Hypothesis about logical possibility

Hypothesis: In a proposition SP, if S and P differ only as more and less known then SP is logically necessary.

The most startling result is that “Water is H2O” becomes logically necessary.

Here’s three arguments for it:

1.) While there are multiple accounts of what logical possibility is, all sides seem to agree that predicating something of itself yields a logically necessary proposition. But any evidence that two terms differ only as more and less known is evidence that the same thing is being predicated of itself. Said another way, it is logically necessary that X is what it is. But where two terms differ as more and less known this obtains.

2.) Logical possibility in ancient and medieval philosophy is a failure to see a repugnance between S and P, and so necessity seems to be seeing the impossibility of repugnance between S and P. But to know that S and P differ only as more and less known is to know that it is impossible they be repugnant to each other. We can, of course, be mistaken about whether the only difference between S and P is more and less known, but to the extent that we know this it is impossible for us to judge that the two are repugnant.

3.) If you say that this is precisely why we distinguish metaphysical necessity from logical necessity, I respond: it’s no more appropriate to describe “Water is H2O” as a logical truth than as a metaphysical one. The truth is no more a matter of logic than metaphysics as it is not discovered by either.

Here’s three against:

4.) When two things differ as more or less known, one must be less certain than the other. But what is less certain can be thought otherwise, and nothing that can be thought otherwise can be considered logically necessary.

5.) Logical necessity applies to things as known and not things as they are. But a claim like “Water is H2O” is a claim about how something necessarily is and not how it is known, therefore, etc.

6.) We cannot consider something both logically necessary and open to revision. But some more known an less known things are open to revision. Therefore not all S is P related as more and less known are logically necessary.

Why the quantifier shift objection to the Third Way is shortsighted, irrelevant, and wrong

The charge of a quantifier shift occurs at a part in the argument that is trying to prove the existence of something like matter or natural laws, which is why (a) there is no quantifier shift and (b) no one would care if there were.

(a) The charge is that it is fallacious to move from saying that if everything did not exist at some time then there is some time at which everything did not exist. First off, STA only makes this claim about the generated, not about everything – his argument is in fact trying to show that the generated be less universal than everything.

Take all generated things, which in STA’s sense means things that did not exist at some time and later did. Maybe this is an infinite set (like prime numbers) or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s existed for all time, and maybe it hasn’t. The question is whether everything could be this sort of thing. STA says no since if this would require that natural generation would reduce to nothing at all, and so could not even occur naturally.* By “the natural” he’s including things like matter, absolute space and particles, mass-energy, quantum states, natural laws, and/ or whatever background stuff our physical theories might reduce a universe or multiverse to. In other words, he’s trying to give a reason why every physical theory from Thales to Sean Carroll says that the fundamental physical reality is something everlasting and ungenerated. STA isn’t saying that if the set of generated individuals must have a some time at which they don’t exist, but that if there is no such thing as matter, absolute space and particles… etc. then generated things could not arise naturally, though they obviously do.

(b) Most persons would simply grant STA’s point without argument, or by an inductive argument that pointed to every physical theory ever devised, which seeks to reduce the generated (in STA’s sense) to the ungenerated. All the evidence we have of seeking to understand nature, whether by science, art or myth, points to the axiomatic character of reducing the finitely-temporal and compound to the everlasting and simple.

There are objectors, of course. Smolin and Unger want to deny the axiom, and this would put them in a tradition that seems to begin with Nietzsche who bases his whole philosophy on the mistake of trying to reduce the phenomenal and evanescent world to a deeper unchangeable reality (see “Reason in Philosophy” in Twilight of the Idols for his simplest and most magisterial treatment).** While Heidegger’s thought is incomplete and with at least one fundamental shift, he seems to want to articulate some sort of fundamental reality to the purely temporal. At minimum, he clearly sees this Nietzschean pan-temporality as the fundamental problem of contemporary thought, and in this he sees a good deal further and more clearly than almost everyone.

This helps to manifest just how far the charge of the quantifier shift misses the mark. The argument STA actually gives is a refutation of physical nihilism and a defense of physics as a fundamental science. Cosmological arguments usually articulate diverse levels of reality that are more and less godlike (a point that will be made explicitly in the Fourth Way) and the Third Way does this in a way that establishes the godlike character of the simple and everlasting entities that we seek in order to articulate a physical theory.


*If something natural could not occur naturally, it either occurs from some other-than-natural means or it doesn’t occur at all, and STA takes the second fork in his argument. There’s more than one reason to do this (1) it allows him to prove the existence of a deus in the hardest possible case and (2) it establishes a level of godlike existence in nature itself, which both gives us an analogy to understand God and makes for a greater manifestation of his power.

**The doctrine of “eternal return” is not an exception to this, but is either a clumsy and ill-fitted addition to his thought or a metaphor for the purely temporal existence of all things.


The order of causality in the Second Way

The Second Way begins not from efficient causes simply but from an order of efficient causes. In other words, it assumes we see a multiplicity of efficient causes with a relation to some first. This happens either (a) when the causes are related as one part to another in a whole or (b) when a whole relates to some extrinsic agency. (a) type causes are like the way the motor relates to the axle relates to the wheel or the muscle relates to the jaw relates to the food; (b) type causes are the way that the river relates to the mill or the way chemical energy in the gas relates to the car or the way the driver relates to the car. Neither the river nor chemical energy are parts of the things they are driving: skill at making engine parts, for example, does not show one how to refine gas. The mechanism as a whole is left open to some source that is taken as given and as having an operation by itself. Again, (a) type efficient causes are treated as forming complete system (b) type efficient causes treat causes that are beneath the first as open systems.

While (a) type orders of efficient causes are easier to understand and are useful in getting the conversation started, The Second Way has to be thinking from (b) type orders of efficient causes. The vision of God/ a god we get from this is a source of action that does not in any way arise from another source of action, say in the way that the kinetic energy of the car arises from the chemical energy in the gas. This requires that the primary order of efficient causality is one that causes and is taken as a given that is prior to any quantity that is kept constant throughout changes, and we can recognize this in our modern system of natural science as being a cause above nature.

A contemporary Catholic theodicy

Having seen these sorts of arguments in other places, I figure Melanie Barrett’s theology of evil is representative of contemporary Catholic scholarly theodicy. But I find myself taking exception to almost every claim she makes.

Why God permits evil in the world is a mystery… 

Calling something a mystery does not release you from the obligation to explain what you mean and why this is so. I have students who describe things as “mysteries” all the time and mean nothing more than “This hurts to think about! Can we label it a mystery and feel justified in changing the subject?” Let me sharpen the problem of this particular appeal to mystery: what exactly is mysterious about permitting evil? I’ve permitted all sorts of evils and it didn’t seem like a very mysterious process. For that matter, I’ve committed all sorts of evils and it didn’t seem particularly mysterious.

Describing something as a mystery is only appropriate in media res. Either you have a pretty good account of what a mystery is and you want to characterize x as a mystery, or you have a pretty good account of what it is to think about x, and you indicate why exactly it is mysterious. Using the word short of this is disheartening and frustrating.

…But we can speculate that it has to do with the meaning of love. God’s very nature is love. He is a communion of persons eternally united in love.

The contemporary desire to reduce all divine actions to love continues apace. This can make a fine theology but we never seem to be vigilant enough in addressing its obvious danger of devolving into sentimentality. Theology – even purely pastoral theology – should give light and sentimentality is incapable of doing so.

Whereas older trinitarianisms might have been vulnerable to the charge of forgetting the Spirit or reducing him to the Father-Son relation, our contemporary “communion of love” trinitarianism seems in danger of forgetting the Son-Logos and reducing him purely to the Spirit. How much will we end up overlooking if we forget that God is Love in the same way he is Reason/Discourse/Argument and Birth! How many professors would be horrified at the idea of God as natus, i.e. a blood relative or of national origin!

By endowing us with freedom, God makes it possible for us to love. But he also risks that we might refuse to love.

Okay, okay, I’ll actually start dealing with her argument: Love requires freedom, freedom belongs only to who could be wicked, therefore etc. The problems occur almost immediately, and it’s no good to cry “mystery!” in the face of them:

1.) This is a perfectly fine proof that God could be terribly wicked. Good grief, it is a perfectly fine proof that God is empowered to be a maximally wicked being precisely because he is Love.

2.) We’ve known since Anselm that the ability to choose wickedness is not integral to freedom, and we’ve known since the Greeks that “choosing wickedness” is a purely accidental description of evil. True, if you define “the chosen” as “anything one is culpable for” then we can choose evils, but only in the way that we can choose things we are ignorant of (since there are many kinds of culpable ignorance cf. c. 1).  But there is clearly something wrong in saying that we choose something we are ignorant of since choice is incoherent except as an act made with respect to known alternatives.

3.) Let’s intensify #1: Both God and the communion of Saints is the domain where one would look for the maximal possible wickedness. In other words, this unreflective love-freedom nexus (which, to be honest, seems like a deification of a democratic regime) has puzzling eschatological effects. What would “the definitive conquest of evil” mean on this sort of theodicy? Salvation and Resurrection become sorts of totalitarianism. The only reasonable response to the history of salvation is Non serviam! 

Although God permits the weeds and the wheat to grow together — because uprooting all of the bad weeds would destroy much of the good wheat as well — at the time of the harvest, the weeds will be permanently destroyed and the wheat will be gathered carefully under God’s protection (Mt 14:24-30).

This is a fascinating eschatology. Salvation comes to be seen as “protection” and perdition as “permanent destruction”. Leaving aside the problems just mentioned in founding this on a love-freedom theology, we seem to get the first hints of an allergy to the scandal of hellfire (evildoers are destroyed forever) and an idea of salvation as “protection” from evil, i.e. that evil is something extrinsic to the self that needs to be walled off and kept out. While there is a sense in which this is true, we are left to wonder whether Barrett is hitting it.

The most fascinating overlooked element in this whole comment is the notion of evil as a properly historical reality. The point of the wheat and the tares is, for both Barrett and myself, that evil is not something ontological but something properly historical which belongs to a middle-era of human existence (and a proto-era of cosmic existence) but which will be overcome in the final era of history that has already been anticipated by the Resurrection of Christ and Theotokos. I’ve argued before that ontological accounts cannot explain the reality of evil, only its possibility, and only then if the possibility of evil is itself a good. Actual evil requires an appeal to an entirely different set of categories than transcendental ones. It arises in an account of being in via, and so isolated to a particular era of historical existence.

All human beings possess dignity — intrinsic value — because all were created in God’s own image and likeness… Although the church does permit killing in self-defense (in very limited circumstances), direct attacks against innocent life — such as abortion, murder and euthanasia — are never permitted. Such acts are categorized as “intrinsically evil” because they are always wrong, in every circumstance. By intentionally depriving someone of life, you are destroying not only their body but also their soul’s ability to choose the good — to perform daily acts of love toward their family members, friends, neighbors and God — so as to grow in holiness.

The “although” clause and the adjective “innocent” seem to make room for a morality of capital punishment and war,* but neither make sense in the context of the argument.

1.) The description of what makes killing intrinsically evil (see the last sentence) applies directly to CP and all war. I have a great deal of sympathy with this position, but trying to avoid it by qualifications of “innocent” or “self-defense” strikes me as betraying an absence of conviction in the logic of one’s position.

2.) It is strange to the point of incoherence to describe killing in self-defense as permitted. Can one get a license for it? Can you buy game tags for your aggressors? My point is not to be glib but to force this vague theology of permission into giving an account of itself. “Permission” means half a dozen very different things in human affairs but we’re never very clear on which one of these is supposed to analogize to the divine permission of evils.

3.) Killing in self-defense, at least since STA, is a paradigm case of double-effect reasoning but double effect is worthless in describing actions whose evil outcome is part of the per se description of the action. So either we need some per se description of judicial execution and warfare that doesn’t involve killing (!) or we have to describe both of these actions as something other than execution and warfare (again…!)

*This is to say nothing of what they would mean in light of a theology that allows for the permission of evils or the eternity of punishment.


Response to Sobel

A third ‘metaphysical objection’ to (the the claim in the AFE that “evil exists”) could be that evil is nothing real that it is only the absence or privation of the good… the way to deal, without wasting time, with this silly line is not to say that it does not work against the argument from evil, but to say that it is no avail against “the argument from the absence of goodness”… (i.e.) “why is there so much awful and painful deficiency in being not only in forests during firestorms in which innocent fawns are consumed, but everywhere one looks?

J.H. Sobel:  Logic and Theism, p. 438

The privation account of evil does not make problems for the AFE because it denies that evil exists at all, but because it shows (1) there is no parity between causes of goodness and evil, and (2) because goodness requires the coalescing of all the causes of a thing while evil can arise from a lack of any one of them.

1.) In the context of the AFE, asking “why” is a search for a cause, but deficiencies and failures to exist lack the definite and definable causes. We can explain a definite series of causes that need to coalesce in order to make cookies (these ingredients, this cooking temperature, this amount of time, etc.) but there is no definite answer to the question of how cookies fail to be. The recipe is a perfectly definite thing, but there is no “anti-recipe” that specifies exactly how they go bad. Even where goodness can be realized in diverse ways, the evil will still lack the definition of any of the diverse modes of realization. Considered in this way, the AFE fails because it takes evil as some definite reality in need of explanation (if you want to take evil as definite, skip to 2b)

2a.)  The bread only gets made if all the causes are successful, but it can fail to get made if only secondary and derivative causes fail. In other words, “evil” differs from goodness in that it can be entirely the result of secondary causes, and this arises precisely because it is a privation and not a positive reality. Briefly, the privation account raises the possibility that evil can arise entirely from causes other than God.

2b.) There is obviously a sense in which evil exists, but in this sense the creature is capable of being a source of existence in the strict sense. We cannot say that evil exists without making the creature literally a creator, and so a source of existence in no need of further ontological explanation. The syllogism looks like this:

a.) Either “existence” can only be said of positive reality, or not.

b.) If only said of positive reality, then evil does not exist and the AFE fails.

c.) If not, then a creature is capable of being a source of existence independent of God, and so the AFE fails.

Intelligence in nature

-The Fifth Way argues that direction is intelligence-dependent, and that nature has direction but no intelligence.

Re-write: given direction and final causality, either panpsychism or theism. STA apparently takes panpsychism as absurd, and the prima facie case for this is very good.

Leibniz: Consciousness is any incorporation and representation of multiplicity in unity. “Representation” seems circular, but the basic idea is clear. Whatever has a universe, an umwelt, a domain of survey, action, and direction is perceptive over it.

Ruyer: Our own consciousness is just the peculiar consciousness of beings with nervous systems that incorporate information about what is other than self/body. The digestive tract has a consciousness that is self-absorbed and looks after the unity of its manifold operations while the brain, in order to perform an identical act of self-absorption, must incorporate information from outside the organ. The domain from esophagus to the end of the colon is what the consciousness of the digestive tract calls the universe. And it is right. It grows its own food, conserves all its energy, and can date the moment of its big bang. We judge this claim only because we have a perspective that allows us to be extrinsic to this universe.

-Aristotle: The best metaphor for nature is a doctor healing himself. The metaphor is identical to – though not as good as – the barber who shaves himself or the chef who cooks his own meals. Acorns are oak-makers provided with all that they need to make themselves. We see the oak’s dependence on another only because our mode of consciousness is capable of taking an extrinsic view of acorn-universes.

But then how is it that we even conceive the possibility that our universe might be caused, much less prove that it is? All intelligence can do this in light of its seeing being and the transcendentals. No intelligence has a universe and can never be at home within one. Even to know that there is something outside your universe requires an alienation from any given universe. Nothing contextualized can be a universe, and a vision of being contextualizes all possible universes.

-The chef cooking for himself clearly has a purpose, but this is a pure extension of the action of his digestive tract, genes, nervous system, etc. In the face of this, we must either (a) deny cooking has a purpose or (b) affirm that the digestive tract has one. But there is no sharp break between the purpose of the digestive tract, the cells composing it, the fundamental particles composing them, etc. My typing this fulfills some intention of the periodic table, if only we could get a clear enough view of it.

-Nature is an intelligence in the natural. But it seems that the Fifth Way demands that there be no intelligence in teh natural, just as arrows can’t direct themselves to targets.

-STA himself defines nature as an aspect of the divine art given thing things, not “a way in which things react to or respond to the divine art. But how do we tell a natural endowment from an intrinsic property? Doesn’t the distinction collapse in the domain of the Fifth Way?

-The Fifth Way cannot mean that nature is intrinsically lacking purpose and so needs an additional level of explanation to account for its being purposive.

 But this does happen in a very crucial sense – the only way we can see meaning in bad luck, accidental meetings, the flow of history, and even our mistakes is if God directs them in a way that is impossible for us to understand.

But we can’t say that nature lacks a purpose and so requires God to infuse it with one except in the sense that all things are infused into nature by creation. This isn’t a vacuous addition: it’s proof that creation is an at of intelligence.

After listening to an hour of musak

Dear Pop Christian Singer,

If you’re writing something that values the message or the meaning of words, then this is not music but poetry, and has to succeed as a poem even apart from its being set to music. For reasons that are largely unclear, poetry is the most difficult sort of writing to do well and almost none of it has been written in fifty years. One can’t make up for bad poetry by singing it in extreme earnest or using various other tricks that have been invented to sell cigarettes, cars and sugar water. Keeping the massage simple, or using things that are repetitive, attention-grabbing, memorable, and easy to dance to or using Scriptural quotations that allow for tribal identification is fine marketing, but God doesn’t need pitchmen or a new ad campaign. Have you ever noticed how insipid and unpersuasive so many old ad campaigns are? This failure to hold up is the difference between what is beautiful and what is merely catchy, attractive, and sophistically persuasive. There is nothing of the Gospel in the latter. It’s the seed that fell on shallow ground.

This is not entirely a critique from the outside. I write a lot of first-draft theology that is largely focused on merely passing problems, and I don’t have the intelligence or the patience to write it as it should be done. You have your shock, cleverness, and earnest presentation and I have mine. Hey, a guy’s gotta do something. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is the level we were meant to work at.

Variation on Phaedo arg. 1

All things resolve themselves into what is most simple, bodies into elements and the spirit into what is simplest among spirits.

This resolution of each happens according to its nature: bodies resolve into their elements by an impulse that is at once unconscious mind and machine and spirits resolve to the absolutely simple by exercise of their freedom and self-determination to the good. The resolution of each is into what constitutes it, but for body this is material pieces and for spirit it is into that pure self that makes derivative and finite selves possible. Again, all resolution preserves the feature of the simple that existed in the composite: bodies into the properties of elements and spirits into properties of selves.

All corruption is therefore tendency to the incorruptible, made possible only to the extent that the incorruptible is already present in the what will pass away. Christianity adds an additional level of resolution which promises to resolve even the divergent destinies of body and spirit, and which has already been overcome in the resurrection and ascension of Christ and Theotokos.

Experience and experiment

Experience and experiment are different and even conflicting modes of knowledge. The clearest difference is communicable certitude – experiments are supposed to be set up with perfect clarity in advance with clear criteria that could be verified even by machines or other ignorant beings; but experience is a non-theoretical awareness that can be had even by brute animals and so needs no abstract, communicable element. Again, an experiment is a more or less decisive event that is meant to serve as a paradigm instance of the whole while experience has no one decisive event but is composed of a messy series of mere facts. Think the difference between the gardener and the botanist, the good wife and the successful marriage therapist, the engineer and the scientist.

The opposition between the two is exacerbated by our wish to transcend the opposition. It would be nice if the resolution to all problems were potentially theoretical and therefore communicable or “publicly verifiable” or even “empirically given”, but experience is both too subtle too stupid for that. It would also be nice, one supposes, if experience alone could be decisive, but it is itself motivated to a large extent by the desire to organize itself into theory. There is also an unavoidable finesse of experiment itself, which might be responsible for why so few of them are really repeatable.

The conclusion of the Five Ways

STA does not have a consistent formulation for what the Five Ways conclude to:

1.) “this thing all understand as deus.” 

2.) “which all name deus” 

3.) “which all call deus” 

4+5) “and this thing we call deus”

Taking the formulae as equivalent, the proofs all involve some intentional action (understanding, naming, speaking of) of all persons.

1.) All persons. The “all” can’t be understood as what every single individual called deus, so we have to take it collectively, though it’s not clear what collective STA might be targeting. He could mean “all who believe in deus” and so be speaking of pagans, Muslims, and Christians. Read in this way, the “we” is a generic reference to the collective of populations. But we can also read the “we” as meaning “those who do what I am doing now, namely rational theology.” Taken in this sense, the “all” should be read as speaking of a rough consensus among natural theologians. St. Thomas is clearly speaking to a collective consensus, but it is unclear if it is what Aristotle would call a consensus of all or a consensus of the wise.  A moderate answer would probably be that he’s targeting all theists or at least a consensus of natural theologians.

The most significant consequence is that, however one takes it, STA is not considering deus as he is spoken of in a any particular tradition. He is not trying to prove the occasionalist God of Islam, the loving God of Christianity, the powerful but fickle local gods of Olympus; nor is he proving any particular variant of deus that one can find in rational theology. He is not excluding all of these accounts of diety, or at least not excluding them all in every way, but he is not providing enough information about deus to flesh out which diety in particular he takes as the true one.

2.) The intentional action. If STA is talking about all theists, then the intentional word is a way of recognizing that the use of the word deus can involve a good deal of error. STA insists that what the Pagans call deus is used analogously to the Christian use of the same name, and so if he wants an account that will include the beliefs of Pagans he has to talk not about the thing itself he proves the existence of, but only the use of the name.

Another reason for this intentional description of deus is that proof for the existence of something usually has to start from the name of the thing you are trying to prove the existence of. Mere naming does not require the existence of the thing named and so serves as a neutral ground to approach the question of real existence.

3.) deus. English distinguishes between “God” and “a god” by use of a capital letter, and then proceeds to edit even Latin liturgical texts in accord with the distinction. STA clearly understood both senses of the term, but his deus did not require him to take up one in the exclusion of the other. What we now call the capital-G god is a being whose existence could never be proven by a single argument but only by a very large and developed treatise, especially if one wanted to speak of a God understood by a consensus of contemporary theologians and athelogians. All one can hope to establish by a single proof – especially a cosmological proof – is a god-like being or a least possible divinity. If, for example, one takes any given cosmological argument in isolation there is no way to avoid Humian critiques a la “for all we know, this designer might be just be a clever or ingenious being, and not an omniscient deity” or “for all we know, there might be billions of first movers and not one supreme God of all gods.” But to think that any of these are meaningful critiques of the Five Ways involves conflating deus with the capital-g god.


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