Democritus on factual and logical primacy

Democritus might have based his atomism on an argument like this: let all possible cuts be made in a natural body. This leaves either something or nothing. If nothing, then things must be made from nothing, but this is impossible. Therefore there is something unable to be cut: a-tomos.

Notice, however, that this indivisibility is purely factual, not logical. Domocritus cannot argue that there is a logical impossibility of the atom being unable to be cut, only a factual one. This is the difference between the inability of an atom to be divided and the inability of a subsistent point to be divided.



Proclus’s theistic proof

Proclus’s theistic argument is that every being proceeds from some first cause. 

By “being” Proclus seems to mean more or less what we mean by “the universe”, i.e the totality of distinct things that one sees when he looks around.

He proceeds by elimination: either (a.) there is no cause of being at all (b.) all the causes of things revolve in a circle or (c.) the causes of being go ad infinitum. 

But (a.) cannot be, says Proclus, for then there would be no science of being. There would, however, be a problem of self-reference here since, by this point in the book, he has been speaking about being as such for pages, and so any proof that the science was impossible would amount to a sound argument for the impossibility of logic. Sciences isolate some domain of experience and look, for among other things, for the extrinsic causes that gave rise to the things in that domain. Geology looks for the causes of planetary formation; astronomy for causes of stellar formation; biology for a clear account of abiogenesis.

True, we could respond to this that, while there is certainly a reason to look for causes in sub-universal domains, there need not be on in the whole universe. But this might be to miss the point: it is difficult to argue that the universe logically lacks any need of a cause, i.e. that we see a logical impossibility in it being caused, but the structure of any science is precisely from logical order.

Causality in a circle, however, either means that there is no causality or that something causes first. If a bunch of tow trucks are all hooked to each other, and moving around, then either they all have their motors running, or none do. If none, then they wouldn’t move at all, if all of them, then they aren’t towing each other, they are simply moving at the same time. But if one has its motor running, then this is the first cause of the motion, and it is no more being towed by something than a man is towed by pulling his own bootstraps. The remaining alternative is just a variant of the second option.

An infinite series of causes, however, has the same problem as was discussed in (a.), since a science is no more possible if the cause is placed at an infinite remove than if it is denied altogether.

And so Proclus’s proof – which seems clunky and thrown together, with all of its multiple options to be ruled out – seems structured in such a way as to point to the logical necessity of a being like God from the very possibility that the universe can be studied at all. Given that the universe could only be uncaused – if at all – as a fact and not by logical necessity, the very possibility of a science of the universe turns on there being some extrinsic cause of it.

An interesting corollary to this fact is that it might be possible for the universe to be a brute fact and caused by God. This is obviously not so if brute fact is taken as one for which no explanation is possible; but the usual account of brute facts is that they are such that no explanation is necessary. But if Proclus is right, the universe might be factually brute without being logically so.

Bill Vallicella draws a conclusion:

So any sense or reference linguistic signs have must be derivative and relational as opposed to intrinsic.

This is right, and Vallicella’s proof is sound – what I’m musing over is what happens when we link it up with another premise:

Any entity can be made to signify, either in a language or at least ad hoc

Any entity, whether physical or immaterial, could be made a signal or sign that something is to be done. But if this is true, then mind is set outside not only the physical, but even outside of entity as such. But it would be ridiculous to take this as a sign that mind has no existence at all. The entity is only itself; the mind is both within itself and outside itself: within so far as it has entity; outside so far as even that entity could be taken as signifying.


Notes on nature as a mechanism

-Semi-automatic guns are interesting cases of essentially subordinated causality. The loading that the gun does by itself is essentially subordinated to the loading that the person does by pulling back the slide, and yet the gun really does load itself. If we want to catch the difference, we might speak about the difference between “loading” (which is something persons do) and “reloading” (which is something the gun does by itself). This analogizes to nature, which, as we learn from Newton’s Third Law, sees an absolute identity between action and reaction.

-The scientific view of nature in a word sentence: action and reaction are the same. Newton does not say this exactly, but this is what it comes to. A formally mathematical account of nature can’t avoid this.

-Machines can only have directions of process – can only have inputs as opposed to outputs – in relation to either life or value. Machines redirect (that prefix again) vital action into value.

-Determinism is necessary so far as nature is considered as a machine apart from its inputs or outputs. Any supposed input is just a result of a causal process.  The action upon the finger is entirely determined by the firmness of the button that pushed upon it. The finger’s action was entirely determined by the causal process that terminates in its being pressed upon.

-Considered mechanically, loading and reloading are the same. The slide moves back in response to a force. In fact, we might just as well consider the slide as pushing the hand as the hand pushing the slide. It’s all one big machine, if machines are all you’re trying to explain.

-Scientism in three steps: a.) give an account of, say, loading that applies to both loading and reloading – say, a mathematical law. (b.)  call the account a description of “the mechanism” (c.) proceed to be baffled and snicker at any appeal to “vital forces” or “free will”. The mechanism suffices to explain anything! Who needs to put some ghost inside of it!

-Note that the gun really does load itself (one can’t define semi-auto except by reference to the gun loading itself) and yet is loaded by the living. Subordinated activity does not negate self-activity.


Throughout his life, Hegel had to deal with the charge that he was a pantheist, and at one point in Lectures on Religion  he protests that no one has ever been a pantheist, that is, no one has ever thought that the mere totality or heap of all finite, contingent things piled together deserved to be called God. God is not reached by mere enumeration.

Seen from this angle, pantheism is an evaluation of things that is perhaps motivated by a desire to place God within the world of experience; or perhaps the desire to avoid irreducible dualisms while still retaining the reality of God. The positive part of this doctrine is worth keeping, sc. that the divine activity – and therefore essence – is present in the world of experience. The supernatural is not the wholly other from the natural, but the measure of God exceeding the natural.

The transcendental “other”

St. Thomas argues that other is a transcendental, saying that if one is a transcendental showing the absence of division in se then other is equally transcendental in speaking to a division from another. These two must be co-extensive for us since we know by way of the principle of contradiction, and so can only understand X in relation to non-X.

One consequence of this is that it makes it impossible to say that there is any one homogeneous field for possible known objects. If there were such a field (say, of space or time, or of sensible experience) then it would not be understood under the principle of contradiction and so would be unintelligible to us. A homogeneous field of possible experience in fact renders all knowledge impossible.

And so if we posit a a priori ground of possible experience, it is impossible for it to have the sort of determination that can give all objects homogeneous features. This seems to be exactly the conclusion that Aristotle came to in De anima III. 4 when he concluded that the mind before it thinks can be no real thing. While it’s obvious that there are restrictions on what human beings can know, these cannot be reduced to the structure of the organ of thought but to the conditions under which it is presently operating.


Ratio and re in sense intuition

Say Empiricism is right that objects are only given to us by sensation. This does not of itself tell us anything about the logoi or rationes of the things sensed. Any one object has an indefinite amount of rationes or aspects under which it can be considered:


So is that triangle, or isosceles, or the sound “d”, or “the change in”, or “figure” or “symbol”? For that matter, is it “creature” or “contingent reality”? These are all distinct logoi of the one thing sensed.

There seems to be at least one impression involved in


But even what counts as an impression is dependent on the ratio one takes of the thing. Is this keyboard one impression, or many? If many, how many? One impression per key? One group for letters and another for symbols? Inputs and commands? The sense input only comes to us as already informed by a ratio or logos that places the impression as like or different from others; and it would destroy and muddle thought to try to separate out some pure sense data that came to us separate from a peculiar logos.

One of the main differences between Empiricism in St. Thomas or Aristotle is that they divided the sense intuition from the ratio of the intuition; and argued for “creature” or “dependent on other” to be a possible ratio under which one could encounter the sense intuition. Knowledge could in this sense extend beyond intuition, even while the intuitions themselves were limited to sensible things.

Said another way, one can insist that all objects of thought are limited to sense intuitions and still allow for a knowledge of the trans-sensible based on the diverse logoi of the intuitions themselves. We might be limited to Δ and things like it, but this does not mean that we can exclude “creature” as one logos of Δ.


Spinoza’s first theistic argument

Whatever we clearly and distinctly know to belong to the nature of a thing, we can truly affirm of it.

Existence is clearly and distinctly known to belong to the nature of God.

And so since we see clearly and distinctly that unicorns are quadrupeds, we must affirm that this is truly the case, though we are not committed to confirming everything that might be said of them (e.g. whether they sleep, or whether they exist, whether there are any on Krypton).

Spinoza gives no account of the minor premise, and so presumably thinks it self-evident. Any serviceable philosophical account of God will do: God is a necessary being, the absolute, the non-conditioned, etc.. Again, if existence did not belong to him by nature, it would belong to him in the way it belongs to a derivative, secondary reality or creature, etc.

Like all ontological arguments, there is always some fresh way of putting them that makes them seem obvious and irrefutable.

The reform of Easter

The mythology of Easter – one can hardly call it an event – has been in desperate need of liberal reform for a very long time. As everyone knows, all the various narrative accounts disagree with each other, and in fact are incoherent; the various elements of the story cannot be made to hang together in any sort of literalist or fundamentalist sense; and the central figure of the story is, quite honestly, not something that anyone in our modern age can believe in.

Seriously folks: candy, eggs, ham… and a bunny? 

Substance and science

Aristotle sees the peculiar feature of substance as its ability to remain through contraries, which makes substance uniquely responsible for motion and change. Motion, which is of itself sensible and a defining characteristic of the physical world, is therefore only possible because of something that is not of itself sensible.

Objection: a surface changes both in quality, position, and place, but a surface is not a substance. Surfaces, moreover, are per se sensible. Therefore we do not need to posit substances to explain the motion of the physical or sensible world.

Response: A physical surface is the limit or totality of a quantity, but things can change from one physical quantity to another, and so one and the same thing has more than one definite quantity. But no actual quantity has more than one definite quantity.

Notice that this account of substance captures it in two ways: on the one hand, we see it in its indetermination or potentiality, and so in its dependence. It is neither this quantity nor another. Considered in this way, the actual quantity can be seen as replacing the substance, and so far as we study merely changes in quantity, we can overlook substance without consequence. On the other hand, substance is not this sheer possibility of things but  an actuality prior to the flux, and is therefore independent of it. To the extent that we forget about the reality of substance in this latter sense, change in quantity becomes either arbitrary or impossible, and so – even within the limits of a quantitative study – such forgetfulness will lead to either the belief that that the science is essentially subjective or that nothing it studies really changes.  Physical science has arguably reached both extremes in the Copenhagen interpretation (which allows for indeterminism only by making the science essentially dependent on the willed act of measurement) and in Einstein’s block universe.


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