We’ve established that you are a reductionist, and are just haggling over the price

April 28, 2010 § 38 Comments

Aristotlean criticisms of an “intelligent design” approach to biology are all the rage now, and the main criticism seems to be that an “intelligent design” approach to biology is reductionistic in a way that an Aristotlean approach wouldn’t be. I’ve started reading Real Essentialism by David Oderberg, a text my Aristotlean friends assure me actually addresses modern science from an Aristotlean perspective. I hope so, because if in that text an Aristotlean metaphysician actually addresses the facts of modern science it will be the first time I’ve personally seen it. Certainly none of the blogospheric commentary I’ve seen bothers to take into consideration, you know, the facts and stuff.

One of the things I was alluding to in a previous post is that there is another possibility: it is possible that those ID characters are the real holists, and the Aristotlean understanding articulated by some folks is reductionist when it comes to objects put together or cultivated by human beings. To a certain kind of A-T philosopher, apparently, the Mona Lisa, because it is an artifact produced by a human being, is “nothing but” some greasy residue on a piece of canvas. Francis Beckwith quotes Ed Feser:

Take a few bits of metal, work them into various shapes, and attach them to a piece of wood. Voila! A mousetrap. Or so we call it. But objectively, apart from human interests, the object is “nothing but” a collection of wood and metal parts. Its “mousetrappish” character is observer-relative; it is in the minds of the designer and users of the object, and not strictly in the object itself. “Reductionism” with respect to such human artifacts is just common sense. We know that cars, computers, and cakes are objectively “nothing but” the parts that make them up – that their “carlike,” “computerlike,” or “cakelike” qualities are not really there inherently in the parts, but are observer-relative – precisely because we took the parts and rearranged them to perform a function we want them to perform but which they have no tendency to perform on their own.

As I said to the commenter who pointed out the article, someone needs to tell the mouse that the mousetrap has no objectively mousetrappish character.

(HT: Cathorick)

Tagged:

§ 38 Responses to We’ve established that you are a reductionist, and are just haggling over the price

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I had been thinking of putting up a post on this very point: In what sense is the mouse-trappish character “observer relative”? For example, suppose the mousetrap is sitting in a house, and suddenly all the people in the world are poofed out of existence. (This is supposed to be like the tree falling in the forest that no one hears.) But the mice are still there, and so is the trap. If a mouse runs into the trap, it will still get caught. So the fact that the mousetrap _works_ the way it does is _not_ observer-relative, even though (if we assume that mice cannot think abstractly) there is no one around anymore to think of it as a mousetrap. I would be inclined to call the way that the mousetrap actually works its “mouse-trappish character,” at least in some very important sense.

    There is a very real reductionism about human artifacts in the A-T view as presented, but oddly, they seem to think that non-A-T folks do believe that sort of reductionism about human artifacts. Speaking for myself, I don't.

  • Edward Feser says:

    Hello Zippy,

    Don't worry, no long heated exchange here in your own place is in the offing, but really quick, this isn't quite right. For example:

    apparently, the Mona Lisa, because it is an artifact produced by a human being, is “nothing but” some greasy residue on a piece of canvas.

    No, that's not the claim, because there is also the observer-relative content or significance of the painting. But the significance in the case of a painting is indeed relative to the observer — the painter and the viewers — which is why the painting counts as a kind of artifact. Unlike natural objects, which have their significance “built in” (that's the immanent final causality which mechanism in either its ID or naturalist form denies) artifacts have their significance only from without.

    Re: modern science, well, like I keep saying, you'll find a ton of works in the A-T tradition addressing it, though most of them are from the good old Neo-Scholastic days before Catholic theologians and philosophers generally abandoned A-T for whatever trendy modernist school of tought was “in” that week.

  • zippy says:

    Does beauty, then, in this kind of A-T view, reduce to nothing but the subjective experience of a particular viewer? And what about the poor mouse?

    No need to answer my questions if “it is in Oderberg” is an answer, since I'll eventually get to it. This post is just the view from between my ears at the moment.

  • I'd also highly recommend Norris Clarke's _The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics_. It's an outstanding introduction to Thomistic metaphysics, and along the way he does a nice of of explaining the distinction between artifacts and other kinds of beings. He contextualizes this discussion with the question of the unity of a particular being, and the distinction between intrinsic & extrinsic unity.

    Clarke wasn't writing with this debate in mind, but when I read the relevant chapter a few months back, I was immediately struck by its relevance to this conversation.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Heh. Quip from Esteemed Husband:

    “It's Schrodinger's mouse.”

  • Edward Feser says:

    Does beauty, then, in this kind of A-T view, reduce to nothing but the subjective experience of a particular viewer?

    No, because it is still (for A-T as for classical realist views in general) an objective fact that harmony, proportion, etc. are beautiful. The point is rather that such-and-such a specific object counts as “a painting” only because of the actions and interests of observers.

    Think of it this way: Suppose an earthquake knocks some cans of paint over and just through chance they hit the ground in a pattern that looks vaguely like a human face. Now imagine that a painter who wanted to paint a human face happened independently to make the same image. The material properties of these objects would be the same, but only the second would be a painting. And the reason it would be is because of the intentions and purposes of the painter, which are lacking in the first case. So even it is a painting only in a “derived” way; the chemicals that make up the paint have no inherent, natural tendency to form a painting as such.

    Both images might still be objectively either beautiful or ugly, however.

    Re: the moustrap, yes, the mouse is dead, but that doesn't show that it is inherently a mousetrap. A falling stone or tree would kill a mouse too, but those aren't mousetraps. The reason that particular arrangement of wood, steel, etc. counts as a mousetrap — something with the purpose of killing a mouse (as opposed to something that might happen to kill a mouse, as the tree or stone might) is precisely and only because a human designer arranged them for that purpose. There is nothing in the natural materials themselves (wood, steel, etc.) that makes them “for” killing mice specifically.

  • zippy says:

    … the chemicals that make up the paint have no inherent, natural tendency to form a painting as such.

    Whereas the chemicals which make up a paramecium do have an inherent, natural tendency to form a paramecium as such?

    One reason I am reading Oderberg, I guess, is to explore in more depth the idea that (say) carbon atoms in a paramecium do in themselves as those particular carbon atoms have inherent natural parameciumness while the carbon atoms in the mousetrap do not in themselves as those particular carbon atoms have inherent natural mousetrapness. Either set of carbon atoms can become 'alienated' from the whole of which they are part; neither whole is reduceable to its atoms. I'm strongly inclined to a holistic view of both paramecia and mousetraps: that is, I am strongly inclined to the view that reductionist accounts of either paramecia or mousetraps, though useful and even expressive of part of the truth, are necessarily incomplete.

    I've got my reading assignment, though, and I'm working on it.

  • AT says:

    I think A-T would say a natural thing has a substantial form while an artifact does not. For example, a horse does while a house does not. Artifacts have only “order and composition” which is not to say they are “nothing but” since the order and composition have a real functionality (are efficient causes).

    But A-T is wrong if this is the whole of the understanding between nature and artifact for the simple reason some things are both: artifacts with a substantial form. For example, bread, which if it has no substantial form means no transubstantiation. Aquinas says the substantial form arises from the thing's “natural energies”. Yet, it is clearly an artifact (made by man's art).

    What about plastic?

    At any rate, ID seems to say certain biological structures could not have come about through natural law (since these produce no or little new information), nor by chance because they are too improbable (could not have happened by chance even if all the resources of the universe operated for longer than the universe existed). These biological structures are identified by their improbability. There is a close relation between improbable and information justifying the conclusion that there is new information in the structures. In addition these structures have a pattern which are similar to what would be called designed by man if they were found in an artifact.

    Just how these patterns arise (naturalists would say only natural law and chance are operative), ID cannot say. Some IDers no doubt appeal to direct and immediate intervention by God or the angels while others claim it was all front-loaded at creation (which is my view). But these claims are not part of ID but the philosophical or theological interpretation which everybody makes of almost all scientific fact or theory.

  • zippy says:

    But A-T is wrong if this is the whole of the understanding between nature and artifact for the simple reason some things are both: artifacts with a substantial form. For example, bread, which if it has no substantial form means no transubstantiation. Aquinas says the substantial form arises from the thing's “natural energies”. Yet, it is clearly an artifact (made by man's art).

    I guess it would just be “substantiation”, if an artifact with no substantial form was given a substantial form?

    I've always assumed, when I've read Aristotleans, that every real object has a substantial form. If artifacts are said to have no substantial form then that certainly explains the big disconnect; but I don't see how a thing can exist without any substantial form at all, unless I just don't understand what “substantial form” means. I'm pretty sure that for an Aristotlean every real object has a substantial form.

    Anyway, Oderberg does a great job laying out his assumptions in the early part of Real Essentialism, and I think I already see where I may have some issues with his explicit assumptions about epistemology and language. But there are lots of promissory notes left to cash out, and I want to reserve judgment until I've been through the whole book.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think AT is correct that an artifact qua artifact is not supposed to have a substantial form in Aristotelianism. My understanding is that the idea is that the underlying parts of the artifact, being natural substances, have substantial forms, and that's how the artifact exists, but that the artificer has put them together in a way that is “unnatural.” So there isn't supposed to be a substantial form of “mouse-trap-ness” but rather substantial forms of the natural substances of which a mousetrap is made. Hence all the talk about how the parts of the mousetrap are being made to work together in a way that they have no inherent tendency to do.

    The idea, then, is that living things, being “natural,” do have substantial forms qua whole entities, which substantial form applies to (that “applies to” is my phrase and is probably the wrong phrase) all the matter that is part of the living thing, which then has an (invisible) inherent tendency to work together and continue making up the whole at the smallest level, unlike the parts of any artifact.

    You'll recall that Ed made a distinction between God's making an artifactual 747 and God's making a different type of world in which he made 747's as natural objects. The idea, I gather, is that in the latter case a 747 would have a substantial form qua whole 747, but in the former case (if God made one in “our world”) it does not.

    That, at any rater, is how I've pieced this together.

    I never thought of the bread/Eucharist point. Hah.

  • zippy says:

    Ah, thanks Lydia. So for an Aristotlean, we might say that an artifact has no unitary existence -qua- artifact: only its parts actually exist? The Mona Lisa doesn't really exist at all, at least not in the same sense that whatever parts it has, when we break it down to its “natural” parts, exist? Whereas a ferret does exist -qua- ferret?

    I get the sense that Oderberg's take is a bit more subtle than that, but I'm not in deep enough, as I say, to “cash out” the various promissory notes.

    (I'm still in the part of the book which involves criticisms of modern essentialist and antiessentialist views, and reading (and re-reading) analytic philosophy is always slow going for me because I have to be very careful that I understand as best I can what the heck is meant by various terms. So far “virtual” essences seem to be doing the work that Scotists might assign to a heirarchy of substantial forms; and an artifact would definitely be less utterly distinct from a natural object if the latter is composed of multiple substantial forms, I think. But as I say, it is early on and slow going).

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    That's what I've gathered, and would explain this from the quotation in your main post:

    “But objectively, apart from human interests, the object is 'nothing but' a collection of wood and metal parts.”

    I can _well_ imagine the slow going. Zippy–the sacrificial victim, reading Oderberg so the rest of us don't have to. 🙂 (Just kidding.) Is he talking about Putnam and Kripke? Back in '90 I went to a week-long conference on the philosophy of Quine. I cannot tell you how tired I got of the Morning Star and the Evening Star. 🙂

  • zippy says:

    Oh yes, we have indeed gazed upon the morning and evening star with Putnam and Kripke, heh. Heck, that wasn't new even to me, but of course everyone has his own fine-tuned take on it.

  • Tony says:

    I am guessing here, but in the A-T approach, things that go into making up artifacts retain their substantial forms within the artifact, unless the making of the artifact itself changes those forms. That happens in making all sorts of things: nylon is a different chemical result than the two chemicals that are thrown in to make it. Hydrogen and oxygen are made to combine in a hydrogen powered car, and the resulting water has a new substantial form.

    Some things we think of as a distinct kind of “stuff” but we don't mean it with any sort of rigor. Scotch is a distilled spirit drink, i.e. a mixture of alcohol and any number of other things. The mixture is not definitive: when you have a little better blend or a little worse blend, it is still scotch, not a new substance. Yet we definitely would not call a mixture of 20% scotch and 80% rum by the name “scotch” at all.

    So artifacts that are mixtures are a kind of a mixed bag: there are some where in the mixture each part retains its own substance and its own characteristics: a pile of white and black pebbles will look gray, but each part is wholly white or wholly black. But in other mixtures, the parts are not so separable, and they intermingle in such a way that they operate differently than if separate. Thus in bread, the yeast and wheat and sugar all interact, with the resulting fibers having characteristics neither the yeast nor the wheat nor the sugar can boast of. And yet we are reluctant to call the bread a substance, since it has no innate teleological aspect: bread doesn't tend toward an end of its own.

    So my guess is that bread, and wine, are mixtures that harbor an “analogical” substantial form. What is really going on is that the substantial forms are those of the underlying stuffs (which are no longer wheat nor yeast), but the artifice we have made, by altering the wheat and the yeast so they are no longer present, we think of as under a new form, “bread.” The substantial form of Jesus replaces the substantial forms of the underlying stuffs that are really there before consecration.

  • zippy says:

    … bread doesn't tend toward an end of its own.

    Well, I'd at least suspect that bread -qua- bread has as much innate teleology as a rock -qua- rock, if not more so. I hate to admit to my Platonist tendencies yet again – I know, many guffaws ensue about how passe and long-refuted is every possible interpretation of Platonism – But I think there really is such a thing as “breadness” which is not reduceable to separate piles of yeast, sugar, and flour. Furthermore, I think that “breadness” exists as a kind of virtual potential even when no actual bread, or even actual ingredients capable of being baked into bread, actually exist. God didn't just give us wheat, sugar, and yeast: He also gave us bread. Even if the last airplane or guitar were destroyed, “airplaneness” and “guitarness” would still be as real as the number three.

    Aristotleanism, it seems to me, might well represent the first step on a long road to reductionistic metaphysical atomism. The impression I am getting – indeed an impression I have long had – is that Aristotleanism is more reductionist and more positivist than I am myself; though of course both my understanding of A-T and my understanding of what is true are works in progress.

    The substantial form of Jesus replaces the substantial forms of the underlying stuffs that are really there before consecration.

    I find that a bit troubling as an interpretation. I'd always assumed that in transubstantiation the Real Presence of Christ replaces the unitary substance of the bread, not individual substances of yeast, sugar, wheat, etc. The Real Presence is said to no longer be present when the accidents of bread are no longer present; but if the SF of Jesus replaces the SF of the 'atomized' components in the bread, individual bits of yeast and sugar and such, then that wouldn't be the case, would it?

    Transubstantiation is a deep mystery to begin with, of course, but if transubstantiation consists in the replacement of the SF of the bread with the SF of Jesus then the bread must actually have a SF, it seems to me.

  • zippy says:

    On this:

    … unless the making of the artifact itself changes those forms.

    Right now I am under the impression that in the A-T view, artifice is incapable of changing the substantial form of an object. That is pretty much the whole point: that viewing the historical origins of substantial forms (frogs, say) as something it is possible for artifice to bring into being from preexisting non-frog (even in potential) substantial forms is wrongheaded. The watch is fundamentally different from the frog inasmuch as there is such a thing as “frogness”, but there is not really any such thing as “watchness”.

    If artifice were capable of bringing into being a new, not preexisting-in-potential substantial form then the A-T objections to ID would evaporate. Unless I am even more confused than I think I am.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think airplaneness exists in the mind of the maker.

    And if God created frogs–either by front-loading or directly, but deliberately, in any event, not purely by secondary causes–then frogness existed in the Mind of the Maker before frogs did.

    My only question is this: Given the probably infinite number of possible artifacts that no one will ever actually make and that no finite being has ever thought of, do these ideas all exist in God's mind already? What about bad artifacts? Does God have an idea of every possible instrument of torture that the twisted mind of man or alien has not yet dreamed up?

  • Tony says:

    Right now I am under the impression that in the A-T view, artifice is incapable of changing the substantial form of an object.

    Zippy, when we make a compound out of 2 or 20 elements, we are, by artifice, i.e. a human act of bringing-about causing the new substance which is the compound entity. Water has a substantial form that is not that of either hydrogen or oxygen. But if WE bring the hydrogen and the oxygen together, then WE are the artisans, the fashioners, the agents of coming-to-be of the water. That's all I meant. I was not trying to suggest that we are the origin of the form “wateriness”, not at all. Same with bread: to the extent that bread is a substantial being, we are the ones who bring it into being, relying on the substantial forms of the ingredients and some action of our own to induce a change.

    The Real Presence is said to no longer be present when the accidents of bread are no longer present; but if the SF of Jesus replaces the SF of the 'atomized' components in the bread, individual bits of yeast and sugar and such, then that wouldn't be the case, would it?

    Good point, I hadn't thought of that. But let me think it through a little and see what comes of it. If my suggestion has any merit, then we won't be looking for the SF of wheat and yeast and sugar to be replaced: they were already replaced in the series of mechanical (kneading) and chemical changes where the yeast ate the sugar, eventually forming long fibers of ? Fibers of gluten? If bread has an SF, then the fibers tend toward the continued being of the bread itself. Which would seem a puzzling thing. What do the parts of non-living substantial being tend toward, and how? Do the electrons of a gold atom “tend” toward the maintenance of the gold? Although:

    Well, I'd at least suspect that bread -qua- bread has as much innate teleology as a rock -qua- rock, if not more so.

    And yes, it does seem like the fibers of the bread tend toward bread as such at least as much as the bits of granite tend toward rock qua rock.

    But I always thought that in the A-T approach, a standard rock always was just a happenstance conglomerate of bits of this and that granite, without a substantial form as rock. Maybe I'm wrong though. Marble isn't “just” a glop of and calcium carbonate and silicon and whatever. On the other hand, marble is a metamorphic rock that has undergone _chemical_ changes under heat and pressure, and typically chemical changes link to changes in substance.

  • zippy says:

    Lydia:
    I think airplaneness exists in the mind of the maker.

    My view is that airplaneness, like threeness, or frogness for that matter, exists independently of the minds of human builders, at any rate. And while certain kinds of things with “-ness” (I'll say that instead of “essence” or “accident” to avoid confusion) – airplanes and frogs, for example – come into being in time as a matter of history, and perhaps also go extinct, the -ness is eternal because it is always possible – literally possible in the real world – for something with that -ness to become actual. Airplaneness was discovered, and real airplanes were fashioned to instantiate that discovery, the way I see things. An unfashionable Platonism of a certain kind, I know, but there you have it.

    The -ness of yet undiscovered inventions also exists in this same sense. Obviously the inventions themselves don't exist materially, but the (real world) possibility of their actualization exists.

    I don't know precisely what that makes me in the taxonomy of philosophers, but I expect it is some sort of unfashionable platonism or platonism-lite.

    Tony,

    I don't really disagree with anything you wrote, at least as a tentative matter. But the A-T folks arguing against ID as inherently incompatible with A-T have been telling me that the nature-artifact distinction is absolute and categorical, and that we never, by artifice, give rise to new substantial forms. That was what prompted me to write this previous post. Only nature, on this view, actualizes new substantial forms, so looking for “design” in nature's substantial forms – looking for artifice in non-artifacts – is self contradictory.

    If we bring into being a new substantial form – the substantial form of bread – by artifice, when nature would not bring it into being on its own, the entire objection (on the part of certain kinds of A-T philosophers) to ID breaks down, I believe. A “substantial form” can never be imparted to an object by an artificer, again if I understand the position correctly — I'm not adopting the position, mind you, just trying to understand it, and then to further understand how it copes with the actual facts of science.

  • George R. says:

    Water has a substantial form that is not that of either hydrogen or oxygen. But if WE bring the hydrogen and the oxygen together, then WE are the artisans, the fashioners, the agents of coming-to-be of the water.

    According to A-T, we can not make any substance per se. All we can do is dispose the matter to receive a substantial form by manipulating the accidental qualities of an already existing substance. Then, according to the established natural order of things, a new substantial form will be imposed upon the matter. The act itself of imposing a substantial form on matter is completely beyond the capacity of secondary causes, i.e., us.

    To illustrate, say I were to step in front of a Mack truck (God forbid). I would indeed be disposing myself to receive a messy and untimely demise. My actions, however, would not be the efficient cause of that demise, but rather the Mack truck’s slamming into me would be. It is similar when we generate substances.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think it's only fair to admit that different people with different philosophical commitments are going to give different answers to Ed's interesting question: What would we say about the Mona Lisa if we really could be convinced that it had come about “by chance”? What would we say about the mousetrap if we could be convinced of the same thing? How about the human circulatory or reproductive system?

    My own inclination is to think that this _does_ make a difference. There is one sense in which a mousetrap still catches mice even if (per incredibly unlikely) it came about as the result of an unguided tornado in a junkyard. In that sense it still has mouse-trap-ish-ness. But in another sense, the ordering of its parts to a telos is “only apparent.”

    But I would be inclined to say the same thing about, say, the human opposable thumb or the heart. Suppose that neither God nor anyone else specially intended the heart to pump blood _so that_ organisms would remain alive. Suppose that the blood-pumping function of the heart came about vis a vis God in something like the same sense in which a bunny shape in a passing cloud comes about vis a vis God. That is: God permits the appearance of the bunny shape; God knows all about it; God knows I will see it “as” a bunny. But God didn't “do” anything special to make the cloud assume a bunny shape. In one sense, it assumed a bunny shape by chance. If the heart ended up pumping blood “by chance” in that same sense, then there is a sense in which the means-to-end organization of the circulatory system is “only apparent,” even though there is another sense in which it is real–that is to say, it works as a present fact, regardless of its origins.

    This, I suppose, separates the sheep from the goats as far as “mechanism” and “immanent teleology” are concerned. For I _suppose_ that if I truly believed in immanent teleology, I would say that my concept of the teleology of the heart is in _no way changed_ if I learn that the heart came into existence “by chance” as did the bunny shape in the cloud.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    Omniscience implies knowledge of all non-zero possibilities, whether or not they are realized. So your philosophical taxonomy is traditional Catholic. Shocking but true.

  • AT says:

    For God to “intervene” in the development of creation seems to imply God receives new information to which he responds. But as I said, for God the future is yesterday's news.

    This means that God's activity in creation was present from the first moment of creation and waits on secondary causes to manifest this activity (not, however to bring about God's activity).

    It seems the nature-artifact distinction should raise some questions in A-T epistemology. If an artifact has no substantial form, how can we know its essence (since it has none)? Then, how is knowing an artifact different from knowing a natural thing? Clearly, the form of an artifact cannot be identical to the form in the intellect since there is no essential form in an artifact.

  • George R. says:

    It seems the nature-artifact distinction should raise some questions in A-T epistemology. If an artifact has no substantial form, how can we know its essence (since it has none)? Then, how is knowing an artifact different from knowing a natural thing? Clearly, the form of an artifact cannot be identical to the form in the intellect since there is no essential form in an artifact.

    AT,
    Where in A-T does it say that we can only know substantial forms and essences? On the contrary, we can know all universal forms abstracted from material things. In fact, accidental forms, artifacts included, are even more knowable to us than substantial forms because they are immediately abstracted from objects received by the senses, whereas substantial forms, since they are not perceptible to the senses per se, can only be known by means of knowing accidental forms.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “For God to “intervene” in the development of creation seems to imply God receives new information to which he responds. But as I said, for God the future is yesterday's news.

    This means that God's activity in creation was present from the first moment of creation and waits on secondary causes to manifest this activity (not, however to bring about God's activity).”

    So the doctrine of omniscience entails no special creation, ever? Everything must be done by front-loading?

    Tell that to St. Thomas, who believed that God really did form man out of the dust of the ground. (So I'm told.)

    It's _that_ kind of statement that gives theistic evolution a bad name. Christians, and for that matter, the Church, believed for hundreds and hundreds of years in Divine omniscience, but somehow, somehow, it wasn't the 19th century and later that they “discovered” that this had to mean “no intervention to create.” Hmmm. Wonder why that is?

    No, omniscience doesn't mean anything of the sort.

  • George R. says:

    Tell that to St. Thomas, who believed that God really did form man out of the dust of the ground. (So I'm told.)

    And why on earth would he disbelieve it? It is the inerrant word of God.

    These modern philosophers who reject this teaching are not led to do so by reason or by the evidence, but simply because they believe themselves to be wiser than all the Doctors and Fathers of the Church, whereas they are merely “wise in their own conceit,” as St. Paul says.

    The key to wisdom is not intelligence or learning, but fidelity. The tragedy today is that the most intelligent and learned of men are at bottom faithless dogs.

  • AT says:

    Where in A-T does it say that we can only know substantial forms and essences?

    I don't think I said this. Wilhelmsen, in Man's Knowledge of Reality, says, “But a man, when he knows something, is not only a man: He possesses another nature, the nature of the thing known.”

    I believe “nature” is “essence” is “substantial form” insofar as related to knowing. As for accidental forms, they probably manifest something of the formality of the substantial form.

    So the doctrine of omniscience entails no special creation, ever?

    Not from omniscience directly but from the notion mentioned by Aquinas in a number of places that there is no relation between God and creation but only of creation to God.

    Take the example of prayer. Do you think God only knows what you are praying for as you pray? Or that he takes into consideration your prayer and then answers it? Or that in eternity (and consequently in time after the creation) he has already known your prayer and answered it. It just needs the “fullness of time” to occur.

    I'm not a deist of any sort. I believe that God is active in every thought, every choice, in every event in the natural world, as the cause of every cause,as the cause of every causes causation, in the fall of every sparrow. But I also think that activity was willed at the moment of creation.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    How dumb Aquinas was, then, to believe in the special creation of man. He didn't realize his views entailed that all creation must be front-loaded.

  • George R. says:

    Wilhelmsen, in Man's Knowledge of Reality, says, “But a man, when he knows something, is not only a man: He possesses another nature, the nature of the thing known.”

    Wilhelmsen is wrong. According to A-T, when a man actually knows something, the intellect is the known thing in another mode of being, i.e., actually intelligible and abstracted from matter. It does not at all involve his possessing another nature. Artifacts do not have natures, but they do have potentially intelligible forms, just like things that do have natures. If they did not, they could not be manufactured.

  • AT aka Faithless Dog says:

    Lydia,

    How dumb Aquinas was, then, to believe in the special creation of man. He didn't realize his views entailed that all creation must be front-loaded.

    The special creation of man is not incompatible with “front-loading”. Why would it be? It makes perfect sense if one keeps in mind that God is immutable. He didn't change when he created the universe; he didn't change when he assumed human nature; he doesn't change – period. The asymmetric relationship between God-creation follows from the immutability.

    Your response implies that creation was “back then once for all” and not an ongoing act of God.

    George R.,

    Your saying Wilhelmsen wrong doesn't it make it so. He is one of the most respected Thomists of the 20th century. I think you should restrain yourself a bit.

  • zippy says:

    If nothing else, this discussion is an absolute treasure trove of possible names for a rock band.

  • George R. says:

    Your saying Wilhelmsen wrong doesn't it make it so. He is one of the most respected Thomists of the 20th century. I think you should restrain yourself a bit.

    FD,
    Here's what St. Thomas says about it:
    “Now the actually understood is so in virtue of an abstraction from matter; for, as we have seen, things become objects of the understanding just in the degree that they can be separated from matter… So the understanding and the understood are one being, provided the latter is actually understood. “(Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima)

    See? The intellect becomes one with the thing understood abstracted from matter, just as I said. Man does not, thereby, possess another nature, as Wilhelmsen said. He was WRONG.

  • Tony says:

    Lydia, I have to agree with AT on this: saying that God's act of creation and God's act of infusing a human soul into a new person's substrate all take place from eternity (which is what/when God inhabits) does not mean that God does not perform miracles AS WELL, from eternity.

    Thus God's eternal foreknowledge of an event (and His willing it from eternity) does not preclude it being either (a) the ordinary working out of natural laws, which He frontloaded to produce this result; or (b) the “ordinary” but still direct act by God to produce an immortal soul at the natural conception of a child which complete event He BOTH frontloaded in nature AND directly produced by moving the parents in grace and directly infusing the soul; or (c) a NON-ordinary act of intervention by which He produces a result that no natural powers can produce, acting directly and without secondary causes as such – a miracle.

    Wilhelmsen, in Man's Knowledge of Reality, says, “But a man, when he knows something, is not only a man: He possesses another nature, the nature of the thing known.”

    Wilhelmsen might possibly be understanding this phrasing in a way that is consistent with Aristotle, only if he understands by “not only a man” that the man remains human wholly and completely, in order of substance, but adds thereto the accidental reality of “knowing the something” as more than just being a man alone. But it is purely accidental addition, like being tanned in the summer sun instead of being lily-white, and changes the man-ness not a bit.

    He “possesses another nature” only in the sense of possessing it in the intellect, in the order of understanding, not in the order of being. And this is an accidental reality, not a substance reality. For if the man became the substantial reality of that which he knows, then he would have to become incompatible realities: he would have to become “three” when he knows the essence of three, while remaining one man. Worse yet, he would become direct contraries when he knows contraries: white and black, just and unjust, good and evil.

    No, the only way man takes on another essence is as an intelligible form, which informs the intellect in a non-material manner (and which is one of the basic proofs for the non-material nature of the intellect anyway).

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “Lydia, I have to agree with AT on this: saying that God's act of creation and God's act of infusing a human soul into a new person's substrate all take place from eternity (which is what/when God inhabits) does not mean that God does not perform miracles AS WELL, from eternity.”

    Tony, AT has made his meaning pretty clear: Creation must not be done by miracle, by special creation. It _must_ be done by front-loading which is worked out only by secondary causes.

    He said:

    “This means that God's activity in creation was present from the first moment of creation and waits on secondary causes to manifest this activity…”

    That's simply not required by foreknowledge, period. There is no distinction (as you yourself say, Tony) regarding foreknowledge between creation and God's other acts such that the former must be worked out by secondary causes. And there is nothing in foreknowledge that requires that the raising of Lazarus had to be literally physically front-loaded at the Big Bang. So there also is nothing requiring that for the creation of the first cell, the first bacterial flagellum, or the first man.

    There is just nothing in theology at all that tells us that God “had to” perform creation in such a way that it “waited on secondary causes to manifest itself.”

  • Tony says:

    “I don't think that word means what you think it means.”

    Lydia, let's take it out of the context of development of species, or of miracles. Take the conception of a human being, an ordinary conception taking place in the natural manner. The parents do something which results, by natural processes, in an egg undergoing fertilization. At some point in that event, God directly and without intermediate causes infuses an immortal human soul so that the conceptus is a human being, a union of soul and body.

    Now, we know that (typically) God does not come along and form a human being out of a rock, or out of a sperm and egg that are separated by several yards of distance. He only does it when the two unite. The parents are co-operators with God. From our end of the telescope, the appearance is that of humans acting and God making a one-off special act of involvement in nature (not interference with nature – this is an _ordinary, natural, normal_ mode of God's being involved in the created universe). But from God's end of the telescope, He does not “do” this act, and, waiting for its result, then do THAT act, and wait again, and finally do a THIRD act. From His end, His one act is to be, to know, to love – Himself. If you posit many acts to God – the “many” being internal to His own mode of operation, and those acts separated by … time? then you posit God being limited and in time itself. What St. Thomas does is posit the many as being distinct in creation only , not in God.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Okay, fine, Tony, if you say so. I'm something of a Boethian myself.

    I think that's pretty much irrelevant here, because I doubt that anyone would say of the turning of water into wine at Cana that it “waited on secondary causes” to manifest itself. It was an act of power there and then. A miracle. It wasn't something set in motion long before that just worked out Jesus' will over time in away that appeared to be part of the natural order.

    There was a reason why, presumably, AT made a special point of

    a) objecting to a term like “intervene” in the case of creation and

    b) saying that God's activity in creation “waits on secondary causes to manifest itself.”

    People do not generally say these things about miracles, nor would one normally say these things about the special creation of a physical entity–a new species or a cell, for example.

    It seems to me a very fair interpretation to say that AT is saying that what is normally called special creation of physical entities is somehow theologically ruled out. And I'm sorry, but it's not.

    And when I said that I'm told that Aquinas believed God really formed man out of the dust of the ground, I meant man's _body_, not just the “soul infusion” that theistic evolutionists are comfortable with because it doesn't imply (shudder) divine intervention in the _physical_ realm. The bodies of new human beings _now_ come from the natural process of generation. There is no reason to believe that the first man's body came from anything like a natural process, nor is that theologically required.

  • AT says:

    Lydia,

    I don't have nay taste for these interminable discussions so I'll post one last thing. Look at this from the notion of predestination: God knows from all eternity (and therefore at creation) who he will predestine. He not only knows, he brings it about through his activity in time. (I once read what Calvin said about predestination and it seemed to be not too much different than what Aquinas wrote in say, De Veritate.)

    Similarly with the wedding feast at Cana. A lot of contingent causes were at play: that so-and-so got married; that the wine didn't last; that Jesus wished to please his mother though it wasn't yet his hour; etc. If all of these (and much, much more going back to the beginning of time) hadn't happened there would have been no miraculous change of water into wine.

    As for the word “intervene” – I object to it because it implies God sometimes acts and sometimes does not whereas I believe (I don't know how I could be more clear) that God always acts.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    AT, I think the word “intervene” indicates a physical miracle. That's how I use it, anyway. I took you to be saying (I think, reasonably enough) that God could not create physical things, biological things, etc., by an unequivocal physical miracle but only in some more indirect or “front-loaded” way. If that was a misunderstanding, I certainly regret that misunderstanding.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading We’ve established that you are a reductionist, and are just haggling over the price at Zippy Catholic.

meta