Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Perfect world disorder


My essay “Perfect World Disorder” appears today at The Postliberal Order.  You can read it here (though a subscription is required in order to read the whole thing).  Good time to subscribe!

36 comments:

  1. Take away the final cause, and you take away the intelligibility of the whole, and of the parts qua parts of the whole. You take away order.

    The final cause of reproduction of a species is to perpetuate itself. But of course, to perpetuate something, it first has to exist. According to our ateleological evolutionist friends, there are no species to begin with. Which is kinda curious, because their Holy Book's name is On The Origin of Species.

    Now, their fancy theory says that (non-existent) species compete against each other, so the most successful species will leave more descendants and displace others. But descendants of what? No one knows, because those species are nowhere to be found, except inside the mind of certain H. sapiens sapiens (which is another example of a species that both exists and does not exist at the same time).

    And that's what happens when you believe you are more intelligent than Aristotle and erase final causality from the picture.

    Return to FORM and then your theory will make sense, evolutionists. That's your only chance.

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  2. The fruitless search of the modern Western mind for essences:

    1. Neurocentrism: "you are your brain". False.
    2. Identity politics: "you are your skin color, your sexual preference or your annoying purple/ fucsia hair color". False
    3. Transgenderism: "you are not a brain, you are some sort of Cartesian soul trapped in a body". False.

    Truth: we are hylemorphic compounds, body+soul inextricably linked. All equal in dignity but very diverse in real life. That grounds the existence of Human Rights. Rational soul = grounds the practice and success of science.

    Veganism/vegetarianism: a nod to Aristotle that there are different natures (animals being sensible and therefore they should not be eaten, plants insensible/ no suffering therefore allowed). Sensitive and vegetative soul.

    Aristotle was right. And materialists are frothing at the mouth.

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    Replies
    1. I can't wait until the day scientists prove that plants can feel pain, so that it is established once and for all that you can't have life without suffering and so all the vegans would shut up.

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    2. @ Infinite Growth:

      They respond by saying that *even* if plants had feelings, you are cutting a lot of pain by eliminating animals from the food supply. And even if plants had feelings, their suffering would not be equiparable to that of animals. They measure all suffering as compared to ours. We are the archetype. It's obviously a religion with its halal / forbidden component and some sort of purity undertones.

      Humans need religion. And right now the West is a mess. People are clinging to almost anything.

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    3. @UncommonDescent

      " Neurocentrism: "you are your brain"."

      That reminds me of an e-mail I sent to Ed back in 2019 more or less - when I first discovered his wonderful blog and work ...back then I used the term neuroatheism - referring specifically to Sam Harris ''book'' labeled free will. But I liked your term neurocentrism and I will friendly steal that apt-term from you :)

      "Truth: we are hylemorphic compounds, body+soul inextricably linked"

      One thing that I can't possibly understand about the "science guys"/antirealists of a sort is the fact that they treat the human body as a "separated thing". I mean, they don't think that the human body is one and only one compound - in other words, they despise body essential unity. They treat the body as if it were the cells that are in some sense 'individuals' that we're 'co-opted' by natural selection to work together, so at the end of the day, our unity is (by applying a bunch of sophistry 'based on science') nothing but an accidental one. But this to me - even though they might think they're geniuses and we are just a bunch of idiots - seems schizophrenic at best.

      I would love to talk about this specifically with Ed if someday we could arrange to do a Q&A or a video talking about A-T Meta - specifically to bring that content to Brazil in a special way. But, with my rudimentary way of thinking I would argue that our parts don't really pre-exist us in any relevant sense, they don't have any ontological independence apart from the whole, and that they have an inherent subservient nature to the body - so it doesn't really make any sense at all to treat them as separated things. You can talk about different body parts, but you can't say that they are arranged there in any way like a computer part.

      And I don't think that there is any 'magical' argument of the sort like "oh, but we do not even know or understand the nature of the universe/humans, etc.. so how can you know for sure that that is really true?". I think that any magical or sophistry arguments like that can't work because there isn't any other way around the problem in the first place. Or the parts are independent of the whole or they're not - there is no turnaround from this. And any 'new' discovery from science or any new scientific discovery in two hundred years from now would change that. Aristotle already settle the problem at least 2 hundred years.

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    4. @ Tadeo:

      But I liked your term neurocentrism and I will friendly steal that apt-term from you.

      Feel free :)

      And any 'new' discovery from science or any new scientific discovery in two hundred years from now would change that.

      Materialist's escape to the future always makes me laugh. "Yes, we have badly messed up phil of mind, but some future miracle will come to our rescue". Yeah, sure, materialists. Keep dreaming. You dishonest creatures.

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    5. UncommonDescent,

      "Materialist's escape to the future always makes me laugh. 'Yes, we have badly messed up phil of mind, but some future miracle will come to our rescue'."

      Considering the magic ingredient in the supposed "hylemorphic compound" this accusation against materialism always makes me smile.

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    6. @ Don Jindra:

      Considering the magic ingredient in the supposed "hylemorphic compound"

      What "magic" are you talking about? Your side is the one which has an overactive imagination (bacteria can play the violin if you allow for enough time to pass :) Your side is the one who proudly visits the zoo because your family members are there awaiting you :)

      The "magic" of hylemorphism can explain lots of things about reality:

      - abstract thinking (which is the basis of all science)
      - human dignity (which supports the existence and promotion of Human Rights)
      - the existence of objective morality (not that feeble evolutionary substitute that you have concocted to yourselves)
      - the existence of species (which your master Darwin could not explain, the guy was an intellectual mess, he wrote a book titled On The Origin of Species while denying their reality. A sad joke indeed. But as Peter A. Redpath has explained, Darwin was "intellectually sloppy")
      - the existence of free will (no, I did not write this post because my neurochemicals forced me to do so, I wrote it because I chose to)

      While your side has the non-sense of "we are purposeless bags of chemicals" and "great-great-great-grandpa was a slime mold" :)

      "Magic" did you say? Yeah, sure.

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    7. UncommonDescent,

      It's no explanation to claim the "immortal self" did my abstract thinking. It offers no "how." It offers no mechanism. It offers no predictive ability. It offers no detectable connection to anything physical. There is no way to distinguish it from witchcraft, the gods, or even you from me. There is no identifiable "self" to do any abstract thinking.

      How do you propose to find human dignity in hylemorphism except in its presentation through our physical behavior? You might as well say weight has dignity. It's like saying there's dignity in every participant receiving a blue ribbon for participation. There is no way to measure excellence via a nebulous, non-physical ingredient. We may call it a "soul" but that does no more than muddle up the matter.

      How do you propose to prove this non-physical ingredient has any inclination toward morality? Or is morality itself?

      Evolution explains the "how" in the existence of species. So you're just wrong about that. It could be that the explanation is wrong. It's likely the explanation is partially wrong. But at least it's an honest attempt.

      How do you propose to prove any connection between free will (or simply will) and your non-physical ingredient? Where does its drive for choice come from? You cannot claim it's there as a gift, or a mode of being (aka, it's there magically), which is all you have, imo.

      It's far better to admit we don't yet know the answers to some of these questions. That's the only hope in finding (or even choosing to seek) true answers.

      My main problem with hylemorphism (or any form of dualism) is that it explains nothing and can never do so. It merely sweeps nagging questions under a rug.

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    8. @ Don Jindra:

      (Part I)

      It's no explanation to claim the "immortal self" did my abstract thinking.

      If that were an unsupported claim, you would be right. If instead of an unsupported claim it is a reasoned conclusion, around which a whole metaphysical system hinges, then that's very different. The A-Thomist does not capriciously
      claim that the immaterialiy of intellect is necessary. Both Aristotle and St. Thomas spent literally hundreds of pages, whole books really, to support that conclusion.

      If our minds were wholly material, we could never attain knowledge. Materialism can not explain the unity of the intellect, nor can it explain the levels of abstraction that the human mind can attain, which are the basis of scientific knowledge. It's always the same appeal to the "uh-powers of the brain" and the "marvels of Natural Selection". And yet, only one species among the billions that Evolution has spawned can understand the meaning of "Evolution". There's no Darwin among members of the animal kingdom. Monkeys eat bananas and throw feces, but that's all. Monkeys do not discuss if abortion or rape are evil. No immateriality = absence of knowledge.

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    9. (Part II)

      It offers no "how".


      It does. Apprehension of the substantial form. Not of the accidents, as Hume said. It's the apprehension of what underlies them, what's beneath them, what marks the difference. The knowledge of the true nature or essence of things is the province of the human soul, which as I have mentioned, no other animal, during 4.5 billion years of evolutionary processes has ever dreamt of. It's not in their nature. Animals could not care less about writing Treatises Regarding Animal Understanding or books about their origins. The divide is ontological. It's us and them.

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    10. UncommonDescent,

      I've been in and out of here for many years. I've seen the "reasoned" argument in many variations. The variations all rest on something that can never be proven either directly or indirectly, and they usually demand acceptance of a proposition that's either highly questionable or downright false. We will disagree on what is necessary to claim knowledge. I look at the epistemology of the followers here and all I see are assertions masked as reasoning, dead-ends, and failures. I look at an epistemology that depends only on the material world and I see great successes. It's easy for me to choose which is best.

      "If our minds were wholly material, we could never attain knowledge" -- That's an assertion. It's impossible to prove that.

      "Materialism can not explain the unity of the intellect" -- There is a difference between "materialism can never explain the unity of the intellect" and "materialism has not yet explained the unity of the intellect." Your problem is that it's impossible to prove the former while it is possible to prove the later. Your philosophy is a defeatist philosophy. It builds failure into its ideology. You assume there is no answer therefore you stop looking.

      "nor can it explain the levels of abstraction that the human mind can attain, which are the basis of scientific knowledge."

      Abstraction is not a problem. Computers already perform forms of abstraction. Maybe you mean "understanding abstractions." What will you say when computers do understand abstractions? But even more to the point, how does your immaterial "soul" understand abstractions? This is another thing that's impossible to explain and I don't recall anyone on your side even trying. Your attempt at that is inept. You're not even trying. "Apprehension of the substantial form" is just a redefinition. "Apprehension of what underlies them, what's beneath them" is not a how. You're merely re-framing the issue. "The knowledge of the true nature or essence of things is the province of the human soul" is pure assertion and has nothing to do with a how.

      "And yet, only one species among the billions that Evolution has spawned can understand the meaning of 'Evolution'."

      It only takes one. You have no point here. Humans cannot fly. It does not follow that therefore evolution is incapable of producing animals that fly. It's irrelevant that we happen to be the smartest of animals. Some animals do understand things. One only has to play ball with a dog to realize that. Monkeys are smarter than dogs. To claim they can only eat bananas and throw feces is so wrong it makes me wonder if you're trying to be amusing -- not that there is anything wrong with trying to be amusing.

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    11. @ Anonymous (Don Jindra):

      The variations all rest on something that can never be proven either directly or indirectly.

      It can be proven and it has been proven. If you abandonan immateriality and the substantial form, the world becomes unintelligible. If you abandon substantial form, you are forced into a representationalist theory of mind. If you are forced into a representationalist theory of mind, you can not claim knowledge about reality. If you affirm that reality is out of bonds, you have lost.

      I look at an epistemology that depends only on the material world and I see great successes.

      Living inside a represantionalist theatre is the opposite of "success". It's an outright admission of failure.

      We will disagree on what is necessary to claim knowledge.

      Knowledge is adequatio rei et intellectu. Materialism has "I am forever locked inside my brain and the external world is unknowable". It does not sound good. It sounds self-refuting.

      There is a difference between "materialism can never explain the unity of the intellect" and "materialism has not yet explained the unity of the intellect".

      Binding problem. Please explain how to solve it *without* appeals to the (magical) future. The hylemorphist can explain the unity of the intellect, and does not shy away from it. We're comfortable with what we've got. We do not need to "wait" for anything.

      Your philosophy is a defeatist philosophy.

      No, it's a rationalist one who understands that a contradiction can not be sustained. What can not be, can not be. The real, knowable, accesible world is out there, waiting to be navigated and explained. And materialism is certainly NOT the tool to navigate it.

      Maybe you mean "understanding abstractions." What will you say when computers do understand abstractions?

      Assertion based on an unknown future. You can not *prove* it is going to happen. See how you always need to escape and imagine things. Computers (artifacts) do not have souls. Binding problem again. They are not wholes. They do not "apprehend" anything. That's why materialism is a dead end.

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    12. @ Anonymous (Don Jindra):

      (Part II)

      But even more to the point, how does your immaterial "soul" understand abstractions?

      Because immateriality can apprehend immateriality. And universals are immaterial. That's why under materialism they vanish into a puff of smoke. If by "how" you mean "it has to be explained in terms of efficient causation because the materialist dogma only allows efficient causation", then I could not care less. It's you who has to explain why patterns of formal causation can not exist. Dogmatist assertions from the cultural zeitgeist do not count. And since materialism is Humean, your opportunities to explain anything about causation are close to nil.

      Your attempt at that is inept.

      At least I have a *current* explanation. You have "please scientist from the future, come to rescue me from this nightmare!" Which is dishonest and laughable.

      It only takes one. You have no point here. Humans cannot fly. It does not follow that therefore evolution is incapable of producing animals that fly.

      Your side is very fond of "convergent evolution". There's zero convergent evolution towards abstract thinking. That we have an immaterial component is a valid explanation for this anomaly. Invocating the "uh-oh-powers of Natural Selection" is certainly NOT an explanation. How did it do it? "Because Natural Selection selects and we got selected". Lolol. That's massive handwaving. What's the mechanism that your pseudo-scientific goddes-like entity employs to shape biological forms?

      Some animals do understand things.

      Prove it.

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    13. UncommonDescent,

      "If you abandon an immateriality and the substantial form, the world becomes unintelligible."

      How does immateriality make anything better understood? You're making an assertion that brings no intelligibility to the table. I'd like you to explain how I need to believe in a phantom "substance" to make cause and effect intelligible.

      "If you abandon substantial form, you are forced into a representationalist theory of mind."

      I doubt abandoning substantial form forces me into any model. But what is so distasteful about a representationalist theory of mind? It certainly does not prevent me from claiming some knowledge about reality. We do not need to directly perceive an object to understand things about an object. We do not need to be the moon to understand the moon circles the earth, or that it's not made of cheese. A representationalist theory of mind does not affirm reality is out of bounds. It merely holds that we have to understand reality indirectly, through models. I don't have to be a rock to know at what speed a rock falls. Models are not a detriment to understanding. They are probably the only way to understand. They are probably the only practical way a brain could cope with the infinite particulars in reality. The gracious Mr. Feser makes this admission when he talks about triangles.

      If you insist that indirect knowledge cannot be knowledge then you destroy your own theory of reality. You cannot directly perceive immateriality. You have no direct access to forms. You require a representationalist theory in order to posit your non-representationalist theory.

      "Living inside a representionalist theatre is the opposite of "success". It's an outright admission of failure."

      That's empirically false. You're communicating with me on technology that's built on a representationalist theater. If you believe I exist you believe a model of me you have created based on my posts in this forum. The "representionalist" technology, not immateriality, has allowed a glimpse into me. You cannot know the real me through any dualist or non-dualist theory. No theory is going to put you into my head. I don't need anyone else in my head. But if you demand that sort of reality you will be disappointed. :)

      "Knowledge is adequatio rei et intellectu." [Truth is agreement of thing and intellect.] -- I do not have a problem with that in general. But what you mean by agreement is probably different from what I mean by agreement. I do not believe I am forever locked inside my brain and the external world is unknowable. The brain is designed to get to know the real world. There is a big difference between "unknowable" and not 100% knowable. Besides, your immateriality is not knowable. Your theory cannot claim omniscience. You are in the same boat with me no matter how much you protest otherwise.

      "Please explain how to solve it *without* appeals to the (magical) future."

      The future is all too real to the living. To claim it's magic is weird. I'd like elaboration on that. Of course I cannot prove what we will know in the future. But I can prove we as humans have consistently learned more as years go by, and learned it through a materialist navigation. Don't tell me you are unfamiliar with this trend. Don't tell me you believe this trend will come to a screeching halt.

      "The hylemorphist can explain the unity of the intellect"

      That's false. It certainly does not explain the binding problem. I know you're comfortable with what you've got. That's the problem. You've got nothing and are comfortable with it.

      "[Computers] are not wholes. They do not 'apprehend' anything. That's why materialism is a dead end."

      That statement is based on a "dead end" view of technology.

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    14. UncommonDescent,

      "Because immateriality can apprehend immateriality."

      That assertion is no different than me saying 'Immateriality cannot apprehend immateriality" or "Materiality can apprehend materiality."

      "And universals are immaterial."

      That's an assertion that I think has been proven false with computers. For example, computers can now identify faces in pictures. That's application of a universal. Universals are not the problem any more. You are falling into a new "god of the gaps" problem. Your realm of the impossible keeps shrinking.

      "It's you who has to explain why patterns of formal causation can not exist."

      Why? Causation exists. That's all that's needed. I don't have to explain why something that's not needed cannot exist. I say simply, it's irrelevant whether it can (or does) exist or not.

      "You have 'please scientist from the future, come to rescue me from this nightmare!' Which is dishonest and laughable."

      It's dishonest to claim a problem has been solved when it has not been solved, no matter who does it. Regardless, it's curious that you would describe the materialist situation as a nightmare. Do you demand omniscience to be comfortable? The nightmare is not uncertainty. It's not temporary (admitted) ignorance. A false sense of certainty is the most likely nightmare scenario.

      "There's zero convergent evolution towards abstract thinking."

      I don't know what point you're trying to make here. As I've already said, it's simply a fact that computers act on abstract models. You can complain that this is not "thinking." I would mostly agree. But that's just a snapshot in time.

      "Invocating the 'uh-oh-powers of Natural Selection' is certainly NOT an explanation. How did it do it?"

      Need to survive is a big why, and it's part of the how. It may not be a sufficient answer, but contrasting this with the non-answer you're suggesting does you no good.

      We need to prove some animals do understand things? Dogs are a good source. I used to run on nearly abandoned country roads. Every now and then I'd be confronted by a dog that didn't like me running by their house. It would charge. I'd reach down for a rock and prepare to throw it. The dog would stop. It understood what the end result would be if it came any closer.

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    15. Don Jindra:

      1. How does immateriality make anything better understood?

      Because matter is divisible and the subject of change. Immateriality is stability and wholeness. If we need wholes capable of understanding and able to apprehend things, matter, per its own definition, can not fit the bill. A scientist that is a "bag of chemicals" is constantly in motion, in a Heraclitean flux. So if a scientist sets up an experiment, he/she will not be the same when the experiment gets started and when the experiment finishes. If the scientist is not the same, he won't be able to understand what he was doing. Also, the materials he was employing won't be the same. So science becomes futile. The world becomes unintelligible. You need some anchor, and the substantial form fits the bill. Greeks had this discussion 2500+ years ago.

      2. I'd like you to explain how I need to believe in a phantom "substance" to make cause and effect intelligible.

      Because if forms exist, natures exist. The world is ordered, and things act according to their ends. Causation is the study of those relations. In your imaginative philosophy, causation is IMPOSED by our neuronal tissue upon the world. If it were not because lots of academics take this absurdity seriously, I would think it's a bad joke.

      3. I doubt abandoning substantial form forces me into any model.

      Then you have not studied enough philosophy of mind :)

      4. But what is so distasteful about a representationalist theory of mind? It certainly does not prevent me from claiming some knowledge about reality.

      Of course it does prevent you. A representation is NOT reality (the name is very explicit). It's an screen of perception. ALL incoming information is filtered through it. Including the sense data of you having a physical body with a brain. And no human can escape this filter. Representationalism is born from physicalist theories (Parmenides and Empedocles). Aristotle corrected that mistake. And St. Thomas perfected Aristotle's theory.

      And, ironically, materialism when properly understood collapses into subjective idealism.
      https://strangenotions.com/naturalisms-epistemological-nightmare/

      A "material mind" is non-sense. Materialism is not a serious philosophy. It's popular, but horribly flawed.

      5. You cannot directly perceive immateriality. You have no direct access to forms. 

      Directly, not. But indirectly, through the accidents of individuals, we can. Intentiones non-sensate. And that's because we are properly disposed towards forms. Abandon this disposition and we enter Cartesian, Lockean and Humean skepticism. Aristotle and St. Thomas were NOT skeptics, but externalists and realists. Reality was their turf (although they knew that perception can err and that illusions exist. But for the most part, we apprehend reality and damn well we do). With the "moderns", the world becomes a psychiatric ward. Not a good move.

      6. They are probably the only practical way a brain could cope with the infinite particulars in reality.

      Forms and natures solve the problem. Particulars are contained inside the "boxes" of natural kinds (universals). We do not need an infinite classificatorial scheme. That would be unachievable. Universals are the models embedded in the fabric of Nature. And we are good at apprehending them. That's why we are scientists and philosophers. And that's why the rest of species are not.

      7. The gracious Mr. Feser makes this admission when he talks about triangles.

      The gracious Mr. Feser knows that point 6 is true. We do not need to "cope" and we are more than our brains.

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    16. 8. If you insist that indirect knowledge cannot be knowledge then you destroy your own theory of reality. You cannot directly perceive immateriality. You have no direct access to forms.

      Indirect and "representationalist" are not the same. St. Thomas spent a great deal of time to clarify this point in his philosophy of mind. Through the accidents of individuals, we can reach the form (via intentiones non-sensate). And that's because we are properly disposed towards forms. Abandon this disposition and we enter Cartesian, Lockean and Humean skepticism. Aristotle and St. Thomas were NOT skeptics, but externalists and realists. Reality was their turf (although they knew that perception can err and that illusions exist. But for the most part, we apprehend reality and damn well we do). With the "moderns", the world becomes a psychiatric ward. Not a good move.

      9. No theory is going to put you into my head.

      St. Thomas's theory of intentionality does exactly that. I can apprehend your form but not your matter. And you have the form of "humanity" (or you could be an advanced chat-bot). But even if you were, a human would have had to program you. Derived intentionality.

      10. The brain is designed to get to know the real world.

      Under materialistic evolution, not at all. We are plagued by all sorts of illusions, cognitive biases and faulty design. That's the gist of Plantinga's EEAN. "Natural Selection" is dumb. And dumb + billions of years keeps being dumb. Believing otherwise is believing in miracles. But Darwin + Aristotle is fine. That's a nice alliance.

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    17. 11. Your theory cannot claim omniscience. You are in the same boat with me no matter how much you protest otherwise.

      Of course it can not. Omniscience pertains only to God. But it can claim enough reliability to be confident about studying The Book of Nature. Our side is on a luxurious yacht and your side is on a raft :)

      12. Of course I cannot prove what we will know in the future.

      But you do all the time! Computers will rule the world!

      Don't tell me you believe this trend will come to a screeching halt.

      Hume's problem of induction. Maybe tomorrow matter will start to behave in an unexpected manner. Maybe tomorrow our brains will start to grow spurts :) I believe in laws, natures and the universality of our knowledge. Because God is no deceiver. "Natural Selection"? She is the Demiurge, an evil and capricious creative force. Wouldn't trust that lady even in a billion evolutionary years :)

      13. That's false. It certainly does not explain the binding problem.

      It does, per definition. The soul is immaterial, therefore there's no need to "bind" anything. Matter is particular and fragmentary. Immateriality is wholesome per its own nature. You don't "cut" or "paste" or "shrink" a substantial form.

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    18. 14. That statement is based on a "dead end" view of technology.

      And yours is based in "one day computers will be God".

      I am not going to reply to your second post paragraph by paragraph because Professor Feser is a busy man and I find discorteous to keep writing exceedingly long posts. Just a brief question: those "universals" that you say computers can apprehend, are you saying they do exist but are material? Not sure I understood your comment.

      Also I have to catch a plane. Let's hope metal won't transmute itself into cheese midflight à la Hume. :)

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    19. UncommonDescent,

      1.

      I probably admire the ancient Greeks as much as anyone. They were not of one mind. They got much wrong. But mostly, I believe, they got people to think. I see this as their strength. It's why they're still relevant.

      We could probably spend days on Heraclitean flux alone. Heraclitus himself wasn't very clear. I doubt he was talking about the immateriality you are. But I'm not going to pursue that.

      You say immateriality is stability. I wonder how you'll prove immateriality is stable. Regardless, you say a scientist changes across experiments. Probably so. I suppose that's the point of the experiment -- to gain knowledge and therefore change for the better. We humans pretty much agree we are not perfect. So how much stability is desirable in this circumstance? IMO, a desire to remain the same is not an obvious good. I desire to change toward the good. If immateriality is stability, maybe immateriality is not so good for us. If it is "the good" why doesn't it steer us away from our faults? Why isn't it good enough? Why does it take the scientist's experiment to change us rather than relying on the immateriality to work its magic by itself? And if it does work its magic, hasn't it become the agent of change? That's a paradox -- the stability of immateriality becomes the agent of change -- that is, it mocks stability.

      You say if the scientist is not the same, he won't be able to understand what he was doing. That is a non sequitur. He may be better able to understand what he was doing. Change in itself does not imply confusion. It does not imply a worsening condition. It does not imply total change. A rock changes nanosecond by nanosecond. But it still hangs onto its rockness. Maybe that's all Heraclitus was trying to convey. The whole has to consider a thing's changing nature. Change, not immateriality, is part of the whole. Change is the only permanence, the ultimate whole.

      You say immateriality is wholeness. It cannot be wholeness if it requires the material to form a whole. Maybe you mean we cannot consider the whole without considering immateriality? If so, I always have to ask why you think so? How can something that has no practical way of affecting me be required to complete me? How am I supposed to react to this immateriality? What difference is it supposed to make in my life? How would I know it's behind the curtains of my every thought? How would my thoughts change (or not change!) because of it? The bottom line for me is always going to boil down to this question: How can something that I can never know at all be a factor in my life (or reality)?

      2 & 3.

      In my philosophy, causation is not imposed by our neuronal tissue upon the world. The world does not care what we think about it. It goes about its business no matter how much we protest. I don't need to study philosophy of mind or Hume or anyone else to tell me what to think. I am not a conduit for discussions with those people.

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    20. UncommonDescent,

      4.

      A representation is not reality. We can agree on that much. But you seem to draw the conclusion that a representation has no likeness to the original.

      The representational model is not meant to obscure reality, yet you seem to suggest that's exactly what it does. A filter may exclude important information, but it may also limit noise in the input. A good filter is designed to pass through as much of the signal as is practical while attenuating noise.

      But you avoided the problem. Your alternative is no alternative. The only way to avoid modelling reality is to be that reality. This is impossible. The observer of everything cannot be the everything observed. You can never be omniscient and that is your only way out of the problem.

      Your link to Strange Notions begins with this falsehood: "Metaphysical or philosophical naturalism insists that only entities empirically verifiable by natural science exist, which excludes all supernatural beings, especially God. The truth value of all scientific statements depends strictly upon empirical verification. Since God is not empirically verifiable, He does not exist."

      That may be the position of some, but it is not my position and it is not a necessary conclusion. This article begins with the most common mistake theists make. They turn indifference into a necessarily positive statement. It's true I do not believe in the supernatural. But it does not follow that I argue there cannot be a supernatural. I simply argue, it makes no difference. It can never be proven. It's not a credible factor in my life. It cannot be relied upon for any effect in the natural world, the world in which we live. So why should I care about it? Why should I care what you or anyone else says about it? My only care is when people use it as an unassailable political ideology which, unfortunately, is almost always the underlying motive.

      Your link further states: "The immanent logic of scientific materialism forces the conclusion that what we actually know by empirical verification is not the external world at all, but some sort of presumed image or neural representation of it inside our heads...."

      It's ironic that believers in the per se "hand-stick-rock" causal chain could offer spin like that. Is that causal chain real or not? Is the pressure the rock "feels" real? You cannot have it both ways. The perceptions we sense are real. They are caused by real events (excluding drug induced insanity and the like).

      Yet I have to come back to the fact that your side offers nothing better. Immateriality is not part of that causal chain, or if it is, there is no way to verify it. We have less access to the supposed reality of your alternative. You cannot overthrow our system for a less accessible system. Flaws are not on one side only.

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    21. @ Don Jindra:

      I will reply to what you have written, but I am busy and it will be in a few days.

      May the neurochemicals of patience be with you!

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    22. @ Don Jindra:

      You say immateriality is stability. I wonder how you'll prove immateriality is stable.

      I abide by my definitions (A-T tradition). Prime matter is the subject of change. Prime matter is pure potentiality, always "hungry" to take on new forms. That's why our world is in constant change, but there are pockets of stability. Forms can "rein in matter" for some time, but not eternally. That's entropy, which has been empirically proved. And that's why "evolution" is a fact*. Living matter tests and mutates and conquers, from little bacteria to humble butterflies to gigantic T. rexes. That's why no matter how many extinction events have occurred, life has kept being a "thing". 4.5 billion years and it has not stopped, even for a second. As Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park said, "life finds a way" :) And if someone knew about prime matter and change, both substantial and accidental, it was Aristotle and the Scholastics. And St. Thomas was the best among them.

      If by "proof" you mean "in a laboratory", that can not be done, because our senses are adapted to our physical environment. But we have transcended that sensual physicality with our minds. And our minds grasp philosophy and the validity of philosophical proof. Empiricism is a philosophical thesis, and you materialists put it forward all the time.

      *But not evolution under mechanistic premises. Without act and potency, it becomes unintelligible. That's why Darwin's definition of "species" was incoherent. He affirmed and denied their existence at the same time. He confused biological science with metaphysics. And only a polished metaphysics can disentangle the mess. Substance (unity) and change have been the stumbling blocks for humanity since the ancient Greeks. If you stray just a little from the correct path, you get lost and plunge into nominalism. And nominalism is the antithesis of knowledge. That's why our society is being torn apart.

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    23. @ Don Jindra:

      Regardless, you say a scientist changes across experiments. Probably so. I suppose that's the point of the experiment -- to gain knowledge and therefore change for the better.

      It's very interesting terminology you are using. The matter constituting the scientist's body changes (that's what prime matter does as explained above). But his species and substantial (individuating) form do not. The scientist keeps being a human from the beginning of the experiment till its conclusion, and he keeps being the SAME individual. But not because of his matter, which has undergone a myriad changes (including those in his brain). The substantial form is what is doing the job, keeping the individual intact and allowing him to change from a state of ignorance to one of knowledge. The scientist (person) is NOT gone. It will only be gone when he'll undergo another (far more) radical change (which is death).

      "Change for the better".

      Indeed. We humans are thirsty for knowledge. It's in our nature, because we are intellectual creatures. That's why we want to carve reality at its joints and do not accept failure. The acquisition of knowledge is another instance of a transition from potency to act. Every agent acts for an end (perfection or betterment). That's what Aquinas said. And you are using the same terminology he did, although you limit yourself with your materialistic metaphysics. The telos of the intellect is to become actualized with as much knowledge as possible. We aim for the Truth. And dumb "atoms in motion" are NOT the Truth.

      "An obvious good".

      You are more of a Thomist than what you may think! :)

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    24. UncommonDescent,

      Where are the pockets of stability? I'd like to know one unchanging thing in the universe. The only things that may fit the bill are fundamental forces. But these are also agents of change. So it seems to me that the reality of stability or permanence (versus the definition) is paradoxical.

      I don't trust definitions. Definitions can change over time according to ideological and cultural whims.

      I don't believe in "forms" in the platonic (or A-T) sense. The idea strikes me as an attempt to deify the way we humans like to categorize things.

      I had assumed you were anti-evolution but now you suggest you believe in it, at least partially.

      I know empiricism is a philosophical thesis. I would call myself a "mostly empiricist." I don't believe we are "blank slates" waiting for experience to shape all of us. I do believe experience is the ultimate measure of truth. Regardless, we can't help but have some philosophical thesis about truth.

      It's a fact that laboratory experiments tend to lead us toward objective truths about our environment. Our technology is proof enough that our subjectivity can be overcome to a large degree. I don't understand why anyone would dismiss modern science. Hopefully your actual position is more nuanced.

      I don't know what it means to say "we have transcended that sensual physicality with our minds." What does your transcendence look like and how do we know that's what it is? How do we know it's not degeneracy? Can one even get that transcendence without sensual experience?

      You say without act and potency things become unintelligible, but I've always maintained that assertion is trivial at best. Act and potency are subjective ways of looking at things. They do not bring any more intelligibility into an argument than fate does. They cannot sneak in objectivity.

      Nominalism is not the antithesis of knowledge. It's an awareness that though categories are a human way of organizing and talking about the world, there is no reason to think the categories exist independently of us. It's reasonable to claim those whitish things in the sky look similar and behave similarly so we will call them "clouds" for reference, but we still recognize each "cloud" is unique. It serves no practical purpose to name each cloud like we name hurricanes. Maybe knowledge is kind of a balancing act between what we agree on as a category and what we still see as unique. Your rhetoric regarding nominalism reminds me of Weigel's "The Cube and the Cathedral."

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    25. UncommonDescent,

      "The scientist keeps being a human from the beginning of the experiment till its conclusion, and he keeps being the SAME individual. But not because of his matter, which has undergone a myriad changes (including those in his brain)."

      I just went to my 50 year high school reunion. I'm not exactly the same as I was then. But there are many things I learned then, connections I made then, that are still part of me. You seem to be suggesting nothing I experienced then should apply now because I'm materially different; that the only way to explain identity is to locate it separate from my material existence. I don't know why I should agree with you. I don't know why a changing me should mean no part of me remains the same, and I don't know why an "immaterial" me could be called "permanent" when I have made so many changes over those 50 years. For example, my identity then was primarily as an athlete. That's how almost everyone remembered me. My identity now is certainly not as an athlete. That is a distant memory, practically a different person. My identity has not been static. So your "immaterial" self cannot be static either.

      I doubt anyone in my high school class could have predicted my "telos of the intellect." I couldn't have predicted it. I had no interest in computers in high school. I barely knew they existed. I went to college not knowing what I would do. I took classes in a lot of subjects because I liked almost everything. I took a lot of English and philosophy. I finally settled in computer science because I was good at it and it paid. Where was the telos there? We might look backward and say, I was destined to do this rather than that. But at the time, I doubt many people know how they'll live their lives. There is no secret self on autopilot.



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    26. @ Don Jindra:

      Sorry, I have been very busy. I am recapitulating some relevant points to this discussion which have been left behind (lenghty, complex topic). In case you want to continue the debate.

      If immateriality is stability, maybe immateriality is not so good for us. If it is "the good" why doesn't it steer us away from our faults? Why isn't it good enough? Why does it take the scientist's experiment to change us rather than relying on the immateriality to work its magic by itself.

      Because as I have said earlier, knowledge about the world (for us) is mediated by matter (we are obviously not angelic creatures). We have to work, and work hard to get to the essence of things. That's why empirical science is so important. But "important" and "only source of knowledge" are not the same. That was the error of Hume and co.

      A filter may exclude important information, but it may also limit noise in the input.

      The problem is that, according to materialism, we can not escape the filter. There's no vantage point from which to test what passes the filter vs. what is beyond it. Reality remains out of bonds and we have opened the doors to radical skepticism.

      In my philosophy, causation is not imposed by our neuronal tissue upon the world.

      How can we know that causation is not an illusion (another one) foisted upon us by evolutionary processes? Our neurons mediate our knowledge about the world. And how our neurons work is the result of blind selective "forces" in which we did not have a say.

      A rock changes nanosecond by nanosecond. But it still hangs onto its rockness.

      What does "rockness" mean? And if a rock changes "nanosecond by nanosecond", how can it persist?

      I don't trust definitions. Definitions can change over time according to ideological and cultural whims.

      Then you can not trust the definitions of "evolution", "science", "atheism" or "nanosecond". Maybe in the future they will be radically changed. Maybe atheism will mean: "belief in God".

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    27. @ Don Jindra:

      Where are the pockets of stability?

      Those pockets of stability were what Darwin was hinting at with his gradualism. He knew that "something" is reining in matter. That's why he did not propose saltationism (Gould's "hopeful monsters"). That's what we call "species". "Species" are a mean, and certain changes around it are allowed (accidental ones, like skin color, shape of the beaks, lenght of the legs, etc.) That's why monkeys don't give birth to humans or why "crocoducks" do not exist. Change is allowed, but NOT UNLIMITED CHANGE. And form is the solution (that would be your side's "DNA", but DNA is NOT good enough).

      I'd like to know one unchanging thing in the universe. The only things that may fit the bill are fundamental forces.

      The engine of evolution (mutation + NS) has not changed for 4.5 billion years.

      I had assumed you were anti-evolution but now you suggest you believe in it, at least partially.

      No A-Thomist can be anti- "evolution". Evolution means just change, and for us, matter is "hungry for change". The world is in constant motion. But "anything can be everything if you allow for enough time" is a no-no for us. There are limits to change (imposed by the forms). There are restrictions imposed in Nature. And empirical science can certainly help us to understand what is going on BUT backed up by a thoroughgoing metaphysics.

      Our technology is proof enough that our subjectivity can be overcome to a large degree.

      Or maybe we are forced to believe that. Maybe we are not programmed by evolution to know "truth". Maybe "truth" has no meaning at all, and we are like rats in a maze.

      I don't know what it means to say "we have transcended that sensual physicality with our minds."

      We receive information about the exterior world with the help of our senses, but we can know that sometimes they err. If our senses were everything we could rely on, any opinion would be equally valid (Aristotle).

      Nominalism is not the antithesis of knowledge. It's an awareness that though categories are a human way of organizing and talking about the world, there is no reason to think the categories exist independently of us.

      Then "species" are irrelevant. There's no reason to think they exist independently of us. No need to explain their "origin" then. They are not real after all.

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    28. UncommonDescent,

      Gradualism is not stability in the sense that I believe you are talking about. You seem to want some kind of eternal stability. That's how you use form. But I see nothing permanent anywhere therefore nothing to which form gives permanence. Evolution is change. I don't see how a 4.5 billion year process of change can be spun into permanence. When it seems likely that dinosaurs evolved into birds it's hard to see what form actually limits.

      "Maybe we are not programmed by evolution to know 'truth'. Maybe 'truth' has no meaning at all, and we are like rats in a maze."

      I see no reason why immateriality gets you out of this problem.


      "If our senses were everything we could rely on, any opinion would be equally valid (Aristotle)."

      We rely on others' senses too. And much of the time we agree on what we see. The opinion that a rock thrown up will fall down is pretty universal. It doesn't require debate. We reach that opinion as children simply by observing the world.


      ME: "[Nominalism is] an awareness that though categories are a human way of organizing and talking about the world, there is no reason to think the categories exist independently of us."

      YOU: "Then 'species' are irrelevant. There's no reason to think they exist independently of us. No need to explain their "origin" then. They are not real after all."

      You seem to suggest our way of organizing is of no use to us, that our objectives are not real, that ways of reaching our objectives are not real.

      We have nails because we like to build structures out of wood. We have hammers because they are handy at driving nails. But this does not mean hammers and nails had to exist. It does not mean there can't be other ways of building wooden structures. These tools do not exist independently of us. They exist because of their usefulness to us. Words and categories are the same way. We call dogs and cats different species because of different traits. There is no divine rule that says we have to use one set of traits versus another. A virus may "see" dogs and cats as essentially the same "species." But it does not follow that the differences and similarities are not real or that our interests in seeing those differences and similarities are not real.

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    29. UncommonDescent,

      "Because as I have said earlier, knowledge about the world (for us) is mediated by matter (we are obviously not angelic creatures). We have to work, and work hard to get to the essence of things."

      But that doesn't answer my question. Why isn't immateriality good enough to save us from this work? You imply matter guides us in the right direction (if we pay it proper attention), but why doesn't that immaterial part of us do that instead? I want to know what you think immateriality brings to the table. I suppose you could say the immaterial part of us is what makes us want to learn from matter in the proper way. But some people learn improper lessons. So what is different in the two people? How are we to decide which aspect of the whole is untrustworthy?

      I agree "important" and "only source of knowledge" are not the same thing. But I don't claim empiricism is the only source for knowledge. I know a beautiful woman when I see one but I don't see how I could have learned this. A rudimentary selection process must have existed in my head No random series of images (empirical data) could have done that.

      I claim empiricism is the most reliable, most objective source of knowledge we know of. I don't worship at its feet.


      "The problem is that, according to materialism, we can not escape the filter. There's no vantage point from which to test what passes the filter vs. what is beyond it. "

      That's not exactly the way this materialist sees it. We are able to design instruments that are far superior to our senses. We do this because we know we have limitations. The instruments are a common denominator among observers. We have learned that the instruments are far more objective than our personal experience. Prior to that we have learned that many eyes on a subject are better than one pair of eyes. We can reach agreements because we know each individual might get it wrong while an agreeing group of individuals is more likely to be correct. But even that group has to yield to instrument data and rigorous measurements when that is possible. They do not have to yield to well constructed logical/reasoned arguments. Even the best of those are notoriously unreliable.


      "How can we know that causation is not an illusion (another one) foisted upon us by evolutionary processes?"

      We do not have to know in the omniscient sense. We have to know what works to get us what we want. If we want to get to the moon, we rely on an understanding of causation that gets us there. Could this understanding be wrong or incomplete at some fundamental level? It probably is. Nevertheless, it's right enough to get us to the moon.

      Oppose that to the fancy reasoning that gets us to immateriality. How do we know this is not an illusion? What harm does it cause us to assume the conclusion is an illusion? It won't cause us to miss the moon.This is always going to be my ultimate standard. So I, as a materialist, temporarily ignore the part that could be an illusion and stick with the part that is highly unlikely to be an illusion.


      "What does 'rockness' mean? And if a rock changes 'nanosecond by nanosecond', how can it persist?"

      Rockness means what we agree it means at the time. Yes, it's possible that this agreement will vanish at some point. Even with this agreement it's true that the rockness of the rock will eventually disappear. It could turn into sand. Then we might say it's no longer a rock. It does not have to be a permanent rock for us to talk about it or skip it off a pond today. It's not the agreement on the words "science" or "evolution" that's important. It's the practical results we get from applying our understanding of science and evolution that's important.

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  3. Professed Feser, I was hoping if you could direct me to a good book(s) on Ethics from A-T approach, I've read yours but I wanna read a more focused approach to the topic of ethics from the thomistic tradition.

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    1. Ed has recommended some books before, you might like to check it out.

      I quite enjoyed Brian Besong's introduction.

      David Odenberg's books are great, too.

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    2. Much appreciated, found the professor's blog by chance and I've been grateful for it. Learned a heck of a lot from him, got me into a metaphysical tradition outside my own faith group. Here's a hint, they're occasionalists.

      Much appreciated!

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  4. Whatever happened to the blog "Right Reason"? All of those contributors and incredibly interesting posts. A better offering than so many other conservative/libertarian blogs of the time. Just like "Telic Thoughts". Another blog with solid contributions. Just one day it's gone. A shame.

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  5. Hmm..
    I am not completely sure about this, but I think that I commented on this post a couple of days back but it doesn't seem to have shown. I don't remember the point exactly because I was drowsy, but it was something along the lines of Republicans fearing to advocate sound conservative policy.
    I'll address it later again.
    Do posts randomly not show sometimes ?

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