Two meanings of “a complete explanation”

Assume the following two claims are true:

Some complete science will give a complete explanation of the human mind.

Neither philosophy nor theology are a science.

The conclusion seems to be that philosophy and theology are superfluous or unnecessary to the explanation of the human mind. The conclusion is pretty clearly false, however, since the argument is identical to this one:

A complete science of human anatomy will give a complete explanation of the human body

Evolutionary theory, genetics, physics, chemistry, etc are not anatomy,

Therefore evolutionary theory, genetics, physics, chemistry are superfluous to an account of the human body.

Both arguments fail for the same reason: they fail to distinguish the thing studied from the aspect under which the thing is studied, or its ratio If ever English could benefit from absorbing a word, ratio is it.

Every science studies one thing considered under one ratio. The idea that there could be one science- or even one method-  that tells you every relevant truth about something is obviously false. There is not even one science or mental habit that can tell you every truth about words or language (linguistics is not grammar is not rhetoric or logic is not spelling- all of which have an essential relation to the human word).

Again, assume that someone can give a complete account of a computer game (say, the programmer). It wouldn’t follow from this that he knows every relevant or even essential truth about it- it is likely that he can’t even define it as a game- since this would require him being able to define it in a way that could group it together with lawn darts, Monopoly, and hide and go seek.

A complete explanation of a thing is really a complete explanation, but it is limited by the ratio of the subject. To imagine that one science, or even a confederacy of sciences could exhaust all that can be known about a given thing is contrary to experience and simply wrong. A human mind does not know in that way, and the claim that one of our sciences can exhaust all the intelligibility of anything is a claim to a kind of knowledge that is not proper to human  beings to have. We cannot identify the thing in an absolute sense with the aspect under which we consider the thing- this is a divine knowledge that men are infinitely distant from by nature.

Notes on evolution and teleology

-All of Aristotle and St. Thomas’s arguments for nature acting for an end arise from a consideration of what is necessary for nature as mobile or changeable. The theory of evolution takes the mobility or changeability for granted, and so does not consider nature on the field in which Aristotle and St. Thomas’s arguments occur. How can one affirm or deny what they don’t consider? Isn’t the compatibility of teleology (in the consideration of nature as changeable) obviously compatible with evolution?  Neither one considers nature on the precise field that the other considers it on.

-Say that evolution allows you a way to explain that the goods or goals in nature are only apparent. Great. But once you decide that the goods or goals of nature are real and not apparent, then you simply have no interest in one part of the theory of evolution. Just because some theory allows you to explain something as apparent doesn’t require that you see it as such.

-Imagine natural selection as a raffle. A bunch of moths show up to a raffle game, and someone pulls out “coal plant”. Black moths luck out, white moths diminish. Someone pulls out “coal burning plant burned down”. White moths luck out, black moths diminish.

It seems clear that there is no intention for black or white to be camouflage. The moth simply lucked out. But it’s hardly obvious that every feature and function can be explained like “black spots” and “camouflage”. That there should be one accidental relation does not require that all relations be accidental. Is there no difference between black/ camouflage and wing/ flight? What counts as a wing might not be easy to determine in every case, and the wings in natural things are not so determined to one thing that the things which are wings can’t come to serve new functions, but none of this merits simply saying that there is no relevant difference between “moth wing/ camouflage” and “moth wing/ flying tool”.

Nature as an interior arranger

Nature is not first of all this or that thing, like a tree or neuron, but the principle from which natural things arise. Such a principle is understood by a comparison and contrast with art, which is a better known case of a principle from which things arise. Arising comes with the idea of terms, sc. A from which and to which, and whatever happens to be at both. Taken in this sense the ideas of privation, form and matter are known as ways of speaking about terms. On this level, we do not understand nature so much as something that is common to nature and art. Nature separates itself by its interiority. Art requires an artisan as an arranger, but the arranger in nature is interior to the materials arranged. This arranger can be distinguished into an “interior” arranger and an “exterior” arranger: a bale of hay is arranged in one way by the baling wire, in another way by the baler and his machine. The wire is a part of the bale in a way that the baler is not.

But if there is an interior and exterior arranger of nature as nature, then why is nature natural? Why isn’t it just art simply speaking? Two reasons:

1.) The interior arranger of a natural being gives it existence simply speaking. Baling wire does to make something exist simply speaking, but it gives a new shape or arrangement to something that already exists. The interior natural arranger constitutes the nature in existence.

2.) The reason why art does not constitute something in existence simply speaking is because we can only act on what we know, and our knowledge comes after the existence of natural things. Even though there is some exterior arranger of nature, it does not follow that nature is simply art: this would only follow if the exterior arranger had a principle of action that was posterior to the existence of natural things, which is a gratuitous and unwarranted assumption.

Hard wiring as an analogy of nature

One of the preferred contemporary ways to speak of natural habits is to call them “hard wired”: e.g. “New studies show that compassion is hard-wired into human beings” or “birds are hard wired to fly south” or “we probably won’t be able to eliminate the religious impulse- it’s hard wired.” This kind of speech is itself hard-wired: human beings have always spontaneously understood nature by analogies to art, and complex tools (machines) are particularly good at bringing out aspects of nature that simple tools are not. Hard wiring, for example, can manifest something about cognitive processes in a way that a simple tool (like a shovel) cannot. A computer is a closer analogy to the brain than, say, a spatula.

The analogy between nature and art is instructive not only in what it positively tells us about nature, but also in the ways the analogy fails. Wires are certainly like neurons so far as both transmit information, but wires are understood without reference to a computer while neurons are not understood apart from the brain. The parts of natural things have an integration into the whole in a way that artificial things do not.

There is a desire to want to find some ground to reduce all art and nature to: since both nature and art reduce to the atomic level, but atoms seem no more ordered to being wires than to being neurons, then it seems there is no ultimate difference between art and nature. Both are simply various atomic arrangements.

But even if we unify nature and art on the level of the things arranged, we cannot unify them on the level of the the force or power that arranges. Art depends on an artisan in a way that nature does not. Nature is an artist within the thing itself: which is why Aristotle says that the best image of nature is a doctor healing himself (or, to use a contemporary example, a barber shaving his own face.) The best and most perfect analogy between nature and art is when we say that nature simply is an artist within a thing; a form subsisting within a matter that it has formed for the sake of their union. Even an atom is the result of an interior artist which is prior in causality to the matter in which it subsists, through whose information the composite of matter and artist arises.

Aristotle, essentialism, and evolution

One of the points of friction between Aristotle’s natural science and modern evolutionary thinking is the idea that Aristotle is committed to essentialism whereas the theory of evolution dissolves any notion of essences. One difficulty in evaluating the claim is that “essence” is exactly the sort of term that Aristotle tried to avoid. When “essence” occurs in an English translation, it is a simplification of an obscure phrase like “the what” or “the what it is” or “the what it was to be”. Even if we say that these phrases all mean “essence” the difference in signification is important: all of Aristotle’s phrases center around the use of the word “what”, which is used (improperly) as a substantive pronoun. As a pronoun, its whole nature is understood in relation to some other nature. “Essence”, however, is a noun pure and simple, and so the mind is not forced to see it in relation to something else. Essence, as a sign, is absolute and what is relative.

When we simply plow through Aristotle’s text changing every “what is” to “essence” we will be prone to fall into exactly the sort of error that is thoroughly discredited by the insights of evolution. In Aristotle’s system, the “what”, when said of a natural thing, refers to a compositeof matter and form; when said of a being without matter thing, it refers to form alone. The first “what” is inseparable from a change and flux so far as it is defined with matter, and so if we say that “the what” means “essence” than the essence of natural things is changeable. Changeability is not the whole of its essence (for form is essential to its essence too) but it is inseparable from it. In this sense of essence, the essences of the things the natural scientist studies are changeable. The difficulty is that “essence”, because of its absolute character, cannot mix with the idea of being changeable. The mind recoils from the idea of “changeable essence” as a contradiction, or at least an extremely poor choice of words. This is why when we find various good reasons to say that essences (or what we thought were essences) are not fixed, it is better to junk the idea of essence altogether. This is fine, but even after we junk the word “essence” we are still left with Aristotle’s “the what”, which, when applied to natural things, includes matter and is therefore capable of change.

Any charge that Aristotle was an “essentialist” has to keep in mind the peculiar notion that he forged of natural essences, sc. ones with matter.  This presence of matter makes natural beings essentially unfixed, changeable, and unintelligible, even though this is not the whole of what we can say about them. There is also a principle by which we can come to know natural things, even to know them as changeable and somehow unknowable.

Now there is obviously a sense in which natural things have an unchangeable essence in Aristotle’s system, sc. so far as they are natural- which for him means so far as they are changeable- their essence is to be composites of matter and form. The theory of evolution, however, takes changeability for granted and so has no use for an account of the essential principles of the changeable as such.

It would be interesting to develop St. Thomas’s notion of logic in a manual called “the proper use of a human intellect” or “intellect (subheading) owner’s manual”.

int.) Human powers can function well or poorly. Digestion can happen either effortlessly, or with difficulty and pain; vision can be either 20/20 or obscured by glaucoma, nerve damage, etc; the endocrine system can work or be impaired by diabetes;  our ability to make a jump shot can be trained and coached, etc.

1.) Intellect: a power which knows what things are. We pass over any consideration of the nature of this power, unless we need to know it in order to use the intellect properly.

2.) We come to know by learning. So intellect learns what things are. Like other human powers, sometimes this development is automatic, other times it must be trained or coached. We are only interested here in the part that can be trained or coached (that is, educated).

3.) Learning involves getting a more perfect knowledge of something, and so begins with what is more imperfect. Learning simply speaking therefore begins with a concept that is most imperfect, simply speaking.

4.) The learning in question is of what something is. The most imperfect grasps of what something is, is our awareness that it is at all in some way. One the one hand, this is a real awareness of what something is; on the other hand it is so imperfect and indeterminate that it tells us almost nothing, and is always taken for granted in our thought.

(more examples)

Hume’s critique of causality as applying to exterior things

A few days ago, I left a comment at Dr. Feser’s blog in response to some of his claims about the doctrine of causality in Hume. My thesis is:

[Hume] has no problem with causality, so far as it is verified in first person experience.

Feser gave a response that gets right to the point:

Well, Berkeley certainly thinks we have a “notion” (if not “idea”) of ourselves as causes, but I don’t see how Hume does. In fact, he thinks that even in our introspection of our selves as acting, what we perceive is a volition followed by (say) a bodily movement, but not any necessary connection between them, nor any force or power in the first to bring about the second. In other words, the relationship between events in the first-person, mental case is not relevantly different from the relationship between events in the third-person, material case. We observe a constant conjunction (between the motion of billiard ball A and that of billiard ball B, or between a volition and a bodily movement) but that’s it. Or am I misunderstanding you?

The difficulty is that it is very difficult, if not utterly impossible to apply Hume’s doctrine of causality to his arguments in the second part of his Treatise, and the difference is not merely an accidental slip of using the word “because” here and there, but a continual and radical appeal to causes in a robust sense. Take the second chapter, where difficulties begin in the very chapter heading and become insurmountable after the first paragraph:

Of pride and humility; their objects and causes

The passions of PRIDE and HUMILITY being simple and uniform impressions, `tis impossible we can ever, by a multitude of words, give a just definition of them, or indeed of any of the passions. The utmost we can pretend to is a description of them, by an enumeration of such circumstances, as attend them: But as these words, pride and humility, are of general use, and the impressions they represent the most common of any, every one, of himself, will be able to form a just idea of them, without any danger of mistake. For which reason, not to lose time upon preliminaries, I shall immediately enter upon the examination of these passions…

But tho’ that connected succession of perceptions, which we call self, be always the object of these two passions, `tis impossible it can be their CAUSE, or be sufficient alone to excite them. For as these passions are directly contrary, and have the same object in common; were their object also their cause; it cou’d never produce any degree of the one passion, but at the same time it must excite an equal degree of the other; which opposition and contrariety must destroy both. Tis impossible a man can at the same time be both proud and humble; and where he has different reasons for these passions, as frequently happens, the passions either take place alternately; or if they encounter, the one annihilates the other, as far as its strength goes, and the remainder only of that, which is superior, continues to operate upon the mind. But in the present case neither of the passions cou’d ever become superior; because supposing it to be the view only of ourself, which excited them, that being perfectly indifferent to either, must produce both in the very same proportion; or in other words, can produce neither. To excite any passion, and at’ the same time raise an equal share of its antagonist, is immediately to undo what was done, and must leave the mind at last perfectly calm and indifferent.

We must therefore, make a distinction betwixt the cause and the object of these passions; betwixt that idea, which excites them, and that to which they direct their view, when excited. Pride and humility, being once rais’d, immediately turn our attention to ourself, and regard that as their ultimate and final object; but there is something farther requisite in order to raise them: Something, which is peculiar to one of the passions, and produces not both in the very same degree. The first idea, that is presented to the mind, is that of the cause or productive principle. This excites the passion, connected with it; and that passion, when excited. turns our view to another idea, which is that of self. Here then is a passion plac’d betwixt two ideas, of which the one produces it, and the other is produc’d by it. The first idea, therefore, represents the cause, the second the object of the passion.

To begin with the causes of pride and humility; we may observe, that their most obvious and remarkable property is the vast variety of subjects, on which they may be plac’d. Every valuable quality of the mind, whether of the imagination, judgment, memory or disposition; wit, good-sense, learning, courage, justice, integrity; all these are the cause of pride; and their opposites of humility. Nor are these passions confin’d to the mind but extend their view to the body likewise. A man may he proud of his beauty, strength, agility, good mein, address in dancing, riding, and of his dexterity in any manual business or manufacture. But this is not all. The passions looking farther, comprehend whatever objects are in the least ally’d or related to us. Our country, family, children, relations, riches, houses, gardens, horses, dogs, cloaths; any of these may become a cause either of pride or of humility.

From the consideration of these causes,

One could go on quoting passages like this ad infinitum.

My claim (which I think is the simplest hypothesis) is that Hume recognized that knowledge of causality required us to know the interior of the cause and the effect, so that we could discern some connection between them “from the inside”. This makes real causality possible to observe in ourselves, but impossible to observe in billiard balls. Who can speak for the inner life of a billiard ball? There might be some doubt as to whether there is anything to know.

If this is right, Hume is in radical agreement with St. Thomas that causality requires an ability to “read the interiors” of something. All causality is from the end or goal, but ends or goals must correspond to some appetite or interior order to the end on the part of the thing being caused by it. Hume denies that we can know this interior order in stones and billiard balls. St. Thomas would say that an outright denial goes too far, but he would agree with Hume that there is not much to know. (Both St. Thomas, and Plato agree that the good or goal of inanimate things is far more in their order to the good of the animate, more than to any action for themselves. See the argument that soul is prior to nature in book Ten of the Laws)

If this is right, Hume and St. Thomas agree that “causes are known by that which knows the interior of something”. Hume denies that we have any such power to know this outside of subjective experience, St. Thomas says that it is proper to intellect to read the interiors, or natures of things- even though, in the case of human beings, we cannot read much, or as much as we might like.

Notes on Our Father

-The seven petitions of the Our Father are perfectly exemplified and answered in the Incarnation, passion, and liturgy of Christ.

-“Name”, even in English, is both what is unique to the individual and that in virtue of which one acts- that is, communicates himself to others.

-“Kingdom” Takes part in all the meanings of the Kingdom of God.

-The third petition uses an comparison: let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This corresponds to the comparison in the fifth petition to forgive us as we forgive. The Our Father is a chiasmus.

-The fourth petition, which is placed in the center (three on each side) is the first time we ask to receive anything from God. The bread is referred to as “ours” not “his” because the divine gift is so perfectly given that in being from him it is ours, and in being given by us, it is his. This is exemplified in the three perfect gifts: Annunciation (first revelation of the Triune power which will make an union between the divine and human nature that cannot be dissolved) Passion on the Cross (the offering of this unified nature to God) Liturgy (our participation in the double nature and the offering of it). The causality of Mary, the humanity of Christ, the Church.

-Just as we ask for the Kindgom to come to us in the second petition, in the corresponding sixth pettion we ask to be taken away from temptation. Just as we hallow the divine name in the first petition, we ask to be delivered from the Evil One in the last.

An error about potency

St. Thomas raises an objection to saying that the man has a single existence through his soul. I am most interested with what St. Thomas is saying about the relation of the soul (an act) to the body (a potency).

Aristotle says in the second book of the De Anima that the soul is the act of a of a physical body with organs. That which stands to the soul as matter to act, therefore, is already a physical body with organs: which cannot be except through a form by which it is constituted in the genus of body.

philosophus dicit in II de anima, quod anima est actus corporis physici organici. Hoc igitur quod comparatur ad animam ut materia ad actum, est iam corpus physicum organicum: quod non potest esse nisi per aliquam formam, qua constituatur in genere corporis.

He responds saying

Sometimes in the definitions of forms the subject is posited as unformed; as when it is said motion is act existing in potency. Sometimes the subject is posited as having been formed, as when it is said motion is the act of a mobile, light is the act of the shining. In this way the soul is an act of a physical body with organs, because the soul makes it to be a body with organs, just as light makes something shining.

in definitionibus formarum aliquando ponitur subiectum ut informe, sicut cum dicitur: motus est actus existentis in potentia. Aliquando autem ponitur subiectum formatum, sicut cum dicitur: motus est actus mobilis, lumen est actus lucidi. Et hoc modo dicitur anima actus corporis organici physici, quia anima facit ipsum esse corpus organicum, sicut lumen facit aliquid esse lucidum.

This is an important distinction with a wider application. The distinction between act and potency is easily perverted when we see potency in the second way that St. Thomas speaks of, sc. as already informed. Seen in this way, we easily relate to potency as having a form that it lacks in itself-  and in so doing we miss what is crucial to it as potency. This leaves us with another worthless dualism that contemporary thinkers are perpetually bemoaning (although the real problem with dualism was said best by Democritus “you can’t make one out of two or two out of one”- which is exactly what the real distinction between potency and act denies)

One wishes the principle were invoked more in discussions of esse and essentia. It is also relevant to the discussion of causality (cause and effect are act and potency)

The logic from name to definition(s)

The longest book of Aristotle’s logic was his Topics, which perfected the logic of the first act of the mind through dialectics. One of the central goals of the book is the formation of definitions, which are best understood as the ideal names of things: i.e. what we would call something if we understood what it was as completely as we could when we first saw it. As it stands, this first glance only gives rise to a name, which is an imperfect grasp that stands in need of various degrees of refinement. We always grasp something in naming, but it is not always clear what we grasp, or if the thing we intended to name actually exists; or if it exists, if it is one thing, or many.

Logic has completely forgotten this motion from the name to the definition or definitions of something (I say “or definitions” because most names give rise to more than one definition). Because of this, our contemporary logic is- by its own admission- prone to being a game of “garbage in, garbage out” since the concepts that form propositions and syllogisms cannot be moved from name to definition or definitions by any accepted logical method. Logic is seen to be indifferent to this kind of argument. This motion from name to definition(s) is at the heart of the Socratic method, and it was the practice of philosophy in the philosophia perennis.

Definitions are not all of the same kind, nor is a definition of any kind always necessary for every kind of reasoning. But this makes the study of the logic of name to definition(s) all the more necessary, since we need to know when how, and in what way definitions are necessary or not.

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