The liberation narrative and the reality of the choice

We frame reproductive choice issues as women’s issues, and tie this idea to the positive good of liberation. One blindside to framing the issue in this way is that it makes man’s role in determining the choice invisible. Abortions, small families, delay of pregnancy, prioritizing professional over familial association, etc. are all seen as things that women decide all by themselves. Even if this were the ideal, it won’t be reached so long as the we pretend that the male influence is not there. Irrespective of what our ideals are, we can’t reach them by ignoring reality. 

To make it concrete: I’ve met a lot of women who want more kids but whose husbands won’t have it; others want to leave work to have kids but whose husbands don’t want to lose the income; and it’s just crazy to think that abortions never happen – or even that they don’t happen a lot – from male coercion. You can use this either as a critique of the liberation narrative or as something that needs to be taken into account to make it a reality, but either way it is a reality that demands to be taken seriously.  

Advertisements

Draft: Perseity and the Fourth Way, parts 1 and 2

(I noodled around with the first part and so will just post the whole thing. Apologies for the weird gaps and loss of blockquotes that come with just copying and dumping worddocs. Footnote 13 is fun.)

St. Thomas’s Fourth Way is given in a shorthand that omits all the formal accounts of the concepts being used:


In some things are more and less good, true, noble, and other such things. But more and less are said about diverse things so far as they approach in diverse ways something which is most, as what is more hot more approaches what is maximally hot. Therefore something is most true, best, and noblest, and as a consequence, maximally existing (ens).

The first difficulty is that the author gives no indication what formal characteristic he has in mind that ties together the good, true, or noble though he clearly speaks of “other such things”. Just what sort of things are we to include? Richard Dawkins has leapt on this ambiguity and parodies the argument as something that would be just as effective at proving the existence of something maximally stinky.  A second difficulty is in identifying in what sense things are more and less to the extent that they approach some maximum. Anyone reading the argument, for example, can easily see that the claim is nonsense when applied to the clearest sense of more and less, sc. in spatial magnitude, number, temporal duration, etc.. Even in the cases where physical science has been able to confirm certain maximum limits of more and less in physical quantities, these limits do not seem to followfrom an axiom about the nature of the more and less but simply from experimental confirmation that finds a maximum when it is there to find. The absolute velocity of light is not a deduction from the nature of velocity, nor is absolute zero from the mere phenomenological experience of things that were more and less warm, still less is either of them a deduction from a general axiom of the sort that St. Thomas appears to be appealing to.

 

The success of St. Thomas’s proof rests more on the clarification of the second difficulty than the first. Even if we cannot isolate what formal characteristic unifies goodness, truth, and dignity, we can readily admit that they admit of degrees. This leaves us only to articulate a coherent account of the supposed axiom that the more and less are always such with respect to some maximum. Our claim here is that the maximum is that which is per seand primo in the sense that Aristotle articulates in Posterior Analytics I c. 4-6. There are two grades underneath this which constitute the more and less that fall under the maximum. The first is that which is per se but not primo, and last what is neither per se nor primo.

 

Other Accounts of the More and Less

 

There are three notionally different accounts of the more and less (1.) that the more and less are combinations of act and potency and the maximum is non-composed act (2.) That the more and less are participated being and the maximum is the essential, and (3.) The more and less are things exemplified by an exterior formal cause, and the maximum is the first exemplar cause. Though we separate them for the sake of clarity most authors will appeal to more than one of these accounts, for example by identifying a non-composed act with something essential, or even weaving together all three accounts.[1]

 

(1) For the Thomists of the Leonine revival, there was a clear account of the more and less in terms of the relation between potency and act. Thus Grenier rests his account of the Fourth Way on the “principle of causality” that “the cause of any being composed of potency and act is a being which is not composed of potency and act.” O’Brien[2] argues that the more and less are the limited while the maximum is the unlimited, and “limitation” is understood to mean simply act’s composition with potency. Though hardly a Leonine Thomist, Owens appears to concede this an act-potency foundation to the more and less.[3] Edward Feser preserves this tradition by seeing the fundamental account of the principle of causality as being that composite acts are caused by pure or non-composite acts. All of these interpretations are in line with the first of the twenty four Thomistic theses sc. that being is entirely divided into pure act on the one hand and a composition of act and potency on the other, with the first being the cause of the second. Indeed, this interpretation of the Fourth Way can be understood as establishing the truth of the thesis.

While it is entirely possible to demonstratively prove pure actuality from the nature of composite actuality, to restrict ourselves to this interpretation of the fundamental axiom of the Fourth Way would lead to an incoherence in Thomas’s own text since, for him, whatever account we give of this principle must include the more and less hot as one of its concrete instances. All commentators agree that purely material substances are act-potency composites and there is no doubt that heat either is such a substance or is the effect of one. Attempts to wave off St. Thomas’s example are difficult to swallow and even when interpreters of the proof do not seek to minimize the relevance of the example of heat, their interpretations frequently read as though they would have been happier if St. Thomas had not tried to give this concrete example of the principle he was working from.[4]

(2) Interpreting the more an less as degrees of participated being relating to something essential can appeal to a number of very suggestive and powerful Thomistic texts, many of which are laid out by Gerrigou-Legrange[5] in his characteristically thorough devotion to the littera. Consider first De potentia 3.5:

 

If anything is to be found participated in various degrees by several objects, it must be that, starting with the one in which it is found in the highest degree, it is attributed to all the others in which it is found imperfectly. For those things that are predicated according to more and less, this they have by reason of their greater or less approximation to one of some kind; for if any one of these were to possess this perfection in its own right, then there is no reason why it should be found in a higher degree in the one rather than the other.

 

Here we have a doctrine of more and less clearly tied to a notion of participation. The very possibility of hierarchy is grounded on the idea that only the maximally such can possess the formal element of the hierarchy essentially. The basis for using the word “essentially” is from ST. q. 3. a. 4: “whatever is found in anything by participation must be caused in it by that to which it belong essentially, as iron is ignited by fire”.[6] Thus this  interpretation avoids the interpretive pitfall we saw in (1) by giving an account of how fire is a concrete example of the principle in question.

Use of “participation” language has often been taken as a proof of the Platonic character of the Fourth Way[7] and St. Thomas himself can be quoted in support of this: “all things that are diversified by participation in the more and less perfect are caused by one first being that possesses being most perfectly. Hence Plato said that unity must come before multitude.”[8] There are, however, two difficulties in this. First, using Plato as a supporting authority is not the same thing as making him the basis of one’s opinion, and St. Thomas, both here and elsewhere, seems only to be using Plato as a supporting authority. Secondly, the Fourth Way not only is the only proof that directly quotes Aristotle, but it also seems to go out of its way to establish its bona fides as empirical science. Thomas gives the empirical example of heat not once but twice during the proof, and he directly quotes from a passage in Aristotle that is attempting to prove that the sun is somehow the cause of all being. Such a robust interest in empirical science is hard to square with an account of the proof as “Platonic”, since anything deserving the name of Platonic natural science would not arise until the eighteenth century. Indeed, the impossibility of natural science seems to be the raison d’être of the doctrine of participation, which accounted for any intelligibility of the world not in terms of any immanent feature of the world but in terms of a separate world of forms. Thus, interpreting the proof as Platonic would run into the same problem we saw in (1), sc. it could not account for fire being an example of the principle St. Thomas was appealing to.

A more general problem in the participation account is that it leaves the proof itself as either false or uncertain. Applying the distinction to the proof gives us the following major premises: whatever has X by participation is being caused by what has X essentially. But whatever has X in a merely greater or less degree[9] has it by participation. The difficulty is that multiple beings can have one and the same thing essentially without being the cause of the participated reality. Thus, even if a participated being reduces to something essential, the essential itself is a multitude which turn is explained by a participation in the essential, and so on ad infinitum. St. Thomas’s example is a case in point: fire is essentially hot, but it is not the reason why all other hot things are so. The blood of a living animal (at least under normal circumstances) is essentially hot, along with exothermic reactions and the sun, but not because of any presence of fire within them. And so St. Thomas’s principle is either false, or we need to find some more subtle account of the essential which allows for an order of causality among things that have something essentially.

(3) Appeals to exemplar causality are some of the most ancient accounts of the Fourth Way. Banez gives the briefest explanation by first raising the objection that, if all things that were more an less were caused by some maximum then white would be the cause of all other colors and a man would be the cause of all other animals. Banez responds that white is the cause of other colors as a exemplar cause, because it surpasses others with respect to light, which is the formally the essence of color (formale quid respectu coloris) and because it has more light than the rest of the colors it is the measure of all of them.[10] He also claims that “the same must be said about man with respect to the rest of the animals”, but provides no further account of the matter.[11]

On of the most elegant and forceful accounts of the exemplar causality in the Fourth Way is given by Rebecca Loop in her thesis Exemplary Causality in the First Being.[12]  Her argument is as follows:

 

1.)    The more and less exist with respect to a standard from which they really fall short of.

2.)    It is only possible to really fall short of a standard if that standard is really possible.

3.)    In order for a standard to be really possible, and not just logically possible, it must either exist or be in the power of some agent to bring about.

4.)    Thus there is a real standard of goodness, which is not just more or less (i.e. relatively) good, which either exists or is in the power of an agent to make.

5.)    Thus, there either is a being that is absolutely good, or who can bring forth absolute goodness from its own power.

6.)    Such a being all call God.

 

On this account, God is a “maximal being” in the sense of being a standard by which all other things are judged, and so is the exemplar of all things that are, by definition, more or less good, true, and noble in relation to it. The proof works by translating “more and less” into “the deficient” and then appealing to the axiom that deficiency is a relation to a really possible standard. For all its simplicity, however, and in spite of the argument being to all appearances a sound one, it is clearly Leibnizian and not Thomistic, given its appeal to the principle that the possible is that which either exists or falls in the power of an agent. Without this crucial premise, we are left with a Thomistic account of exemplar causality as a form by which an agent brings forth an effect, and so the Fourth Way can only be seen as collapsing into the Second Way or as presupposing the argument of the Fifth Way. But the argument clearly cannot appeal to something proven afterwards, and it gives no indication that it presupposes an argument from efficient causality. This is all the more remarkable since, for St. Thomas, the causal principle is formally responsible for the truth of his theistic argument, and so to leave off mentioning the reality of a first agent cause would render a proof from exemplar causality unsound. If the proof is nothing but an appeal to exemplar causes, then it is simply a corollary to God’s agent causality of the world. Why would one bother to reestablish the proof ab initio from sensible data if it is a logical consequence of an earlier proof?

The appeal to exemplar causes shares in the same general problem of the previous two accounts. While all can serve as the basis of sound cosmological arguments, they fail to give an adequate account of the empirical application of the principles St. Thomas is working from in the Fourth Way. It is striking how often interpretations of the Fourth Way are belied by the text of the proof itself: it is called the most Platonic of the proofs in spite of being the only one to quote Aristotle directly, and the proof is frequently presented as purely metaphysical in spite of twice claiming it is working from principles that have physical application. Given that St. Thomas will say, later in the proof, that the more and less are things that relate to something maximal in a genus, one might even suspect that St. Thomas is starting with an explicitly empirical premise about things with a generic unity that he takes as able to be generalized to things with an analogical unity. As we will see, the ability to make this generalization is, for St. Thomas, a feature of the very logic of a scientific explanations, and so will apply first to empirical science and by extension to metaphysics.

 

Perseity 

Perseity is a logical feature of predicates in systematic accounts of a subject, one which is above all necessary in such accounts that seek to explain what some subject is, what properties it has, how it came about, or to give some other genus of cause for it. The need to articulate perseity first arose in response to sophistry, and in both Plato and Aristotle the per se is viewed as the proper opposite to sophistical predication and argumentation. In fact, the first discussion of perseity arises in Plato’s Sophist, and is used as his final and most damning account of sophistry. The argumentation of Sophist is prolix and obscure, but we can get the general sense of it as a response to an argument like this:

 

If two things are joined together into one class – i.e. given the same description – then they are the same.

But motion and rest, straight and curved, good and evil, etc. can each be joined in one class, sc. “being” or “lines” or “human acts”.

Therefore, motion and rest are the same, as are straight and curved, good and evil, etc.[13]

 

Plato’s response is that combining things in a class does not mean that any possible combination is allowed; rather, it makes them the same just so far as they are so combined and no further. Black and white can each have color predicated of them, and so far as this goes they are one and the same, but neither can be predicated of the other. In later, more formalized terminology, black is the same as white qua color but not qua black, with qua signaling the presence of what Plato called the ability for combination or communion. Plato sees the failure to discern these differing modes of communion as to live in “non-being”, and he makes this the definitive mark of the sophist.[14]

Aristotle’s develops Plato’s account of perseity as “communion” into an account of the various relationships of universality between the subject and the predicate.

 

 

 

 

[1] Del Prado, N. De veritate fundamentali philosophiae christianae Saint Paul’s, Freiburg, 1911. pp 227-232.  See also the forceful and thorough weaving together of these notions by Edward Feser in Aquinas One World, Oxford, 2009. pp 99-109

[2] O’Brien, Thomas C, Metaphysics and the Existence of God. The Thomist Press. Washington D.C. 1960.

[3] Owens, Joseph St. Thomas on the Existence of God.ed. John R. Catan. St. University of New York Press. Albany 1980 P. 136. originally published in Monist, v. 58, 1974. p. 203-215.

[4] Thus Gilson: “Thomas’s example of the more and less hot should cause no illusions. It is simply a comparison, a manuducio, to help us understand the principal thesis. Certainly the “supremely hot” is only a relative supreme degree”. Gilson Etienne, Thomism: The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. A translation of Le thomisme sixth edition. by Shook, L.K. and Maurer, A. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, 2002. p 136. cf. also Elders who claims that the example “is only a comparison and not an instance” or “only an example”  Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas, p. 123 and 113. The claims are obscure and even baffling: certainly the point in making a comparison is to identify commonality between things compared. A thing might be only an example, but it still must exemplify the principle. Pace Gilson, to say that the supremely hot is only ‘relative’ is to undercut precisely what would allow it to be similar to the summum bonum. This is supposing that “relative supreme degree” has any coherent sense, to say nothing of having a sense that could be included in an axiom at the basis of Thomas’s proof. How, for example, would something “relatively supreme” be any different from something that was simply “more and less”?  In fairness to Elders, he does attempt to integrate the nature of fire into his account of the fourth way by pointing out its active character, which “stresses the active character of efficient causality” (p. 116 ibid). This might, however, create more problems than it solves: for what seems to be a simple proof based on the more and less in a formal characteristic is now seeing as being exemplified by an aspect of efficient causality.

[5] See The One God. Trans. Dom Bede Rose. B Herder Book Company, St. Louis. 1946. pp. 145-148 .

[6] The text is from De spiritualibus creaturis. A. 10. It should be noted that St. Thomas here appears to give an alternate proof to the Fourth Way based on the deficient character of the human intellect. Owens appeals not only to this text but also to the proof for a subsistent existence in De ente et essentia. See Owens, Joseph, An elementary Christian metaphysics. Bruce, USA, 1963. One purely ontological presentation of the argument in the Fourth Way is given in II Sententiae D. 1 q. 1 a. 1 which concludes to something whose “natura sit ipsum sum esse.” on the basis of things whose nature can be understood without knowing whether they exist. Thomists in search of a purely metaphysical statement of the Fourth Way would do well to appeal to this text, assuming that St. Thomas did not intentionally set out to make this sort of proof more empirically based by working from principles that had application in physical science – though we claim this is exactly what he does in the Fourth Way.

[7] Cf. Copleston “[T]his argument puts one in mind at once of Plato’s Symposium and Republic…Aquinas was not immediately acquainted with either work, but the Platonic line of thought was familiar to him from other writers Thomas Aquinas Harper and Rowe, USA, 1976. pp125-6 also Gilson, ibid p 72 “No doubt this inquiry [into the Fourth Way] would be fruitless if we do not introduce the Platonic and Augustinian idea of participation” and Smith, Gerard Natural Theology  Macmillan, New York, 1951. p 133

[8] Ibid.

[9] We use “more and less” as divided from “the maximum”, and so modify the former by “merely”. Certainly, there is another sense in which the maximum is “more”.

[10] While Cajetan adds some precisions and to some extent disagrees with Banez, he nevertheless concludes his commentary on the Fourth Way saying “All colors, in the measure that they approach white, have something more of light, and consequently have the nature (ratio) of color more perfectly.” Opera Omnia Iussu Impensaque Leonis XIII P. M. Edita. Volume IV, p. 51.

[11] Banez, Scholastica Commentaria in primam partem summa theologicae. P. I Q. 2 a. 3 reprinted by Brown, Debuque. 1934. Translation is my own.

[12] In The Aquinas Review, Volume V, no. 1 1998.

[13] One of the Port-Royal syllogisms plays with the same ambiguity, though it presents it as a Barbara syllogism:

 

He who calls you an animal speaks the truth

He who calls you a jackass calls you an animal

Therefore, he who calls you a jackass speaks the truth.

 

The argument generalizes to a sophistical template that can make anything into its opposite. First, find a general class for the two opposites. Now make the major term “speaks the truth”, the middle term the predication of the class of one opposite, and the minor premise the predication of the opposites of each other, e.g.:

 

He who says black is a color speaks the truth

He who says black is white says black is a color.

Therefore, he who says black is white speaks the truth.

 

[14] See Plato Sophist XXXXX. Arisotle concurs with Plato’s judgment in Sophistical Refutations, XXXXsaying that the Sophist deals with non-being so far as he shuns perseity.

Resolved: A Christian can hope that all souls will be saved

I argued against the resolution. I had two arguments. The first one is here.

I.) The first argument was disjunctive: either hope is understood as (1) the theological version of hope, or (2) not. Either way is impossible.

1a.) “Faith is the substance [stands under] things hoped for. Hebrews 11:1

Therefore, hope rests on things that are held de fide. 

But the doctrine that all souls will be saved is not de fide, but a speculation or theological hypothesis.

Therefore we do not hope that all souls will be saved.

Note that we are working with a broad sense of de fide here that ought to work for both Catholics and Protestants. At the strictest level, it includes the matter of the creeds and the first seven councils of the Church. More loosely, it includes theological opinions that enjoy a broad consensus throughout the history of the Church. For Catholics it will include ex cathedra pronouncements of the Popes, later Ecumenical councils, and even some widely held theological opinions that fall outside of this (like the belief that the canonized are in heaven, or that there are three criteria for mortal sin.) So we are clearly casing a very wide net here. But even on the widest cast of the net we do not get Universalism.

1b.) If Christian hope is speculative, hesitant, and open to change, then the love it gives rise to is speculative, hesitant, and open to change.

But Christian love is nothing like this.

Therefore Christian hope cannot be speculative, hesitant, and open to change.

Again, if theological hope does not rest on the certitude of faith, it cannot give rise to an unwavering and dedicated love. And so it seems impossible that we could say we hoped for an empty hell with the theological virtue of hope.

2a.) But if we do not hope with the theological virtue of hope, what sense of hope are we speaking of? Again, we cannot mean the hope that is a confident expectation in the power of God to deliver what he is promised, so what do we mean?

It seems it can only mean a wish. We wish that all souls will be saved.

2b.) But we can wish for things that are not even possible and even contradictory.

We can wish, for example, that we were all born Kings, or that we never were born. So to say we wish all souls are saved does not even tell us if such a state is possible. So what is this debate about if the other side does not even know if what they are arguing is possible? If this is all “hope” means, then the other side is open to the possibility that their whole claim is as contradictory as changing the past.

2c.) Wishes need not give rise to action.

But Christian hope must give rise to action. (Here I think of the parable of the talents. In looking forward to the future, a Christian must do something.) Therefore, the hope for all souls to be saved – if we take hope in this second sense – is not a properly Christian sort of hope.

Divine generation

Thesis: A cosmological argument shows that if divine generation is logically possible, it is necessary. 

1.) There exist things that are deficient in goodness.

2) Real deficiency is only possible if a non-deficient standard is really possible.

3.) Therefore, because things are really more and less good relatively, some absolute standard of goodness is really possible.

4.) The real possibility of something requires either that it exists and/or that there is some agent that can bring it forth.

5.) Therefore,  the mind is led indifferently to the absolute standard of goodness existing and/ or its being brought forth.

6.) Ex hypothesi, we cannot rule out the possibility of the absolute standard of goodness being brought forth.

7.) Therefore, the absolute standard of goodness both exists and is brought forth.

—–

Commentary on (7). From 5, the mind is led indifferently by a cosmological argument to a non-generated absolute standard of goodness (X) and a generated one (Y). From (6)  the being (Y) must be taken as a divine being, and so is verified as one. But it follows a fortiori that (X) is a divine being, simply due to its power to bring one forth.

And so it seems that if St. Thomas was successful at showing the logical possibility of the Trinity by proving it involved no formal contradiction, it follows that generation in God can be known by a cosmological argument. Note that generation is not the same thing as Trinity, though it is the foundation of trinity.

Draft of “Perseity and the Fourth Way”

St. Thomas’s Fourth Way is given in a shorthand that omits all the formal accounts of the concepts being used:

In some things are more and less good, true, noble, and other such things. But more and less are said about diverse things so far as they approach in diverse ways something which is most, as what is more hot more approaches what is maximally hot. Therefore something is most true, best, and noblest, and as a consequence, maximally existing (ens).

The first difficulty is that the author gives no indication what formal characteristic he has in mind that ties together the good, true, or noble though he clearly speaks of “other such things”. Just what sort of things are we to include? Richard Dawkins has leapt on this ambiguity and parodies the argument as something that would be just as effective at proving the existence of something maximally stinky.  A second difficulty is in identifying in what sense things are more and less to the extent that they approach some maximum. Anyone reading the argument, for example, can easily see that the claim is nonsense when applied to in the clearest sense of more and less, sc. in spatial magnitude, number, temporal duration, etc.. Even in the cases where physical science has been able to confirm certain maximum limits of more and less in physical quantities, these limits do not seem to followfrom an axiom about the nature of the more and less but simply from experimental confirmation that finds a maximum when it is there to find. The absolute velocity of light is not a deduction from the nature of velocity, nor is absolute zero from the mere phenomenological experience of things that were more and less warm, still less is either of them a deduction from a general axiom of the sort that St. Thomas appears to be appealing to.

 

The success of St. Thomas’s proof rests more on the clarification of the second difficulty than the first. Even if we cannot isolate what formal characteristic unifies goodness, truth, and dignity, we can readily admit that they admit of degrees. This leaves us only to articulate a coherent account of the supposed axiom that the more and less are always such with respect to some maximum. Our claim here is that the maximum is that which is per seand primo in the sense that Aristotle articulates in Posterior Analytics I c. 4-6. There are two grades underneath this which constitute the more and less that fall under the maximum. The first is that which is per se but not primo, and last what is neither per se nor primo.

 

Other Accounts of the More, Less, and Maximum

 

There are three different accounts of the more and less (1.) that the more and less are combinations of act and potency and the maximum is non-composed act (2.) That the more and less are participated being and the maximum is the essential, and (3.) The more and less are things exemplified by an exterior formal cause, and the maximum is the first exemplar cause.

 

(1) For the Thomists of the Leonine revival, there was a clear account of the more and less in terms of a the relation between potency and act. Thus Grenier gives as one account of the “principle of causality” that “the cause of any being composed of potency and act is a being which is not composed of potency and act.”. O’Brien[1] argues that the more and less are the limited while the maximum is the unlimited, and “limitation” is understood to mean simply act’s composition with potency. Though hardly a Leonine Thomist, Owens appears to concede this an act-potency foundation to the more and less.[2] Edward Feser preserves this tradition by seeing the fundamental account of the principle of causality as being that composite acts are caused by pure or non-composite acts. All of these interpretations are in line with the first of the twenty four Thomistic theses sc. that being is entirely divided into pure act on the one hand and a composition of act and potency on the other, with the first being the cause of the second.

While it is entirely possible to demonstratively prove pure actuality from the nature of composite actuality, appealing to this axiom to ground the Fourth Way leads to an incoherence in Thomas’s own text since, for him, whatever account we give of this principle must include the more and less hot as one of its concrete instances. All commentators agree that purely material substances are act-potency composites and there is no doubt that heat either is such a substance or is the effect of one. Attempts to wave off St. Thomas’s example are difficult to swallow[3] and even when interpreters of the proof do not seek to minimize the relevance of the example of heat, their interpretations frequently read as though they would have been happier if St. Thomas had not tried to give this concrete example of the principle he was working from.

(2) Interpreting the more an less as degrees of participated being relating to something essential can appeal to a number of very suggestive and powerful Thomistic texts, many of which are laid out by Gerrigou-Legrange[4] in his characteristically thorough devotion to the littera. Consider first De potentia 3.5:

 

If anything is to be found participated in various degrees by several objects, it must be that, starting with the one in which it is found in the highest degree, it is attributed to all the others in which it is found imperfectly. For those things that are predicated according to more and less, this they have by reason of their greater or less approximation to one of some kind; for if any one of these were to possess this perfection in its own right, then there is no reason why it should be found in a higher degree in the one rather than the other.

 

Here we have a doctrine of more and less clearly tied to a notion of participation. The very possibility of hierarchy is grounded on the idea that only the maximally such can possess the formal element of the hierarchy essentially. The basis for using the word “essentially” is from ST. q. 3. 4: “whatever is found in anything by participation must be caused in it by that to which it belong essentially, as iron is ignited by fire”. Thus this  interpretation avoids the interpretive pitfall we saw in (1) by giving an account of how fire is a concrete example of the principle in question.

Use of “participation” language has often been taken as a proof of the Neoplatonic character of the Fourth Way[5] and St. Thomas himself can be quoted in support of this: “all things that are diversified by participation in the more and less perfect are caused by one first being that possesses being most perfectly. Hence Plato said that unity must come before multitude.”[6] There are, however, two difficulties in this. First, using Plato as a supporting authority is not the same thing as making him the basis of one’s opinion, and St. Thomas, both here and elsewhere, seems only to be using Plato as a supporting authority. Secondly, the Fourth Way not only is the only proof that directly quotes Aristotle, but it also seems to go out of its way to establish its bona fides as empirical science. Thomas gives the empirical example of heat not once but twice during the proof, and he directly quotes from a passage in Aristotle that is attempting to prove that the sun is somehow the cause of all being. Such a robust interest in empirical science is hard to square with an account of the proof as “Platonic”, since anything deserving the name of Platonic natural science would not arise until the eighteenth century. Indeed, the impossibility of natural science seems to be the raison d’être of the doctrine of participation, which accounted for any intelligibility of the world not in terms of any immanent feature of the world but in terms of a separate world of forms. Thus, interpreting the proof as Platonic would run into the same problem we saw in (1), sc. it could not account for fire being an example of the principle St. Thomas was appealing to.

A more general problem in the participation account is that it leaves the proof itself as either false or uncertain. Applying the distinction to the proof gives us the following major premises: whatever has X by participation is being caused by what has X essentially. But whatever has X in a merely greater or less degree[7] has it by participation. The difficulty is that multiple beings can have one and the same thing essentially without being the cause of the participated reality. Thus, even if a participated being reduces to something essential, the essential itself is a multitude which turn is explained by a participation in the essential, and so on ad infinitum. St. Thomas’s example is a case in point: fire is essentially hot, but it is not the reason why all other hot things are so. The blood of a living animal (at least under normal circumstances) is essentially hot, along with exothermic reactions and the sun, but not because of any presence of fire within them. And so St. Thomas’s principle is either false, or we need to find some more subtle account of the essential which allows for an order of causality among things that have something essentially.

(3) Appeals to exemplar causality are some of the most ancient accounts of the Fourth Way. Banez gives the briefest explanation by first raising the objection that, if all things that were more an less were caused by some maximum then white would be the cause of all other colors and a man would be the cause of all other animals. Banez responds that white is the cause of other colors as a exemplar cause, because it surpasses others with respect to light, which is the formally the essence of color (formale quid respectu coloris) and because it has more light than the rest of the colors it is the measure of all of them.[8] He also claims that “the same must be said about man with respect to the rest of the animals”, but provides no further account of the matter.[9]

On of the most elegant and forceful accounts of the exemplar causality in the Fourth Way is given by Rebecca Loop in her thesis Exemplary Causality in the First Being.[10]  Her argument is as follows:

 

1.)    The more and less exist with respect to a standard from which they really fall short of.

2.)    It is only possible to really fall short of a standard if that standard is really possible.

3.)    In order for a standard to be really possible, and not just logically possible, it must either exist or be in the power of some agent to bring about.

4.)    Thus there is a real standard of goodness, which is not just more or less (i.e. relatively) good, which either exists or is in the power of an agent to make.

5.)    Thus, there either is a being that is absolutely good, or who can bring forth absolute goodness from its own power.

6.)    Such a being all call God.

 

On this account, God is a “maximal being” in the sense of being a standard by which all other things are judged, and so is the exemplar of all things that are, by definition, more or less good, true, and noble in relation to it.

 

 

[1] O’Brien, Thomas C, Metaphysics and the Existence of God. The Thomist Press. Washington D.C. 1960.

[2] Owens, Joseph St. Thomas on the Existence of God.ed. John R. Catan. St. University of New York Press. Albany 1980 P. 136. originally published in Monist, v. 58, 1974. p. 203-215.

[3] Thus Gilson: “Thomas’s example of the more and less hot should cause no illusions. It is simply a comparison, a manuducio, to help us understand the principal thesis. Certainly the “supremely hot” is only a relative supreme degree”. Gilson Etienne, Thomism: The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. A translation of Le thomisme sixth edition. by Shook, L.K. and Maurer, A. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, 2002. p 136. cf. also Elders who claims that the example “is only a comparison and not an instance” or “only an example”  Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas, p. 123 and 113. The claims are obscure and even baffling: certainly the point in making a comparison is to identify commonality between things compared. A thing might be only an example, but it still must exemplify the principle. Pace Gilson, to say that the supremely hot is only ‘relative’ is to undercut precisely what would allow it to be similar to the summum bonum. This is supposing that “relative supreme degree” has any coherent sense, to say nothing of having a sense that could be included in an axiom at the basis of Thomas’s proof. How, for example, would something “relatively supreme” be any different from something that was simply “more and less”?  In fairness to Elders, he does attempt to integrate the nature of fire into his account of the fourth way by pointing out its active character, which “stresses the active character of efficient causality” (p. 116 ibid). This might, however, create more problems than it solves: for what seems to be a simple proof based on the more and less in a formal characteristic is now seeing as being exemplified by an aspect of efficient causality.

[4] See The One God. Trans. Dom Bede Rose. B Herder Book Company, St. Louis. 1946. pp. 145-148 .

[5] Cf. Copleston “[T]his argument puts one in mind at once of Plato’s Symposium and Republic…Aquinas was not immediately acquainted with either work, but the Platonic line of thought was familiar to him from other writers Thomas Aquinas Harper and Rowe, USA, 1976. pp125-6 also Gilson, ibid p 72 “No doubt this inquiry [into the Fourth Way] would be fruitless if we do not introduce the Platonic and Augustinian idea of participation”.

[6] Ibid.

[7] We use “more and less” as divided from “the maximum”, and so modify the former by “merely”. Certainly, there is another sense in which the maximum is “more”.

[8] While Cajetan adds some precisions and to some extent disagrees with Banez, he nevertheless concludes his commentary on the Fourth Way saying “All colors, in the measure that they approach white, have something more of light, and consequently have the nature (ratio) of color more perfectly.” Opera Omnia Iussu Impensaque Leonis XIII P. M. Edita. Volume IV, p. 51.

[9] Banez, Scholastica Commentaria in primam partem summa theologicae. P. I Q. 2 a. 3 reprinted by Brown, Debuque. 1934. Translation is my own.

[10] In The Aquinas Review, Volume V, no. 1 1998.

Teenagers, beauty, and subjectivity

I work with high school kids, and all of them worry whether beauty is subjective. The question tends to fade later in life, and so older persons might just groan or smile over it, but it is a real crisis for thoughtful young adults.

The question might fade because the supposed clarity of the terms fades. People in the bloom of youth are swimming in beauty and so it’s natural for them to raise questions about it; and they’re modern persons and so it makes sense for them to question the reality of what is everywhere evident and compelling. Young people often tend to remember wondering whether the world existed, or whether it was a dream, or whether “the red I see is the same as the red you see”, but when all of their peers mature and their whole world becomes charged with the urgency of beauty and desire, they tend to wonder whether that world is real.

Seen from this angle, the crisis of beauty might be just the first stage of our questioning whether the dominant note of our environment is real. The next stage of this might happen after we get credentials -become “experts” – and then question whether expertise is real; or get into lasting relationships and question whether lasting relationships are real; or look back on our whole life and wonder whether any of that was real, i.e. whether it meant anything.

One of my first responses to teens asking about the reality or subjectivity of beauty is to point out that, if this were so, we’d have a hard time explaining cosmetics, photo re-touching, our tendency to dress in matching color schemes, the adaptive power of peacock plumage, etc. The response to this is as pre-set and the original question: everyone tries to divide sexual attractiveness from beauty. The first is a trick that nature plays on us to get more children, or something like this.  It’s an illusion of significance- just a pre-programmed response which we could have been just as easily triggered by what we now call “ugliness”.  This leaves us either having to say that beauty really is just this trick, or that, though it is different, it is far too vague and difficult to define since any attempt to do so can no longer appeal to the one thing that is most knowable as beautiful to us. This leaves us, by definition, only with what is more ambiguously beautiful and so the charge of its subjectivity becomes much easier to make.

I’ve been making disputable points all through the last paragraph – the point is more to articulate a dominant mood rather than give an airtight argument. My suspicion is that, though the stages of life, this sort of conflict continues even if the matter under discussion changes. Beauty is just a teenage way of raising a more universal question of the reality of what is significant or meaningful.

Aristotle’s statement of the interaction problem

De Anima, Book I c. 3:

The view we have just been examining, in company with most theories about the soul, involves the following absurdity: they all join the soul to a body, or place it in a body, without adding any specification of the reason of their union, or of the bodily conditions required for it. Yet such explanation can scarcely be omitted; for some community of nature is presupposed by the fact that the one acts and the other is acted upon, the one moves and the other is moved; interaction always implies a special nature in the two interagents.

In the contemporary account of the interaction problem, it is usually assumed that soul must itself be the physical or the organization of the physical. Aristotle, however, resolves the problem by making soul and body not two bodies, but an actual and potential life.

Actual tensions between “science and religion” (pt. 2)

2.) Viewing nature as sacramental vs. seeing it as a machine. I’ll start with definitions:

Sacramental: Nature is viewed as God’s communication with human beings. On this account, a significant event or natural phenomenon – a crop failure, eclipse, happy marriage, flood, birth of a child, sickness, massacre, bumper crop, birth of a king, etc. are viewed primarily as God communicating to us. What exactly God is saying is not always obvious and admits of competing theories and degrees of expertise or incompetence, but there is no doubt that God is telling us something. Because of this, what is most significant in the universe is what affects human life. The striking, colorful, out-of the ordinary, and what fits into a compelling narrative are all given pride of place in human consciousness, and they are above all what one means by “the universe”.

Mechanical:  At the basis of mechanical accounts of nature is the axiom that nature is what it does within intentionally contrived circumstances. The universe is nothing more than what it does in various situations that we have set down in advance. What is most significant in the universe is the experimental, the operationally defined, the predicable, etc. We call this mechanical because anything we make that runs more or less of its own is a machine, and we see nature is something that runs of its own but is identified with intentionally contrived circumstances we have set down in advance.

So defined, the tension between science and religion is whether we see the universe as a divine or a human logos.

Now, of course, the mechanical account of nature does not mean that we start thinking that human beings make the planets spin or uranium radiate, but only that we see these phenomena as having, in principle, no reality apart from a reality that could arise in a circumstance controllable by us, e.g. there is nothing in a planetary orbit than in the factors in play in  or Newton’s Mountain or the orbit of a space station. Nature is defined by its ability to be controlled by us, that is, by its openness to be a conduit for human intention. But to the extent that this is true, nature cannot be already determined by a non-human intention. And so there seems to be a zero-sum game between the sacramental and mechanical view of the universe as a whole.

Because of this, any apologetic for the value of science will point to the practical results. Practical results are nothing but success in control, and paying attention to controllable things is the only winning way to find ways to control things. It would be impossible even to touch upon all the practical success that this mechanical view of nature has achieved. Neither is it possible to isolate practical success from theoretical truth to such an  extent that we can be blasé or skeptical about whether it casts light about the truth of things.

But to see the mechanical method as a reform or enlightenment of the sacramental view is to claim that the latter failed at a game that it was never even trying to play. True, mechanism does something sacramentalism doesn’t, but there is obviously more to a doctrine than what it does not do. Sacramentalism is an attempt to see the intrinsic meaning and significance to the events of nature, and this is hardly a negligible good. What good is it, one might imagine a sacramentalist saying to a mechanist, to control the whole universe if the universe itself has no significance? “Yes”, the Medieval peasant might say, “I lived for 30 years in squalor, malnutrition, disease, and I had to see a third of my children die – but at least these events meant something. You live for eighty years in sanitized cities, with powerful medicine, and with the expectation that none of your children will die, but you see any meaningful narrative of all this as so much mythic bosh or irrational chance. All my deprivations has spiritual meaning; all your prosperity is ultimately hollow.”

This is not to defend the peasant, or even to say he has a case that can keep up with the mechanist’s case,  but simply to notice that we won’t understand our situation so far as we see no tension between the sacramental and mechanical views of the universe. It is as pointless to tell purely progressive narratives about banishing superstition and ignorance as it is to tell purely regressive narratives about the horrors of the collapse of Christendom.

It’s probably a safe bet that we have to find some balance between sacramentalism and mechanism. But experience shows that it is a very difficult balance to hit on.

What are the actual tensions between science and religion? (pt. 1)

(Part II here)

Ever since I read about the re-hashing of the myth of Giovanni Bruno in the reboot of the Cosmos series (and then later watched the actual program) I’ve wondered what a good account of the conflict between modern science and Catholicism would look like. These pop conflict narratives arise all the time (to be seen by millions) and then are patiently and thoroughly exposed as pure nonsense (to be read by thousands), but there is rarely an attempt to articulate where exactly the tension between science and Catholicism arises. There must be some sort of tension here: such dedicated cultivation of these indefensible cock-and-bull stories is a fumbled attempt to speak about something.

Appealing to mere hatred of the Church doesn’t explain enough. Why do other groups not manifest hatred in this way? Modern literature, art, and architecture or even engineering, farming, and economics have all arguably made great advances over the Middle Ages, but none of them feel the need when explaining themselves to appeal to their supposed triumph over the forces of darkness and superstition. Science and Politics alone appeal to this sort of triumph-of-reason view, and the political appeals have largely died off. At any rate, they seem easier to explain as mere economic conflicts between kings and clerics. But is there any real conflict we can point to between “science and religion”?

I have a few ideas. Others to follow.

1.) A disagreement over who persons should look to for relief.  As St. Thomas puts it, man knows he is subject to a higher being because of the defects he perceives in himself, and so he must look for another to help. He sees he is weak, prone to sickness, prone to evil, baffled by the universe. But there is a legitimate tension over whether we should look to God or to humanistic reason for what Descartes would call “the relief of man’s estate”.

It is inarguable that we spent centuries trying to cure sickness not by research based medicine but with relics, pilgrimages, and heavenly intercession; that we tried to figure out what drives the world by appeal to animistic and narrative explanation and not any critical analysis; that we weren’t very good at dividing things that were actually verified from what made for a compelling story. William James gives many examples of this in his final lecture in Varieties, and Robert A. Scott gives a thorough and very sympathetic account of the use of relics in Miracle Cures. It’s hard to avoid concluding that the sort of relief that people sought for centuries in religious practice is now the sort of thing we are only comfortable entrusting to science.

Most people simply don’t see the world as a sacramental presence of God, but as a series of interrelated machines for which science supplies the operating manuals. It’s difficult to see how these two visions are compatible visions of the world. At the moment, the sacramental reality has been banished from everywhere except the Liturgy. This was, perhaps, a worthy reform that made, or perhaps it is horrid blasphemy. But it is a clear point of real tension.

Discussions of “Brute facts” often treat of facts that are merely unexplained or not necessary for some explanation when in fact such a fact must be one not merely unexplained but inexplicable. This difference is as wide as that between something unread and unreadable, or an unsolved problem (i.e. any problem in an untouched math book) and an insolvable problem (which is, one hopes, no problem in a math book).

Again, “the unexplained” can be itself a fact – I don’t need to explain everything that is involved in X to explain it. The inexplicable is a much stronger claim that requires a theory of explanation, and a proof for why some fact cannot be an object of it.

« Older entries