Analogy: a rambling response

So how does a defender of analogy avoid saying either that the universe is all that exists or that God is all that exists?

In one sense we don’t want to avoid it. If one is speaking primo and per se, for example, then, in fact, God is all that exists. There is always an inaccuracy in saying that a finite being exists, just as there is always an inaccuracy in saying that an equilateral triangle has angles equal to two rights, since this isn’t true of it qua equilateral but qua triangle. Even though there are contexts in which this inaccuracy does not matter, the refinement of reasoning about something – science – progressively eliminates this sort of inaccuracy. But these sorts of inaccuracies are not all eliminated in the same way. For example, it was important to move from the idea of weight to the idea of mass.  There is no absolute property called “weight” – it was simply a specialized manifestation of the more fundamental reality of mass.  But we cannot simply do away with the idea of weight when we hit on the idea of mass, since without some reference to that initial experience of weight – of the heaviness that presses down in our hands or that lifts up the bars of a scale – we can’t understand the more universal concept of mass.

To sum up:

The perfect use of a predicate involves combining it with what it is said of primo and per se.

Existence is said primo and per se of God alone.

Perfect use of some predicate can involve – and in this case does involve – hanging on to imperfect meanings in order to understand the perfect ones.

Note that all of these premises are held in common by Thomists and Scotists. The argument does not resolve the problem of analogy, but it does point to a possible avenue of rapprochement. But the upshot of the argument is that, though the perfection of thought requires saying that God alone exists, the statement is only intelligible if we retain the imperfect or merely relative sense of existence that can be verified of the universe. Still, even if we left it at this, we’ve only explained half of the problem, sc. how a Thomist can say “God alone exists”. What about the other half of the problematic: “the universe alone exists”?

The question of analogy or univocity reduces to a question of intention, and in this case it helps to first consider the intentions of the will – i.e. the things we do intentionally or on purpose. Charles Young loved to tell the story of how one of his students wrote a dissertation that involved figuring out how many people per year are crushed and killed by rocking vending machines while trying to make them dispense free product (Answer: 25). Young’s interest was piqued by noticing that, in light of this, he would look at people rocking vending machines and think ‘you don’t want to do that’. The sense is clear enough but still paradoxical: the kid rocking the vending machine clearly wants to do what he’s doing, but he has a deeper and more significant want that is incompatible with this. The analogy isn’t perfect but is close enough to make the point about the way we use the word “existence”, or other transcendental terms. Just as a kid rocking the vending machine wants to do something (or intends to do something) that he doesn’t want to do, the things we first mean by existence (or other transcendental terms) are not what we mean. Both of these aspects are present in our use of a transcendental term, and so, in this sense we must give two answers to the question of what we mean when we are using a transcendental term. This is how we should understand St. Thomas’s repeated insistence that analogy is characterized by two different orders of per prius and per posterius. Teh two orders arise from a duality in the single intention or ratio of a transcendental term which in one sense is only verified of creatures and in another sense is only verified of God. This is also, to my mind, the simplest way to explain what STA means when he says that, while the ratio of a univocal term is wholly the same, the ratio of the analogous one is partly the same and partly different. In one sense, the intention or ratio of a transcendental term is the same between God and creatures since it is one intention or term; but the very nature of such a term is to be characterized by a duality of intention or of what we mean to say or want to say.

An objection to “the analogy of being”

Thomism seems to be stuck having to say that the following are true:

The universe is all that exists.

God is all that exists.

Suppose you object to the first and say “no, that’s not right, because God exists too”. This seems to be the same thing as responding to the claim that “All light is in the electromagnetic spectrum”  by saying “no, that’s not right, because God is ‘light from light’, and the light of the mind isn’t photons either.” One cannot use analogue B to prove that analogue A is an incomplete set. So it would seem that if we have good reasons for denying either Naturalism or pantheism, we have good reasons for denying that “being” or “existence” are analogues when said of God and creation.

This is a variant on Scotus’s argument that proofs for God’s existence are evidence for the univocity in the uses of the word “existence” when said of God and creatures. It is not, as some commentators put it, that Scotus was trying to safeguard our knowledge of God (as though he was rigging his premises to get a theistic proof to pop out) – he was simply drawing a conclusion from a previously established theistic proof. He could have drawn the same conclusion from a refutation of pantheism as he here draws from a refutation of atheism.

Meister Eckhart draws another conclusion from the same premise. His argument is:

What is said analogously of A and B is only in the first and not the second.

Existence is said analogously of creatures and God.

God is the first.

Therefore all existence is the divine existence.

For obvious reasons, Eckhart got in trouble for this, but the conclusion shares its key premise with Scotus: analogues do not create the sort of community of existence between God and creatures that we seem to be presupposing when we say “the universe is not all that exists” or “God is all that exists”. Scotus claims that this means that there is a community of existence between God and creatures; Eckhart draws the opposite conclusion that all existence is God and never really belongs to creatures.

Though this objection is framed as an objection to the analogues of being, the same argument can be made about any of the analogues said of God and creatures: All goodness is a goodness in the universe; every truth is a truth about the universe; only God is a person; only human beings are persons; or, as Eckhart might say (following Augustine) only God is just, etc. How are the defenders of the “analogy of being” to respond?

A contradiction in PVI’s thin theory of existence

The Maverick Philosopher has been critiquing Van Inwagen’s ‘thin theory’ of existence, that is, that existence is one univocal thing which is “closely allied with” number. Brandon added to the critique, pointing out that Van Inwagen’s idea of ‘univocal’ was incoherent (a single term is no more univocal than a single ‘2’ is an equation.) Michael Sullivan also critiqued the theory, saying on the one hand that it begs the question and on the other hand that, if existence was closely tied to number’, then numbers ought to exist most of all – a highly suspicious claim. Any one of these critiques is, to my mind, fatal to the thin theory. I’ll justify my jumping on the dogpile by making a far more extravagant claim than any of these guys has made: PVI’s thin theory is self-contradictory.

I’ll start where Sullivan left off, with the distinction between the transcendental one and the one of number. Two claims:

America is one nation under God

America is one nation and France is another.

The first claim is that America is undivided, i.e. it is one because all of its states make up a Union (and/or that) the people who make up this country are in agreement about fundamentals, they have a common history and culture, etc. The second claim is that America is a unit in a larger group or class. The first is a claim about a whole made out of a unity of its parts; the second is about a part of a larger whole. Now the first sense is the same thing as “to exist” – my head and my body, for example, have to be one in this sense in order for me to exist; more generally, whatever one identifies as the necessary parts of something, these parts must be one (in sense number one) in order for the thing to exist.

Now PVI’s claim that existence is closely allied with number requires, at minimum, that whatever is one in the first sense is also one in the second sense.  But this means that every whole is a part of a larger whole. Problematically, every philosophy I know of thinks this claim is false: The universe is not part of a larger whole (Thomism); God is not a part of a larger whole (Thomism, and the sense of “exist” is not the same as the first claim) all possible worlds are not part of a larger whole (Analytic thought); the logical totality of God and the universe is not a part of a larger whole (Scotism) The complete mass of all material things is not part of a larger whole (Marx, Lucretius, etc.) The sum of all multiverses is not part of a larger whole, etc. Notice that all of these philosophies deny not only that there is actually a larger whole, they deny that a larger whole is even possible. But it is ridiculous to talk about one as a number where a number of things is not even possible. Whatever account one gives of one as a number – the principle of number, the measure of numbers, the first member of a group, a possible solution to some equation – it must be a part of a (at least possible) greater whole or totality of things.

This would be fatal enough by itself, but a larger problem is that the one who asks about existence is asking precisely about that which includes the totality of all things. What is there but what there is, i.e. what exists? And this is where the contradiction in the thin theory comes in: like any theory of existence, it presupposes of the totality of all things, but in tying existence to number, it makes existence a part of a larger totality.

To sum up, here’s my main argument, in modo Analyticorum:

1.) “One” as a number is a part of (an at least possible) whole or totality

2.) Not everything that exists or can exist is a part of an at least possible whole or totality.

3.) Therefore not everything that exists is one as a number.

4.) But the thin theory requires that everything that exists is at least one in number.

5.) Therefore, the thin theory is false

And further:

1a.) Any theory of existence intends to speak about that outside of which there is nothing, and nothing even possible.

2a.) To speak about such an object is to speak about a whole or a totality outside of which there is nothing.

3a.) The thin theory of existence says that all that exists is part of a larger whole or totality, that is, there is no such thing as a whole outside of which there is nothing

4a.) Therefore, the thin theory is self-contradictory.

The progression of logical information

Eddington pointed out that the theory of relativity is not so much a speed limit on natural events as a speed limit on the propagation of information: if you shined a beam of light from Earth to Saturn and then spun around in a circle, the farthest edge of the light beam would be travelling much faster than the speed of light, but we could receive no information about it.

But relativity also imposes no speed limit on the propagation of logical information, or at least there is one very relevant sort of logical information which is still seen as not falling under the theory. There is no physical meaning to speaking about the amount of time it takes for premises to reach a conclusion. A new piece of information follows from denying the consequent, for from working through an extremely long mathematical proof, but there is no sense to speaking about the logical consequence taking less time in the first case. The move from a premise to a conclusion is not a move that needs to cover any ground or go through intermediate states. Nothing changes about this is if we make a conclusion a premise for a new conclusion, as happens in an extended proof. What is happening logically speaking between the positing of premises and the reaching of a conclusion?

There is of course a time-lag that the brain needs to acquire new states, and a minimum amount of time that it takes to shift from one neuronal pattern to another. But to take note of such a time lag has no relevance to the way in which logical relationships propagate information. If you were teaching a logic course, it would add nothing to your account of modus tollens if, after saying “If p then q, and q is not”, you interrupted yourself to have a long discourse about neurology before you told them “therefore p is not”.

We understand the sequence or progression of logical steps by comparing it to the progression of natural things, but this obscures as much as it illumines. The progression of nature is through intermediate states, thought that strange and barely intelligible infinity of motion. Nature is like smeared or melted logic – it is unable to get from one state to another without passing through that infinity of possibilities that is neither one thing nor the other. The higher intellects no doubt have a similar account of of our reasoning.

The cosmological argument in a concrete instance

I return periodically to considering that since cosmological arguments prove that God is the terminus of series, then we should be able to find God as acting in the various concrete events and series of the world around us. The First Way, for example, is a claim about what is necessary for motion, and so it is implicitly a claim about the branch I can see waving outside my window or the keys that I’m pressing on this computer, namely that oe explanation of them must invoke the divine activity. The Fourth Way is a claim about what is necessary to have a greater and lesser perfection, and so is it is implicitly a claim that, necessarily, some explanation of why ice cream tastes better than mud or why virtue is better than vice requires us to speak of God. The Second Way is a claim about series of efficient causes, and so among all the possible windows we can look through to see the causes of a sailboat being pushed, there must be at least one of them through which – surprise! – we see God at work. That last interjection was not ironic – the cosmological argument must really surprise us with God since we have not assumed him from the beginning.

So a branch outside my window is bobbing lazily up and down. God must be involved in this, says St. Thomas. How?

Any analysis of a motion traces back to what Aristotle called nature, or an intrinsic, given source of some determinate activity (that is, the series that terminates does so in a given). But bobbing branches can be traced back to a whole cloud of such intrinsic sources: their heaviness, elasticity, their having a surface that can catch wind (or generate friction and resistance) etc. But wait, a branch – or at least the tree – is one thing. It’s one and the same seed that brought forth the thing that is heavy, elastic, able to catch wind, etc. Here we hit a problem: in looking for a single nature, we end up dissolving it into multiple ones. Nature, it seems, it simply what is taken as given in the natural explanation, and we find ourselves appealing to a multitude of givens when we try to explain any motion in the concrete. We can see that there is one thing that unifies heaviness, elasticity, friction, etc. but these three things are both manifestations of a single nature and veils that are placed in front of it. And all this before we mention the wind!

More problematically, one man’s given turns into another man’s result. As much as Newton hated having to take heaviness as a given (he repeatedly tries to make it an effect of some deeper physical given) – he still took it that way. But heaviness, is, it seems, not the given – not the nature – but one aspect of a more fundamental given that can manifest itself as either heaviness or an accelerated motion.

So to see the cosmological argument working in a concrete instance, we would have to see the line of causality going through the nature of the thing, but our analysis of a thing tends to throw up a veil  front of the nature we are looking for, that is,  the given unity that is the source of an indefinite multitude of other things taken as givens. The nature that is immediately posterior to the divine activity, that is, the first openness to the divine activity, is obscured in the measure that we try to understand its features in a concrete case.

So are we saying that we can never fill out the details of a cosmological argument in a concrete case? Can we say no more about the bobbing tree branch than that it is an imperfect act or composite being? Here would be one argument for this: metaphysics can only know things that can be attained by an immediate induction, that is, things whose reality can be attested to and known by a single instance. But the causal series of the concrete things around us are not knowable in this way, therefore they cannot enter into the subject of a demonstration in metaphysics.

More later.

The voluntarism of Duns Scotito

There are times when we are less interested in what a given thinker said, and more with having them fit in a popular narrative. What actual philosophers said is subtle – usually too subtle for the sort of simplicity that a popular narrative requires. Still, we need popular narratives. So what to do?

What we need is some way to indicate when we are merely using a thinker as a part of a popular historical narrative. Such an account may be what the thinker actually said, it might be a popular impression of what they said (but in fact did not), it might be a plausible but not necessarily correct account of what they said, it might even be nothing but a vicious slander of the thinker’s actual thought. What would be undeniable is that this account has value in explaining a progressive stream of thought, even if it was not the actual historical stream of thought that occurred. It seems to me that the Spanish diminutive (-ito, or -ita in the feminine)  hits exactly the right note for this sort of reality.

Since I’m making this up, here are the grammatical rules: the stress of the word must always be on the penultimate syllable, unless the word sounds funnier otherwise, in which case the change in pronunciation requires an accent marker. Latinate endings are to be dropped (so “Scot” not “Scotus” and “Copernik” not “Copernicus”). Two-syllable names are to be shortened to one, thus St. Thomas is “thomito” as in “the rationalism of St. Thomito was the high point of Medieval Scholasticism before the voluntaristic and Nominalistic revolt of the late Middle ages”.

Use as spice.

I mean this all sincerlito.

How a developing idea of the material develops its contrary

When, in considering the material, we start from an idea of body, the immaterial is conceived as the unextended. When we start with the idea of a field, like a magnetic for gravitational field, we cannot just shoehorn them into the old idea of extension. Fields are not bodily in any obvious way – they are understood better in opposition to body. But in considering the field we do see that note of determination to one path of action that we see in body. Fields propagate along predictable paths just as bodies fall along them. So as our idea of nature develops to include not only body but field, we are more led to consider the immaterial as that which is not determined to a single path of action. Immateriality- spirit – is seen  less in the ontological line of “lacking extension” and more along the operational line of freedom, or at least the spontaneity of life.  Nature is seen as more an more typified by this absence of spontaneity, which is is what we mean by “mechanical”. This is why we don’t need to abandon the idea of nature as as “mechanical” just because we argue that it is not deterministic: for probability is not the same thing as spontaneity (they are two very different senses of “undetermined”).

From a Thomistic perspective, the mechanical account of nature can be seen as an attempt to derive all we can from the idea of nature as determined ad unum. It is a mathematical analysis the distinction that Aristotle lays down in book IX of the Metaphysics, sc. of natural potency as opposed to rational potency. It may be true that the doctrine also rests on the denial of final causes, but this is a mere negation and is superfluous to the truth of the doctrine, and why it works. It’s better to account for it as an account of nature as lacking the spontaneity of life which we can experience within ourselves.

Anselm’s argument and mystical experience

More than one Thomist has claimed that Anselm’s argument is somehow tied to mystical experience, but I’ve never seen the claim fleshed out. One objection to this is that if the proof depends on a mystical experience then it seems superfluous. Who needs a proof for something they see or experience?

First, a preliminary response: there are degrees of mystical experience, and multiple lights by which we have them. It would be hard to add anything to the presentation that James gives in chapter XVII of The Varieties of Religious Experience. While mystical experience is basically experiential and passive, it does not follow that it is wholly out of our control. Drinking alcohol or looking at beautiful things goes a long way to putting oneself in the place where we can be struck by mystical insight. We can’t command the lightning to strike us, but we can put our self in the sort of situation where we wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

To see Anselm’s argument in the way suggested here, we need to get beyond the mere words “that than which nothing greater can be thought” and try to reconstruct the experience by which one can come up with such an idea in the first place. What would be a single, unified experience of the that than which, etc. even if it is experienced within ourselves? To raise the question usually serves as a painful reminder that our appreciation of Anselm’s argument usually does not go much further than knowing the words and the syntactical relationships between them. Any of our experiences may or may not be illusory, but what is it to have the experience of that than which nothing greater can be thought?

The first note in the experience is of being bound. The mind experiences an absolute incapacity to find something greater. The paradigm here cannot be our understanding of quantities, where is it is meaningless to speak about an inability to find something greater, but rather the way a category is greater than the things in it. The experience, therefore, is of something concrete that cannot be placed in a category; or, what amount to the same thing, an experience that manifests to us the inadequacy of our categories. Such experiences are, in certain ways, pretty common. A very common dream experience is of seeing, say, a building that looked like a department store but which we knew was our old middle school. But even this dream vision does not manifest the inadequacy of all of our categories. What we see is still “colored” or “of such and such a size”. This does not mean that, in the vision of the transcendent that there is no identifiable sense content at all in our field of experience, but that the experience itself is of the inadequacy of anything that can be given in a category for the thing that is given in experience.

Now there are things in experience that make us spontaneously think that something has gone wrong and is not working right. Pain is a good example. But the experience of that which goes beyond all categories is not like this. No sane person would ever actively chase after and experience where his organs are failing out or his life is being lived improperly, but everything chases after experiences that blast apart our categories of analysis and description. We know what damage or improper operation feels like, and the experience of violating all categories is not like this. For that matter, we know what illusions are like but transcending all categories is not like an illusion. For one thing, illusions are often experienced like damage (the better ones tend to hurt the eyes); but more importantly, illusions consist in placing something in the wrong category, not in an experience that manifests the complete inadequacy of our categories. Any human experience is fallible, but even under this restriction, that which goes beyond all categories is spontaneously experienced as something real. In other words, the experience of that than which nothing greater can be thought carries with it the recognition of its reality.

True, as a general and abstract principle it is correct that just because we can conceive of something does not make it real, and so as long as we consider Anselm’s argument in the domain that contains only abstract and general principles this principle will always pose, at minimum, a difficulty that needs to be addressed. But the experiential domain is not exactly the same as this. Abstract general principles appeal to generally held experiences, where “general” includes the idea of being “everyday”. But no transcendent experience is general in this way, even if though there is a general (in the sense of universal) experience of transcendent and mystical things among persons.

Transcendent analogues

Thomists are most of all interested in analogous names when one analogue transcends the other, but these sorts of analogous names have the peculiar feature that the second analogue is more what we meant to say (“light” is an exception to this).  Saying “God is X analogously” results from our seeing that X is not best verified of the things in the finite realm, even though we first encounter X as something in the finite world. Some examples:

1.) Being or Existence. Though we first encounter being or existence in finite things, in order to articulate this sort of existence we are forced into admitting that there is something that is real but not actual. But we certainly didn’t mean to speak about what was not actual when we spoke about being. This also makes the word cause analogous, since a cause is a source of existence.

2.) One. Things are one when they ae undivided, but all finite things are constituted by real distinctions and the lack of identity of constitutive parts.

3.) Good and True: Things that set the mind and the will at rest and give it its satisfaction. But the mind is never satisfied with some number of truths, even in the way the belly can be filled by a meal. This makes love, friendship and goodwill also analogues most of all verified in the infinite.

4.) Father or Parent: The cause of our existence. Our parents, on the other hand, are the cause of our coming to be. Also, the parent is the one to whom piety is directed. It is simply perverse to treat any creature with the fullest sort of reverence or respect we can give to a superior. This makes other terms divine analogues: ruler, Lord, dignity, authority, intelligence. Since a person is fundamentally one who is lord of his own action, person is also an analogue.

The concrete/abstract duality

-St. Thomas argues that God is the name for a concrete-abstract duality (see response to objection 2).

-Immediately after proving that God exists, STA considers the divine simplicity. But in speaking of the divine existence we consider him as concrete, and when considering him as simple as abstract. So the consideration of God as a concrete reality immediately leads to considering him as an abstract one.

-What are we doing when we say “an Absolutely simple being exists?” What does it mean to speak of the concretion of the abstract?

-The simplicity of God testifies to his communicability, and the obvious need to evangelize. Even atheists want justice to prevail. Atheism just is some way of wanting justice to prevail. But we don’t ultimately think justice is an ideal in the sense of being non-subsistent.

– This response is too quick: “God is love, but love is not God”. If all we want to say is that some creature is not the creator, or that love can be an idol,  the claim is obvious and does not need to be said. But it leaves out the way in which an abstract reality is really prior to our understanding of God. This priority requires us to begin with love and move to God, that is, to discover the way in which love is God. What we first call love is not what, as it turns out, we most meant to say by “love”.

-Modern Physics is not imaginable, but mediated by mathematics. “Don’t consider the world and what you can imagine” says the physicist “just consider the numbers”. Perfection mediates the consideration of God as a concrete/ abstract duality. We take mathematical ideas from the world somehow and the idea of perfection from the world somehow. But neither is limited by what we can know of the sensible world as sensible. It would be helpful for metaphysicians to consider the way in which mathematics goes beyond experience. We have seen for a long time how it exceeds experience by its certitude, but this is barely scratching the surface.

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