to show that, in the case of the sheer existence of a thing at some time t, the essentially ordered causal series that accounts for it is to be understood according to my analysis of essentially ordered series rather than Schmid’s analysis (where, again, the latter involves the claim that such series necessarily involve the counteracting of some tendency opposite to that of the actual outcome).

But in fact my critique of existential inertia does double duty here.  If the water lacks existential inertia, then it simply will not exist even for a moment, including at t, without a sustaining cause at t.  No factor needs positively to act to try to knock it out of existence; the mere lack of existential inertia will suffice for its failing to exist at t if there is nothing causing it to exist then.  So, if something does cause the water to exist at t, then this won’t be a matter of its having to counteract some factor that is trying to knock the water out of existence (along the lines of Schmid’s model of essentially ordered series).  Rather, it will be a matter of the cause actualizing something (the water) that simply would not otherwise exist at t whether or not there is a factor that needs to be counteracted.  In other words, this will be a scenario that fits my model of essentially ordered series, not Schmid’s.

Now, suppose the water does have a sustaining cause C, and that this cause too lacks existential inertia.  Then C is ontologically in the same situation as the water.  It too will simply not exist at t – and thus will not be able to cause the water to exist at t – unless it too has a sustaining cause of its own.  And once again, there need be no destructive factor that this further sustaining cause is counteracting (as in Schmid’s model).  Now suppose that what causes C to exist at t is B, and that B too lacks existential inertia.  Then the same problem will arise yet again.  And once again we will have a case where (contrary to Schmid’s model of essentially ordered series) the need for a sustaining cause has nothing to do with there being some countervailing force that the sustaining cause is counteracting.

Indeed, in the case of the sustaining causes of things which lack existential inertia, we have perhaps the clearest possible example of an essentially ordered series fitting my description of how such series operate rather than Schmid’s description.  Hence to rebut his existential inertia model suffices to rebut what he says about essentially ordered causal series.

(By the way, Schmid’s objections so far seem to me similar to the ones Oppy raised in his own critique of the Aristotelian proof, and which I responded to in our two online debates and deal with more systematically in my forthcoming Religious Studies article.  So, the hoopla of Schmid’s fans notwithstanding, it doesn’t seem to me that there is much in Schmid’s first two objections that really adds much to the exchanges online and in print that I have already had with Oppy.)

One last matter before we get to Schmid’s third and final line of criticism.  Schmid proposes in passing that there is a tension between the Aristotelian account of causation as the actualization of potential, and the classical theist understanding of creation.  Prior to creation, nothing exists other than God.  So how, Schmid asks, can creation be a matter of actualizing potential?  For prior to creation there is nothing there, distinct from God, with potentiality waiting to be actualized.  And God himself, being purely actual, doesn’t have potentialities waiting to be actualized either.  So how can creation involve the actualization of potential?  Schmid says that this is not a problem for classical theism as such, but rather for reconciling classical theism with the Aristotelian proof.

But Schmid’s mistake here is his implicit assumption that causation as such requires some preexisting substrate that is altered in the act of causation.  And that is, of course, precisely what the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo denies.  Hence if Schmid’s alleged problem really were a problem, it would indeed be a problem for classical theism as such (since classical theism is committed to creatio ex nihilo) and not just for Aristotelian versions of it.

But in fact it is not a problem.  Certainly no Thomist would agree that it is, given the Thomist account of creation as the conjoining of existence to essence, where the latter, considered by itself, is merely potential until the former actualizes it.  Now, this is not a matter of altering some preexisting substrate, since prior to creation there is no substrate.  When we draw hydrogen and oxygen out of water, there is something already there – the water – in which the things we are drawing out preexist in a virtual way.  But creatio ex nihilo is a more radical kind of causation than that.  Actualizing the very essence of a thing by conjoining existence to it is analogous to actualizing matter’s potential to be hydrogen or oxygen, but it is not exactly the same sort of thing as that.  We need to extend our use of the relevant terms (“potentiality,” “causation,” etc.) beyond their application to the sorts of case in which the terms were originally applied (i.e. cases in which a preexisting substrate is altered).  There is nothing unique to Thomistic natural theology about this.  It is precisely the sort of thing we do in physics when, for example, we extend our use of the term “curvature” to apply to space itself (whereas in its original usage, it applies only to the objects that occupy space). 

Naturally, there are crucial assumptions here – concerning the Thomistic metaphysics of essence and existence, the Thomistic theory of the analogical use of terms, and so on – that require further elaboration and defense.  The point, though, is that Schmid is hardly raising some issue that no one ever thought of before.  On the contrary, there’s a mountain of stuff written on it that Schmid’s remarks simply ignore.  Hence those remarks hardly constitute a serious objection.

(Compare: Suppose I remarked, in an article critical of materialism, that it is difficult to see how consciousness could be explained in materialist terms, and left it at that.  Would that be an interesting objection?  Of course not.  A materialist could justifiably respond: “Well, maybe so and maybe not, but surely you realize that there’s been an enormous amount written on how such an explanation might go!  Do you have anything to say in response to it?”  That’s how Schmid’s remarks on creation are bound to sound to a Thomist, or indeed to any defender of creatio ex nihilo.)

The purely actual actualizer

Schmid’s final main objection is to claim that, even if it is granted for the sake of argument that the sheer existence of the water at t requires a sustaining cause, it doesn’t follow that this cause would be purely actual rather than a compound of actuality and potentiality.  In particular, he claims that all I am entitled to conclude is that there is a first actualizer at t whose own existence is not in fact being actualized by something else.  But that is consistent with the supposition that the existence of this first actualizer could in principle be actualized by something else.  And if it could be, then it would have potentiality, even if it is potentiality that is not being actualized at t.

But this simply makes no sense.  Naturally, if the first actualizer is operating at t, then it must actually exist at t, and not merely potentially exist at t.  But in that case, then (if it is not purely actual) how can it have some potential to exist that is not being actualized at t?  For if such a potential were there but not being actualized at t, then the first actualizer would not exist at t, and thus not be causing (or doing anything else) at t.  Yet if such a potential is being actualized at t, then we are not really talking about the first actualizer after all, since in that case there would be something distinct from it that is actualizing its potential to exist (and that other thing would be the true first actualizer). 

Or is Schmid saying that the first actualizer’s potential to exist at t is actualized, but that there is no cause that is doing the actualizing?  That can’t be right, because in this third objection, Schmid is, at least for the sake of argument, conceding the principle that the actualization of potential requires a cause.  (Or, if instead he rejects this principle, that would really just take us back to his first objection to the Aristotelian proof, rather than constituting a third line of criticism.)

So, the objection seems to me to be a muddle.  The subsidiary points Schmid makes in the course of developing it aren’t much better.  For example, he says that, even if the first actualizer were purely actual with respect to its existence, it might still have potentialities in other respects (for example, with respect to changes it might undergo).  But the problems with this suggestion should be obvious from other things I say in Five Proofs.  For one thing, if the first actualizer has potentialities even of the sort Schmid suggests, then it will be composite rather than simple.  But, Thomists argue, anything composite requires a cause, in which case this actualizer will not after all be purely actual even with respect to its existence.  For another thing, the Scholastic principle agere sequitur esse (“action follows being”), which I defend in the book, entails that the manner in which a thing acts reflects the manner in which it exists.  Hence, if something acts only by way of actualizing potentialities, then it would exist only by way of actualizing them; or, if instead it exists without the actualization of potentialities, then so too it acts without actualizing them.  No doubt Schmid would disagree with all this, but the point is that his objections simply presuppose that it is wrong, and do nothing to show that it is.

Schmid also oddly claims that my own position unjustifiably “presupposes the impossibility of changeable necessary beings” (emphasis added).  But in fact my position presupposes no such thing.  Rather, it claims to demonstrate the impossibility of changeable necessary beings.  (It seems to me that there may be a kind of unintentional rhetorical sleight of hand in Schmid’s remark.  If someone claims to show that X is impossible – whether X is a round square, two plus two equaling five, a changeable necessary being, or whatever – a critic could always say: “Well, your argument is correct only if X is indeed impossible.”  Which is true, but trivial.  It hardly entails that the argument presupposes that X is impossible!)

Now as Schmid acknowledges, the charge that a first actualizer need not be a purely actual actualizer is in fact one that I anticipate and respond to in Five Proofs (at pp. 66-68).  He quotes a remark I make there to the effect that “the first actualizer in the series is ‘first’, then, in the sense that it can actualize the existence of other things without its own existence having to be actualized… in order for it to exist” (p. 66, emphasis added).  Schmid responds that his scenario is not one in which a first actualizer has some potentiality that has to be actualized in order for it to exist.  Rather, he is simply claiming that it is one in which a first actualizer needn’t in any sense be purely actual.  For example, it might have at t a potential with respect to its existence that is not in fact actualized at t. 

But this simply misses the point I made above.  If a first actualizer has at t a potential with respect to its existence, then it simply will not exist at t unless that potential is actualized.  Hence its potential would indeed have to be actualized in order for it to exist.  Again, Schmid’s scenario simply makes no sense.

I appreciate Schmid’s interest in the argument and his attempt to engage with it seriously.  However, on close inspection the attempt seems to me to be riddled with confusions, begged questions, and missed points.


  1. Perhaps Schmid will follow in your footsteps and convert now.

    Tom Cohoe, a Catholic,
    Williston, North Dakota

  2. Regarding the water's potential to exist being actualised, or continue being actualised - couldn't one argue that's incoherent?

    Because a thing either exists or doesn't, so the potential to exist just is actualised - there's no such thing as a potential to exist... when one already exists. Something similar may even be true of a potential to continue existing, as one could argue on the basis of the ex nihilo nature of existence that there's no such thing as a potential to continue to exist, since there's no such thing as an independent existence that then has a potential to continue existing.

    1. "Because a thing either exists or doesn't"

      Would you agree that the way a unicorn doesn't actually exist is different then the way a contradiction (e.g. square circle, married bachelor, etc..) doesn't actually exist? Because that's precisely the claim that's being made here. Some things *might* exist, even if they don't exist now, whereas other things could *never* exist.

    2. Remember not to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Yes the molecules don’t “actually exist” qua molecules. But they do exist as the actualized matter of the water. The prime matter of water is the principle of potency that acts as the substrate that requires concurrent actualization by the substantial form. Just because prime matter never exists by itself doesn’t mean you cannot talk about it being actualized. So Dr. Feser’s argument still follows.

    3. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be just making a Parmenidean move there, and I do think Parmenides was right that if you go with that view, you will end up with static monism - there won't be a plurality of things that exist, like you and me. There will be only one thing: existence itself, eternal and unchanging.

      If you are to say that Aristotle dividing up existence (or being) in to potential existence and actual existence to avoid this is incoherent, and that ultimately potential existence just collapses in to actual existence, then, as Parmenides thought, everything that exists just collapses in to existence itself.

      But then, as Feser points out in the 5 Proofs, if there is no change, there are no processes, thus is no reasoning process from the premises to that conclusion. There isn't even a YOU to do that reasoning.

    4. Hi JoeD,

      Perhaps you can think of this analogy:

      A plastic pail has the in-build capacity (potentiality) to contain 7 liters of water.

      Whether or not that plastic pail is already fully filled with 7 liters of water, that pail’s in-build capacity (potentiality) to contain 7 liters of water remains the same.

      When that pail is fully filled with 7 liters of water, it does not mean that it has lost its in-build capacity to contain 7 liters of water. The fact that it is now fully filled with 7 liters of water means it is still possessing the in-build capacity to contain 7 liters of water. Otherwise it would not be containing 7 liters of water now.

      This in-build capacity (potentiality) needs to be continuously sustained/actualised from now till the next hour by various conditions, including the molecules of the plastic pail continuing to be bonded in the same manner. If any of these sustaining conditions failed to be fulfilled within the next hour, the pail will cease to continue being a pail, and therefore its in-build capacity to contain 7 liters of water would also be gone.

      In my above example:

      (1) The in-build capacity of the pail to contain 7 liters of water
      is analogous to the potentiality of wood to exist as a wooden table.

      (2) The situation of that pail fully filled with 7 liters of water
      is analogous to the wood’s potentiality to exist as a table being actualised to exist a wooden table.

      (3) Just as the in-build capacity (potentiality) of the plastic pail to contain 7 liters of water remains the same regardless of whether the pail is empty, half-filled or fully filled, the potentiality of the wood to exist as a wooden table is still there in the wood even when that potentiality for those wood to exist as a wooden table has now been actualised. That potentiality for the wood to exist as the wooden table needs to continue to be actualised in order for the wooden table to continue existing.

      Once any of the sustaining conditions failed to continue to exist, that wooden table would also cease to exist as wooden table. For example, one of the required sustaining conditions is the existence of a suitable temperature in the environment of the wooden table. If that temperature exceeds the maximum of that temperature-range, the environment would become too hot, and then wooden table would be become black charcoal!!!


      johannes y k hui

    5. @JoeD, in addition to "reasonable"'s very good reply, think of a record currently playing on a turntable. The playing music exists but it is dependent on the concurrent derivative causality of the movement of the turntable, the needle, the tone arm, the motor, and the electrical current.

      Take the needle away, and the music stops. Ditto for every other component in the series. Though the music is actual, it has the potency to stop or to continue existing. And that potency is actualized concurrently by the entire system. More naturally, consider your speaking. You are making sounds because your vocal chords are vibrating. Imagine making a continuous "ahhhhhhhh" sound. Is the sound "in act"? Most certainly. But its potency to continue depends on your lungs' oxygen capacity and the continued vibration of your chords. Continuance, then, is contingent on a conserving cause.

    6. I'm NOT arguing against a conserving cause in my comment - I'm saying that the language of potency being actualised may not be coherent for existence. This doesn't rule out a sustaining cause, just that we shouldn't speak of it in a certain way.

      For example, if nothing existed it would be incorrect to say that possibly existing things have the potential to exist - because there are no things which could have such a potency in this scenario where nothing exists. What we're talking about then is not potency as such as if it inhered in a subject or an accident, but the general possibility of the existence of things. This possibility is distinct from the concept of potency, and even Garrigou-Lagrange makes use of this distinction.

      This is why it seems incoherent to say that a thing which exists has its potency to exist actualised - it just exists, and prior to its existence there was nothing which could have a potency for anything. And just as talk of potency misses the point about the sheer ex nihilo nature of existence before things exist (as nothing has potency), so too does it miss the point when it talks about things already existing; they already exist, and a potency for existence is incoherent as it doesn't make sense.

      Something similar may be said of the idea that things have a potency to continue to exist - existence is very basic. An example that comes to mind is how it's incorrect to say that ceasing to exist is a change because the subject ceases to be - there is no subject to speak of that undergoes that particular cessation when it ceases to exist, so the potency to cease existing isn't a potency in the thing, but something else. The same thing can be said of creatio ex nihilo - it's not a change strictly speaking since htere is no prior subject that undergoes a change. In a similar way, the potency to continue existing may be incoherent terminology since existence is this basic; things having a potency to continue existing might imply it's an accident or something like that, which is false. It might also imply that a thing's existence could be taken after the act of creating and grabbed and sustained additionally - but the act of sustaining is in the same category as the act of creation; both refer to ex nihilo being and so both can be called the act of creation, sustaining just being the act of creation continued, since both are concerned with the bestowal of being, though in different ways.

    7. @JoeD, you write:

      I'm NOT arguing against a conserving cause in my comment - I'm saying that the language of potency being actualised may not be coherent for existence.

      Respectfully, I don’t see what the problem is. All caused beings have the capacity to change. They are thus in act in one respect and in potency in another respect. Vocal chords exist, so they are in act, but if they are not vibrating, they are in potency as to vibration. When they vibrate, the potency to vibrate is actualized. So, it seems clear to speak of an existing thing’s potency to do something else.

      Thus, the vocal chords potency to vibrate is actualized by air, and the air’s potency to be pushed through the voice box is actualized by the diaphragm, and the diaphragm’s potency to be flexed in order to push the air is actualized by neural signals in the muscles, and the muscles’ potency to conduct neural signals is actualized by the brain, etc. In this very basic illustration, there is nothing in the act/potency distinction that is objectionable.

      Now, with respect to conserving causes, as I understand the idea, there is a distinction between a thing’s existence and a thing’s continuing to exist. Though your vocal chords may be vibrating now, there is nothing inherent in your chords to keep vibrating. So, even though they may be currently vibrating (in act as to vibration), they are potency as to continued vibration (for their continued vibration depends on concurrent actualization). To me, this is perfectly coherent. You cannot say that it entails a contradiction because we are not saying that the vibrating chords are in act and in potency in the same respect.

    8. Hi JoeD,

      Let me focus on this phrase of yours first. You wrote:

      “This is why it seems incoherent to say that a thing which exists has its potency to exist actualised”.

      We have to be careful with what “a thing” refers to.

      Take this example: a few pieces of wood existing in a carpenter’s workshop has the potentiality of existing as a wooden table, before the carpenters combined them to become a table. Those pieces of wood also has the potentiality to exist as toothpicks.

      After the carpenter has combined the separate pieces of wood to form a table, IT IS STILL CORRECT AND COHERENT to say that “those pieces of wood (that has now formed the table) still have the potentiality of existing as a table”.

      Even though those pieces of wood’s potentiality of existing as a table has now been actualised to exist as a table, those pieces of wood is still possessing the potentiality of existing as a table!
      (and they also have the potentiality to exist as toothpicks - but at this moment their potentiality of being toothpicks has not been actualised.)

      Notice this:
      (1) We are not saying the table has the potential to become a table while the table is actually a table.
      (2) The potentiality of those pieces of wood (to exist as a table) does not disappear just because their potentiality to being a table has been actualised.
      (compare: the in-build capacity of a jar to contain 3 liters of water remains the same whether the jar is now containing no water, 2 liters of water or 3 liters of water.)

      Whether or not those pieces of wood’s potentiality to exist as a table has already been actualised, they have the potentiality to exist as a table.

      Does what I just say address your concern expressed in your phrase I quoted?

      If yes, then I try to address yoir other concerns.



      johannes y k hui

    9. Well, the problem just is that act and potency can't be used in the same sense for existence - when a thing starts to exist it's not a change as we commonly understand it, since there's no substrate that undergoes a change. Same when a thing stops existing.

      So that already means we can't say existence is like most instances of change.

      But another possible problem is what you say: " Now... there is a distinction between a thing's existence and a thing's continuing to exist."

      Now while some classical theists affirm a difference between existing and continuing to exist, others say this is only a virtual / notional / conceptual / rational distinction. Continued existence is the same thing as simple existence except over time, so it's not a real distinction - so being red and continuing to be red have the same thing underlying them. And when a thing starts to exist for the first time, the effect just is the object's fulfilled existence - continued existence is in the same category as it's almos the same thing since it's about fulfilled existence as well, even though it's not the same thing as the first instance of existence.

    10. JoeD, in regards to the act/potency issue: If not for the act of existence of a thing the thing would not be, so the act of existence of a thing stands to the essence of a thing as act to potency by which the thing exists.

      I agree with you that "when a thing starts to exist it's not a change as we commonly understand it..." I would say this is because existence isn't "had" as a property in the way that other properties are had since for all other properties there must first be an existing thing which can then be said to have those properties. So existence isn't "had" as a property. Change as we commonly understand it occurs when the properties of a thing change. Because existence is not a property in the same sense it explains your observation that "when a thing starts to exist it's not a change as we commonly understand it..."

  3. Thanks for this! I'll respond on my blog in the coming days. :)

  4. Dr. Feser, do you have any blogs on Aquinas’ De Potentia specifically where he goes into the view that only an infinite being can create ex nihilo. That is to say, creation cannot be mediated by another created substance? I think that would be really helpful to myself and others I’m sure.

    1. Hello, yes, I addressed this at least once here at the blog:

  5. Dr. Feser, thanks so much for this article. I think so many people wanted to see your reply to Schmid's arguments because he has the best responses to your arguments, even if they fail as you show. God Bless.

  6. Wow, very interesting post, Dr. Feser, i remember being impressed with Joe article but seeing some flaws in it that you noticed way better. Nice to see you finaly engaging it so the, like, three guys who REALLY like Schmid can be happy enough... For now.

  7. Socket puppetry indeed. The adulation comments have the suspicious smell of astro-turf. It certainly would be a straightforward playbook for a lazy man to succeed in academia - find a niche most mainstream modern philosophers ignore, pretend to engage it honestly, adopt the preferred position of the mainstream ignorers to placate them, acquire plaudits and status. Professor Feser would certainly be an easy target for such a plan, given his status within the niche, combined with his charity and willingness to engage with anyone. Basically a free catapult to status. Just my thoughts. Perhaps lacking evidence, but certainly no less eloquent or rigorous than the astro-turf comments simply dropping the name of this fellow the past few articles. Hah.

  8. Nice of you to respond. But it would have been better to do it when you have time. He is very quick to respond, you should expect a lengthy response.

    1. "Existential inertia would be an attribute of any substance that has it. But attributes are ontologically dependent on substances. So, Schmid’s proposal amounts to saying that the water’s existence at t depends on its attribute of existential inertia, and that its attribute of existential inertia depends on the existence of the water at t – a metaphysical merry-go-round."

      Existential inertia is not an attribute of a substance because existence is existential inertia and existence is not an attribute.
      That substances do not have potentialities to go out of existence follows from the thesis that "ex nihilo nihil fit". Things cannot come from nothing and, for the same reason, cannot become nothing either.

    2. Yes, we should expect a lengthy response riddled with even more confusions, begged questions and missed points.

    3. @Walter, Strictly speaking things don't have potencies to stop existing. But we can still speak coherently of things possibly ceasing to exist and disappearing - their existence can be lost in some way. This intuition doesn't depend on potency, but seems transcendental.

      Unless you believe that things literally can't stop existing - meaning the existence of things is metaphysically necessary at every point in time, so all of reality exists necessarily and isn't contingent in any way - and so aren't contingent at all, this is pretty much one of the characteristics of logically finite being. In fact, this is one of the ways we see the contingency of things - their existence is not necessary at any moment, and is contingent through and through.

    4. JoeD

      The contingency of things means that contingent things may or may not exist, it does not mean that contingent things can stop existing. I really think it is incoherent to claim that things can stop existing altogether.
      Things can change, of course, but IMO it's as incoherent to say something can become nothing as it is to say that nothing can become something.

    5. @ JoeD and Walter, shouldn't we make a distinction between two ways of talking about "ceasing to exist as F"? In one, the substance, F - to use A-T terms - is destroyed, and its matter is immediately configured as some other substance. We never get prime matter as such. Water for Ari and Aquinas can be destroyed and replaced by air. It's not clear what persists "under" the change except the extension (Lindsay Judson suggested this to me). In other other way of ceasing to exist, the substance as F ceases to exist but its matter is not reconfigured as some other substance. The F thing just poofs out of existence, period.

      I may not be expressing this second way completely on target, but does any philosopher hold that it occurs? Does Aquinas say that when God withdraws the "act of existence" from something, there is a poofing into non-being simpliciter and not a change from being F to, say, being G?

      If philosophers are agreed in rejecting "poofing into nothingness," then we seem to be talking about generation and corruption. And if as Aristotle puts it, something undergoes corruption at the hand of some cause, then we're dealing with the usual disputes over whether every causal chain is either ordered hierarchically per se or parasitic upon a chain that is ordered per se.

      Am I missing something so far?

    6. A thing's contingency also applies to each moment that it exists - it extends to it's whole existence. The term "stops existing" isn't meant to be taken strictly literally, as it's just one way of expressing the fact that a thing really may not exist in the next moment.

      And it seems you're presupposing that ceasing to exist means something becomes nothing - and that the nothing here is an actual something that the thing then becomes. In reality, ceasing to exist simply means a negation of existence, not existence becoming something else called nothing.

    7. JoeD, I don't think you're answering my question. What happens when a "negation of existence" occurs? Does the thing in every case undergo corruption such that its matter is configured by a new form so as to become a new substance? Or does the form and matter composite ever poof out of existence with no remainder?

    8. I really think it is incoherent to claim that things can stop existing altogether.
      Things can change, of course, but IMO it's as incoherent to say something can become nothing as it is to say that nothing can become something.

      I think Walter's comment certainly miscontrues what is meant here by a thing ceasing to exist. In Feser's terms (and Ari's and Thomas's), a material substance is a union of form and matter, and the matter can cease to have THAT substantial form by some corruption, and take on some other substantial form. A rabbit can be eaten by a wolf, and the rabbit ceases to exist, but its matter does not cease in every sense, it becomes matter of the wolf. So "the rabbit" is not being annihilated into absolute nothingness. It (the substance) ceases to exist, but its matter does not. While it is OK to refer to this as a change, what is meant is a SUBSTANTIAL change, and this just is a case of the "thing" ceasing to exist because its matter ceases to have that substantial form. This is different from a thing undergoing an accidental change (e.g. the rabbit changing from brown to white), in which the "thing" remains in being but changes some aspect of it.

      A substance doesn't have the potency to cease to exist, because potency is toward actuality, not merely the possibility of undergoing change. Each material substance does have the POSSIBILITY to cease to exist, by a dis-union of its form and matter. But that's a devolution of actuality.

      Existential inertia is not an attribute of a substance because existence is existential inertia and existence is not an attribute.

      I don't know what grounds Walter has for asserting "existence is existential inertia". Seems to me that this is not merely controversial in general, it is rather pointedly a question for this very debate, and thus for this discussion not to be assumed.

    9. Or does the form and matter composite ever poof out of existence with no remainder?

      To the extent I understand modern science and the A-T school, nobody thinks there are any examples of a form+matter composite that poofs out of existence with no remainder, i.e. is annihilated. If you accept a God, this merely means God (to the extent we know) conserves all the natural-order being in existence, though it says nothing about whether he always does so or MUST do so.

    10. JoeD

      "A thing's contingency also applies to each moment that it exists - it extends to it's whole existence."

      But that begs the question, because it already presupposes that existential inertia is false.
      And no, I am not presupposing that ceasing to exist means something becomes nothing - and that the nothing here is an actual something that the thing then becomes.

    11. Tony

      If "ceasing to exist" is simply a change, then the Thomist is stuck with a huge contradiction, because the you get "in order for X to change into Y its potentiality must be actualized by something external to X, but if X is left alone, it will spontaneously become Y".

      I don't assert that existence is existential inertia, I just offer this as a hypothesis, which would avoid Feser's circularity objection.

      In fact Schmid does the same things.
      There are good arguments for why existence and existential inertia are identical, but going into those would lead us too far.

    12. Walter,

      1) Most proponents of existential inertia don't think that a thing literally can't stop existing at any moment - the inertia is simply about a tendency that things have when left alone by themselves. This doesn't exclude the possibility that something could come along and interfere with it and annihilate it from existence in some sense.

      And if a thing's contingency doesn't apply to each moment it exists, this would mean it exists necessarily at the first moment and every other. Meaning the thing is necessary.

      2) "And no, I am not presupposing that ceasing to exist means something becomes nothing - and that the nothing here is an actual something that the thing then becomes."

      Well, what do you mean by that then? The intuition that a contingent thing's existence can be negated is perfectly intelligible, and indeed is acceptable to most people as being clearly true.

    13. JoeD

      A things's contingency means that there is a possible world in which the thing does not exist. That's all. In that way a thing's existence can be negated. But it does not mean that a thing can stop existing.
      To me, for something to stop existing altogether is as incoherent as something popping into existence.

    14. @Walter,

      I don't see how possible worlds language changes things - especially since it's a derivative way of talking about modality. It't just another language in which we can put things, so terms as we commonly understand them are translated in a different way, and their fundamental content remains. Furthermore, if a thing's contingency doesn't apply to each moment that it exists (as you affirmed by denying my positive statement about it), then it would mean that every moment of a thing's existence isn't contingent in the sense that it can cease (and thus could have ceased). But this means that a thing's existence is necessary and can't cease nor have ceased, so the thing's entire existence as such is no longer contingent.

      And PW language can also easily be applied to things stopping to exist at particular moments in time - in one possible world a thing exists at t2 and some number of further times beyond it, in another world the thing no longer exists at t3. This is how PW language would describe a thing stopping to exist at some point in time.

      Since you don't like talking about the existence of things just stopping, another way of putting the whole thing could be that a thing ceasing to exist is like a series of movie slides - you could have a movie where the slides are arranged such that the object in question is in one slide, but not in the next. God could then be seen like a movie maker who has many different slide tiles and arranges them in a certain way to form a specific movie, so a thing ceasing to exist would be its not being arranged to be in the next slide, or it being cut out off the slide with scissors, or being destroyed in-movie in some way, etc.

      Another way of thinking about it is that a thing ceasing to exist is its being limited in its existential scope - a thing stopping to exist could be described as simply not extending beyond a certain point in some way. The thing simply isn't responsible for its own existential scope. This way, God could be understood as that which extends a thing in regards to its existence, or gives it its scope in the first place. A thing ceasing to exist is no more mysterious than a finite thing being finite in the way it is.

    15. If "ceasing to exist" is simply a change, then the Thomist is stuck with a huge contradiction, because the you get "in order for X to change into Y its potentiality must be actualized by something external to X, but if X is left alone, it will spontaneously become Y".

      What in the world? No, sorry, that is a non-starter.

      "Ceasing to exist" is only a "change" in the sense of the underlying matter: the matter OF a rabbit can come to be the matter of a wolf. In doing so, the rabbit as a substantial being ceases to exist.

      Nothing about this implies that if the rabbit is left alone, its matter will turn into the matter of a wolf. That's outrageous and nobody has been asserting that, nor does A-T theory imply it or require it.

      I don't assert that existence is existential inertia, I just offer this as a hypothesis,

      I think that anybody asserting that "existence is existential inertia", or hypothesizing it, is going to run into a problem: that if so, existential inertia is going to be un-divorceable from a thing causing itself to exist. For, if a thing (once existing) continues to exist by reason of its inertia, then its inertia is causal of its continuation. But if "existence equals existential inertia", then its inertia is of the same character (as cause) as that which causes it to exist. At best, what you get is when X causes Y to exist "with existential inertia" is that X gives to Y that Y causes Y to continue to exist, which is still a thing causing itself to exist.

    16. Tony

      So, what will happen to the matter of the rabbit if left alone? Will it be annihilated into absolute nothingness? Or will it become some other matter?
      If it becomes nothing at all, we are back to my original complaint. If it becomes some other matter, we get a contradiction, for then it is a change that does not need an external cause.

      You misunderstand my hypothesis about EI. Nothing is causing a (fundamental) thing to exist. A fundamental) thing just exists. That's it. And since something cannot come from nothing and something cannot become nothing (or be annihilated) either, it follows that existential inertia is simply another way of describing existence.
      Of course my view is radically different from Thomism, so once you accept the act-potency distinction my view doesn't make sense. But the thing is I don't accept the act-potency distinction.

    17. @Tony, you said above that substances don't have a potency toward non-being. But in SCG II.30.6 Aquinas says "those things however that are lowest [i.e. in contrast to things that are closer to God] are close to non-being because they have potency toward non-being."

    18. @Walter,

      In other words, if anything at all exists then it didn't come from anything nor can it go to anything with regards to its existence - which means reality is necessary. Nothing in reality can either begin to exist nor cease to exist.
      That's just what it means to reject the act/potency distinction and radically emphasise act - everything becomes act, and so everything becomes necessary.

      Your position then seems more along the lines of some type of Parmenidean / Spinozistic necessitarianism, not atheism.

    19. ficino, I explained the specific sense I meant: when taking "potency" to mean "in respect of act" (able to take on act) then things cannot be said to be "in potency" to non-being. But when taking it in a different sense, they can: On Isidore site, the term is translated as "potentiality", which, while much the same as "potency", actually moves the meaning slightly closer to "possibility" which is what I take Thomas to mean here: the lowest beings have the (inherent) possibility of non-being, and the angels do not. Since the "necessary" is opposed to the "contingent" and the "not possible", and he is arguing specifically on the basis of this opposition, "possibility" is the better sense of the passage.

      The lowest things CAN fail, the highest things cannot. But they cannot be inclined toward failure as if toward act (inclination toward act is as toward an end: final cause; things cannot incline toward destruction as toward an end.)

      Note also that Thomas is making a probable argument, about balance and symmetry of the created order. He does not (cannot) claim that we KNOW that ultimate goal of the Providential plan MUST include this symmetry - his conclusion only holds IF the Providential plan includes this aspect of symmetry.

    20. So, what will happen to the matter of the rabbit if left alone? Will it be annihilated into absolute nothingness? Or will it become some other matter?

      If no large predator comes along to kill it, I am pretty sure microbes will kill it off when its immune system gets too decrepit to fight them off. When they do, its matter will become the matter of bacteria, fungi, etc. No annihilation involved, of course. Nor spontaneous combustion. Causes distinct from "the rabbit" will do it.

      (For clarity: when the bacteria gets too overgrown for life, the rabbit will die, but the bacteria will not - at that moment - have the ENTIRETY of the rabbit's matter. At that moment, the bulk of the rabbit's matter will devolve to matter of more basic substances (water, carbon dioxide, carbohydrates, proteins) which were VIRTUALLY contained in the rabbit's flesh but subsumed under the substantial form "rabbit". No annihilation nor a result without some cause.)

      You misunderstand my hypothesis about EI. Nothing is causing a (fundamental) thing to exist. A fundamental) thing just exists. That's it.

      OK, so you are a brute-fact-ist. I didn't know that, (and thanks for clarifying) but it doesn't explain the erroneous assumptions about what A-T implies about the rabbit's eventual end.

      I have wondered whether and why a brute-fact-ist would ever bother to THINK that some facts have causes while other facts do not; and why they might bother to search for causes for some facts while being confident other facts have none? What provides the basis for imagining that there might even be, (just for example) a preponderance of "facts that have causes" over "facts that have no cause"? If, as seems equally possible, there are only about 100,000 facts that have causes, and bajillions upon googleplexes of facts that do not, would it not be rather foolish to start seeking a possible cause of THIS fact out of all the ones in front of us?

    21. Tony

      You don't answer my question. What happens if the rabbit is left alone, that is, without any external influences?

      And I am not a brute-fact-ist, I just do not a priori rule out brute facts.
      Anyway, unless you accept modal collpase, you are also a brute-fact-ist, because the fact that God creates w1 and not w2 is also a brute fact.

    22. JoeD

      Actually I am more with Heraclitus is this respect. I believe change is a fundamental aspect of reality.

      I also believe that that notion of a personal being creating a completely different reality from absolutely nothing while remaining absolutely the same is utterly absurd.
      For me, that's enough to identify as an atheist.

    23. What happens if the rabbit is left alone, that is, without any external influences?

      Perhaps I didn't make myself clear: the bacteria are only in a sense "external influences": all of us higher animals have bacteria (in our guts, for example), many of which help our bodies to function, if (and only if) they stay balanced by other factors. When an animal gets older and, for example, fails to produce whatever immune system response is needed to corral bacteria X, then bacteria X gets out of control.

      If you want to POSIT a situation in which the rabbit has no bacteria in it, AND is fully and completely healthy (i.e. posit something counter to what science now urges), as a hypothetical, and has no external influences of the natural order (and has permanent sources of food, water, etc. which IS an external influence, but we are making up the hypothesis as desired), I can run with that. Assuming that God keeps the material universe intact and operating normally, either one of two things happens: (A) the rabbit continues healthy and lives, and lives, etc. No annihilation. Or the rabbit reaches an "old-age" limit from internal processes which malfunction, (e.g. cancer) and dies of "natural causes", and becomes (as said above, so I am repeating myself) a collection of more basic substances like oxygen, carbon, proteins, which were virtually in the rabbit but subsumed under its substantial form. No annihilation.

      But both options, of course, presuppose that God sustains the material universe. If He doesn't, then the rabbit annihilates along with all the stars, planets, etc. doing the same. But you knew that answer, which is why I didn't bother mentioning it.

      I know that you don't ACCEPT such a thesis, given your stated premises, in that you don't accept the "assuming God sustains the material order intact" business. But it does not represent a consistency / coherence problem for us who do accept that. The notion of "what happens to the rabbit without any outside influences" INCLUDING God not sustaining the material order would be a hypothesis that is pointless: no "rabbit" to follow what happens to it.

      But hypothesizing that God DOES sustain the material order implies we have already allowed one influence on the rabbit. (It is a semantic game, which I won't play, to argue about whether God doing so is "external" to the rabbit or not.) Your belief that "there is no such thing as annihilation" is compatible with our view, that God does IN FACT sustain the universe: we are arguing about a hypothetical that will never occur because (we believe) God desires and intends the material universe to continue. Given that intention, no annihilation WILL occur, which agrees with your view that no annihilation does occur. And agrees with observation, which has never found things being annihilated.

      You are slightly mistaken about God creating world 1 versus world 2 being a "brute fact". St. Thomas does say that God was free to create a world different from ours. However, he also says that God created this world for a reason. We don't KNOW the reason, but He had a reason. His act is an act of reason. It's a fine shade of difference, but it's there.

      And I am not a brute-fact-ist, I just do not a priori rule out brute facts.
      Actually I am more with Heraclitus is this respect. I believe change is a fundamental aspect of reality.

      I think I am missing something here, but wouldn't "change being a fundamental aspect of reality" along with Nothing is causing a (fundamental) thing to exist. A fundamental) thing just exists. That's it. lead to "nothing causes change to exist, it just exists"? And if so, is not change a brute fact? I am confused about what you mean by this. Perhaps you mean you merely don't rule out OTHER brute facts besides change?

    24. Tony

      So, you do believe that annihilation is possible. that's fine, but I don't, because if something cannot come from nothing, something cannot become nothing either.

      As to the fine shade of difference, if God has a reason to create w1, this reason is the same in every possible world, hence w1 is necessary. Unless there is an equally good reason to create w1 and w2, but in that case, God desiring and intending to create w1 is a brute fact.

      Yes, it leads to "nothing causes change to exist", but this may mean that change is a brute fact (which I do not a priori rule out), or change is a necessary feature of reality.

    25. if God has a reason to create w1, this reason is the same in every possible world, hence w1 is necessary.

      I recently read a 25-page thesis on this point, and won't repeat the whole argument here, but: no, it doesn't imply necessity. For one thing, God is not obliged to create ANY world, much less one specific world. For the second point: because there is NO SUCH THING as the very best of all possible created worlds, God is not obliged to create the best one. There are other points, but I see no reason to continue this discussion further, as we disagree on basic points too much to find any common ground anyway.

    26. @Walter, This argument depends crucially on there being only deterministic causality. If non-deterministic causality is possible then it doesn't necessarily follow.

      Plus, this way of describing choice-making would also undo free will in humans, as the final causes of our choices would be strictly determining.

    27. Tony

      None of this comes even close to answering my objections.

      It's OK to disagree on basic points; the point is that there are other possible basic points than Pure Act.

    28. @Tony, I suspected that you would draw the distinction you draw between passive potency and potentiality. It may be genuinely Thomistic. Do you know of passages where the saint himself drew this distinction between senses of the word, "potestas"?

    29. @Tony, whoops, I meant "potentia." Sorry!

    30. JoeD

      There can be no non-deterministic causality on (Feser's account of) Thomism.
      If God "wants" X he gets X.

  9. Ed does David Oderberg have a kind of weird middle ground regarding existential inertia? (I saw weird probably best it's been a while since I've read the chapter in his recent book where he defends the thesis that substances have the tendency to exist) if I remember correctly, he argues that your argument against existential inertia doesn't work (the circularity problem) in order to maintain that substances do tend to exist.

    Perhaps you both agree but it's just a matter of emphasis? Oderberg clearly maintained that existential inertia is wrong with regards to no divine sustaining cause but I couldn't see an argument from him even whilst he seemed to disagree with yours

    1. Callum, I haven't read Oderberg's argument, so this is independent of that.

      It seems to me that one might readily say that granted Divine sustaining applies to the ground of material being, (e.g. material forces), THEN material substances have an existential inertia. Things in being tend to remain in being until some other thing comes along to disrupt. And, one might continue, materialist scientists quite properly observe the latter, and proclaim "existential intertia" - which is valid, but a qualified one: dependent on a prior cause.

      The underlying issue is that IF there is a God who create(s)(d) the basic stuff of the universe and the fields of forces and laws by which they act, (rather than not existing) is the sort of thing that needs a cause, then they cannot be the cause of their existing, and their EXISTING cannot be the cause of their existing. Then even while existing, their existing (rather than not existing) cannot be (for them) the sort of thing that can be the cause of ongoing existing simpliciter, for this would seem to imply that the effect is the SAME as the cause (not merely like in kind).

  10. I wouldn't be too hard on Schmid. Nowadays I can almost respect anyone who doesn't just appeal to their "lived experience".

  11. Thanks Dr. Feser for this excellent post. As one of those who urged you (albeit not anonymously) to respond to Schmid, I did want to reply briefly to your remarks about "sock puppetry." You've bemoaned for years that skeptically inclined philosophers don't take seriously the traditional arguments for classical theism and instead target their fire at modern, personalist accounts of theism. The reason that I -- and I suspect many others -- wanted you to engage with Schmid is that he is a skeptically inclined philosopher who does take those arguments -- and yours in particular -- quite seriously. So he's doing exactly what you've urged skeptical philosophers to do. He also engages with this material in a respectful way. Finally, it is not as if Schmid is just "some guy"; he's a graduate student in philosophy who has published in academic journals and whose arguments have been engaged by other proponents of classical theism, including Robert Koons. His ideas have also been discussed on the classical theism podcast.

    If the please-respond-to-Schmid camp needs any further justification, I would point to the excellent points you make in this post (most of which would never have occurred to novices like me).

    1. Hi Bradley,

      I have no problem at all with people asking me to reply to Schmid or to anyone else (even if I am sometimes too busy to reply to something at the moment, or judge something not really worth replying to, or whatever). My reference to “sock puppetry” was not meant as a criticism of people who were merely asking me to do so.

      Rather, what I meant is that some of the requests (not all, but some) just happened to be weird, that’s all. E.g. several times over the past few months I would suddenly get a flurry of requests to comment on Schmid within a 2-3 day period via the combox and email, many of them anonymous or written in a breathless “OMG you’ve gotta reply to this guy” style. It seemed to me like a transparent attention-getting effort on somebody’s part. I’m not certain that that’s what it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But I’ve had trolls do that sort of thing before, so that’s how it struck me.

      Anyway, naturally I agree that Schmid is worth responding to, or I wouldn’t have responded to him. Though I don’t understand the hoopla coming from some people (assuming they’re not sock puppets). As I’ve said, what I’ve seen looks a lot like stuff Oppy already said. That’s not a criticism of Schmid – sometimes similar ideas occur to different people, or someone adds a new wrinkle to what someone else has said, or whatever. That’s fine. But I just don’t see how he’s raised some amazing novel objections.

    2. @Ed Feser, as you know, Schmid has replied with a post that rivals War and Peace. Man alive, the first occupies an enormous amount of space with a defense against his being a sock puppet. I was just shaking my head as I skimmed through it (no sane person would read it all).

      Perhaps he can be excused because of his youth, but he's nonetheless a touchy sort. You never accused him of being a sock puppet, but he somehow felt that his honor was besmirched. Unbelievable.

  12. How many different people on here are labeling themselves "Unknown"?

    Schmid raises the game far above what most Gnu Atheists repeat.

    1. Well said sir!!!!:D Bravo!!! U da Man Ficino! :D

      Mr. Schmid seems to be a good sort who takes the issues raised by Classic Theism seriously and he ought to be encouraged(he is a young Oppy in spirit). Would that certain lunatic Gnus you and I are familiar with in other forums would read him instead of recycling their contra YEC and contra ID polemics. I could die happy in the (far? I hope!) future and it would take the undertaker a week to pry the grin off my face.


      PS good post Dr. F.

  13. Feser stated recently that he might get to Schmid's stuff sooner than later due to one of the myriad projects he's working on. And given Schmid's unimpressive arguments, it doesn't take a lot of time for somebody of Feser's expertise to both see the flaws in Schmid's presentation and to dismantle them.

    Perhaps you're referring to having the time to engage Schmid in debate due to Schmid's forthcoming reply which will be either today or tomorrow (he wrote that on YouTube). But Feser's workload notwithstanding, I suspect he might further engage Schmid if he thinks it worthy of his time. It actually wouldn't take somebody of Feser's caliber that long to rebut Schmid's claims. If a novice like me can spot flaws in Schmid's arguments, even more so for somebody like Feser.

    1. Schmid lost me as soon as he started talking about "burden of proof". Professor Feser was just being kind to him. People who claim a structural "burden" advantage in their favor are just engaging in massive circularity in my opinion.

      Tom Cohoe

    2. As i understand it, Schmid point about the burden is that Dr.Feser is trying to demonstrate that the only way of explaining change is by means of the Unmoved Mover,so all that Joe has to do is to show that there is other options on that table. If there is more that one option, Feser argument fails in proving classicao theism.

      Schmid seems to see these metaphysical issues like Dr. Oppy does: you have these models but you can't prove that only one is right,so you need to see which explain things better, has less flaws etc. A kinda of abdutive method.

      Of course, i think that his attempt fails and this is good because this oppyian method is boring, but i think that i can understand what he means.

  14. Best wishes on your next book, Professor.

  15. I don't know this Schmid guy and he seems to be fairly confused, but there do nevertheless seem to be fair rebuttals to some of Feser's positions here, given basic Thomistic metaphysics and ontology.

    Once the potency of particles to be water has been reduced to act, they are no longer in potency, but in act. Thus it is incoherent to talk about "concurrent actualization" for it is incoherent to talk about actualizing something already in act. Feser says they are in potency considered as particles (though not considered as water), but what really exists (in the Thomistic view) is not particles but water, and the potency/act distinction has to do with what really exists, not with how we consider things. Sure, the water has the potential to change into ice, or steam, or beer, but this potential is in the water, and not in the particles (which only exist virtually according to Thomism).

    Nor is the particular argument raised against existential inertia very compelling. It's true that that's an attribute, and the substance which has it is metaphysically prior. But it isn't true that this leads to the circularity Feser claims. Existential inertia at time t explains the substance's existence, not at time t (which would indeed be circular), but at time t+1. It's true that this means the entity's existence at time t is metaphysically prior to its existence at time t+1, but all this means is that the entity is causing its continued existence, which isn't a particularly controversial claim. I think this confusion is due to asking why something continues to exists given that it exists, rather than asking why it exists at all.

    1. Isn't concurrent actualization just the idea that the thing's potential to existence at each moment is actualized by something else?

    2. This is a very interesting post and I hope Ed will reply to it. On point one, it seems to me that you're right that this is how Ed has characterized the situation in the past. I'd be interested in the relationship of the two perspectives even beyond the current context.

      Point two is interesting as well.

    3. Things don't have "potential to existence" unless they already exist.
      It's not existential inertia but it's the act-potency distinction that leads to circularity.
      In order for a thing to have the "potency to exist" it must exist. There is no such thing as a potency that doesn't exist.

    4. That something can cause itself to exist is a controversial claim.

    5. But if it's actualized, it's not a potential, and it's incoherent to talk about actualizing something already actualized.

    6. Walter, why is it circular if one says that the act/potency distinction correlates to the existence/essence distinction of existing things? If not for the act of existence of a thing the thing would not be, so the act of existence of a thing stands to the essence of a thing as act to potency by which the thing exists. (I realize you attach a specific meaning to the word "thing" so you can replace my use of "thing" with "creature" or "dog" if that makes my meaning clearer.)

    7. Don

      I was talking about "a thing's potential to existence" and whether it makes sense to say that this is actualized by something else.

      That view, IMO leads to circularity because in that case, in order for a "thing" (whatever that means) to have a potency to exist, it must exist and in order for the thing to exist, its potency for existence must be actualized etc.

    8. Essence, on the Thomistic view, is a capacity (potency) for the act of existing. It is indeed real, but only when it receives the act of existing. Without the act of existing, it would indeed be nothing.

      So, when one speaks of a contingent being B having a 'potential for existence', they mean that B has an essence which is capable of existing or not existing. It is true that B cannot have an essence (capacity for existence) unless it exists, but that isn't incoherent or circular; for the being is actual with respect to its existence, and potential with respect to its essence.

    9. Tom

      "Nothing" cannot "receive" anything. When you "add" the act of existence to nothing, you get the act of existence. That's it.
      That's one of the many problems I have with Thomism. It is extremely ambiguous with respect to the nature of essences and potencies.

    10. Walter,

      Creation is the production of the entire being, of both essence and existence simultaneously, as forming a whole being. God produces both the act (of existing) and simultaneously that which receives the act (the essence - which correlates with a divine idea). Thus there are no essences which are "nothing" waiting to receive an act of existing. Both essence and existence (when together) have being by analogy and are structured in an act-potency relationship.

    11. Tom

      Ex nihilo nihil fit.

      This is viciously circular because what does it even mean to "produce" an essence? in order for something to receive something else it must already exist. So God produces an existing essence and then adds existence to it, which it already has, because otherwise nothing could be added to it.

    12. No, Thomists aren't meinongians. To use Vallicellas terminology for clarities sake the existence of an essence is its unification of its constituents. God merely needs to have the power to conjoin those, which is a given due to him grounding those constituents (I assume universals for simplicity sake). Whether those are divine ideas or limitations in existence as Plotinus argues is irrelevant and imho both concepts are actually very close to each other.

      It's obvious that this doesn't require the essence to preexist. All associated potencies get created at the moment of unification, the giving of existence is a true act ex nihilo. And in this act the essence which didn't exist before receives its actuality. It's no more than the idea of a house in the mind of an architect. The house didn't preexist

      For strict nominalists like Craig the story may has to differ, but even then ann account of the grounding of tropes suffices

    13. DK: "the existence of an essence is its unification of its constituents."

      But also form is the principle of existence. Matter is the principle of passive potency, and form is the principle of the act of existing.

      "God merely needs to have the power to conjoin those"

      Sort of, but avoid making it sound like God is sticking pieces of Lego together. God is the first cause underlying secondary causality, and it is in the nature of the things he has created to be constituted (not just conjoined by God, like God playing Lego) in the way that they are.

    14. Walter: "So God produces an existing essence and then adds existence to it, which it already has, because otherwise nothing could be added to it."

      Close. But the essence subsists eternally in being itself (God), then it is given a new mode of existence as a particular being in the world of particular beings.

    15. Dominik

      "The existence of an essence is its unification of its constituents".
      Right, but it is obvious that, in order to conjoin constituents, those constituents have to exist.


      If the essence subsists in God, then God has potency, because there is something in God that is given a new mode of existence.

    16. Walter,

      "If the essence subsists in God, then God has potency, because there is something in God that is given a new mode of existence."

      The essence subsists in God stripped of limitation. And this, only in the most transcendental of what is created, such as being itself, or truth, or goodness, or oneness. In our intellect, we can strip these of potentialities, and appropriately use them to describe or name God (albeit only in an analogical way, because the being, goodness, truth, and oneness we know is created being, goodness, truth, and oneness).

      To say that GOd is in potential to the created world is the same as saying what is infinite is in potentiality to what is finite. It is true, in a sense, but does not score you any points.

    17. Walter: Of course there is potency, active potency, in subsisting being itself (God). But when the active potency of subsisting being itself gives new modes of existence, it does not give these new modes to itself, but to other things. It's active, not passive.

    18. Put slightly differently, in a way that might allay certain confusions: The active potency of subsisting being itself does not give being to itself, but to things other than itself.

    19. David

      There are no "other things" to give new modes of existence to.
      You said that the essences of those things subsist in God, and since it is those essences that are given new modes of existence, it is clear that there is something in God that is given new modes of existence.
      So, your distinction between active and passive potency makes no sense.


      You claim is completely different from David's.
      There are lots of things I could say about your claim, but I am, for now, going to confine myself to assessing David's brand of Thomism.

    20. Interesting point David. I've never noticed that part in the SG.

      So for this:

      "[3] Again, just as passive potency follows upon being in potency, so active potency follows upon being in act; for a thing acts in consequence of its being in act, and undergoes actiobeingn because it is in potency. But it is proper to God to be in act. Therefore, active power belongs to Him."

      So I have a passive potency to be acted upon, by, say, a rock that someone throws my way. Also, prime matter is pure passive potency to receive a form. The form imparts act to prime matter.

      God is pure act and so he has an active potency that imparts being. If he were lacking in his ability to act, then he would not be omnipotent. There would be something limiting his power to act. He is the sustaining cause of all created being.

      "[4] The divine perfection, furthermore, includes in itself the perfections of all things, as was shown in Book I. But active power belongs to the perfection of a thing; for the more perfect any thing is, so much the greater is its power found to be. Therefore, active power cannot be wanting in God."

      This makes sense. And the transcendentals are what we can most appropriately ascribe to God, which applies to every created being, as their source of perfection - their measure, so to speak.

      "[5] Moreover, whatever acts has the power to act, since that which has not the power to act cannot possibly act; and what cannot possibly act is necessarily non-active. But God is an acting and a moving being, as was shown in Book I. Therefore, He has the power to act; and active, but not passive, potency is properly ascribed to Him."

      And I think this is where a lot of people get hung up when speaking about divine simplicity. They see something closed in on itself and restricted in its ability to act by its own perfection. Whereas Aquinas sees in God, pure, unrestricted ability to act - in any way He sees fit. And he has no passive potency to be acted upon, as all the rest of creation has. (Although, there does appear to be ways in which God cannot act

      The infinite, unlimited, unrestricted power of God can act in any way He sees fit, and can even create a finite, limited, and restricted world out of His power. And this he does without introducing a passive potency into his essence. It derives from his active potency.

      I imagine if I threw a baseball at Walter, my being would not be changed by that act. It would be an excercise of an active potency inherent in my being that I have as a human with a physical body. There is a way in which my body is moving from one physical location to another. But this is an example of self movement. I wonder if it would be fair to say that all self movers are in a sense, excercising an active potency inherent in their natures?

      I'm thinking about the principle, "Whatever is moved is moved by another" - Now when I choose to throw a baseball, I am not moved by another, but by my own will. I am a spiritual being that acts based on an intellect and will, and these two impart the causal chain of motion that results in the ball being thrown. My active potency gives power to all the passive physical potencies - starting with the motor neurons, muscles, arm, hand, ball...

    21. @Daniel: "I imagine if I threw a baseball at Walter, my being would not be changed by that act."

      Not strictly true, but the change would be slight, so there is an analogy there which points in the right direction.

      @Walter: "You said that the essences of those things subsist in God, and since it is those essences that are given new modes of existence, it is clear that there is something in God that is given new modes of existence."

      Again, close. Something in God is indeed given a new mode of existence; but the new mode it is given is precisely to not only subsist within the power of subsisting being itself; but to also exist in its own particular, finite act of being. The latter finite act of existence shows forth, in a particular way, within the world of particular things, the essence of subsisting being itself; but it does not change that essence.


  16. Joseph Schmid’s expression
    ‘the matter’s potential to exist as water is PRESENTLY actual right now,’ [emphasis was originally in italics by Schmid] seems to assume (wrongly) that the underlying matter’s potentiality of existing as water is gone once that potentiality has been actualised to exist as water.

    The correct idea should instead be: Even after the matter’s potentiality of existing as water has been actualised, the water’s underlying matter still possess the potentiality of existing as water.

    The underlying matter’s possession of the potentiality to exist as water is independent of whether or not that potentiality has already been actualised, just as the in-build capacity of a jar to contain three liters of water is independent of whether or not that jar is already fully filled up with three liters of water.


    johannes y k hui

  17. Hi Ed,

    Re the purely actual actualizer: I haven't read what Schmid says, but it occurs to me that the point he's making might be a very simple one. All that Aquinas' First Way shows is that there is an actualizer which doesn't need to be actualized, in order to actualize anything else. It doesn't follow, however, this actualizer is unactualizable.

    In your book "Five Proofs" (p. 66), you argue that the first actualizer is a cause of the existence of what it actualizes, and that since it is the first actualizer, it cannot have a potential for existence which is actualized by something else. I think you're right here. But it doesn't follow from this that the first actualizer has no potentialities of any sort. It might have the potential for certain accidental properties, for instance. (It wouldn't necessarily have to acquire these properties over the course of time. It could possess them timelessly but contingently, as intrinsic but non-essential accidents.)

    I have yet to see a good argument ruling out this possibility. Cheers.

    1. Vincent,

      You say you agree that "it cannot have a potential for existence which is actualized by something else.". Then you go on to make a bunch of claims to to opposite. Which is it?

    2. Hi TN,

      There's an obvious difference between having a potential for existence (or non-existence) and having a potential for some property P. If it helps, think of a pure form. Now, suppose that this form is identical with its own act of existence, but still capable of additional modifications (which need not occur over the course of time).

      You may object that Pure Existence is incapable of any further modifications. My reply is that a thing which is identical with its own act of existence need not be the same as "Pure Existence," whatever that term means.

    3. Hi Vincent,

      “But it doesn't follow from this that the first actualizer has no potentialities”

      Yeah, it does. That’s the point of the argument.

      “It might have the potential for certain accidental properties”

      No, it doesn’t. That’s, again, the point of the argument.

      “I have yet to see a good argument ruling out this possibility.”

      The argument itself rules out this possibility.

      “There's an obvious difference between having a potential for existence (or non-existence) and having a potential for some property P.”

      Not in a substance whose essence is existence.

      Your “reply is that a thing which is identical with its own act of existence need not be the same as "Pure Existence,"”

      That is your reply, but it is not an argument.

    4. @Vicent

      Suppose that the actualizer only has the potency to have other properties. To it to have these properties there would need to exist a extrinsic actualizer, which would either be Pure Act or also have its own potencies that need a actualizer and so on until you stop at Pure Act again. In the end you will stil have a essencialy ordered casual series that will need a actualizer who has no relevant potencies and, since we are talking about the potency of having certain properties, them the actualizer would need to not have even this potential, being them Pure Act. In the end, there is no escape from Pure Act, so why bother with more actualizers?

      And this supposing that your scenario is possible. At least to thomists, creation ex nihilo needs a cause that has unlimited power and a truly necessary being need to not have but BE His essence. The non-pure-act actualizer does not fit the bill.

    5. VJ

      Something that is pure act by definition contains no passive potency that can be actualized. Just as the number 5 is by definition not the number 8 in essence.

      Since God's Essence is His Existence then God by definition cannot not exist. God is Existence Itself and how can existence not exist?

      I know the Intelligent Design crowd likes to ask "Why is there something rather then nothing" but Classic Theists don't believe that is a valid question. We would agree nothing is impossible. There is always something.

    6. I don't think Vincent said that something that is pure act can have passive potencies. I think he was saying that something which has no potencies relative to its substantial existence may have potencies relative to certain accidental properties. I, too, have yet to see a successful argument against that possibility. Dr. Feser claims that a non-pure act being would be composite (of act and potency) and thus require a conjoining cause. But that makes the Aristotelian Proof parasitic on the Neo-Platonic Proof. Unless there is some other means to establish that what lacks potencies with respect to existence lacks potencies with respect to all other features is given, the Aristotelian Proof will not succeed as an independent argument. It's also unclear whether it even makes sense to think of a potential as a 'part' of a thing. A potency is an ability a thing has; a capacity. What does it mean for an ability to be 'conjoined' to the thing which has it? IOW, it makes more sense to speak of a thing having a potentiality for parts rather than having parts which are potentialities.

      It's also not obvious to me why the mere fact of being an admixture of act and potency entails concurrent actualisation. Sure, the matter that makes up water requires its potential to be water to be continuously actualised. But why could there not be a substance which has potencies for accidental properties, but, which need not reduce from potency to act with respect to its existence? Is this metaphysically impossible? If so, why? The Aristotelian Proof seems to presuppose (and not demonstrate!) the impossibility of such a substance. Is there an argument that proves that what has no potencies in respect of its substantial existence has no potencies in every respect whatsoever (while keeping the Aristotelian Proof independent from the other Four Proofs)?

    7. Hi TN,

      As far as I can tell, Ed's argument doesn't show that the Unactualized Actualizer's essence is Pure existence. All the argument shows is that its essence is identical with its own existence. The two are not the same.

      Son of Ya'Kov,

      It's quite true that something which is Pure Ac cannot be actualized, but my point is that Ed's argument doesn't show that the Unactualized Actualizer is Pure Act. All it shows is that there is something which is capable of actualizing without itself needing to be actualized. That's not the same.

      Hi Talmid,

      It's not clear to me that an Unactualized Actualizer would need an extrinsic Actualizer to actualize its properties, if it had any. Why couldn't it actualize itself, as we do when we make a choice? (Scotus raised a similar objection.)

      You write that for Thomists, creation ex nihilo requires a cause that has unlimited power. Fine, but Ed doesn't argue for this position in the chapter in "Five Proofs" discussing the Aristotelian proof. He needs to spell out the logic here. Cheers.

    8. Vicent, to the actualizer to actualize itself it would change and, if you agreed with the aristotelian proof up to stage 2, all changes require someone who can't change. This means that the actualizer just can't actualize its properties alone, we will need Pure Act. Maybe the difficult is because Ed goes straight to the potencies in respect to existing, but if you start with a average actualization of potential(like you choosing to read this), them i guess that it is easier to see.

      Of course, you can ask them how can Pure Act do anything if there is no change, but that would be a diferent issue.

    9. Vincent,

      Feser addresses that kind of objection in Chapter 6 of _Five Proofs:_

      "Now, a critic might wonder whether there
      might be a sense in which even a cause which could terminate that regress might nevertheless have potentiality. For suppose we agree that its existence involved no actualization of potential. Might not we still say that its activity involved the actualization of potential? Might not we thus say that while it had no potentialities with respect to its existence, it does have potentialities with respect to its activity (such as its activity of actualizing the existence of other things)?

      There are several problems with this suggestion, however, one of which might be obvious now that we have set out the principle agere sequitur esse, according to which what a thing does reflects what it is. If the first cause of things exists in a purely actual way, how could it act in a less than purely actual way? How could its acting involve potentiality any more than its existence does? A thing’s existence is, after all, what is metaphysically most fundamental about it; everything else follows from that. In this case we are talking about something whose very existence is purely actual and devoid of potentiality. So, from where in its nature are the (metaphysically less fundamental) potentialities for activity that the critic suggests it has supposed to derive?

      Another problem with the suggestion in question is that to say of God that he has potentiality with respect to his activity, though not with respect to his existence, entails that God has parts—a purely actual part, and a part that is a potentiality. Now, as we saw in chapter 2, whatever has parts requires a cause. The reason is that the whole of which the parts are constituents is merely potential until actualized by some principle which combines the parts. This principle cannot be something intrinsic to the thing, for in that case it would be the cause of itself, which is incoherent. So, it must be something extrinsic to the thing. Keep in mind that this is true even if we think of the thing in question as having always existed, since we still need some explanation of why the parts are combined at all regardless of how long they have been combined. Even if the thing had no temporally prior cause, it would still require an ontologically prior cause. But to say of the first cause of things that it has a cause of its own is also incoherent, since if it has a cause of its own, it just isn’t really the first cause at all, and it isn’t what terminates the regress of a hierarchical series of the causes of the existence of things. For this reason too, then, there isn’t any sense to be made of the idea that God qua first cause has potentialities with respect to his activity."

    10. Hi Talmid,

      I think the Aristotelian tendency to view self-initiated change as impossible stems from the belief that in order for a thing to change itself, it would have to give itself something it didn't already possess. That's not necessarily true. Some of a thing's actualities are not here-and-now, but spread-out over space and/or time - e.g. having a constant velocity of 4 meters per second (which is why local motion doesn't need an extrinsic cause), having a fixed probabilistic tendency to break down (radioactive decay) and perhaps (in the case of a human creator) having a built-in tendency to come up with new ideas, as connections in the brain are randomly formed and broken. Empirically, at least some of the change occurring in the world appears to originate from within, and the metaphysical arguments to the contrary don't strike me as being ironclad. Cheers.

    11. I suppose that the examples of things changing themselves would be examples of one part of a thing changing another and so are something like extrinsic change, but i admit than that is interesting. IF that is the case, then the actualizer could not even do it for he would need to not have parts in order to not have potencies on his existence.

      It is just that i can't really see it happening if it is not a case of a part moving another. At least empirically, one can't talk much of something self-actualizing because things are aways composed of parts and are aways in contact with the enviroment. A particle, for instance, is usually being changed by others, no?

  18. The "hoopla of Schmid’s fans".

    That's the interesting thing: the A/T philosopher says that the ontological hierarchy needs to end in pure actuality, so the pop-atheist just makes an obvious (and stupid) claim that "hey, let's just make the water itself at time t the source". Then a bunch of commenters praise the sheer brilliance of this move all while apparently ignorant of what the whole argument is saying.

    It's like the indeterminacy problem: they just speed past the point, say a bunch of stuff off topic, and then, smug as Don Quixote, trumpet their victory.

  19. Some thoughts.

    1) Presumably Schmid is thinking of potential as something like possibility, in which case there's no contradiction in what he takes to be a more neutral formulation, since if a thing is actually X, that entails it is also possibly X (at the same time).

    2) It's true that Schmid doesn't defend his account of these matters in the sense of giving arguments or proofs, but what's the impetus for that? Following Oppy, what Schmid thinks we are doing here is theory comparison. Schmid is saying "Here's a simpler account which is adequate to the phenomena". Unless there is some internal contradiction in the account (Feser says there is - fair enough, that can be hashed out, we should prefer it if wins out in terms of theoretical virtue.

    2) The hand, stick, and stone example is not actually an example of an essentially ordered series. The stick does in fact have what seems like "built-in" or "underived" power to move the stone, and this can be clearly seen if you move the whole setup to outer space and make the stick the length of say, a galaxy. In this situation you can push the stick, die, and the compression wave will take millions of years to move the stone. In principle, the same thing happens in the normal small-scale situation, but it happens so much faster that it seems to us like the stick is nothing but an entirely "passive" link.

    1. Sticks, even space sticks, aren't self-movers.

    2. The point is that it's not an essentially ordered series. It's an accidentally ordered series, which does no work for the Thomist. Your hand is not necessary in a "here and now" sort of way for the rock to move. You can push the stick, leave, live out your life, die, and a million years later the stick will push the rock.

      It's analogous to shooting a bullet at a can. Once you fire the bullet, you no longer matter. You and the gun can cease to exist and the bullet will carry on. Likewise, the stick carries on without you.

      Maybe there are actual examples of essentially ordered series in the world, but the hand-->stick-->stone example is not one of them.

    3. That the causality of the series isn't intrinsic to the members of the series (except for the primary cause) is all that's demanded by an essentially ordered series. That the cause acts concurrently on the members of the series is not needed. That feature may be drawn out depending on the type of causality involved (as is the case for existence) but it's not a necessary feature of the series. Motion is the causality of the hand/stick/stone series. The stick and stone don't have motion intrinsically; they aren't self-movers and so must receive motion if they are to have it. The hand (as part of being with agency) is a self-mover and doesn't borrow it's motion from another source. Thus the series is an essentially ordered series.

    4. Edit: The hand (as part of *a* being with agency)...

    5. The hand is not a self-mover. Its motion does not arise out of thin air without explanation. The hand moves because there was such-and-such a prior physical state. Everything is imparted by previous stuff at a previous time. This series doesn't seem to go "down" to something like God - it just goes backwards in time. But this sort of series is of no help to the Aristotelian argument. As Aquinas acknowledged, such a series could theoretically be past-infinite.

    6. If you deny that the hand is a self-mover, that just makes the hand/stick/stone series cease to originate (or terminate, depending on how one wishes to put it) in the hand. The series doesn't cease to be an essentially ordered series since motion is the causality of the series and none of the members have their motion intrinsically (including, now, the hand). We'd just have to locate the source of the motion of the series in something other than the hand.

      An alternate example of an essentially ordered series which still works within a physically determined framework is that of a fire which heats a pot which heats the water within the pot. The water and pot aren't self-heating. The fire is. So the water and pot "borrow" their heat from the fire which is hot by it's nature. Given your objection to a hand as a self-mover, this fire/pot/water series might be a better example of an essentially ordered series.

    7. The hand is indeed not the self-mover, the mental agent is. It is not claimed that this particular example of an essentially ordered series must go "down" to God. This is rather meant to illustrate the logical structure of an essentially ordered series. Essentially ordered series do not consist of a succession of isolated dependence relations, but of one continuous dependence relation, in which the primary member is that in which subsequent derivative members derive their causality from, since such derivative members do not possess the causality (in the case of the hand-stick-stone example, local motion) in virtue of what they are, while the mental agent does). Barry Miller and others have discussed this more at length in certain publications and books. Feser discusses this in his book Scholastic Metaphysics as well, as did a number of the classical Scholastics if that is a direction you think is worth pursuing. Such resources may be useful on your journey.

      One may agree with the point you raise above that its motion "does not arise out of thin air without explanation" for both PSR considerations and the Scholastic PC itself (there was a potential for local motion intrinsic to the mental agent's essence). This does not, however, affect the argument, since the essentially ordered series deployed in such an argument for God is not simply looking at local or even physical motion as such, but at the metaphysics of motion. Now given the principle, and other established points, the Thomist would argue that this would, upon analysis, lead to a primary member who possesses actuality per se, or in virtue of what it is. Much more can be said, as is the case in these kind of considerations, but hopefully this is succinct and adequate for a short response.

    8. The whole problem is that claiming an essentially ordered series assumes B moving A is a true accident of B and not just a Cambridge property. If indeed, it is a true accident, then something else (call it C) must move B to move A, because the potential to move A in B can't self-actualize. And the same argument applies for C, for which there must be a D which moves C to move B to move A.

      But this doesn't work if B moving A is only a Cambridge property: if B is a mover by nature, there is no internal change (or reduction of act from potency) from B not moving A to B moving A. Physics has shown this to be the case (e.g. an electron moves other charged particles due to its nature as a charged particle). Thus, the claimed essentially ordered series are not so in reality and the proof from motion fails.

    9. Throwing in a few thoughts here. Actual Thomists might disagree. B moving A might be a Cambridge property of B insofar as it is not an entailing explanation nor intrinsic to its essence, but surely B's being a mover in the sense of being put in motion by another is part of what helps one to determine a thing's essence (i.e. it is a 'this' and not a 'that' with such-and-such features (or potentials) and not some other thing.

      Think of a poisonous mushroom. It was actualized by some state of affairs which was already actual, in this respect being moved and given its potentials to be comprised of such-and-such a chemical structure with certain powers; yet it may be that some individual Carl does or does not pick it up and eat it, thus actualizing that potential. Its potential to poison Carl remains even if Carl does not eat it in scenario 2. This illustrates that B, or the mushroom is a mover inasmuch as it was actualized by something else without having had to actualize or move Carl or some other state of affairs.
      If it is a true designator of what it is, then by the reasoning outlined above, the only possible terminus is that which possesses the causality in virtue of what it is. B being a mover (actualized by something already actual or moved by another helps constitute an explanation of what B's essence is even though one may say that B moving A and not C is a Cambridge property insofar as it is called a mover even if it does not actually move anything but only potentially can move or actualize something (i.e. it has a range of powers in virtue of what it is).

      The example from physics in paragraph 2 seems to be an application of the principle of "action follows being", for an electron, does (i.e. moves other charged particles) in virtue of what it is. Rather than disagreeing, there might then be agreement on this point, but this does not seem to undermine essentially ordered series' in the aforementioned way implied.

  20. Here is my response to your post :)

    1. A lot of nonsense can be hidden by expressing it in lengthy reams of self promoting hoopla.

      Tom Cohoe

    2. I opened the link. If you did make a good argument somewhere after the first 7 billion words, surely there's a way to get to it faster.

    3. Joe is at least trying to take Ed on fair and square, way better that your average internet agnostic/atheist or even philosophy professor, don't be rude with him, guys.

      It is a miracle that someone bothers to understand these things before attacking, we should not refuse miracles.

    4. I agree with Talmid: I'm not convinced Joe's arguments work but they seem to reflect good faith engagement with analytic Thomism. I'm honestly quite disappointed in some of the less substantive comments here (and even Prof. Feser's insinuation that the discussion of Joe's work in the comments constituted sockpuppetry).

    5. Now, having read the parts where he deals with Dr. Feser directly(1 to 3, i don't know what is on 4 and so on and maybe never do), i agree that Schmid is PRETTY long-winded and that he needs to learn to do more with less. I do have the same problem of writing too much so i think that i get him. "it is important that i dont forgot this" etc.

      But he does have some interesting things to say here about Ed argument. I tend to use a diferent version of the proof so he did not really bothered me, but it is interesting if one likes Dr. Feser version.

      And Joe, if you are reading, maybe have a separate post to these new objections to the proof? Dr. Feser will likely never read it anyway thanks to his lack of time, but even normal people will not bother with that much. I would create another post to they and put a link to it at the end of your answer to Ed if i was you. Maybe separating the sessions on a mini-series could help also.

    6. and even Prof. Feser's insinuation that the discussion of Joe's work in the comments constituted sockpuppetry

      If something looks like sock-puppetry, I don't know why I'm supposed to pretend otherwise. It happens pretty often on blogs, and certainly I've seen it happen before here over the years. Moreover, the specific kinds of comments I was referring to were not substantive, but just anonymous trash-talk and the like. And I wasn't referring to ALL comments that discussed Schmid, just a noticeable sub-class of them.

      Anyway, if there was any sock-puppetry, Schmid says that it wasn't on his part, and I'm happy to take him at his word. And as I've already said (and shown by my reply) I agree that Schmid's objections were worthy of response. That's what matters at the end of the day.

    7. If yer Schmid do us the curtsy of posting yer name. There have been a host of trolls on this blog who took the name "Unknown" and there is no reason for you to be anonymous.
      Also Feser never said or even implied you are at the heart of the sock puppetry. You no doubt have fanboyz like Feser does so that is the easy explaination.

      Also yer post as a bit of a gish gallop. Try tightening it up. BTW if you notice below I defend you from a few posts made by people who doubt yer sincerity. I agree with the sentiment you are worthy of response.

      Carry on.

    8. Son of Ya'kov, I'm not sure, but I think that the epithet Unknown is often due to a problem with blogspot, not because the poster has chosen to post as Unknown.

  21. The only part of your blog post I can understand was the part about a stick moving a stone being an essentially ordered causal series. Everything else is obtuse.

    This may not be your fault, but all of this metaphysics seems hopelessly difficult to understand.

    1. Check out Aquinas by Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics, or even The One and The Many by Norris Clarke. It is difficult to understand, but so is reality.

    2. BTO --- I have the same feeling. Unlike postmodern or humanities-based scholarship, which I am convinced is mostly nonsense, I have the conviction that classical metaphysics is not just a word salad. This is based on my own personal experience of learning things in metaphysics that at first seemed word-salady to me, as well as thinking of analogous situations in mathematics.

      The best analogy I can give is that in my book (which few copies are in university libraries gathering dust somewhere) it takes something like 200 pages for me to rigorously and carefully define the measure of a subset of the real line. The line segment from a to b (a < b) should have length (i.e. "measure") of b-a, and one asks: why the previous five chapters and densely worded theorems and proofs? Because it turns out that making this b-a definition truly rigorous requires a bunch of abstract machinery, and it turns out that the real line is rich and interesting enough that there are all sorts of pathologies that prevent one from doing things in just a page or a few pages. Other authors can do this is much less text, but I'm wordy and like to show all the steps with a minimum of "It's easy to see that...." and "The reader can show that...." sorts of statements.

      I'm convinced as I roll through middle age that I'll never really figure out the metaphysics of things like the Trinity or simplicity, although I have the basic idea. But I don't see myself as ever being able to do battle over the finer more subtle points of theological and metaphysical debates. Somehow I can do high level abstract mathematics (or could do it at one stage), but Thomist stuff certainly reminds me regularly that, no, you're no genius, just a plodder at best!

  22. "Existential inertia would be an attribute of any substance that has it. But attributes are ontologically dependent on substances"

    I am really dumb when it comes to this stuff but let me see if I understand this. Is Feser saying that Existential inertia is an attribute of any substance that already has existential inertia? However, this can't be because attributes like existential inertia are dependent on the substance. The substance grounds attributes like existential inertia, but existential inertia grounds the substance's existence, and thus we have a circle. Please correct me if I am wrong I can be very dumb.

    1. "The substance grounds attributes like existential inertia, but existential inertia grounds the substance's existence, and thus we have a circle." This is correct (imo). As I understand it, Dr. Feser is saying this follows from Schmid's account of existential inertia.

    2. Yea, your making the same point Feser is.

    3. That would be Dr. Feser criticism of the concept, yes. I think that i remember he discussing that with Dr. Oppy on their second debate.

    4. >I am really dumb when it comes to this stuff...

      The Big Man Himself(Socrates) was the wisest man in the ancient world because he knew he know not. So yer in good company keep on keeping on.

  23. I read Five Proofs for the first time 3 years ago. It wasn't until about a month or two ago that I understood in a satisfactory way how the proofs worked (i.e. how something could be contingent upon a sustaining cause). I thought very long and hard about Existential Inertia and came up with many of the objections that Mr. Schmid does. But the solution was to actually mold my mind to the ancient metaphysical wisdom, and think in a different way than I was used to. I now realize that Feser's writings are trying to express ideas that are a bit deeper and intuitive than the ones we're used to speaking about in philosophy in the modern day. The result is that one almost has to step back a bit from the problem to see it more clearly, rather than diving into propositions. Joe Schmid wrote the longest reply of life to this blog post and in only two days time since it was posted, which means he could only have, at best, spent a day and a half considering your responses. It's just not possible for the human mind to contemplate such profound concepts in such a short time. He's quite brilliant, but I do hope he calms down a bit and gives a chance for the more intuitive side of metaphysics to kick in. There's a reason that brilliant thinkers in history spent many YEARS contemplating and studying their teacher's work before going on to speak publicly. Not that Joe hasn't spent a long time thinking about the Aristotelian proof, but I think he needs a different approach brought about by more contemplation.

    1. @Journey 516, excellent reply. I, too, was disappointed that Schmid churned out a reply so quickly. His unbelievably extended defense of himself against his being a sock puppet (Feser never accused him of that) indicates a mindset devoted more toward self-defense over objective inquiry.

      I agree that Schmid is brilliant, but so was Aquinas. No matter how brilliant you are, it takes a good while to really absorb the metaphysics behind his arguments. Although I leaned toward Thomism for years, it never started to synthesize until quite recently. After that, it became relatively easy to spot the flaws in critiques like Schmid's.

      That notwithstanding, Schmid should be commended for at least trying to understand what he argues against. That's far better than what comes from your run-of-the-mill atheist.

    2. I don't see any reason to think Schmid needs more contemplation. The evidence suggests that he spends a great deal of time contemplating the present subject matter. Maybe too much! And this is reflected in his writing style. He needs to spend more time with Plato and realize the dangers of writing, especially monographs/monologues, and the virtue of dialogue, and especially the virtue of a more dialogue friendly approach in the context of writing a blog (he should take Feser as an excellent example to follow in this respect). He may be destined to become the next Spinoza or Kant but surely a blog is a better place for honing particular arguments, rather than presenting monographs. I'd suggest he go ahead and comment right here, under his own name. It certainly would force him to be a little more disciplined in his mode of presenting his thought and I would hope give him a better chance of getting some useful critical feedback on his ideas.

    3. @Journey 516,

      You wrote:-

      "But the solution was to actually mold my mind to the ancient metaphysical wisdom, and think in a different way than I was used to. I now realize that Feser's writings are trying to express ideas that are a bit deeper and intuitive than the ones we're used to speaking about in philosophy in the modern day. "

      There are a lot of people for whom this metaphysics is not intuitive. And Thomism is also not intuitive for a lot of people even after thinking a lot about this. Graham Oppy, Paul Draper, Felipe Leon have been working in philosophy of religion for quite a long time. I am assuming that these important philosophers of religion have thought about these arguments, metaphysics, and intuition. And it seems Thomism is not as intuitive to them as it is intuitive to you. So, I request you to please elaborate more on why you think that Thomism is more intuitive than all other metaphysical systems, thesis, etc.

      I also recommend you to please engage with the responses that Mr. Schmid has written. If you think that Mr. Schmid's responses fail, then I want to read or listen to what you have to say about Mr. Schmid's responses and I want to know why you think they fail or do not succeed.

    4. It seems to me that Journey was not using "intuitive" in its sense of "easy to grasp," but rather that it relied on (possibly strenuous) use of intuition and not just reason?

    5. Actually, Journey point seems that these kinda of questions need to be aproached with a diferent mindset that the one a modern analytical philosopher has. Instead of separating the argument in a bunch of propositionsthat will be shot, trying to contemplate it as a whole and slowing letting it sink in.

      This looks to me a aproach more ancient, more comtemplative. As someone who personaly does not see much value in the analytucal method, i think that i understand.

    6. @kuzan and whomever else may benefit from a clarification.

      By intuitive I did not mean self-evident. People can very truly disagree with thomistic metaphysics. I mean by intuitive the first act of understanding. That is, before forming complex ideas we have a simple idea present itself to the mind. I distinguish “contemplating” from “thinking” as contemplation speaks more to the fact that the contemplator is really trying to familiarize himself with even the most basic elements. Imagine a painter who stares into the scenery to pick up the tiniest details. Thinking speaks more to problem solving, building, reworking. Imagine a tinkerer constantly reworking his design as unexpected problems arise.

      The details of metaphysics, the precise formulations of causal principals etc, require acquainting ones self closely to the object of metaphysics, being itself. Thomism is intuitive in that the method of metaphysical study is more contemplative and the principals discussed are known immediately, without having to hypothesize analytical propositions. Notice the language I used about moulding my mind. Contemporary metaphysicians approach the problem differently and thus get stuck in the weeds that Schmid has found himself in. To me the approach of Oppy approaches one who hypothesizes what’s on the inside of a watermelon rather than cutting it open to find out.

  24. But existential inertia does not ground the substance's existence. It grounds the substance's continued existence, given that it exists.

    In Thomism an example is an angel which will, in virtue of its nature as a matterless pure form, exist eternally into the future (unless God acts to destroy it). This does not mean an angel's existence itself is self-explanatory.

    1. Anon1,

      The angel example is a good one, because it provides a succinct way of explaining the mistake you are making, here and in your comments above.

      Yes, for the Thomist, an angel will by virtue of its nature exist perpetually. But that is because, being incorporeal, an angel (a) lacks underlying prime matter that might take on some new substantial form, and (b) is not subject to the destructive forces corporeal substances exert relative to one another. Hence, nothing else in the created order can destroy it.

      But it is NOT because God needn’t take positive causal action in order for an angel to exist. On the contrary, precisely because it is a composite of essence and existence, an angel, like any created thing, requires that existence be imparted to it at any moment at which it exists, lest it be annihilated (or to be more precise, that it be imparted to it at what we might describe as the aeviternal analogue of a moment).

      In other words, angels have (unlike purely material substances) immortality, but NOT existential inertia, which is not the same thing as immortality. As I have said, only what is utterly non-composite (i.e. God) can have existential inertia. You seem to be conflating immortality and existential inertia.

      Now, a fortiori, a corporeal substance, considered even just at a time t, needs a cause no less than an (atemporal) angel does. Indeed, it is more in need of a cause, because it is less simple than an angel (since it is not only a composite of essence and existence, but also of substantial form and prime matter).

      No doubt you would disagree with the whole Thomistic metaphysical picture presupposed here, but the point is that you seem to assume that that picture is compatible with attributing existential inertia to created substances, and my point is that that assumption is based on a misunderstanding of the metaphysics.

    2. In other words, it's not the case (contrary to what you seem to assume) that for an angel to persist, God merely needs to refrain from positively acting to destroy it. Rather, it will not persist if God even simply refrains from acting to sustain it.

    3. Thanks for responding. Yes, I agree that the existence of entities which are composites of existence and essence requires, as a metaphysical ground, the existence of a simple entity whose essence and existence are identical, and I accept at least the basics of Thomistic metaphysics.

      Yet, it seems you are contradicting yourself. First you say that the angel's continued existence is explained in virtue of its nature as a pure form (given its initial existence), but then in the next paragraph you require positive causal action from God, which means that it is not explained by its nature alone. And how is this different from saying the angel continues to exist by way of miracle? Also, you say the angel will disappear if God refrains from acting to sustain it, but how can a being who is pure act refrain from acting?

    4. Hello Anon1,

      You write:

      Yet, it seems you are contradicting yourself. First you say that the angel's continued existence is explained in virtue of its nature as a pure form (given its initial existence), but then in the next paragraph you require positive causal action from God, which means that it is not explained by its nature alone.

      There is no contradiction. I never say that the angel’s continued existence is explained by its nature alone. Rather, what I say is that its nature explains why it cannot be destroyed by other created things. That is a different question from why it exists at all in the first place at any moment. And it is that question that has to be answered in terms of divine causality.

      You seem to me to be blurring the distinction between “not being destroyed” and “continuing to exist.” They are not the same thing. The former is a necessary condition for the latter, but not a sufficient condition.

      The nature of a thing alone can never explain its existence except in the case of something whose nature just IS its existence, i.e. God. Again, anything else is composite, and no composite can have existential inertia.

      You ask:

      And how is this different from saying the angel continues to exist by way of miracle?

      A miracle is a suspension of the created order. Sustaining an angel (or anything else) in existence is not a suspension of the created order, but on the contrary it just is the creating of that order.

      Also, you say the angel will disappear if God refrains from acting to sustain it, but how can a being who is pure act refrain from acting?

      Well, now you’re changing the subject and asking a question about the divine nature, rather than about whether created things can have existential inertia. So I’m not sure why this is relevant. But, briefly, your question seems to me to rest on a fallacy of equivocation. To be “pure act” (in the sense of being devoid of passive potency) is not the same thing as continually acting (in the sense of bringing about effects).

  25. Can we not personally mock Mr. Schmid? Some here are doing that. I make no specific accusations.

    I mean sure mock Gnu Atheists to yer hearts content as they are willfully intellectually inferior and merit such mockery. But an Atheist philosopher who tries (wither he succeeds or not is not relevant) to make a philosophical case against Philosophical Theism and Classic Theism merits respect from us as someone who is at least in principle a worthy opponent. After all Mr. Schmid at least knows where to aim his fire at and what ammo to use. Unlike let us say the dim Gnu Atheist who can't tell the Ground of All Being from a magic old man in the Sky from a hole in the 'ed.

    Carry on! Peace to all.

    1. @Son of Ya'Kov,

      Good words, and I've said that Schmid deserves commendation for at least trying to understand what he criticizes, but that does not give him a pass for the mistakes he makes.

      If you read his reply to Feser, he goes on and on and on and on over how he's not a sock puppet when Feser never accused him of being one! All Feser said was that he never heard of the guy until some of the posts that referenced him appeared to be in that category. All Schmid needed to say was that he never engaged in such shenanigans. His verbose self defense is downright bizarre which smacks of arrogance.

    2. I whole heartedly agree. Just look at the Anonymous below, who bleats on about speculation, and the many trolls and Gnus who have haunted this blog over the years. Schmid deserves all credit for grappling with these issues in a truly philosophical way. I say that as someone who is neither a Thomist nor a Christian.

      It is true that stylistically it would have been better for Schmid to have been more concise, but that's a minor issue. The Anonymous below is very concise, but that hasn't helped him.

    3. I think he went too far with his self-defense, but it wasn't bizarre. I think he's young and sensitive but he seems an intelligent and seriously devoted thinker, not merely arrogant, and he certainly has a right to rebut the suggestion of sock-puppetry and offer a better explanation, just as Feser has a right to explain why he suspected such.

    4. @David McPike,

      Respectfully, I think what Schmid did fits the definition of bizarre pretty well. Schmid has no "right" to dismiss the suggestion because Feser made no such suggestion. Since Feser had never heard of Schmid, and since some of the comments on these boards appeared of that class, he wondered whether that was going on. As I stated above, all Schmid needed to do was simply deny writing anything of the sort. His reply is way over the top.

    5. Bill,
      Huh? Certainly Feser did make a suggestion of sock-puppetry, and certainly Schmid does have the right to defend his reputation against such a suggestion. To claim otherwise is bizarre, seems to me. That said, I pointed out to Schmid on his blog that his self-defense was excessive, with a tendency to be self-undermining, and I think he understands this. He seems well aware that there are unruly psychological motivations, not just logical ones underlying parts of his response. So maybe just cut him some slack, a little more kindness, generosity of spirit, maybe a prayer for him...

    6. @David McPike,

      I can certainly cut him some slack if he realizes that his reply was over the top. But Feser never accused Schmid of that. It takes the most uncharitable of readings to conclude that Schmid was somehow guilty of sock-puppetry.

      Again, Feser only wondered if that was going on due to the kind of posts he was reading. And if we're going to insist that Schmid has the right to defend his honor, all he needed to do was write one sentence denying any involvement. You and I both know that Ed would have accepted that and nothing more would have been mentioned in that regard.

      Anyway, you're correct that prayer is a good option, and for that I thank you.

  26. I do not find A/T metaphysics convincing. Neither do most philosophers. Why is there something rather than nothing? We may never know why. But A\T metaphysics is just pure speculation. Very elaborate, to be sure, but just speculation.

    1. Quite so, but speculation generally held in the service of theological belief , and so to be defended and upheld at all costs.

    2. And I don't find what you just said convincing. Not only is it shallow, it's just speculation.

    3. I challenge YOU, Anon, to define "speculation" and them to give us some examples of truths that are not speculations nor depend on them. If you can do it, we are all ears.

  27. I think this was a productive and illuminating exchange. From my estimation, and notwithstanding the length of Schmid's reply, the dispute centers on the question of how to account for "something's" persistence. Since the example both use is water, I'll use that as well.

    It appears that there is agreement that, when water comes into existence, there is an actualization of potency (of, say, the hydrogen and oxygen molecules). The question is: What accounts for the water molecule's persistence following actualization? There are two broad options: (1) a potency-to-be-water is continually actualized so long as the water is in existence or (2) there is no further actualization of any potency once the water comes into existence.

    If you adopt (1) as an account, it raises the question of what explains the continual actualization of potency. Here, I think the options are (a) a concurrent external cause; (b) the water actualizes itself, or (c) there is no explanation or cause of the actualization. Dr. Feser argues persuasively for (a) as the best account.

    But this leaves the other, big picture account: the water's persistence does not entail any further actualization of potency. If I understand him correctly, I believe that this is Schmid's position. Its simply a logical implication of Schmid's argument for the plausibility and coherence of existential inertia. I haven't read everything Schmid has written about existential inertia, but I don't doubt that someone as clever as Schmid can come up with a reasonable model in support of that metaphysical thesis-- in which case, he has a reasonable basis for rejecting nearly all the arguments in Five Proofs.

    Where Schmid goes wrong in my view is his attempt to go further and, rather than advance an alternative metaphysical picture, argue that the Aristotelian argument undermines itself. His suggestion that God is a counterexample of unactualized persistence is simply confused. The whole point of the argument is that ONLY something that is purely actual can persist without external actualization. So too is his claim that Dr. Feser relies on a more ambitious metaphysical principle than anything in motion is moved by another -- in fact, I think Dr. Feser's argument follows directly from that premise. Schmid's contrary view seems to rest on the assumption that "change" is inherently temporal and, thus, persistence entails no change or actualization of potency. But that is not how AT conceives of the reduction of potency to act. Schmid may disagree but he hasn't remotely shown any inconsistency in Dr. Feser's position.

    At bottom, this is a dispute over the plausibility/reasonableness of broad metaphysical worldviews. May the best worldview win!

    1. @Bradley Schneider: in what might have been their last debate, Graham Oppy posed to Feser that the big choice is "theory choice." And that choice is not a simple matter. As I remember, Oppy urged that one criterion by which to judge theory A as superior to theory B is if A explains the given phenomena with fewer auxiliary metaphysical assumptions.

    2. Bradley wrote: "There are two broad options: (1) a potency-to-be-water is continually actualized so long as the water is in existence or (2) there is no further actualization of any potency once the water comes into existence."

      I would definitely pick both these options. I don't see what would motivate the denial of either one.

      "Here, I think the options are (a) a concurrent external cause; (b) the water [concurrently] actualizes itself, or (c) there is no explanation or cause of the actualization."

      Here I would (concurrently) pick (a) and (b). (c) seems trivial and silly (if there were no explanation or cause, then you'd need to explain why there was no explanation or cause, but if you did that then you'd necessarily end up having an explanation or cause after all, thus contradicting your original contention).

    3. Oppy is approaching metaphysics as a series of hypotheses as a Kantian would. Feser believes, as a Thomist, that the intellect can encounter forms, essences, esse, contingency, etc in a similar way to how the consciousness encounters phenomena. So there is no need for hypothesizing about metaphysics, we can learn it.

  28. The problem is that Schmid wrote tens of pages of stuff and linked his papers and his book. But then he also spent pages to defend himself because he thought Feser personally called him out. He claims this is his anxiety but I think it is his ego. He said regarding Feser's post that: `it was actually probably the worst reply I've received to my work. Feser's points were utterly confused.'

    1. He said regarding Feser's post that: `it was actually probably the worst reply I've received to my work.

      I haven't read Schmid's (gargantuan) reply, but:

      Seriously? Does this pass anyone's laugh test? Where did he say that? (I don't see it doing a search of the page.)

    2. I concur with Dr. Feser. I used the word search function in my browser. If a phrase is in a particular work it usually shows up when I use said tool in the browser.

      So I went to Schmid's reply and entered in "it was actually probably the worst reply I've received to my work" and nothing. I even tried a few variations such as "worst reply". Again nothing.

      So what is this "Al"? Are you trying to start trouble? Well?

      Not cool.

    3. Chill, Yak. Al never said where Schmid (allegedly) said that. But some sycophantic Schmid supporter named Ethan did crudely slander Feser's work in the comments and Schmid gratefully welcomed his stupid and hypocritical attack. The guy is definitely not all class and maturity. But I also see no reason to doubt that he really does struggle with anxiety; that's perfectly compatible with his having issues with ego and arrogance.

      Anyway, I read enough of his gargantuan reply to conclude that it's not worth reading. It would be nice if he could follow Bradley Schneider's lead, above, and try to distill his deal down to something that's a reasonably manageable, constrained argument, appropriate for some focused critical discussion.

    4. Then I stand corrected Sir McPike.

    5. It was on the Thomist Discussion Group on facebook. Screenshot here:

    6. OK, thanks, Al. As I say, quite a ridiculous comment on Schmid's part, which I'll chalk up to emotion. We all have our bad moments.

    7. In fairness to Mr. Schmid, he posted appreciation for Ethan's post without saying what part, specifically, he appreciated it. I think it would be uncharitable to read his reply as endorsing Ethan's silly criticisms of Ed.

    8. I stand doubly corrected. Al brought the receipts.

      But as I said before unlike yer average lol cow Gnu at least Schmid both knows what target to fire his weapons at (God in the Classic Sense not some anthopomorphic Theistic Personalist "god") and knows what proper ammo to use (philosophical arguments).

      So the ladd is a breath of fresh air in that regard and no mistake.

  29. It seems that you misunderstand Schmid's last point, to me. A first actualizer would certainly exist at t (=the time of actualizing some other potentiality). But that need not mean that *it* has no other potentialities. Suppose that the first actualizer has existence in itself. Well and good! Having potentialities need not mean that it has potentialities *to exist* or not exist--since its existence, in and of itself considered, is actual. But just because its existence is actual does not mean it doesn't possess potentials to "be" in a way consistent with its being at t.

    1. God in Classic Theism is timeless so saying God a first actualizer(First Cause) would exist at time t is incoherent. Yer thinking of a Theistic Personalist god brother. We are all "atheists" toward such a "god".

  30. Perhaps I'm breaking the rules of engagement, but wouldn't it make sense to have Joe or a couple of guys who side with him to bring a couple specific points and arguments up in the combox and hash it out in a more focused back-and-forth? This especially since both sides accuse each other of misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Otherwise, if things continue as is, we will have a large amount of ink spilled without actually coming together to figure out where the issues and miscommunications are.

    Nothing like a whole bunch of work with no progress made to help the blood pressure.

    1. I second this idea. I've been in arguments online where one side (sometimes me, not always) gave a reply as long as Schmidt's. It always either blows up later posts to gravitational-collapse proportions, or else derails the argument into minutiae. I think Joe should just a maximum of five points for Ed to reply to.

    2. Just ignore Schmid and your blood pressure will be OK.

      Tom Cohoe

  31. That's the post I was looking for! Great job, Ed!

  32. Also, Ed thank you so much for taking your time and replying to this guy's objections. It is so fruitful for someone who's trying to learn by himself how to properly understand and think A/T Metaphysics to see someone (you in that case) reply to this since this topic is well relegated in my country. And it helps me a lot to think about the topic properly (since in the act of responding to the errors, this helps to clarify how to not commit them and how to not think the argument in a wrong way).

    May God bless you.


  33. Yes, Bill it's ALL speculation. But no, it's not shallow.

  34. Joe Schmid’s partly relied on the idea of Existential Inertia to make his case.

    But if we temporary put aside our million-words sophistry for a while, we should be able to see that no entity that can exist only conditionally upon some conditions can possess Existential Inertia.

    [eg in order a tree to continue existing, the concurrent conditions such as a suitable temperature (too hot and the tree will be burned) and sufficient space (13.7 billion years ago the available space was not big enough even for a a molecule to exist) are necessary to be there.]

    Any entity that exists only conditionally (at every moment of its existence) would continuously require the presence of those conditions in order to continue existing.

    This is equivalent to saying that such an entity needs to be continuously sustained by the presence of all these necessary conditions in order for it to continue existing.

    This means that such an entity lacks existential inertia.

    Only an entity that exists unconditionally on anything at all possesses existential inertia.

    Further analysis would show that there is one and only one such Unconditionally Existing Entity.

    And every Classical Theist understands this to be God.


    johannes y k hui

  35. Johannes

    Something cannot come from nothing and something cannot become nothing. That's existential inertia.
    The Unconditionally Existing Entity cannot be the God of Classical Theism because that would mean ultimate reality is immutable, in which case change is impossible.

    1. @Walter

      "The Unconditionally Existing Entity cannot be the God of Classical Theism because that would mean ultimate reality is immutable, in which case change is impossible."

      This doesn't even make sense. What does immutability have to do with whether the Unconditionally Existing Entity can be the God of Classical Theism?

      If ultimate reality is immutable, then all that follows is that it cannot change. But it doesn't follow that it's impossible for *created* realities to change. After all, ultimate reality is pure act but created realities are mixed act; naturally, then, contingent realities will be mutable. Unless you have some argument against that possibility?

    2. Tom

      If reality is immutable, then reality cannot possibly change.
      I am well aware that the Thomist wants to distinguish between two "realities", but the problem is that there is no logical way to connect two realities.
      Asserting one is created and the other is not is not going to do the trick.

    3. "If reality is immutable, then reality cannot possibly change."

      That's tautological. You also seem to be confusing "reality" (in the sense of an abstract universal) with "reality itself/pure reality" (which is God); that is a fairly elementary mistake. The latter is a concrete particular (while not an instance of a kind) while the former is an abstract universal.

      You might as well argues that since ultimate reality is simple, there can be no composition. But the *whole point* of the arguments for composition is that mutability, composition and contingent require an immutable simply necessary ground.

    4. Tom

      Yes, of course it's tautological.
      And no, I am not confusing anything. Reality at the ultimate stage is all there is. And it follows that there is absolutely nothing that can change in any way.
      And yes, if ultimate reality is simple and immutable, there can be no composition, hence ultimate reality cannot be simple and immutable.

    5. Walter,

      Would it be fair to characterise your argument as follows:

      1. If reality is fundamentally immutable, there can be no change.

      2. If Thomism is true, then reality is fundamentally immutable.

      3. So, if Thomism is true, then there can be no change (1, 2).

      From which (I guess) it follows that the argument from change is self-refuting since what it establishes it incompatible with the premises (reality of change) it takes to arrive there.

      But premise (1) is unmotivated. More precisely, the consequent simply doesn't follow from the antecedent. Change is the reduction from potency to act. So, premise (1) would amount to saying that if reality is, fundamentally, devoid of potency, there can be no potency. But perhaps a simpler formulation of premise (1) would be:

      1. If reality is fundamentally X, there can be no non-X.

      But not only do you give no justification for this premise, it seems plainly false as a *general* matter. Physical facts are more fundamental than biological and psychologic facts, yet the latter have features which the former do not, for instance.

      Or perhaps you mean something like this: since God (on Thomism) exhausts all possibilities for reality in Himself, there can be no other possibilities for reality. God is already the fullness of reality and so you cannot have "more" (i.e. created) reality which is "added" to that.

      Now, the trouble with this objection is that it assumes that creation somehow involves "more" reality being "added" to what was there (ontologically) prior. But that is simply not the case. It is a commonplace in Thomistic metaphysics that God + creatures is indeed more "realities"; but it is not more "reality"; nothing is added that was not already there in some manner. So, I don't think this objection goes through.

    6. Heraclitus

      The very fact that it is no "more reality" is one of the things that motivates premise 1.
      For if it is not "more reality", then reality does change. If nothing is added that was not in some way already there then there is potential in ultimate reality, which menas it is not immutable.

    7. Walter, Classical Theists/Thomists do *not* think that creation is a change. Aquinas even directly states this. So it's hardly as if this is a serious objection to Thomism.

      Moreover, the PPC does not (as you seem to imply) entail that potentiality must exist in God given that it exist in creatures. In God, there exists a greater power to produce potentialities; this is eminent containment. It neither means nor entails that there is passive potency in God.

      Or maybe you mean that given the PPC, creatures must be "drawn out" of God. That, again, is mistaken. God simply communicates the fullness that he has with various others who receive it according to their diverse capacities. A teacher can communicate the knowledge he has with students, without violating either the PPC or the knowledge being "drawn out" of his intellect.

    8. Heraclitus

      I know that Thomists deny that creation is a change, but if creation is, as you say, "no more reality", then it follows that creation is a change, no matter what Thomists claim.

      The "greater power" is a potentiality, because it is not necessarily applied.
      A God who applies this power to x is different from a God who applies it to Y.

      A teacher cannot communicate anything without changing.

  36. Once the atoms are joined in a chemical bond there is no reason to think an outside "force" of any kind ("something distinct from the collection") must keep them joined. They are joined by their chemical bond. This bond is part of their nature. They don't have to be continuously "actualized" from outside. They HAVE ALREADY BEEN actualized (in the local jargon). The "actualization" phase has completed. At time t the end product has the "potential" to be separated into component parts. The separation takes an actualization phase of its own (like electrolysis for water). It's unreasonable to claim the compound has to be continually actualized to stay a compound when it also has to be "actualized" to be separated into its component parts, p. IOW, we might as well say oxygen and hydrogen have to be "actualized" to keep them from joining into H2O or something else. The "actualization" is assumed to explain why something changes and also why it stays the same, but it in fact explains nothing because it can be applied to every case no matter the outcome: Z happened, that can be explained by actualization of not-Z Z still is, that can be explained by actualization of not-Z.

    1. @Don Jindra, so the atoms cease to function? The protons, neutrons and electrons disappear?

    2. Bill, protons, neutrons and electrons remain internal to the atom or molecule. How do you think that question relates to what I wrote?

    3. @Don Jindra,

      Because the atoms' functioning actualizes the molecules which is explaining the functioning or movement of the atoms? In other words, you cannot escape there being an ultimate underlying cause for every substance in question, and said cause cannot itself be contingent, else we keep pushing the question backwards.

      Thus, instead of an "outside" force, it is more accurate to speak of an underlying cause for the reality of movement in every substance.

    4. Bill, I said above that there is no reason to go outside the molecule looking for a force that keeps the atoms joined as the molecule. Offering internal parts agrees with what I said.

      You seem to offer the internals as the 'underlying' cause. As long as this underlying cause is internal, it does not matter to me. It's internal. If you claim the internal is external, I say that's gibberish.

    5. No, I'm not saying that there isn't an 'outside' force (or whatever); I'm saying it's more precise or accurate to call it an underlying or sustaining efficient cause.

      Something is moving the atoms, and that something is either composite or simple. If the former, then something is moving that, and the chain continues until you get to something simple.

      There is something undergirding all of reality which is simple. There is, therefore, every reason to look for the explanation of all the atoms which compose a substance.

  37. "Z happened, that can be explained by actualization of not-Z Z still is, that can be explained by actualization of not-Z."

    Huh! Well that's super enlightening. I wonder why I never thought of it that way before?

    1. David McPike, I agree it's not super enlightening. That's pretty much my point.

  38. So let me take a stab at laying out at least one of the key points in Joe Schmid's response, after thinking about this for a few days.

    Joe, in what is now his reply to Feser part 2, lays out two different "interpretations" of the causal principle Feser lays out in his argument and shows how he sees problems either way.

    For clarity, Feser's stated causal principle is: Any change—any actualization of potential or reduction from potency to act—requires a causal actualizer (2017, pp. 19-22).

    Joe's two differing interpretations of this are laid out as:

    1. "If there are a range of potentials p1, p2, … pn, only one of which can be actual[ized] (at a given time), and one of them, pi, is actual[ized] (at a given time), then there is some (sustaining) cause which makes pi actual (at a given time)."

    2. "Whenever there is some transition from potential to actual being - i.e., whenever something that exists in potency is brought from its (ontologically or causally or temporally) prior state of existing in potency to its state of existing in actuality - there is an already actual cause of this transition."

    I see two key misunderstandings of Feser's argument from Joe:

    For one, I think Joe believes Feser is seeing a potential where we do not necessarily need to infer one, namely why there has to be a potential involved with why parts of a whole continue to remain together.

    Two, why a "necessary" but non-fully-actual being is not a possibility we have to take into consideration.

    These misunderstandings point to the fact that Joe and Feser do not have the same understandings of the CP and the PSR. Joe probably subscribes to some of the wording as Feser would of these principles, but that is not the same thing as holding the same principles. A lot of Joe's approach in his paper however was to try and argue against Feser AS IF they did have the same understanding of the CP and PSR.

    The concepts involved in the discussion here are so fundamental and also so intertwined with one another that it makes it extremely difficult to address these misunderstandings.

    The problem is that it is hard to address any one misunderstanding by itself, because in order to address that misunderstanding we need to make use of concepts that are part of another misunderstanding...

    This I why I think others have kind of talked about coming to understand the AT position here as requiring a kind of contemplation of the whole argument as opposed to a step by step process of addressing each misunderstanding.

    I do believe it is possible to address the misunderstandings Joe, and probably many others, have in a more "all at once" way, but I at least don't feel capable of doing so yet.

  39. This may be too late, but I'd be really curious if anyone has thought about this. I've had a doubt about whether the Aristotelian proof commits us to a purely actual actualiser for a while (which has some superficial similarity to Schmid's objections). Here’s my reasoning: The Aristotelian proof proceeds from hierarchical causal chains and the principle of proportionate causality (roughly, whatever is in the effect must, in some way, be in the cause). My favourite analogy to illustrate this reasoning is one I read in the combox of this blog years ago: suppose you have a mirror, which is shining. The mirror does not have the power to produce light itself – instead it is being lit up, and reflecting that light from something else (in other words, its potential to shine is being actualised by something outside itself). That something else might be another mirror, but then we just have to ask what causes that mirror to produce light. In the end, the causal series must end in a ‘first light’ (e.g. a lamp), which is able to produce light without itself needing to be lit up – it has the ability to shine ‘built in’. So we can infer from our series to mirrors to a light source which has the ability to produce light without itself needing to be lit up. But crucially, this argument doesn’t address other aspects of the ‘first light’. E.g. it doesn’t tell us what the first light is made of – it could be solid (e.g. tungsten), liquid (e.g. lava) or a plasma. In particular, maybe the first light is liquid at one time, but potentially solid, and can turn solid without losing its ability to produce light. So while we can infer that the first light in our series is actually shining, and has the power to shine in a built-in, non-derivative way (unlike the mirrors), we can’t conclude that the first light is Pure Light (i.e. that it has no potentials whatsoever). That’s because the argument involving causal chains with mirrors only addresses light, not other possible aspects like material, etc.

    Likewise, the Aristotelian proof proceeds from the existence of things in the world (which have existence only derivatively) to an unactualized actualiser which has existence in a built-in, non-derivative way. I accept this reasoning. But it feels like a leap to go from saying that this actualiser has existence built-in, to saying that it is Pure Act (i.e. that it has no potentials whatsoever). While I agree that it is actually existing, and has no potential to not exist, I don’t see why it couldn’t have other potentials unrelated to existence. E.g. why can’t the unactualized actualiser be actually red, but potentially green?
    As best I can see, this is parallel reasoning to the light case.

    1. Andrew,
      It seems like your question involves recognizing a distinction between substance and accidents and substantial change vs accidental change. You are recognizing a difference between a thing changing into another thing or coming to exist in the first place versus a thing changing how it exists i.e its accidents. I believe Joe is making this same move as well.

      I don’t believe the Aristotelian proof is directed towards someone that sees this distinction and more would have to be added to it to account for it? I believe once you bring in the notion of substances and accidents you are going to also have to accept the form/matter distinction.

      Dr. Feser,
      Is the distinction between substance and accident at play in the Aristotelian Proof or does that commit one accepting form/matter and further arguments are needed to close the loop presuming we make that recognition?

      This does seem similar to Joe’s issues where they could be interpreted as him recognizing a difference in the casual principle between substantial and accidental change.

    2. I’m just going to tidy up some messy things with my earlier comment. In particular, the objection I’m posing is: why can’t you have an entity which actually exists, and has no potential to not exist, but still has other sorts of potentiality, unrelated to existence.
      The particular question I chose to illustrate this involved colour. It might be objected that colour is a property of material objects, and that, at least, we have some reason to believe an unactualized actualiser would be immaterial. (I add this because Feser gives quite nice argument in a follow-up post to this to the effect that a no material entity can have existential inertia.) Given this, it may well be this particular question is inappropriate.
      But it seems that, from the Scholastic perspective, some immaterial entities can still undergo change, e.g. angels (at the very least, angels, like Satan, can choose to reject God). So it must be possible for immaterial entities to have potentialities. (An alternative way to see this is to point out that there can be, at least in principle, more than one angel on the Scholastic view, so there must be some potentiality they have in virtue of which they can be differentiated.)
      Now, admittedly, the standard Scholastic view has it that angels are also conserved in existence by God, just like everything else, so are not unactualized.
      But I don’t see why we still can’t ask the question: why can’t our immaterial unactualized actualiser have no potential to not exist, but still have other potentials, the way other immaterial beings like angels do? Why can’t the unactualized actualiser, for example, actually have angelic property 1, but potentially have angelic property 2?

      Nathan, I'm not actually sure how important the distinction between substantial and accidental change is for this argument? I think the key thing I'm proposing is an entity that has existence as an essential feature, but other features are capable of changing. Those other features that can change might be accidental, but don't have to be - maybe other essential features can also change. The key thing for the Aristotelian proof seems to be that the unactualised actualiser is actually existent and has no potential to not exist (to borrow language from the Thomistic proof, its existence is, at least, a part of its essence (it might be the whole of its essence, in which case, great, we've got the God of classical theism - but it's not clear to me that the Aristotelian proof establishes this)). (But maybe I'm missing something here and this will only work with accidental features? Or maybe the whole idea is misguided?)

    3. Vicent posted a similar objection before. If this being has the potential to change it would need another being to actualize this potential, for if successful the argument establish that there is no actualization of potential if there is not someone already actual actualizing. You will still end up with Pure Act un the end.

      I think that Ed version of the argument kinda obscure this detail because he stay little on the "any actualization needs a actuality" thing and goes to discuss potentials to exist.

    4. Hi Talmid. I’m not completely sure I understand, so before I go off on one, can I just check what you’re saying. My understanding of the Aristotelian proof (heavily influenced by Feser’s presentation of it, to be sure) is something like this (in sketch form): motivate the existence of hierarchical causal chains with the idea of actualising potentials – point to numerous examples (e.g. hands moving sticks moving stones, light bouncing off mirrors, etc.) involving all sorts of potentials being actualised (e.g. the potential to move, potential to shine, etc.). Then focus in specifically on the potential to exist – point out that actualising this potential involves a hierarchical causal chain. Conclude there’s an entity that actually exists without having the potential to not exist.
      In other words, I took all the talk about hands moving sticks moving stones, etc. to be merely illustrative of the general principles involved (because hierarchical causal chains involving actualising the potential to exist is pretty abstract), rather than a genuine part of the argument per se. The only hierarchical causal chain that actually mattered for the argument was the one involving actualising the potential *to exist*.
      But you seem to be saying that the argument is concerned with every hierarchical causal chain, regardless of the potentiality involved (whether that be existence, motion, whatever) – is this correct?

    5. Yeah I was just reading into the principle of individuation, and I think it helped me piece some of this together. Im assuming the perspective of a materialist here, so no matter/form distinctions.

      Basically if we are viewing things in term of substantial change (changing from one thing into another), we have to keep tracking back until we get to something with no parts, otherwise we have to ask, as Talmid points out, what holds those parts together. But then we may ask does this substance we have arrived at have any accidents? And we can say no, because in order for something to have accidents (like redness), it must have parts.

      Assuming the perspective of a materialist you can imagine some fundamental simple particle (no parts) that necessarily exists, but it could not have any accidents in it because it has no parts. If it cannot be divided into any further parts, then there can be no potentials in it. A being cannot have potential to change in any respect if it has no parts.

      Thinking in terms of motion here might be helpful. If something is not put into motion by something extrinsic to it, then it could only be put into motion by something intrinsic to it. However if something has no parts, then there is no principle for intrinsic motion possible in the thing. An intrinsic principle of motion would require that one part of a thing that is actual with regards to a kind of motion, acts on a different potential part of the same thing with regard to the same type of motion.

      Intrinsic motion required that a thing (substance) has parts but as was shown earlier anything with parts requires something to explain why those parts are held together and cannot be the necessary grounding of existence.

    6. Nathan, having thought about the issue a bit more, I think I agree that, for the possibility I'm suggesting, if the unactualised actualiser has any features that are capable of changing, those features must be accidental (so I was wrong when I suggested they could be essential earlier). This is because if any essential features of the unactualised actualiser changed, the unactualised actualiser would have undergone substantial change - so one substance would have ceased to exist and a new substance would have begun to exist. But this can't happen because, by hypothesis, the unactualised actualiser has no potential to exist or not exist. So any potentialities the unactualised actualiser has must only be related to accidental features it has.

      This is interesting. I wonder, then, if we were trying to show the unactualised actualiser is also Pure Act, whether it would suffice to show that the unactualised actualiser has no accidental features? But it's not clear to me how you could justify this.

    7. @Andrew

      "But you seem to be saying that the argument is concerned with every hierarchical causal chain, regardless of the potentiality involved (whether that be existence, motion, whatever) – is this correct?"

      I believe that at least in Aquinas reading and most versions i've seen, yes. Dr. Feser argument is a bit diferent because the important part of it is on things potential to existence, while most versions of the argument i've seen touch it latter.

      I do not mean that this is a problem with Ed version, but it could generate the objection you are putting. This because in most versions of the argument, since the focus is on any change, the hypothetical actualizer, while a necessary being, still has others potentials, so it is easier to see on these versions that this being would need Pure Act help anyway. Since our Professor focus on a particular type of potentials, it takes more thought to see that the non-pure-act actualizer is unnecessary, since we need Pure Act anyway.

      One also could argue directly that this being, if he has potentialities, is composed of essence and existence and so can't be truly necessary. I can't think of a potentiality that does not pressupose a limitation(and so composition on this sense)* so i suppose that the argument would work, but maybe this would make the argument too dependent on the thomistic proof.

      *For instance, having color pressuposes having a body(being limited to a certain place,having parts etc), learning things pressupose former ignorance, choosing on univocal sense pressuposes ignorance of what one wants before the choice etc

  40. Andrew, the first cause is purely actual for this reason: Consider its state before creation. If the first cause had any potentialities, then it would have contingency in it, but there would be no explanation for this, since there's nothing before the first cause. Perhaps one could say that the first cause caused itself to have potentialities. But consider the first cause's state before causing itself to have potentialities. In this state, it would need to have at least one potentiality, namely, the potentiality to have other potentialities. So even here, we're left with unexplained potentiality. So the first cause, at least prior to creation, has no potentialities. But if it has no potentialities in that state, then it also lacks the potentiality to gain potentialities in later states. And so the first cause can have no potentialities, and so the first cause is purely actual.

    - ML