Thursday, June 7, 2012

Oerter on motion and the First Mover

George Mason University physicist Robert Oerter has completed his series of critical posts on my book The Last Superstition.  I responded to some of his remarks in some earlier posts of my own (here and here, with some further relevant comments here and here).  In this post I want to reply to what he says in his most recent remarks about the Aristotelian argument from motion to an Unmoved Mover of the world.

All or some?

The version of the Scholastic principle of causality relevant to the argument from motion holds that any actualized potential must be actualized by something already actual.  A common and more colloquial (but also potentially misleading) formulation would be: Whatever changes must be changed by something else.  Now in one of his most recent posts, Oerter claims that, in the course of defending the argument from motion in The Last Superstition:

Feser abandoned [this principle], and replaced it with something like “Some things that changed [sic] are changed by something else.”  This is fatal to his argument, though…

[Feser’s argument] obviously relies on the idea that everything that changes is being changed by something external to it. If only some things that change require an external changer, then the argument is just a non sequitur. 

Now this is quite bizarre.  Oerter is correct when he says that to abandon the principle of causality and replace it with a weaker premise like “Some things that change are changed by something else” would undermine the argument.  But in fact I never abandoned the principle and never adopted the weaker alternative principle Oerter attributes to me.  Why does he claim otherwise?

The reason is that Oerter has badly misinterpreted the remarks about Newton’s principle of inertia that I made in the book.  What I said was that even if we allow (at least for the sake of argument) that Newton’s law accounts for local motion (i.e. change of place) of a uniform rectilinear sort, there are still other kinds of change that it would not account for.  Oerter reads this as an affirmation that inertial motion does not have a cause even if other kinds of change do.  But I never said, and would never say, that such motion does not have a cause.  What I said is that even if we allowed that such motion is in some respects “explained” by Newton’s law, (a) there are other kinds of change that the law would not explain, and (b) Newton’s law would not be a complete explanation even of local motion, both because it does not explain the acquisition or loss of momentum, and because the operation of the law itself stands in need of explanation.  And none of that entails that uniform rectilinear local motion does not have a cause.  

What is the cause of such motion?  To take a concrete example, what is the cause of the inertial local motion of a stone which someone has thrown into the air?  Well, here’s an answer some Aristotelians would favor.  First of all, on one Aristotelian interpretation of laws of nature, a law is shorthand for a description of the way a thing will operate given its nature or substantial form.  And in the case of inanimate natural phenomena, the efficient cause of their natural operations is whatever generated them and thus gave them their substantial forms.  So, part of the cause of the stone’s inertial motion is whatever natural process brought the stone into existence and thereby imparted to it a substantial form of the sort that entails operation according to the law of inertia.  But that is only a necessary condition of the stone’s inertial motion, since something needs to set it in motion in the first place.  And of course, what set it in motion is whoever threw it into the air.  Hence (on the Aristotelian account in question) the total efficient cause of the current inertial local motion of the stone in question would be the thrower of the stone together with whatever natural processes generated the stone.

Now other Aristotelians have put forward different analyses; and as I have said before, I discuss these issues in greater depth in my article “The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia,” forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics.  The point for present purposes is merely to note that there is nothing in Newton’s law that entails that inertial local motion lacks a cause.  And I certainly never claimed that it lacks a cause!

“First” in what sense?

Scholastic writers distinguish between accidentally ordered and essentially ordered causal series.  A stock illustration of the former kind of series is a father who begets a son who in turn begets another.  A stock illustration of the latter sort of series is a hand which uses a stick to move a stone.  The stick in the latter example has no power on its own to push the stone; it moves the stone only insofar as it is being used by the hand as an instrument for moving it.  By contrast, a man who begets a son does have the power to do so inherently, “built in” as it were.  It really is he who begets his son; it is not his own father who does so, using him as an instrument.  (These are, though, merely illustrations intended to jog the ideas in question, and as I explained in a recent post, nothing rides on the precise empirical details.)

Now it is essentially ordered series rather than accidentally ordered series that necessarily have a first member.  But “first” here doesn’t mean “the member that comes at the head of the line, before the second, third, fourth, etc.”  Rather, “first” means “fundamental” or “underived.”  The idea is that a series of instrumental causes – causes that have their causal power only derivatively, only insofar as they act as instruments of something else – must necessarily trace to something that has its causal power in a non-instrumental way, something which can cause without having to be made to cause by something else.  And the argument from motion claims that only that which is pure actuality -- that which is, as it were, “already” fully actual and thus need not (indeed cannot) have been actualized by anything else -- can be causally fundamental or underived in an absolute sense.  

This does not require such a cause to come at the head of some metaphysical queue.  Even if we suppose there to exist a series of instrumental causes that regresses to infinity or loops around in a circle, there would still have to be a “first” cause in the sense of an underived or non-instrumental cause outside the infinite regress or loop, otherwise the infinite or circular series as a whole -- comprised as it is of instrumental causes having no causal power of their own -- could not exist.  As some Thomists have put it, a paintbrush has no power to move itself, and it would remain powerless to move itself even if it had an infinitely long handle.  (I have addressed this issue in an earlier post and in my book Aquinas.  I have also explained in another post that Aquinas does not in fact think that God causes the existence of things through intermediate causes -- talk of such intermediate causes is best read in a “for the sake of argument” way.)

This brings us to another respect in which Oerter’s comments about the argument from motion come to grief.  About essentially ordered causal series, Oerter says:

[T]he idea that causes can be arranged in nice ordered chains as envisioned by Feser just doesn't accord with what we know about the way the universe works…

Think about two masses, A and B, in circular orbits around their common center of mass…

The change in A's velocity is caused by B's gravity, and the change of B's velocity is caused by A's gravity. There's no need for one of these to be causally prior to the other.

Instead of nice ordered chains of causality, there are complex interconnecting webs of interactions. When all the causes are present at once, as they are in the situations Feser calls "essentially ordered chains," no one of them need be considered the "first."

The trouble with this is that it assumes that the Scholastic is arguing for a “first mover” in the sense of a mover coming at the head of a line.  And as I have just explained, that is not what is at issue.  Let a system of causes be as complex as you wish -- an infinite series, a circle, a vast crisscrossing network -- to the extent that they are instrumental in character, there will have to be something outside the system as a whole imparting causality to it.

Causal powers

Oerter raises a more interesting objection when he writes:

[E]verything in the world has the "power of movement in itself"…  Changes, for the physicist, are the result of forces, and forces are part of the nature of those fundamental particles from which everything is made.  It is the nature of massive particles to exert the gravitational force, of charged particles to exert the electromagnetic force, and so on.  So any particle (or collection of particles) can be the "first mover" in the series.

What Oerter doesn’t realize, though, is that (apart from a qualification here or there), this isn’t a criticism of the Aristotelian-Scholastic position; on the contrary, it just is the Aristotelian-Scholastic position!  The notion that material substances operate in the regular ways uncovered by physical science by nature, by virtue of something inherent to them, is the core of the Aristotelian-Scholastic doctrine of substantial form -- the doctrine that the early moderns reacted against and replaced with the notion of matter as something inherently passive.  (As some contemporary philosophers of science and metaphysicians with no Thomistic or theological ax to grind have emphasized -- see the work of Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and other writers of a broadly “new essentialist” or "dispositional essentialist" sort -- modern science is in fact better interpreted in neo-Aristotelian terms rather than in terms derived from modern post-Cartesian and post-Humean philosophy.  I developed this point at the end of The Last Superstition, which makes it odd that Oerter overlooks it.)

Indeed, for the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, living things just are “self-movers” in a loose sense: Unlike a stone (say), a dog, bird, or snake can in an obvious sense move itself toward the realization of the ends toward which its nature points it (food, mating opportunities, etc.).  And while inorganic natural substances don’t move themselves in the same manner, their behavior is nevertheless “spontaneous” in a way the operations of artifacts are not.  (I borrow the term from James A. Weisheipl’s Nature and Motion in the Middle Ages, essential reading on the issues under discussion.)   What that means is, not that their activity is without a cause, but rather that it flows from something immanent or intrinsic to them, from their very nature rather than being imposed from outside.  There is nothing intrinsic to a watch that makes it tell time; that end is imposed on the metal parts by a designer.  But there is, just as Oerter says, something intrinsic to particles by virtue of which they exert gravitational or electromagnetic force.  Now the cause of their doing so is whatever generated them and (thereby) gave them their substantial forms.  Once they exist, though, that activity just follows from their nature.  (This is one reason why Thomists are frequently critical of “Intelligent Design” theory.  To model natural substances on artifacts is precisely to misunderstand them.  See my post on the Aristotelian distinction between “nature” and “art,” and my other posts on the dispute between Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and ID.)

All the same, natural substances are not the source of their activity in an absolute and ultimate sense.  For any material substance is a composite of substantial form and prime matter; and since prime matter exists only as actualized by substantial form, while substantial form is a mere abstraction unless instantiated in prime matter, we will have an explanatory vicious circle unless we appeal to something outside the form/matter composite which sustains it in being.  And this can, ultimately, only be that which is purely actual (and thus something for which the same vicious circle cannot arise).  Furthermore, any material substance is a composite of an essence together with an act of existence, and thus in need of something which combines these metaphysical parts if it is to persist in being at any particular instant.  And this can, ultimately, only be something whose essence just is existence, that which is subsistent being itself (and thus something which need not and indeed could not have a cause which combines its essence with a separate act of existence).  I develop these themes at length in my American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” (which can be read online by Googling the title, scrolling down to the fourth or fifth result, and clicking on “Quick view”).

Newton again

In a further post on the subject of motion, Oerter (after mistakenly implying yet again that I have “abandoned” the claim that whatever changes is changed by something else) says that in an earlier response to him I had “claim[ed] that inertial motion is not real change,“ though Oerter also suggests that I am “cagey” about whether this is really what I think.  He then goes on to characterize this view as “a perfect example of the kind of absurdity you get when you don't allow physics to inform your metaphysics.”

But I did not assert that “inertial motion is not real change,” cagily or otherwise.  What I said is that inertial motion is often characterized as a “state” -- by physicists themselves, mind you (which makes it rather odd for Oerter to accuse me of not “allowing physics to inform metaphysics,” but never mind).  And I noted that if inertial motion is a state (and thus not a real change), then there could not be even a prima facie conflict between Newton’s law and the principle of causality.  But I did not claim that this is in fact the correct way to characterize inertial motion.  On the contrary, in the post to which Oerter is responding I also wrote that:

Newton’s law is descriptive.  It tells us how a body behaves, but not why it behaves that way.  Thus the law does not rule out the thesis that the reason a body so behaves is because of a “mover” which actualizes its potencies for motion.  (To be sure, the law does rule out any scenario where a body continues at rest or uniform rectilinear motion while acted upon by physical forces impressed upon it.  But -- to appeal once again to the analogy with Kepler’s laws -- the principle of causality no more requires that what actualizes a potency is, specifically, a physical force of this sort than to affirm a cause of the orbits of the planets requires positing a special kind of massive body additional to the sun, planets, asteroids, etc.)

In other words, I explicitly considered the alternative interpretation of inertial motion on which it involves genuine change, and pointed out that even on that interpretation Newton’s law is not incompatible with the principle of causality.  Now it is true that in the immediate surrounding context of this particular passage I also say that Newton’s law and the principle of causality are not using “motion” in precisely the same sense.  And perhaps that led Oerter mistakenly to conclude that I was asserting that Newton’s law is not describing genuine change.  But my point was that the principle of causality is talking about any actualization of potential, while Newton’s law (a) is talking only about local motion specifically and (b) by itself says nothing one way or the other about whether local motion involves the actualization of potential.  And that leaves open the question of whether inertial motion does involve real change.  

Now the reason I did not assert one way or the other whether inertial motion involves real change is that that particular question simply needn’t be settled in order to defend the argument from motion against the charge that it somehow conflicts with Newton’s law.   On either interpretation, the principle of causality is perfectly compatible with Newton’s law.  Indeed, part of my point -- though in fairness to Oerter, this is a point I develop in my book Aquinas (which he has not read) rather than in The Last Superstition -- is that the objection from Newton’s law is not even well-defined in the first place.  It rests on ambiguities any resolution of which leaves the objection without force.  In fact, the burden of proof isn’t on the Thomist to show that his argument is compatible with Newton’s law; the burden is on the critic to show that it is not compatible.  

In particular, to show that there is any conflict, the critic has to explain exactly what it means to characterize inertial motion as a “state”; exactly how inertial motion can amount to real change if it really is a “state”; exactly how Newton’s law could conflict with the principle of causality even in principle if inertial motion does not involve real change; exactly how Newton’s law is incompatible with the principle of causality (and not merely with the influence of physical forces) even if inertial motion does involve real change; exactly what it means to characterize Newton’s principle as a “law” and exactly how the notion of a “law” can be cashed out in a way that doesn’t entail a tacit commitment to the very Aristotelian conception of nature (including substantial forms, etc.) that the argument from motion rests on; and so forth.  And as I argue in Aquinas (and at greater length in the forthcoming article) critics of the principle of causality who appeal to Newton have not done this.  The standard procedure is just glibly to assert that there is a conflict, without bothering to address any of the issues that would have to be worked out before a claim of conflict could be justified

And Oerter adds nothing substantial to the critic’s case.  Instead, he tells us that a better account of motion would, among other things, “declare that velocity doesn't need an explanation (it is something that is just in the nature of massive objects).”  This is quite rich coming from a critic of the Aristotelian-Thomistic position -- A-T writers are, after all, constantly accused (falsely) of trading in pseudo-explanations of the “it’s just in the nature of…” sort!  Of course, no Aristotelian or Thomist would begrudge Oerter an appeal to the “nature” of a thing.  The difference between Oerter and us A-T types, though, is that we would never leave it at that.  We realize (as Oerter seems not to) that we still need an account of what a nature is and why a thing has the nature it does in the first place.  And those questions lead, for the reasons alluded to above, precisely to the conclusion Oerter wants to avoid -- to the existence of a purely actual cause of a thing’s persistence in being, with the nature (i.e. substantial form) it has, at any given moment.

A purely actual first mover?

In the last few paragraphs of the post in question, Oerter seems to allow that if we are speaking of motion or change in the Aristotelian sense of the actualization of potentials and are thinking in terms of essentially ordered causal series, then we do indeed get to a first mover.  But he claims that this does not yet get us to a purely actual mover.  

But what Oerter fails to see is that any mover that is less than purely actual will, by virtue of being composite (composed of form and matter, or essence and existence) require an actualizing cause outside it, which means that no such mover can truly end the regress of actualizers.  Only what is purely actual could do that even in principle.  Again, I elaborate on all this in “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” -- which (I emphasize for those who would object to having to buy and read one of my books) is an article rather than a book, and available online. 

69 comments:

Anonymous said...

Every time I try to google your article like you say, I only get the same page asking me fork over a bunch of money to pay for it.

What am I missing?

BenYachov said...

I got it for free.

Anonymous said...

Ben Yachov - Alright, I'll give it another shot. I swear I checked every page, and they all lead back to the same "20 bucks or else" deal.

Could someone maybe just give a direct link?

Anonymous said...

P.S. - Never mind, I got it.

Totally on my own google ineptitude.

Sean Robsville said...

"...living things just are “self-movers” in a loose sense: Unlike a stone (say), a dog, bird, or snake can in an obvious sense move itself toward the realization of the ends toward which its nature points it (food, mating opportunities, etc.). And while inorganic natural substances don’t move themselves in the same manner, their behavior is nevertheless “spontaneous” in a way the operations of artifacts are not...What that means is, not that their activity is without a cause, but rather that it flows from something immanent or intrinsic to them, from their very nature rather than being imposed from outside. There is nothing intrinsic to a watch that makes it tell time; that end is imposed on the metal parts by a designer."


I don't see why there is an absolute distinction between artifacts and living things. What about the living products of genetic engineering which have been assembled from bits and pieces of other organisms towards an end imposed by the designer? For example bacteria that produce human insulin.

Edward Feser said...

Sean,

The key distinction is between things having substantial forms and those having only accidental forms. Marks of the former are having causal powers irreducible to those of the parts, having ends toward which they point inherently rather than only as a result of external imposition, and in general a kind of unity that the latter do not have.

Now the paradigm cases of things with substantial forms are natural objects, and the paradigm cases of things having only accidental forms are man-made objects. That's why Aristotelians traditionally put the point in terms of a "nature versus art" distinction. But there are
"natural" objects that do not have substantial forms but only accidental forms -- e.g. a pile of rocks that has formed at the bottom of a hill as a result of erosion -- and there are "artifacts" or man-made things that have substantial forms -- water synthesized in a lab is no less real water than water found in a lake, a baby is a natural substance even though it only comes about through human action, etc. And the bact3eria you speak of would be another example of this sort.

So the "nature versus art" distinction requires a bit of qualification. Again, the key difference is between things having substantial forms and those without. "Natural" versus "artificial" is just a loose and non-technical way of calling attention to the chief examples of the two sorts of thing.

Eleonore Stump's Aquinas has a useful discussion of the subject. (I've got a forthcoming anthology paper that deals with it as well, which I'll announce when the publication date is closer.)

Glenn said...

I ran into the same problem, Anonymous. I was glad you found it, but also disappointed you didn't post a link. I wanted to say, "Hey, you're not the only one; please, have some mercy on the rest of us in possession of 'google ineptitude'." But then I figured if someone with 'google ineptitude' could find it, that must mean that I can find it too. After a moment or two, I was able to quickly see how to view the article in its entirety. Had it not been for the clue regarding 'google ineptitude', I'd not have found it. Thanks.

Edward Feser said...

It seems it can't be linked to directly, which is why I had to give the convoluted directions I did.

Adam said...

I'm sorry if this may sound rudimentary;
so if I were to break down the disagreement between Thomists (and/or theists of other sorts)and atheists (and skeptics of other sorts) would you say atheists continue to persist "the universe just is the way it is" while Thomists/theists insist "the very essence of what it IS necessitates an explanation that can only be adequately given by means of a 'purely actual being'" as you put it?

I greatly appreciate the blog, by the way.

kuartus said...

Okay, I have a question. I just want to clarify something. If natural things behave the way they do because of their inherent natures or substancial forms and its not imposed from outside, then what about aquinas fifth way? Doesnt the fifth way say that things without intentionality but that as if they do can only do so if they were directed towards their natural ends by God? That sounds to me as if God is imposing their order from outside of the natural thing itself.
What am I missing here?

kuartus said...

I meant to say,"but that act as if they do"

TheOFloinn said...

It is in the nature of a vibrating string to make a sound at a particular frequency. That those sounds add up to the Moonlight Sonata means that those natural actions are directed toward something. There is no contradiction.
As William of Conches put it, "But the natures with which He endowed His creatures accomplish a whole scheme of operations, and these too turn to His glory since it is He who created these very natures."

Syphax said...

Adam: I am a philosophical simpleton, but let me give you a little advice that helped me when I really started to get into Thomism. It's kind of useless to try to "boil down" a fundamental disagreement between Thomism and, say, atheism, and probably most of these Thomists here would resist attempts to do so. This is because Thomism is a massive interlocking system of metaphysical parts, and thus understanding an argument that seems simple on its face is actually not simple at all. You have to know why someone like Feser makes the argument in the first place.

This point was on parade when Feser "debated" (if you can even call it that) that Dawkins representative on the Catholic podcast a few weeks ago. The guy was saying in effect "I object to the charge that atheists view matter 'mechanistically' because we value life and blah blah blah." Feser wasn't saying "mechanistic" in a throw-away sort of way, he was describing the modern materialist view of the way the universe works as opposed to the Thomistic way, and has provided many arguments for why that is. He wasn't saying that atheists don't value things or don't appreciate the universe or view the world as lifeless or dull, but rather that their metaphysics takes as an axiom that final and formal causes don't exist.

I know that doesn't directly answer your question, but it seems to me from your question that you should probably learn the vocabulary first (like I had to) and then it will be more obvious what Feser is saying about motion and why it matters (no pun intended). That's why Feser is always linking to copies of his book Aquinas, not only because he obviously is a writer who wants to sell his books, but because the background behind all his arguments is laid out in a very systematic way. Sorry this is long and I hope you don't find it condescending. Hope this helps.

kuartus said...

"It is in the nature of a vibrating string to make a sound at a particular frequency. That those sounds add up to the Moonlight Sonata means that those natural actions are directed toward something. There is no contradiction"

Feser says of the behavior of natural substances,"it flows from something immanent or intrinsic to them, from their very nature rather than being imposed from outside......there is..something intrinsic to particles by virtue of which they exert gravitational or electromagnetic force...that activity just follows from their nature"

Feser later says that it is still up to God to explain their existence,"we will have an explanatory vicious circle unless we appeal to something outside the form/matter composite which sustains it in being"

That part I dont have a problem with, but aquinas fifth way doesnt deal with conserving things in existence.
It deals with natural things following their natural ends because of God.

According to Aquinas fifth way, it is the final cause of a particle to exert a gravitational force upon another particle. It is directed towards that specific effect. But the only way it could be directed towards its final cause is if God directed it toward its intended effect since inanimate objects lack consciousness.

Feser says! "all the causal relations that exist in the natural order exist at all only because there is an intellect outside the natural order which “directs” causes to their effects"

If that is the case then is there not a contradiction? How can the activity of natural objects flow from within their natural substances if its final cause can only reside within the intellect of God and not within the thing itself?

Again Im just trying to understand this all. I think it has important implications for the discussion of the laws of nature.

Joe said...

Can anyone recommend a good A-T dictionary?

Edward Feser said...

Joe,

Yes, look for Bernard Wuellner's Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy. His book Summary of Scholastic Principles is also very useful.

jhall said...

kuartus,

"According to Aquinas fifth way, it is the final cause of a particle to exert a gravitational force upon another particle. It is directed towards that specific effect. But the only way it could be directed towards its final cause is if God directed it toward its intended effect since inanimate objects lack consciousness."

Final cause in conscious, living things is a special case of finality in non-conscious things or objects (such as a rubber ball). From pg. 19 of Feser's Aquinas:

"It is important to understand (again, contrary to common misconception) that most final causality is thought by Aristotelians to be totally unconscious."

Keep reading on that page for more detail.

The important thing here is that some process is directed, or points to some effect or range of effects, not necessarily that it be consciously making a decision. You may be confusing this with intentionality, or the "aboutness" experienced by conscious entities when they apprehend some concept.

Hope this helps.

jhall said...

Dr. Feser,

[If this is too off-topic, feel free to ignore it.] Have you read Brian Leftow's "Soul, Mind, & Brain" which can be found in the book "The Waning of Materialism"?

I ask because Leftow deals with a criticism from William Hasker and David Braine to the effect that Aquinas equivocates on his use of the form as both a immaterial particular and as a substantial form (or state). Leftow rebuts this, noting that the Aquinas takes advantage of a "wide, univocal definition of substantial form." He goes on to say:

"But even if there is no equivocation or inconsistency in the claim that Thomas's soul is a form in two senses at once, the claim is hard to understand. How can something be both a substantial form and a particular?...There are three basic approaches to understanding Thomas's view. One takes as a given that the soul is a live immaterial particular, then tries to show how such a thing can be a substantial form: call this a Platonic or Augustinian reading of Thomas. Another takes it as a given that the soul is a substantial form, then tries to show how such a thing can be a live immaterial particular: call this the Aristotelian approach. A third would take it as primitive..."

He addresses each of these views in turn, and references Eleonore Stump quite a bit regardign the "Aristotelian take". My question is have you dealt with this issue elsewhere? I'd be curious to hear your take on it.

Thanks

Brandon said...

kuartus,

That's actually an excellent question, although it's a bit difficult to answer in any concise way. A very rough set of points that might help:

The basic idea of the Fifth Way is that things are disposed to particular effects, and thus something is constraining their action. In voluntary things this is partly explained by the fact that they can select effects themselves. But natural things cannot do this -- if they were able to select their own effects, they'd be intelligent and voluntary. Now, natural things must have their disposition to their effects intrinsically, because we can tell that these dispositions are not simply imposed on them from outside. So when we ask why this natural thing is disposed to this effect rather than some other effect, it can only be due to something causing it to exist as this natural thing. This is why, incidentally, the Fifth Way is one of the Five Ways -- there are lots of arguments for God in Aquinas, and lots more that he would have known, and each of the Five Ways in some ways is quite different from the others (even the superficially similar First and Second Ways), but all of the Five Ways share two special characteristics: (1) Aquinas thinks that arguments of this type can, if properly filled out, achieve the level of demonstrations and (2) they each explain why things actually exist, although they each go about it in a different way. The Fifth Way is about how things can actually exist as ordered to specific effects.

And, of course, long story short and skipping some steps, the basic point of the Fifth Way is that we still have the same basic issue when we have traced the natural thing's order-to-an-end or disposition-to-effect to whatever makes it exist, and ultimately, the only explanation adequate is that there is a cause selecting effects, i.e., ordering things to ends. But this, again, just is what we call intelligence, at least of the practical sort.

Getting into more detail than this is actually just getting into questions about divine providence, and it's in discussions of providence (ST 1.22, ST 2-1.1, SCG 3.2ff, the commentary on the book of Job) that you'd get more detailed answers. But in any case, this is why, although God is a cause distinct from any creature, God is said to cause things intrinsically, rather than extrinsically: it's not that things exist and then he imposes order on them, it's that he makes them exist as having order.

So in understanding the conservation and composition of form and matter point, which is also related to issues of providence, you are actually already in the vicinity of the answer to your question.

Brian said...

This is off-topic, but I have been researching the miraculous history of the Church and would like to know how the argument from miracles features, if at all, in the natural theology of the realist tradition. Maybe the subject for a future blog post?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Just a few quick comments.

1. You approve of the principle that "Whatever changes must be changed by something else", which is what Aquinas said: "whatever is in motion is put in motion by another."

But later on, it seems you spoil your case by allowing that
"material substances operate in the regular ways uncovered by physical science by nature, by virtue of something inherent to them." That would suggest that their operation (as opposed to their existence) requires no external cause.

Then you seem to take a different tack, and argue that for material substances, the cause of their operations is "whatever generated them and (thereby) gave them their substantial forms. Once they exist, though, that activity just follows from their nature." But it is quite conceivable that a material substance may have been in existence from all eternity, and may have been operating for all eternity. In that case, nothing generated the object, and hence nothing gave the object its substantial form or its operations. It always had them. Here, then, we have a case of an object whose operations (as opposed to its existence) have no external cause - which contradicts Aquinas' original claim.

2. Then you continue: "All the same, natural substances are not the source of their activity in an absolute and ultimate sense. For any material substance is a composite of substantial form and prime matter... Furthermore, any material substance is a composite of an essence together with an act of existence, and thus in need of something which combines these metaphysical parts if it is to persist in being at any particular instant."

It seems to me that your version of the First Way is simply a modified version of Aquinas' argument in De Ente et Essentia - with the emphasis being on actuality. What you're attempting to establish is not the existence of an unmoved mover but an unactualized actualizer. The focus of your argument has shifted from becoming to being.

I could happily accept that, but I still have four quick questions:

(a) Most people, I think, would readily grant that a spatially extended material substance requires an (internal or external) cause for it to "hang together"; but many would be doubtful about whether a point-sized particle requires such a cause. Since it is (epistemically) possible that the ultimate constituents of the universe are such particles, would you agree that your version of the First Way stands or falls on the question of whether form/matter and essence/existence composites require a cause of their being?

(b) Are form and matter real parts of a thing, or merely logical parts, in your view? Let's take an accidental form, to keep it simple - say, the shape of a wax candle. Is the shape of the candle a part of the candle? That sounds like a funny way of talking to me. Now let's take the substantial form of the wax itself. Candle wax is usually paraffin wax - a mixture of alkanes (C25H52 being a pretty typical one). Now, calling the atoms in an alkane molecule "parts" makes perfect sense; calling the arrangement of these atoms a part of the molecule sounds odd to me. So my question is: does a thing which is composed of purely logical parts require a cause of its existence?

(c) Regarding the essence-existence distinction, Duns Scotus argued that the distinction between the two was a purely logical one, as you are well aware. In which case, the same question arises as for (b).

(d) Does a being composed of parts always require an external cause of its existence? What if each part of a thing logically implied the existence of the other parts, so that their separation was logically inconceivable? Would their unity still require an external cause? (Or wouldn't you call those "parts" then? And what would you call them?)

Thanks for taking the time and trouble to read my post, Ed.

goddinpotty said...

This is off-topic, but I thought I should commend this paper to you folks -- on the foundations of science and computing, what the incorporation of intentionality means for science, and its relation to religion and God. Good stuff!

Eduardo said...

It starts with politics right away!!! Ó_Ò

Daniel Smith said...

Ed:
...in the case of inanimate natural phenomena, the efficient cause of their natural operations is whatever generated them and thus gave them their substantial forms.
And...
Now the cause of their doing so is whatever generated them and (thereby) gave them their substantial forms. Once they exist, though, that activity just follows from their nature.

I too (as I have expressed before) am confused by the apparent contradictions between such statements about "inherent natures" and the Fifth Way. (I am still REALLY looking forward to that article you promised some time ago specifically dealing with the Fifth Way!)

The Fifth Way seems decidedly Platonic to me - things without minds cannot have intentions, so all intentionality in mindless objects is imposed from outside (by an external Mind).

I'm having real trouble reconciling that to statements that imply that once an object exists, its directedness is inherent to itself.

The only way I can see this as non-contradictory is if the Fifth Way is an argument based on an accidentally ordered series of causality. If the directedness a natural object possesses is imposed on it when it comes into being - and afterward requires no intervention or imposition from God, then there is no contradiction. This would mean that the Fifth Way is NOT an argument for an immanent God, but could, in a sense, be compatible with deism (taken by itself that is).

So how far off am I?

E.R. Bourne said...

Adam,

Although I generally agree with Syphax's advice, I do think that your own understanding is more correct than not.

If you care to notice, most of the disagreements between philosophers sympathetic to Thomism and modern atheists have less to do with the actual claims of metaphysics and much more to do with whether or not metaphysics counts as a real science. This is why so many atheists who comment at places like this demonstrate not only a lack of philosophical knowledge but a lack of desire to even understand philosophy in general. Many think they should not have to since none of it corresponds to the world as it truly is.

Aquinas' reasoning is a movement that begins with effects ("the universe just the way it is") and progresses towards what is ultimately a first cause. Notice, God is first known as a cause. It is through the relations that God has with his creations that we know He exists. Now this is the crucial point: It is what we know about the material world that necessitates God's existence. The theist does not see anything the atheist does not, they both touch, see, smell, hear, and taste the same reality.

The central difference, then, between the atheist and the theist is not what each has to say about God; it is what they have to say about the stone lying on the floor, or the hand holding the stick pushing the rock. And what they say, exactly, will depend upon their modes of consideration. The atheist refuses to consider the objects in the material world in a way that the theist does not. It does not matter whether you call this mode of consideration metaphysics, ontology, or first philosophy. What matters is that the atheist qua atheist is positively limiting the use of his reason and so cannot see what makes God absolutely necessary to a coherent image of reality.

Aquinas is more scientific than Richard Dawkins.

kuartus said...

" it's not that things exist and then he imposes order on them, it's that he makes them exist as having order."

Okay Brian I think I am getting a better understanding here. Thanks.

So God intrinsically continues to give them their natures by way of which they can continually accomplish their ends? Thats what the fifth way establishes?

Just to clarify.

kuartus said...

To clarify my question,

The way in which God directs natural objects towards their ends is by continually causing them to have the natures they have by which they accomplish their finality?

If so then that would be interesting because it would seem to combine a necessitarian account of the laws of nature with a theological account of the laws of nature.

Link

Link

Brandon said...

The Fifth Way itself does not require a specific account. But yes, in broad strokes, this ends up being the basic idea. There are a lot of subordinate issues falling under this, though.

I would point out (not everyone would take this route) that Aquinas actually has an explicit position on the laws of nature in the sense relevant here, and it is that the phrase 'laws of nature' is purely metaphorical. What needs to be explained is the fact that things have dispositions, capabilities, or powers, and the fact that we find these capabilities active according to specific kinds of order. All the Five Ways start with what we actually experience (not one-off, but on a consistent basis, after familiarity with the world) and we don't experience laws of nature as such, we experience things doing what they are able to do. We can, of course, perfectly well talk about this in metaphors about laws of nature. But any 'explanation of the laws of nature' is really explanation of something else that we are simply describing metaphorically in terms of laws of nature. So for my part (again, I can't speak for anyone else on this) I'd prefer to say that Aquinas's position on laws of nature is actually deflationary (I would go so far as to say that you could even call it reductionist), but it shares with at least many necessitarian accounts a number of more basic metaphysical principles: causal realism, realism about powers and dispositions, a kind of essentialism, and so forth. Talking about laws of nature, while it can perfectly rational and fine, is at the very least a roundabout way of talking about the world on this view, as if one insisted on talking about luminance in terms of the genius of things. It's not that you can't do it, or even that it would be unreasonable to do it, but you're interposing an extra layer composed purely of language, and need to keep that in mind.

Syphax said...

ER Bourne: I think you're right - thanks for nuancing what I said before. I didn't want to sound too dismissive.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> Indeed, for the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, living things just are “self-movers” in a loose sense: Unlike a stone (say), a dog, bird, or snake can in an obvious sense move itself toward the realization of the ends toward which its nature points it (food, mating opportunities, etc.). And while inorganic natural substances don’t move themselves in the same manner, their behavior is nevertheless “spontaneous” in a way the operations of artifacts are not. <

The terms "self-caused" ("causa sui") and "spontaneous" are simply euphemisms for random or uncaused.

> What that means is,not that their activity is without a cause, but rather that it flows from something immanent or intrinsic to them, from their very nature rather than being imposed from outside. <

This necessarily implies that their activity is "without a cause" for the reason I have already stated above.

> For any material substance is a composite of substantial form and prime matter; and since prime matter exists only as actualized by substantial form, while substantial form is a mere abstraction unless instantiated in prime matter, we will have an explanatory vicious circle unless we appeal to something outside the form/matter composite which sustains it in being. <

What about the "quantum vacuum?" It is pure potentiality, pure formless energy.

> The version of the Scholastic principle of causality relevant to the argument from motion holds that any actualized potential must be actualized by something already actual. <

What is actualizing quantum fluctuations? (Virtual particles are constantly popping in and out of existence.)

Edward Feser said...

Alastair Paisley,

Maybe that's how you use the term "spontaneous," but that's not what Weisheipl means by it.

Edward Feser said...

As usual, a ton of questions I have little time to answer. Briefly:

1. Re: the Fifth Way, which deals with final causes, one way to think of it is by analogy with the Thomistic view of formal and efficient causes vis-a-vis God. Re: formal causes, Thomism rejects both the Platonic view that puts universals in a third realm, and the bare-bones Aristotelian view that puts them only in their instantiations and in finite minds like ours. For the Thomist, they do exist in the latter just as Aristotle says, but also pre-exist in the divine intellect. This second aspect of the view constitutes a nod toward Plato, but is still essentially Aristotelian since it regards universals as really in their instances and, apart from that, only in intellects rather a third realm (albeit this includes the divine intellect).

On efficient causes, Thomism rejects both occasionalism (which puts all causal power in God alone) and mere conservationism (which gives natural objects independent causal power and thus tends toward deism) in favor of concurrentism, which acknowledges real causal power in natural objects, but only insofar as God concurs with their causal activity.

Now the Fifth Way says something similar about final causality. A tendency toward an end is really in natural objects themselves (contra the entirely extrinsic teleology of Plato's Timaeus and of Newton, Paley, and other moderns) but it nevertheless requires a divine sustaining cause (contra Aristotle's view that it is just there naturally with no further explanation needed).

This is not only analogous to the Thomist view of universals and of efficient causes. I would argue (and have argued) that it is inextricably linked to those other views. As I argue in my recent Steubenville lecture (the one available on YouTube) and argue in the forthcoming long paper on the Fifth Way, to reject the Fifth Way's middle ground in favor of Paleyism is to start on a course that tends to end (and did end historically) either in occasionalism or deism. For final causes and efficient causes are inherently linked on the A-T view. Remove immanent final causes from nature and you remove efficient causes too. And I discuss the link between the Fifth Way and Scholastic realism about universals in my Philosophia Christi paper "Teleology: A Shopper's Guide."

(At this point I just know some yutz is going to complain that I always refer people to other things I've written. The reason is that I don't like to repeat things I've already said at length elsewhere, especially in ephemeral combox remarks.)

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

2. Re Vincent's questions, some remarks:

(I) While Aquinas would allow that the material world as a whole might in principle have had no beginning, he would not agree that a particular material substance might in principle have had no beginning. The reasons are the ones underlying the Third Way, which I have explained at length in Aquinas. Furthermore, even if per impossibile such a material object could have existed without a temporal beginning, it does not follow that it's having the nature it does would have no external cause, for it would even in that hypothetical case, as it does in fact, require a divine sustaining cause.

(II) Yes, as I've indicated in several places, I think the argument from motion leads (or should lead) to the conclusion that the Unmoved Mover is the cause of the existence of things and not just their changes. But that does not turn the argument into the argument from De ente et essentia, for two reasons. First, the argument still starts from the changes things exhibit rather than from their sheer existence. Second, it need make use only of the act/potency distinction and not the essence/existence distinction.

(III) Yes, as I understand the argument it depends on the form/matter distinction at least insofar as this is a special case of the act/potency distinction. (Certainly I would regard basic particles as composites of act and potency -- they are, like every other material thing, made up of prime matter and substantial form, and like everything else in the created world, of essence and existence.) And as I make clear in the YouTube lecture, I think successfully arguing from the world to God via any argument necessarily involves the act/potency distinction.

(IV) Yes, I would say that form and matter are real parts, but it is a mistake to think, as you seem to imply, that in the case of a natural substance the form amounts to an "arrangement" of parts that have an existence that is independent of the whole. Rather, the parts exist virtually in the whole. To think of form as an "arrangement" is to read modern reductionism back into A-T (i.e. to presuppose something like the atomist view that the smallest parts are somehow fundamental and that anything else is just an "arrangement" of those parts -- so that "form" must be something roughly translatable into such a Democritean arrangement. But A-T rejects that whole picture in the first place.)

And yes, I would say something composed of parts always requires an external cause. (See my recent ACPQ paper.)

Also, yes, I know Scotus would disagree with some of what I would say. But then, I'm a Thomist, not a Scotist.

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> Maybe that's how you use the term "spontaneous," but that's not what Weisheipl means by it. <

If you're defining the term "spontaneous" as the "[self-caused] movement characteristic of living things[1]," then this implies some form of free will, some form of mentality.

Weisheipl appears to be using the term inconsistently (or equivocally...to use the popular Thomistic term).

1 (source: Merriam-Webster: "spontaneous")

Edward Feser said...

"...is to read modern reductionism back into A-T..."

Obviously I should have said "either modern or classical atomistic reductionism..."

Edward Feser said...

Alastair Paisley,

No, that's not how either Weisheipl or I use it. That would make inorganic things into living things. As I have indicated, what Weisheipl means is just to distinguish the operations of natural inorganic phenomena from that of artifacts like watches, beds, etc. What acid does when it causes something to dissolve is "spontaneous" in the sense that the tendency to dissolve other things flows from its nature rather than (as with the time-telling function of a watch) being imposed from outside.

Anyway, before accusing Weisheipl of inconsistency based on your favored use of the term "spontaneous," it might be a good idea actually to read what Weisheipl wrote.

Edward Feser said...

BTW, I really hope you don't think an appeal to Merriam-Webster settles anything. Surely you've heard of "technical terminology" -- something common in philosophical, scientific, and other specialized discourse, and which doesn't always correspond to everyday usage?

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> For final causes and efficient causes are inherently linked on the A-T view. Remove immanent final causes from nature and you remove efficient causes too. <

But do all substances have "immanent final causes?"

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> No, that's not how either Weisheipl or I use it. That would make inorganic things into living things. As I have indicated, what Weisheipl means is just to distinguish the operations of natural inorganic phenomena from that of artifacts like watches, beds, etc. What acid does when it causes something to dissolve is "spontaneous" in the sense that the tendency to dissolve other things flows from its nature rather than (as with the time-telling function of a watch) being imposed from outside. <

But the fact is that you consider "inorganic things" to be inamimate. Therefore, on your view, there really is no difference between an inorganic chemical reaction and an unwinding mechanical watch. They both are behaving mechanistically, not "spontaneously." And any final causation that can be ascribed to either process has been imposed by an external agent.

> Anyway, before accusing Weisheipl of inconsistency based on your favored use of the term "spontaneous," it might be a good idea actually to read what Weisheipl wrote. <

Well, I responding to what you wrote. (You have used the term "spontaneous" to explain quantum events - which are random events).

Alastair F. Paisley said...

@ Edward Feser

> BTW, I really hope you don't think an appeal to Merriam-Webster settles anything. Surely you've heard of "technical terminology" -- something common in philosophical, scientific, and other specialized discourse, and which doesn't always correspond to everyday usage? <

I've seen the term employed in philosophical discussions of free will - which seems to accord with the dictionary definition.

"spontaneous : controlled and directed internally : self-acting (spontaneous movement characteristic of living things)"

(source: Merriam-Webster)

Mr. Green said...

The Profeser: Marks of [things having substantial forms] are having causal powers irreducible to those of the parts, having ends toward which they point inherently rather than only as a result of external imposition, and in general a kind of unity that [those having only accidental forms] do not have.

They certainly have a unity that "mechanisms" lack (the substantial form itself, and all that flows from it). But is "mark" the right word? Perhaps I'm being too pedantic, but a mark is something you can see or detect, while you cannot see a substantial form (at least not in any direct sense that could distinguish it from an accidental form).

Anyway, what I'm wondering is how "powers irreducible to those of the parts" might play out. Suppose we imagine an object X that has parts A, B, and C. If a different kind of object Y has the same parts, in the same arrangement, but acts differently from X, then clearly the powers of X and Y cannot be reduced to their parts. But suppose that arrangements of parts always behave the same way, i.e. objects like X and Y always act the same way. Even if that behaviour does not seem to be present in A or B or C, we could always suppose that A has some particular power to behave a certain way when combined with B and C in just the right way (and so on for the other parts).

That is, if combinations of parts behaved regularly (as they seem to in the real world), we could never tell by observation whether the combination was an organism or an artifact. But if we had compound objects (X, Y) with powers that contradicted the behaviour of there parts, then we could presumably know that X and Y must be substances themselves. (Hm — or that they were part of some larger substance.)

Alastair F. Paisley said...

It should be noted that Aristotle formulated the hypothesis of "spontaneous generation." This is relevant to the discussion at hand because Aristotle seemed to hold the view that "all things are full of soul." This clearly smacks of animism. As such, there doesn't appear to be any rational justification on the Aristotelian view for making a distinction between animate self- movers and inanimate self-movers.

"According to this theory [spontaneous generation], living things came forth from nonliving things because the nonliving material contained pneuma, or "vital heat."

(source: Wikipedia: "Spontaneous generation"

"Pneuma" is Greek for the "breath of life," spirit, and/or soul. The belief that "nonliving material contain pneuma or vital heat" is the basis for "vitalism."

"Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth, and air in water, and in all air is vital heat so that in a sense all things are full of soul . —Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Book III, Part 11"

(source: Wikipedia: "Spontaneous generation"

Anonymous said...

@Edward Feser, whenever this objection about rectilinear uniform motion comes up I think that it should be noted that no such thing really ever happens or has been directly observed. It's just an idealization since, if anything, we can be sure that every massive body will always be subject at every instant to all kinds of forces and interactions with the rest of the universe.

James Chastek said...

Daniel Smith,

The Fifth Way seems decidedly Platonic to me - things without minds cannot have intentions, so all intentionality in mindless objects is imposed from outside (by an external Mind).

I'm having real trouble reconciling that to statements that imply that once an object exists, its directedness is inherent to itself.


Each of the Five Ways proves that something was given to creation, and the gifts we receive have exactly the paradox that it is unclear whether the use of them is from ourselves or not. If some rich kid gets 100 grand from his dad and buys a Ferrari, can we say he paid for it by himself? In one sense, he certainly paid for it by himself - he was responsible for buying it, he picked out the one he wanted, and he was the reason he bought a Ferrari as opposed to something else. On the other hand, no one would say that he paid for it by himself, full stop.

The flip side of proving God through some effect is that the effect itself is ontologically a gift. Taken in this way, the Five Ways prove that, for a creature, motion/ activity, causality, contingency and necessity, transcendental perfection, and the ability to act for an end are all gifts; and arguments STA gives elsewhere can prove that even existence itself is the same sort of thing. A good supporting text for this is the most complete definition of nature that STA gives: sc. nature is an aspect (ratio) of the divine art given to things, (rebus datur) that the things themselves might act for ends (Commentary on Physics, II lec. 14). This is not to be taken as saying that there is first some thing to which nature is added as a gift, but rather that the very created source of the existence of things is itself given, not as mere assistance to something or as a repayment for a debt, but as a purely magnanimous gift. The paradox you are noticing is exactly the one we should have been looking for - it is the paradox of a gift.

Frank said...

Hi everyone. Relative newbie to (armchair) philosophy here. I'm on my second read-through of TLS. Got a lot out of the first read-through but I'm taking it slower this time to really let the detail sink in.

Could someone please explain to me how Aristotle's realism fits with the 'one over many' argument for Plato's realism? Are they in conflict?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I watched your video. Very interesting. I'll be commenting later today.

Daniel Smith said...

Ed:
Now the Fifth Way says something similar about final causality. A tendency toward an end is really in natural objects themselves (contra the entirely extrinsic teleology of Plato's Timaeus and of Newton, Paley, and other moderns) but it nevertheless requires a divine sustaining cause (contra Aristotle's view that it is just there naturally with no further explanation needed).

Thank you Dr. Feser, for your answers. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this and I guess the key (for you anyway) is in the phrase "really in" (as in: "a tendency toward an end is really in natural objects themselves".)

I guess that's important, but it doesn't help me (yet) because, in terms of chains of causation, doesn't the final cause still terminate in God?

So of what use is it to allow for the intermediate members in the chain to have this power "really in" them if it doesn't actually come from them? (I hope that makes sense!)

George R. said...

Daniel Smith,
Aquinas clearly taught that, of the Four Causes, the formal cause and material cause are intrinsic to the thing, while the final cause and efficient cause are extrinsic. Therefore, to deny that the final cause is extrinsic is to directly contradict Thomas. However, you should note that Ed never does deny that the final cause is extrinsic, but merely seems to do so, because he is always emphasizing its immanence in natural things. Now this immanence is not illusory. The final cause is, in a certain and real sense, intrinsic to the thing. However, it must be clearly understood, and Ed has not made this clearly understood, that the final cause is intrinsic to natural things only in a secondary sense, to wit, as a cause is intrinsically present in an effect. For example, the final cause of the eyes is not in the eyes themselves, except as a cause is in its effect. For the final cause of the eyes is “the animal seeing,” and this is the cause of the eyes being what they are, i.e., an attribute by which the animal may see.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi George R,

Thanks for your clarification. I guess that's part of my confusion. I get it that Dr. Feser wants to distance Aquinas from Plato (perhaps that has more to do with Paley and ID than Plato though?), but I don't understand exactly why. The Fifth Way proves that teleology in nature comes from the mind of God (full stop). Why the emphasis on secondary "final" causes?

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Sorry for my late comment, but anyway, here goes.

1. I agree that you're right that about First Way being quite different from the argument in De Ente et Essentia, since the former focuses on the act-potency distinction, the latter on the essence-existence distinction.

2. I have to disagree with you regarding your statement that Aquinas would not agree that a particular material substance might in principle have had no beginning. The reason you gave in your book is that if material substances are genuinely capable of ceasing to exist, they must eventually do so. Fair enough; but Aquinas didn't think that all material substances were capable of ceasing to exist. He believed that the heavenly bodies were incorruptible.

3. After watching your video, I have a better understanding of your argument that something composed of parts requires an external cause of its being. You argue that neither form nor matter can impart to substance a tendency to continue to exist. So the question comes down to whether it is legitimate to speak of a material substance as being composed of form and matter.

4. Here is where I have doubts. From the fact that the substance of a thing includes both potency and act, it does not follow that the thing is a composite of potency plus act. I see the latter as just a mode or realization of the former - rather like a variable in a computer program (say, one of type CHAR) being assigned a value "A." I wouldn't say that the type and its value are a composite. If you think this is a poor analogy, I'd be interested to hear why.

5. Re your video: I'll be commenting on your argument against ID shortly, on Uncommon Descent, as it's an interesting one. Suffice to say that I think a watch is a very poor analogy for a living thing, or for any kind of natural object. Like you, I believe that natural objects possess immanent finality; but I don't believe that this fact alone can get you to the existence of an Intelligent Being guiding them to their ends, for reasons I'll explain in my post.

George R. said...

Like you, I believe that natural objects possess immanent finality; but I don't believe that this fact alone can get you to the existence of an Intelligent Being guiding them to their ends, for reasons I'll explain in my post.

Good luck with that explanation, Vincent, because by saying that you would appear to be not only denying Aquinas’s Fifth Way, but also, in effect, the First Way as well. For as Aristotle taught, the First Mover and the Final Cause are one; and it is by virtue of His being the latter that He is also the former. In other words, the principle of all motion is final causation.

Glenn said...

Daniel Smith,

George R.: [I]t must be clearly understood...that the final cause is intrinsic to natural things only in a secondary sense, to wit, as a cause is intrinsically present in an effect.

Newton's cradle interactive animation": Left-click and drag an inch or so to the left the left-most ball. Now, release the mouse button. What happens? Why does it happen?

Daniel Smith: [But] The Fifth Way proves that teleology in nature comes from the mind of God (full stop). [So] Why the emphasis on secondary "final" causes?

This is a good question. Let's try approaching an answer from this metaphorical angle:

If Newton's cradle is set in motion again, and after releasing the mouse button this time the three left-most balls are covered and removed from consideration, then what is left to see is all that some can see--and this "all that some can see" is the starting point for many.

(The adoption of or subscription to this starting point may be due to any of many reasons: inherent blindness; eyes not yet open; eyes opened but sight not yet sufficiently developed; willful blindness; funding seems more likely; acceptance by the (apparently) prevailing 'in-group' seems more likely; etc., etc.)

Now, it just so happens that according to the doctrine of this starting point, i.e., according to the Doctrine Of Fidelity To The Mere Observation And Non-Functional Description Of Goings-On Amongst Nature, there is no cause for the movement of the right-most ball--it simply moves, and, therefore, is a causeless event.

So, if one sees or accepts that The Fifth Way proves that teleology in nature comes from the mind of God (full stop), an emphasis on secondary "final" causes may very well seem to be confusing, baffling or even pointless.

However, if one instead is seeking to engage (in some way and for some purpose) adherents of the Doctrine Of Fidelity To The Mere Observation And Non-Functional Description Of Goings-On Amongst Nature--for whom it is an article of faith that there is no teleology in nature--then that emphasis itself becomes a kind of (or contributes to the) starting point for the intended engagement.

(Or so I humbly posit.)

reighley said...

@Glenn,

"Now, it just so happens that according to the doctrine of this starting point, i.e., according to the Doctrine Of Fidelity To The Mere Observation And Non-Functional Description Of Goings-On Amongst Nature, there is no cause for the movement of the right-most ball--it simply moves, and, therefore, is a causeless event."

The experiment with Newton's cradle you described would have a distinctly different energy once the balls started to move. The energy could be identified with the cause of the motion. The law of conservation of energy would lead us to ask the source of that energy, and so on down the chain. Even if we never identified the source of the original energy the conservation law is so strongly believed that most scientists would immediately begin looking for some invisible hitherto unknown mechanism.

This Doctrine Of Fidelity To The Mere Observation And Non-Functional Description Of Goings-On Amongst Nature is too conspicuously a straw man. The problems which physics raises for causality are somewhat more interesting than that.

I read Oerter's point in this particular instance to be based on Galilean relativity. How can we posit a cause without first positing the effect? We see an object moving in a uniform motion, we do not know whether it is moving or whether it is stationary and we are moving! Identifying the cause of the motion would require identifying the motion. Is it acceptable to ask what caused the motion of an object which is standing still?

To me a large part of the question comes down to our ontology. Is it even legitimate to regard a straight line motion as a "change". Any notion of position is very much dependent on the observer.

This doesn't really sink Aquinas at all. As Feser points out, there are other kinds of motion. It does offer a warning that we cannot simply say "everything which is changed is changed by something" in a naive way. We must be careful about what we mean by "thing" and what we mean by "change".

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: if material substances are genuinely capable of ceasing to exist, they must eventually do so. Fair enough; but Aquinas didn't think that all material substances were capable of ceasing to exist. He believed that the heavenly bodies were incorruptible.

Yes, and so as (temporally) "necessary" substances, they get him what he needs to run the main argument of the Third Way. Since it's not immediately obvious that there are beings like angels, or perhaps heavenly bodies, that are incorruptible, he starts by showing that reality cannot consist only of temporally finite beings. If his opponent is willing to grant the existence of incorruptible things, all the better. As far as the Third Way goes, I think the usual translation is misleading. The translation goes: "But it is impossible for these [finite things] always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not." This a plausible translation looking at the Latin word for word: "Impossibile est autem omnia quae sunt, talia esse, quia quod possibile est non esse, quandoque non est."

However, other translations render this: "It is impossible, however, that everything that exists should be such, for what can possibly not exist does not do so at some time." The former seems to be saying that all finite things must come to a (single) end, which has an easy counter-example: just take an endless supply of finite entities and string them out one after the other. They would "always exist", just not all at the same time. The latter translation, however, says that not everything could be finite; and the "endless series" is not a counter-example then, because the series itself is something that exists at every point in time, and thus there is at least one thing that does not come to an end. The second translation makes perfect sense of Aquinas's subsequent statements, and avoids the problematic interpretation of whether things that are corrupt-ible are guaranteed to get corrupt-ed.


I wouldn't say that the type [of a variable] and its value are a composite. If you think this is a poor analogy, I'd be interested to hear why.

The type and value surely are a composite. There are two separate pieces of data, the type of the variable (whether it's a character, an integer, etc.) and the value of the variable. And there is further information tying those pieces of data together (e.g. how this complex data structure is laid out in memory, etc.). Even if you were considering the variable as an abstract mathematical entity (as opposed to one instantiated in a physical computer), the different properties (type vs. value) are distinct, so how could it not be composite?

Brandon said...

However, other translations render this

In the manuscripts, there's a divergence on this premise of the Third Way; thus the second translation is also rendering the Latin strictly, just using the minority reading in the manuscripts.

Glenn said...

reighley,

The Doctrine Of Fidelity To The Mere Observation And Non-Functional Description Of Goings-On Amongst Nature was a playful naming of an attitude which might be held, wholly or in part, by: a) a scientist; b) a non-scientist; c) a philosopher; d) a non-philosopher; e) one with philosophical training (but not really a philosopher); or even, f) one with no philosophical training at all. And it was employed in a juxtapositional capacity--not to make a weak argument look strong or a strong argument look weak, but, rather, for the purpose of suggesting a reason for there having been, as Daniel Smith put it, an emphasis on secondary "final" causes by Dr. Feser.

I'll do away with the metaphorical angle employed in my prior oversimplified, 'blitzkrieg' comment, and revisit instead Teleology Revisited to pluck out / abstract a new starting point for suggesting the same, basic reason behind the questioned emphasis.

The following five points--which are paraphrasings of the original points, and appear here in a different order (with some notations added)--are said by Dr. Feser, in the 10th paragraph therein, to have been made by Christopher Martin in his important book Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations:

1. On the one hand, it is easy for Aquinas (A) to show that teleology (Y) exists in the natural order (X).

2. What takes work, according to A, is showing that the existence of teleology (Y) entails the existence of God (Z).

3. OTOH, Modern philosophers (MP) tend to have a reverse conception of the matter.

4. What MPs tend to think is easy, is getting from the existence of teleology (Y) to the existence of God (Z).

5. But MPs also tend to think that showing that teleology (Y) exists in the natural order (X) is difficult, if not impossible.

To summarize the last two points: MPs tend to think/say (in effect), "Sure, getting from Y to Z is a piece of cake; no doubt about it. Or, rather, it would be a piece of cake if you could start out at Y. But there is a slight problem here. And this slight problem has to do with being able to start out from Y. The reason why this, ahem, slight problem exists is because it so happens that X is the starting point, and you really / probably / most likely can't get from X to Y."

Now, if you are, say, Dr. Feser, and you seek to engage certain arguments of the MPs, or certain arguments of those MPs as 'defined' above, and you bear in mind that these MPs may think that the trip from Y-Z would be a smooth one (if only Y could be legitimately taken as a starting point), which of the two segments would you be most likely to give attention to: that smooth segment having more to do with the extrinsicality of final causes (segment Y-Z), or that (for those MPs as 'defined' above) pot-hole filled segment having more to do with the intrinsicality of final causes (segment X-Y)?

(cont)

Glenn said...

Assuming this question is rightly recognized as being rhetorical--and assuming the point it intends to make is reasonably accurate--it follows that (with regard to Dr. Feser's, as Daniel Smith put it, emphasis on secondary "final" causes):

1. It is neither the case that intrinsic final causes are being promoted (in the sense of their being elevated above their station) nor the case that extrinsic final causes are being demoted; and,

2. The primacy of the extrinsicality of final causes over the secondary intrinsicality of final causes is in no way usurped by all the attention given to, or emphasis heaped upon, secondary "final" causes. Indeed, the primacy of the extrinsicality of final causes is as safe, sound and secure as it has ever been.

It's just that, to borrow from my prior oversimplified, 'blitzkrieg' comment,

[I]f one...is seeking to engage (in some way and for some purpose) adherents of the [playfully, even if inaccurately, named] Doctrine Of Fidelity To The Mere Observation And Non-Functional Description Of Goings-On Amongst Nature--for whom it is an article of faith that there is no teleology in nature--then [the] emphasis [on "secondary" final causes] itself becomes a kind of (or contributes to the) starting point for the intended engagement.

(Of course, it may well be the case that there is some other, more accurate reason which better accounts for the emphasis on secondary "final" causes by Dr. Feser.)

George R. said...

which of the two segments would you be most likely to give attention to: that smooth segment having more to do with the extrinsicality of final causes (segment Y-Z), or that (for those MPs as 'defined' above) pot-hole filled segment having more to do with the intrinsicality of final causes (segment X-Y)?

Yeah, that’s fine, reighley. The only problem is that most of these guys here are coming away with the impression that finality is only intrinsic and not at all extrinsic to natural things -- whereas the reality is that not only is finality extrinsic, it is PRIMARILY and in the TRUEST SENSE extrinsic, and only secondarily intrinsic. Nor is it ever explained how or in what way finality is in things, I.e., not qua finality but rather qua formality.

I think some clarification on these points would be helpful to everyone here.

Alan Aversa said...

This link to the article seems to work, but it requires you have a Google account and log-in to it.

Alan Aversa said...

You would also be interested in Fr. Stanley L. Jaki's New Scholasticism article "The Physicist and the Metaphysician," which is about the correspondences between the early 20th century French physicist Pierre Duhem and Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. regarding the law of inertia and St. Thomas's proofs of God's existence.

Eduardo said...

I sort of feel bad for physicists XD during the article.

But I suppose physicists have no desire to have their beliefs attacked at the philosophical level even if all they are doing is philosophy

I mean imagine having thought about many fundamental questions around the things you have just done in a lab, plowing through mistakes and thinking about the nature of nature, the nature of things... THEN ALL of sudden comes a snob metaphysician and says that you have just arrived two thousand years too late to be the one to answer those questions AND ... you happen to be one nice specimen of a train wreck thinker, while he shows all have got wrong while citing some long forgotten guy that just had too much time in his hand.

You have no idea how hard that is, especially to a scientist who loves his field. Being outwitted is really something terrible in certain sciences ... if not all I suppose.

I mean ... How many times I have not spent days, weeks or even months thinking about ccertain things and trying to come up with sort of a solution to find out that not only the solution is wrong, but the I was hardly the first one to come to it.

That brings a person down XD really hard, unless the person is A-Okay to revise his ideas; which in this case I am not so much.

Alan Aversa said...

@Eduardo: This is precisely why physics must maintain a realist philosophy.

Tom Massey said...

Im a beginner in the field of philosophy however i absolutely love all three books Aquinas, Philosophy of Mind and the Last Superstition, and have found them extremely captivating. I have gathered a rough understanding but Is there anybody who could explain to me the euthyphro objection, and why it is a false dilemma? I also had a discussion recently with my philosophy lecturer who stated that things become more complex the higher up the order they get ie. God is incredibly complex. However, is it not that something is complex in the amount of potential it has therefore the capacity it has to change, and God being pure actuality must be purely simple?

Arthur said...

The Euthyphro objection essentially runs like this. If goodness is whatever God commands, (as in Divine Command Theory), does He command it because it is good, or is it good because he commands it?

The problem would then seem to be that either:

i) God only commands the things He does in light of some further, higher standard, which makes God inessential for goodness. He might be passing on accurate moral information, but isn't the reason it's accurate in the first place.

or:

ii) What's good is good purely because God commands it. God could have decided that say, murder and rape were good instead. This seems to make morality uncomfortably contingent and whimsical.

Those are the two horns of the Euthyphro dilemma, and the point is that neither of them are attractive to a proponent of Divine Commnand Theory.

I'm less clear on the nuances of Aquinas' response, but here goes. One way to think of it is this: Horn 1 implies that God is subservient to morality, beneath it, and Horn 2 implies that God is above morality, and independant of it. Put like that, I think the third option becomes more obvious. Why couldn't God be equal to morality? Perhaps God is morality.

That probably wasn't especially convincing, but from I can tell Aquinas' point is that God and morality are too tightly related to be seperable in the way that the Euthyphro Dilemma requires. (Thomists, feel free to correct me!)

If nothing else, I credit the Euthyphro Dilemma with helping me "get" meta-ethics in the first place. It definitely kick-started my thinking. It's a good place to start thinking about such things, but a bad place to finish, I suspect.

Was your philosophy teacher an atheist? It sounds to me like he was using a bottom-up, materialist metaphysics that implies that God would have to be complex. Just look up "Divine Simplicity" if you want to see the counterpoint to that. It seems to me that Divine Complexity (to give it a name) implies atheism. Richard Dawkins understands that much.

grodrigues said...

@Tom Massey, Arthur:

See God, obligation, and the Euthyphro dilemma.

Tom Massey said...

Yes it is rather funny, the lecture was an 'evangelical atheist' as he put it, so i decided to try and get inside his head and see what makes him tick. it is quite amazing though after reading Dr Feser's books how perfectly he fit the description given by Dr Feser of the contemporary philosopher. No final causes for a start makes things very interesting in a debate. He also had issues with hylemorphism. However as i am still young and new to this game im going to be scavenging around this blog for a bit to see what i can pick up

Alan Aversa said...

יאיר רזק's comment on Oerter's September 23, 2012, "Act and Potency in Physics" posting is interesting. On the relationship between physics and metaphysics, he summarizes what he believes is your view on the relationship between modern physics and A-T metaphysics:

1. Physics presupposes change;
2. change can only be explained in the Thomistic-Aristotelian framework;
3. ∴, physics presupposes the TA-metaphysics.


He continues:
I think that is fallacious, for two reasons:
(a) Aristotelian metaphysics never really succeeded in understanding change, and
(b) there are other metaphysical frameworks out there that are at least as good, if not better, at understanding change.


How would you answer this, Dr. Feser? I would distinguish the major, conceding the minor.

Thanks

Mr. Green said...

Alan Aversa: I am a bit surprised that the poster you quote suggests that Parmenides or Heraclitus supplies a better understanding of change than Aristotle. They are usually seen as presenting either impossible end of a spectrum where Aristotelianism is middle course that actually works. He goes for a static eternalism that denies "potentiality as such"; and while you can get away with that for doing physics (because the mathematical nature of physics in fact describes the world precisely insofar as it can be mapped onto a 4-D structure), it denies our direct experience of change. So even if that description of the physical world were true, we would still need Aristotle to account for our incontrovertible experience of change.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and I agree, any serious student of Thomas needs to read Nature and Motion in the Middle Ages by Weisheipl. It sure opened my eyes. P.S. Plan on reading it at a library, it is very $$$$.

Linus