Mechanism (II)

Mechanism= what is moved by a force.

Force = Something which, moving a mechanism, we could control or reproduce as we wish.

Work = a change we could reproduce.

Energy= the thing we could control to cause the change. Since we are in control of more than one thing that can cause a change (fire, chemical mixes, weights, the positions of heavy things) there is more than one sort of energy… Unless we could control them all by one process, in which case there wouldn’t be.

Mechanism/ force are divided as operating substance and that by which it operates, i.e. as subject and form, but we want a form of a peculiar kind: one that can be our instrument. To the extent that a force is determined, it cannot be instrumental to our ends or means. We cannot get it to run through or work on a piece of apparatus.

But, if it had no determination at all, it also could not be an instrument, nor would we discover anything about it by the way it ran through an apparatus. We want to know “what would happen if we were not there”. But this is a problem: what sense is there to speaking about what an instrument does when its agent is not there? What could the controllable-by-us do when it is not being controlled by us? If it is moved by another (other than us) then it won’t be unmanned when we want to use it. So it has to be moving by a blind force. Still, there is something impossible or ridiculous about this – ultimately force is something we can only consider in media res.

The scientific sense of “mechanism”

In the sciences, the word “mechanism”  does not mean that the thing we are talking about is a series of pivots, glides, and rigid drivers that push or pull or twist each other about. A mechanism is anything that could be reconstructed or commanded by us. No one might have any idea how an atom moves from one orbit to another, but if we can make it do so on command or in circumstances under our control (i.e. experiments), then we can call it a speak of it as a mechanism.

Taken in this sense, the opposite of a mechanism is what determines its own action, i.e. first what is alive, then what is free, and God most of all. To the extent that the sciences are mechanistic, the scope of their universality is limited in a relative way by life and humanity, and in an absolute way God. And so one of the following three must be false:

1.) The sciences are experimental.

2.) The sciences treat of all that can be known in the natural world.

3.) Life, human self-determination, and God can be known to act in the natural world.

Truth and fact

Many uses of the word fact/ factual/ facticity can be re-written using truth/true, viz. a  factual claim is a true claim, a true history is factual, the truth of the matter is the fact of the matter, etc. Again, it might seem right to say that every truth is a fact, which would mean either that the two are convertible, or that factuality contains the set of all true things or truths. But it’s interesting to consider the times when the two cannot be used equivalently.

1.) Factual is not a transcendental.

2.)  No one speaks of “a brute truth”.

3.) Facticity is not a divine attribute.

With all the work that “brute facts” are called on to do in contemporary thought, one wishes someone would raise the question why truths aren’t brute. Again, it is interesting to try to imagine what the scholastic response would be to the disputed question of whether facticity is a divine attribute.

A key text from St. Thomas for open-theism dialogue

Open theism means more than one thing – I here am thinking of the open theism that argues that God does not know the future because there is no such thing to know. Ruyer argues something similar, sc. when we get in a car accident, we run into another car, not into the accident. There is no “future accident”, waiting like a ghost out there for us to run into it from behind, and therefore no “future accident” to be gazed at, whether by God or anyone else.

This is one of the fullest accounts STA gives of the mode of existence of the future, and so the strongest and most charitable critique of his ideas would probably start here. A fuller translation would have used the phrase “under the ratio of”, here usually just translated “as”.

The future can be known in two ways 1.) in itself and 2.) In its causes.

1.) In itself it can be known by no one but God. The reason is that future things, as future, do not have existence in themselves; and since existence and truth are convertible and all knowledge is of something true, it is impossible that there be some knowledge of the future as future.  But since the past, present, and future are the differences of time and designate temporal order, everything that is in time stands to the future as future. So it is impossible that a knowledge in the temporal order would know the future in itself, and the knowledge of every creature is such (cf. infra) so it is impossible for some creature to know the future in itself. This is peculiar to God alone, whose knowledge is above the whole order of time, so that no part of time stands to the divine operation as past or future, but the whole flow of time and the things that are done in the whole of time fall under his gaze and are conformed to it in the mode of the present. His undivided act of vision bears down on all things simultaneously, as everything in its own time. A likeness can be taken from the spacial order. Just as the prior and posterior in motion and in time follow the prior and posterior in magnitude, so God in the mode of the present sees all things which are compared to each other in order of past, present and future, which cannot happen for one whose vision falls under the order of time, just as someone situated in a high vantage point sees all walking on the road, not as coming before and after him although he sees others so proceed, but everyone situated on the road can see nothing but what preceded him or what is positioned next to him.

De malo, 16. 7.

[D]upliciter possunt futura cognosci: uno modo in seipsis, alio modo in suis causis. In seipsis quidem a nullo cognosci possunt nisi a Deo. Cuius ratio est, quia futura, prout futura sunt, nondum habent esse in seipsis; esse autem et verum convertuntur; unde cum omnis cognitio sit alicuius veri, impossibile est quod aliqua cognitio respiciens futura in ratione futuri, cognoscat ea in seipsis. Cum autem praesens, praeteritum et futurum sint differentiae temporis, temporalem ordinem designantes: omne quod qualitercumque est in tempore, comparatur ad futura sub ratione futuri. Et ideo impossibile est quod aliqua cognitio subiacens ordini temporis, cognoscat futura in seipsis. Talis autem est omnis cognitio creaturae, ut post dicetur. Unde impossibile est quod aliqua creatura cognoscat futura in seipsis; sed hoc est proprium solius Dei, cuius cognitio est elevata supra totum ordinem temporis, ita quod nulla pars temporis comparatur ad operationem divinam sub ratione praeteriti vel futuri; sed totus decursus temporis, et ea quae per totum tempus aguntur, praesentialiter et conformiter eius aspectui subduntur. Et eius simplex intuitus super omnia simul fertur, prout unumquodque est in suo tempore. Potest autem accipi conveniens similitudo ex ordine locali. Sicut enim prius et posterius in motu et tempore consequitur prius et posterius in magnitudine, ut dicitur in IV Physic., ita Deus praesentialiter omnia intuetur, quae ad invicem comparantur secundum ordinem praesentis, praeteriti et futuri. Quod non potest aliquis eorum cuius intuitus sub hoc ordine temporis cadit; sicut ille qui est in alta specula constitutus, videt simul omnes transeuntes per viam, non sub ratione praecedentis et subsequentis quoad ipsum, quamvis videat quosdam alios praecedere; tamen quicumque in ipsa via constitutus est in ordine transeuntium non potest videre nisi praecedentes, vel iuxta se positos.

Reforming ideas of eternity

In response to an argument that an eternal thing is something that remains throughout all time, and is therefore is temporal, St. Thomas says:

Taken per se, time is the measure of the first motion, and so temporal existence is not measured by time except as subject to the variation  of the motion of the sphere (caeli). Thus Averroes says that we sense time so far as we sense ourselves to exist within the variable existence of the motion of the sphere. It follows that all things that are caused by the motion of the sphere, the first measure of which is time, are measured by time, and and everyone who senses any sort of variation that follows the motion of the sphere senses time even if he doesn’t see the actual motion of the sphere.

[T]empus per se est mensura motus primi; unde esse rerum temporalium non mensuratur tempore nisi prout subjacet variationi ex motu caeli. Unde dicit Commentator, quod sentimus tempus, secundum quod percipimus nos esse in esse variabili ex motu caeli. Et inde est quod omnia quae ordinantur ad motum caeli sicut ad causam, cujus primo mensura est tempus, mensurantur tempore; et quicumque sentit quamcumque variabilitatem quae consequitur ex motu caeli, sentit tempus, quamvis non videat ipsum motum caeli.

Sup Sen I. q. 19 a. 2

To speak of time per se means to speak of it as it is understood through the concrete account of a physical theory; and the very perception of time is the perception of what we see through a theoretical account.

My suspicion is that time is particularly difficult to deal with by common notions and their subsequent dialectical development. This is borne out even in Aristotle’s Physics – for even though he could say a great deal about motion from common principles, when he speaks of time he very quickly has to bring in the outermost sphere (though it comes up even more quickly in his account of place).

I’m interested in this primarily as a metaphysician, and with an eye to speaking of eternity, but this seems to be a cue that my idea of eternity should make more reference to light cones, entropy (and therefore information), and the diffusion of causes throughout nature (as opposed to the higher causes being in a different place from the lower ones.)

The difficulty in doing this, however, is that eternity is not a measure of being that can be derived from the sort of account of the world in which entropy makes sense. Eternity is not constructable by the human effort, nor do we have any relevant units in which we might give eternity an algebraic expression.

What kind of ultimates do the sciences allow us to find?

The contemporary sciences look for causes we can construct for ourselves, and so God has no value as an explanation (in general, no free cause does.) So we either find new physical causes forever or we must analyze all things to nothing. In the first way, we look for the universe to be caused by another universe, ad infinitum; in the second way, analysis must terminate in non-being, e.g. we reduce everything to particles, and then deny the particle any (absolute) properties, composite parts, definite location, or identity. The truth of either option follows from whether physical things are finite or infinite. If infinite, we can regress backwards with events and information forever; if finite then we trace events and information back to some event that is (from the point of view of the subsequent information) purely random.

Cosmological proofs and religion

Say St. Thomas is right and the only knowledge we have of God is through his effects. We might wonder if this is enough to give rise to a religious response. If we only knew a person though his effects (like the art he produced or the money he donated) we might respect him, be amazed at him, and/or feel deep feelings of gratitude towards him, but it is not clear what we would think about making a personal commitment to him – it is not even clear what this would mean or whether it is possible. Again, it is not clear what it would mean to be in the service of a person who is only known to you through his effects.

(I waver over whether Romans 1 is a response to this.)

Another look at the “Who caused God?” argument

A: You’ll hear Theists say that the reason why the all physical things exist is because God caused them. But this just leaves us with the problem of who caused God, and so such an argument solves nothing.

B: That shows a fundamental misunderstanding. The sorts of arguments you are talking about conclude to God as an uncaused cause. He simply is existence, not existence from another.

A: So you are saying that these arguments say that God exists by definition?

B: Yes, that’s exactly right.

A: But there is no such thing. There is no definition that has existence in it.  I thought I was being charitable by not basing the argument on the impossible, but merely saying it was insufficient. Why base the argument on an impossible or unknowable thing?

B: Well, it’s what God’s definition would be, if we could know it.

A: That’s just as bad – a definition that you can’t know? That is simply unknowable?

B: The definition isn’t an axiom – it’s a conclusion that we come to by considering causality. In a series of causes, there must be some cause that isn’t an effect. But every cause causes existence, so there must be some cause that does not have caused existence.  Again, if every existence is caused, then there would be nothing to cause it.

A: Let’s say arguments like this work. What’s keeping me from applying modus tollens to them and simply saying “if all these arguments are true, then there is some essence that is the same as his existence. But this is unintelligible. Therefore these arguments are not true.”

B: My things are prior and better known, and to lose them is to lose even the possibility of modus tollens. Let me try to explain that later.

A development of nominalism

If nominalism means that there is no common nature which we can identify in diverse things, Lloyd Gerson points out that it is not clear how this can keep from implying hyper-nominalism,  where there is no common nature by which we can identify the same thing at different times.

We’re familiar with nominalism as extreme empiricism, or the denial that any power transcends the sensual. But the sensual is primarily of the here and now, and so nominalism and empiricism will have to be suspicious of any linking together of the past with the now. But this is exactly what learning is, even on the sensual level. We can posit “rules of association” for the various sensations we have, but the rule cannot be reasonable – from what perspective, and in virtue of what, could we call them reasonable?  There can be no rational basis to predication or even the principle of identity. And all this after nominalism started off so reasonable! First, the we find ourselves laughing at how ridiculous it is to talk about things subsisting by their subsistence, or being men by their humanity, or being stop signs by their stopsignyness; but then the costs start to mount when Hume points out that we don’t have selves either; and finally we can dissolve even what was left for Hume when we “see” that there is no reason behind comparing a blue we see now with a blue we remember, or even behind comparing a conclusion to a premise.

It is our nominalist tendency that makes us tend to want to replace truth with fact, because though on the premises of nominalism it is not reasonable to compare this thing to that thing (one blue to another, or an apple to the planets) it is nevertheless a fact that we do. In this sense, all facts are brute facts, and they are even exquisitely well named – for it is proper to brutes to simply associate things without having a reason to associate them. A monkey might, for all I know, associate apples with the moon just as he can associate tigers with danger, but in either case the association is a brute fact, and that’s all there is to it. An abstract noun like gravity, for example, never enters his life as a third thing that serves as the rational basis to associate apples and the moon.  And why are we talking about gravity anyway, since it is exactly the same thing to say that heavy object falls by gravity as to say that a human being is human by humanity or a stop sign signifies by its stopsignitude?

Lecture on the Trinitarian relations (in media res)

“In the last class we introduced the ideas that allow us to organize what we know about the mystery of the Trinity: we borrowed the term “procession” from Latin and used it to name not only what the Latin texts of the creeds and the Scripture called processio, but we also applied used it as a general term containing the ideas of “to be generated” or “be born” or (in a qualified sense) “to be sent” or “to be spoken”. After examining all the relevant quotations, there seemed to be two different processions, and it follows from this that there are four relations, since there is a pair of relations between a thing that proceeds and what it proceeds from.

“In this class we’ll perform a sort of theology that might be called “casting” or “molding”. We’re going to take something that we know is not like the Trinity, and which suffers serious inadequacies in representing it, but which nevertheless has a kernel of truth, and then we’ll try to knock away everything but that kernel of truth. When you cast a candle in a die, for example, you have a large iron mold that looks nothing like a candle, but which has within it some likeness to a candle. You use the die like a scaffolding that allows you to get to the point when you pull the die itself apart and are left with only the wax center that was within it. Here is what is going to serve as our die for understanding the Trinity: the action of using a paintbrush to make a line going from left to right. It’s a very simple idea (though maybe not as simple as a shamrock) but be sure the image is clear in your head. We’re talking about this… (Takes out paintbrush, makes a stroke from left to right.)

Now what am I doing when I do this? Notice that you can isolate two different things that happen:

1.) You pull the brush left to right (do it).

2.) Then a third thing happens as a result, namely you not only get a line that goes left to right, it also has a top and a bottom. Now all you wanted to do was have a line that went left to right, but you find in doing this that you give rise to a top and a bottom too.

Now not everything in this image can be taken as illuminating something about the Trinity, but I want to draw your attention to the nature of this process. Note first that we can isolate a left-right relation which necessarily gives rise to a top-bottom relation.  These relations are different and arise in a certain order. We want to draw the left before the right, and we get a result out of this that was outside our intention to have this horizontal distance. Nevertheless, while there is an order among the relations they are nevertheless all simultaneous: you cannot isolate a “pure left” or a “pure right”, nor can you keep this left right line from being a top that has a bottom. You have one undivided reality that admits of three distinct relative oppositions.

Now in this metaphor, “Left” is the Father, “right” is the Son. So what about the Holy Spirit? Notice that we can say that in one sense he proceeds from the Father-Son together (so far as they form a “top” to which he is “the bottom”) and in another sense proceeds from the Father alone, so far as everything that follows “the left” proceeds from it. Both expressions isolate some feature of the same reality, and so depending on what questions we want to answer, it might be more useful to consider the Holy Spirit as arising from the single Father-Son source or from the Father alone. It is also useful to describe the Holy Spirit as “from” the Father and “through” the Son, but this is simply a third account of the same reality. The accounts are not distinct from one another by one being true and the others false.

So much for the kernel of truth in the metaphor – where is it inadequate? What part is the “die” that needs to get pulled off and set aside? It is an incredibly difficult removal: we must isolate the relations themselves apart from the parts of the quantity that we know them in. Talking about “left-right” is impossible for us apart from some image of a physical body, but we have to separate out the pure relation from the physical parts of which it is the relation. Though we must look at a body to see a left and right, we have to tell ourselves that we are only considering the left right and not the body. But how can we understand this, given that we certainly can’t imagine it? It helps to return to our consideration of the intelligible difference between parts (or most accidents) and relations. The quantity has parts that each exist of themselves, but the relation consists precisely the co-existence of things. Quantitative parts, to the extent it has its own existence, must destroy the existence of the whole. You can’t break off or isolate a part of a quantity and still have one and the same whole exist. But relations are different: because they co-exist, it is possible to have a multiplication of terms that is not repugnant to an absolutely unified whole. This co-existence is not contrary to procession of one thing from another – in fact, it can even be based upon such a procession.

‘In the next class we’ll take a close look at this notion of subsistent relation, and consider how these four relations can be said to give rise to three persons.

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