A Thomistic argument from reason or EAAN

In considering the way in which the will relates to the action of another, we get all the elements of a Thomistic argument from reason (or, a variant on Plantinga’s EAAN, though with nothing to say about evolution.)

Starting from the premise that the will moves itself, St. Thomas concludes it is moved by an exterior mover too:

[The will] moves itself, as stated above (Article 3), in so far as through willing the end it reduces itself to the act of willing the means. Now it cannot do this without the aid of counsel: for when a man wills to be healed, he begins to reflect how this can be attained, and through this reflection he comes to the conclusion that he can be healed by a physician: and this he wills. But since he did not always actually will to have health, he must, of necessity, have begun, through something moving him, to will to be healed. And if the will moved itself to will this, it must, of necessity, have done this with the aid of counsel following some previous volition. But this process could not go on to infinity. Wherefore we must, of necessity, suppose that the will advanced to its first movement in virtue of the instigation of some exterior mover, as Aristotle concludes in a chapter of the Eudemian Ethics (vii, 14).

ST 1-2. 9. 4 co.

Citing Quodlibet XXI, Cajetan gives an objection from Scotus: “The will and the presence of an apprehended object suffices for the act of the will, and so an exterior agent is not required.”  Said another way: why in the world is St. Thomas talking about counsel as mediating every exercise of human willing? Do you seek counsel before any act of willing?

Cajetan responds:

It’s one thing to talk about volition and another thing to talk about volition from the will applying itself to willing something. Volition is nothing but the action of the will as it wills; and it’s certain that the will and the object suffices for willing. But… [for the latter] the will with the object does not suffice, but there must be a will willing the end beforehand (praevolens). The reason is that to will doesn’t just bespeak willing, but also action or motion which, because it happens for an end, require the desire for an end, as was said…

The will, considered as a nature, acts for an end and so has an end set for it. But this end must be set by another will, that is, the will must work from a preestablished counsel and not from, say, an animal instinct or (a fortiori) from a “blind” natural urge. All of these sub-rational bases would, by definition, make the will the power of a brute animal or something even lower; and therefore make a human being a non-human being. Because the action of the will is human, its principles must be acts of counsel, that is, they must be the advice and voice of another intellect. To will something by nature (say, happiness) requires that nature itself be an action of a mind, and this is what all call God.

The same sort of argument might apply to the first principles of the intellect.

Creation, matter, and the proper object of human knowledge

Creation ex nihilo – or just “creation” – says that it is not matter that is at the foundation of things, but the immaterial act of the divine will.

But why make matter at all? Even given matter is a second-story reality resting on a non-material basis, why make it at all?

Since every intellect must transcend what it knows, then the lowest possible intellect must know something that is not itself an intellect. The raison d’être of matter is therefore to constitute the cognitive object of the lowest possible intellect. It is essential to matter that it be unintelligent of itself and known by the human person.

Creation is therefore the making of the proper object (though not the only possible object) of the lowest possible intellect. Matter is a mediating layer and separating veil between the creator as creator and the person as the lowest possible intellectual creature. Love accounts for the existence of matter from beneath, the person accounts for its existence from within.

Note on Hume’s division

Hume distinguishes matters of fact from relations of ideas. To take the division as exhaustive leads to a very familiar account of metaphysics.

A relation of ideas has two properties 1.) a truth that can be known by demonstration or intuition, 2.) a claim where the truth of the statement does not depend on  the existence of the subject. Mathematical objects serve as proofs for (2), for example, it’s true that all Euclidean circles are round or that points have no parts, and this remains true even if there are no such things as Euclidean circles or points. It follows from (2) that matters of fact are only true if the subject exists, and we have many examples of this e.g. it cannot be true that the sun rose this morning if the sun did not exist this morning. So far, so good but matters of fact also have to be non-demonstrative and non-intuitive. Both properties are crucial, and if we take them as exhaustive it follows that any inquiry into things that actually exist must be purely a posteriori and  inductive. Metaphysics (the inquiry into existence) is identified with an inductive, tentative, and even experimental method – that is, with science, or, what amounts to the same thing, metaphysics is impossible.

It is inarguable that there are matters of fact and relations of ideas, but a critique of this would be to treat the distinction as not absolute or non-exhaustive. One approach would turn on finding truths that were both demonstrative or self-evident and yet which would not be true if the  subject did not exist. Cartesians might volunteer the the claim “I exist”; Aristotelians would point to large and significant sections of the Physics and Metaphysics.

Applying WLC’s account of creation

William Craig gives a good initial account of “creation” by distinguishing the senses of cause and then saying creation is efficient causality without material causality. But he fumbles the account by placing the action at the beginning of time and seeing modern cosmologies as giving some support to the idea of creation.

I pick on Craig only because the application of the principle he works from leads us to a different conclusion. If creation is efficient causality as prior to material causality as such, the foundation of material being is not matter but  choice. Material causality is a second-story reality and not a ground-floor one. True, matter might have a real necessity within a conservation law, but conservation laws are only meaningful in relation to created causes.

A doctrine of creation vindicates the positive element of Berkeley’s thought: the foundation of material things is an act of mind and will. This remains true even for those creation doctrines which (in a denial of the negative aspect of Berkeley’s thought) see this creative act giving rise to a real material substrate, for example, those doctrine that see the creative act as (sometimes) speaking to the created mind by way of the mediation of a material substrate.


Proper object of human knowledge

If we understand being in its principle sense as substance (or even as “a thing”) then it is proper to human knowledge to know being through the signs of being; where these signs are only beings per accidens.

(N.B. “sign” means something given to sensation which, being known, makes something other than itself known.)

Thus, it is proper to human beings to understand being through what is not a being per se. To say this does not disclose the sense of perseity involved, but it does locate the question of being on one side of a logical opposition, in such a way that the elements of this opposition are both involved in constituting the object known.

Two meanings of “physical” from two different sense powers

Thesis: There is a radically different matter of the exterior and interior senses, which gives rise to two radically different significations of “physical” or “material” (this allows us on way into understanding the difference St. Thomas draws between “sensible” and “intelligible” matter.)

1.) Imagine something of a given length: a ten foot ceiling, a 25 meter pool, an 8000 parsec galaxy. What is there about that image that tells you about its size? If someone gave you a picture of something, then either you figure out its size by knowing the size of something in the picture, or the question is simply unanswerable; but the image of some length just is that length, and that’s all there is to it. The image, in spite of being somehow a picture, is not a picture.

2.) To imagine an E gives the same image for the one you see at the eye test and the one you can read on this screen (assume for simplicity they are the same font). The image has parts making it definite, but not making it a definite size. All the same, it is an image and not an idea. There is a peculiarity and individuality to it.

3.) “I’ve pictured this image all day”. True, but this does not make the image a day old, for the same reason that  if you spent that day on a 100 mile cruise, the image did not travel 100 miles.

4.) The field of being for the exterior senses is the changeable world, where units of time have a more or less consistent meaning. A day, for example, has consistent and universal meaning because the sun goes from here to there. But the field of being for the interior senses is not like this. One thing happens after another, or in sequence, but there is no clock within their field of being to which we can coordinate the various images. There are no “imagiunits” allowing us to compare the totality of images in magnitude of space or time and no such units are necessary. It is superfluous, if not impossible, to measure our image of Lincoln to see if it (that is, the image) is six-foot-five.

4a.) The field of being of the exterior senses is motion in Aristotle’s sense: actus imperfecti. But motion or change in the interior sense is motion more in Plato’s sense of an actus perfecti. 

5.) Images have parts after parts and outside of other parts, both in space and time; and the images are more or less definite and particular images, and in this sense they are physical, material, and concrete. But they have no homogeneous measure, and so insofar as we understand the the physical and material by homogeneous measure (which is exactly how the sciences understand them) then these images are not physical, material, etc.

A critique of a secular morality

Leah Libresco disputed whether Secular Humanism has any coherent set of core moral beliefs, and Darren responded by laying out what he thought they were. Though I liked some things in his account of morality (it was very analytic, clear, and orderly, for one) I ultimately disagree with it for three reasons:

1.) His first principle is incoherent.

2.) His morality is radically inadequate since, in principle,  it cannot provide answers to the sort of questions we most need a moral theory to answer, and as a subset of this:

3.) His is morality cannot show us the way to human excellence.

1.) Here’s Darren’s first principle:

As a fundamentalist Christian minister once said to me, “Secular Humanism is what you get when you take God off the throne, and put Man in his place.”

When thinking of what Secular Humanism stands for and how it is different than other ‘isms that one might encounter, this sounds like a pretty good place to start.

Darren, however, has a problem that the minister does not: for while we can dispute whether any God exists to sit on a throne, we know that no “Man” exists to sit on it. So, from Darren’s point of view, all his move can consist in is swapping out one non-existent ruler for another. After all, if we can put “Man” on a throne, why not put “Justice” or “Happiness” on the throne, since these would be far better and more direct ways to ensure Justice and human happiness? If the principal act of our morality is the exaltation of an abstract being which need not exist in itself, then there is no contradiction in even an atheist morality that states that the first moral act is to believe in God. But this suggests we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere.

2.) Any Christian reader is struck by the ways in which Darren’s list of moral commands borrows from the Ten Commandments. Since by definition he can only pull from the last seven (and the last two are so similar) he basically borrows half of the second-tablet morality. We cannot murder (V) or steal (VII) or bear false witness (VII). This is admirable (especially his prohibition on lying, though he does not take it as absolute). That said, the commandments he leaves off speak volumes: he apparently does not believe that sexuality is a sphere of activity that falls under a basic moral principles, and he has nothing to say about coveting, that is, the morality of the heart and the interior man. One is left with the sense that this morality, such as it is, views anything having to do with sex as such as morally licit (if not commendable).  One suspects that the idea behind this is that sexuality is so personal that it cannot fall under a moral law. We simply like what we like, and that is the end of it. This sort of  belief also makes clear why this moral code has nothing to say about coveting, since coveting is done in the heart, and the heart wants what it wants. But the is to make a morality that is entirely superficial and extrinsic. Someone looking to morality to inform him about what is most profoundly important and innermost to him finds that the Secular Humanist can only shrug and insist that he has nothing to say on the matter.

3.)  This last problem points to a more basic one: there is nothing critical or challenging in Darren’s moral code. Reading it, a modern Western consumer is left thinking “Great! I guess I’m doing just fine!”  There is nothing in this moral code like we find in, say, the Sermon on the Mount or the Four Moral Truths or Aristotle’s account of friendship in N. Eth. VIII. Darren’s moral code articulates a fundamental mediocrity of life. And so even though Darren quotes Gott ist tot in support of his doctrine,  Zarathustra himself describes the sort of person that is created by Secular Humanist morality at somewhat greater length:

“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” — so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

“We have discovered happiness” — say the Last Men, and they blink.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

“Formerly all the world was insane,” — say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled — otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

“We have discovered happiness,” — say the Last Men, and they blink.

Subject and object (2)

I take the real distinction between subject and object as given. But what sort of theory preserves it?

Take sense knowledge. Our spontaneous explanation of it would probably march through a series of parts: photons/ EM waves hit the lens of they, then hit the retina, are sent down optic nerves, then cause jiggles and blood flow in brain region x, etc. Great. That’s vision. We’ve laid it out in front of ourselves, which is to say we’ve explained everything except the fact that the object is laid out in front of us. So then we go back: “oh, that sensation of ‘being an object’  or ‘being laid out in front of us’ is from such and such neurons in this section of the brain…” In other words, if we just posit enough objects, they will amount to a subject:  p equals ~p if we just have enough p’s.

This opposition between subject and object accounts in part for why St. Thomas called even sensation immaterial and spiritual. The sense is not “a ghost” (that is, a gaseous object), or a tool (that is, an object used by another object) but a reality that cannot be another being in a series of objects.

Logic in theology

Thomists have always insisted that God is only known by way of negation, eminence, and causality of created things. But a crucial application of this doctrine is that the very logical categories and linguistic structures we use to think and speak about God are themselves created things. This does not mean anything goes, but that we recognize those ways in which logic and language are proper and appropriate to the analysis and expression of created things. There are reasons to doubt whether this critique can ever be complete, since even the notions of eminence, negation, and causality can fall under it.

The “is” of predicating essence of an individual

Plato: The “is” of predication involves saying a substance of a non-substance, or what is truly ousia of what is only ousia by participation. When we say “Socrates is a man” we mean that man is the substance and “Socrates” (the individual) is a mere fleeting inherence in the flux of time and space.

When we say “Socrates is a man” the “is” might be taken as indicating that Socrates takes part in man in a particularly intimate or excellent way and that he is particularly good at causing us to think of man. But it would be better to say that grammar reflects the defective grasp we have of reality and so is not always a good guide as to what is, i.e. substance.

Aristotle: The substance predicated and the substance it is said of are the same, but they differ as “first” and “second”. The individual “Socrates” is the first substance, and the predicate is only a “second substance”. We can say the one of the other because first and second substance are the same thing. “Man” is “Socrates”, not because man can only be Socrates, but because it must be some person or another. It’s comparable to counting: “five” is the fifth one, though this is any of the five ones.

And grammar is a particularly good guide to what is a substance.



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