First Way compared to Physics VIII

The First Way is clearly borrowed from the argument of Physics VIII. There are significant differences between the two, but not in what they take as true, like:

1.) One ends a physics, the other starts a theology. Aristotle is trying to solve physical problems like “how are some things always in motion, and others not?” and “what is required if it is impossible for motion to cease?” and “Can movers and moved things combine form an actual infinite?” Rephrased as questions about energy, the questions are still outstanding. St. Thomas is trying to establish the minimal possible fact about deus (God or a god) in a way that can be fruitfully developed by further discourse.

Notice that if we separate the proof from either context, it will seem like an objection to say “but this isn’t real physics!” or “but this doesn’t prove (some relatively much more developed view of) God!” The first claim is false when said of Aristotle and irrelevant when said of STA; the second completely misses the point of both proofs since the first proof was meant to solve a set of physical problems and the second is targeting the minimal possible criteria for a deus.

2.) A merely unmoved mover is not adequate for Aristotle. The nature of the questions he is asking require him to argue for an unmoved mover that (a.) possesses infinite power and therefore (b.) cannot be a magnitude. St. Thomas on the other hand thinks he hits a minimum threshold of divinity when he finds an immobile reality, presumably because he is persuaded by the claim that whatever is mobile is natural, and so an immobile being is supernatural. Here again we see the difference between Aristotle trying to answer problems in physics and STA looking for a minimally-basic theological claim.

3.) The necessity and infinite duration of the universe. While STA is fine with necessary creatures, he claims A.’s arguments for the infinity of the universe beg the question. The historical account of this is known to all – STA thinks Genesis commits him to the historical-scientific claim of a finite universe, and he finds a universe of infinite time possible even if rationally implausible. His reasons for allowing this possibility are relevant to  the difference between the two proofs, since STA thinks that proving that the universe comes from a god means that it arose from some wisdom that we cannot penetrate with sufficient precision to know whether its creating has always accompanied its being. In other words, proving that the universe traces back to an unmoved mover makes some physical questions impossible to answer unless the answers are revealed.






If we view natural selection as a historical account we might wonder about any historical account that tries to explain everything by a single mechanism. We are no longer naive enough to expect universal silver-bullet historical explanations of something as complex as, say, a major war. Why do we expect them of all of the biosphere? Is that easier to play on than a pipe?

We have to choose between modest, skeptical, evidence-based science and the alchemical transmutations of, say, some neo-Darwinian elements in explanation into Darwinism (the methodological or ontological claim that we can exclude all non-Darwinian processes.)


Necessity by another in conserved quantities

The description of conserved quantities as those which are neither generated nor destroyed but only change states defines them as indifferent to diverse states and so relative to some other explanatory principle. By definition, they have what the Third Way describes as necessity by another. Other examples of the same are necessary truths (which are both necessary and immediately mind-relative) and necessary goods/values (which are intermediately mind-relative).

Conserved quantities play the same function as Aristotle’s celestial sphere that had a necessary existence and operation derived from the first mover. We are, however, less clear than A. was about the necessity of actual motion, since actual motion requires not just energy but usable energy and entropy consists in the progressive loss of the stuff. But while we have good reasons for denying that actual motion must exist, conserved quantities still must exist in some actual state which the quantity is unable to account for. It’s clear that introducing one sort of energy can be a catalyst for a change of state, but this explains one indifference by another one. We don’t hit the explanatory target but only make it larger.

Conserved quantities relate to a conserved reality that lacks indifference to state, i.e. a sort of unqualified energy or energy pure and simple, which affects changes of state while lacking the dependence on extrinsic determination. It cannot lack this indifference by limitation or fixity to some one state, for to do so would prohibit it from being able to function as energy at all. A chemical energy that was eternally fixed in this state could not power a car. Eternal fixity cannot be frozenness, nor is it just another component in a system. It can, however, be a veritable energy if by way of transcendence, in the same way that a friendship of virtue is both pleasant and useful while not being a third sort of friendship on this lower level or a jumbled collection of diverse sorts of friendship.

Limits of thought

-Chomsky borrows Whitehead’s language about scope and limits of an organism and takes it as making some aspects of reality unknowable to us. But how to distinguish scope and limits from a start-up endowment?

Old Empiricism: nothing in intellect not first in sense. New Empiricism: sense fixes a limit to what can be known. Setting a starting point vs. setting a limit.

Kant: all begins with a critique of the organ of thought. STA: there is no organ of thought. And yes, I mean this in the same way you do. If “organ” means “whatever you do a task with” then it isn’t defined enough for K.’s project. It needs a distinct, finite structure, which is exactly what STA would deny.

-We have to figure out the cognitive scheme we are working from/ we can’t even conceive of what a cognitive scheme is.

-How would someone define what can be known in a (necessarily larger) domain of the unknowable?

-What sense is there to a cognitive limit that we keep transgressing in thought?

Three-step approach to eternity

We understand eternity by removing things from time, but time has three levels of transcendence which allow us to flesh out the account of eternity by extrapolating the data points that get plotted by progressive removals.

1.) Time in the natural worldWe can draw attention to four features:

a.) Distinct events. This event is not that one.

b.) Irreversibility of events.  Minimally, earlier events always happen before later ones and not vice-versa.

c.) Continuity of events. To get from one moment to another one has to go through indefinite other moments.

d.) Exclusivity of perfections. Perfections peculiar to one state can’t be enjoyed at another. What belongs to the earlier as earlier can’t be found in the later as later.

2.) Time in animals with memory. 

The distinction of events and their irreversibility remains, but the animal’s memory and anticipation allow it to experience the past as past at later times, and to “leap over” all intermittent times.  The animal, however, has this knowledge and acts by it without his knowledge itself being an object (animals see physical things, but not physics; living things, but not biology) and in this sense the exclusive perfections of time (1) are overcome only unconsciously. .

So (a) and (b) remain, but (c) drops out and (d) is overcome, but only subconsciously.

3.) Time in intelligences. 

Both human beings and the angels experience the distinction of events but some events (like premises in an argument) have a before and after without having a temporal before and after, and they are known at once without this being a temporal at once. It is meaningless to talk about the time interval of modus tollens or the the general gravitation equation or a moment in which either makes its inference. Intelligences are also conscious of their own consciousness and so compare their acts to the world, causing it to be experienced as true or false and in other ways that transcend time (1) and (2). Nevertheless, this overcoming of the exclusivity of time is merely intentional or mental and not real.*

So (a) remains, (b) and (c) drop out and (d) is overcome consciously. Nevertheless, there is no overcoming of (d) in the real order but only the highest possible intentional order.

4.) Eternity. 

At this level the possession of perfections transcends limitation to the cognitive order and becomes real. Past events thus have all the perfection of fixity and certitude, but lack the imperfection of frozenness or unreality. Future events maintain all of the perfection of being anticipated and containing indefinite possibility while losing the imperfection of being impenetrable to intelligence. The present maintains its reality and its power to surprise while losing its fleetingness and fixity of the action occurring within it. Any being who lives here not only compares his belief to the world, but sees his world as containing all the reality that is ontologically divided at the lower levels. In a way similar to time (3) this containment of all times occurs at once, but not in the at once of time. Asking when eternal beings exists makes only as much sense as asking when abstractions or laws exist.

So (a) remains as a notional distinction and all the rest drop away entirely.

*That said, it is not obviously and straightforwardly true that there is a meaningful answer to when an intelligence (like your own, say) exists. Intelligence exists when its act does, and its act is an abstraction. But when does an abstraction exist? How long has it done so?

Baffled by Smith

Gregory Dawes summarizes an argument from page 173 of Quentin Smith’s Causation which argues that the will of an omnipotent being cannot be the cause of the world or anything else:

No logically sufficient condition (LSC) can be a cause

The will of an omnipotent being is a LSC of whatever it causes.

Smith’s argument for the major is that since “a body is in motion” is a LSC of “a body is in space”, but the first cannot be the cause of the second.

I find the argument as summarized so baffling that I’m amazed Dawes gives more than a sentence in rebuttal. “I slapped John” is an obvious LSC for “John was slapped”, but the cause-effect relationship is… why am I still talking about this?

Fourth Way, and its real difficulty

Here’s the Fourth Way in a sentence: there are things that can only be said perfectly and precisely of a being that all recognize as God. St. Thomas lists three or four: good, true, dignity and existing, but he gestures in the direction of many more.

Mistaken or imperfect notions are used analogously to the correct or perfect. Malaria said of “A disease caused by bad swamp air” and “fever caused by a pathogenic protozoa that invades red blood cells” is used like this, as is heat when said of (the supposed element) fire, phlogiston, and mean molecular motion or “dropped the Hiroshima bomb” when said of Truman and the Enola Gay.

Imperfect or imprecise notions need not be separable from some subject and can even belong to it essentially or necessarily. While we can have malaria without swamp air or swamp air without malaria, it does not follow that we can have fire without heat or a dropping of the Hiroshima bomb without the Enola Gay (or some plane like it). But we can still have to distinguish these sorts of essential or necessary things into a primary and secondary.

Though I’m speaking of analogous uses of terms and how things are known, they are shorthand to make a metaphysical point. True, the drift of the argument is this:

Mistaken and imprecise notions are said analogously to the true one.

All notions that are separable from some subject or secondary to it are imprecise.

But the point is not to talk about how something is known but about the reality that is being said of the thing, and when considered this way it is hard not to notice that existence is said separably of any natural substance. On a substance-ontology, where everything traces back to substance and neither the universe nor matter nor forms/laws in mathematical abstraction are substance, it’s clear that natural substances exist only derivatively from a supernatural deus. But the contemporary mind has a great deal of metaphysical confusion about things like universes, physical laws and conserved quantities which makes us less able to conclude to divinity. We recognize easily that natural substance depends on something everlasting, uniform, and even abstract-intelligible but we hesitate to call it “God”.  We run the same argument on the idea of “dignity” and think it should conclude to us.


Nature and contructions

-The first time students hear the distinction between sex and gender (roughly, the biological and the social) they assume the first is determined and the second is fluid or variable. While there is something true about this, it overlooks that all social constructions are governed by justice and justice is not fluid.

-“Fluidity” means “anything goes” only in the way we can say the same thing about the just and unjust. There is certainly a relevant sense in which both justice and injustice can be done, but this is clearly not the whole story.

-The fluid is grounded on the invariable. Our question is whether this invariable component can be identity/ the person in opposition to the nature.

-Persons in opposition to natures would not be reproduced.

-In some ways nature is obviously a machine. Jaws and elbows are levers, teeth are wedges/inclined planes, neurons are electric circuits, etc. But we also experience nature as the subconscious mind, and in this sense the machine can never be nature nor perform what is natural. The lever of the elbow is governed by the same rules as any mechanical lever, but where it does not act by nature it does not act by the subconscious. Machines, in fact, borrow our subconscious in order to act because they require our reason to exist.

-Our metaphor for nature as machine is the computer or factory: gleaming parts, labeled wires, clean boards soldered in brightly-lit rooms. The whole reality is laid out in front of you in a perfectly intelligible and finite order. But this has to be balanced against the more fundamental reality of nature as subconscious – not a brightly lit factory but a vast hinterland of desire, archetypes, terror, and prophesy that play by the possibilities of dream-logic.

-Each nature, substance, or monad is thus a subconscious universe that projects outward to the visible universe. It is as isolated and self-contained as a dream with all the infinitude of possibilities contained in it, and for exactly that reason.

-Nature is both machine and anti-machine, both in universe and equal to it.

A contemporary Kantian anti-metaphysics

1.) Metaphysics = a science of God, soul, and the universe as a whole. 

2.) Any science seeks to discover new information that is relatively stable and goes beyond a mere catalog of observations- i.e. it looks for universal, rational truths.

3.) Any truth is either

a1.) Necessary, universal, rational = the a priori
a2.) Contingent, non-universal, experiential/ sensed = a posteriori


b1.) Discovered by insights about the meaning of terms and the use of language = analytic “All uncles had nephews” or “all wives are married” or “algebraic cancelling is making a term equal to 1”.
b2.) Discovered by insights that go beyond the mere meaning of terms and use of language = synthetic. “A cat is on the mat” or “Water is H2O”.

4.) Logically, this gives us four propositions:

i.) The analytic a posteriori. While we can say the words it is not a real possibility. Any statement that is true simply from the meaning of the terms will also be necessary and universal.

ii.) The analytic a priori. As just indicated, these are given. That said, they cannot give us science since we can’t develop new knowledge about the world from them. The statements are true only in the sense that they tell us how the language must be used.

iii.) The synthetic a posteriori. These are the normal truths of experience. As such, however, they don’t give us science since they don’t take a step beyond the merely observational.

iv.) The synthetic a priori = By elimination, if science exists at all it must exist here. So does it?

5.) Mathematics is clearly synthetic and a priori  since the stable and universal knowledge it gives us can’t be gathered merely from an understanding of how terms are used.

We can also extend this certitude to nature by noticing mathematical relations in it, but doing this requires that we observe a thing that has a repeatable, predictable behavior exercised in a controlled setting.

6.) But what would it mean to have synthetic a priori knowledge of God, the soul, or the cosmos? If we wanted a universal law of God or soul we would need to observe repeated, predictable behaviors of God or the soul in controlled settings. But we can only treat either of these as beings with free choice, and so we cannot understand them in a way that would give us universal and necessary laws. Metaphysics degrades God and soul, which is why rational investigation into either tends to lead to skepticism and atheism.

7.) We can only have synthetic a priori knowledge of what is repeatable, and therefore only of what is homogenous or one-of-many. By this criterion, we not only rule out knowledge of God and of the human person (for personality is irreducibly unique, even where we notice patterns in it) but also any knowledge of the universe. The universe cannot be one of many. Any claim to a knowledge of the universe as a whole (as is claimed by materialism, idealism, Naturalism, panpsychism, creationism) is ruled out by the uniqueness and totality of the supposed object of study.

“Didn’t see any there”

The wife asks her husband to pick up gardenias at the store. He forgets all about it and comes back without them. The wife asks about gardenias and the momentarily-panicked but clever husband responds with lightning-verbal dexterity “Geez, sweetie, I didn’t see any there” (which is, in fact, true). This is how methodological naturalism didn’t see divine causes, and the naturalists are as duped as the wife.

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