Friday, February 27, 2009

This + This ≠ ThisThis, but = That

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A triangle has three angles equaling 180 degrees, but not one of its sides has an angle.

A circle has a radius and a diameter, but not any one of its points has a diameter.

An atom has a spin property, but no tiger, composed of atoms, has a spin property.

A sample of water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius, but no molecule of H2O freezes.

A brick is red and rectangular, but not any one of its molecules is red and rectangular.

A house has a roof and walls, but no element in the construction of the house has a roof or windows.

A spoken word conveys meaning and elicits a response in a hearer, but not any one of its phonemes conveys meaning or elicits a proportionate response.

In all such cases, while may be the case that the larger, aggregate entity cannot exist without the smaller, composite elements, this does not entail that the former exists because of the latter. The aggregates, thus, enjoy a formal integrity which none of its composite members can bestow upon it.

Indeed, all of the smaller entities are what they are only in reference to their larger aggregate entity's existence. An atom of water is what it is as an atom of water. Even an atom under scientific scrutiny is the atom that it is in connection with the larger aggregate of space cum equipment cum observer. Thus, the aggregate displays as much of a final sovereignty over its members' causal co-relations as it enjoys a formal wholeness that pervades their theoretical content.

Consider Aristotle's claims in Physics II, 9:

As regards what is 'of necessity', we must ask whether the necessity is 'hypothetical', or 'simple' as well. The current [i.e., Empedoclean-materialist] view places what is of necessity in the process of production, just as if one were to suppose that the wall of a house necessarily comes to be because what is heavy is naturally carried downwards and what is light to the top, wherefore the stones and foundations take the lowest place, with earth above because it is lighter, and wood at the top of all as being the lightest. Whereas, though the wall does not come to be without these, it is not due to these, except as its material cause: it comes to be for the sake of sheltering and guarding certain things. Similarly in all other things which involve production for an end; the product cannot come to be without things which have a necessary nature, but it is not due to these (except as its material); it comes to be for an end. For instance, why is a saw such as it is? To effect so-and-so and for the sake of so-and-so. This end, however, cannot be realized unless the saw is made of iron. It is, therefore, necessary for it to be of iron, it we are to have a saw and perform the operation of sawing. What is necessary then, is necessary on a hypothesis; it is not a result necessarily determined by antecedents. Necessity is in the matter, while 'that for the sake of which' is in the definition.

A similar concept plays a role in R. W. Sperry's writings on emergence (which I cite from Timothy O'Connor's essay, "Emergent Properties"). Sperry argues

that the higher-level phenomena in exerting downward control do not disrupt or intervene in the causal relations of the lower-level component activity. Instead, they supervene in a way that leaves the micro interactions, per se, unaltered ("In Defense of Mentalism and Emergent Interaction", Journal of Mind and Behavior 12(2) (1991), p. 230).

Later in the same essay, Sperry elaborates his point by way of considering the molecules in a rolling wheel:

A molecule within the rolling wheel..., though retaining its usual inter-molecular relations within the wheel, is at the same time, from the standpoint of an outside observer, being carried through particular patterns in space and time determined by the over-all properties of the wheel as a whole. There need be no "reconfiguring" of the molecules relative to each other within the wheel itself. However, relative to the rest of the world the result is a major "reconfiguring" of the space-time trajectories of all the components in the wheel's infrastructure. (ibid.)

Sperry's vivid point is that the aggregate object produces empirical changes in the world in a way that, without "violating" the laws of its components, does so to speak outstrip their causal abilities. The wheel can break a vase, whereas its molecules, considered in terms of austere chemical laws, cannot. Indeed, "from a molecule's point of view" there is no such thing as a vase. Therefore it is exceedingly bizarre for reductionists to claim that "our molecules made us x some y" when, in terms of our molecules, there is no y to which x can happen.

For instance, if a reductionist claims that one section of "my" molecules (colloquially called "my arm") caused another section of "my" molecules (colloquially called "my fist") to collide with a section of "your" molecules (colloquially called "your face"), then it should be asked just which molecule or molecules did the hitting and which molecules were mere event freeloaders. If it is objected that the entire "clump" of molecules hit a face-like clump of molecules, this only begs the question of how we delimit (or identify) the guilty clump in molecular terms. In molecular terms, each molecule is doing perfectly what its proper natural laws dictate: clumping with other molecules in a micro-world. Nothing in the law of specific being for a molecule, nor even a clump of molecules, entails that they leap hither and thither from one shocked face to another. Only a being with a higher, enveloping law of specific being--such as a surly human--can do that. Only by already knowing the molecules were metaphysically subservient freeloader's in a human hand's violent action can we correctly specify which molecules were involved in the physical event. Without prior reference to formal substances and their related parts (i.e., humans, hands, faces, etc.), we simply have no reason to describe an arbitrarily selected clump of molecules as "this" or "that" causing "that" or "this". From a wholly reductive, "scientific" point of view, we have no right to stop at the level of molecular clumps forming so-called bodies, since, from the most basic level of analysis, those bodies themselves are but midi-clumps in the macro-swarm of sheer matter-in-motion. Just as for neo-Darwinists, there are not "really" formally distinct species, but only biomass-in-flux, so for the konsequenter reductivist there are no intrinsically intelligible substances (viz., with formal structure cum essential natures), but only undifferentiated Nature simpliciter, or, as I believe J. S. Mill said when parodying Herbert Spencer's evolutionism, one infinite, homogenous It that eternally becomes all things and yet still just remains It.

Obviously, few of us these days can really imagine the world like that. Science, not to mention common-sense phenomenology, unceasingly reveals a world of discrete, dynamic beings co-operating across multiple levels of causation and order. A reductive view of the world is commendable in the same way an expert art historian's critical eye is commendable: by peering in to the tiny details of a work of art, she can discern whether it is a forgery and how it was produced. But if we remain stuck in this posture, without taking a few steps back, we all too easily forget that we are looking at a whole work of art and, moreover, that it is downright beautiful.

It is a mental illusion, inculcated in most moderns and postmoderns, that the micro-view of things "best explains" the phenomena we observe (and cause). But the complementary view--not, you will notice, the competing view--of causation and explanation espoused by Aristotle, Thomas d'Aquino, et al., allows us to break the spell of reductive hypnosis and freely look at the world from a number of complementary perspectives. Specifically, "Aristhomism" enables, nay, liberates us to "be okay with" our amazingly prescient common view of the world, even while acknowledging the micro-structure of reality which exact science illuminates. It is merely a psychological habit in our modernized mind's eye to "zoom in" on atoms and molecules when we "really" want to understand a phenomenon. Meanwhile, if we would, to recall Galileo's simple request, but look through both ends of the metaphysical telescope, we would find a mental freedom to view the world in full, to wit, as a dynamic harmony of contingent but active substances--created finite essences--seeking their fullness of being according to their specific laws of being by means of an "intrawoven" matrix of material, efficient, formal, and final causation. We are conditioned to be reductionistst, but I believe we can, and must, still learn to temper that line of sight with a more so to speak "conductivist" viewpoint.

As an exercise in de-programming, I ask the reader to consider this old tale:

On March 15, 493 in Ravenna, Theodoric invited Odovacar to a dinner, having secretly prepared for assassins to murder Odovacar. The assassins, however, lost their nerve, and Theodoric himself moved in for the kill as Odovacer was seated at the banquet table. With one slash of his sword, Theodoric "lifted his sword and hewed his enemy in twain from the shoulder to the loins," whereupon the former joked that the latter seemed never to have had a bone in his body.

Now, the exercise is this: from which end of the telescope does the story seem more intelligible? From the reductive end that sees a swarm of intrinsically discrete atoms and molecules shifting relative positions, like shadow figures dancing in shadow? Or from the conductive end that sees a violent creature with a name and a sword slicing another man in half, whereupon billions of cells and molecules are sent gushing out? Does it make any more sense to say that a swarm of molecules "were involved in" the naively anthropocentric fictional news story, "Theodoric Goes Halves with Odovacer at Dinner," than it does to say that Theodoric caused billions of molecules belonging to Odovacer to go in wholly unpredictable and grotesquely novel directions?

Hopefully, you see that both accounts make sense of the same event.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wisdom from...

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CESARIUS OF ARLES (470-543): The discipleship of the cross

Our Lord and Savior said that we must take up our cross and follow him. What does it mean to take up one's cross? Bearing every annoyance patiently. That is following Christ. When someone begins to follow his way of life and his commandments, that person will meet resistance on every side. He or she will be opposed, mocked, even persecuted, and this not only by unbelievers but also by people who to all appearances belong to the body of Christ, though they are really excluded from it by their wickedness; people who, being Christians only in name, never stop persecuting true Christians.

If you want to follow Christ, then, take up his cross without delay. Endure injuries, do not be overcome by them. If we would fulfill the Lord's command: If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me, we must strive with God's help to do as the apostle says: As long as we have food and clothing, let this content us. Otherwise, if we seek more material goods than we need and desire to become rich, we may fall prey to temptation. The devil may trick us into wanting the many useless and harmful things that plunge people into ruin and destruction. May we be free from this temptation through the protection of our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
(Sermo 159, 5-6: CCL 104, 653-654.)

Cesarius, archbishop of Arles, was very much influenced by Saint Augustine and combatted semi-pelagianism at the Council of Orange in 529.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Love of Neighbor

Persons who love God cannot despise him when he commands us to love our neighbor. And do those who in spiritual holiness love their neighbor love anything but God in that neighbor? Let us, then, love one another, so that, we may attract one another to love God in ourselves by means of love. In this way we may be closely united and be the Body of such a Head!
-- Sermon on John 65, 2

Prayer. Increase my faith, Lord, increase my hope, and increase my love! How wonderful and unmatched is your goodness!
-- Soliloquies 1, 1


[1] We have now shown that the effort to demonstrate the existence of God is not a vain one. We shall therefore proceed to set forth the arguments by which both philosophers and Catholic teachers have proved that God exists.

[2] We shall first set forth the arguments by which Aristotle proceeds to prove that God exists. The aim of Aristotle is to do this in two ways, beginning with motion.

[3] Of these ways the first is as follows. Everything that is moved is moved by another. That some things are in motion—for example, the sun—is evident from sense. Therefore, it is moved by something else that moves it. This mover is itself either moved or not moved. If it is not, we have reached our conclusion—namely, that we must posit some unmoved mover. This we call God. If it is moved, it is moved by another mover. We must, consequently, either proceed to infinity, or we must arrive at some unmoved mover. Now, it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Hence, we must posit some prime unmoved mover.

[4] In this proof, there are two propositions that need to be proved, namely, [1] that everything that is moved is moved by another, and [2] that in movers and things moved one cannot proceed to infinity.

[5] The first of these propositions Aristotle proves in three ways. The first way is as follows. If something moves itself, it must have within itself the principle of its own motion; otherwise, it is clearly moved by another. Furthermore, it must be primarily moved. This means that it must be moved by reason of itself, and not by reason of a part of itself, as happens when an animal is moved by the motion of its foot. … It is also necessary that a self-moving being be divisible and have parts, since, as it is proved in the Physics [VI, 4], whatever is moved is divisible.

[6] … That which is held to be moved by itself is primarily moved. Hence, when one of its parts is at rest, the whole is then at rest. … But nothing that is at rest because something else is at rest is moved by itself; for that being whose rest follows upon the rest of another must have its motion follow upon the motion of another. It is thus not moved by itself. Therefore, that which was posited as being moved by itself is not moved by itself. Consequently, everything that is moved must be moved by another.

[7] … [T]he force of Aristotle’s argument lies in this: if something moves itself primarily and through itself, rather than through its parts, that it is moved cannot depend on another. But the moving of the divisible itself, like its being, depends on its parts; it cannot therefore move itself primarily and through itself. … What must rather be true is this conditional proposition: if the part were at rest, the whole would be at rest. Now, this proposition would be true even though its antecedent be impossible. In the same way, the following conditional proposition is true: if man is an ass, he is irrational.

[NB: St. Thomas is referring to the logical truth that any syllogism with a false antecedent––that is, the "If" part of an "If, then" statement––is necessarily valid, since its consequent could be either true or false. An antecedently false syllogism, in other words, always has a valid conclusion, but is not sound.]

[8] In the second way, Aristotle proves the proposition by induction [Physics VIII, 4]. Whatever is moved by accident is not moved by itself, since it is moved upon the motion of another. … Now, whatever is moved is moved through itself or by accident. If it is moved through itself, then it is moved either violently or by nature; if by nature, then either through itself, as the animal, or not through itself, as heavy and light bodies. Therefore, everything that is moved is moved by another.

[9] In the third way, Aristotle proves the proposition as follows [VIII, 5]. The same thing cannot be at once in act and in potency with respect to the same thing. But everything that is moved is, as such, in potency. For motion is the act of something that is in potency inasmuch as it is in potency. That which moves, however, is as such in act, for nothing acts except according as it is in act. Therefore, with respect to the same motion, nothing is both mover and moved. Thus, nothing moves itself.

[10] It is to be noted, however, that Plato, who held that every mover is moved [Phaedrus], understood the name motion in a wider sense than did Aristotle … [who] understood motion strictly, according as it is the act of what exists in potency inasmuch as it is such. So understood, motion belongs only to divisible bodies, as it is proved in the Physics [VI, 4]. According to Plato, however, that which moves itself is not a body. Plato understood by motion any given operation, so that to understand and to judge are a kind of motion. Aristotle likewise touches upon this manner of speaking in the De anima [III, 7]. Plato accordingly said that the first mover moves himself because he knows himself and wills or loves himself. In a way, this is not opposed to the reasons of Aristotle. There is no difference between reaching a first being that moves himself, as understood by Plato, and reaching a first being that is absolutely unmoved, as understood by Aristotle.

[11] The second proposition, namely, that there is no procession to infinity among movers and things moved, Aristotle proves in three ways.

[12] The first is as follows [VII, 1]. If among movers and things moved we proceed to infinity, all these infinite beings must be bodies. For whatever is moved is divisible and a body … [cf. Physics VI, 4]. But every body that moves some thing moved is itself moved while moving it. Therefore, all these infinites are moved together while one of them is moved. But one of them, being finite, is moved in a finite time. Therefore, all those infinites are moved in a finite time. This, however, is impossible.

[13] Furthermore, that it is impossible for the abovementioned infinites to be moved in a finite time Aristotle proves as follows. The mover and the thing moved must exist simultaneously. … But bodies cannot be simultaneous except through continuity or contiguity. Now, since, as has been proved, all the aforementioned movers and things moved are bodies, they must constitute by continuity or contiguity a sort of single mobile. In this way, one infinite is moved in a finite time. This is impossible, as is proved in the Physics [VII, 1].

[14] The second argument proving the same conclusion is the following. In an ordered series of movers and things moved (this is a series in which one is moved by another according to an order) [In moventibus et motis ordinatis, quorum scilicet unum per ordinem ab alio movetur], it is necessarily the fact that, when the first mover is removed or ceases to move, no other mover will move or be moved. For the first mover is the cause of motion for all the others. But, if there are movers and things moved following an order to infinity, there will be no first mover, but all would be as intermediate movers. Therefore, none of the others will be able to be moved, and thus nothing in the world will be moved.

[NB: Ordinal motion does not exactly mean 'serial' or 'step by step' motion. Rather, it refers to the idea of, let us say, distributed simultaneous efficiency. The efficient causation in an ordered causal system is distributed simultaneously throughout the elements involved at every moment of change. For example, when a boy splashes water by hitting the surface of a creek with a stick, his hand, the stick, and the disrupted water are all, so to speak, causally concurrent. There is a proper order, a determinate structure, of this event, which cannot happen without all the elements being in the right place at the right––namely, the same––time. Moreover, we must realize that the boy's hand simultaneously depends on its attachment to his body, his body on its attachment to the earth, the earth on its place in the solar system, and so on. Everything in the cosmos must occur in an exact causal, albeit not temporal, order for the water to splash as it does. This is more or less what St. Thomas means by what happens in motis ordinatis.]

[15] The third proof comes to the same conclusion, except that, by beginning with the superior, it has a reversed order. … That which moves as an instrumental cause cannot move unless there be a principal moving cause. But, if we proceed to infinity among movers and things moved, all movers will be as instrumental causes, because they will be moved movers and there will be nothing as a principal mover. Therefore, nothing will be moved.

[16] Such, then, is the proof of both propositions assumed by Aristotle in the first demonstrative way by which he proved that a first unmoved mover exists.

[17] The second way is this. If every mover is moved, this proposition is true either by itself or by accident. If by accident, then it is not necessary, since what is true by accident is not necessary. It is something possible, therefore, that no mover is moved. But if a mover is not moved, it does not move…. It is therefore possible that nothing is moved. For, if nothing moves, nothing is moved. This, however, Aristotle considers to be impossible—namely, that at any time there be no motion. Therefore, the first proposition was not possible, since from a false possible, a false impossible does not follow. Hence, this proposition, every mover is moved by another, was not true by accident. …

[19] But, if the proposition that every mover is moved is true by itself, something impossible or awkward likewise follows. For the mover must be moved either by the same kind of motion as that by which he moves, or by another. If the same, a cause of alteration must itself be altered, and further, a healing cause must itself be healed, and a teacher must himself be taught and this with respect to the same knowledge. Now, this is impossible.So that, if the proposition were true, the same thing would be possessed and not possessed by the same being—which is impossible.

If, however, the mover is moved by another species of motion, so that (namely) the altering cause is moved according to place, and the cause moving according to place is increased, and so forth, since the genera and species of motion are finite in number, it will follow that we cannot proceed to infinity. There will thus be a first mover, which is not moved by another.

Will someone say that there will be a recurrence, so that when all the genera and species of motion have been completed the series will be repeated and return to the first motion? This would involve saying, for example, that a mover according to place would be altered, the altering cause would be increased, and the increasing cause would be moved according to place. Yet this whole view would arrive at the same conclusion as before: whatever moves according to a certain species of motion is itself moved according to the same species of motion, though mediately and not immediately.

[20] It remains, therefore, that we must posit some first mover that is not moved by any exterior moving cause.

[21] Granted this conclusion—namely, that there is a first mover that is not moved by an exterior moving cause—it yet does not follow that this mover is absolutely unmoved. That is why Aristotle goes on to say that the condition of the first mover may be twofold [VIII, 5]. The first mover can be absolutely unmoved. If so, we have the conclusion we are seeking: there is a first unmoved mover. On the other hand, the first mover can be self-moved. This may be argued, because that which is through itself is prior to what is through another. Hence, among things moved as well, it seems reasonable that the first moved is moved through itself and not by another.

[22] But, on this basis, the same conclusion again follows: … it cannot be said that, when a mover moves himself, the whole is moved by the whole. Otherwise, the same difficulties would follow as before: one person would both teach and be taught, and the same would be true among other motions. It would also follow that a being would be both in potency and in act; for a mover is, as such, in act, whereas the thing moved is in potency. Consequently, one part of the self-moved mover is solely moving, and the other part solely moved. We thus reach the same conclusion as before: there exists an unmoved mover.

[23] Nor can it be held that both parts of the self-moved mover are moved, so that one is moved by the other, or that one moves both itself and the other, or that the whole moves a part, or that a part moves the whole. All this would involve the return of the aforementioned difficulties: something would both move and be moved according to the same species of motion; something would be at once in potency and in act; and, furthermore, the whole would not be primarily moving itself, it would move through the motion of a part. The conclusion thus stands: one part of a self-moved mover must be unmoved and moving the other part.

[24] But there is another point to consider. Among self-moved beings known to us, namely, animals, although the moving part, which is to say the soul, is unmoved through itself, it is yet moved by accident. … [T]he moving part of the first self-moving being is not moved either through itself or by accident [cf. Physics VIII, 6]. For, since self-moving beings known to us, namely, animals, are corruptible, the moving part in them is moved by accident. But corruptible self-moving beings must be reduced to some first self-moving being that is everlasting. Therefore, some self-moving being must have a mover that is moved neither through itself nor by accident.

[25] It is further evident that, according to the position of Aristotle, some self-moved being must be everlasting. For if, as Aristotle supposes, motion is everlasting, the generation of self-moving beings (this means beings that are generable and corruptible) must be endless. But the cause of this endlessness cannot be one of the self-moving beings, since it does not always exist. Nor can the cause be all the self-moving beings together, both because they would be infinite and because they would not be simultaneous. There must therefore be some endlessly self-moving being, causing the endlessness of generation among these sublunary self-movers.

[26] Again, we see that among beings that move themselves some initiate a new motion as a result of some motion. This new motion is other than the motion by which an animal moves itself, for example, digested food or altered air. By such a motion the self-moving mover is moved by accident. From this we may infer that no self-moved being is moved everlastingly whose mover is moved either by itself or by accident. But the first self-mover is everlastingly in motion; otherwise, motion could not be everlasting, since every other motion is caused by the motion of the self-moving first mover. The first self-moving being, therefore, is moved by a mover who is himself moved neither through himself nor by accident. …

[28] Now, God is not part of any self-moving mover. In his Metaphysics [XII, 7], therefore, Aristotle goes on from the mover who is a part of the self-moved mover to seek another mover—God—who is absolutely separate. For, since everything moving itself is moved through appetite, the mover who is part of the self-moving being moves because of the appetite of some appetible object. This object is higher, in the order of motion, than the mover desiring it; for the one desiring is in a manner a moved mover, whereas an appetible object is an absolutely unmoved mover. [Cum enim omne movens seipsum moveatur per appetitum, oportet quod motor qui est pars moventis seipsum, moveat propter appetitum alicuius appetibilis. Quod est eo superius in movendo: nam appetens est quodammodo movens motum; appetibile autem est movens omnino non motum.] There must, therefore, be an absolutely unmoved separate first mover. This is God.

[29] Two considerations seem to invalidate these arguments. The first consideration is that, as arguments, they presuppose the eternity of motion, which Catholics consider to be false.

[30] To this consideration the reply is as follows. The most efficacious way to prove that God exists is on the supposition that the world is eternal. Granted this supposition, that God exists is less manifest. For, if the world and motion have a first beginning, some cause must clearly be posited to account for this origin of the world and of motion. That which comes to be anew must take its origin from some innovating cause; since nothing brings itself from potency to act, or from non-being to being.

[31] The second consideration is that the demonstrations given above presuppose that the first moved being, namely, a heavenly body, is self-moved. This means that it is animated, which many do not admit.

[32] The reply to this consideration is that, if the prime mover is not held to be self-moved, then it must be moved immediately by something absolutely unmoved. Hence, even Aristotle himself proposed this conclusion as a disjunction: it is necessary either to arrive immediately at an unmoved separate first mover, or to arrive at a self-moved mover from whom, in turn, an unmoved separate first mover is reached.

[33] In Metaphysics II [Ia, 2] Aristotle also uses another argument to show that there is no infinite regress in efficient causes and that we must reach one first cause—God. This way is as follows. In all ordered efficient causes, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, whether one or many, and this is the cause of the last cause. But, when you suppress a cause, you suppress its effect. Therefore, if you suppress the first cause, the intermediate cause cannot be a cause. Now, if there were an infinite regress among efficient causes, no cause would be first. Therefore, all the other causes, which are intermediate, will be suppressed. But this is manifestly false. We must, therefore, posit that there exists a first efficient cause. This is God.

[34] Another argument may also be gathered from the words of Aristotle. In Metaphysics II [Ia, 1] he shows that what is most true is also most a being. But in Metaphysics IV [4] he shows the existence of something supremely true from the observed fact that of two false things one is more false than the other, which means that one is more true than the other. This comparison is based on the nearness to that which is absolutely and supremely true. From these Aristotelian texts we may further infer that there is something that is supremely being. This we call God.

[If there is no such thing as absolute truth, there is no such thing as lying.]

[35] … Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone’s government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end. But in the world we find that things of diverse natures come together under one order, and this not rarely or by chance, but always or for the most part. There must therefore be some being by whose providence the world is governed. This we call God.

(SCG I, xiii)


My God, could there be any greater blindness than ours? Full of miseries and vileness, we want to appear and to be esteemed as someone really important! It is our self-love which so blinds us! God grants us a wonderful grace when He enlightens us to know our abjection, because the knowledge of our miseries and defects is a sign of conversion of heart. Anyone who wants to know himself does not want to be esteemed. If he is considered imperfect and treated as such, he is not upset. He has been cured of his blindness.
(Sermons 38; O. IX, pp. 408-409)


THERE is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad, but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers, but creative artists very seldom.

"Can I Live?" by Nick Cannon

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Monday, February 23, 2009

"A Man of Determination"!

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傲氣面對萬重浪 熱血像那紅日光
膽似鐵找 骨如精鋼 胸襟百千丈
眼光萬里長 我奮發圖強做好漢
做個好漢子 每天要自強 熱血男兒漢
比太陽更光 昂步挺胸大家作棟樑 做好漢
用我百點熱 耀出千分光 做個好漢子
熱血熱腸熱 比太陽更光

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What you see is what you "get"?

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The non-visualizibility of concepts is integral to arguments for the immanteriality of the intellect. (It is also a major victory over crude empiricism. Sometimes small gains are enough.) All that is needed to show that the mind is more than an empirical viewing box, as Descartes did with his chiliagon illustration, is elicit acts of conception which exceed the powers of empirical perception. What we know is more than what we can see, with our eyeballs and with our “mind’s eye.” The point is not that our conceptions exist outside our minds --after all they are our conceptions-- but that they exist in our minds in an intellectual, as opposed to perceptual, way. Do we deny chiliagons are possibly materially real? (If I make one tonight out of a sheet of construction paper, dear reader, I’ll mail it to you.) Do we deny they are conceptually real even when not materialized? They exist apart from our tactile and neural constructions of them.

If things like “literally” and “chiliagons” existed only in our minds (i.e., as phantasms), we would never come up with the idea, since we can’t visualize them. Hence, they do exist in a way that exceeds, or so to speak awaits, our grasp of them. Such abstract things have esse intelligibile et naturale (i.e., an intelligible existence as their own nature), but can also exist in a different mode by esse intentione (i.e., with an ‘intentional’ existence).

Now, suppose someone objects, "This demonstrate that we can conceive of something immaterial, but doesn’t prove that this immaterial whatever-it-is has real existence outside our minds. I mean, I can visualize world peace, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to stop the folks in Darfur."

I would immediately challenge this claim about Darfur. You cannot visualize world peace, since, who can really say in clear detail what would have to change, who would have to die, etc., for it to come about? What you can do is conceive of “world peace” and associate mental images with that concept. Can we visualize “humanity”? No, but we can conceive of it. Can you visualize your self, viz., your enduring identity at every spatiotemporal point of its existence? No, but you can grasp such a concept. Can you visualize God? No, but etc. etc.

People say their life flashed before their eyes at a moment of near death–which for all I know may really happen visually, but I doubt it–yet that kind of claim only makes sense to others by conception, not visualization. Even though we cannot “see” our entire life, such a thing exists, and in a way that does run through but does not stay within our minds.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Can you see what I mean?

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How does one visually represent a concept?

Imagine that the following sentence, "Jane sat on a yellow cushion and literally fell head over heels," were 'pictorialized' such that "Jane" was replaced by a picture of Jane, "sat on a yellow cushion" were replaced by a picture (or a couple shots in series) of Jane sitting on a yellow cushion, and "literally fell head over heels" were replaced by a picture of a startled Jane mid-tumble.

Visually, we find that "literally" evaporates; it is just a part of "fell over". "Literally", it seems, literally has no visualizable reality. You cannot point at the concept of "literally" in spacetime. It is a sheer verbal parlor trick, used only to dramatize and exaggerate an otherwise mundane description of events. Conceivably, every instance of "literally" in written history could be literally deleted and the associated meaning would survive. A word like "literally" is a, visibly, a meaningless waste of ink and ASCII.

And yet––yet, "literally" does have a meaning. It is a coherent concept which we can and do use all the time. It is a real "intentional object"––otherwise how could you be reading what I have written about it and with it?

It seems, then, that not all words are visually registered. What we know, in other words, is not coextensive with what "Literally" cannot be "caught on film," but it can be caught in the mind. You can see what I mean without ever seeing what what-I-mean is. The only fitting picture of "literally" is the series of conjoined letters in 'literally'. The word, thus, acts as an unnatural sign of an unnatural reality. A material in quo (by which) of an immaterial quod quid est (that which is).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Goodness is its own reward…

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"…I do something [such as throwing a ball through a window] for some reason that belongs to me and so the transient process [of throwing the ball] is an instrument to the fulfilling of my purpose, satisfaction of my desire and so on. … [This analysis] is not only compatible with altruistic behavior but is presupposed by it. When I help a person in need because they are in need, I transiently do something for them, but immanently perfect my own nature by conforming to morality –– even if I am not thinking about this at the time. Altruism does not even make sense if this basic self-perfection is not presupposed in the action [of transiently performing acts for the good of others]."

–– David S. Oderberg, "Teleology: Inorganic and Organic", p. 262, n. 13

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wisdom from…

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GREGORY THE GREAT (540–604): The word of the Lord is the nourishment of the mind

Be careful that the word you have received through your ears remains in your heart. Be careful that the seed does not fall along the path, for fear that the evil spirit may come and take it from your memory. Be careful that the seed is not received in stony ground, so that it produces a harvest of good works without the roots of perseverance. Many people are pleased with what they hear and resolve to undertake some good work, but as soon as difficulties begin to arise and hinder them they leave the work unfinished. The stony ground lacked the necessary moisture for the sprouting seed to yield the fruit of perseverance.

Good earth, on the other hand, brings forth fruit by patience. The reason for this is that nothing we do is good unless we also bear with equanimity the injuries done us by our neighbors. In fact, the more we progress, the more hardships we shall have to endure in this world; for when our love for this present world dies, its sufferings increase. This is why we see many people doing good works and at the same time struggling under a heaven burden of afflictions. They now shun earthly desires, and yet they are tormented by greater sufferings. But, as the Lord said, they bring forth fruit by patience, because, since they humbly endure misfortunes, they are welcomed when these are over into a place of rest in heaven.
(XL Hom. in Evangelia 1, 15.1-2, 4.)

Gregory, bishop of Rome from 590 to 604, left examples of his preaching to the Roman people. His Book of Pastoral Rule became the textbook of medieval bishops.

ST. AUGUSTINE: The Lord Is Within

You, Lord, were within me, while I was outside. It was there that I sought you. I rushed headlong upon these things of beauty that you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. They kept me far from you, those fair things which, if they were not in you, would not exist at all!
-- Confessions 10, 27

Prayer. Let me know you, my Father, let me know you as I too am known. Enter my soul, you who are its strength, and make it what you want, so that you may have and possess it without stain or wrinkle.
-- Confessions 10, 1


[1] There are others who hold a certain opinion, contrary to the position mentioned above, through which the efforts of those seeking to prove the existence of God would likewise be rendered futile. For they say that we cannot arrive at the existence of God through the reason; it is received by way of faith and revelation alone.

[2] What led some persons to hold this view was the weakness of the arguments which had been brought forth by others to prove that God exists.

[3] Nevertheless, the present error might erroneously find support in its behalf in the words of some philosophers who show that in God essence and being are identical, that is, that that which answers to the question what is it? is identical with that which answers to the question is it? Now, following the way of the reason we cannot arrive at a knowledge of what God is. Hence, it seems likewise impossible to demonstrate by the reason that God exists.

[4] Furthermore, according to the logic of the Philosopher, as a principle to demonstrate whether a thing is we must take the signification of the name of that thing [Posterior Analytics II, 9]; and, again according to the Philosopher [Metaphysics IV, 7], the meaning signified by a name is its definition. If this be so, if we set aside a knowledge of the divine essence or quiddity [i.e., 'whatness'], no means will be available whereby to demonstrate that God exists.

[5] Again, if, as is shown in the Posterior Analytics [I, 18], the knowledge of the principles of demonstration takes its origin from sense, whatever transcends all sense and sensibles seems to be indemonstrable. That God exists appears to be a proposition of this sort and is therefore indemonstrable.

[6] The falsity of this opinion is shown to us, first, from the art of demonstration which teaches us to arrive at causes from their effects. Then, it is shown to us from the order of the sciences. For, as it is said in the Metaphysics [IV, 3], if there is no knowable substance higher than sensible substance, there will be no science higher than physics. It is shown, thirdly, from the pursuit of the philosophers, who have striven to demonstrate that God exists. Finally, it is shown to us by the truth in the words of the Apostle Paul: “For the invisible things of God... are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom. 1:20).

[7] Nor, contrary to the first argument, is there any problem in the fact that in God essence and being are identical. For this is understood of the being by which God subsists in Himself. But we do not know of what sort this being is, just as we do not know the divine essence. The reference is not to the being that signifies the composition of intellect. For thus the existence of God does fall under demonstration; this happens when our mind is led from demonstrative arguments to form such a proposition of God whereby it expresses that He exists.

[8] Now, in arguments proving the existence of God, it is not necessary to assume the divine essence or quiddity as the middle term of the demonstration. This was the second view proposed above. In place of the quiddity, an effect is taken as the middle term, as in demonstrationes quia [link]. It is from such effects that the meaning of the name God is taken. For all divine names are imposed either by removing the effects of God from Him or by relating God in some way to His effects.

[9] It is thereby likewise evident that, although God transcends all sensible things and the sense itself, His effects, on which the demonstration proving His existence is based, are nevertheless sensible things. And thus, the origin of our knowledge in the sense applies also to those things that transcend the sense.
(SCG, I, xii)


Truly, death is terrible, but the life that follows it, together with the mercy that God will show us, is very, very desirable. So do not have any doubts; no mater how wretched we are, we will never be able to match the mercy of God, Who shows Himself as a Father to all who desire to love Him. We must put all our hope in Him.
(Letters 512; O. XIV, p. 115)


IF votes for women do not mean mobs for women they do not mean what they were meant to mean.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

Harry Potter…

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Because some kids have epileptic spells and others kids have magic spells.

The world we live in…

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…is the world we die in. Careful where you end up putting yourself.

The world we live in is a world of free beggars and enslaved kings. Free in the boundless kingdom of grace, drowning in riches not their own. Enslaved in the microscopic kingdom of self, strutting on a waterfall's course.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Storing up…

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I finally decided to do something with the quotations and resources I have concerning natural philosophy and metaphysics: Ta-da! Here's the scoop on this, my new blog.

The Four Horsemen of the Causocalypse…

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(Hmm… "Causocalypse"… I am reminded once more how some things sound better sung to heavy metal in one's head than they look on a computer screen. Bu the show must go on!)

"Not all that glitters is gold," as they say.

Now let's "Aristotelianize" the saying: "Not all that displays finality is conscious."


All that is conscious of attaining ends, does display consciousness. This is exactly what Popper meant by "all of life is problem-solving." If even the tiniest unconscious creatures display apparent aims, then a fortiori (all the more) do conscious creatures like us display "aimedness." Without intrinsic (viz., evolved, inherited) dispositions to try this and that tentative solution-behavior for the attainment of some solution to a problem, creatures will not "give" anything to natural selection to approve or condemn.

The rubber-ball example Edward Feser uses in The Last Superstition to describe "the four causes" is, explicitly, anthropomorphic, but it is not meant to be an exhaustive demonstration of finality per se. It is an anthropomorphic analogy, and, as we all know, no analogy is perfect. He describes fourfold hylomorphic causation thus:

Efficient cause: workers in plant

Material cause: rubber

Formal cause: elastic sphere

Final cause: amusement of child

Since this seems too obviously anthropomorphic, how can the rubber ball example be generalized––de-anthropomorphized––to clarify finality per se?

Chrysippus, if memory serves, uses the analogy of a wooden ball rolling down a plane.

Material cause (Mc): the wood itself.

Efficient cause (Ec): the hand that sets the ball on the incline, or flicks it into motion.

Formal cause (FORc): the unified roundness of the ball.

Final cause (FINc): the bottom of the plane.

Or how about an atom?

Mc: its component "fundamental" particles.

Ec: the strong nuclear force.

: its "fundamental" particles as they coexist in a particular dynamic structure.

: orbital valence and reactivity with other suitable atoms.

In no case is the atom displaying a conscious aim to be a "good atom," but it is displaying an intrinsic tendency towards maintaining its own "law of finite being" based upon matter suitable for that dynamic structure. One kind of atom is not another kind of atom, even though they are subject to the same efficient causes and made of the same basic material constituents. This is just how we explain a concrete entity "scientifically": we enumerate its material and efficient "strictures" as they are integrated with (or "balanced by") its own dynamic tendency to maintain its particular structure precisely as its proper end.

Perhaps the most important thought to keep in the background while listing the four causes is this: Nature is not a homogeneous "sludge" of matter-in-motion, but is in fact a sort of "symphony" of discrete natures in dynamic interrelations with each other, each seeking its own endurance and/or integration into a larger whole. Why does each being seek its own good? Why does each species seeks its own propagation? The genome is perhaps one of the most vivid cases of the four causes, since the nucleotides (Mc), conjoined by electric bonds (Ec), are clearly ordered towards (FINc) a larger "product" which itself is the web in which (FORc) the discrete genes "all find their place." The genes your parents gave you existed only as the dynamic "software" of their hardware, and pass on successfully only as the incipient software of your hardware. Outside of the larger formal unity of your parents and you, and thus lacking the finality of functioning towards their survival and reproduction, the genome literally disintegrates.

As for the four causes of an electron, I am less willing to "go there." First of all, do electrons even have matter sufficient to be called "material objects"? Second, does it make sense to speak of "an electron" in the abstract? I don't think it does, since in nature electrons exist as formal constituents of atoms. Again, assuming they are "material", electrons display the same intrinsic tendency (intentio) toward maintaining their place in a dynamic relation to the rest of nature.

But, shoot, here's a stab at an Aristotelian analysis of an electron:

Mc: …whatever the hell an electron is. (Interestingly, even if we stipulate that electrons only "exist" as so-called margin-points at the interstices of other energy fields, they have a distinct material efficacy and dimensionality AS electrons.)

Ec: the force of the nucleus that draws the electrons to it and not to another atom. (Unless sufficient force under proper conditions, yada yada yada.)

: the resistance of an electron to collapse right into the nucleus. (Its formal "role" in the atom demands that it "assert" its own dynamic "place" in the form of the atom.)

: the particular dynamic integration of each electron in the orbital structure that the atom needs.

I suspect a materialist critic will want to retort, "But the bare electromagnetic forces and quantum fluctuations account for all that just fine. FINc and FORc are just theoretical ascriptions we impose on pure nature."

But, again, at the most reductionist level, nature is just disparate "fundamental" particles, but of course we do science at numerous levels of reduction, so we must recognize the concrete dynamism of entities that exist in their own way and, seemingly, for their own ends in defiance of the scattered "purity" of super-reduced nature. We don't analyze, much less understand, discrete monads; we grasp and explore dynamic wholes that function in relation to larger (or deeper) ends. This is precisely what James "Just Thomism" Chastek is getting at with this reminder: "The calcium making your leg bone is alive. If it breaks, it grows back together. Human calcium is a living thing." Calcium simpliciter does not "just up and" form bones or repair itself. Only once it is integrated as a formal constituent of a larger hylomorphic whole, does it find a vital finality that it lacks on its own. It "steps into its own," as it were, by "losing itself," as it were, in the higher aims and larger formal harmony of a human body. As with calcium and our body, so with us and the Body of Christ.

A meta-point that will help materialists understand just why these topics and this "lexicon" seem so alien and gratuitous: they are almost literally a foreign language to us. By us I mean those of us immersed in the Galilean, Cartesian, Newtonian worldview. Sure, Einstein and Bohr, et al., have tweaked everything in huge ways, but people still function on a default Newtonian mechanist Weltbild. As easy as it is for us to imagine vector line and angular notations in everything we observe, it was that easy for early moderns, medievals, and the ancients to grasp formal and final causation. We speak Newtonian, with an Einsteinian accent, while classical philosophy before (more or less) Descartes, speaks Aristotelian with a Thomistic accent. Hence, it is almost literally like you are trying to speak and hear a foreign language.

The debate really is not about Feser, or anyone he cites, "making up a lot of woo" in order to undermine science. The fourfold theory of causation was simply an integral component of classical, and then medieval, philosophy. The reason that Feser––merely as a spokesperson for "the tradition"––is dead-set on restoring that classical Weltbild, is not only because he (and I and our ilk) actually believe its modern nemesis is destructive to science, reason, and morality, but also, because modern philosophy has been hijacked by secularism. Hence, bad philosophy is getting not only the "props" for good science but also for the "death of God."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Design-space, selection pressure, neither––or both plus something more?

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"The notion of order is inseparable from that causality, which is itself an order of dependence. … The ability of a living being to move itself, even though it be only to assimilate and grow, involves therefore the organization of heterogeneous parts of which it is composed. This is why one says of living bodies that they are organisms or that living matter is organic [organiseé]. The finalism of Aristotle is an attempt to give a reason for the very existence of this organization. … To explain heterogeneous parts by the same principles which explain homogeneous parts is to leave deliberately unexplained the heterogeneity of the heterogeneous. … "

–– Étienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), pp. 3, 97.

Try this: extend your arm partly out, with the palm of your hand hanging facedown, like you stopped midway reaching for something, and hold that pose. Now try extending (i.e., lifting up) each finger one by one without moving any of the others: thumb, pointer, "bird", etc. Or try this: make a loos Black-Power fist, and try extending each finger one by one. What did you notice? Only the ring finger was hard to manipulate, right? Your ring finger kept "pulling" up a nearby finger, and it gave you an awkward tingle in the tendons of your wrist, right? (If I'm wrong, stop reading and go to your room!)

I mention this not as some kind of crude refutation of Berkeley's idealism, nor as a demonstration of mind-body interaction and the freedom of the will, but as an entry point into considering the standard Darwinian method of explaining current human anatomy and physiology. I will focus on what I see as twin parameters in the Darwinian method: selective pressure (based, of course, on reproductive advantage) and design-space constraints. I hope this reflection will raise interesting questions about the enduring role of teleology in the Darwinian method as it aims to be a coherent explanation of the natural order.

Selective pressure just has to do with the fact that some traits inherited by members of a relevantly connected population give some members bearing it a reproductive "edge" over others. For example, the fluke inheritance (by some panda in the jungle) of an ability to see green things more vividly than brown things, helps it find fresh leaves more easily, which, in turn, helps it live a longer and healthier life, during which time it can probably produce more offspring than its fellow pandas. As a result, its fluke acuity for green will be passed on in greater numbers, which will both give its offspring a similar advantage and undermines the viability of less acutely appeared-to-greenly pandas. Given enough time, acuity for green will become so common that a new selective Achilles' heel (or, a genetic ace in the sleeve) will take center stage. Alternatively, of course, the pandas' environment might have favored visual acuity for brown, such as if it helped pandas avoid stepping on a highly lethal species of viper in their habitat that looks to less acutely appeared-to-brownly pandas as just a stick on the ground. Obviously, the fluke inheritance of being vividly appeared-to-brownly-and-greenly will doubly enhance its bearer. Selection pressure will quickly promote such pandas at the longterm expense of their more myopic peers.

Design-space constraints have to do with the more global limits of "what evolution can do" in general, as opposed to what a local set of selection pressures favors or disfavors in one strand of evolutionary history. A common example is the eye as a trans-specific feature. Given the selective advantage of being able to see, species will thrive if they can develop some kind of visual apparatus. There is no inherent model, on the Darwinian model, for what these visual tools should look like or where they should be on a particular body in a particular species in a particular habitat. However, given the more global design limitations animals encounter on Earth (e.g., gravity, atmospheric contents, availability of potable water, seasons, ATP cycle, etc.), there are only so many viable ways for evolution to build an on-board optical device. Hence, humans, octopi, rabbits, and bats (whatever it might be like to be one of those), and basically all mobile species, not only all seem to have an "eye module," but also seem to share a core design concept, which is limited only by what is feasible in the general design-space of nature.

One of my favorite design-space limitations has to do with how large exoskeletons can be on Earth: spiders and crabs literally cannot develop past a certain size, or their own articulated exoskeletons will collapse on themselves. This is a truly global limitation (though not a lunar one)! On a smaller scale, design-space limitations might surface in the anatomy of one species, given the existence of other features already possessed by that species. For example, while it might be selectively advantageous to have a third eye in the back of our heads, and while this may pop up from time to time in our genetic history, by and large this feature will be a disadvantage for its transitional bearer, since it will not only, say, expose him to greater risk of infection (and thus brain fever, akin to fatalities associated with "the dangerous triangle" (possible yuck warning!)), or, say, compromise the strength of his already holey skull and lead to debilitating brain damage, and, in turn, not a lot of reproductive edge. The "reigning" design features of the human skull impose certain limitations on otherwise "clever" adjustments.

Now, here is what this has to do with the hand exercise I began with: it leads me to wonder how a Darwinian theorist would explain the awkwardness of our ring finger. Is it hard to extend this finger simply because of the design-space limitations imposed by adjacent fingers? Or has its awkwardness evolved in response to some kind of subtle selective advantage? Or, more importantly, does it even make sense to assign either kind of explanation to such a trivial feature of human anatomy? I assume the awkwardness of extending our ring finger is a nearly global human phenomenon. Hence, it seems to be just as wrapped up in the saga of natural selection as any other feature. Any capable Darwinist could, of course, devise a story as to "why" this strange handicap has occurred among humans. But it would seem very ad hoc, the kind of "just so" story the late Stephen Jay Gould accused too many evolutionists of confabulating. What possible selective advantage or disadvantage would this very common attribute of the human hand have sub specie evolutionis?

I raise this issue not to deny there is any such advantage, but simply to suggest that design-space limitations should get the lion's share of explanatory credit in the purely materialistic terms most Darwinists promote as a total worldview. Indeed, it seems difficult, in purely materialistic terms, to decide which features of our human nature any more or less intelligibly connected with selection than others. For, in purely materialistic terms, all our features have been developed––and conjoined––by sheer chance. There is nothing more "intrinsic" about our genitalia as formally advantageous means of reproduction than there is about our ring fingers, since either group of organs could have or could have had, a greater or lesser reproductive advantage under different selective pressures.

In any case, it seems far more rational to say our ring finger is as pitiful as it is because it's only got so much remaining design-space in which to adapt. Meanwhile, however, it is easy to spin off "reasons" why the thumb functions how it does (i.e., an opposable thumb enhances grip enhances eating enhances killing enhances breeding, etc.), or why the index and ring finger are so dexterous (i.e., similar reasons as opposable thumb, etc.). But, crucially, it is part of the neo-Darwinist method to forswear talk of "purpose" and "teleology" altogether in biological explanations. Therefore, since there is, by definition, no place for purpose in design-space limitations, it should be the primary mode of explanation for Darwinists. Since design-space limitations are the purest mode of nature blindly and bluntly using whatever comes into its grasp, the more ornate (and quickly apologetic) attempts to explain function and structure in terms of their adaptive goals, seem totally out of place in pure Darwinist terms. And yet, as Étienne Gilson explored in From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again, those terms pervade the history and vocabulary of biological and evolutionary thought.

What all this suggests to me is that the purest form of (non-teleological) Darwinist explanation reduces an explanation of natural history to a truncated form of a mere complete description of nature as we happen to find it. The thumb functions like it does, not so we can control and kill things better, but because it is attached to an arm that functions as it does, not so we can reach or move things, but because it is attached to a spine-cum-shoulder apparatus that functions as it does, not so we can reach higher and climb, but because it is attached to a hip-cum-leg system, etc., etc. In each case, these design-space explanations negate all mention of final causation (though, with their reminder of an organ's subsidiary role in an organism, they do smack of formal causation––but forget that for now), in order to address only the mechanical, efficient, purely material conditions of cause and effect––but in so doing they cease to be explanations of development as natural selection directed them towards greater fitness. They fail to be explanations of development in the same way a bare family tree waved in front of your face fails to be a cogent explanation of a family's history. I may see that Uncle Manfried was, in 1906, in Innsbruck, and then, in 1915, in Scranton, but I still lack any internal access to how this can be explained. I see, in other words, that Uncle Manfried's "Innsbruck part" is attached to his "Scranton part," but, without an insight as to why–-viz., to what end––this shift occurred, I lack a real explanation. This self-effacing but crucial "why" (dia ti), this "in view of which" (to ou eneka), is what Aristotle means by "the end" (telos).

Likewise, while I may see the various "family tree" attachments between this organ and that, or between this older fossil and that later one, we lack the means to explain their phylogenetic development as a naturally ordered phenomenon unless we add to these attachments "snapshots" a deeper ontological framework of teleology and formal integrity. To cite Gilson: "The notion of order is inseparable from that causality, which is itself an order of dependence [p. 3]." Unless the one fossil is somehow directed towards and formally conducive of the later fossil, they are, literally, not to be grouped under one explanation; at best, they are to be grouped in one bag of metaphysically discrete artifacts that happen to strike us "somehow related." I can see their development in terms of efficient and material causation only if, ex hypothesi, I see with my own eyes a three-eyed baby born of two-eyed parents, and then witness him survive and spawn a whole race of superior triclopic humans. Only if I admit there is a finality about his genetic endowment (viz., ordered to the flourishing of the species via his mutation), and a formal integrity between his parents, him, and his offspring, will I be able to explain these phenomena under one heading. Recall Gilson's stricture in the above quotation: "To explain heterogeneous parts by the same principles which explain homogeneous parts is to leave deliberately unexplained the heterogeneity of the heterogeneous [p. 97]." That is, to explain a materially heterogeneous but formally ordered natural phenomenon only in terms of the efficient, mechanistic causality of the various homogeneous structures within it (like atoms and chemicals), is not to explain the former at all.

What I suggest, then, is basically what Edward Feser argues for by the end of The Last Superstition: namely, that Darwinism either grow content with mere design-space descriptions, or restore proper respect to the role of final and formal causation along with efficient and material causation. Because the genetic code is directed towards the production of a viable human, and because it is the formal constitution of the nutrients (material cause) built into an infant in a woman's impregnated womb (efficient cause), I can coherently account not only for its place in the larger natural cycle of birth, competition, and death, but also can see how it might lead to later adaptive advantages or disadvantages in the larger "body" of the species. Thus, to cite Gilson once more, "true finalism" is concerned with "forms immanent in nature and working from within to incarnate themselves there by modeling matter according to their law [p. 99]." As Dennis Des Chene puts it (The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 86, as cited in TLS, p. 264, n. 49), "every power, exercised or not, has an object toward which it is directed––its intentio [or, entelechy]." Likewise, asks Celestine Bittle in The Domain of Being: Ontology (p. 364, as cited in loc. cit.), "what is a natural law, if not the expression of the inner tendencies of the nature of [physical things]?"

These final and formal dispositions of the human genome, among countless other natural entities, have, to draw on the distinction emphasized by Ric Machuga in his In Defense of the Soul, a per se causal cogency that as a specific natural cycle produces viable human, but which still allows for per accidens "flukes" and embryonic difficulties. To cite Machuga's own illustration, a geologist may be able to explain to his daughter the natural, per se mechanism by which a certain rock she finds on the path was formed, but he has no per se explanation, but only a per accidens shrug, as it were, for there being three distinct pink hearts on its surface. The kind of rock she finds is something nature produces per se, as a natural tendency, cycle, or disposition; the hearts she finds on it are something nature has indeed produced, but only per accidens. Hence, while it not only makes sense, in teleological and formal terms, to try explaining how natural selection per se "made" my "good" fingers (and humans' hands in general) to be the way they are, it also does not beg the question to admit there is no per se way to seek an explanation––as a theoretically coherent and formally natural process––how my awkward ring finger came to be the way it is by the per accidens effects of natural selection.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Always remember...

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...this much you know about yourself, in yourself:

...material systems, [advocates of modern Mechanistic Philosophy] tell us, are utterly devoid of final causality; but the mind is the clearest paradigm of final causality [viz., intentionality and rational desire]; hence the mind cannot possibly be any kind of material system, including the brain.

-- Edward Feser, The Last Superstition, p. 194

And to cite a work Feser references in TLS, on a similar theme:

… Heterogeneity of parts is required for the very possibility of that causality operating on itself which characterizes the growth of living beings.

For the same reason it is necessary that the heterogeneous parts of the living being make up a certain order. The notion of order is inseparable from that causality, which is itself an order of dependence. That which is cause under a certain aspect can be effect under another. The ability of a living being to move itself, even though it be only to assimilate and grow, involves therefore the organization of heterogeneous parts of which it is composed. This is why one says of living bodies that they are organisms or that living matter is organic [organiseé]. The finalism of Aristotle is an attempt to give a reason for the very existence of this organization.

Aristotle is often reproached for his anthropomorphism, that is to say, for his habit of considering nature from man's point of view. If to do so is an error, the reproach is justified, but Aristotle's attitude in this regard had nothing naive in it. He was conscious of it, just as he was of the reasons for adopting it. At the moment he begins the study of the parts of animals, he declares straightforwardly: "to begin with, we must take into consideration the parts of man. For, just as each nation reckons by that monetary standard with which it is most familiar, so must we do in other matters. And, of course, man is the animal with which are all most familiar [History of Animals, 491a]."

At first sight there is something disconcerting in this naivete. It seems far too simple to evaluate the parts of other animals in terms of those of the human body…. Upon reflection, however, is something to be said in favor of this proposition, for in a certain sense it is true. It is not necessarily that man may be better known to us than the rest [of creation], but, to begin with, whatever object is considered, the knowledge that we have of it is human knowledge which expresses itself in some human language; and, next, the knowledge which man has of himself, imperfect as it may be, is by nature privileged. In knowing himself man knows nature in a unique way, because in this unique case the nature that he knows, he is. In and through the knowledge which man has of himself nature knows herself directly; she becomes conscious of herself in him, self-conscious one might say, and there is strictly nothing else that man can hope to know in this way. Even other men … remain for him parts of the "external world." In fact, all the rest of the universe is and remains for him the external world. Since then there is no other knowledge for each of us other than our own knowledge, things known exist for us only in relation to ourselves, and among these things there is only one that we can apprehend directly in itself, and that is what we are and what each calls "I," "me."

… To explain heterogeneous parts by the same principles which explain homogeneous parts is to leave deliberately unexplained the heterogeneity of the heterogeneous.

–– Étienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), pp. 3–5

And again on page 97, Gilson comments:

…we should repeat that man is a part of nature, that he is a unique case in nature, a nature which knows itself from within, and that through man who is part of nature she knows herself directly from within. Everything happens as if, in producing man endowed with reason, nature continued, under the form of the production of the artisan, the work which she performed until then physiologically. It is a mistaken anthropomorphism to reason as if the two finalities worked in the same manner, as if nature fashioned an eye in the same manner that an optician fashions a telescope. But it is perhaps a legitimate anthropomorphism to think that two series of operations of analogous structure, and leading to comparable results, are in the last analysis of the same nature. Human craftsmanship continues the works of nature, and at times completes it, by entirely different means.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Chew on this…

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Gödel's second incompleteness theorem says that a recursively axiomatizable system that can interpret Robinson arithmetic can prove its own consistency only if it is inconsistent. Moreover, Robinson arithmetic can be interpreted in general set theory, a small fragment of [Zermelo-Fraenkel theorem with the axiom of choice]. Hence the consistency of ZFC cannot be proved within ZFC itself (unless it is actually inconsistent). Thus, to the extent that ZFC is identified with ordinary mathematics, the consistency of ZFC cannot be demonstrated in ordinary mathematics. The consistency of ZFC does follow from the existence of a weakly inaccessible cardinal, which is unprovable in ZFC if ZFC is consistent. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that ZFC harbors an unsuspected contradiction; if ZFC were inconsistent, it is widely believed that that fact would have been uncovered by now. This much is certain—ZFC is immune to the classic paradoxes of naive set theory: Russell's paradox, the Burali-Forti paradox, and Cantor's paradox.

Robinson arithmetic, or Q, is a finitely axiomatized fragment of Peano arithmetic (PA), first set out in Robinson (1950). Q is essentially PA without the axiom schema of induction.

In mathematical logic, the Peano axioms, also known as the Dedekind–Peano axioms or the Peano postulates, are a set of axioms for the natural numbers presented by the 19th century Italian mathematician Giuseppe Peano. … The Peano axioms contain three types of statements. The first four statements are general statements about equality; in modern treatments these are often considered axioms of pure logic. The next four axioms are first-order statements about natural numbers expressing the fundamental properties of the successor operation. The ninth, final axiom is a second order statement of the principle of mathematical induction over the natural numbers. A weaker first-order system called Peano arithmetic [PA] is obtained by replacing this second-order induction axiom with a first-order axiom schema.

All quotations cribbed from Wikipedia.