Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Schmid on existential inertia

At his blog, Joseph Schmid has replied to my recent post about his criticisms of the Aristotelian proof.  The reply is extremely long.  Now, I often write long blog posts myself.  Indeed, my previous post on Schmid was, at over 5,000 words, pretty long.  But by my count (via cutting and pasting into MS Word), Schmid’s reply clocks in at almost 40,000 words – all written up and posted within just two days after my post!  And even the cursory look I gave it shows that it raises a variety of issues that go well beyond anything I talk about in my post.  Into the bargain, it also summarizes and links to myriad other blog posts, articles, and YouTube videos of Schmid’s which, he indicates, we ought to check out if we want to have a better idea of his views about the matters under discussion! 

Well, no offense to Schmid – who seems like a nice enough guy, and an intelligent one – but I’m afraid I can’t spend the rest of the summer, or even the rest of this week, reading and responding to this mountain of material.  And if I’m going to choose something of his to read, I have to say that a rambling and largely off-topic 40,000-word blog post banged out over two days doesn’t seem the most promising candidate.  So, it seemed to me that a workable compromise would be to press on with what I had thought to do before he posted his reply, which is to read and comment on the other of Schmid’s two published academic articles, “Existential inertia and the Aristotelian proof.”  Since the notion of existential inertia seems to be at the core of our disagreement, and since I take it to be a reasonable assumption that this article contains Schmid’s most rigorous presentation of his views on that topic (and that his latest blog post presupposes the article in any event), I take that to be a reasonable way to conclude our exchange for now.  Fair enough? 

EIT versus EET

Schmid starts out his paper by distinguishing the “Existential Inertia Thesis” (EIT) from what he labels the “Existential Expiration Thesis” (EET).  According to EIT, objects of the kind that make up the world of our experience will persist in existence unless something acts positively to destroy them.  According to the rival EET, such objects will cease to exist unless something positively acts to sustain them in being.  Hence, consider an example like the water in a certain glass at time t.  According to EIT, as long as nothing acts to destroy the water, it will continue to exist at t + 1.  Nothing has to do anything in order to make the water continue to exist.  All that is necessary is that nothing does something to knock it out of existence.  But according to EET, unless something acts to make the water continue to exist, it will not exist at t + 1.  It’s not enough that nothing does anything to destroy it.  The fact that nothing acts positively to sustain it will suffice for its going out of existence.

Arguments for God’s existence like the Aristotelian proof I defend in chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (and which was discussed in my previous post on Schmid) are concerned in part to show that EIT is false and EET is true.  Now, Schmid writes as if the falsity of EIT and truth of EET are presuppositions of such arguments.  That is not correct.  Rather, a critique of EIT and defense of EET are parts of such arguments, not undefended background assumptions of such arguments.  For example, in the course of developing the Aristotelian proof, I point out that a substance like the water in question is composite in nature, i.e. it is made up of parts.  There are different ways you could conceive of these parts – for example, in terms of substantial form and prime matter (if you are an Aristotelian hylemorphist), or in terms of essence and existence (if you are a Thomist metaphysician), or in terms of fundamental particles (if you are a metaphysical naturalist).  It doesn’t matter for the specific purposes of the argument.  What matters is only that the parts, considered just qua parts of that kind at t, are only potentially water at t, and that some additional factor is therefore needed in order to explain why this potential is actualized at t.  That they made up water at t – 1 is irrelevant, because what matters is why they continue to make up water at t, and again, nothing about the parts considered by themselves can account for that.  Hence we need to appeal to some additional factor.

You may or may not agree with this argument.  (In my previous post on Schmid, I defend it against an objection he raises against it.)  But it is precisely an argument against EIT and for EET.  For it entails that the water will not continue to exist from t – 1 to t unless something acts to keep it in existence.  Hence Schmid is wrong to say that the Aristotelian proof (of which this argument is a component part) merely assumes EET.  (Moreover, the whole point of my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” is to show that, properly understood, Aquinas’s Five Ways – the first of which is a version of the Aristotelian proof – are arguments against EIT.  Schmid cites this article in his own paper, which makes it is especially odd for him to write as if my arguments simply assume the falsity of EIT.)

Schmid also claims that the rejection of EIT does not entail accepting EET.  Consider again the example of the water.  If we reject EIT, Schmid thinks, all that follows is that the water will not of necessity continue to exist without a sustaining cause.  But it doesn’t follow that it will of necessity go out of existence without one.  It might simply happen to carry on without one.

This too is not correct.  If the water continues to exist from t – 1 to t, then something must account for this fact, and it will have to be something either intrinsic to the water or extrinsic to it.  Now, if EIT is false, then it is not something intrinsic to the water; and if there is no sustaining cause, then it will not be something extrinsic to it either.  But then there will be nothing to account for its continuing to exist from t – 1 to t, in which case it will not continue to exist.  Which is precisely what EET claims.  So, if we reject EIT, then we must indeed affirm EET.

A critic might respond that this presupposes the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  Well, since I think PSR is true and have defended it at length in several places, I hardly think that is a problem.  But in fact the argument does not presuppose PSR – or to be more precise, it doesn’t presuppose PSR any more than any other explanation does.  Homicide detectives, insurance investigators, and forensic engineers never take seriously the suggestion “Maybe it just happened for no reason!” when considering the phenomena they are trying to understand, and that is so whether or not they are committed to the principle that absolutely everything has an explanation.  Similarly, we needn’t appeal to such a principle in order to judge that the rejection of EIT should lead us to embrace EET.  (Not that we shouldn’t embrace such a principle.  And as everyone knows, few people seriously quibble about PSR until they start to worry that it might force them into accepting theism.)

A third claim Schmid makes about EIT and EET is that neither has a presumption in its favor, so that we ought initially to be agnostic about which is correct.  A priori, they are evenly matched.  This too, I would argue, is mistaken.  To take an example I have often used, suppose you explain, to someone who has never heard of them before (a young child, say), the nature or essence of a lion, of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and of a unicorn.  Then you tell him that, of these three animals, one exists, one used to exist but has gone extinct, and the other never existed and is fictional.  You ask him to tell you, based on his new knowledge of the essences of each, which is which.  Naturally, he couldn’t tell you.  For there is nothing in the essence or nature of these things that could, by itself, tell you whether or not it exists.  Existence is something additional to the essence of a contingent thing.  It doesn’t follow from such a thing’s essence.

This is, of course, an argument Aquinas gives for the Thomistic doctrine of the real distinction between essence and existence (which I develop and defend in chapter 4 of Five Proofs).  The point for the moment is this.  If nothing about the essence or nature of a thing entails that it exists at all in the first place, then it is hard to see how anything about its essence or nature could entail that will persist in existence once it does exist.  In short, the very nature of a contingent thing qua contingent makes it implausible to attribute to it a feature like existential inertia.  In which case, EET is, contra Schmid, a priori more plausible than EIT.

In summary, then, in the first, stage-setting part of his paper, Schmid makes three dubious claims: that the falsity of EIT and truth of EET are simply taken for granted by the Aristotelian proof (not true); that the falsity of EIT does not give us reason to believe EET (not true); and that EIT and EET are equally plausible a priori (not true).  So unpromising a beginning does not portend well for the rest of the paper, and indeed further serious problems with it arise immediately.

The metaphysics of existential inertia

Schmid next considers two possible ways of spelling out EIT.  The first account goes like this: Consider the water in our earlier example.  Its existence at some time t is sufficiently explained by (a) the state and existence of the water at an immediately preceding time t – 1 together with (b) the absence of anything acting to destroy the water.

Now, an objection that might be raised against existential inertia thus understood (and one I have raised in my exchanges with Graham Oppy and in my previous reply to Schmid) is that it is viciously circular.  Existential inertia would be a property or power of the water.  So, the water’s persistence from t – 1 to t would, on this account, depend on this property or power.  But properties and powers depend for their reality on the substances that possess them.  So, we seem to have a situation where the water’s persistence depends on that of a property or power which in turn depends on the persistence of the water.

Schmid considers something like this “circularity” objection (though his exposition of it seems to me to be quite murky, so it is possible that he has something else in mind).  In response to it, he says that if the objection had any force, it would have force against any account of the persistence of the water, including an account that attributes its persistence to God.  For if we suppose that God causes the water to persist from t – 1 to t, then we will be presupposing that it is possible for it to persist from t – 1 to t, and thus won’t be giving a non-circular explanation of how it is possible for it to do so.  And if the theist replies that God gives the water the ability to persist, then this will only push the problem back a stage insofar as it will presuppose that God has the ability to do so.

I find this to be a very odd response, and I confess that I’m not sure I even understand what Schmid is going on about.  The circularity objection has nothing do with presupposing that it is possible for something to persist, or with presupposing that things have abilities, or anything like whatever Schmid is talking about.  Rather, it has to do with the fact that properties and powers are ontologically dependent on substances, so that substances cannot without circularity be said to be ontologically dependent on properties or powers.

Again, perhaps that is not the objection Schmid is talking about.  But if it isn’t, then I’m not sure what he is talking about.  Certainly he doesn’t seem to be talking about (a) an objection that any critic of EIT has actually given, or (b) an objection that is interesting. 

Anyway, Schmid goes on to discuss a further possible objection to this first way of spelling out EIT, one grounded in a presentist theory of time.  The objection would be that what happens at t – 1 cannot explain what happens at the present moment t, because (according to presentism) past moments like t – 1 no longer exist, and what does not exist cannot be the explanation of anything.  Schmid responds to this possible objection by setting out several arguments in defense of the claim that past events can play a role in explaining present ones.

Schmid does not attribute this objection to anyone, and as he rightly notes, presentists in fact do not in general claim in the first place that past events play no role in explaining the present.  So what is the point of devoting several pages to an argument no presentist has given or is likely to give?  I’m not sure, and I don’t myself have anything to add to what Schmid says in response to it.  Certainly the fact that the past is relevant to explaining the present gives (contrary to what Schmid seems to think) no support to EIT.  For what is at issue in the debate over EIT and EET is not whether what happens at t – 1 is part of the explanation of what is true of the water at t, but rather whether it is by itself sufficient to explain what is true of it at t.

(I have to say that I wonder what kind of rhetorical effect this kind of stuff has on Schmid’s readers, some of whom – judging from my combox – seem very impressed by it.  Schmid’s discussion of this first interpretation of EIT occupies almost five pages of analysis, with the standard bells and whistles that we analytic philosophers pick up in grad school and from reading academic journal articles – semi-formal formulations, the entertaining of various hypotheticals, and so on.  Other things Schmid has written, such as the article addressed in my previous post on Schmid, have a similar character.  Untutored readers, especially those whose knowledge of philosophy is largely drawn from blog posts, Reddit discussions, and the like, are bound to think: “Wow, this is so technical and rigorous!”  Yet in fact the analysis is sometimes not terribly clear, and in this case it is devoted to criticizing claims that no critic of EIT has actually made or is likely to make in the first place!  So it seems to me that some of the rigor is specious.)

Schmid considers a second possible account of EIT, according to which existential inertia is simply a basic or primitive feature of reality.  He suggests that one way of reading this claim, in turn, is that it is a necessary feature of reality that things have existential inertia. 

But there are two obvious problems with this.  The first is that there is no reason to believe it.  (I’ll come back to that.)  The second is that there is positive reason to disbelieve it.  Again, with lions, Tyrannosauruses, water, etc., there is simply nothing about their natures or essences that entails that they exist at all.  So how could it be just a basic and necessary feature of a world comprised of such things that they persist in existence? 

Schmid also suggests that the thesis that it is a necessary feature of reality that lions, water, etc. have existential inertia is no less plausible a terminus of explanation than the thesis that God, qua pure actuality, exists of necessity.  Both theses, he claims, posit something “primitive,” but EIT is more parsimonious. 

But this is quite absurd.  As I argue in Five Proofs and in my article on existential inertia (both of which Schmid purports to be responding to in the present article), the reason contingent things are contingent is that they are composed of parts, and in particular that they have potentialities as well as actualities.  So, when we say that God is absolutely simple rather than composite and that he is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, we have given an explanation of his lacking contingency – that is, of his existing of necessity.  By contrast, Schmid’s proposal is that the world is made up of things that are contingent, composite, and have potentialities as well as actualities – and yet for all that it is still somehow just a necessary fact about the world that these things have existential inertia! 

This is not a case of being presented with a choice between two alternative possible ultimate explanations, the Thomist’s and Schmid’s.  Rather, it is a case of being presented with a choice between an explanation and an unexplained and indeed counterintuitive brute fact. 

Theoretical vices

This naturally brings us to Schmid’s claim that EIT enjoys several “theoretical virtues” (i.e. virtues of a kind that a good theory ought to possess).  He starts his discussion in this section of the paper by suggesting that the reason things exist at all may be that it is metaphysically necessary that something or other exists.  And in the same way, he suggests, the reason things persist in existence may be that it is simply metaphysically necessary that they do so.  EIT thus provides an explanation of a familiar fact of our experience, viz. that things persist.

To see what is wrong with this, consider the following dialogue:

Bob: Why did Ed start to drink that martini?

Fred: Hmm, maybe it was metaphysically necessary that he do so?

Bob: Wow, that’s an interesting explanation!  And why do you think he kept drinking it once he started?

Fred: I’ve got it – maybe that was metaphysically necessary too!

Bob: Brilliant!  You should write a paper.

I take it you agree with me that Fred’s explanation is not in fact that brilliant.  For why on earth would anyone think it even prima facie plausible that it is necessary that I start to drink a martini?  True, my nightly routine might for a moment make you wonder, but after a moment’s reflection you’d realize that there are many factors that would prevent it from being necessary – I could run out of gin, or the kids could hide the bottles, or I could opt for a Scotch instead, or whatever.  And if it is not prima facie plausibly necessary that I start drinking, it is hardly any more prima facie plausible that I will of necessity keep doing so. 

But the existence and persistence of everyday objects (lions, water, etc.) are in the same boat.  Again, there is nothing in the essence of any of these things that entails that they exist; they are composed of parts, and thus depend for their existence on these parts being combined; they have potentialities which need to be actualized in order for them to exist; and so on.  That is why they are contingent.  So, if there is nothing more to reality than things of that sort, how could it be metaphysically necessary that there be things of that sort?  And if it is not prima facie plausibly metaphysically necessary that things of this sort exist at all, how could it be any more prima facie plausibly metaphysically necessary that they must persist in existence? 

Of course, that doesn’t entail that there is nothing of which it could be said that it is metaphysically necessary that it exists and persists in existence.  Certainly, this could plausibly be said of something that is absolutely simple and devoid of potentiality (precisely since to be something of that sort is to lack the features that make a thing contingent).  But of course, that’s precisely the sort of thing Schmid wants to avoid positing.

So, Schmid’s proposed “explanation” is really no more interesting than Fred’s.  If we ask “Why does God have existential inertia?” the theist can offer a response: “Because he is non-composite and devoid of potentiality, and thus lacks the features that entail contingency or possible non-existence.”  But if we ask “Why do ordinary contingent things like lions, water, etc. have existential inertia?” all Schmid can say in response is: “I don’t know, but maybe it’s just a necessary fact about them that they have it – wouldn’t that give us a cool explanation of why they persist?”  (Talk about your proverbial “dormitive virtue” explanation!)

Now suppose someone said: “Hey, let’s not be too quick to dismiss Fred’s explanation.  Consider its theoretical virtues, such as parsimony…”  Would you stick around to listen?  Probably not.  There’s no point in considering such theoretical virtues if the “explanation” is already independently known to be a non-starter.  That’s true of Fred’s explanation, and (for all he has shown) it is, for the reasons I’ve given, true of Schmid’s as well. 

There are other problems with Schmid’s discussion in this section of his paper.  For instance, commenting on my example in Five Proofs of the existence of the water in a cup of coffee being explained in terms of the existence of its parts, he notes that it could plausibly be said instead that the parts in fact depend for their existence of the whole.  Indeed, as he notes, that is what I myself have said elsewhere.  He insinuates that there is, accordingly, an incoherence in my position. 

But there is no such incoherence, and Schmid ignores what should be clear from the context of that discussion in Five Proofs, viz. that I am speaking there in a “for the sake of argument” way.  As I said in the book and in my previous post on Schmid, there are several possible ways one could spell out the metaphysics of the water as it exists at a time t: (a) in terms of substantial form and prime matter, after the fashion of Aristotelian hylemorphism, (b) in terms of essence and existence, as a Thomist would, (c) as an aggregate of particles, as a reductive naturalist might, or (d) in yet some other way.  It doesn’t matter for the specific purposes of the argument, and for the sake of ease of exposition and the naturalistic scruples of many readers, I went with (c) even though my own predilection is for (a) and (b).

Schmid’s discussion ignores this, and makes it sound like I am contradicting myself.  Once again, the untutored reader who has read his article (but not Five Proofs) might think he’s raised some devastating criticism, when in fact he has simply failed to read what I wrote carefully. 

Schmid suggests that another virtue of EIT over the thesis that God sustains things in being is that it better accounts for how physical objects maintain their identity over time.  Indeed, he says that “it is unclear that [the latter thesis] can even account for diachronic identity in the first place,” and he goes on to devote two and half pages to developing this theme.

But who on earth ever suggested in the first place that the thesis that God sustains things in being explains the identity of things over time?  Not me, and not anyone else as far as I know.  That’s simply not a question that the thesis is trying to address.  You might as well object “But the thesis that God sustains things in being doesn’t account for Feser’s martini habit!”  Who said it did? 

So, why would Schmid think to raise this issue?  The reason is apparent from this passage:

On Feser’s account, God does not act on a previously existent concrete object to conserve it in existence, preserving its original constituents.  Instead, God wholly reconstitutes concrete objects from utter non-being at each and every moment. 

This makes it sound like my view is that things are annihilated and recreated at every moment.  But I have never said such a thing, and it is not my view.  Conserving things in being is not the same thing as recreating them after they have been annihilated.  Indeed, the whole point is that God keeps them from being annihilated.  And Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysicians don’t explain diachronic identity in terms of divine conservation, but rather in terms of factors intrinsic to substances, such as substantial form and designated matter.  (Cf. my discussion of that issue in Scholastic Metaphysics, Oderberg’s in Real Essentialism, etc.)

Here too Schmid trots out the standard analytic philosopher’s hoo-hah – semi-formal exposition, oddball thought experiments, etc. – developed in the service of a gigantic red herring.  The unwary reader thinks he’s being treated to a really rigorous critique of my arguments, when in fact he’s being led on a wild goose chase.

Note that I am not accusing Schmid of deliberate misrepresentation, and I am not decrying the use of such analytic methods when appropriate (I was, after all, trained as an analytic philosopher myself).  My point is that in several cases they give a false appearance of rigor to Schmid’s criticisms, which I suspect accounts for some readers’ being (judging from by combox) overly impressed by them.

Now, Schmid does consider the possibility that I might reply by saying that the previous state of an object at t – 1 together with divine action is what accounts for its existence and state at t.  But he objects that “it’s unclear that there is any independent motivation for this move apart from a prior acceptance that things require sustaining causes of their existence.”

Well, of course that’s the motivation, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  Again, Schmid’s discussion here falsely supposes that divine conservation is intended to be an explanation of diachronic identity.  And in that light, one might think it a good objection to ask why, if factors intrinsic to a substance explain diachronic identity, we need to bring in divine conservation.

But again, divine conservation is not in the first place being brought in to explain diachronic identity.  That application is a figment of Schmid’s imagination.  There are two issues here: what accounts for a thing’s identity over time, and what accounts for its persistence in being.  Divine conservation is intended to deal with the second issue; again, the first issue is dealt with instead in terms of factors like substantial form, designated matter, etc.  (True, God conserves those in being too, like he does everything else.  But the point is that divine conservation is not brought in to explain diachronic identity per se.)

An argument against EIT

Finally, Schmid addresses an argument against EIT that I gave in the ACPQ article referred to above.  It goes like this:

1. A cause cannot give what it does not have to give.

2. A material substance is a composite of prime matter and substantial form.

3. Something has existential inertia if and only if it has of itself a tendency to persist in existence once it exists.

4. But prime matter by itself and apart from substantial form is pure potency, and thus has of itself no tendency to persist in existence.

5. And substantial form by itself and apart from prime matter is a mere abstraction, and thus of itself also has no tendency to persist in existence.

6. So neither prime matter as the material cause of a material substance, nor substantial form as its formal cause, can impart to the material substance they compose a tendency to persist in existence.

7. But there are no other internal principles from which such a substance might derive such a tendency.

8. So no material substance has a tendency of itself to persist in existence once it exists.

9. So no material substance has existential inertia.

Schmid raises four objections against this argument.  First, he suggests that the defender of EIT could simply reject hylemorphism on the grounds that, if my argument is correct, hylemorphism would conflict with EIT.  Which is true, but not terribly interesting if I have independent arguments for hylemorphism – as, of course, I do.  But it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Schmid to present a general critique of those arguments in a journal article devoted to another topic, so for present purposes we can put this issue to one side.

Second, Schmid notes that the Principle of Proportionate Causality (of which premise 1 above is one formulation) allows that there are several ways in which what is in an effect may preexist in its cause.  And he suggests that a tendency to persist in existence may preexist in a material thing’s metaphysical constituents in a more subtle way than I consider.  In particular, he suggests that even if neither prime matter nor substantial form by themselves have a tendency to persist in existence, maybe in combination they will produce something that does have such a tendency – just as two colorless chemical constituents might be combined in a way that generates something that is red.

One problem with this is that, just left at that, it doesn’t really amount to much of an objection.  For in the case of the chemical constituents, there are chemical facts we can point to that explain exactly why they will together generate something red.  But Schmid does not tell us exactly what it is about prime matter and substantial form that would (or indeed could), when they are combined, generate a tendency to persist in existence. 

Another problem is that even if substantial form and prime matter would together yield something with existential inertia, that would just leave us with another version of the circularity problem discussed above.  Existential inertia, as a power or property of the whole substance, would depend for its existence at any moment on the parts of the substance (prime matter and substantial form) being combined; and the parts of the substance being combined at any moment would depend on its power or property of existential inertia.  (As I have said before, there really is no way around this sort of problem for anything that is composed of parts.  Only an absolutely simple or non-composite thing can have existential inertia.)

Now, toward the end of his paper, Schmid does say something that might seem to provide a solution to this circularity problem.  He says that it is the parts of a substance at time t – 1 that explain the whole’s existence at t.  But there would be vicious circularity only if it were the parts at time t that were claimed to explain the whole’s existence at t.

But this simply ignores the sub-argument of the Aristotelian proof, referred to above, which claims that even considered at time t, the parts of the water (or of any other physical substance) considered just qua parts of the kind they are (particles, prime matter and substantial form, essence and existence, or whatever) are merely potentially water, so that some additional factor active at t must be brought in to account for why they are actualized as water at t.  What happened at an earlier time t – 1 is not sufficient to account for that.  But if the additional factor is some other part of the water itself, then we will be back with the circularity problem.

Schmid’s third objection to my argument is directed at step 7.  He says that, for all I have shown, existential inertia itself might be a further internal principle of a substance.  Hence, he claims, the premise begs the question.

To see the problem with this objection, consider an EIT-rejecting reductive naturalist who argues as follows:

The physical world consists of nothing more than fermions and bosons and the laws that govern them.  But there is nothing in the nature of fermions and bosons or the laws that govern them that entails that they have existential inertia.  Hence, there is no such feature in the physical world.

Whatever you think of such an argument, would it beg the question?  Not if the speaker has independent grounds for being a reductive naturalist.  Hence, in response to such a reductive naturalist, a defender of EIT would either have to give some argument against reductive naturalism, or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.  It would not be enough merely to accuse the speaker of begging the question.  But by the same token, my argument does not beg the question if I have independent grounds for being a hylemorphist, which I do.  Hence, even if Schmid had other good reasons to reject the argument, accusing step 7 of begging the question is not a good one.

Schmid’s fourth objection to my argument claims that if it succeeded, it would take down EET as well as EIT.  For why would a material substance’s substantial form and prime matter give it a tendency to expire any more than they give it a tendency to persist?  But Schmid’s objection misunderstands the position of those who reject EIT and endorse EET.  Their claim is not that material substances have an intrinsic tendency to go out of existence.  It’s rather merely that they lack any intrinsic tendency to continue in existence. 

Schmid considers this response, and says in reply that it presupposes that the falsity of EIT gives us reason to believe EET, which, he claims, it does not.  But I have already explained above why he is wrong about that.  The falsity of EIT does in fact give us reason to endorse EET.  Schmid also suggests that if I agree that things do not have a positive intrinsic tendency to go out of existence, then that would be enough to vindicate EIT.  But that doesn’t follow at all.  Again, the lack of a tendency to persist in existence is by itself sufficient to undermine EIT. 

(Compare: If there is nothing intrinsic to me that allows me to see as far as a mile, then I am simply not going to see as far as a mile, unless some additional factor – such as a telescope – is brought into the picture.  The mere absence of some factor that prevents me from seeing that far – such as a barrier – is not going to suffice for me to see that far.  Similarly, the mere absence of a positively self-destructive tendency is not going to suffice to ensure that I continue in existence.  If there is nothing intrinsic to me that positively ensures that I do continue in existence, then I am simply not going to continue in existence, unless some additional factor – an external sustaining cause – is brought into the picture.)

Well, I’m approaching 6,000 words this time, and I think that’s enough.  I’m afraid I have no time or inclination to read all the other stuff Schmid has written, or to view his YouTube videos, etc.  But since readers have been asking me to comment, I have tried to be fair to him by taking on his arguments in their strongest form, focusing as I have on what he has said in his two academic articles (which are presumably where the arguments have been given their most careful formulation).  Yet as we have now seen in two detailed posts, those arguments are seriously problematic – being sometimes unclear in their formulation, begging the question, and, in some cases, beholden to straw men and red herrings.  But as I have said, Schmid is an intelligent fellow and he certainly tries to engage his opponents’ arguments in a serious and civil way, and for that I thank him.


  1. Fascinating read, Dr. Feser! I am glad you rebutted the two papers of Schmid. I have to admit I felt a bit overwhelmed when I tried to read his 40k pages, and tens if not hundreds of additional papers/documents/books he added.

  2. Speaking of PSR, it’s the weirdest thing in the world to hear otherwise smart people (with alphabet soup after their name) try to deny it. Obviously, if you deny PSR, you can’t know that your denial is true. But these people will play this silly game forever of pretending they can’t understand this.

    1. But there is nothing absurd here. These guys just defend that reality is fundamentaly disordely but there is order in all places except where a cosmological argument needs it. What is the problem with that?

    2. Like the guys who defend an ad hoc version of the PSR that conveniently avoids modal collapse?

    3. Well Walter, if PSR and Cambridge properties are false then ad hoc is just fine. But your pretended objective assessment of the supposed problem isn't. You need to accept big bad nihilism, not little sissy nihilism.

    4. Modal collapse is a very good reason to avoid a deterministic PSR.

    5. What usually bugs me about the critics of the PSR is they more often then not confuse the Rationalist version (which has problems) with the Scholastic reformulation (which does not have said problems).

      There is a difference between saying
      "There is the reason for the existence of any particular beings" vs "there is a reason for everything" to put it crudely.

    6. "Like the guys who defend an ad hoc version of the PSR that conveniently avoids modal collapse?"

      I think it's worse to reject PSR. If PSR entails modal collapse, then so be it - that's better than throwing our arms up and thinking that something (contingent, especially - since one is trying to avoid modal collapse) might have happened for absolutely NO reason or explanation whatsoever. If we have to become necessitarians, then so be it - the world would then be necessary ab alio, and we could adopt certain neoplatonic or spinozistic metaphysical pictures. Surely that's better than the complete irrationalism of thinking contingent stuff inexplicably happens without any cause, sheer nihil. That's simply to adopt insanity or irrationality as a metaphysical position.

      But PSR need not entail modal collapse in any case, and there are many versions in the literature that defend this at length.

      (Also, just a reminder, since Walter notoriously has a difficulty with logic: the negation of PSR does NOT logically entail that there's at least one possible world with a brute contingent fact existing all alone. It just entails that there's at least one possible world in which a brute contingent fact exists - not necessarily alone -, such that ~PSR does not entail that God/First Cause does not exist, and there are many arguments for God/First Cause that use only weaker modal versions of PSR)

    7. Well, if I remeber correctly I asked you (or another Unknown perhaps) to show me a contradiction in a world with a brute fact existing alone and you (or the other unknown or anybody else) failed.
      So, I don't seem to be the one who notoriously has a difficulty with logic.
      There are also many versions in the literature that show that doubting the PSR does not lead to irrationalism.

    8. Son of Yakov

      The 'Scholastic reformulation' is ad hoc.
      It claims that there is a reason for the existence of this universe, but the reason could just as well have resulted in another universe.
      The bottom line is that this universe exists and apparently has (some) intelligibility.

    9. ccmnxc

      I am not talking about indeterministic versions of the PSR. Sure they avoid modal collapse, but on Classical Theism there can be no ultimate indeterminism.

    10. When dealing with modal collapse, who is truly WAY better that reject the PSR, it is fair to read the guy that everyone acuses of failling into it: https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm#article3

      As i read the saint, his reply to modal collapse objections would be something like "your modality sucks" but said by someone smart. If instead of God we put Son of Yakov in charge of choosing what to create*, there would also be a modal collapse in the average philosopher modality because if we should rewind the tape a million times Son would aways choose the same thing.

      *that would be quite a cosmos!

    11. The answer by this "someone smart" begs the question and doesn't address modern objections.

    12. Walter

      Even Joe Schmid has acknowledged that Classical Theism does not face Modal Collapse objections (i.e. he wrote a paper called "The Fruitful Death of Modal Collapse Arguments"). Christoper Tomaszewski already "collapsed" most of the arguments anyways. So most Modal Collapse objections are really not that impressive. Do you have a decisive one?

    13. Heraclitus

      Have you read that paper?
      Do you know why it's called the Fruitful death of MCA?
      Of course one can avoid Modal Collapse by referring to God's Act as indeterministic. I don't think Schmid was the first to acknowledge that. I have known this for years.
      The problem is that this takes away all (or at least most) control on the part of God.
      Quantum fluctuations would account for exactly the same as God would and would be far more parsimonious.

    14. "The answer by this "someone smart" begs the question and doesn't address modern objections."

      Aquinas clearly uses a diferent modality that escapes the objections and in support of his modality i tried to show what i take to be a problem with the modern one: on it, every guy on God place would cause a modal collapse.

      Modern versions of determinism, free will and other relevant concepts are born of a particular wrong metaphysics, namely, mechanicism, so i don't see why thomists should play the modern philosopher game instead of pointing out that his pressupositions are at minimum suspect.

    15. Talmid

      "Modern versions of determinism, free will and other relevant concepts are born of a particular wrong metaphysics, namely, mechanicism".
      That is simply not true. They are born of contemplating about the nature of reality and how it could or could not be.

    16. **Quantum fluctuations would account for exactly the same as God would and would be far more parsimonious.**

      IFF God's causation is the same as secondary causation. However his causation necessarily differs from the creaturely since natural causation is not existence conferring

    17. From my philosophically ignorant position, I don’t think humans are capable of imagining anything at all of the nature of god-as-the-primal-substrate. We have an innately temporal and spacial context to our reasoning, and concepts like cause and determinism surely become completely meaningless. I’m not suggesting there is any harm in speculating, but relativity and QM are certainly no use here, which leaves us with reason and scripture. Reason is limited, and scripture suggests god actively wills it to be as it is. If anyone can really understand how the eternal unchanging can have ideas, will and act, they’re probably imagining consciousness as fundamental, and creation as a pattern within consciousness. However this is essentially pantheism, and scripture does not support pantheism. So we are left with a mystery, where god as the fundamental foundation is simply beyond our conceptualisation as we are now. For now we can only know “through a glass darkly”…

  3. As smart as Schmid is, he gets way more credit than he deserves. His entourage borders on the downright sycophantic. The guy also writes a lot, and I mean A LOT, and his work suffers from it, despite his efforts to seriously engage his opponents.

  4. Maybe I'm just being obtuse, but I feel like this whole EIT vs. EET hash-it-out-"analytic"-style argument kind of limps from the get-go. Why can't I have my EIT and EET (it) too? Thus: "According to EIT, objects [e.g., flies] of the kind that make up the world of our experience will persist in existence unless something [e.g., a flyswatter] acts positively to destroy them. According to the rival EET, such objects [e.g., flies] will cease to exist unless something [or some things; e.g., everything that makes up an appropriate environment necessary for a fly to exist, God, etc.(?)] positively acts to sustain them in being." In the wise words of Rodney King, "Can we all get along, can we stop making it horrible for the older people, and the kids...? It's not right, it's not gonna change anything..." (better stop there).

    1. David, nothing prevents having EET and at the same time having EIT, as long as EIT is conditional.

      Which is exactly what A-T would posit, anyway. Granted that God is going to keep the underlying material order in existence and following its usual laws, THEN the fly will continue to exist until something comes along to kill it. EET is primary, (and known only by deducing from effect to cause) and EIT follows on as what we can observe in the world because EET sustains it.

    2. "as long as EIT is conditional." Indeed. Part of what puzzles me about this discussion is that I can't see how anyone could begin to coherently argue that EIT is not conditional (certainly if we're talking about something analogous to what we normally mean by the term 'inertia' -- and if we're not, then find a new term, dammit!). And once you notice that, all the long drawn-out arguments seem like a waste of time, a whole lotta useless logic-chopping rooted in a failure to begin by adequately reflecting on the meaning and scope of the basic terms in question. (I don't intend this as a rigorous argument or categorical claim, just conveying my impression.)

      I don't follow the rest of your argument, in particular this: "EIT follows on as what we can observe in the world because EET sustains it."

  5. Schmid already wrote a somewhat aggressive reply on his blog

    1. Whoa, in fact he's got two posts up in reply already -- only two hours after I posted this one!

      (Maybe, y'know, mulling things over a little and sleeping on it might be a better way to do this sort of thing? Just a thought...)

    2. But hey, at least the word count for a single post is down 😉

    3. Yea, that is impressive. With these sort of questions it is very good to let some time pass. You got the time to let the ideas sink in, you can lose the emotional reaction and think more clearly and you can relax the mind, these things demand. If you consider them the fact that Schmid will have the last word anyway he should not had worried that much.

      Maybe there is more going on? On the other post someone posted the print where he said that Dr. Feser reply sucked, so maybe it is possible that Joe has some friends that are very critical of Ed work and so he had the pressure to refute our Professor quickily?

      I see a lot of young people online who are pretty insecure about these discussions because they are not very good yet at spotting errors on arguments. if one guy they disagree with argues they panic and run to the stronger on their side that they know and ask he to refute the other guy. Maybe some fans saw Feser reply and started to pest Joe to answer quick. It is a possibility, though i have almost no material so i can easily be wrong.

    4. @Talmid. Schmid thinks he's already addressed Feser's arguments, so in his mind, there's no need to contemplate the matter further.

      That said, the rapidity of his replies is astonishing and is indicative of his insecurity. His ego cannot stand a rebuttal to go unanswered for even a day if it's at all possible to post a reply. So, he'll lose sleep, go without eating, and work himself into a near frenzy (this is his admission on his own site) to churn out verbose posts in order to have the final say.

      As somebody who's watched his videos and read his material, I'm not at all impressed with his arguments. As Feser notes, his arguments only sound impressive to those who are untutored in metaphysics.

      If there were a Thomist out there who would take Schmid on word-for-word, I'm afraid that Schmid would kill himself from exhaustion over his obsession to swing the last punch yesterday. For that, he should send Feser flowers for moving on to better things. Schmid might now even live to 30.

    5. >That said, the rapidity of his replies is astonishing and is indicative of his insecurity. His ego cannot stand a rebuttal to go unanswered for even a day if it's at all possible to post a reply.

      Personal failings aside we should concentrate on his counter arguments and point out how they are wrong.

      That is where the rubber meets the road.

    6. I'll be honest (and I say this as a Classical Theist) - there are some very interesting arguments against Classical Theism and Schmid himself has defended said arguments with a lot of skill. I'm talking of stuff involving abstracta, God's knowledge, and other topics that can lead to serious issues in CT. Schmid has some nice stuff about that in his blog, so I encourage people to read it.

      But I do not think the "existential inertia" route of criticism is good at all. In fact, I'm surprised Joe would insist on it so much - I think it's one of the worst arguments against the aristotelian proof and the like; the person would have to pretty much bifurcate existence into "existence" and "persistence" as two distinct metaphysical realities (to avoid the need for a cause for persistence as much as for existence, if they're the same) when there are no metaphysical differences to back up that bifurcation. There's only a logical distinction (in thought) that X exists at t0 and X exists from t0 to t1; while the act of existing is just one. Then one has to cast doubt on PSR and adopt brute persistence of contingent objects, pretty much.

      This argument is garbage tbh, I have no idea why Schmid is so insistent on it while he has other, actually good and interesting arguments against Classical Theism to defend.

    7. Christopher Tomaszewski praises Schmid's Aloneness Argument, describes it as original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81Gp_Tjnqu8 His refutation is far from obvious. It poses fascinating questions to the Classical Theist, as does his _succinct_ list titled A Plethora of Prima Facie Problems for Classical Theism.

      This tribalism is BS. I'm grateful to him, Feser, Dolezal, Davies, Kerr, Nemes, Rutten, Maverick Philosopher, and many others for making me think -- HARD -- about Classical Theism.

    8. From what i remember his aloneness argument is very cool indeed. While i disagree with the modality(from what i remember) it is interesting. Schmid is very bright but he is taking this seriously in a wrong way and likely need to know more the classical tradition, seeing as his work responds more to analytical theists.

    9. @Anonymous 4:46 PM

      Schmid produced quite a decisive response to the provided youtube link (fortunately, it doesn't approach 40,000 words).


      The trouble with the "aloneness argument" is that in the alone world, the only knowable thing is God. And since God is necessary, it follows that His knowledge (in such a world) is necessary. There's nothing contingent in that world precisely because the only existing thing (God) is non-contingent. God's knowledge that "there are no dogs" simply consists in Him *not* knowing that there *are* dogs, given that His power has not extended to them. He knows of dogs because He eminently contains them. And, in a theory of knowledge as being causal and relation, (as are externalist models of divine knowing) knowledge of non-existent things makes no sense.

      So I'm sympathetic to the response that an absence of relation between God and creature (together with God's perfect knowledge of Himself) suffices for God's knowledge of negative existentials. (There are no *positive* contingent existentials in the alone world because God, who is necessary, exhausts all of positive reality).

    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Maybe it's time to add an entry to our dictionary?

  7. Man, I'm not seeing it. I want to look at Joe's first account (before heading to bed):

    (1) For concrete object O and times t-1 and t (where t-1 is immediately temporally prior to t), the existence of O-at-t is explained by the conjunction of (i) the state and existence of O-at-(t-1) and (ii) the absence of any sufficiently causally destructive factors acting on O-at-(t-1) and through t.

    Frankly, I have no idea how this is meant to support EIT. At the very least, it doesn't seem to explain how EIT is made more plausible by it. Indeed, existential inertia on this account basically boils down to "The previous state explains the present state," assuming no causal factors annihilating O. But since this is precisely what Thomists would deny, it can hardly count as a defense of EIT. It's merely a re-representation of EIT or at least a consequence of EIT.

    This is why the circularity objection Joe tries to address is so potent. To explain O-at-t by appealing to O-at-(t-1) will hardly work if the claim is that O-at-(t-1) cannot continue to exist to O-at-t unaided. Further, his attempts to defuse this objection fall flat.

    His first is that to appeal to God is just to cause the problem of explanation to pop up in another area. Since we can't give a clean account of the mechanics of how God causes O to persist, we are in no better a position than he is.

    One issue with the counter here is that there is a lack of parity between the situations. To appeal to God's causal power might be opaque depending on how fleshed out the account is, but unless he wants to argue that God cannot act at all, to give an opaque explanation is far better than to give a question-begging one. Now, the Thomist would be begging the question if Joe's argument was something to the effect of "God cannot act on a thing such that it persists," but so far that hasn't been his claim, and hence there is no parity between the situations he described.

    His second response to the circularity objection is that if we say objects cannot persist by themselves, this can also be applied to (1), because it is not O-at-(t-1) by itself that accounts for O-at-t but also the fact that there is nothing causing it to go out of existence.

    This...seems muddled. Indeed, I've sat for awhile trying to figure out how this counter is even supposed to work, and I'm coming up blank. It's true that the Thomist would affirm O, by itself, cannot account for its own existence but rather requires God to be part of the picture. But for Joe to say that "O-at-t-1 by itself is not sufficient for securing O’s persistence to t, it is nevertheless sufficient in conjunction with the further fact of there being no sufficiently causally destructive factors present," doesn't actually fix anything. Okay, sure, O-at-(t-1) isn't sufficient by itself, you also want to tack on the second condition of there being no causally destructive factors. But while this, in a certain way, mimics the proffered theist's response, it doesn't actually do the same work of the theist's response. In the theist's response, God does the explanatory work of conserving something in existence, thus explaining O. In the EIT-holder's response, the further qualification doesn't actually explain the persistence of O so much as stipulate the lack of destroying factors. It is still (i), the O-at-(t-1) condition, that is having to carry the load for why O still persists to O-at-t. In short the theist's addition to O explains O. Joe addition to O-at-(t-1) still doesn't explain O. God causing O and there not being anything which destroys O are not in explanatory parity. Long and convoluted-feeling explanation here, but I'm not sure how else to put it.

    But that's enough for tonight.

    1. Now that I've got a little more time, I'd like to turn my attention to Joe second account, that EI is a basic, primitive, foundational feature of reality.

      Consider the following claim: "Consciousness is a primitive, foundational feature of reality."

      Or this one: "Divinity is a primitive, foundational feature of reality."

      My question, then, is why are we not all also panpsychists and pantheists? Can't the very same defense Joe is mounting for EI also be true for consciousness and divinity? But at this point, we are loading up whatever makes up the world with attributes such as existential inertia, consciousness, divinity, and the like. Kinda sounds like God (even if one Classical Theists probably wouldn't easily recognize).

      If we are going to eschew explaining fundamental, necessary truths, the issue Joe is going to have to face is "Okay, so what's stopping me from appealing to any given attribute or feature of reality and calling it basic?" If it's because there are certain criteria which make something a better candidate for being basic, primitive, and fundamental, then Ed's argument above kicks in.

      If God is metaphysically simple, pure act, containing within Himself the fullness of being, and the like, then that seems to be the best candidate for the "Metaphysically self-explanatory (even if we lowly humans can't conceive of how)" award.

      Joe appeals to the parsimony of stopping at the first level of existent things, but that parsimony doesn't do much good if the criterion by which he calls certain things basic and fundamental and other things not-so makes God the more explanatorily satisfying explanation than said first level.

  8. Hey, this might be slightly off-topic Dr. Feser, but recently, I've had followers of Bill Gaede (the author of Why God Doesn't Exist) come at me arguing that that Thomism is wrong because it doesn't have a non-circular definition of the word "exists" and therefore, I ought to accept their definition of the word "exists" as "taking up physical space in the present moment." How should a Thomist respond to such an argument?

    1. Their argument takes up no space and thus doesn't exist. How can you accept it?

      (Semi-)joking aside, one thing to consider while you wait for a better reply from Ed or others here: they're committing an obvious false-dilemma fallacy, even if Thomism's treatment of existence were flawed. There are many ways to treat existence, and almost all of them are better than the one proffered.

    2. @Mister Geocon.

      1. Since existence considered by itself doesn't have an essence, it has not definitional content and (thus) is not easily defined. But some have attempted to describe "to exists" as "to be present". Another definition (given by W. Norris Clarke) of existence is "that which is".

      2. An entity can take up physical space only if it first exists; non-being cannot take up physical space or indeed any space for that matter. Since, then, taking up space presupposes existence, to define it as existence would be circular.

    3. Any number of things could be said, but a quick quip would be "Does the universe take up space?" Replace universe with space-time, or whatever.

  9. Let me try to help Schmid out by suggesting some concise tentative rejoinders, in the spirit of constructive dialogue:

    "Schmid next considers two possible ways of spelling out EIT. The first account goes like this: Consider the water in our earlier example. Its existence at some time t is sufficiently explained by (a) the state and existence of the water at an immediately preceding time t – 1 together with (b) the absence of anything acting to destroy the water."

    IOW, if a thing has begun to exist (instantiate a real essence) and hasn't yet ceased to exist (i.e., been destroyed), then it must still exist. Incontrovertible!

    "So, we seem to have a situation where the water’s persistence depends on that of a property or power which in turn depends on the persistence of the water."

    So the thing's persistence (the reality of its essence) necessarily goes together with its property of persisting (its actus essendi(?)). (What vicious circularity?)

    "Schmid considers a second possible account of EIT, according to which existential inertia is simply a basic or primitive feature of reality. He suggests that one way of reading this claim, in turn, is that it is a necessary feature of reality that things have existential inertia."

    IOW, it belongs to the essence of a thing to have a natural appetite for being. Quite right!

    "But there are two obvious problems with this. The first is that there is no reason to believe it."

    Nay, there is indeed. But thou must grok it!

    "The second is that there is positive reason to disbelieve it. Again, with lions, Tyrannosauruses, water, etc., there is simply nothing about their natures or essences that entails that they exist at all. So how could it be just a basic and necessary feature of a world comprised of such things that they persist in existence?"

    How? Because their natural appetitus essendi, even if not entailing their existence, does follow from it. But anyway, any actual essence of a lion does entail the act of being of a lion, regardless of the fact that my understanding of the essence of a lion entails only the act of being of my understanding of that essence.

  10. In Joseph Schmid’s first response to Feser’s initial rejoinder, he wrote:

    “For one thing, I’m simply following Feser’s own articulation but removing the ambiguity in ‘actualized’. Consider what Feser writes on p. 26: ‘After all, given the chemistry of the water, the matter that makes it up also has the potential to exist instead as distinct quantities of oxygen and hydrogen. But that is not the potential that is being actualized right now; instead, it is that matter’s potential to exist as water that is being actualized right now.’ Feser’s example here is one wherein the water is presently actual, as is the matter’s existing as water. Both of these are presently actual. But then Feser himself goes on to speak of ‘the matter’s potential to exist as water that is being actualized right now’. Which is it? Is the matter potentially existent as water right now? Or is it actually existent as water right now? This is especially pressing in light of what Feser says in his first rejoinder to my point.”

    My thought is as follows:

    It is the underlying matter’s POTENTIALITY to be a table that is actualised now, and so it is that ACTUALISED POTENTIALITY that is actually existing as water now.

    The underlying matter itself is NOT the existing water now (just as the wood itself is not the existing wooden table; it is the actualised potentiality of the wood that is the existing table). The underlying matter is existing in the water but the underlying matter itself is not water.

    It is the ACTUALISED POTENTIALITY of the underlying matter that is actually the water now.

    While the water is existing, the underlying matter still retains the potentiality to exist as water, just as when a jar with an in-build 3-litre capacity is fully utilised (ie fully filled with 3 liters of liquid), the jar is still possessing the in-build 3-litre capacity. That in-build capacity (analogous to potentiality) does not cease to exist just because that in-build capacity is fully utilised (analogous to actualised) now.

    I suspect Schmid has wrongly assumed that the underlying matter’s POTENTIALITY cease to exist after that potentiality has been actualised.


    johannes y k hui

    1. Yeah, I think Schmid was fairly confused on that point. What he writes above suggests that he thinks an *actualized* potential (Feser's formulation) is no less incoherent that an *actual* potential (Schmid's formulation). But, clearly that's absurd.

      His next response is equally questionable. He writes:

      "We’ve seen that ‘actualized’ is ambiguous. It could mean either ‘is causally actualized [i.e. is causally brought from potency to act]’ or ‘is actual’. If it means ‘is actual’, then Feser runs into the incoherence, since then Feser is simply saying precisely what I said [viz. that some potential for x is actual]. By contrast, if it means ‘is causally actualized’, then my original criticism goes through, since then Feser does, indeed, problematically parse the situation in a non-neutral way."

      But this response simply ignores what Feser wrote in his original post. For one thing, what Schmid writes here is a false dilemma.
      'Actualised' need not mean *either* 'is causally brought from potency to act' or 'is actual'. It could simply mean 'is reduced from potency to act', leaving such a reduction causally neutral (which is in fact Feser's formulation). For another, as Feser notes in his OP, a Humean could accept that the water is 'actualised' (in exactly the same) but without a cause or actualiser. So the term hardly analytically entails an extrinsic cause, as Schmid seems to imply (though Feser argues that it *requires* a cause, something which Schmid does not challenge here).

      For his third response, he writes:

      "..merely from the facts that (i) the matter as such is potentially water and (ii) the relevant potential is actualized, it doesn’t follow that the actualization in question is one resulting form some kind of extrinsic sustaining or conserving efficient cause; for there are whole swathes of legitimate explanations for this potential’s actualization that don’t adduce such causes."

      This response, though, simply begs the question at issue. It amounts to denying the causal principle - premise (4) of Feser's argument, - which Schmid did not deny (or even challenge) in his article or written work. Moreover, Feser defends that premise in Five Proofs and other works (i.e. Scholastic Metaphysics), so that those arguments will first need to be addressed. If potencies don't require actualisers to become actual, then it's inexplicable why any and every potency doesn't do so all the time. We don't - in other contexts - accept that potentials can be actualised by nothing at all, so what reason do we have for accepting they don't here? It also seems like any 'alternative explanation' that leaves out anything actualising the potency here-and-now is going to be insufficient and (thus) lead to a rejection of PSR.

      It just seems like Schmid was arguing here for the sake of arguing.

    2. Good analysis, Tom :)

      johannes y k hui

  11. I for one hope that Ed changes his minds at responds to at least some of Joe's points from section 3 of his first post -- Ed is often at his best and most clarifying when replying to critics, and Joe is more on-topic than most. I think we could get some good insights out of it.

    ALL THAT SAID -- Joe's first response to this (second) post really raised my eyebrows. First, he says it's "not fair" that Ed is not responding more thoroughly. Now, in fairness (heh), Ed did bring this up, rhetorically, with "Sound fair?" But I think that was clearly rhetorical. The truth is, nobody owes you a response to anything -- unless they've committed to give you one. Sorry guy. Feser doesn't need to spend a single minute with your post.

    Second, he whines a good deal about how Feser could just have responded to section 3 of his post, where the real objections were, and ignored the rest.

    Let that sink in.

    For future reference, Joe: if you write an extremely long post, but the only part that you actually expect your opponent to read or reply to is section three, then for crying out loud, DELETE EVERYTHING BUT SECTION THREE. It will save for another day. This is just not Ed's fault, man.

    I say this with all respect and appreciation for Joe's engaging seriously with Feser's writing.

  12. Holy moly, I thought people were exaggerating about the rambling; that was tough to get through.

    It seems to me that Schmid throughout conflates annihilation, corruption, and alteration. This is why he doesn't distinguish between persistence and diachronic identity: what he actually keeps giving explanations for is *not* why this thing, X, continues to be, but why this existing thing that was previously X is still X and not something else. So naturally he keeps saying that it just is the same thing until something changes it, which is the right answer for the wrong question. This is also the reason for the oddity of his responses to the circularity objection.

    1. @Brandon,

      Kudos to you for plowing through it all. There's not a snowball's chance in Riyadh I would do that. Whenever Schmid veers off course, it is enough to skim the rest and look for his resumption of something relevant and continue reading. If you've ever watched his videos, he has the same penchant for branching and branching. Although his demeanor is low-key and polite, it's irritating nonetheless.


  13. Joseph Schmid characterised Existential Inertia Thesis (EIT) in his journal paper this way:

    “Necessarily, concrete objects (i) persist in existence (once in existence) without requiring a continuously concurrent sus- taining cause of their existence and (ii) cease to exist only if caused to do so.”

    If we look parse the above statement carefully, it is actually semantically equivalent to its so-called rival thesis Existential Expiration Thesis (EET)!!!

    Therefore even if the above EIT is true, it actually supports Prof Feser’s Aristotelian Proof. Let me explain.

    Take a wooden table as an example.

    A wooden table’s continuation in existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the presence of many conditions, such as the existence of space (space cannot be taken for granted; around 13.7 billion years ago the available space was not enough even for a molecule to exist in) and the existence of suitable temperature around the table (if the surrounding temperature is too high the wooden table would cease existing; it would then become burnt charcoal).

    Given the above empirical fact, a table’s continuation in existence obviously requires the CONTINUOUS presence of various conditions.

    Remove any one of the necessary conditions, and the wooden table would cease existing as a wooden table.

    If Schmid objects by saying that the removal any of this conditions is equivalent to the table being “caused to cease existence”, then we should point out that the EIT’s qualifying phrase “unless caused to cease existence” is semantically equivalent to “unless any of the sustaining conditions cease sustaining the existence” of the table.

    It is a matter of using different expressions to describe the same underlying phenomenon.

    This means EIT is ultimately equivalent to its so-called rival EET (Existential Expiration Thesis): the table’s continuation in existence CONTINUOUSLY requires the CONTINUOUS presence of various conditions.
    [ie it requires continuous sustaining conditions]

    If we are not bewitched by the labels “EIT” and “EET” but to look at the substance behind the labels, then the key issue is whether a wooden table’s ability to persist in existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the presence of various conditions.

    I doubt Schmid can rationally deny the empirical fact that a wooden table’s existence continuously requires the continuous presence of various conditions.
    (It does not matter if he calls the removal/absence of any such conditions as “causing it to cease existence”)

    “A wooden table’s persistence in existence continuously requires the continuous presence of various conditions” is equivalent to saying “a wooden table’s persistence in existence continuously requires the continuous actualisation of the relevant potentiality of the wood”.

    Therefore to express it using Aristotelian/Thomistic terms:

    A wooden table’s act of existence is conditional on the CONTINUOUS actualisation of the underlying wood’s potentiality of existing as a wooden table.

    This proposition would then lead us step by step via a tight logic chain to the existence of something whose existence is Unconditional On Anything (ie the Unconditionally Existing One, or the Being of Pure Act).


    johannes y k hui

    1. Interesting point. Maybe Schmid could accept that the two explanations are the same in a broader sense but are diferent when considering the type of conditions necessary to a thing continuing in existence?

    2. Johannes

      I don't think that Schmid's Existential Inertia Thesis denies that an object's existence depends on the fulfilment of required conditions. It might be (for existential inertialists) that ultimately everything depends on some foundational quantum field that has existential inertia. Existential Inertia Thesis simply denies that concrete objects require concurrent efficient causes to (continuously) sustain them in being. If Classical Theism is true, then the only example of a concurrent efficient cause that sustains something in being is God (since God alone has the power to create). Obviously, to appeal to God would be question-begging in this context.

      Just looking at your post, though, it's not clear that you have provided a non-divine example of a concurrent existential efficient cause. Sure, space may very well be required in order for a physical object to exist (though, on some Thomistic views, space would be an abstraction from the relations physical objects bear to one another). But space is not an efficient cause of any physical object. Temperature even less so. If temperature were a sustaining cause, the table would immediately cease to exist in the absence of the right temperature. But that is not true. The table would take time to cease existing (even if very brief time). Moreover, though temperature comes from external circumstances, the temperature upon which the table depends is *intrinsic* to the wood of the table.

      To be sure, I think Existential Inertia has many problems (some of which identified in Dr. Feser's post) but I don't think the mere fact of physical objects having required conditions is one of them.

    3. Hi Talmid,

      As long as he agrees with the premise that a wooden table’s ability to persist in existence
      (1) is not unconditional
      (2) but instead is continuously conditional upon some conditions,

      then we can do away with the labels EIT and EET,

      and work from the above premise to arrive at the existence of an Unconditionally Existing Entity, and further analysis would lead us to the one and only Being of Pure Act, with all the traditional attributes of God.


      johannes y k hui

    4. @Heraclitus:
      Interesting comment. On which formulation of Schmid's EIT are you basing your claims here?

      One version of Schmid's P-EIT: "Necessarily, temporal objects will continue to exist in the absence of causally destructive factors."

      So the obvious questions seem to be: Sure, of course; but *why* will they continue to exist? And also, what then is it that constitutes a "causally destructive factor" (CDF)? So your suggestion amounts to saying that removal of required conditions constitutes a CDF. Fine. But thus formulated the principle seems to leave the question wide open about what the actual required conditions are (foundational quantum field, divine concurrence, etc.?), the removal of which would constitute the presence of a CDF. So Schmid's P-EIT actually says nothing, any which way, in response to the problem that is actually in dispute.

    5. @reasonable

      I suppose that he would accept both but say that (2) means diferent conditions that someone like Dr. Feser would defend.

      To Schmid, the condition is that nothing comes to destroy the table, while on the Professor case the condition is that God keeps the table in being. To Schmid, if the only existing being is the table it will be fine, not so with Dr. Feser.


    6. Hi Talmid,

      I would say that it is the same set of concurrent conditions under both EET and EIT.

      Consider this: the ability of a conditionally existing entity such as a wooden table (or a cup of coffee beverage, or a hardcopy book ) to persist/continue in existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the presence of various CONCURRENT conditions.
      [eg CONCURRENT conditions such as the continuation in: (a) the presence of space, (b) the presence of correct range of surrounding temperature, (c) the presence of appropriately bonded atoms, and so on.]

      To the EIT proponent, the removal of the correct surrounding temperature (say, resulting in the surrounding temperature becoming as hot as a fire) is described as “a cause causing that wooden table to cease existence”.
      [the wooden table became burnt charcoal]

      To the EET proponent, the SAME removal of the same condition (“the correct surrounding temperature”) is described as “a condition ceasing to sustain that that wooden table’s existence”.

      Ultimately, Prof Feser’s type of Aristotelian proof (or some other cosmological proofs that start from the empirical fact that a conditionally existing entity’s existence is CONTINUOUS LY conditional on some CONCURRENT conditions) does not seem to depend on whether EIT or EET is true, because both EIT and EET seem to be describing the same underlying phenomenon.

      As long as the underlying phenomenon is true, the issue of EIT vs EET does not seem to obstruct or defeat such cosmological proofs.



      johannes y k hui

    7. Hi Heraclitus,

      When I say a conditionally existing entity (such as a hardcopy book) is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on various concurrent CONDITIONS in order to persist in existence
      [ie in order to be able to exist at every moment in the whole duration of its temporal existence], the meaning of “conditions” is not restricted to

      (a) efficient causes
      (b) material causes
      (c) conditions internal to the conditional entity (eg the presence of appropriate atoms)
      [note: “internal” is different from “intrinsic”]
      (d) conditions outside the entity (eg the presence of correct surrounding temperature)
      [note: “external” is different from “extrinsic”]

      The advantage of the term “conditions” is that it is the most general level of description of dependency.

      A necessary condition of an entity l’s existence would be ANYTHING without which that entity would cease existence (eg it becomes a different entity). So it can be a material cause, or an efficient cause, something inside or something outside that entity.

      For example, if all the pages of a book ceased to exist between the covers [eg all pages removed and every piece of paper sheet send to a different city (leaving behind only the cover), the hardcopy book ceased existing as a hardcopy book (the remaining front and back covers do not form a book].

      The reverse is not true: even though the hardcopy book ceased existence like what is described above, the paper sheets that are removed and separated into separate standalone sheets can still exist.

      These presence/existence of pages is a condition for the existence of the hardcopy book because when all pages are gone, that hardcopy book would no longer exist.

      So even though those paper sheets are located inside the existing hardcopy book and that they are not classified as efficient cause, they are properly and correctly called a necessary “CONDITION” without which the hardcopy book would not exist.

      So something
      (a) being internal to the book
      (b) not being an efficient cause
      does not cause any problem with a cosmological proof that uses the concept of “CONDITIONS”.

      Even though in your view it is the “intrinsic” temperature of the hardcopy book or wooden table that results in the ceasing of its existence, as long as this “intrinsic” temperature is NECESSARILY conditioned by the surrounding temperature, it would remain true that the existence of the hardcopy book or the wooden table is continuously conditioned by the surrounding temperature.

      You mentioned about a delay in timing. My response is: A delay in time between the ceasing of an entity’s existence and the ceasing of it’s necessary condition’s presence does not affect the validity and soundness of a proof using the concept of “conditions”. What is needed is that EVERY moment in the temporal duration of an entity’s existence is conditional on (or “derived from” or “correspond to”) the presence of its necessary condition.

      (please try to read the last sentence in the above paragraph very carefully again)

      Please also look at the factors I mentioned my latest response to Talmid about the conditions being the same under both EIT and EET.

      Even if EIT is true, as long as EIT is not unconditional but is conditional upon some conditions (which it is - EIT is conditional upon the absence of conditions that would result in the conditional entity ceasing existence), EIT is IMPOTENT to block such cosmological proofs (especially the type that make use of the concept of “conditions”).

      There is no space to explain in detail here, but ultimately, the empirical fact that a conditionally existing entity is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on conditions would entail the existence of the Unconditionally Existing One, who has the traditional attributes of the God of classical theism, and therefore would be whom every classical thrust understands to be God.
      (No space to list out all the steps here.)


      johannes y k hui

    8. You know, i think that i'am beggining to see what you are saying, reasonable. If the table needs other factors to continue in existence, there is no way to it to be really independent on the sense that Joe needs.

      That is actually what i take to be Dr. Feser principal problem with the idea of existential inertia: the things of this world are by nature dependent on other things, saying that they can exist if nothing destroys them would imply that they have a independence that they just do not have.

  14. I wonder if the locals could help me out on something. I often get a little confused trying to think how this stuff would *actually* play out for a reductive materialist (of the water-is-composed-of-particles type).

    For example: why wouldn't they just say, "Water just IS H and 2O physically together in such a way. If they both exist nearby, then that is water. There's no further magical 'combination' that needs to exist to make water out of them."?

    And if the question is, well, why do they stay together, why couldn't they just say, "The H is simple and the 2O is simple, and they both necessarily follow laws of physics, and those laws suffice to explain why at each moment they keep together."? (I'm well aware that modern physicists wouldn't consider H or 2O actually simple. Substitute 'their constituent particles' or 'fields' or whatever you wish.)

    To put it another way: I'm having a bit of a hard time imagining just what I'm suppose to see happen if the parts are NOT sustained together, suddenly. The H and 2O come flying apart and become separate? Because that, of course, would violate the laws that such particles follow, absent an intervening reaction or something.

    1. Just a quick correction, H20 refers to 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen. Nothing major :)

      To address your point, tho: Well, for one, the further question arises for the reductive materialist specifically: what are these laws of physics exactly? The reductive materialist can't go with anything non-material, like platonic forms or ideas in the mind of God, so they must claim they are either some kind of material themselves, which they wouldn't (which I'll explain) or its shorthand for something else (some emergent property of material things, perhaps, which I also address below) and laws themselves don't exist in any real sense and are reduced to properties of matter.

      This brings us to the bigger problem, which is that you have added the laws of physics in to the picture. If the laws of physics explain why they stay together, this just suffers the exact same problem as explain why they continue to exist: Why do they follow these laws of physics?

      As mentioned, for what the laws of physics are, it seems the reductive materialist best case is to go with the idea that the laws are really just a shorthand for some emergent property of the 2H and O, but that wont save them (as I explain a bit later). For if, instead, they were to go with the laws themselves also being some kind of material (which RMist would agree just seems absurd and not what one thinks of laws of physics as from the get-go, but if we granted for the sake of argument) then the interaction between the "laws of physics" material and the "2H" and "O" material then needs to be explained. But by what exactly, more laws of physics? I'm sure you can see this just pushes the question back, which then will just go back further, we end up in a vicious regress here. So if the laws of physics are not matter, the next option is that they are shorthand for a property of matter.

      So, the 2H and O being together has this emergent property, but then this just suffers the same circularity problem that having the property of existential inertia has. Namely, properties are dependent on the objects that have them. We end up with the 2h and O being together dependent on this emergent property, but the emergent property is dependent on the 2h and O being together. A vicious circle.

      Is that clear?

    2. Billy: "Why do they follow these laws of physics?"

      We don't know why and can't know why. It's impossible to say, apart from experience, even that they do; and experience alone grounds our habit of thinking that they do/expecting that they will. (-Hume)

      "it seems the reductive materialist best case is to go with the idea that the laws are really just a shorthand for some emergent property of the 2H and O"

      Rather, laws emerge from the application of the categories of understanding of our reason to whatever phenomena present themselves to our senses. They don't emerge merely from the things in themselves. (-Kant)

    3. (You mentioned vicious circle, this made me think of Hume and the problem of induction. That's where I think most reductive materialists will go on this question.)

    4. "We don't know why and can't know why."

      We don't need to know the specific principle as to why, but there is either a principle or law in place or there isn't. There is no middle or alternative options here. Either there isn't any principle and its just a brute fact that it does or there is a law in play, then we have to account for why that law to follow the laws of physics is itself followed and we are back at the same problem.

      Is the reductive materialist really going to claim there is some other option?

      "Rather, laws emerge from the application of the categories of understanding of our reason to whatever phenomena present themselves to our senses."

      That would entail that they aren't really there in the world, they are in us, so avoids SMack's point about the laws of nature.

      As for Hume, I guess they would but that also brings us to my first point that either there is a principle or there isn't, even if we are not able to logically determine if there is or not, or what that principle is.

    5. Billy: "As for Hume, I guess they would but that also brings us to my first point that either there is a principle or there isn't, even if we are not able to logically determine if there is or not, or what that principle is."

      Right, but what Hume determines is that there is a principle; and that the origin of that principle is in us and the habits that govern our association of ideas; and that it is impossible to justify the claim that the principle follows from a law present in the things themselves, rather than originating in our thinking, because the law itself is no part of the impression we receive from the thing. So if the law itself is grounded only in the habits of our thinking, rather than impression from the things themselves, then it makes no sense to look to the things themselves and ask why the things themselves follow these laws. Instead we have to turn to our thinking and ask why we necessarily understand things in terms of laws (i.e., Kant awakens from his dogmatic slumber and writes his critique of (pure) reason).

    6. So, i'am a bit confused, why exactly bring up Hume and Kant epistemologies when we are dealing with reductive materialism? None of these guys can help materialism.

      On english empiricism*, the concept of "matter", something that grounds the qualities that we see, is empty. There is just no perception that could fill the description. So, saying that things are material is just meaningless here.

      On transcendental idealism it is meaningful at least, but there is no way to show that matter even exists, let alone that only it does, metaphysics is nonsense. Since the things-in-themselves are not really objects of knowledge, one can't really be a materialist. Maybe thanks to pratical reason, but how one would do the argument for materialism like Kant does for theism and dualism is a mystery.

      I know that some materialists do appeal to Hume and Kant when they feel like it will help, but these guys are as much of a problem to they as they are to us. Since the idea here seems to analise materialism, i don't get why mention people that are a great danger to the materialist.

      *not only this type, but who cares

    7. @Talmid: Review the dialectical context. I was responding to a question. Hume and Kant offer reasons for rejecting certain lines of reasoning (in response to such a question) that reductive materialists want to avoid.

    8. Yes, but these two philosophers are not exactly friends of materialism or any other metaphysical view. If one is a materialist, them appeal to they is not a good idea!

    9. David, but then that makes the laws of physics purely descriptive, which we want to avoid for SMack's point. He wants to say that the laws of physics actually do some explanatory work in nature.

      The reductive materialist could go that way, but it doesn't avoid the problem. I would think it would even collapse the reductionist view toward matter also and they wouldn't really be a reductionist at all.

  15. Dr. Feser, you said:

    "In short, the very nature of a contingent thing qua contingent makes it implausible to attribute to it a feature like existential inertia."

    why only 'implausible' though? I, being an Avicennian, would say 'impossible'. See the two Avicennian arguments against existential inertia here for why:

    1. https://kimiyagard.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/a-sharqi-argument-against-existential-inertia-ei/

    2. https://kimiyagard.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/another-eastern-argument-against-ei/

    1. Hi Sinawi,

      I agree that it is impossible. I used the word "implausible" only because I was addressing Schmid's claim that on a preliminary consideration, neither EIT nor EET is more plausible than the other. I would say that in fact on a preliminary analysis, EIT is at least implausible, and on a deeper analysis it is impossible.

    2. Is _plausible_ weaker than probable and stronger than possible?

    3. I see. I would respectfully disagree with that - it seems to me that, prior to reflection, a view like EIT is more plausible. That things go on existing i.e., without continually being made to to do so, makes a stronger impression on the estimation, especially of the common folk. And our experience with artifacts reinforces this (false) impression.

      What do you think of the Avicennian arguments? Are they sound in your view?


  16. "Existential inertia would be a property or power of the water. So, the water’s persistence from t – 1 to t would, on this account, depend on this property or power. But properties and powers depend for their reality on the substances that possess them. So, we seem to have a situation where the water’s persistence depends on that of a property or power which in turn depends on the persistence of the water."

    Existential inertia is not a property of water, only. It's a property of everything. So this is the real assertion being made: We seem to have a situation where existence depends on a property or power which in turn depends on existence. Or rather: We seem to have a situation where actuality depends on a property or power which in turn depends on actuality.

    That implied "I am that I am," we are told, is okay if it's God, but not okay if it's matter. It's a double standard, no matter the word games. Schmid is a poor writer, but maybe that is what he is saying.

    1. Where's the double standard? Matter obviously has a specific essence, it thus *couldn't* be being. How is it that you don't understand that after almost ten years on this blog?

  17. ...doctor feser has alot of patience...if schmid wants an explanation how God sustains the universe instead of charging thomists with special pleading...we can just give a computational account using a big conjuctive bit count and calculations from the margolus levitin theorem and bremmermans limit on how its possible to process the informational universe...as well i dont know why feser bothers...joe is the one special pleading as he doesnt give an account of how things have EIT...say from blackhole thermodynamics ( bekenstein entropy)...or exchange particles( gluons) or dirichlet branes...

  18. I hope Ed isn't an alcoholic

  19. In the case of an angry atist on the warpath - silence is golden.

    Tom Cohoe

  20. This has given me food for thought. I was starting to dismiss the Aristotelian proof or First way as parasitic or dependent on the real distinction between essence and existence. Essentially making it the same argument as the De Ente or Ed's thomistic proof. This was mainly due to recent defences of existential inertia. Accept the real distinction and you have direct reasons against existential inertia.

    But to be as metaphysically neutral as Ed in the First Way? I'm still thinking through whether you could have something like Schmid's objection from the PPC - individually each part is not sufficient but when combined it is.

    I think Ed's vicious circularity is going to be what settles it for me. I really need to get back to the library and get my hands on Oderberg's recent book. I'm sure he offers a response to Ed to the tune of the circularity not being vicious.

    Anyway, enjoyable read which has encouraged me to reconsider the first way.

  21. Rather than read Schmid's replies, I try to do a public service and reply for him. Since I have no formal training in analytic philosophy, my response unfortunately will be concise and comprehensible.

    Existential inertia is the thesis that, while contingent beings do not have an intrinsic power to come into existence without an external cause, once caused to exist, they have an inherent tendency to remain in existence. Why? Because that is just the nature or essence of existence, according to existential inertia. True, you cannot know whether a dinosaur exists by knowing its essence. But that is consistent with existential inertia. Once you know that a dinosaur has come into existence, you do know that it will remain in existence unless an external cause intervenes (say, a giant meteor).

    You can dress this theory up with all the bells and whistle that you like, but that is core of the theory in my view. I don't find it incoherent or illogical or unreasonable. It just rests on a different metaphysical premise than that endorsed by Dr. Feser.

    I also don't think there is a way to conclusively adjudicate which of these views is correct (at least in this life). But my own approach would be to ask what motivates the underlying metaphysics. In Dr. Feser's case, the metaphysics is rooted ultimately in Aristotle (and other classical metaphysicians), who were concerned with explaining the nature of reality and did not have any particular theological axe to grind. By contrast, I suspect that the thesis of "existential inertia" is fueled by a desire to avoid the implications of theistic arguments and not by a disinterested pursuit of the objective foundation of reality. In my view, you should do metaphysics the first way -- asking yourself what you think best accounts for the nature of reality and only then inquire into its implications, theistic or otherwise.

    1. Thanks for trying, Bradley. Schmid could use more friends like you.

      "Existential inertia is the thesis that, while contingent beings do not have an intrinsic power to come into existence without an external cause, once caused to exist, they have an inherent tendency to remain in existence. Why? Because that is just the nature or essence of existence, according to existential inertia. True, you cannot know whether a dinosaur exists by knowing its essence. But that is consistent with existential inertia. Once you know that a dinosaur has come into existence, you do know that it will remain in existence unless an external cause intervenes (say, a giant meteor)."

      Right, or, say, unless the First Cause ceases to sustain it in existence! That is to say, the existential inertia of contingent things quite evidently is conditional and finite (just as ordinary inertia, the inertial motion of things with mass, is conditional and finite). So the question is, what does any remotely plausible construal of EIT actually have to contribute to the attempt to show that the existence of God is not necessary? As I believe Tony has indicated, the EI of, say, contingent things, call this "secondary existential inertia" (SEI) is perfectly compatible with classical theism, but it remains the case that SEI is absolutely dependent on PEI (i.e., the primary EI of the First Cause, not Prince Edward Island) -- just as secondary causality in general is entirely dependent on primary causality.

    2. This is a really nice respond Bradley. It is interesting to watch Schmid's claims to 'Moorean Defeaters' while addressing arguments. (EIT seems to be one of these.) He attempts to provide them to do away with classical theism, yet, to the classical theist, it is akin to touting out a Kantian epistemology - the classical theist won't accept it to begin with due to the faulty claims vis-a-vis metaphysics. All the deabte turns into is then a screaming match over one person's modus ponens being the other's modus tollens.

      A recourse to first principles, and a weighing of competing traditions in a MacIntyrean sense (cf. After Virtue) is the way forward IMO; not Schmid's 40k+ blog posts on monism and EIT.

    3. Any sound cosmological proof is going to show that there are things in nature which can't be explained by reference to nature itself.

      Thus, the existence of composite entities (the joining of essence and existence) can't be explained by the essence alone.

      However, the continued existence of a composite entity can be explained by its nature. At least that's what I would claim. To claim that a creature cannot cause another creature to be (either considered as coming into existence or remaining in existence) is a bizarre claim which completely contradicts our observation of nature; you'd have to resort to some version of occasionalism or else Humean denial of causality to maintain such. And so I don't find it implausible that a creature existing at time t can cause its continued existence at time t + 1. So far, I haven't seen any rigorous disproof of this. A fortiori, I haven't seen any rigorous disproof of the claim that, given a creature's existence at time t, it is (possibly) simply its nature to continue to exist at time t + 1.

      Nor do I see why a Thomist would necessarily object to the above, given that he admits secondary (creaturely) causality. He'd insist that God's causality is primary. But to get there, you need to first prove the existence of God, and I don't see how you can do from continued existence, which can be explained via nature.

    4. @Bradley,

      The problem though would be that the nature of existence may not allow this. Existence is simple, and an either/or thing - the initial moment of existence when a creature is actually created is simply the fulfilled and actual existence at a certain point. Continued existence is just that its actuality not being negated - so the continuation of existence is something in the same category as the intitial moment of existence.

      In other words, basic existence is always ex nihilo, and this exnihileity doesn't allow for a tendency to continue to exist. Existence doesn't have a weight of its own whereby it can somehow keep itself ex nihilo. In fact, ex nihilo itself requires causation.


      Well the reply to that would be that it can't be in the nature of things to continue to exist as the nature doesn't have anything about existence in its definition. The tendency to continue to exist just doesn't jive with what a nature is supposed to be.

      As for created things being able to cause another created thing to come into existence, this involves a confusion or equivocation of terms - things can cause other things insofar as they are that particular thing or in this particular way, but not as they are as such. Nothing created can cause the sheer existence and being of another thing as such - that is ex nihilo, and way beyond the scope of any creatable (and so distinctly limited in essence) entity.

    5. Bradley Schneider, I suspect your suspicion is misplaced. From my POV, it's bizarre to think a thing could vanish for no detectable reason. It makes no sense to me to claim a thing needs an undetectable 'force' to remain in existence. That's where I start. I don't think it matters if the issue can be conclusively adjudicated. Can the Thomist POV be ignored as it applies to knowledge? Yes, I believe it can be.

    6. But there would be a detectable reason, namely the ceasing of the sustaining act. The vanishing isn't brute

  22. Schmid is back at it and now claims Oppy and Rasmussen agree that Dr. Feser's reply is `poor':


    I am starting to believe Schmid is a bad actor. He always tells people how much he cares about their views but that is clearly false. He now shows his true colors by constantly attacking Dr. Feser.

    1. I've been following him a bit for over a year and half now. I haven't gone deep into his stuff because I have my own work, but this seems to me to be one of the weirdest exchanges I've ever seen. Aside from the very bizzare way Schmid talks (see his memes at the top of posts, facebook posts, weird comments embedded within papers etc...), he's admitted to nearly not sleeping or eating to respond to Feser. As well as putting aside all his other deadlines and inducing serious anxiety. Strange at best

    2. He always tells people how much he cares about their views but that is clearly false.

      I've always had this impression. He almost always goes out of his way to display a sort of superficial 'niceness' in his posts, but it remains only superficial. If you're familiar with him, it's evident that he becomes really agitated really quickly whenever people disagree with him.

  23. Looking at that blog post reminds me of Chesterton's quip: "The madman is not the man who lost his ability to reason... he's the man who has lost everything else but his ability to reason."

    1. "Poets don't go mad, but chess players do. The poet seeks to put his head in the heavens. The mathematician seeks to put the heavens in his head; and it is his head that splits."

    2. "Looking at that blog post reminds me of Chesterton's quip: "The madman is not the man who lost his ability to reason... he's the man who has lost everything else but his ability to reason.""

      Maybe, but not Platonic and not Aristotelian.

  24. How nice to see the exchange of ideas between two great minds.

  25. Ed you say,
    "To take an example I have often used, suppose you explain, to someone who has never heard of them before (a young child, say), the nature or essence of a lion, of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and of a unicorn. Then you tell him that, of these three animals, one exists, one used to exist but has gone extinct, and the other never existed and is fictional. You ask him to tell you, based on his new knowledge of the essences of each, which is which. Naturally, he couldn’t tell you. For there is nothing in the essence or nature of these things that could, by itself, tell you whether or not it exists. Existence is something additional to the essence of a contingent thing. It doesn’t follow from such a thing’s essence."

    It looks like this argument is key in establishing that the EIT vs EET question is an either/or question, and that defending it as such is important for even the Aristotelian proof. You make use of the concepts of natures/essences in your argument here though, so is there a way to make this kind of argument at the level of only act/potency as you do for the rest of the Aristotelian proof?

    Also additionally I think this quote here also gets to where the fundamental misunderstanding is on Joe's part in this whole debate:

    "As I argue in Five Proofs and in my article on existential inertia (both of which Schmid purports to be responding to in the present article), the reason contingent things are contingent is that they are composed of parts, and in particular that they have potentialities as well as actualities. So, when we say that God is absolutely simple rather than composite and that he is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, we have given an explanation of his lacking contingency – that is, of his existing of necessity."

    I think because of the misunderstanding Joe has that leads him to not see that EIT vs EET is an either/or question, this would lead him to not accept what you say above because of how you define existing contingently and necessarily. If he doesn't accept your conclusion from this first quote namely,

    "Existence is something additional to the essence of a contingent thing. It doesn’t follow from such a thing’s essence."

    Then the way you define contingency and necessity wouldn't necessarily follow. The PSR somewhat comes into this as well as you allude, but I don't think the full force of the PSR is felt in the Aristotelian proof, unless you put the argument for existence being separate from essence in terms that don't presume essence/existence or form/matter distinctions.

  26. I think it is very clear that Mr.Schmid suffers pretty severely from Dunning-Kruger effect

  27. Good strategic move, Ed, to limit your reply to peer reviewed published work. It is past time to take our civilization back from the tyranny of unfiltered social media.:)

    1. Agreed. Schmid is like a puppy with too much energy. You won't ever tire him out. He will carry on forever. Schmid isn't on Feser's level, and I don't think it was wise to begin such an exchange.

    2. Does this mean no more heart-shaped emoticons?

  28. So ... You posted your observations on July 2nd, two days before the Independence Day holiday.

    And Schmid is up online with his response on Sunday July 4 itself ?

    Frankly, as is the case with many of your older readers, I'm more interested in your philosophy of mind and language, and your political work as it is/was informed by perennial A-T insights, than in act and potency metaphysics per se. In fact I was as glad to be finally done with it in college, as I was glad to having had been introduced to it - formally - in the first place.

    But this over the top enthusiasm of his to engage is just crazy enough to pique my interest, and make me wonder what practical issues are really in play here.

  29. Whatever follies of his youth and tendency to engage to quickly without thinking it out I must still caution all to answer Schmid's arguments (even if they are bad or question begging or circular etc).

    An Atheist philosopher is worth a philosophical response. Remember this lad is still lightyears ahead of PZ Meyers or Dawkins or some other philosophically incompetent Gun nutter.

    That having been said his arguments the Trinity contradict the Divine Simplicity where exercises in fallacies of equivocation.


    1. "That having been said his arguments the Trinity contradict the Divine Simplicity where exercises in fallacies of equivocation."

      Fallacies in equivocation? In what way? I don't see any equivocation in his arguments here.

      - ML

    2. Joe is technically an agnostic, but you're right. He is worth responding to.

    3. His arguments that the Trinity contradicts DS come down to that there is either a real distinction between the persons of the Trinity, in which case DS is false, or there is only a logical distinction, in which case the Trinity is false.
      That exhaust the possibilities.

    4. >Fallacies in equivocation? In what way? I don't see any equivocation in his arguments here.

      A simple refutation of Schmid on the Trinity vs Divine Simplicity is IMHO merely technical. The divine simplicity means in the divine essence there are no real physical or real metaphysical distinctions in the Divine Essence. God is immaterial ergo by definition He can contain no real physical distinctions. God is Pure Act so in God there is no passive potency that can be made act by something already in act. In order for Schmid to succeed he has to show the real distinctions between the subsisting divine relations(i.e. divine persons) are either physical or metaphysical in nature, than the two doctrines would contradict each other if that was the case.

      But divine revelation tells us the real distinctions of the subsisting divine relations are mysterious in nature and neither physical nor metaphysical. Ergo in principle no argument Schmid makes can succeed. Without redefining the doctrine as understood by Catholics and other Classic Theists.

      I notice he uses some ambiguous terms “absolute simplicity”. Which I would normally take to mean an absence of real physical and or real metaphysical distinctions. But I think he is ad hoc re-defining it (thus equivocating)implicitly to mean “no real distinctions at all.” Which is not the doctrine as understood historically by the Catholic Church(or Orthodox or Classic Protestantism).


      Schmid needs to drop this argument since in principle it cannot succeed. The Trinity is not knowable via philosophical natural knowledge but by divine revelation alone ergo in principle no philosophical argument can be brought against it. He is already making a category mistake & a non-starter objection when he starts.

      We can only know it if God tells us(in which case Atheists should stop wasting our time & concentrate on polemics against the viability of divine revelation or the validity of the NT).

      The doctrine of the Trinity as formulated Traditionally by the Holy Church contains no logical contradictions and in principle no provable formal contradictions. Ergo Atheists are wasting their time with these arguments. They should change their tactics IMHO.

    5. Hi ben Ya’Kov,

      I commented under Schmid’s response (Part 3) on Existential Inertia. Think mine was the first comment.


      johannes y k hui

    6. Son of Ya'Kov,
      I have thought about the Trinity objections as well, and what our burden of proof really is. As you stated we don't claim to be able to reason to the Trinity, so we do not have the same burden of proof as we have to the existence of God.

      We do make certain claims about the Trinity via revelation though, and it seems that we would still have some responsibility to show that those claims are at least not logically impossible given other claims we are committed too.

      For while faith goes above and beyond reason, it cannot be in contradiction with it.

      So while I do think Joe overestimates our burden of proof in the dialectic of some of his arguments, I don't think they are completely pointless. We can hold that the Trinity is ultimately still a mystery, and just take on the burden of defending it from arguments that argue our claims about the Trinity from revelation are not logical contradictions with other claims we are committed too.

    7. @Nathan,

      Well said.

      @johannes y k hui

      I'll give it a look when I can. Sounds interesting. You da man.

      Cheers friends.

  30. Here's a dumb question. I read the last article, where Feser said existential inertia is an attribute by what if the advocate for existential inertia says it's not an attribute just like existence is not an attribute? I saw someone else ask this question, but the replies left me confused.

    1. Hi Yovany,

      If the EI advocate want to say that EI is not an attribute, it does not help him at all (worse for him!), because this would mean that in order for an entity to persist in existence, that entity’s essence would need to be conjoined with EI by some extrinsic Cause/Actualiser. This would then ultimately lead us to the Pure Actualiser whose essence is existence (or EI).


      johannes y k hui

    2. Okay. Maybe something not clicking but why would the entity's(say water in this case) need to be conjoined with EI by a pure actualiser? Why can't just be built into the entity?

    3. I guess you could say something like this: yeah but the problem with that is how do we distinguish. If we can distinguish them then we have a potentials among the Pure Actualiser and the entity in question and that's not the cause we are looking for.

  31. Joe Schmid is just a philosophy major and yet he can quickly and effortlessly pour out tens of thousands of words that attracts the attention of of professional philosophers. How many of you bloggers who dismiss him can do that? He is a force to be reckoned with.

    1. Who's dismissing him? Feser and his commentators have been relatively respectful to Schmid, which seems to be more than Schmid has been, and certainly more than his groupies are of Feser.

    2. It's been a pretty mixed bag here. I've seen quite a few digs against Schmid's character here and other attempts to engage him in good faith. Not our best showing, frankly, though I think Joe also overreacted to Ed's post in a number of ways as well.

    3. Anonymous: And the dismissive bloggers (of whom you in your turn are dismissive) attract your attention, so that makes them "a force to reckoned with" too, I suppose. But so what?? And let's be honest here: his effortless outpouring of tens of thousands of words is certainly impressive, but largely in a ghastly, barbaric, "holy shit, what's the deal?" kind of way. IOW, his undisciplined writing is precisely why it's tempting to dismiss him and why many people who don't have time for all of the irrelevant, pedantic, self-indulgent, self-obsessed on-and-on-ness of his writing decide they have better things to do. If you want to be a friend to him, it's in your interest to be aware of this and honest about it and be concerned that he be also aware and honest about it too.

    4. >I've seen quite a few digs against Schmid's character here and other attempts to engage him in good faith......though I think Joe also overreacted to Ed's post in a number of ways as well.

      A fair assessment.

      I am willing to be very forgiving of Schmid and bend over backwards to give him a pass. But I normally argue with Gnu Atheist Trolls who wouldn't know philosophy from a hole in the 'ed.

      Whatever his personality quirks he is lightyears ahead of the Gnus. He is a resource we should use. An Agnostic Philosopher willing to engage Classic Theism on our battleground Philosophy. So much better then the Positivist shite we get from the morons who want us to prove using physics the act/potency distinction or some such claptrap.

      I hope Schmid gives us a good workout in the brain.

    5. Quick side note: Those who like to trash our buddy Son of Ya'kov for being too polemical should take note of how fair-minded he has been in this thread toward Schmid.

      Just sayin'. Carry on.

    6. ccmnxc, I think, on the whole, he's been received fairly well here, definitely better than the atheists at his blog have treated Feser. I haven't seen one say anything positive about Feser.

    7. "Quick side note: Those who like to trash our buddy Son of Ya'kov for being too polemical should take note of how fair-minded he has been in this thread toward Schmid."

      Comment like that I'm starting to wonder if "Edward Feser" isn't really just Son of Ya'Kov's sock puppet... Or maybe it's the other way round? (Until three days ago I thought sock puppets were just sock puppets; now look how suspicious I've become.)

    8. For the Record my good friends.

      I am Ben Yachov or Son of Ya'kov or Jim the Scott. Those are my online nome de plume's. I am myself and I have never been Feser or anybody else.

      I never sock puppet. I say what I mean and mean what I say. If I like you I say so. If I dina I say so. I believe what I believe and I deny what I deny. What you see is what you get.

      Note in reference to a fine post by Dr Feser down thread I agree with him the Sock Puppets dina do Schmid any favors. I have been fair to him and advocated he be one of our friendly foes in regards to classic theism. I say so openly.

      The sock puppets, unknown trolls and other nutters etc...just be honest what you want. Stop hiding. Out yer-selves.

      PS In case anybody didn't get it David McPike was clearly making a joke about me being Feser's sock puppet so chill.

      Ben Yachov oot! Peace!

    9. Anonymous July 7, 2021 at 9:13 PM said

      "Joe Schmid is just a philosophy major and yet he can quickly and effortlessly pour out tens of thousands of words ..."

      Effortlessly? Yeah, I'll say. He must read speedily, absorb immediately, critique instantaneously, type effortlessly, edit on the fly, and ...

      Even so: talk about a "Lost Weekend".

      If the guy generated almost 40,000 words between Friday and Sunday, after having presumably read and fairly considered Feser's response; then, even if he was typing at 65 w.p.m it would take over 615 minutes, or ten hours of non-stop work: Assuming, naturally, that he was not recycling already written filler material through the copy and paste method.

      Of course, maybe he just can type, as well as think, very, very fast.

      In that case, a career as a executive secretary surely awaits him should philosophy prove unrewarding financially.

  32. Didn't take long for Schmid's neuroticism to overtake the fake good-faith and fake niceness.

    I'm reminded of Edward Dutton's work on dysgenics and mutation load. Spiteful mutants abound. These people, followers included, merit neither the attention nor respect of civil discourse. It's unfortunate, but it is reality. They care only about who is right, not what is right. He should never have been engaged.

  33. Professor, you said you were very busy. Maybe it's true that it exists a "multi"-verse where "multi"-ple instantiations of Edward Feser are writing "multi"-ple pieces of work at the same time? (articles, blog posts and books) :)

    Our atheist "friends" would love that...

  34. Vox Day's description of the "Gamma" personality is highly instructive and in this case explanatory of Schmid's online behavior. Once you start to see the gamma behavior patterns that Vox calls attention to, you cannot unsee them. And I mean this as no personal slight against Schmid. He is, however, behaving like a textbook case gamma.

  35. Just out of curiosity, how would existential inertia handle the case of spontaneous radioactive decay. The cessation of existence without any external destructive influence?

    1. Could not the defender of existential inertia reply that in that particular case there is actually a internal cause but that it is not usually how beings function? This way, while the the decay is a kinda of destruction with no external cause it is not the normal way things cease to be.

  36. Can someone help me out here? Let's say I use Legos and arrange them to form a house. Now those Legos have the potential to be a different shape. So do we need an explanation of why it continues to form a house vs something else? Do we expect the lego blocks to move around by themselves? But they don't have the potential to move around by themselves! Why can we just not explain water the same way? The particular arrangement of atoms has to be in this way to form water and we don't expect them to just change position. Perhaps you would have to appeal to some nuclear force or gravity(in the case of the legos etc). I've read 5 proofs, but this is something that I still don't get. Would appreciate any help. Thanks!

    1. Are you saying that once the particles of water are arranged as water, we don't need a explanation why at t1 is water because we don't the particles to move around by themselves?

    2. If I understand it right, it's because your lego house is an artifact, whereas water is a natural substance. While these two categories have similarities, they should not be confused.

    3. Hey Abraham,

      I think you have to look at the difference between a substantial form and an accidental form. A substantial form has an intrinsic organization of its parts that stems from its nature. For example certain kinds of subatomic particles have an intrinsic power to come together to make hydrogen. Lego blocks do not have this power. They require an extrinsic power to arrange them into the form of a house. Left on their own and they will remain an unorganized pile of blocks. Not so for those subatomic particles. And hydrogen has an intrinsic power to form chemical bonds with a variety of other chemical substances. For example, hydrogen has an intrinsic power to bond with oxygen, making H2O. Now it no longer has the intrinsic powers of just H and just O, but expresses powers or potentialities in the substantial form of H2O.

      You can see from this description that the powers and actuality of H2O depend on the powers and actualities of H and O. And the powers and actualities of H and O depend on the powers and actualities of the subatomic particles that make up H and O. And those particles in turn depend on the actuality of other rules of physics for their own existence, and so on and so forth.

      Now take away the actuality of any of these dependencies, and the entire edifice collapses. It stops existing. Or at least it stops existing in its current form.

      That constitutional material causal hierarchy cannot go on to infinity, but must resolve into something purely actual.

      Does that clarify it for you?


    4. "So do we need an explanation of why it continues to form a house vs something else?" -- Yes.

      "Do we expect the lego blocks to move around by themselves?" -- No.

      What's happening here falls under what is referred to as 'inertia' (not existential inertia): a body in motion tends to stay in motion, a body at rest... (etc.)).

    5. So wait, David. Are you saying that the inertia is the needed explanation of why the Legos stay together?

    6. @SMack:
      Um, yeah, basically. (Unless the dread Kragle's involved.) You could say friction's important too, but fundamentally I do think it's more about inertia. Why? Does that sound weird?

    7. No! Sorry, I'm just trying to get a better picture here. I have a science background, which I think puts me somewhere behind a preschooler on metaphysics. :)

      So, if inertia is keeping the blocks together, why do we need an added metaphysical explanation? (This is related somewhat to the question I asked above, so I appreciate your discussing it.)

      Or is it that we then need an explanation for inertia?

    8. @SMack Maybe as a “preschooler” in metaphysics myself I can give you a simple description which may help (and may not be completely wrong!). In physics there is often a kind of metaphysical assumption that equates to materialism. This is the assumption that everything is just made of bits of ‘stuff’, and that if we break this stuff down far enough, we will understand both how it works and what it is (aka reductionism). In reality this is only studying what stuff does, not what it is.

      Physics has now developed far enough that the errors in this assumption are starting to become obvious. What we call matter (physical properties) is like the tip of an iceberg that momentarily pops out of the water as part of an entanglement (aka observation). As to what is ‘behind’ matter, the best we can really say is that it’s something between one and three fields, and particles are an ‘excitement’ of this field. But what is the quantum field? What generates the quantum field?

      In philosophy the likes of Plato and Aristotle were well ahead in this area. They had used reason to think about these things well before we had the knowledge or instruments to probe any aspect of it whatsoever. In a way you could look at this question by considering particles to be forms. So what gives an electron it’s being? We can ‘create’ electrons from photons and photons from electrons, but that’s just transforming one form into another form. What holds the form in existence? You could say it’s the energy of the zero point field (uncertainty principle etc), but what is that? Is it a default state, like a ground, or is it something constantly reinforcing the particle’s state?

      You could say that philosophers have been thinking about this stuff for a long time, but have been looking at it from a slightly different perspective where things have an existence as ‘wholes’, not just as their parts.

    9. Good question. Here's a stab at an answer. First question: what are physics and metaphysics anyway? They're sciences, systematic knowledge of things in terms of their causes. About what? Largely about the same things, or about the same thing, being(s). So what differentiates them? Something like the aspect of being each treats. Physics treats 'natural' being, the being of 'nature' (related to Latin natus, born, Greek physis, phuein, to grow, to appear), that is, beings the being of which involves the fundamental 'natural' processes of generation, but then also destruction (thus the general scientific importance of understanding cycles and conservation so as to comprehend (grasp together) generation and destruction). Physics also searches for the first cause of natural being, although in modern physics there happens to be in general force an arbitrary(?) methodological rule that when we come to examining the nature of the first cause it must be understood as being of the same nature as everything else in physics -- that is, physics narrowly understood, i.e., not even looking at real beings, as such, but only looking at them in terms of abstractions from, roughly, mathematics, geometry, and dynamics (etc.?). By contrast, ancient physics can conclude with a proof of the existence of God, because it doesn't include this arbitrary(?) methodological rule and isn't restricted to mathematical abstractions from reality.

      Metaphysics, on the other hand, is supposed to treat being as such, so if there are only 'physical' beings, it's about the same being(s) as physics; but since it's about being as being, it can't just take that for granted and assume that the only beings are the physical ones (it thus fundamentally conflicts with the arbitrary(?) methodological stricture that modern physicists typically impose on their discipline; and thus the 'specter' of metaphysics sometimes makes modern physicists a bit antsy as it opens up questions that threaten to undercut their assumption of their own primacy or hegemony in the domain of ontology).

      So hopefully that's right and useful. Now Lego: It seems Abraham was asking a 'physical' question about Lego -- about the generation and corruption of things made from Lego -- that demanded a 'physical' explanation, so a 'physical' explanation (inertia) is all that's needed to answer it. If he had a different (kind of) question, we'd need a different (kind of) answer.

      Do we need an explanation for inertia? ('Need' might depend on our purposes.) Not if we have reason to regard inertia as the first cause; otherwise, yes.

      And do we even want one? Perhaps not; that is, not if we prefer to regard it as a first cause (perhaps because other options make us uncomfortable).

    10. @Simon: "In reality this is only studying what stuff does, not what it is."

      Right, so it is studying action, not being; or accidents, not substance. And typically conflating the two. And the (metaphysical) question remains, whether that is a legitimate conflation.

      At the same time, operatio sequitur esse, action follows from being, so we can never only study action, even if that's where our focus happens to lie, because action is itself part of being, and accidental being is what reveals substantial being. Operation/action follows being; but knowledge of being follows from knowledge of operation/action.

    11. Thank you, Simon! This is very helpful.

      One thing I've struggled with with this post, in particular, is how Feser says it doesn't matter (for instant purposes) whether we analyze things in an Aristotelian frame, or Thomist, or just as naturalists with particles sticking together (or whatever).

      But from a naturalist perspective, if H and 2O are together making water at this moment, then it's not clear to me that *at this moment*, there is any additional "potential" to be activated between being H and 2O (on the one hand) or being water (on the other); because H and 2O in that particular (spatial) configuration *just are* a water molecule, full stop. I realize that a Thomist would say otherwise, but surely not a naturalist?

      Is the issue (per your post) the question why they continue to behave as a water molecule? But a reductionist would say (no?) that simply their behavior as H and 2O will guarantee they do (Schrodinger's equation etc.) If they didn't, they wouldn't really continue to be H and 2O.

      It seems a reasonable question is: why DO they continue to behave that way? But now we're headed more toward an Aristotelian / Thomist analysis of potentials, essences, etc. In other words, an electron (say) could theoretically attract positive charges but not repel negative ones, and the keeping of those various behaviors together is the bundling into a composite that needs an explanation.

      Does any of this make sense? Am I kind of understanding what's going on?

      Thank you so much for the reply!

    12. Where I said at 9:42: "it thus fundamentally conflicts with...," I would emend to "it is thus fundamentally at variance with..."

    13. SMack,

      "it's not clear to me that *at this moment*, there is any additional "potential" to be activated between being H and 2O (on the one hand) or being water (on the other); because H and 2O in that particular (spatial) configuration *just are* a water molecule, full stop."

      I don't think a naturalist would say that water is simply just 2H and O being at a certain close to each other. There are properties that H and O have that are not there in water, and new properties arise in water.

      For instance, if you put some pieces of wood together and build a chair, technically, that's just wood at a certain distance and arrangement to each other. One way this is clear is that wood has the property of being flammable. The chair, being just an arrangement of wood, is also flammable because it gets that property from its parts. It wouldn't matter what arrangement they were in, the wood will burn.

      However, oxygen and hydrogen are also flammable, but water is not. But why not, if all water is is just these elements in a particular arrangement to each other like the wood of the chair? Why does the arrangement suddenly stop oxygen or the hydrogens property of flammability from being expressed? Do they both have a property to make each lose this particular property when in a particular arrangement to each other?

      The Aristotelian-Thomist would say that the water is its own substance. The oxygen and hydrogen are there, but only virtually. The reductive materialist would have to account for this, and I don't know how.

    14. @SMack I think David hit on the key point here in that physics treats the abstraction as the thing. So it’s like creating a map of the Himalayas, and then saying that the contour lines on the map are the same as mountains. In reality the map is just an abstraction. If we were just looking at the map, then the question of why the mountains are as they are, what keeps the peaks up in the clouds etc, doesn’t necessarily flow as a natural question. That’s a bit of a cop out answer as I think it does make a difference which ontological framework you start with, but it’s at least a reason why it doesn’t seem like there is a question to answer from a naturalist perspective…

    15. @DavidMcPike “ At the same time, operatio sequitur esse, action follows from being, so we can never only study action, even if that's where our focus happens to lie, because action is itself part of being, and accidental being is what reveals substantial being. Operation/action follows being; but knowledge of being follows from knowledge of operation/action.”

      I get a bit lost here myself. I fully understand that you need being to have action. So action is like a subset of being, but that’s probably the wrong way to say it as being is not really divisive in itself. So better to say that being is a requirement for action. What I don’t understand is how you say that we can never only study action. It seems to me that a lot of physics is done entirely as an abstraction of action, and then is applied to an action-abstraction framework that is assumed as a description of being. This then gives you the cartesian distinction between mind and matter, as our human experience is not the same as an abstraction. Some people then try to undo the dualism by positing god as a super-form, which then causes even more confusion because that is a genuine dualism, as things only ever have their being in relation to god.

      I think there are so many ontological frameworks, and so many different understandings of each framework, that it sometimes seems as if the human tower of Babel is being slowly deconstructed over the past few centuries…

    16. Simon: "What I don’t understand is how you say that we can never only study action. It seems to me that a lot of physics is done entirely as an abstraction of action, and then is applied to an action-abstraction framework that is assumed as a description of being."

      An abstraction of action is, I assume, the same as a conceptualization of action, a way of conceiving action. So the question is, is it just an assumption that in conceiving and thus understanding action we are also conceiving and understanding being? I think not. I think it's necessarily the case that describing action is describing being. To be is to act, being is an act (esse is actus essendi).

    17. @Simon: "I think David hit on the key point here in that physics treats the abstraction as the thing. So it’s like creating a map of the Himalayas, and then saying that the contour lines on the map are the same as mountains. In reality the map is just an abstraction."

      But my point is a bit different. All ideas are abstractions, including those of ancient physics, wherein the 'physicist' is open to arguing all the way to the existence of God as the first cause; and physics doesn't necessarily conflate ideas/abstractions. Rather we just have to remember that abstract ideas are that by which we know, and the reality is what (primarily) we know by means of the abstract ideas. So we have genuine knowledge of reality, but there always remains a difference/differance (yo, Derrida) between the reality itself and the ideas by which we know that reality (notwithstanding that there is a certain formal identity between the two).

    18. Thank you all for the replies. You have given me a lot to think about.

      Billy first: I don't think that's how a naturalist would look at things. H and O are flammable separately, yes, but when they're near each other, they're simply not, and the reason has to do with the way their valence electrons interact when nearby. (They also have lots of other properties, e.g. they tend to stay nearby, and etc.) But this all follows pretty much from the way their electrons interact.

      @David: thank you for the helpful discussion about physics and metaphysics.

      So to flog a dead horse: in the case of our water, say, what needs explaining is WHY the electromagnetic forces continue to act to keep them together as water? (This is continuing in Ed's "arguendo" use of naturalism.)

      If so, this seems to me to slightly undercut Ed's particular framing of the issue. Because what's at issue seems really to be WHY the H and O continue to act *like H and O.* From the point of view of the naturalist chemist, as long as they do THAT, they will for sure continue to act as water if they're placed near enough initially.

      Does this make sense?

      Let me give an analogy: consider the spots of ink on a page. One could say something like, "One can consider this as a collection of inkblots, and then it has only the potential to be words; so something additional is needed to explain why the potential of the inkblots [or ink molecules if you prefer] to be words is *actualized.*"

      But this is sure to be seen as muddled by a naturalist. Apart from the inkblots themselves and their position (which inertia, EM forces, or whatever will account for), there is simply no additional fact of the matter that renders them words. So if there's a complex togetherness to be explained, it seems that it's the blots' own bundle of properties (inertia, EM, etc.), not anything additional that makes them words.

      This is, again, on a naturalist analysis (which Ed says he's using). Does this make any sense?

      My overall concern is that it seems like water is much the same -- for the naturalist.

      @Simon: Thank you for the interesting point. I think this dovetails some with my question/sense, as my concern is whether Ed's purported use of naturalism for this analysis quite works out (and you're suggesting that the naturalist, indeed, leaves out some features of reality that are relevant for the argument to work?)

      Thank you again to all.

    19. @SMack: "So to flog a dead horse: in the case of our water, say, what needs explaining is WHY the electromagnetic forces continue to act to keep them together as water?"

      I would suggest the more basic question to start with is, what are EM forces? And what explains them? (Understanding their mode of action should fall out from answering these questions.)

      The physicist wants to know if there is anything underlying EMFs that would give contribute to a better understanding of natural change and things that undergo natural change (and the modern physicist (arbitrarily?) restricts his search for (more) fundamental causes to things that are expressible in terms of mathematical abstractions).

      The metaphysician wants to know how EMFs fit into a general understanding of being as such.

      So same questions for both, but aiming at different levels of explanation.

  37. Perhaps we can make headway on the EI question if we first examine a closely related but narrower question:

    P-SIT (preliminary scribal inertia thesis): Necessarily, Schmid will continue writing in the absence of causally destructive factors.

    SET (scribal expiration thesis): Necessarily, Schmid will cease writing (by means of instantaneous annihilation) in the absence of causally sustaining factors.

    Now Question 1: Does the denial of P-SIT entail (whether strictly or broadly) the truth of SET?

  38. 40,000 words in just a couple days? That makes me think a PHd program and dissertation might be achievable.

  39. Well, David, unlike you, Joe Schmid is still a kid in college, which makes his writings all that more impressive. Just give him time. I sure his writing will become more focused. Eventually, all academia may know his name.

    1. I've given him more than just time, I've given him good advice. Eventually, when all academia knows his name, maybe he'll thank me! (No, stop, please, I'm not in this for the praise and adulation.) But seriously, I wish him well.

    2. Dr. MoPike,

      I think Joe Schmid had done quite well for himself given his youth. His philosophy Kindle book on Amazon has 20 reviews and he has 3 articles forthcoming in peer reviewed journals. He has page after page of links I'm working on my M.A.in philosophy and he's way ahead of me. I see you have a Ph.D in Philosophy but work as an engineer. My undergrad degree was in business management and that's probably where I'll end up working.

    3. Dear Anonymous (Joe? is that you?):
      You know I was joking a bit there, right? Joe's evidently in the process of building a very nice academic resume, certainly no thanks to my advice (I only just heard of the guy); and people who are impressed by such things will presumably be impressed by it. Nonetheless, I've still given him what I regard as some straightforwardly good advice which he would do well to heed. It's more intended for the good of his soul and of his own rational integrity than for the 'success' of his future academic career (as understood in the usual narrow sense -- I'm an insistently "what doth it profit a man..." kind of guy myself). More narrowly, the point is, I just wish he'd engage in the current debate with Feser in a more constructive way. Far too much of his on-and-on quibbling logic-chopping (so far as I've had the patience to read it) just seems irrelevant and contributes nothing to actually advancing the argument regarding any real point of contention between him and Feser. It's disappointing and annoying. He's a smart guy, I think he could do better, and I hope he will do better.

      (I like Feser, but still, just imagine: it's the epic David and Goliath battle, young Joe Schmid, the fresh-faced young grad student from the hill-country of Indiana or wherever, takes down the mighty Edward Feser, makes him grovel and beg for mercy and forgiveness and admit -- just admit it, Ed! -- that there is indeed no strict logical entailment from the denial of P-EIT to the truth of EET! Ha! Take that Feser, right in your eye! Maybe now you'll start to pay a little more attention to a little something called 'dialectical context,' you utterly confused soul, you.)

    4. @Anonymous:
      I take it you're positively impressed by Schmid's work and not just his 'stats'? That being the case, what do you think of his tens of thousands of words replies to Feser? Do you see him making any interesting, substantive points that are worth discussing? If you do, please mention them so we can discuss. If you don't, why are you impressed?

  40. Anonymous sings:

    He is a force to be reckoned with.

    Eventually, all academia may know his name.

    This is exactly the kind of cringe-making stuff that made me suspect sock-puppetry. Whoever is doing this is not doing the guy any favors.

    1. Unless given evidence otherwise, I don't think it is Joe doing his nor do I think he is encouraging (not saying you're saying that). However, people need to cut this out or at least not hide behind he "Anonymous" label.

    2. Yes, and just to be clear, I do not claim that and have never claimed it. Moreover, Schmid has said that he has nothing to do with it, and I take him at his word.

      Unfortunately, Schmid has now quoted a private email of mine to a third party from a few weeks ago -- despite initially refraining from doing so precisely because it was private and I did not give him permission to quote it! -- in which I wondered aloud whether he was behind the sock-puppetry. And it is hardly unreasonable at least to wonder whether he was behind it, in a private communication.

      But as Schmid himself admits, even in that private communication I did not assert that he was behind it, and I certainly have not done so publicly. (That didn't stop him from going on literally for over 1,000 words about it, when a simple "Wasn't me" would have sufficed!)

    3. On behalf of the LGBTTQ?SP-etc. community, I have to ask why you feel the need to create a hostile non-inclusive environment for people whose non-essentialism-bound identities include so-called "Sock Puppet" trans-identities?

      As for "Wasn't me" sufficing, I can understand Schmid's wanting to do a bit of self-promotion, and point out how impressive his following is, and how the charge of sock-puppetry is an unnecessary hypothesis, given the following he's got and that he has worked so hard to acquire. In reality, a better response (assuming his innocence!) might have been for him to be flattered, rather than offended, that there are such a good number of people "out there" sincerely interested in his work and promoting it so insistently that a reasonable person who didn't know better might wonder if what's really going on is sock-puppetry.

      I also am a bit surprised that Ed is pursuing this. It seems a bit like meta-feeding-the-trolls and maybe better just left alone? At the same time there are a number of interesting casuistic issues that come up with defining sock-puppetry and what is wrong with it. E.g., Santa Claus at the mall isn't really Santa Claus, but he's not lying because everyone knows that; likewise Heraclitus here likely isn't really Heraclitus, etc.; but what about this Anonymous chap? Is he or is he not really Anonymous? And what are the conditions governing when he has an obligation to manifest his real identity rather than hiding behind his Anonymous identity, or one of his other, Unknown, perhaps, identities? Maybe interesting enough to add to your list of future blog posts, Ed?

    4. It seems a bit like meta-feeding-the-trolls

      I didn't want to offend the meta-troll-feeding community.

    5. A more pointed question would be: Supposing a certain Unknown or Anonymous poster is usually, for legal purposes, anyway, known as, say, "John Schmidt," when does he have a moral obligation to make that known (i.e., to not "hide" it, so to speak, even though he is normally understood to have a perfect right to not openly declare it in this kind of context)? Only if he's responding to the guy asking him, "Is that you, John?" Or other times too? There's the story of the hunted saint (name??), who supposedly spoke of himself in the third person when asked of his whereabouts by his would be persecutor, who knew his name but not his face: "He is not far from you." Sock-puppetry-ish?

    6. The ethics of sock puppetry -- a new sub-field!

      I don't think that posting anonymously or under a pseudonym is per se wrong, though as a matter of general policy I don't do it myself. If someone asks John "Is that you John?" and he says that it isn't, it does seem to me that that would count as a lie. (But what if John used another sock puppet to raise doubts by saying "Such-and-such considerations tell against it being John." An allowable mental reservation? I see a dissertation here for anyone interested.)

    7. I'd like to add my support to the other two David McPike's (from 3:03PM and 3:27PM). Ed, please do do a post on this! And more posts on Joe Schmid! (Cheers to Heraclitus.)

    8. I'd like to add my support to the other two David McPike's

      Hey, that's three against one. No fair!

  41. It seems to me that Dr. Feser defends his point of view quite convincingly. Personally, I don't really understand how supporters of the idea of existential inertia in objects in our world can combine it with the idea of a totally evolving world? The idea that things have an intrinsic ability to maintain their existence should contradict the idea of evolution. In an evolving world, it is impossible to imagine that things have an internal independent ability to exist forever (even if we imagine that there is no destructive influence on them). It is also unclear to me whether all objects should have existential inertia? Probably everything. Otherwise, it is not clear why some things have it, and others do not. But if they all have existential inertia, then it is unclear how evolution occurs. In this case, we must imagine that there must be non-evolving regions in the universe. But is it possible? This is in my amateur opinion.If I understand the essence of this discussion correctly. I have only recently begun to read the Thomists and Dr. Feser.

    1. If I understand the issue correctly, I don't think your argument works. EI maintains objects in existence, not stasis. Objects have to exist before they can evolve. And they are caused to evolve by forces acting on them, in the case of biological evolution, genetic mutation and natural selection. Not that I disagree with Dr. Feser about EI, I just don't think this argument against it works.

    2. Dear Fred, I cannot agree with you. I don't mean just Darwinian evolution. It is obvious that all objects in the universe are subject to evolution (change, transformation, development, periods of life). If they have a special intrinsic quality of simply existing without any external reason, then it is not clear what exactly has such a quality in them? Is the whole object or only its individual parts? If it is an entire object, then it must be unchangeable by itself at least until something destructive from the outside affects it. However, this immutability (stasis is not quite the right word) in a totally changing world looks strange. It exists as long as there are no external influences, but it disappears as soon as something affects the object. I understand that maintaining existence and stasis are different concepts that do not depend on each other. But I'm talking about changeability, the ability to transform and disintegrate. If the whole object simply exists without an external cause, then what exactly exists in it in this way, if it is changeable, transformable and can disintegrate? I intuitively feel that nothing in our world should have existential inertia. Please excuse me if I'm being unclear. I don't know much English and use an electronic translator.

    3. Hey Anon, you seems to be making a similar point to what reasonable is getting at(he commented a bit earlier), but from a diferent direction. You guys seems to be up to something, if things can stay the same unless something destroys them it seems hard to acount to change, for to it to be possible the thing has a certain intrinsic dependence on others.

      It reminds me of Nagarjuna argument against a immutable Atman*. If we have something truly independent, this thing will just not change. This would be why classical theist see only the immutable God as having existential inertia.

      *he tried to refute the idea of substance too, but what he meant by the word was very diferent from what we mean

    4. Dear Talmid, I think you understand me. In short, I meant that the whole pathos of the idea of an evolving world (Darwin's model of the evolution of living organisms is one of the special cases) is that nothing is unchangeable in the world. There are no separate discrete, self-isolated things, but everything flows and is interconnected in one way or another. Everything changes and is impermanent, but in such a world there must be something external to it, which is unchangeable in itself, by its nature. I believe it's God. In any other case, the ability to independently maintain one's own existence must contradict the idea of changeability and dependence on other things. Hindu philosophy is familiar to me to a small extent, so I can't say anything about the unchanging Atman. As far as I know, this is a subjective, individual spiritual principle. If I understand this term correctly, then in this case I also doubt the possibility of an unchangeable subjective beginning.

    5. Hello Talmid. If we are to make clear the notion of God we refer to, it's better to speak of the God of the true religion (the Old Testament and the Church). Christian philosophers only argue in these terms. Non-Christian philosophers have largely combined divine characteristics with others that are incompatible. Aristotle and Plato, despite their insights and valid arguments which we make use of, fall into that category. Even a philosopher can arrive at the existence of God, but only the Church is guaranteed to do so free of error.

    6. Yes, that is what i was thinking. The natural world just is not the type of thing that can have existential inertia because everything below the sun changes and depends on others things.

    7. @Miguel Cervantes

      Hi man, for some reason i did not see your reply so my post from before was to Anon.

      I agree that the pagans failed to have a orthodox concept of oue Father, i don't remember one getting it right. But the whole Feser-Schmid debate is on the level of natural theology, so we are usualy using "god" on a more generic sense, who the pagans could in principle but not in pratice know.

    8. Hello Talmid. Yes, the problem is that the pagan philosophers' "natural theology" was very dodgy to say the least. Roping them in with Christian philosophers under a "classical theism" umbrella because they get some attribute of God (while rejecting others) seems confusing.

    9. I suppose that it can be confusing, but we did learn a bit how to understand the Father thanks to these guys*, so i do think that it is fair to let they be part of the team. Odd members, to be sure, but they tried.

      *on a natural level, in revelation they obviously did not help

  42. Joe has replied to almost every comment on the Thomist Facebook group claiming he has been misrepresented and that both Oppy and Rasmussen agree with him.

  43. Hi Ed,

    Just a friendly suggestion as to one way you could respond to Schmid.

    Briefly: from a physics standpoint, the objects he talks about (e.g. tables, water molecules, or even quantum fields) are not the objects that matter. The object that matters here is the physical system as a whole.

    Noether's first theorem basically says that if a physical system possesses certain kinds of symmetries, then the conservation laws we see in Nature pop out automatically.

    If we consider the cosmos itself as a giant system, then the symmetries it possesses could be considered as its essential properties, which means that for it to lose those symmetries, or in other words, for the conservation laws to fail to hold, would be tantamount to the universe losing its identity (annihilation of the cosmos). Everyday objects like tables or water molecules therefore cannot just disappear or fall apart in the absence of a Divine conserving cause, because if they did, the universe would lose its identity as well. Consequently they must continue behaving as they normally do, until something causes them to change their behavior, and they must continue existing until something causes their destruction.

    Now, this might seem to favor EIT. But here's the catch:

    1. The real reason why everyday objects don't need to be conserved in existence is because of the underlying symmetries of the cosmos. These symmetries are not temporal but atemporal properties of the cosmos as a whole. Thus the real reason why existential inertia holds on the everyday level is not because things have a tendency to continue existing, but because the cosmos has certain time-independent properties.

    2. A Thomist could then argue that even if the cosmos has these atemporal properties, it is still complex, since it has multiple symmetries. As such, it requires a (timeless) simple cause: God. Thus for the cosmos as a whole, it remains true that it will cease to exist unless something [God] positively acts to sustain it in being. Hence at the ultimate level, EET is true, after all.

    I hope that helps.

  44. @David McPike - I believe that the Saint to whom you refer is Athanasius, though I can't qupote a reference.

  45. To Dr. David McPike's July 8, 11:12pm post:

    I appreciate your reply. I hope Joe will heed your advice. He's very verbose and over-exuberant, and yes, probably some David vs. Goliath with Dr. Feser. Maybe he will moderate when he enters grad school. Still, he's done well academically to be so young. Now as to his soul, well, Dr. Feser converted at 31, so who knows?

  46. Dr. Feser,

    Does Aristotle himself raise the idea that existence here and now needs to be actualized, or is this a development in Aristotelian/Thomistic thought? I feel like this question is elementary, but I am trying to understand what the argument looked like for Aristotle himself.

    1. As far as I know, the text of Aristotle does not explicitly raise this point, although some Aristotelians would argue that the idea is implicit in Aristotle’s principles. Feser actually addressed several of these issues in an earlier blog post https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2020/02/agere-sequitur-esse-and-first-way.html

    2. Thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for. I do not know how I never saw this post.

  47. "There are two issues here: what accounts for a thing’s identity over time, and what accounts for its persistence in being. Divine conservation is intended to deal with the second issue; again, the first issue is dealt with instead in terms of factors like substantial form, designated matter, etc."

    But identity is just self-unity, and unity is just lack of division in being, so form as principle of identity is (necessarily) also principle of unity, and thus also principle of being (to be is always to be one).

    An argument against [for] EIT

    Finally, Schmid addresses an argument against EIT that I gave in the ACPQ article referred to above. It goes like this:

    1. A cause cannot give what it does not have to give.

    2. A material substance is a composite of prime matter and substantial form.

    3. Something has existential inertia if and only if it has of itself a tendency to persist in existence once it exists.

    4. But prime matter by itself and apart from substantial form is pure potency, and thus has of itself no tendency to persist in existence.

    5. And substantial form by itself and apart from prime matter is a mere abstraction, and thus of itself also has no tendency to persist in existence.

    6. But real substantial form is not a mere abstraction; it is the principle of both identity and being in an existing material thing.

    7. So the tendency of a material substance to persist in existence (once it exists) is grounded in its substantial form, i.e., in the very nature of existing substantial form as such.

    1. Does Prime Matter exist or not?
      If it doesn't exist, it is nothing, but if it does exist, how can it not persist?

      I have never encountered any serious attempt to explain in what way potency differs from nothing.

    2. It does exist, but the question is about its mode(s) of existence. PM is very similar to energy within modern physics. Energy exists, but never as just energy. Would you demand to be shown a test tube full of pure energy, before you accept that energy exists? No, because energy is real, but is always actualized in a particular way and never as just energy itself. Same goes for prime matter.

    3. Walter, Prime matter does not exist in its own, it is an abstraction. It exist "actualized" as it were.

    4. "if it does exist, how can it not persist?"

      There is something to this, since prime matter is the principle of continuity/conservation in change, it is that which persists through substantial change. Without it all substantial change (one substance ceasing to be and another beginning to be) would be annihilation and/or creation ex nihilo (presumably implying some kind of occasionalism). So it is it's nature to persist, and it can only not persist if it is (supernaturally) annihilated.

  48. To his credit, Joe comes across a nice guy who has seriously engaged with the material. But his arguments in these two articles are very poor, and it is surprising that A. so many people online are impressed by them and B. they got past peer review in their current form. How nobody called out the need to address the circularity objection is beyond me.

  49. I feel schmided when Ed does not post after six days

  50. Man, I'm saddened when I see the existential inertia thesis defended by an appeal to some intrinsic power or property possessed by a thing. Predominantly because it just shows how radically different Thomistic metaphysics to analytic metaphysics and the begged questions at issue.

    Oppy and Schmid et al need to deal with the nature of the essence/existence distinction, for it isn't a question of whether a thing has some property to continue in existence, but that the things essence is literally nothing without the divine act of bestowing its act of existence.

  51. Are we saying that if substances necessarily require sustaining in being then God cannot create a self-sustaining substance in exactly the same sense that God can't make 2+2=5? A self-sustaining substance that isn't God is self-contradictory?

    So, for example, God could not create an infinitely old universe which contained no potential changes and then step back? If he stepped back it would immediately slip out of existence in precisely the same way that 2+2 cannot equal 5 and there is nothing He could do to stop that happening?

    I can't get my head around that. The argument seems to require a system containing change but I don't see how God necessarily needs to make things that change so a valid model should also account for a complete system in which change never occurs. Can the same argument be set out to account for how existence cannot be self-sustaining in an unchanging universe, void of potential from the point of creation (which could potentially be outside of time)?

    1. If two planets eternally orbit each other, then why couldn't just one of the planets continue to orbit by itself, if (per impossibile, given the assumption of eternal orbit) the other one goes away?

      "So, for example, God could not create an infinitely old universe which contained no potential changes and then step back?"

      What would his "stepping back" consist in? I think if you think it through, you'll realize the very notion is nonsensical/empty. There's nothing it could intelligibly refer to consistent with your scenario.

    2. For clarity, the "Tony" who posted this question at 4:54am on 7-12 is not the USUAL "Tony" who posts around these here parts. The latter (i.e. me) is a life-long Thomist, and would never have ventured a hypothesis of a material universe "void of potential" or "outside of time".

      @ Tony of 4:54am: Under our CURRENT understanding of matter, there is nothing in the universe that is free of some sort of change or potential. Perhaps you might approach to something close to like that if posit a universe consisting of, exactly, one proton. But even there, there is the possibility of it dis-membering into its notionally separate quarks.

      More importantly, it is metaphysically problematic to suppose God creating a physical universe with no change, for there would need to be some end or purpose to the thing(s)in being, and (at least so far as we know) physical beings need to move and change to achieve an end. No change would either imply no fruition (an dead-end evil), or an end achieved in the very state in which it is created - but we know of no such sort.

      More realistically, the Thomistic view of the physical universe includes the possibility of the HIGHEST such creatures (i.e., man) who can COME TO KNOW GOD AND LOVE HIM, and this implies a change, for such a creature cannot be created loving God, it needs to be a free ACT. And this implies a space and environment in which can occur the free act. A wholly dead universe is abhorrent.

    3. Tony,

      God cannot create a creature which does not have distinct act of existence conjoined to its essence; for a thing to sustain itself in being would require the lack of distinction between essence and existence, and hence, is imposssible since it wouldn't be a creature.

  52. If a thing's essence is literally nothing without the divine act of bestowing its act of existence, then how is there an essence*existence distinction?
    As far as I know 0 (nothing) + 1 (the divine act of bestowing its act of existence) = 1. It is not 2.
    The reason why Oppy and Schmid are talking about existential inertia as an instrinsic property of things is because they obviously do not believe that God bestows existence to a non-existing essence.
    It is actually the essence-existence distinction that leads to vicious circularity because existence can only be said to be added to essence if essence already exists. etc.

    1. Analogy:

      The essence of an artwork/music/house exists in the mind of the artist/musician/architect. When the artist/musician/architect created the creation, the essence of the artwork/music/house has conjoined with existence. The artwork/music/house now exists extra-mentally.


      johannes y k hui

    2. "existence can only be said to be added to essence if essence already exists."

      Iow, what Parmenides said: Nothing comes to be from what is not, for what is not is nothing, and nothing comes from nothing; and nothing comes to be from what is, for what is already is, and can't come to be. So whatever is, fully is, and nothing comes to be.

    3. Johannes

      In that case the essence is a potential residing in the artist.
      If we extend that analogy to God, we get that the essence of a creature resides in God as a potentiality to which existence is then added.
      But that means God has potency.

    4. Walter, have you examined the arguments for the real distinction?

    5. Walter

      The form of a painting does not exist potentially in the the artist's mind; it exists actually in the artist's mind. Rather, the form of the painting exists potentially in the paint. The paint receives the accidental form of being a painting.

  53. Does anyone want to take a crack at Joe's new post? It's a comprehensive summary of his previous posts.


    He claims over and over that he has been misrepresented. I personally don't think Feser misrepresented him. But maybe someone smarter than me can point it out? Where is he getting the idea that he was misrepresented from?


  54. At the most fundamental level of our physical world, there does not seem to be any Existential Inertia. The quantum particles keep popping in and out of existence even when there is no physical interaction or when no other physical entity destroy them.

    These quantum entities do not persist in existence but would cease existence even when no other physical entity destroy them.

    The quantum physicist Nagel Cundy wrote:

    “In a quantum world, then, existential inertia seems to a have problem, while divine conservation is fully consistent with it. One cannot postulate that things have an inherent tendency to continue to exist in the same state when they don't always continue to exist in the same state, even when there is no physical interaction.”



    johannes y k hui