From below

The Thomist “being as true” as capturing the existence of God has one crucial difference: St. Thomas draws causal links between (some) things absolutely divided. If I want to explain X, I can’t start the account with X’s – you can’t give an account of the creation of hammers by saying that some guy once took a hammer and forged one. Causes as such transcend caused things, and God is a limit case of this, transcending all absolutely with nothing at all non-causal. God’s pure causality requires that there be nothing at all in common between him and creatures.

Could the Ockhamist “univocity of being” be the Thomist “being as true”?

Ockham gives a proof that we have a single concept said of all things, while also claiming that it is not “being”.

First, the proof:

1.) If there is not one concept common to all, there are many common to some. them be A and B.

2.) Let A and B be said of something (aliquid) C.

3.) We can thus make three claims “C is A”, “C is B” and “C is something (aliquid)”. Ex hypothesi, the first two are different, and the third is different from both, for it is certain while the first two are uncertain.

4.) The third claim cannot be less universal than either of the first two, and it could be convertible in universality with at most one of them, therefore “something” is in fact more universal than both.

5.) Therefore, “something” is a single concept common to all.

But Ockham immediately adds

tamen hoc nomen “ens” est aequivocum quia non preadicatur de omnibus subiicibilibus, quando significative sumuntur secundum unam conceptum, sed diversi sibi conceptus correspondent. 

But this name (word? noun?) “being” is equivocal, because it is not predicated of whatever-can-be-a- subject as one concept when it is taken to signify: rather, diverse concepts correspond to it.

Seen in this way, the Thomist-Ockamist dispute about the univocity of being seems to come to this: if St. Thomas looked at Ockham’s “something” proof he’d say “if logic tells you about some unified field beyond being, then this unified field is an illusion that philosophy should dispel. Your logic should be subordinate to the natures of things, and gets its truth from the presence of reality within it. All you’ve done is prove the existence of some positive logical being with no real being corresponding to it. Throw it away or mark it off as some sort of no-man’s land”

But perhaps it’s not that simple. This “aliquid” might map pretty well over St. Thomas’s idea of being as true , where “true” is understood as the composition of a predicate with whatever can be a subject. Doesn’t STA insist that the existence of God can only be proven if we take “existence” in the mode of being as true?

“To be” can mean either of two things. It may mean the act of essence, or it may mean the composition of a proposition effected by the mind in joining a predicate to a subject. Taking “to be” in the first sense, we cannot understand God’s existence nor His essence; but only in the second sense.

ST 1.3.4 ad.2 ital. mine.



Brute facts as pointers to cosmological arguments

Science doesn’t reduce everything to brute facts: diabetes does not reduce to an autoimmune attack on T-cells from the ATP/P2X7R pathway as a brute fact but because that’s what diabetes is, likewise with the reduction of malaria to a parasite. There are other times when things are reduced to brute facts, like when the motion of one part of a system is explained by the motion of another part, or the time of one clock is coordinated with the time of another. There are good reasons for this sort of reduction – namely the unification of many phenomena to some primary instance – but they are to be divided from the sort of explanation that actually tells us what something is. But if explanations should reduce to seeing what something is, and brute facts are sometimes appropriate ultimate explanations of physical things, then Brute facts are appropriate explanations only when the what-something-is is non-physical. We take some mover as a brute fact because the First Mover transcends the physical; we take some cause in a physical system as a brute fact because the First Cause likewise is supernatural; we take the conserved (and therefore necessary) existence of matter, momentum, energy, etc. as brute facts because what is necessary in itself is not and cannot be a physical being. Such facts, therefore, are the opposite of an alternative to a cosmological argument. They indicate the physical being proximate to divine causality, in exactly the same way as Aristotle’s primum mobile is the physical being proximate to the First Unmoved Mover.

The physicality of the temporal whole

An audible whole: a word, a sentence, the melody of a bird or a man or a whale. Can include a physical process as a story or narrative. Audible wholes give us the clearest view of temporal wholes.

1.) Spacial wholes require that their parts exist at once, audible wholes require that their parts do not exist at once.

2.) Causal wholes require that earlier parts cause later ones by way of direct or mediated interaction: shooting the cannonball causes the wall to fall, releasing the hormone causes the cells to grow. But audible wholes need not be like this: this B-flat you play in the piece now does not require that D later on.

So we negate the simultaneity of parts, and sometimes the causality of one part on another, but there is some unity behind both. Our first attempt to explain the unity is through the program and necessity. So the melody of the music box reduces to the program of the pins on the pin drum which pick the comb, and the parts of the water cycle reduce to the necessity of water evaporating, then condensing, then falling. The first explanation merely shifts the goalposts: we co-ordinate the temporal progression of the melody with the temporal progression of the pin drum; but this is just as much in need of reference to some unity as the melody is. The second explanation is a modal explanation and not a causal one. A thing is not a whole because its parts follow of necessity; it would be just as much a whole if they were contingent. So in neither case to we get a primary causal explanation: the program is an instrumental cause of temporal unity, and necessity is not a causal account of the unity at all.

A causal explanation of temporal wholes thus requires reference to what might be called the absolute program, that is, to something that accounts for the order of temporal parts without itself having temporal parts. Mind is the clearest case of an absolute program, since it can cause temporal order without itself being restricted to any temporal order. Something like this exists in sensation too, though in a fainter way. Sense anticipates, fears, despairs, hopes etc. and so relates to states as future; it remembers and so relates to some events as past. But in mere sensation this unity reduces to a darker, subconscious unification behind the sensation itself. One doubts that the animal is conscious of the past as past or future as future. Our mind penetrates some distance into this occult unification, and can recognize the past precisely as past, but our mind too is moved from some hinterland of causality it has no access to. It takes much of its life from the unconscious, natural world. But here nature cannot mean the mere physical processes of the nervous system, for the physical is precisely what sensation and mind transcend. This hinterland is of the cognitive order- the hidden mountaintops of the gods.

Gratuitous evil is good for atheism

Assume that after a rigorous and exhaustive analysis we finally proved beyond all doubt that some event was a gratuitous evil. Just so we can use an example already out there, we’ll use William Rowe’s example of a fawn that dies after being trapped by a forest fire. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say it was a particular four-month-old fawn who died in Voyageurs National Park after campers left a campfire unattended in mid July 2007.

After considering the story thoroughly, all theologians and philosophers agree that this is undoubtedly a gratuitous evil. Plantinga, Hasker, and all the luminaries of the philosophy of religion concede that there is in fact a contradiction in assuming that this action could ever lead to a good and/or that any good it led to could have been just as easily attained without the evil. Working from our sufficient understanding of the possible modalities of providence, we conclude that none of them could contain this event, and so that the God described by the major religions of the West could not exist.

It would take all of ten minutes before the fawn was on a t-shirt somewhere. Fawn bumper stickers would soon dwarf all the sales of “coexist” and “=” and Darwinfish as in-group signs. The fawn would get a hallowed status of an object at once omnipresent and not cliche. We’d get a cataract of popular and scholarly literature referencing the fawn. Voyageurs National park would become a worldwide spot of pilgrimage – the three resorts at the site would find it all but impossible to keep up with the demand for food, lodging, and boat rentals. The number of babies named “Fawn” would skyrocket. Finally, we’d think, after thousands of years of fumbling around in the dark with confused questions and disputes over gods and providence, we found definitive proof that there are no such things, thanks to the fawn.

But this leaves the atheist with a paradox. The death of the fawn is at once a gratuitous evil – and so by definition incapable or of leading to a greater good – and at the same time the event definitively establishes what is perhaps the most significant truth and advance of human knowledge in the history of thought. To think: all it took to rid the world of the greatest lie it has ever fallen under was the death of a fawn!  If someone had told us in advance that all we had to do to settle the truth of all Western religions was kill one fawn, even PETA would have volunteered to kill it. But then we’re stuck simultaneously claiming that the fawn died for nothing and that its death was one of the most significant events in the history of the world; an event that was not even worth the death of an anonymous animal turns out to be literally more significant than the death of Christ.

The unknowability of God from divine simplicity

St. Thomas’s article on divine simplicity as such has three parts. Articles 1-4 deal with ontological simplicity, articles 5 and 6 deal with logical simplicity,* and a. 7 is a general proof against composition in God.

For our purposes here we’ll take Article Five as the climax to the whole question, with its central argument concluding to

Therefore it is plain that God is not in a genus as if He were a species. From this it is also plain that He has no genus nor difference, nor can there be any definition of Him; nor, save through His effects, a demonstration of Him: for a definition is from genus and difference; and the mean of a demonstration is a definition.

The  conclusion arises from an argument in the previous article, and applies more broadly than even mere genus and difference, but to anything common to God and another. It’s worth taking the whole argument from the beginning.

1.) If there is anything in a thing different from what is essential to it, then it is either caused by essence or by something else.

2.) God exists.

3.) Therefore, if God’s essence and existence are different, either (a) the essence causes it to exist, or (b) God is caused to exist by another.

4.) But a thing can cause something only if it exists, and so no essence – divine or otherwise – could cause itself to exist; and God cannot be caused to exist by another.

5.) So essence and existence do not differ in God.

6.) In order to place something in a genus, we need to identify many existent things that share something essential in common.

7.) Therefore things in a genus have an essence in common and an existence not common, and so differ in essence and existence.

8.) Therefore God cannot be in a genus.

Notice that the argument makes it impossible to locate God in any category – we cannot start with some general field of things and then narrow it down till we find a quality that sets it apart as divine. And while the transcendentals are not in a genus, the argument still applies to them so far as they are taken as describing something essential or intrinsic to many different things. If we call God good or thing or other or powerful or dignified we cannot be taking these as predicates, i.e. as things said of many or communicable. The “good” we say of God is in fact as proper to him as a personal name.

This utter uniqueness of divine predicates has been gestured at for a long time in the convention of capitalizing the word “God”, which seems to be best understood philosophically as an attempt to capture the incommunicability of the divine name. Said another way, while the name of the divinity is the name of a sort of thing or nature, capitalizing it gives the word the sense of having the incommunicability of a proper name. That said, the capitalization always threatened to overshadow the formal sense of the word as a nature, and this seems to be how many people take it – i.e. “God” is word is like “Socrates” and not like “animal”. I don’t even mind the convention adopted both by Hitchens and N.T. Wright of reverting to the lower case “god” to refer to even God himself, since this does at least capture the truth that the word is a name for a sort of thing. Ultimately, though, this just trades what the word “god” can’t capture for what the word “God” can’t capture. What we are trying to do is beyond any convention of capitalization or naming. What counts is the the interior recognition that both our divinity’s name and the predicates said of him substantively are both predicates and as unique to him as proper names. As predicates, they are open to the various sorts of analyses that we can perform on predicates (like correlation by univocity and analogy) and as proper names they are utterly incommunicable. Since we have no category of names that transcends these two sorts of names, we are left to see God as he who is unspeakable, as both hidden and revealed by the names said of him.

*Article 6 denies that God is composed of substance and accident, but for an Aristotelian these start off as logical distinctions, being introduced in the Categories and which are essentially defined through predication.

Ethics of Elfland

One danger in mathematical accounts of nature is that they can be taken as giving us the same insight into nature as we have into math: if you have values of 4, 3 and 2 in a combined gas law then you know that the gas your working on will always remain equal to (4 x 3) / 2, but you do  not have the same insight into nature as you have into the numbers. The relation of the quantities is known either by infallible insight or (if you follow Russell’s account of math) because the relation among quantities is tautological. But the reason why the gas preserves the constant is known neither by insight nor as a tautology. The quantity 4 X 3 over 2 = C is necessarily invariant and we can see why it is, but we see no reason for the connection among the things quantified. It might arise according to an invariant law or a historical one, with thought or without it. We can approach this sort of cause only by negating the insight we have into the connections among mathematical things. The necessity in the law is not in the thing we are describing but the way we are describing it. This isn’t even a very controversial claim: Comte was very clear about it, and it’s one of the simpler accounts of the Kantian denial of the thing-in-itself. If this is too abstract, one can simply reflect on the the problem of induction, or Russell’s chicken.

But insofar as physical law is known by way of negation of the sort of necessity we find in mathematics, logic, and the general truths of nature, then we fail to understand nature when we compare it to a machine. In fact, in this precise sense the machine is the worst possible metaphor for nature, since the machine is entirely transparent to our understanding. We understand its parts, its maker, its purpose, its historical antecedents, and everything else there is to understand about it. Nature is rather best understood as magic, that is, as a denial of our insight into how things work, caused by a simple trick of one who knows how we think and chooses to act in another way. Anyone can look at nature and see that somethings is doing something, but to project the hypothesis of a machine into this causal hiatus is to pretend to exactly the sort of insight that we need to deny in order to faithfully convey our experience of nature. Beyond the very general sorts of truths we know about nature, it doesn’t do what it does using the sort of things we have real insight into.

The analogy of nature to a machine or artifact is unavoidable and illuminating for any number of purposes: Aristotle uses it to show the composition and causes of natural things, and no pragmatic understanding of nature is possible without taking it as a sort of artifact. But no analogy is the thing itself – it’s just our lack of such a thing that forces us into analogy in the first place. Nature is magic too – the working of a cause that is at once simpler than what we are thinking and yet, for that very reason, baffling to us.

The first divine dilemma

The heart of Athanasius’s account of the Incarnation is the thought experiment of the divine dilemma. Picture God in the face of human sin. Since human beings are in no position to fix the position they’ve put themselves in, His options seem to be limited to either ignoring the sin in a sort of divine “do over” or abandoning human beings altogether, but neither course is consonant with his nature. The Incarnation thus presents itself as the only way to act in the face of the dilemma. But this divine dilemma can be seen as a second one – the first dilemma was whether to create human beings at all.

On the one hand, human beings are necessary given the decision to create anything at all. Only a complete entity can be an object of intention, and rational animals are necessary for the completion of the universe since they are a distinct ontological strata. It is only through human beings that spirit becomes intrinsic and essentially one with the universe, and only through human beings that matter can be made holy and offered to God or a person can arise by way of generation as happens within God himself.

On the other hand, when we descend from the pristine abstraction of metaphysics to the concrete details, creating human beings starts looking like a really, really bad idea. A rational animal has to follow the dictates of reason even while strong, irrational desires are intrinsic and essential to who he is, which will make his inner life one of conflict and turmoil. The human spiritual drive to freedom will be constantly impinged on and frustrated since such persons will lose much of their life to sleep and a large portion of what’s left to the things necessary to merely survive. As material, they’ll enter into a world of sheer unpredictability, chance and organisms that compete for resources, all of which will give rise to disease, disaster, animal maulings, crop failure, and a hundred other sorts of bad luck. Since the human person has to be natural, and natural things arise in large part by selection, bad luck will enter into his very existence: and so our spines ended up poorly adapted to our posture, our hips were poorly adapted to birth, our desires for fat and sugar are poorly adapted to the contemporary world, our cognitive machinery was poorly adapted to any life outside one of nomadic subsistence, etc. Given the strange way human beings learn, we have to do things for a long time before we enjoy doing them, which seems like a recipe for frustration, failure, and mediocrity.

God’s solution to this dilemma was a supernatural gift called original justice. The name isn’t familiar because the gift was somehow lost. The loss is what Athanasius takes as a given when he formulates his divine dilemma.

How do I commit a gratuitous evil? (part ii)

Any account of gratuitous evil has to avoid evils that are implied in the existence of goods, or at least implied in the existence of lesser goods. But this is a very broad class of evils and it’s hard to see how one can know that he avoids them.

First, consider that some evils are logically necessary for goods of the following type:

a.) Martyrdom

b.) Most sorts of heroism and bravery

c.) Mercy/forgiveness

d.) Retributive or corrective justice (n.b. both are goods, even as punishment)

e.) natural selection or whatever good one sees as resulting from selection (e.g. the unity of all life, the intelligibility of species, the diversity of life throughout time, the development of more complex species, etc.)

f.) Some kinds of animals (carnivores, parasites)

Other sorts of evils are statistically necessary for certain goods, i.e. while the good does not imply an evil in itself or of logical necessity, no rational person could see evils as unavoidable given the law of large numbers.

a.) Transportation by automobiles, or mass transit in general.

b.) Human wills, or simply imperfect wills.

c.) uniform laws of nature (sooner or later, gravity will cause something to fall to its death, cause the velocity of a deadly projectile, cause a hurricane that will wipe out a village, etc)

d.) Sensation (any time you have the tactile acuity of, say, a human being, at some point it will experience extreme tactile pain.)

That univocity of being argument

One argument for God and creatures having being in common is

If there is nothing common to God and creation, we cannot know God by knowing creation.

But we can know God by knowing creation, therefore, etc.

The “we” in this argument is too vague: if the “we” were the persons of the trinity then then God can be known through creation as “what we caused ourselves”. So we have to give a more precise account of the knower as one who knows by abstraction. This gives us:

If being is not common to God and creation, then  those who know by abstraction cannot know God.

We humans know God by abstraction, therefore, etc.

But this gives rise to a few objections:

1.) Being cannot be known by abstraction, since abstraction requires leaving something behind as not abstracted but our idea of being does not do this. Minimally, abstraction requires understanding one thing without the other, but being cannot be known in this way. What is common and peculiar do not differ as beings. This is why later Scholastics fell into talking about our idea of being as arising from an “imperfect abstraction”, though none of them knew quite what this was. And so it is far from clear that knowers-by-abstraction know being by abstraction at all, much less that they understand some feature in it common to God and creatures. This is not quibbling – it opens the possibility that there is some sort of at least implicit pre-abstractive knowledge, and many such accounts make some sort of reference to divine activity.

2.) If God is known by way of causal inference, then the argument requires that causes in themselves have something in common with their effects. But this is not the case with causes as such. If every causal account is explanatory, and no explanation presupposes what it tries to explain, then causes as such do not and cannot share some common feature with their effects. This is not a denial of the axiom nihil dat quod non habet, but only specifies that any common feature held between the cause and effect, if said of causes as such, is present only virtually or precisely as able-to-be-caused. This in no way requires some common field of action in the world. And so in order to understand God as the cause of the world, we must deny that there is something common to him and the world, not affirm it.

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