Omne quod/ Zeno II

Mark Berq. If some whole is moving, and you stop a part of it, only two things can happen: either the part stops and the whole breaks off, or the whole stops. Either way, the whole stops moving. So whatever has parts depends on those parts to move.

This is not to say that the parts move first and push the whole: the same argument can be applied to them; it’s that whatever has parts depends on something else to be a mobile at all.


Zeno really did prove that the quantitative as quantitative (or, the extended as such) cannot be a subject of motion. Either the whole quantity moved, or its parts, and either way is impossible.

Aristotle intensified the problem by showing that everything in motion was extended. Given motion, he concluded that everything in motion was being constituted as a mobile by something else. This is the first sense of Omne quod movetur, etc.



The Greeks saw that in tracing back a multitude to some cause we explained the unity of the multitude. STA saw that we explained the multitude as well, since no single member was an adequate imitation of its paradigm. Multiplicity is a response to superabundance.

The shallowness of JTB

Brandon has a great post about the claim that “justified true belief was first held by Plato in his Theatetus.” The idea (JTB, that is) is a cockroach: degraded, unkillable, and fleeing as soon as the lights are turned on it.

Or at least that’s what I’d say about it if I was going for the Buwler-Lytton award. Less obnoxiously, I’ll leave it at mentioning that the claim is irritating for a whole host of reasons. Brandon mentions the important ones, but there are two other fundamental problems with JTB that need mentioning (other than the obvious problem that we know all sorts of things we don’t believe: definitions, names, a language, and anything in the first act of the mind):

1.) Our usual experience of coming to know something is not of justifying a belief. Take the paradigm case of things we know: mathematical truths. Open Euclid’s Elements at random and read a proposition, say, Similar solids are to one another in the triplicate ratio of their bases. Read through the proof and get to the point where you know it. In coming to know this, did you justify a belief? Of course not. It’s not as if this was one of your long cherished propositions which you finally found a rational account for. Again, take something obvious to you right now by observation, say, “my accent wall is dark brown”. Is this proposition formed by giving a justification for something you first believed and then found a reason for? Here again, no. Belief is neither prior to the experience in time, nor in causality, nor in knowledge. Where do the “beliefs” come in? Perhaps they come in by way of analysis: after you learn about similar solids, you can analyze this into a conclusion which you believe and a justification. But then we are making beliefs logically subsequent to conclusions known on a rational basis, and therefore logically subsequent to things that are known. And so to say that  knowledge is JTB requires taking knowledge as given.

The only time when belief is clearly prior to knowledge is when we try to find reasons for what we already believe, that is, when we are rationalizing. Much rationalizing is good, but it takes very little reflection on experience to see that beliefs aren’t the only things that can be prior to knowledge. Besides what we’ve already said, we all have experience with guesses being prior to knowledge, and if anything guesses are more commonly prior to knowledge than belief. Trial and error, hunches, tinkering, dialectical questioning, starting with the simplest explanation, etc. can all involve propositions we guess at without believing in.

2.) The sense in which knowledge is JTB is subsequent to the more basic problem of knowledge. Because of this, to take JTB as the fundamental account of knowledge blinds us to the fundamental problem of knowledge.

To know is in one sense opposed to be uncertain and in another sense to be unable to know, and the question of certitude comes after the question of what it is to know at all.  JTB, however, only considers knowledge as opposed to uncertainty. To be a rational thing at all as opposed to an irrational one looks to find an account of how we are certain, guess, believe, intuit, err, experience, justify, rationalize, or are conscious. Raising this question is to raise the real mystery of knowledge, and to see it as the source of that universe we call “the intentional order” or a being who is the other as other.

The question of certitude is an old and venerable one, but it still deals with a logically secondary account of knowledge, and the question itself is to some extent passé. The great debates over the possibility of absolute certitude belong to bygone eras. We Post-Moderns are comfortable with the idea that “absolute certitude” need not belong to ideas that we can express all that distinctly, and that almost all of what we want to know is usually light years away from absolute certitude.

Of all of our interior cognitive activities, belief is the one of the ones we are most in control of. Understanding knowledge as a belief gives us the comfort of thinking knowledge is something we form deliberately and consciously, as opposed to being the formal characteristic that is constitutive of our existence which we find ourselves in the midst of even before we raise a question of what we are. But understanding knowledge as JTB gives us a false and facile confidence that we understand what knowledge is, when in fact knowledge can only be understood in relation the whole universe. It is a remedy for the imperfection implicit in the finitude of things and is therefore as fundamentally set apart from created things as finite (cf. QDV q. 2 a. 1.) Even when we consider knowledge as certitude, this does not reduce to some special modality of beliefs but to the absolute ontological determination of Pure Act.

Conclusion from yesterday

God sees actualized possibilities under through their corresponding actualities, and unactualized possibilities through the powers of agents (cf. ST I q. 14 a. 9). But possibility simply speaking is unactualized possibility. Therefore from an absolute perspective, possibility is seen through the active power of existing agents. So far as the future is considered as the field of unactualized possibility, it cannot be alienated from the concrete existence now of a natural or supernatural agent. It can neither be or be known apart from this.

The imperfection of the now- Updated

We form an idea of eternity by denying the imperfection of the now. What imperfection?

Imperfection is potentiality or indetermination.  To freeze everything in the now would not be an improvement for the things contained within it: they need the sort of ontological openness to the future that gives them space to exist. Again, temporal things exist in the temporal present, but this present can only be visualized as cramped and narrow. Of itself, it lacks all of its history, and we could not imagine a more cramped prison than the mere present, even if William James is correct in making the present last a few seconds. Ignore for the moment the relation that the present has to its history. What is this “openness” to the future? We are certain that our existence is such that it needs this openness or necessarily generates this openness.

We imagine this possibility in spacial terms. The present is a point or a short dash, the future is a long line extending to the left. But this hides precisely the crux of the problem. The necessity of the future is precisely its possibility and indetermination. We can see this at least as clearly as we see the absolute fixity of our history (“even God cannot change the past”, etc.). But space is never given in its indetermination or possibility. It can only be given as actual, as there to move into. We cannot look at the future as we look at a landscape. The present does not open into the future like a door opens up into a room. Space opens into the given and therefore into the necessary. The present is open to the possible.

But when sense can we make of openness to possibility, or a necessary relation to the possible? It is a trick of the imagination to put possibilities in front of us like a field into which we enter, if for no other reason than by putting the indeterminate possible in the future it can cease to be an indeterminate possible, because some possible things are actualized. Possibility is present to us now. But if we place the field of possibility in the present, then what is open to it? Isn’t it the present itself that we see as open to the field of possibilities outside of the narrow and cramped strictures of the present itself?

Cajetan’s account of the Thomas / Scotus debate on the source of contingency

[N.B I’m not dealing with the question of how accurate or faithful Caj. was to the texts of either STA or Scotus. See p. 246. for Cajetan’s text.]

Thomas argues that the source of contingency in the universe is the supereminent perfection of God; Scotus argues that it is the contingency of the divine choice. Scotus’s “most powerful argument” is:

(1) A moving cause, inasmuch as it is moved, moves with necessity if it is moved with necessity: but (2) every secondary cause is moving inasmuch as it is moved by the first – so if it is moved necessarily it moves with necessity. So if the first cause does not cause contingently, nothing in the universe happens with contingency.

Cajetan responds:

A second cause can be moved by the first in two ways: by a motion preceding the proximate action (praevia propriae actioni) like when a stick moves a stone by the motion of the hand; or by intrinsically cooperating (coperativa intrinsece) with the proximate action. What is said in the major premise (1) according to the first sense is false in the second sense, which is the only sense in which it is true in the minor (2). It is not necessary that when someone wills something or when the sun illumines something that it cooperate with the first cause by a preceding motion; rather it suffices (and is required) that it intrinsically cooperate by its choice or its illumination, because every act of cooperation is according to the nature of the thing that cooperates.

The basis of the distinction is (apparently) whether the second cause is attaining to its proximate effect by its nature (in which case it is a second cause working coperativa intrinsece) or not. Sticks do not push stones by nature, but the sun does naturally illumine and the will choose.

Cajetan’s general argument against the Scotist position is that it  would follow from it that “contingency would not be from God as directly intended (a propositio) by an agent” since:

Effects directly intended by an agent need to be chosen by him, as is clear from Metaphysics Book IX.. But if contingency follows from God’s mode of willing it is not chosen by God but a consequence of his mode of choosing.

Morning research trail

1.) While reading various responses to Edward Feser’s critique of Colin McGinn, I was bothered by yet another occurence of the idea that to relate to God as Pure Act is to fall short of, or even negate, the possibility of the sort of relationship we have with him by faith.

2.) I figured that the best spin that can be put on the argument is the opposition between the immutability of God and the efficacy of petitionary prayer – or, as it is usually put, an immutable God does not seem to be easy to square with the biblical God who answers prayers, and sometimes is said to change his mind in response to them.

3.)  St. Thomas answers (ST II-II q. 83 a. 2. ) by trying to position himself between two extremes: 1.) some things do not fall under the divine plan, therefore 1a.) some things do not come about by necessity; and 2) All things fall under the divine plan, therefore 2a.) all things come about by necessity. St. Thomas, rather ambitiosly, wants to make the line of causality run like this: All things fall under the divine plan, therefore some things do not come about by necessity. Contingency is a result of the absolute determination of the divine plan.

4.) The basis for the opinion is ST I q. 19 a. 8. “whether the will of God imposes necessity on all things”

5.) Cajetan’s commentary takes occasion to frame the question as a fundametal dispute between Thomas as Scotus about the root of contingency. For Thomas, Contingency reduces to the superefficacious power of God, for Scotus it reduces to the contingency of the divine will in its power to choose or not choose.

6.) This remined me of the startling but fascinating arguement of the Neo-Scotist Fernand Guimet, who argues that the existence of evil is rooted in the divine natureas that which God is eternally overcoming in himself.This is just a reminder that, when it wants to, Scholastic theology can say things so controversial as to make modern controversies look inconsequential.

More on Cajetan’s account of the problem later.

Note on rights

Assume arguendo that we’ve established that dealers of crack cocaine are systematically treated unjustly in law, by the courts, and in public opinion. It wouldn’t follow from this that to redress these problems would require the advancement of “crack dealer rights”.

Rights assume we are working within the realm of goods, either because the things themselves are good, or at least because it is good to tolerate them (though this second class is murky and not straightforward).

The subject

Motion or change is simultaneously attaining something new and an action something is responsible for. In the first sense, something empty receives, in the second sense something full goes outside of itself like an overflowing cup. Both things are the subject, or the subject is both.

Motion is like a currency conversion from one of account to another one. Assume there is a dollar account and a Swiss Franc account (and that the currencies are 1:1) one account has 10 dollars, another has no Franks. Can I buy something that costs 10 Francs?

The same duality repeats itself in our ideas of cause, responsibility, desire, love, reasoning, time, creation.

« Older entries