An Act and Ability, Part

An Act and Ability, Part I

(n.b. in Latin, the word for “ability” is potentia, usually rendered in English as “potency”. This is good for connecting us with the tradition which speaks of “act and potency”, but here “ability” works a little better. I’ll use the words interchangeably)

An Act and ability are names that first apply to distinctions in motion. To understand this,

1.) take any verb that denotes a motion or a coming to be “run”, ‘spit’, ‘walk’, ‘eat’, ‘fall’, ‘move’…etc.
2.) put ‘can’ in front of it.
3.) then, put the verb in the present imperfect tense: e.g. is running, is eating, is moving’…etc.

#3 stands to #2 as act to ability. In fact, this is the first meaning of “an act” and “an ability/potency”*. All other meanings proceed out of this first meaning by analogy. This is why motion is “the act of the potential”- it something that can run actually running, something that can eat actually eating, something that can move moving. Because the “something” in which the action is can be considered in many different ways, but motion only considers the thing as the act of the potential, we add for precision “the act of the potential as potential“.

*the first meaning of “an act” is “an action”, which can be taken in two ways- either as complete or as incomplete. Either way, however, the mind first relates “an act” to something being done, which is proceeded by an ability.

The mind can make collections,

The mind can make collections, and then make an artifact to represent that collection. This is to make a symbol.
Or the mind can notice what something is (this thing noticed will belong as much to the individual as to the collection of them) and express what it is. This is to use a word.

A symbol represents a particular always, regardless of how many particulars are spoken of. At best it speaks of any particular.
The word can precind from the particularity of the symbol.

A symbol can pertain only to a class,
a word can pertain to a species, or a genus.

Symbols can be meaningfully instantiated apart from thought- an abacus does as much.
Words cannot properly be so- for words are primarily things spoken.

Symbolic logic is a logic of particular things (for every x, if x is H then… this is a mere collection)
no study of particulars is open to what is.


The Objections to the Existence

The Objections to the Existence of God
In (ST I, q2. a3)

An atheist asserts that God is either impossible or unnecessary. If impossible, it is because the evil in the world makes perfect goodness impossible, if unnecessary, it is because the world that man sees does not require anything external to itself. These particular arguments can have variants, but the variants will all turn on denying a first perfect and good principle to the cosmos. The arguments asserting that God is unnecessary deny the principle altogether; the arguments that assert God is impossible deny some perfection or goodness (just, caring, intelligent, powerful, etc).

Either way, the atheist’s meditation on the universe requires asserting some evil as ultimate, for their philosophy consists in the negation of any ultimate perfection. Atheism negates goodness either by negating some intelligent cause of the cosmos (and being cannot be good except by participation in an ultimate goodness- and ultimate goodness is intelligent) or by negating more directly that there is any good being causing the universe. In our own day, the first way of atheism is advocated by those who cultivate ignorance of metaphysics for whatever reason (usually a misunderstanding of empirical science, or religion, or politics, or some other kind of discipline) and the second way of atheism is advocated by a group of people who cultivate a disproportionate meditation on evil, in an attempt to prove the existence of some kind of ultimate evil.

Note on Genus and the

Note on Genus and the Thing That is the Genus

Our mind moves from the confused whole to the more distinct and more particular part. Nevertheless, the more general and confused understandings are present in the more particular, not as accident in a substance (although they cannot exist apart) nor simply as an intentional entity, existing only in the mind. “Genus” as such or anything called “genus” as so called, is not “in” an individual, for genus exists only in relation to a less general class which it virually contains (in other words, we cannot determine whether “animal”, for example, is a genus. in relation to “rational animal” it is, in relation to “corporeal substance” it isn’t.)

But though genus is an intentional being, “animal” does correspond to something in, say, koko, fido, and Lincoln. The ability they have to sense isn’t something that comes to be with our thought. Our sensing does not cause their sense organs. For that matter, our sensing or knowing doesn’t cause our own sense organs either.

Aspects of Agent Causes, IVinstruments

Aspects of Agent Causes, IV
instruments and dominion

All instruments are agent causes, inasmuch as they are active and perfective of an effect. The instrument adds to this the idea of receiving some power from the agents superior to it. This reception means that the instrument exists by participation in its superior agents. It makes no difference that an instrument can sometimes continue to act and cause when it is separated from its superior agent- as would happen, for example, if a man were to fire a rocket and then change his mind about wanting it to hit the target. Not every superior agent, taken separately, has perfect dominion over the instrument. And in a certain sense, the rocket is moving according to an intention- an intention the man now regrets.

No man has perfect dominion over his instruments, for anything that exists can act in some way, but man does not have perfect control over what exists. Man is not the agent reason for existence.

“The Crisis In…”

It’s a phrase we usually use because it’s fun to talk about “the crisis” but its no fun to do anything about it. Is philosophy in crisis? Why should I care? Why not simply philosophize?

Oh right- because of the common good. I’d be better at this if others around me were actually philosophizing and not fascinating themselves with baubles of trivia. We’d all be better if we could work together, and the crisis keeps us from working together.

So the prime reason that I hate the crisis is that it keeps me from having co-workers and, well, friends. The end of the crisis is not when the enemy is silenced, but when friends are working together to philosophize.


Aspects of Agent Causes, Part

Aspects of Agent Causes, Part III
on agency and participation

Instruments are sorts of agent causes, because agents are active, perfecting causes, and instrument only adds to this the idea that the instrument is also passive and perfected by something else. This passivity in the instrument, however, is not to be understood as making it a sort of material cause- for an instrument is not something out of which a thing is made ( we don’t make dresses out of scissors).

We can distinguish two aspects in every instrument: a.) what it is in itself, b.) its participation in the superior causes. The first relates to the second as something that can be to something that is: because scissors are what they are, they are able to cut; because a bullet retains the force we impart to it, it is able to take down the deer; because I listen to the counselor, I am able to do the right thing.

All instrumental causes exist as causes by participation. The instrument becomes a cause at the exact moment when it begins to participate in the action of the superior cause or causes. In other words, as cause, to be is to participate.

All causes that are instruments to us have only an imperfect participation in our agency. I use this computer to write, and it only writes inasmuch as it is an extension and participation in my intentions, but there is more to the computer than what is participating in my intentions. There is something to the instrument that is not a participation in my agency. It will still be here after I stop writing. We can call this sort of agency we have over our instruments “imperfect” because something is called a cause because it is responsible for being, and our agency is not perfectly responsible for the being of the instruments, but only inasmuch as they participate in our intentions, which they do not do in a complete way.


Aspects of an Agent cause,

Aspects of an Agent cause, Part II

Every aspect of an agent cause is in one sense only a part of the agent, and has therefore only a partial effect, but in another sense it is responsible for the whole of the action. The knife beng metal is responsible for one aspect of the total effect, and the edge is responsible for another aspect. But these two aspects are not really separable in the actual cut that has been made, even though we can distinguish them in thought. Each of the aspects, however, is really present in the effect, even though they can only be separated in thought.

In sum:

We can distinguish many aspects in every agent. Each of these aspects of the agent will contribute a certain part to the final action. Each of these “parts”, though they are really present in the effect, are separable from each other only in thought. In asmuch as none of these parts can be really separated, each of these parts can be viewed as “the whole action” for two reasons:

a.) since each part is not separable in reality from the effect that has been done, the only way to eliminate a part is to eliminate the whole

b.) Since without each of the different aspects of the agent, the effect would not have occured as it did (or not at all). And so each aspect of the agent is responsible for the whole effect, even though it is not reponsible for it as its proper effect.

Aspects in an Agent Cause

Aspects in an Agent Cause Part I

– Say I cut a piece of steak. I use a knife. I can distinguish different aspects of the knife: it is made out of metal- (or something like it) it has an edge, it retains the edge throughout the whole cut. Each of these is responsible for different aspects of the cut- the edge explains why it cut, but not why it kept the edge long enough to cut (the metal explains that) and the metal explains why the knife is hard, but not why it is sharp, etc. I could add in any number of other aspects: who it is moved by, whether it is serrated, etc. and each of these aspects of the knife would be responsible for a different aspect of the cut.

Not the Heretics, but the

Not the Heretics, but the Rivals…

The church fathers saw the rival Greek religions as ridiculous. They did not take them seriously except to the extent that they pointed to the Church. They practiced, interestingly, what could be called an apologetics of ridicule.


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