Socrates on generation

Socrates’s explanation of generation and change at the end of Phaedo

1.) The Platonic doctrine of the good explains how mind causes natural things. The mind relative to truth is not a principle of change in the extramental world – all the mind’s relation to the extramental world are acts of will with good as their object.

2.) The doctrine of the good is in direct an intentional conflict with what we would now call methodological naturalism, or the necessity of restricting physical explanations to non-mental causes.

3.) Socrates’s initial argument is that apart from the action of mind we can’t even explain basic arithmetical facts: when 1 + 1 = 2 does the first one become two? The second? Is the addition itself what makes two? When mind imports order to the question the answer is intuitive and obvious.

4.) In physical actions we have the same problem. Asteroids slam into each other – which is cause and which is effect? This generalizes since physical interaction is by definition homogeneous and so, at the moment of causing, there is as much action of A on B as B on A. If we say the cause is prior in time we only identify potential and not actual causes.

5.) Where causality is restricted to the physical actual causes vanish. In this sense the normal sense of methodological naturalism is anti-scientific.

6.) Aristotle’s account of methodological naturalism is a preference for proximate over remote causes, not a ruling out of all remote causes, even those of another genus or science. Aristotle’s  preference for the proximate is very different from our (supposedly axiomatic) absolute closure to the remote.

7.) An absolute closure to remote and eminent causality therefore does away with science. A closed nature is not not an object of science as opposed to perspective or doxa. 



Homogenous and eminent causality

When causing brings about some perfection P, the cause either presupposes another P differing only numerically from P or not. The first is, e.g. fire causing fire or friction causing fire, since even if friction is not just numerically different from a fire we know we can discover something only numerically different between them that is, in fact, the cause (like moving molecules). The second is, e.g. artificial selection causing a breed of cow or a painter making a painting, since one brings about an effect without presupposing what is different from it only numerically.

Though there is no bright yellow line between cows and the non-cows they evolved or were bred from, there is no breed of cow before one has an individual, and so to bring about cows is to bring about their breed. Mutatis mutandis, species are caused by what is outside the species, and so by causes outside of those differing only numerically.

Scholastics don’t have a settled terminology for these different causes, but causing formally and causing eminently comes close. The first description is less than ideal since causing formally has nothing at all to do with being a formal cause – I’d prefer to speak of homogenous and eminent causes.

Why speak of eminent causes having the effects they bring about? In one sense this is obvious and experiential, since artists have ideas or inspirations. More exactly, though, having what one brings about it a necessary component of causing at all. Explaining how a species is caused requires identifying something (whether a single entity outside the species or a constellation of factors) that relates to the outcome per se and first. Absent this, one can’t distinguish causality from correlation or even coincidence.

Plato seems to be the first to raise doubts over whether material things could cause eminently, and since homogenous causes only explain things hypothetically and secundum quid, we’d need to posit spiritual reality in order to preserve causality simpliciter. The logic of the position gives any search for causes a trajectory toward the spiritual, requiring us to either affirm or deny both, though the denial could only be flatly asserted.

Declension of existence

In material things, what exists is an individual drawn from a broader field of possible beings, and which differs from its nature.

In the angelic order, what exists is an individual drawn from a broader field of possible beings, and which is identified with his nature.

In the divine order what exists is does not actualize broader field of possible individuals, and is identified with his nature.



Material errors in Scripture

Thesis: Scriptural inerrancy demands the total absence of formal error. 

So belief in scriptural inerrancy demands either that alleged errors either be (a) not errors at all or (b) errors materially and not formally.

So take this:

MT 1:16 Jacob was Joseph’s father.
LK 3:23 Heli was Joseph’s father.

If “father” in both means the source of Joseph’s Y chromosome then there is an error in Matthew and/or Luke and some error is necessary.

The word “father” has other meanings too, like “the man married to my mother”, and on this meaning the an error is certainly still possible but no longer necessary. This sort of action seems to be as far as the “attempts to resolve the contradictions in scripture” ever go.*

But assume Jacob was in fact Joseph’s biological father and Luke meant to speak of Joseph’s biological father, and failed. Now what? It helps to start with an account of inspiration:

(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

From this the move to inerrancy is immediate:

The text of scripture contains all those things and only those things God means to reveal as true.

God cannot reveal error as truth.

Therefore scripture is inerrant.

Keeping with our assumption that Luke made a mistake about a historical fact requires that an error be materially part of what God meant to express, but we need additional assumptions for the error to be formal, though all assumptions amount to a denial of scriptural inerrancy.

The question of why God uses material error falls under the same inquiry of how God uses any evil, making it a branch of theodicy. One of the open questions in theodicy would be the extent to which we can assign concrete reasons for why God does what he does, and no one thinks our ability to do this is total.


*Another attempt of the same kind would be to attribute the difference to the manuscript tradition, though for the purposes of the taxonomy in this post this would count as an absence of formal error.




Mary, mother of prayer

Luke tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that he “carefully examined everything [about Christ] from the beginning” in keeping with “the testimony handed down from the first eyewitnesses.” Since the only common witness in all the testimony about Christ’s early life is the Blessed Mother, and many of the details could have been known only to her, it makes sense that she was the chief eyewitness alluded to. If this is right, it makes Mary the source of an extraordinary number of prayers.

Mary would be the source of the chief prayer said in her honor, since the words of the Hail Mary were known only to her (Luke 1: 28 and 34). She is the source for her Magnificat that is said every day at Vespers (Luke 1 : 46-55), for Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis said every night at Compline (Luke 2 : 29-32), and for the Benedictus sung every morning at Lauds (Luke 1 : 68-79). She’s the source for the Gloria (Luke 2 : 14) that is sung at all masses outside of the penitential seasons.

If we include that the first revelation of the Trinity is a Marian revelation, then in a certain sense all Christian prayer is Marian, since it continues the tradition that begins with her and was handed down by her:

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1 :35



Response to an objection to the First Way

Objection: The from any given motion, the First Way only proves a mover that is unmoved with respect to that motion, e.g. in the motion of changing color the first mover does not change color, in falling it doesn’t fall, in ripening it doesn’t ripen. A first mover of this type is clearly not what anyone would call “God.”

Response: This is a great example of the fallacy of secundum quid and simpliciter. The First Way starts with motion simpliciter and not as restricted to falling or freezing or ripening. Let motion as such have its typical textbook meaning of change over time and the First Way proves the first mover causes change in time without changing in time. Such a mover is more fundamental than any conserved quantity in the physical science, and causes changes in spacetime without being circumscribed by it; it accounts for a causal history without being a historical actor, and this is what everyone calls divine.

The First Way can be modified to give us the subject of physical sciences. All we have to do is speak about motion as caused not simpliciter but by something in motion, and whatever is/are first in this order will be fundamental to physical science. In virtue of their proximity to the first mover, these physical causes will be more existent in virtue of being more eternal.

The Fourth Way (pt. 2)

The per se and first is that which is what is responsible for what is not per se and first.

But responsibility is formally not in accidents but the substance that acts by the accident or possesses it as an attribute.

So the per se and first is substance.

But there is a substance not good per se and first (I am one, since I can become better and worse. Any horse is another for the same reason.)

So there is some substance that is good per se and first. The substance would be good by definition, in virtue of its substance and not some inherent attribute.

And this is what the Fourth Way calls “God.”


New look at Fourth Way

(It’s my fate to find another one every time I teach it, and be convinced I’ve finally seen the solution. Of course, this latest account is the definitively correct one.)

Hypothesis: when St. Thomas talks about things that are more and less good, true, noble (GTN) in the Fourth Way, he first means say, a man that can be more or less virtuous, a car that can be more or less reliable, a patient that is more or less healthy. He’s not comparing diverse subjects, but one subject that can be more or less perfect.

Why does this matter? Because it’s self-evident that when one and the same thing can be (i.e. is potential to) more or less good that there is a form (the act of the GTN) and what is potential to the form (the subject of act and privation.) Therefore, what can be more or less GTN is not such essentially but contingently, either as an accident or substantial form more or less perfectly in matter.

What is not such by essence is caused by what is. Whenever A is B, this is either per se and first, or the reason A is B is because some X is B per se and first. If being a falcon is not first of all what it is to fly, there is something that flight is per se and first, and falcons fly in virtue of this. If being fire is not what it is to be hot, there is something that is heat per se and first, and fire is hot in virtue of this.

Therefore, there is something GTN per se and first. This is a non-composite being that is supremely GTN, and this is what all call God.

The per se and first of “flies” and “hot” enter into composites, but the per se and first of GTN cannot since it is precisely as composite that they are not per se and first.


Merit vs. penal substitution

-In one sense it is undeniable that Christ died as a punishment, namely that he didn’t die of cancer or a vendetta but by execution at the hands of civil authorities.

-This same sense of punishment can also be spoke of as willed by God as even evils fall under God’s permissive will. The saints accept all their sufferings as God’s will in this sense, and so Christ too will accept punishment as willingly as he would accept dying of cancer or an accident.

-Christ’s death taking away a punishment upon the human race that did not simply reduce to God’s permissive will.

-But the theory of penal substitution adds to this that God’s willing Christ’s death was not an act of permission but of commission, meaning that God did not just allow it to happen but deliberately intended it. This changes things utterly, since allowing evils is not necessarily evil but committing evils is.

-It makes no difference if one stipulates that Christ was declared guilty as a legally constructed person or a stand-in for guilty humanity, not just because this action would not require Christ to be innocent or even human (why not declare a ship, cow, or criminal as such a person?) but because this legal fiction is itself obviously unjust, even if Christ were willing to play along with it.

-Christ was not punished by God as penal substitution demands, and in fact God did exactly the opposite. It is one and the same justice that demands that the guilty have something done to them against their will that demands the innocent who suffer willingly and for God’s sake merit even more of what they will. It is one and the same divine justice that contradicts the will of those who trespass against the divine law (by a punishment causing suffering) and superabundantly fulfils the will of those who suffer willingly for God’s sake (giving them merit that extend to all that their will extends to for God’s sake).

-Christ’s will extended to all human beings by perfect charity, and it is only this charity in his will that saves us. Christ’s offering of his sufferings out of love for us who are his Church while in the state of grace and union with God is precisely what saves us.

-Christ merited salvation for his Church, and merit is the contrary of punishment. Punishment is imposing something contrary to the will of an offender since the offender extended his will too far; but Christ’s merit was his loving acceptance of what was contrary to his will. Divine justice contradicts the will of sinners for the same reason he gives merit to those who lovingly accept what is unjustly imposed on them against their will. He who humbles himself will be exalted, and he humbled himself… accepting even death on a cross, and for this reason God exalted him and gave him the name above all other names, etc.

-So Christ meriting salvation is the contrary of him taking our punishment in the mode of penal substitution, so we’d expect an a priori denial of merit, even of Christ, as disposing us toward a penal substitution theory.

How is an unmoved mover unmoved?

An unmoved mover is unmoved (an act without potential) in all these ways:

1a.) It is not acted upon by what it acts on. It is not like a fist that get injured by the wall it punches. This sort of interactive motion, which is the heart of Newton’s third law, is motion per accidens. 

1b.) Because it this it cannot be part of a system.

1c.) Because of this it cannot move relatively, that is, it cannot be taken as a fixed point from which other things recede.

1d.) Because of this it is the only mover in its own order, since multiple things in one order ipso facto relate to each other.

2a.) It is not in time, since being in time required a real potency to being at that time. A present time with no potency in the past or to a future is a contradiction, like the North Dakota/South Dakota border without either state. So too, temporal beings are of one temporal order.

2b.) It is not spatial, since spatial beings are in one order.

3.) It is non-impedible, since if A can be impeded by B then B’s non-impediment is a necessary but per accidens cause of A working. So if I couldn’t eat cereal while someone was shooting at me then my eating cereal is dependent on someone not shooting. Again, if something becomes impossible by an external circumstance, then the external circumstance is a cause of its real potency. The only thing that is fully non-impedible would have to be able to give rise to the existence of anything acting in the order where causes can be impeded.


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