Sunday, June 17, 2012

Philosophy of nature and philosophy of [fill in the blank]

A reader of my recent post on the philosophy of nature asks some excellent questions:

I wonder, where does the philosophy of physics and in general the philosophy of science fall in between the scheme of metaphysics and philosophy of nature?...

Also, where does the discussion on the topic of the laws of nature belong?  Is that also philosophy of nature? 

Let’s start with the question of how the philosophy of science is related to the philosophy of nature.  Recall from my recent post that as the middle ground field of the philosophy of nature gradually disappeared off the radar screen of modern philosophy, the disciplines on either side of it -- on the one hand, metaphysics and on the other, empirical science (in the modern rather than Aristotelian sense of “science”) -- came to seem the only possible avenues of investigation of reality.  Recall also that the methodology of metaphysics came to seem a matter of “conceptual analysis,” while any study with empirical content came to be identified as part of natural science.  The very notion that there could be a middle ground field of study with empirical foundations but arriving at necessary truths, thus transcending the contingent world described by physics, chemistry, etc. and pointing the way to metaphysics -- as Aristotelian philosophy of nature claims to do -- was largely forgotten.

(The Aristotelian theory of act and potency is the classic example of such a piece of middle ground knowledge.  It is grounded in the basic empirical datum, the fact of change.  But it is not a description of this or that particular change or this or that particular kind of change but rather of all change as such.  Hence while empirically grounded it is not subject to falsification by theorizing in physics, chemistry, etc., because the phenomena dealt with in all such theorizing, since they all involve change, implicitly presuppose the theory of act and potency.  When the theory is worked out, though, it points beyond itself to the core theses of metaphysics, including natural theology -- indeed, as I have argued elsewhere, the theory of act and potency is the key to a sound natural theology.  It is no accident that contemporary philosophers who think metaphysics rests on “conceptual analysis” and who suppose the arguments of natural theology are just lame “god of the gaps” inferences have typically never even heard of the theory of act and potency.  As our friend James Chastek once aptly wrote, “a thomist could probably teach the whole history of modern thought as an overlooking of the distinction between potency and act.”  But I digress.)

A further background consideration is that while ancient and medieval philosophy tended to regard questions of ontology as fundamental and questions of epistemology as secondary, early modern philosophy essentially reversed this.  That is to say, the tendency of the ancients and medievals was to start with questions about what sorts of things exist and what their natures are, and then address the question of how we human beings come to have knowledge of the existence and natures of things.  (After all, to answer the latter, epistemological question you first have to know what a human being is, which is an ontological question.)  The early moderns tended to start instead with the question of how we can know anything -- where that question is understood, not the way an Aristotelian would understand it (as a request for an account of how distinctively human cognitive faculties work, etc.) but rather in terms of radical Cartesian doubt -- and only then, after addressing this skeptical question, to address questions of what sorts of things exist and what they are like.  (The bizarreries of rationalist, empiricist, and Kantian epistemology and metaphysics were the inevitable results of this perverse procedure.  But again, I digress.)  

Now, just as the Aristotelian-Scholastic understanding of metaphysics as grounded in the philosophy of nature gave way to the rationalist conception of metaphysics as grounded in innate ideas, which in turn gave way to the idea of metaphysics as “conceptual analysis,” so too did the Cartesian epistemology of the early moderns which had displaced the Aristotelian-Scholastic approach in turn give way to the linguistic emphasis of early twentieth-century analytic philosophy.  But whether framed in terms of rationalist or empiricist “ideas,” or Kantian “categories,” or the “formal languages” of the logical positivists, or the “ordinary language” of Wittgenstein and Ryle, or the various technical or commonsense “conceptual frameworks” of other writers, the result was invariably subjectivist -- philosophy as a kind of higher navel gazing, the study not of reality but of how we know, or conceptualize, or describe reality.  

Enter the philosophy of science.  The philosophy of nature is concerned with, well, nature -- with the same objective, material world studied by science, albeit it studies deeper aspects of that world than science does.  The philosophy of science is concerned -- or at least was, for most of its history, primarily concerned -- not with nature, but (no surprise) with science, with the disciplines that study the objective, material, natural world.   That is what it was bound to be concerned with given the developments I’ve described.  For with the virtual disappearance of the philosophy of nature and the reduction of metaphysics to “conceptual analysis” or the like, it came to seem that only empirical science could tell us anything about the natural world itself.  The most philosophy could do was address questions about how we know about or describe that world.  Hence for most of its history the philosophy of science was essentially concerned with questions about the methodology of science, the logical structure of scientific theories, the meaning of scientific assertions, and the like (and also, after Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Lakatos, with the history of science).  In other words, whereas the philosophy of nature (like ancient and medieval philosophy in general) had an ontological focus, the philosophy of science has historically tended (like modern philosophy in general) to have an epistemological (or at least logico-linguistic) focus.  Hence while science looks at the world, the philosophy of science looks at science looking at the world.

Now as I have said, that was true of the discipline for most of its history and for the most part.  But not entirely, and not so much these days.  For science, like ordinary experience, simply and unavoidably raises ontological questions it cannot answer.  What is it to be a law of nature?  What is it to be a cause?  Are the theoretical entities posited by physics real?  Are chemistry and biology reducible to physics?  What is a species?  Is science the only avenue of rational investigation of the world, even of the material world?  Philosophers of science were bound to address such questions, and as they addressed them -- and in particular, as they endorsed or at least entertained realist answers to such questions -- work in the philosophy of science started to reflect a concern with issues in what was traditionally known as natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature.  This is especially so in sub-fields like the philosophy of physics, philosophy of chemistry, and philosophy of biology, which are concerned with ontological questions no less than methodological or epistemological issues.  

So, though historically the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of science have tended to have significantly different concerns, recent work in the philosophy of science has included a consideration of issues that have historically been the concern of philosophy of nature.  And some contemporary mainstream writers on the philosophy of science would even go so far as to advocate at least a partial return to the specifically Aristotelian philosophy of nature that the early moderns rejected.  (For more on the Aristotelian understanding of the relationship between the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of science, see William A. Wallace, The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis.)

While we’re on the subject, it is worth noting that other “Philosophy of…” sub-disciplines also seem to have their origins in the abandonment of the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy of nature.  Consider the philosophy of mind.  You won’t find ancient and medieval writers, or later Scholastic writers (well, with the occasional exception), devoting works to that subject.  You will find works on psychology, but “psychology” as they understood it is not merely the study of the mind.  It is rather the study of the soul, where for Aristotelian-Scholastic writers the soul is the form of a living thing, and where “form” is the principle of actuality correlative to “matter” as the principle of potentiality.  Hence “psychology,” for Aristotelian-Scholastic writers, is just that branch of the philosophy of nature devoted to the study of living things, and brings to bear on that study the main concepts of that more general discipline (act and potency, form and matter, efficient and final causality, etc.).  The study of sensation and imagination is part of the study of animal life specifically; and the study of intellect is part of the study of rational animals (i.e. human beings) even more specifically.  So, the study of “mind” is only a part of psychology, which is itself a branch of the philosophy of nature.

Now when the early moderns chucked out the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy of nature, “psychology” was radically transformed.  Gone was the idea that there is an absolute difference in kind -- in particular, a difference in substantial forms and immanent teleological properties -- rather than a difference in degree, between the inorganic and the organic, and between different sorts of inorganic phenomena and different sorts of organic phenomena.  The natural world would come to be reconceived as a vast sea of matter -- “matter” now understood in corpuscularian, atomist, or plenum theoretic terms, and more generally in mathematical terms -- on which tables and chairs, rocks and trees, dogs, cats, and human bodies were, in effect, all just so many waves, the differences between them relatively superficial.  No longer thought of as the substantial form of a living thing, the soul was shrunk down to Descartes’ res cogitans, and the sequel was the modern idea that “psychology” is essentially the study of the mind.  

Now to effect this re-conception of matter, the moderns had to deny that color, odor, sound, taste, heat, cold and sensory qualities in general really existed in the material world in the way common sense supposes they do.  Therein lay the origin of the “qualia problem” -- the problem of explaining exactly how, if these qualities are not really in matter, they are related to the brain, which is one material object among others.  Immanent final causes were also removed from the material world.  And therein lay the origin of the “problem of intentionality” as that is understood in modern philosophy -- the problem of explaining how, if nothing in the material world is inherently “directed toward” anything else as to an end or goal, the directedness of thought relates to the brain.  Features that had once been regarded as inherent to material phenomena in general were suddenly relocated into the mind, which made the mind seem a bizarre exception to what natural science had to say about the rest of nature.  The “philosophy of mind” arose as the discipline concerned with solving this problem.  Cartesian- and property-dualist “solutions” face the interaction problem and the specter of epiphenomenalism; materialist “solutions” tend toward an incoherent eliminativism.  From the Aristotelian-Scholastic point of view, the whole problem -- and by implication the discipline that arose to deal with it -- rests on a mistake.  (See chapter 4 of Aquinas and chapters 5 and 6 of The Last Superstition for more detailed treatment of this subject.)

A friend once asked me why I thought there was in modern philosophy no parallel sub-discipline called the “Philosophy of matter.”  A very good question.  The answer, I think, is that a great many modern philosophers have uncritically swallowed the idea that physical science tells us everything we need to know about matter and that mind alone is problematic, so that a “philosophy of mind” is needed in a way that a “philosophy of matter” is not.  Many, but not all.  Bertrand Russell and contemporary philosophers influenced by him (Michael Lockwood, Grover Maxwell, David Chalmers, Galen Strawson, and others) have emphasized that physics does not in fact give us the intrinsic nature of matter, but only its structure.  Idealists, panpsychists, process philosophers, and neutral monists have offered different accounts of what this intrinsic nature is.  They do not agree with the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosopher about the solution, but at least they recognize the problem.  And there really is no good reason why matter, as the moderns tend to think of it, should be considered any less problematic than mind; indeed, as these various non-materialist modern philosophers tend to realize, it is more problematic.  (It was by reading Russell and Lockwood -- neither of whom is a religious apologist -- that I came to see, while I was in graduate school and still an atheist, just how philosophically problematic the modern conception of matter really is, and how superficial is the thinking of most contemporary materialists.)

It is arguable that even the “Philosophy of religion,” as that discipline is understood today, is an artifact of the moderns’ abandonment of the philosophy of nature.  For the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, the theory of act and potency, when worked out, leads us to the existence of a cause of change that is pure actuality, which is the philosophical core of the Aristotelian conception of God.  Other arguments in the philosophy of nature and in metaphysics lead in the same direction.  (See chapter 3 of Aquinas and my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” for more on that subject.)  The upshot is a body of knowledge that constitutes a “science” (in the Aristotelian sense) of its own, namely natural theology.

But as I noted in my earlier post, the main arguments of traditional natural theology were radically transformed (and indeed stripped of their force) as a result of the abandonment of the philosophy of nature.  In particular, they were retooled either as arguments of the Leibnizian rationalist metaphysical sort or as quasi-scientific empirical hypotheses of the Paleyan sort, and thereby made subject to stock objections often regarded as fatal, but in fact irrelevant to the older Aristotelian-Thomistic theistic arguments.  With the virtual disappearance of the philosophy of nature and the deflation of metaphysics, natural theology as a body of knowledge in its own right also disappeared.  In its place came the “Philosophy of religion,” a handful of stand-alone philosophical curiosities rather than (as Scholastic natural theology had been) a vast and systematic body of thought.  The dismissal of grotesque caricatures of the Five Ways would become the order of the day as Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature, apart from which the arguments cannot be understood, were forgotten.  The Platonic-Augustinian background to Anselm’s ontological argument would also be routinely ignored.  In general, the arguments of classical and medieval authors would be crudely assimilated to those of modern writers like Leibniz, Descartes, and Paley, and thereby misinterpreted either as exercises in rationalist metaphysics grounded in “conceptual analysis,” or as “god of the gaps”-style empirical hypothesis formation.  

There’s more to the story than that, of course.  But that story, like the story of modern philosophy in general, simply cannot be understood unless one understands the role that the philosophy of nature played in ancient and medieval thought, and the gap that was left when it was abandoned.

68 comments:

Ismael said...

This is really an excellent reflection Dr. Feser.

The question is: can we regain those old, yet precious, philosophical insights today or are we doomed to continue to walk on the erroneous path set by the early moderns, leaving the old ideas only in the hands of the few interested in them (like thomists)?

Another question, perhaps a pragmatic and utilitarian one: what would empirical science gain if we regained such insights and we started doing philosophy the "proper" way again?

Champlain said...

When I began studying the philosophy of science, I was struck by the seemingly irrational position of many in the empiricist school regarding the complete rejection of metaphysics. This sounds insane to me. Furthermore, the school that seems to have had the most influence in science, but is now considered false and debunked in the philosophy of science, are the logical positivists or the logical empiricists, mainly of the Vienna Circle. It seems to me that the mistakes they made in philosophy are so basic that it is surprising that anyone with rudimentary knowledge of the field of philosophy could have taken this seriously. The New Atheists seem to have an “attitude” of logical positivism, which is laughable, because of the ease at which one can destroy the foundations of just about all their assertions.

Eduardo said...

U_U .. I have been a sucker for moddernist thought all this time then ???

U_U this wasn't suppose to happen since I am philosophically illiterate, but somehow I came to the same type of thought process as the modernists. Everything to me tends to begin in Epistemology and ontology tends to be a secondary part of an analisys.

Does that mean that one can hardly escape the thinking of his or her society ???

Eduardo said...

Soooo ... I think I know the answer to the question, but I wanted to ask anyway.

HOW would science be if we had not become modernists in thought ???

Anonymous said...

"HOW would science be if we had not become modernists in thought ???"

I would like to know your view about this too Dr. Feser.

And if the rejection of sensible qualities with the statement that the physical world must be found not in our common perception but in a mathematical structure underlying the observated phenomena and that mathematical structure constitutes the objective reality together with the abandonment of essentialism were fundamental to all scientific advance that the moderns have achieved.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

@champlain,

Could you point to a book other than Prof. Feser's that shows the inadequacy of the positivists' views? I'd like one that deals with that specifically if you wouldn't mind.

Anonymous said...

How does the idea of essences or substantial form jive with evolution? I hate to broach this tiresome dichotomy, but I don't understand when a mutation ceases to be a failure to conform to the substantial form of a thing (say, in the club foot example used by Prof. Feser) and when it takes on a new substantial form. Where is the line when we determine a new species verses a failed instance of an extant species?

If a black bear has a different essence/substantial form than a grizzly bear, and if we assume black bears evolved from grizzlies, then when did the black bear posses a different substantial form and no longer become a bad instance of a grizzly bear?

I'm having difficulty seeing when that distinction occurs.

Sobieski said...

@Anonymous 2:34

Check out William Wallace's, The Modeling of Nature, mentioned by Dr. Feser.

Vincent Smith also has a an excellent book on the philosophy of nature entitled The General Science of Nature in which he contrasts the modern scientific approach to nature (quantitative) with the philosophy of nature. May be hard to find a copy though...

Sobieski

Anonymous said...

Please find a site which gives a unique perspective on the relation between science, art and culture. Especially that of quantum physics/theory.

The author is a practicing surgeon and a teaching professor too.

www.artandphysics.com

Also a site which introduces a much wider perspective on the relation between science, religion and culture.

http://ervinlaszlo.com/forum

Champlain said...

Anonymous,

Some resources on the philosophy of science that tackle the specific problems of logical positivism and logical empiricism:

http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Science-The-Central-Issues/dp/0393971759

http://www.amazon.com/Theory-Reality-Introduction-Philosophy-Foundations/dp/0226300633/ref=pd_sim_b_1

Also, the Great Courses has a 36 lecture course by Jeffery Kasser.

Glenn said...

See also Chapter 6 of George A. Reisch's How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic, , starting with Horkheimer's and Marcuse's Attack.

Eduardo said...

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.br/2012/01/reading-rosenberg-part-vi.html

I think this one is the post Dr Feser talks about evolution while criticising Rosenberg... Perhaps that is what the Anon before wanted to know ?

Anonymous said...

No, that wasn't exactly it. Thanks for the try though.

I'm more getting at the relationship between substantial form and natural selection. When do we say that a thing has a new substantial form and is no longer a bad instance of an old substantial form (since mutations that occur over time, and which give a selective advantage, ultimately determine a new species)?

If evolution is true, then the number of species in nature are not fixed and new ones can arise, which would in turn have new substantial forms. But at what point in the speciation do we say that the "new" substantial form actually exists in nature?

Anybody?

Sobieski said...

Yes, you are asking about definition and the specific difference which sets a given species apart from other members in a genus. Given that the human intellect is the lowest order intelligence, we often have trouble knowing exactly what sets one species apart from another and have to settle for something less like definition by accidents or properties. The problem for moderns is expecting to attain clear and distinct ideas about all subject matters ala Descartes and mathematics which isn't realistic in every case. So we do the best we can when it comes to things like the classification of living species even if it is not exact in all cases. Ie, we do not have angelic intellects whereby we can grasp the essences of things by one conception. Rather, we have to work from the outside in and from the general to the more specific through a multitude of concepts which may only yield an imprecise grasp of the nature of a thing.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 3:08 PM

I think that’s a good question. It looks like forms evolve.

monk68 said...

Anybody else here read Deely's "Four Ages of Understanding" and his general notion of semiology as an answer to the epistemic concerns of modernity?

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:14 AM
"When do we say that a thing has a new substantial form and is no longer a bad instance of an old substantial form"

THANK YOU for asking this question. I've been troubled by the same question for quite awhile now. I'm completely on board, at a high level at least, with hylemorphism, but once one zooms into the specifics, the whole thing starts to feel "squishy" to me. It seems impossible to actually identify precise boundaries for things. The indefinability of nature actually strikes me as a potential argument against the existence of substantial forms in things. If we can't ever come up with a precise definition of something how can we say that something IS something?

The comment by Sobieski does address this question, but I have to say it doesn't feel satisfactory to me. I would love for Prof. Feser to address this question.

-Anonymous #3

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #3,

I agree. Though I suspect, as has been the case previously, that this is some sort of misunderstanding on my part. I am about to read Oderberg's Real Essentialism, so I am hoping that he may address the question as well.

I think the answer probably involves something to do with accidental forms, but I'm not sure.

-Anonymous #1

Sobieski said...

The problem is not so much whether natures or substances exist, but how we know them. We can know they must exist based off of general principles of nature as Dr. Feser and others argue. The more enmattered a subject-matter is, however, the less intelligible it is since matter and potency are principles of unintelligibility. So we should not expect exactitude in sciences like ethics as compared with mathematics. Likewise we may be able to identify the SD between cat and dog, whereas it becomes more difficult identifying the difference between two types of insect. Is the difference essential or merely accidental? I am sure biologists have the same problems, but are not thinking of them in a philosophical context.

Alan Aversa said...

Maritain calls metaphysics a "regulative science." Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., in his The Way toward Wisdom (vide the first chapter, this excerpt, and John Deely's review), considers metaphysics, which he terms "metascience," the true philosophy of science.

@monk68: Yes, I have read Deely's Four Ages of Understanding. It is very good. It introduced me to John of St. Thomas and C. S. Peirce. I especially liked learning about cenoscopy versus ideoscopy and how semiotics bridges those two realms. Also, Deely argues that "objectivity" and "subjectivity" is a false dichotomy. Interestingly, "objective" and "subjective" used to mean completely the opposite of what they do today!

Deely's 2010 book Medieval Philosophy Redefined is an updated version of his 2001 Four Ages.

Anonymous said...

Sobieski,

I see the point you are making, and it is a good one. I, too, think that this is not a problem regarding the existence of substantial forms per se, though it is not merely an epistemological question either.

I only used examples in my post above to raise a deeper question about how substanstial forms are to be understood in light of the sort of change described by natural selection.


Does understanding this at all involve having knowledge of exactidudes which we may not be able to have? I really don't know.

-Anonymous #1

W.LindsayWheeler said...

I have read the whole thing because I am most interested in the Laws of Nature and where they belong, but the phrase "Laws of Nature" only appear once, at the stating of the goals of the post. It is one of the goals to answer but I don't think, (I may have missed it) but I don't think it was ever answered. There is a discussion of how modern sophistry changed this and that and dropped a lot of things, but I could not find an answer to the question---Where do the Laws of Nature that the Dorians discovered that influenced Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Plato, and Socrates, come in? Where does the Golden Mean fit in? Is it in the Philosophy of Nature? And what covers "Wisdom"?

Is there Philosophy.
Then a Natural Theology.
Metaphysics.
Philosophy of Nature.
Philosophy of Epistemology.
Philosophy of Science.
Philosophy of Pscyhology.
Etc.

Is metaphysics separate from the Philosophy of Nature? Doesn't Natural Theology include and use metaphysics? If "The Rule of One is Best" is a Law of Nature, or Natural Law, and that it goes towards the Natural Theology and Philosophy of Nature, where does it belong?

Maybe someone can straighten me out, but I think the OP forgot to answer the second goal.

DNW said...

Anonymous said...

@champlain,

Could you point to a book other than Prof. Feser's that shows the inadequacy of the positivists' views? I'd like one that deals with that specifically if you wouldn't mind.

June 17, 2012 2:34 PM"


Not a book but one of those moments that will live forever


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cnRJGs08hE&feature=player_detailpage#t=388s

Tony said...

If a black bear has a different essence/substantial form than a grizzly bear, and if we assume black bears evolved from grizzlies, then when did the black bear posses a different substantial form and no longer become a bad instance of a grizzly bear?

They are probably the same species, using "species" in the sense Aristotle uses it. As well as brown bears, polar bears, and most likely other bears.

So also, lions and tigers are probably the same species, possibly along with leopards, cheetahs, panthers, etc. Datum: there are ligers and tigons from mating tigers with lions.

The only answer that needs to be said in response to the evolutionary "problem" is that the case of offspring of species A belonging to a different species B must ultimately come from a source that already holds the actuality of species-B-ness, not simply from parent A. Nothing about modern theory denies the possibility.

goddinpotty said...

@Tony -- every single species on earth (and every individual) is related to each other -- the only difference is how much. Lions and bears are both members of the order Carnivora so are presumed to share a common ancestor, probably in the middle Eocene, about 42 million years ago. Here's a picture of the phylogenetic tree. So you haven't answered the question, just pushed it back.

Anonymous said...

@Sobieski
Thanks for the clarification.
Re: "Likewise we may be able to identify the SD between cat and dog, whereas it becomes more difficult identifying the difference between two types of insect. Is the difference essential or merely accidental? I am sure biologists have the same problems, but are not thinking of them in a philosophical context."

FWIW, I have a biologist friend who tells me that things get really interesting at meetings between evolutionary paleontologists who do the hard work of cataloguing new fossils. Apparently there are "lumpers" (people who generally want to try to fit the fossils into existing species categories, and "splitters" (those who want to define a new species, and perhaps make a claim to fame in the process...) and the two groups don't get along...!

:-)

-Anonymous #3

Anonymous said...

Obviously, not all species on earth have the same substantial form. So the question is if two species share a common ancestor or evolved from one another but definitely have different substantial forms, how/when in the process (or whatever) did their substantial forms "change?"

Glenn said...

No two things are so much alike that there is no difference.

And the abilities to "zoom in" (so a difference makes a difference) and "zoom out" (so a difference doesn't make a difference) inhere in the capacity to perceive any thing (or any group of two or more things). There'll always be wrangling over who has authority to adjust the "zoom" knob, and there'll always be wrangling over whether the "zoom" knob should be adjusted, and, if so, in which direction, as well as how by much. And whatever is done with the "zoom" knob, and even if nothing at all is done with it, there always will be someone to lodge a complaint.

Mind me not: ("lack of sleep last night" v "excess of coffee this morning").

Sobieski said...

@Anon. #1, et. al.

I don't know either, and I suppose, it would depend on a case by case basis. Modern biology surely has a number of tools for getting at the essences of living things better than what was available to Aristotle or the medievals. Tony's point about reproduction is a good one for higher animals. In terms of definition from an Aristotelian/Thomistic perspective, places to look would be in Aristotle's logical and biological works. I recall Aristotle and St. Thomas discussing definition, for example, in the second book of the Posterior Analytics. It's probably a topic worthy of a PhD thesis.

As I mentioned, I don't think difficulty in classification is a problem for the objective existence of substantial forms or natures in things. We arrive at the existence of these principles from giving an account of change in the world and the act/potency distinction. To explain change (vs. Parmenides) and while maintaining the unity of the subject (vs. reductionism to "atoms in the void"), the principles of matter, form and privation are required. There is no other way. These principles and Aristotle's definition of motion as the "actualization of a potency..." were often mocked by moderns, but the latter were interested in a quantificational approach yielding control of nature (which is fine for what it is worth). So far as I know, they assumed motion as a given without looking for a (real) definition and weren't concerned with "occult" natures.

The difficulty under discussion seems to be how we distinguish said natures (i.e., how we formulate definitions). Definition can be perfect when it is by genus and specific difference or the four causes (e.g., the classic "man is a rational animal"). It is imperfect by accidents or properties (e.g., dog is a barking animal). My suspicion is that modern biology classifies in the latter way in many cases, but genetics may take us further.

Again to my mind, the problem lay in the weakness of the human intellect to comprehensively grasp the natures of material things. We know essences initially in a vague way and through a process of refinement by observation, experimentation, reasoning, etc. come to a more precise and comprehensive grasp. If we were angels, however, we could penetrate to the essences of things directly and grasp them comprehensively by one concept. But we aren't angels:

(continued...)

Sobieski said...

(...continued)

"...a learned or well-instructed man should look for as much certitude in any matter as the nature of the subject admits. There cannot he as much certainty in variable and contingent matter as in necessary matter which is always the same. Therefore, the educated man ought not to look for greater, nor be satisfied with less, certitude than is appropriate to the subject under discussion. It seems an equal fault to allow a mathematician to use rhetorical arguments and to demand from a rhetorician conclusive demonstrations such as a mathematician should give. But mistakes happen because the method appropriate to the matter is not considered. Mathematics is concerned with matter in which perfect certitude is found. Rhetoric, however, deals with political matter where a variety of views occurs." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Comm. Ethics, lect. 3, para. 36)

Following St. Thomas, I likewise think biology would be less certain because it considers a more enmattered subject-matter vs. mathematics which abstracts from such (to what St. Thomas calls "intelligible matter").

As for when a substantial change would occur, it would occur when said matter is no longer appropriate for the substantial form. Assuming macro-evolution actually occurs, I suppose that through an accidental change (or process of changes) brought on by certain circumstances, whatever they may be, a new type of form would be educed from said matter (presumably for animals in the course of generation). Since modern, evolutionary biologists can't explain how the process occurs in nature, I don't know that much more can be articulated from an Aristotelian perspective, though I doubt, if true, macro-evolution will ultimately present a problem for Aristotle's general principles of nature.

We already have some example of this when an animal dies. Matter (i.e., the body) deteriorates to the point where the form can no longer abide and death results. What then replaces the animal is some other substance (with correlative form and matter) or aggregate of substances, some of which may have been virtually present before and which continue to breakdown in a process characterized by the series of accidental changes. Where the substantial changes occur along the way in the process may or may not be entirely evident, but we know that such is happening based of off Aristotle's general principles of nature.

kuartus said...

I know of someone who developed an argument against evolution bases on aristotles concept of substantial forms:

Link

George R. said...

Sobieski writes:
As for when a substantial change would occur, it would occur when said matter is no longer appropriate for the substantial form.

Nice try, Sobi, but when matter is no longer appropriate for the substantial form it results in either corruption or in non-generation of the substance, but certainly not in the development of a new substantial form. What you are suggesting here is that matter can determine form, that potency can determine act. In other words, you have stood Aristotle on his head.

Assuming macro-evolution actually occurs, I suppose that through an accidental change (or process of changes) brought on by certain circumstances, whatever they may be, a new type of form would be educed from said matter (presumably for animals in the course of generation).

Form is “educed” from matter? I don't think so. But I see this one from the Thomistic-flavored evolutionists all the time. I wonder what on earth it can possibly mean? What could this new form possibly be doing rattling around in there just waiting to be educed, and what, pray tell, is the “educer?” I’m sorry, Sobi, but this “educing” thesis seems a little gimpy to me, and it's certainly not thomism.

…I doubt, if true, macro-evolution will ultimately present a problem for Aristotle's general principles of nature.

On the contrary, Sobi, macro-evolution is a direct contradiction of Aristotelian principles. Those who understand the issue admit this. For example, here is what philosopher, F. F. Centori, an evolutionist and thomistic scholar, had the honesty to say about the ramifications of evolutionary thesis:

"In earlier philosophies of nature, as for example in the case of Aristotle, each species is a definite kind or type, an incarnation, divided up into many individuals, of an ' idea.' Under such circumstances to talk about a change of species or the transformation of one species into another was nonsense. It would literally involve a logical contradiction in terms." (Is Darwin Dead?, Thomist, October 1983 p. 559) [emphasis mine]

Sobieski said...

@George R.

Nice try, Sobi, but when matter is no longer appropriate for the substantial form it results in either corruption or in non-generation of the substance, but certainly not in the development of a new substantial form. What you are suggesting here is that matter can determine form, that potency can determine act. In other words, you have stood Aristotle on his head.

When a substance corrupts, what is left over? Matter does not exist alone, but always with form in a substance. So when a thing corrupts, substance(s) result. I never said matter determines form.

Form is “educed” from matter? I don't think so. But I see this one from the Thomistic-flavored evolutionists all the time. I wonder what on earth it can possibly mean? What could this new form possibly be doing rattling around in there just waiting to be educed, and what, pray tell, is the “educer?” I’m sorry, Sobi, but this “educing” thesis seems a little gimpy to me, and it's certainly not thomism.

I don't know about "Thomistic" evolutionists and don't have any particular mission to defend macro-evolution. I was proceeding on the assumption that it actually occurs for the sake of the other posters. Eduction, however, is a standard Thomistic term to describe how form is derived by an agent from matter's potencies rather than impressed upon it from without. You should know that basic fact if you are truly familiar with Thomism.

On the contrary, Sobi, macro-evolution is a direct contradiction of Aristotelian principles. Those who understand the issue admit this. For example, here is what philosopher, F. F. Centori, an evolutionist and thomistic scholar, had the honesty to say about the ramifications of evolutionary thesis:

"In earlier philosophies of nature, as for example in the case of Aristotle, each species is a definite kind or type, an incarnation, divided up into many individuals, of an ' idea.' Under such circumstances to talk about a change of species or the transformation of one species into another was nonsense. It would literally involve a logical contradiction in terms." (Is Darwin Dead?, Thomist, October 1983 p. 559) [emphasis mine]

Under any system, each species is a definite kind or type; otherwise, we wouldn't bother to classify them. His use of the word 'idea' sounds more Platonic to me, but regardless, I'm happy that Centori has an opinion on the matter. The question is whether one type can evolve from another. In that regard, I am not claiming that a substantial form morphs into a different substantial form. That would be a contradiction on Aristotelian terms because act would then also be potency. Rather, evolution would be akin to both Aristotle's and St. Thomas's account for the existence of "monsters" (i.e., defective effects) in their view of nature. A set of circumstances brings about a variation, whether accidental or essential, which results in a new actuality.

NW said...

@Sobieski,

Where would one find an account of defecitive effects/monsters in the works of St. Thomas/Aristotle?

I'm assuming a mutation as understood by modern evolutionary theory would be some akin to a change in accidental form. Is it possible for something to take on a new susbtantial form if many/all of its accidental features were to "mutate?" I didn't think that was the case.

Is the matter of the mutated animal/plant/whatever so radically different that a new substantial form is neccessary, as in the case of death?

Mr. Green said...

George R. quotes Centori: Under such circumstances to talk about a change of species or the transformation of one species into another was nonsense.

This issue has come up before, but it seems that Centori does not understand what evolution is supposed to be about. Admittedly, it is a horribly abused term, but even so it's not hard to figure out that the key idea is that organisms are not limited to (re)producing according to kind. Clearly it does not mean that a form somehow turns into a different form; any talk that suggests that is merely shorthand for saying that a population of As can change over time to a population of Bs, which is itself shorthand for saying that the individuals making up a population were once all As, and at some later time the individuals making up that population are all Bs. It's no different from watching a scoreboard count up and saying that the number on it is changing: nobody thinks that the number Three can "change" into the number Four. It's a perfectly acceptable way to communicate that the number displayed on the scoreboard keeps getting replaced with a different number.

All that is required for special evolution (i.e. the evolution of new species over time) — at least considered at this very broad level — is for an organism with the substantial form of an A to be capable of producing an organism with the substantial form of a B. And it should be clear that such a thing is possible; if it is in the nature of As to produce Bs, then that is what they will do. If it is in the nature of As to produce other As most of the time, and occasionally produce a B, then that is what they will do. If it is in the nature of an A with particular accidents a₁, a₂, a₃ to produce a B, then that is what it will do (given suitable opportunity).

Now whether such a thing is possible given the actual laws of biology in our world, or whether it ever has happened, are different questions, and ones for biologists to address. But the general principle is quite possible in metaphysical terms. In fact, we know that Aristotle and Aquinas both accepted this principle because they believed in spontaneous generation, which is a prime example of entities producing organisms of a different substantial form. The problem for evolution is not whether one substance can produce a different substance under the right circumstances — Aristotle says yes! — but whether we have sufficient scientific evidence to show that it ever happened.


Kuartus: I know of someone who developed an argument against evolution bases on aristotles concept of substantial forms

I only glanced at the linked article, and maybe missed the actual argument for that point, but it seems to be making the same mistake of thinking either that an individual is claimed to change its substance or that substances have to reproduce exactly (or both).


NW: I'm assuming a mutation as understood by modern evolutionary theory would be some akin to a change in accidental form. Is it possible for something to take on a new susbtantial form if many/all of its accidental features were to "mutate?"

Well, as mentioned, a given creature cannot change its substantial form (that really would be a contradiction), but how something behaves depends on various considerations, including its accidents. For example, maybe for a certain animal, if both parents have dark fur the offspring will have dark fur, and if both parents have light fur, then so will the offspring. Since mutations are indeed accidents, an A with certain mutations may produce Bs, while an A without those mutations would produce more As.

I would also note that mutational accidents do not necessarily mean that the creature is deformed. A different eye-colour, say, might be the result of a mutation without being a deformity. Of course, in practice significant mutations do seem to be damaging, which is certainly a challenge for anyone wishing to produce empirical evidence of special evolution.

George R. said...

Mr. Green,

I accept that it's not metaphysically impossible that an organism generate another of a different kind. In fact, in the case of the elements we see it all the time: e.g. hydrogen and oxygen generate water. Hybrids are also possible, and so is spontaneous generation as Aquinas understood it, metaphysically speaking anyway. But none of this has anything to do with evolution. Evolution is the gradual change of one substance into another through many generations. This is what’s impossible, because in order for one substance to gradually change into another through many generations, the substantial form itself has to gradually change; for the substantial form determines what the substance is.

But to be fair, what you seem to be saying is this: “No, the substantial form doesn’t change, it’s just that A, which has hitherto only generated A, suddenly decides (Bammo!) to generate B. So the form hasn’t changed; it’s just that one form has been substituted for another.” But that raises the question of where the new substantial form comes from. Does it come from God? If it does, then that’s not evolution but a miracle. Or does it perhaps come from a change in the disposition of matter? If you say this, then you are saying that matter can determine form, which is metaphysically absurd.

But I’ll let you answer the question yourself: Where does the substantial form come from?

Sobieski said...

@NW

Defective effects are something usually mentioned in passing, though Aristotle or St. Thomas might treat of monstrosities of nature explicitly somewhere. Aristotle, for example, mentions it in Physics II.8 (199b3-7). St. Thomas refers to it in the context of natural or ontological evil in De Malo 1.3 resp.

I think the normal case for variation would be accidental modifications, though, in theory some interference in the process of generation or successive generations (e.g., defects in matter, causes interfering with the generating agent, etc.) could result in a new species (i.e., nature and substance). I don't see any problem with this on Aristotelian or Thomistic grounds and agree with Mr. Green. His point about spontaneous generation is also well taken as a non-univocal agent brings about a new and different substance from the potencies latent in things (i.e., eduction as mentioned previously).

Sobieski said...

@George R.

But I’ll let you answer the question yourself: Where does the substantial form come from?

You are setting up a strawman. It seems like you are thinking of matter as some sort of inert container in which forms are impressed. This is not the Aristotelian or Thomistic view.

William Wallace, reknowned Thomist and Galileo scholar:

"Since NF2 is a natural form and not an accidental or artificial form like that imposed on the marble from without, one may inquire where such forms come from. The answer an Aristotelian philosopher such as Aquinas provides is somewhat surprising: they are not preexistent as forms, nor are they created in any way; instead, they are simply 'educed' from the potency of protomatter. This is St. Thomas's teaching on the eductio formae ex potentia materiae. It holds that all natural forms are already precontained in the potentialities of the substrate, requiring only the action of the appropriate agent to bring them forth into being. The analogy of the sculptor casts light on this explanation. We may ask where the form of David existed before it was chiseled out of the marble by Michelangelo. One answer would focus on the exemplary cause: the form existed in the mind of the sculptor. But an equally valid answer would look to the material cause, to the block of marble, and say that David's form was resident in there all along, simply waiting to be led forth, educed, liberated from the matter under the action of Michelangelo's chisel. In a proportionate way, natural forms may be said to be resident in protomatter, awaiting only the proper agent to confer on them actual existence. And if we consider mass-energy to be a metric for protomatter, corresponding to the medieval's quantitas materiae, we already have a measure in terms of which we can quantify many aspects of the subsequent development." (The Modeling of Nature, p. 60)

Anonymous said...

@Sobieski,

"And if we consider mass-energy to be a metric for protomatter, corresponding to the medieval's quantitas materiae, we already have a measure in terms of which we can quantify many aspects of the subsequent development."

What does this mean? The entire quote made wonderful sense, but I'm confused by this particular part.

Sobieski said...

@Anon.

"...Aristotle spoke of the ultimate material component of natural entities as hule prote, a Greek expression meaning protomatter (PM) or first matter. He thought of it as a type of conservation principle that persists through all natural changes in the universe. Surprisingly, scientists have come to develop a similar conception in recent years. No longer do they attempt to identify one final substance, a single super-quark, for example, that is the ultimate building block of the universe. Instead their emphasis is on delineating factors that are conserved in all the transformations that take place in the world of nature. Such conservation principles have been known and investigated for some time. They have been successively formulated as the conservation of matter, energy, mass, and finally, after Einstein's discovery of mass-energy equivalence (E=mc2), mass-energy. Perhaps the last named, mass-energy, comes the closest to conveying the Aristotelian idea of protomatter as the basic stuff of the universe. Whatever quarks may be, or leptons and hadrons in their various forms, it seems generally agreed that all are manifestations of mass-energy, the ultimate matrix to which science seems to have come in identifying the material cause of the universe." (Ibid., p. 8-9)

Wallace is using mass-energy as a surrogate for the quantitative measure of protomatter. He has much more to say, and I would heartily recommend his book. Hopefully this helps clarify the earlier citation for you.

Mr. Green said...

George R.: But I’ll let you answer the question yourself: Where does the substantial form come from?

The same place it comes from when H₂ and O make water, or when a hybrid is generated. When hydrogen and oxygen "decide" to make water, bammo, is that a miracle? Oh well, it is mirabile dictu. But Sobieski already responded well to this part.

Evolution is the gradual change of one substance into another through many generations.

There's no reason, hypothetically speaking, that special evolution would need to be gradual. However, the idea is that As do not generate other As until one day they suddenly wake up and start generating Bs; rather, only As of a certain kind (with certain accidents) will have the potential to generate Bs, and these accidental differences will occur or accumulate gradually over time. This is trivially true, because we observe it happening all the time (e.g. new breeds). If the biology of the actual world allows for new species to come about this way, then an A₂₉, say, instead of producing a new breed A₃₀, may instead by its nature generate a B₀.

Anonymous said...

Sobieski,

It does. I'm planning on ordering it off Amazon. Hopefully it will clarify some other questions I have as well. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green,

So an A with certain accidental features would have the potential to generate a new species B, and B would have the potential to generate C, but A would not have the potential to generate C? I guess this is how macro-evolution would, at least in theory, occur.

And I still have conceptual problems, but as long as Aquinas thought spontaneous generation possible, it doesn't really seem like there is a problem in theory between macroevolution and hylemorphism, and it becomes a question of what the biological facts allow.

Do you guys know of any books that engage the sort of thing being discussed here?

George R. said...

Mr. Green writes:
However, the idea is that As do not generate other As until one day they suddenly wake up and start generating Bs; rather, only As of a certain kind (with certain accidents) will have the potential to generate Bs, and these accidental differences will occur or accumulate gradually over time.

Here’s the problem with all this: If A generates A, it is either because it is essentially an A-generator or only accidentally an A- generator. Let’s first assume it’s the former. If A is essentially an A-generator, and if it at some point ceases to generate A and instead generates B, then A will have essentially been changed from an A-generator to a B-generator. In other words, an A that generates B will no longer be an A. Thus, the essential change of A must be explained. Did it occur at its own generation? Then the parent (generator) of the pseudo A must also not have been a true A. And there is an infinite regress.

Now if we assume that A is not essentially an A-generator but only accidentally so, all kinds of problems arise. For if A is not essentially an A-generator, then it is not essentially a generator at all, for powers are specified by their ends, and the end of generation is a specific form not a generic one. Therefore, if the power of generation is from the essence of the thing, so is the specific thing it generates. To put it another way, if A generates A only accidently, then so is A’s power of generating anything at all merely accidently. But if the powers of things to generate things are merely accidental, what can possibly be considered essential?

But all this is merely foreground. The real question is where does the substantial form come? Or, perhaps, a better way to put it is how does the substantial form exist in act (for forms qua forms are act) prior to its existence in reality? And prior existence they must have, for the principles of substance are primary matter and substantial form, and these two principles must exist somehow, not only prior to the composite of which they are constituents, but also prior to process by which the composite is generated.

That is the question that the evolutionists can’t answer. So instead they monkey with the traditional thomistic understandings of primary matter and substantial form, describing the former as some kind of energy and the latter as somehow skulking around in matter waiting to be pulled up by the ears by some educing agent.

Tony said...

I think George already said it, but let me add it in my own way.

If A has a nature that includes the power of "generating", then what we mean by this is that A has the power of making (from A) a new individual entity that _has_ the same kind, because it is "like in kind" to A, and that means that they are identical in form: they are both instances of A-ness. For A to have the power to make a B, something not like A in kind, we normally would not call this generation properly, because generation (in A) is making a new one like to A.

The reason A, a living thing, can have a power to generate a new one like A is that A has the nature of A-ness in act. It takes actuality to reduce potential to act, and in particular it takes A-ness in act to reduce matter of a new entity to A-ness. A can generate a new one like to A precisely because it has A-ness.

For A to produce a B, A would have to have the actuality of B-ness, which means that it is not defined by A-ness. (Not if A-ness and B-ness are distinct species). It makes no sense to suppose that A can make a B by generation. If it can do it at all, it can only do so by something else.

One other options is degeneration: if A-ness includes within its own ratio B-ness as a virtual component thereof, A can undergo a degeneration and thus result in a B. A living tiger can die and degenerate into component stuff, like proteins. The proteins were included virtually in tigerness.

Another option is that A can act as an instrumental cause, outside itself, helping reduce C to D: if A applies heat to the stuff that turns into rubber, that doesn't imply A holds rubber-ness as a virtual aspect of A-ness. But then the cause of the form rubber-ness in the rubber must be found not in A but elsewhere.

But for A to form a new entity of B-kind, the actuality of B-ness must be found in act somewhere A can lay its hands on it. If B-ness is different in kind from A-ness, A can't have B-ness as its own nature in act, by definition. Then A can only be an instrumental agent cause of B, not a true generator of B. Thus, neo-scholastics who try to save evolution suppose that the "father" A of the offspring B is the source of the matter of B, but not the full proper cause, and that God or an angel or something superior to B must use A as an instrumental cause of the form B-ness being in B.

Sobieski said...

@George R.

You're making another straw man argument. Unproven assumptions:

1) Generation entails that the generator and generated have the same specific formality. The generator, for example, cannot be of a more generic formality or virtually contain the formalities of its effect(s).

2) Only the generator is involved in generation. Per accidens causality does not exist or cannot occur in certain scenarios which could entail variations in effect (e.g., a chance occurrence in which another cause interferes with generation, a defect in the matter of generation, etc.).

You contradicted yourself earlier when you granted (1): "I accept that it's not metaphysically impossible that an organism generate another of a different kind. In fact, in the case of the elements we see it all the time: e.g. hydrogen and oxygen generate water. Hybrids are also possible, and so is spontaneous generation as Aquinas understood it, metaphysically speaking anyway."

Aristotle and St. Thomas both give an account for chance and per accidens causality, hold that nature acts always or for the most part, and hold that generation does not require generation of the same specific formality. We aren't interested in Aristotelian or Thomistic philosophy of nature and metaphysics according to George, so please give us examples where they deny (1) and (2).

George R. said...

Sobi:
"You contradicted yourself earlier..."

No, I didn't.

I accept that it's metaphysically possible that an organism generate another of a different kind, but I deny that an organism that essentially generates its own kind can change into one that generates another kind. That A's might be B-generators is possible, at least theoretically. That A-generators generate B's is not possible, except in the case of hybrids, which are theoretically possible (and have nothing to do with evolution).

But you seem to be suggesting in your post that accidental causes help determine essences. I hope you are not saying that, because if you were, you would be very, very wrong.

George R. said...

Tony writes:
The reason A, a living thing, can have a power to generate a new one like A is that A has the nature of A-ness in act. It takes actuality to reduce potential to act, and in particular it takes A-ness in act to reduce matter of a new entity to A-ness. A can generate a new one like to A precisely because it has A-ness.

This is true, but it’s not exactly what I was getting at. Strictly speaking, it’s not the A-ness of the generator that causes the A-ness of the progeny, but rather it’s the A-ness of the progeny that causes the A-ness of the progeny. For the formal cause of that which is generated is nothing other than the final cause of its generation. The formal cause and the final cause are one. That's how the substantial form exists in act prior to the existence of the thing in reality, as the final cause of the process of generation.

Sobieski said...

@George R.

I see you've provided no citations from primary sources to back up your assertions. Also, you didn't make a distinction between essential and non-essential generation earlier. Nevertheless, you contradict yourself. "Essential" means pertaining to the essence or nature; what is intrinsic or per se. Non-essential would then mean what is not per se, namely what is accidental. Yet you don't hold that generation can be accidental.

How does this statement from St. Thomas fit into your scheme?

"In the case of animals generated from putrefaction, the substantial form is caused by a corporeal agent, namely, the celestial body [equivocal generator] which is the first agent of alteration; and so all things that produce a change of form in these lower bodies do so by its power. And for this reason the celestial power is enough, without a univocal agent, to produce some imperfect forms. But to produce perfect forms, like the souls of perfect animals, there is also required a univocal agent together with the celestial agent. In fact, such animals are not generated except from semen. And that is why Aristotle says that "man and the sun generate man [Physics II.2 (194b14)]." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 3.69)

In A-T philosophy of nature, apparently only the sun is responsible for the generation of lower animals. In higher animals, it is the sun and the generating animal. That seems to flatly contradict your thesis.

Regardless of the validity of this account of generation by today's standards, the point is that there is more than one factor involved in generation. So on current scientific understanding, why couldn't other environmental factors (formalities) besides the generating animal possibly be involved in generation? Further, St. Thomas holds that the seed can be defective (e.g., De Malo 1.3) leading to monstrosities, which is a variation. Again, nature acts always or for the most part.

Tony said...

Sobieski, would it be possible to suggest that because Aristotle and St. Thomas were in error about the sheer fact of lower animals being "generated" from putrefaction, they erred in trying to model a philosophical account of that change, and in fact that their attempt introduced an unnecessary and harmful theoretical metaphysical element (i.e. an error) into an otherwise coherent account? It is not just that we now know today that the maggots are not generated from putrefaction, but more that we know that the sun (and all celestial bodies) do not and cannot help account for the change the (either in man or in lower animals) the way they tried. They introduced a foreign element into the theory to account for something that they could not otherwise explain. Their attempt was a hypothesis that didn't work.

Sobieski said...

No, Tony. The point is that on their principles, they didn't see a problem with the Sun playing a role in generation. This shows that your account is only partly correct. Further, would you claim that life could exist on Earth and thus generation without the action of the Sun even by today's science?

I am not arguing against Thomism in any way and am an ardent supporter. I tend to think macro-evolution does not occur, but think it does not necessarily present a problem for the A-T view of nature.

Chardanac said...

Sobieski,

Your points are well made. Do you think this account shows how it is in principle possible for something with substantial form A to generate an offspring with substantial form B?

It seems like it certainly makes the case for an A to generate an A with some sort of change in accidental form, but I have trouble seeing how this could result in an offspring with a new substantial form B.

Furthermore, it seems like the point was made earlier that after 29 changes in accidental form, that some A^29 could generate a B^1. To me, this sounds like saying that after enough changes in accidental form, a new substantial form could become present through successive generations. This does not appear correct, if I have understood correctly.

Michael said...

What about an A that has the power to produce both A's and B's?

:)

The hylemorphic analysis seems to be attached very closely to capacities. And if that's the case I can only see errors arising in natural philosophical classification and not a contradiction with any evolutionary theory that is indeed science (and doesn't overstep its bounds).

Though as others have noted, biology doesn't classify things the same way as natural philosophy. So this whole "debate" is doubly misguided in my opinion.

rank sophist said...

Michael has it right. We're talking about potentiality here. A has the potential to generated countless other entities, because its actual state contains the potential to have B through Z50 offspring. Just like A has the potential to float in space, get sucked into a black hole, die to a meteor strike and so forth. There's absolutely no problem with A generating a B.

Sobieski said...

@Chardanac

Yes, I agree that ultimately whether there is one variation or a number of them, eventually there would be a translation from substance S1 to substance S2. So the number of accidental variations along the way seems irrelevant from that viewpoint. But I suggested earlier that an analogy could be helpful for understanding this as in the case of death where a substantial change is proceeded by a number of accidental changes. E.g., as an animal ages there is a series of changes in the composite over time such that the substantial form can no longer abide and death results. Another analogy might be found with generation itself, at least in humans, because it's my understanding that St. Thomas held that the seminal material was not initially suitable matter for the infusion of the human soul by God (the human soul being a unique kind of material form requiring infusion by God vs. eduction by a generator) and was only made so after suitable accidental and substantial changes entailing lower animal form(s) had occurred. So on the assumption of macro-evolution, maybe an analogous process could happen in nature over time.

A detailed account on A-T grounds is probably not possible given that we don't know whether or how evolution occurs. But generally speaking, if the animal is not the only factor in generation and thus, other conditions are required (e.g., the heat of the sun, the proper matter, etc.) and given that nature can fail (e.g., monstrosities or mutations) and there is chance and equivocal generation, then maybe another substance could result given the proper circumstances. I agree that the formality of the substance generated must exist in some manner in the educing agencies prior to generation, but on A-T grounds that does not seem to mean that said formality must exist in the same specific formality of the generating animal.

Maybe my reasoning ultimately fails. I would have to do more research in the primary and secondary literature to come to a fuller determination, but I think the objections presented thus far offer an artificially limited and overly rigid and fragile account of generation in the A-T view of nature. They also do not line up with the actual statements of Aristotle or St. Thomas on the matter. Instead of writing their views off as erroneous, it would be better to understand why they thought them compatible with the general principles of nature they articulated. With a more comprehensive grasp of their principles and the application in their time(s), we might be able to see how they could be applied in the case of science as it understands things today.

@Michael and Rank Sophist

Yes, but like does generate like. The question is whether the same specific formality must always generated. Further, the actuality has to exist in some way in the generating agencies. There has to be some middle ground between A generating A only on the one hand and gnats generating whales on the other. Evolution as I understand entails gradual changes over long periods of time resulting in the emergence of new species, which are nonetheless similar to their predecessors.

rank sophist said...

Sobieski,

A gnat does not have the potential to generate a whale. There are strict limits placed on potentiality when a substantial form (the thing-in-essence) actualizes prime matter (infinite potentiality)--the form "sections off" prime matter, giving the completed substance a specific set of potentials. For example, water boils at certain temperatures and freezes at others, but it cannot naturally boil or freeze at all temperatures, and it cannot boil and freeze at the same time. Likewise, because of the metaphysical structure of a gnat, it necessarily cannot produce a whale. It is a logical impossibility. However, a gnat might produce offspring with a different substantial form, as long as it was a speciation event and not merely a defective gnat. I recommend David Oderberg's Real Essentialism for more information on Aristotelian philosophy and evolution.

George R. said...

Sobieski writes:
I see you've provided no citations from primary sources to back up your assertions.

I believe that the elements of my entire argument can be found in Metaphysics, Book7. Citing the exact passages, however, would require too much effort on my part, so I’m not going to do it.

Also, you didn't make a distinction between essential and non-essential generation earlier. Nevertheless, you contradict yourself. "Essential" means pertaining to the essence or nature; what is intrinsic or per se. Non-essential would then mean what is not per se, namely what is accidental. Yet you don't hold that generation can be accidental.

I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about here.

How does this statement from St. Thomas fit into your scheme?

My scheme? That’s a little tendentious, don’t you think?

Besides, I have already admitted that spontaneous generation as A and T saw it is theoretically possible. So I would say that the passage you quote fits quite nicely into my nefarious plans. [Cue maniacal laughter.]

In A-T philosophy of nature, apparently only the sun is responsible for the generation of lower animals. In higher animals, it is the sun and the generating animal. That seems to flatly contradict your thesis.

Fool! He has no idea my thesis is capable of! [Cue more maniacal laughter.]

Regardless of the validity of this account of generation by today's standards, the point is that there is more than one factor involved in generation. So on current scientific understanding, why couldn't other environmental factors (formalities) besides the generating animal possibly be involved in generation?

Let me see if I can (finally) make myself understood here. My argument is not that accidents (environmental factors) do not have any effect on generation. On the contrary, they have a tremendous effect. My argument is that generation has no effect whatsoever on substantial form, for substantial form is not the result of generation but rather the cause of it. Neither substantial form nor matter are generated, only the composite. Therefore, it is the composite, not the substantial form, that is affected by accidental conditions. Capice?

Further, St. Thomas holds that the seed can be defective (e.g., De Malo 1.3)

Sobi, do we really need St. Thomas to tell us that seeds can be defective? I don’t think so. Besides, it's a completely irrelevant point. (See above.)

Sobieski said...

@Rank Sophist

Yes, I agree with you except that I would say it is an ontological impossibility as well (vs. logical which pertains to the mind). In your previous post, it seemed like you were over-extending the potentiality in question.

Thanks for the reference.

Tony said...

George, I didn't know you had a sense of humor! Nice going :-).

The formal cause and the final cause are one. That's how the substantial form exists in act prior to the existence of the thing in reality, as the final cause of the process of generation.

Agreed, but with a stipulation.

My argument is that generation has no effect whatsoever on substantial form, for substantial form is not the result of generation but rather the cause of it. Neither substantial form nor matter are generated, only the composite.

Agreed, but with a suggestion that you may be using the term "substantial form" and "exist
equivocally.

Plato thought that forms (say, dogginess) existed really in an ideal state even without any specific instance of dog anywhere ever in the world. Aristotle denies this: unless there is there is some dog, to say the form dogginess "exists" is to equivocate. It exists in a sense, but it does not exist simply. For the form of a material thing, its "existence" is only in a sense except if it is instantiated in an actual, concrete individual composite being.

Therefore, there is a meaning of "exist" that belongs to the form when it is the form of an actual living dog that does not belong to dogginess if there have never been any real dogs. The substantial form does not pre-exist the first dog when we use "exist" in the simple, whole, unqualified sense. It only exists intentionally before it is instantiated in a concrete living dog.

Matter is the principle of individuation of composite material things. When a dog Benji exists really, its dogginess is individually distinct from that other dog Fido's dogginess: their substantial forms are individuated
forms, the same in every sense except for being Benji's form versus Fido's form.

Thus, although the form of dogginess pre-exists Benji, it is not true that Benji's substantial form as a real existent "exists," simply, before Benji exists. And although the form of dogginess "exists" intentionally before any and all dogs existed, it didn't exist really before some specific dog existed.

Tony said...

The point is that on their principles, they didn't see a problem with the Sun playing a role in generation. This shows that your account is only partly correct. Further, would you claim that life could exist on Earth and thus generation without the action of the Sun even by today's science?

In their view, the sun and the celestial spheres included within themselves all the perfections of the lower bodies, so that their causality of the coming to be (act) of a lower being was an operation that springs forth from that act as pre-existing in the sun. That part of their thesis I don't have much problem with.

What I question (and yes, it is merely a question) is whether ANY material being can produce (be the cause or) a lower living material by generation rather than by degeneration or in per accidens causality. For instance, (a) when a man cause a horse to "sire" another horse via artificial insemination, the man is clearly a cause, but he is clearly a per accidens cause: the new horse comes to be properly through the generative faculty of the prior horses as present through their seed. (b) when man uses the egg of a sheep and clones a new sheep without a male's input, he is still using the generative power of the egg, which is clearly alive in some real sense. He is not the root source of the generation, the female sheep is. (c) If man were to formulate (via good gene science, math, and biology) a completely new bacterium's genome not based on another genome, and then take raw materials of amino acids and put them together (via nanotechnology) without using any living organism as an instrument, then one might suppose that man is the true, proper cause of the substantial form of this new bacterium. But in any case, man can only do this by having the form exist intentionally first. What I am suggesting is that without that intentionality, and outside of degeneration, no living thing produces the substance of a lower kind of organism. Do we have a clear reason to think that this could happen, even if it never does? Maybe it never does because it cannot.

We can easily say that life could exist here on earth without the sun: there are organisms in the deep ocean trenches that depend on the heat of the inner earth and vulcanism, for war conditions, and depend on other sources of energy than photosynthesis or any sun-based operation.

Sobieski said...

@George R.

I think your new tack about the distinction about the generation of composites vs. substantial forms or essences is a red herring. I've never claimed that the substantial form is generated and further, fail to see why that point is relevant to the discussion at hand. Whatever composite is generated has a substantial form and matter as intrinsic principles. According to Aristotle and St. Thomas (cf. SCG 3.69), the sun generates lower animals (composites), which have different substantial forms. That flatly contradicts your thesis.

You say, however, that it fits in with your assertions, and this is presumably so because you make an unsubstantiated distinction between "essential" generation and ??? generation. A perfect division of terms would be essential vs. non-essential generation, which translates into essential vs. accidental generation. What is not of the essence is accidental. Yet, you said you didn't understand what I was talking about (seems pretty clear to me) and took a pass on substantiating your distinction in the primary sources.

As for defective seed, it is quite relevant to the discussion, just like the fact that equivocal generation, chance causality and other factors potentially involved in generation are relevant. They can give an account for variation. They are not in your interpretation of A-T philosophy of nature, but I am not granting that.

Sobieski said...

@Tony

What I am suggesting is that without that intentionality, and outside of degeneration, no living thing produces the substance of a lower kind of organism. Do we have a clear reason to think that this could happen, even if it never does? Maybe it never does because it cannot.

Well, God is ultimately the source of all intentionality found in nature, whether it be found in intelligent creatures or not.

Just some comments on your previous post:

The substantial form via the active and passive qualities of the composite generator are what generate the effect (e.g., the animal; cf. SCG 3.69). Due to the intention placed in nature by God, that form is also the final cause because the directedness of generation is to produce a like being. But it is important to note that the form in the thing generated is not *numerically* the same form (as you mention), only specifically the same (i.e., of the same species). I do not have my father's numerically same substantial form; only the same nature. My argument has been that said generation does not have to necessarily entail generation of the same species. I used the sun as an example of this in the primary sources. The fact that chance as well as defects exist in the A-T cosmos could account for variations.

As for the nature of forms' existence, yes, for Aristotle they only exist in the things of nature or in the mind (albeit in a different mode, as abstracted from matter -- it might be more accurate to talk about essence here). For St. Thomas, forms also exist in the mind of God regardless of whether any instances exist in nature. In that sense, St. Thomas holds a view similar to Platonism, though he, like Aristotle, deny their existence as separated species or universals existing on their own.

Tony said...

My argument has been that said generation does not have to necessarily entail generation of the same species. I used the sun as an example of this in the primary sources. The fact that chance as well as defects exist in the A-T cosmos could account for variations.

Assuming, for the sake of A and T, that the sun could have been classified as a higher-order material being, and assuming that the sun could be the "cause" of a lower-order animal, why would it be that the correct term for the coming-to-be of the lower-order animal would be "generation"? If man were to accomplish that, we would not call it generation, but manufacture, or something like that. Doesn't generation have something to do with the nature reproducing its own kind?

I think that the formation of a monster by the reproductive faculty of an animal is not a question that adds anything to understanding the issue of causing different species: the monster is of the same nature as the parent, but is a failure because of accidental impediments expressing that nature. You don't EVER get examples of humans generating apes, or lions generating hyenas, or elephants generating walruses. Or even lions generating a half-lion, half-hyena. That sort of monster doesn't exist.

Mr. Green said...

Tony: Doesn't generation have something to do with the nature reproducing its own kind?

It would seem so etymologically (coming from genus), but a man can generate not only offspring, but also income or electricity. I'm not sure what the full range of generatio is in Latin, but clearly it is used in phrases like generatio spontanea, and in general as the counterpart to corruptio. So the term is used of coming to be, without necessarily meaning that the substance that comes about is the same as something else.

George R. said...

Tony, I was agreeing with you right up to this:

Matter is the principle of individuation of composite material things. When a dog Benji exists really, its dogginess is individually distinct from that other dog Fido's dogginess: their substantial forms are individuated forms, the same in every sense except for being Benji's form versus Fido's form.

And here I almost agree with you, but I’m going to have to tweak your words a little. I agree that the substantial forms of the two dogs are individuated forms. And, yes, insofar as their forms are individuated, that is, insofar as they inform determinate matter, they are different. However, insofar as their substantial forms actualize primary matter, (which constitutes substance per se according to A-T philosophy), they are absolutely identical; for primary matter is pure potency and, therefore, possesses no determining qualities.

Tony said...

for primary matter is pure potency and, therefore, possesses no determining qualities.

That's quite fine. It possesses no determining qualities, only determining quantity: this-ness as opposed to that-ness of the same species.

Mr. Green said...

Michael: What about an A that has the power to produce both A's and B's?

That's the obvious response. Of course, even if we reject that possibility (wrongly, I say), it's still possible that A₁ generated B₁ and B₁ generated C₁, etc., if the essence of each of those is to produce some different substance. That means every step in an evolutionary development of species could proceed with a new species for every generation, which feels rather "busy" but is hardly impossible. This sort of change could reach the end of the line if we hit an organism X₁ that generates only other Xs. God could have made the world such that life burned through zillions of forms that each produced new substances, at least until the earth had enough variety. (Maybe by now all species have hit this like-generates-like "dead end", which is why we don't see new ones turning up any more!)

At any rate, since everyone seems to accept this limited possibility, that's enough to show that some sort of special evolution is possible, and in a way that fits with modern biological theories (assuming one accepts that interpretation of the biological evidence).

George R. said...

Mr. Green,
Your scenario does seem to be metaphysically possible, which is more that I can say for the rest of the evolutionary hypotheses out there. However, it still seems to me to be physically impossible. It’s sort of like saying that it’s possible for a man to run the Boston Marathon in four minutes. True, it’s metaphysically possible, but it can never happen, except by some miracle.

The reason that I say it’s physically impossible is that, just as it’s not in the nature of a man to run twenty-six miles in four minutes, it’s not in the nature of living organisms to generate different species. And the main reason why it is not in their nature is that, although one may conjecture on a living substance whose essence is to generate that which has a different substantial form, the determinate matter into which the new substantial form is to be received will not be disposed to receive the new form; for in the real world it’s the genetic package, the genes and chromosomes, i.e., the genome of the generating substance which serves as the determinate matter into which the form is received, and the genome of the generating substance is only disposed to receive the same kind of form as the generating substance. Therefore, it looks as though your thesis would have to posit some kind of miraculous mechanism by which the genome of the generator would be transformed into a genome disposed to receive a completely different substantial form.

From this we can see that the reason why living things can only reproduce their own kind is not a question of form but of matter. Since the matter of the generated organism must be taken from the generator, it can only receive a form that latter’s matter is disposed to receive.