No agents are mechanical

The interaction problem:

 All agent causes are mechanical

non-physical things are not parts of a machine.

So non physical things cannot be agent causes.

“Mechanical” can be broad enough to be any push-pull set up running off an energy source, or even anything you could blueprint as running off some energy source to produce an effect.

Charles Taylor (in his article Cognitive Psychology) provides some reasons to doubt the major premise, the main one being that a machine is doing whatever it is being used to do, but not every agent fits this description. Human beings can be up to things without being used for anything.

The village battle scene in Predator, (skip to 2:28) starts when a pick up truck that is being used as a water pump is modified to become a missile. So was the machine in question for transporting cargo, pumping water, or destroying targets? Qua machine, of course, there is no answer to the question, which is why machines are re-purposed all the time. Is that hole in your dashboard a cigarette lighter or a power jack for a DVD player?

Natural beings use this sort of re-purposing all the time: panda’s thumbs, building a reward system on top of a reptile brain, using water-adapted organs for land-based animals, etc. Qua mechanisms, there is nothing they are up to. In order to account for how the animal is up to something you need to do more than give a mechanical account of it, which Descartes realized and concluded in good logic that the brute animals aren’t up to anything. At the bottom of their actions there is nothing like a self but only the ontological cipher of a pure automaton.

Mechanical philosophy, even understood broadly to include the way in which it can make room for fields or indeterminism, can’t describe even machines so far as they are up to something or engaged in an action. So in fact no agent causes are mechanical, at least so far as we take an agent as some entity that is up to something that couldn’t just as truly described in many other ways.



  1. micah k said,

    April 23, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Dear Catholic Crusader,

    Five hundred years ago in 1517, Martin Luther made public his 95 complaints against the Roman Catholic church (hereafter, RCC). Today, we shall do likewise, with another 95 reasons. However, in this critique, we will exclusively fixate on the nucleus of all Catholic doctrine called, Transubstantiation. This teaching is built on the premise that when the priest utters “This is my body” over bread and wine that the “combustible” syllables of these four words ignite with such power and energy that, unbeknownst to our cognizant senses, the substance of bread and wine miraculously change (“by the force of the words” says the Council of Trent; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1375). They are then abruptly replaced with something else entirely; namely, the very body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ in some mysterious form which leaves only the outward appearance of bread and wine (i.e., the color, shape, size, taste, weight and texture — or “accidental” properties, remain unchanged in objective reality). It is claimed that the supernatural power that creates this miracle on a daily basis, 24 hours a day in Masses worldwide, “is the same power of Almighty God that created the whole universe out of nothing at the beginning of time” (Mysterium Fidei, 47). The question is: does the sacred rhetoric of Jesus lead us to conclude He intended it be recited like a magician recites his incantations? (Reason 6, 74). That at the recitation of these four words, the world is obligated to be transfixed on Transubstantiation???

    To find the answer, the mindset of an archeologist was employed to not just scratch the surface of the Bible, but to dig into even deeper depths to see if this doctrine is the “most precious treasure of all” as it’s claimed to be (Mysterium Fidei, intro). If Transubstantiation is on course, it should stand out like a ship in the night sailing through the darkness with the floodlights of Scripture to guide it. Those of us in life rafts looking for salvation would then be more than happy to anchor our soul in the ocean of its truth. And yet, after going on this archeological expedition, we discovered the theological fossils did not at all fit the “mummified remains” of Jesus Christ being “buried” in the Eucharist. Rather, we unearthed 95 artifacts against it. Our primary excavation tools were the unshakable Scriptures, which God likens to a hammer that smashes a rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). Our thesis conclusion, set forth here at the beginning, is that the skeletal framework of Transubstantiation is a bone of contention that must be hammered into pieces.

    We should think that a rollercoaster of 95 reasons against this doctrine should at least pique your curiosity, let alone make you wonder if, like the calmness of a ferris wheel, you can so calmly refute them. The issue is far from inconsequential, since it’s claimed our very eternal destinies are at stake. So while sensitive to the fact that many are captivated by this doctrine, we are persuaded that the theological framework of the Bible conveys a persistent and vigorous opposition to this theory. God’s word tells us to, “study to show yourself approved” (2 Tim 2:15) and we have indeed done just that. Keep in mind the foundational meaning of “love” is to desire the well being of another. If we did not care about the issues raised, we simply wouldn’t do anything. But because the path of truth has been so little traveled and become overgrown with weeds, we have attempted to uproot them in this essay. It has been given to you in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 10:5, with the intent to, “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (cf. Titus 1:9-13, Eph 5:11, 2 Tim 4:2, Romans 16:17-18).

    Provoking this study was the 50 page book called, “This is my Body” by M. Shea. In the forward, we read that a fan found the book “unanswerable”, and hoped “some first-rate Protestant reads it and has the moxie to take up the debate.” The author concludes…

    *** There is no reason whatsoever to believe that Jesus did not mean exactly what He said by, “This is my body” (p. 42).
    *** Every shred of New testament evidence points to an apostolic faith in the Real Presence (p. 48).
    *** [My] “theological house, once littered with reasons to disbelieve in the Real Presence, was now, spic and span” (p. 45).

    We wholeheartedly reject all three of these irresponsible conclusions, and suggest the theological house the author lives in is built on sinking sand and made of glass, subject to shatter at any moment by the undercurrent flowing beneath it made up of the following 95 reasons.

    It is vital to investigate and not just believe everything we hear (Prov 25:2; Luke 8:18; John 4:1). Deception runs rampant on every topic under the sun, putting all of us in a position of being hoodwinked by the one, “who deceiveth the whole world” (Rev 12:9), so it is imperative that we be “vigilant” (1 Pet 5:8). Hence, there is nothing wrong in disputing the issues, even at the risk of (and knowing full-well) this polemic will be accused of being a worthless anti-catholic rant. Call it what you will. Yet, remember that Jesus was not always delicate, diplomatic and politically correct. He agitated His audience and was not the type to walk around with a limp wrist, brushing off His opponents with a feather duster. He swooped down like an eagle and insulted the religious leaders 16 times in Matthew 23. Neither was the apostle Paul any type of wall flower. He turned the world upside down with his much disputing (Acts 9:22, 17:2, 17:6, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8-10; 19:26, 20:31, 24:25, 28:23). Therefore, if at times our tone seems harsh, you must realize that not only is there biblical precedent for it, but Catholicism has made it plain they consider any opposition to Transubstantiation, “satanical” (see our “Final Analysis”). Hence, they themselves are well aware of Scripture’s call not to take the mild-mannered approach when it comes to false doctrine. Christians must challenge the status quo, and to the alert mind, Jesus congratulates the ones who examine those who “claim they are apostles, but are not, and hast found them liars” (Revelation 2:2). To that end, we have strived to remain focused, showing “integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose may be ashamed” (Titus 2:6).

    The almost “romantic fidelity” to Transubstantiation springs forth from the opinion that consuming the “organic and substantial” body of Christ in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation (CCC 1129 & 1355; Trent, “Concerning Communion”, ch. 1 and “Concerning Communion Under Both Kinds”, ch. 3; Canon 1; Mysterium Fidei, intro). The word “Eucharist” (i.e., thanksgiving) was an early Christian way of referring to the Last Supper ordinance. Thus, if it’s true that in the Eucharist, Transubstantiation becomes the “center, source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324, 1343), then we would agree the whole world ought to become Roman Catholic, and subsequently follow the intelligentsia of Rome which claims to be the center of all truth (CCC 834, 1383). On the other hand, if it is not true, then this doctrine must be ranked with those which Jesus says, “I hate” (Rev 2:15). Our burden here is to safeguard the gospel (Jude 1:3). If a religious system professing to be Christian is going to demand that something be done as a prerequisite for eternal life, it is vital to scrutinize this claim under the searchlight of Scripture and with “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Proverbs 25:2 says, “the honor of a king is to search out a matter”. We shall do likewise.

    Determined to test all things by Holy Writ (1 Thess 5:21; Acts 17:11, 2 Cor 10:5), the following 95 reasons have been compiled to an extravagant length to provoke you to consider the cognitive complexities of this doctrine which we conclude are biblically unbearable. We are so convinced the Bible builds a concrete case against this superstition, that we will not allow the things we have in common to suppress the more urgent need to confront the differences that divide us, such as Transubstantiation. We are told this issue directly impacts our eternal destiny, so it must not be ignored. The Lord Jesus came to divide and conquer by the truth of His word. He said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51-53).

    That said, all sober-minded comments sent to this e-mail will receive a response. However, you must interact with at least one of the facts presented. Unfortunately, the standard party line is to charge critics with being clueless, and with a wave of the hand, “you do not understand Catholicism” becomes the reply of choice. However, this frequent retort is unacceptable. The introduction to the catechism states it was written for those who “want to know what the Catholic Church believes.” Will you say that there is no Protestant in the universe who understands what you believe? If so, the Pope has failed miserably in his mission. Now while it may be impossible to fully represent a view with which you disagree to the satisfaction of every opponent, we will strive for clarity and let the RCC speak for themselves in this essay as much as possible. Still, if you will accuse this writer of not understanding Catholicism, then kindly provide one non-catholic, living or dead, who does understand, yet at the same time still rejects your religion. We will then compare our complaints with theirs, and if they match, as we suspect, then your accusation that we don’t understand, is simply dishonest.

    For the full essay of 95 reasons, kindly e-mail me at

  2. April 23, 2017 at 10:50 am

    “So was the machine in question for transporting cargo, pumping water, or destroying targets? Qua machine, of course, there is no answer to the question, which is why machines are re-purposed all the time.”

    So was the machine in question for turning flowers into butterflies? Obviously not, since it could not do that. So it is not true that there is no answer to the question, but rather the answer is not perfectly determinate.

    This is actually the same as human action. We have purposes, but those purposes are determined by our thoughts, which are not perfectly determinate. The same thing is true of meaning; we don’t have perfectly determinate meanings, but our thoughts can point to various possibilities. In a conversation, for example, someone will often say something that is open to three or four meanings, and then he will choose one later in the conversation when there is reason for that, depending on the course of the conversation.

    In other words, while this does not prove that humans are “machines,” your argument reveals a commonality between humans and machines, not a difference.

    • April 23, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      In other words, while this does not prove that humans are “machines,” your argument reveals a commonality between humans and machines, not a difference.

      Maybe it does that too in the unique way you are taking it, but in the sense of what I was up to in the post itself it was a variant and application of Taylor’s account of significance features, which count as essential differences between machines and any sort of agency. That the whole point of the post was to divide agency from machine activity, not on the basis of indeterminism as such but from indeterminism so far as the fact of the matter of what a thing is doing is necessarily related to the use-purpose of another, seems to be something you regard as incidental to your ability to level criticisms of the argument.

      BTW, I stand by the claim that there is no answer to the question that I actually raised, which made no claim at all that the machine was so undetermined that it could make butterflies or whatever. Again, it is disappointing to have to respond to the sort of comments you leave, which all either distort the point I’m making or refuse to exercise the slightest degree of charity in interpretation.

      • April 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

        I understand how you are attempting to divide machine activity from agency, and I did not characterize your division as being based on indeterminism as such.

        I took your statement to be that a machine as such does not have any purpose except from a user. I do not think this is an uncharitable interpretation. I disagreed. My claim is that a machine has a purpose from the beginning, but vague enough that it is open to further determination from a user, as well as the ordering of its end to additional ends. The argument for this is that there are already certain things that the machine clearly is not doing, regardless of what a user intends. So “what it is doing” does not come entirely from the user, but in part from the machine itself.

        The user’s intention as well is vague enough that it is open to further determination (by the user or by something using the user), as well as the ordering of the user’s end to additional ends. So I am making the additional claim that we do not find any difference here between users and machines (even if there is one), except that the user’s intentions are somewhat more determinate than the machine’s.

    • t3ophilius said,

      April 24, 2017 at 9:10 am

      Maybe “there is no answer” is to be understood as “the machine can’t be an answer”: is not possible to determine the cause “mechanically”, so the cause is not mechanical.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: