Monday, May 21, 2012

The First Mover

Now we're ready to tackle the First Mover Argument for the existence of God. It runs like this:

  1. Whatever changes must be changed by something else. 
  2. The causal series can't go on to infinity.
  3. Therefore, there must be a first mover.
  4. The first mover must itself be pure actuality: unmoved, unchanging, and unmovable.
  5. Therefore the first mover is God.
That last step sounds a bit of a non sequitur, which Feser himself admits. He says that Aquinas devotes hundreds of pages to making the connection - I'll take his word on that. It's the rest of the argument I'm interested in. 

Recall that in the discussion of local motion, Feser abandoned (1.), and replaced it with something like "Some things that changed are changed by something else." This is fatal to his argument, though. Here's how he argues for (4.) (p. 95-96, for those of you following along at home):

Now, a first mover in such a series must be itself unmoved or unchanging; for if it was moving or changing - that is, going from potential to actual - then there would have to be something outside it actualizing its potential, in which case it wouldn't be the first mover.

This obviously relies on the idea that everything that changes is being changed by something external to it. If only some things that change require an external changer, then the argument is just a non sequitur. 

Let's back up, though, and look at his argument for (2.) Feser says that Aquinas distinguishes between two types of causal series: accidentally ordered series and essentially ordered series. In an accidentally ordered causal series, the cause could have happened some time in the past: it need not be present to produce the effect. His example is a father, who was the "cause" of his son. The father need not be still alive, though, for the son to go on existing. In an essentially ordered series, the cause must be there for the effect to occur. The example is of a hand that pushes a rock using  a stick. If the stick were not touching the rock, it would not be moving it, and if the hand were not pushing the stick, it wouldn't be moving the rock. Feser chases the chain of causation to deeper and deeper levels: the hand's motion depends on the firing of neurons, which depends on the biochemistry of the cell, which depends on the atomic structure of the molecules, which depends on the fundamental forces that govern particle interactions.

An accidentally ordered causal series could go on to infinity, says Feser. But not an essentially ordered series. (Thus, (2.) only applies to essentially ordered causal series.) The reason is that in an essentially ordered series, the later members only exist because the earlier ones do: the stick's push against the rock is only there because of the action of the hand. Feser says, "...it is only the first member which is in the strictest sense really doing or actualizing anything." He gives the example of a series of freight cars pulling out of a train station: the car you see is pulled by the one in front of it, and that one by the one in front of it, and so on. But they can't be all freight cars; somewhere up there there must be an engine car initiating the whole series.

What is needed is an appeal to something that does have the power of movement in itself, such as an engine car.

There are two problems with all this. First, the idea that causes can be arranged in nice ordered chains as envisioned by Feser just doesn't accord with what we know about the way the universe works.


The example of the train engine is what Dennett calls an "intuition pump." It's an example designed to make you think, "Of course there has to be a first member of the series." Here's a different example to pump your intuition a different direction: Think about two masses, A and B, in circular orbits around their common center of mass.
http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/images/gravitation_orbit_center_of_mass_orbit_derivation_factors.gif
 The change in A's velocity is caused by B's gravity, and the change of B's velocity is caused by A's gravity. There's no need for one of these to be causally prior to the other.

Instead of nice ordered chains of causality, there are complex interconnecting webs of interactions. When all the causes are present at once, as they are in the situations Feser calls "essentially ordered chains,"  no one of them need be considered the "first."


 But even if we accept the idea that all causal chains are ordered, there is another problem from the physicist's point of view: everything in the world has the "power of movement in itself." Feser has slipped into talking about "movement," but recall that by this he really means "change." Changes, for the physicist, are the result of forces, and forces are part of the nature of those fundamental particles from which everything is made. It is the nature of massive particles to exert the gravitational force, of charged particles to exert the electromagnetic force, and so on. So any particle (or collection of particles) can be the "first mover" in the series.

(This post was written before I saw Feser's second response to my series. I will address his responses in a later post.)

53 comments:

  1. "The causal series can't go on to infinity."

    I don't even know if this is true. If you have something going at a certain speed and then half that speed and a certain internal of time, then keep halving it...the speed will approach zero, but never actually reach zero, right?

    And of course, since we're talking about the beginning of the universe here, we are talking about the beginning of time too. I don't understand how a first mover can be responsible for anything chronologically before time itself. It makes no sense.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Feser has wussed out by declaring his arguments immune from any possible findings from physics. I guess he does not realize that sticks, and stones, and trains are physical objects.

    Feser thus is no better better than Ken Ham.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Robert,

    Your explanation is an appeal to circular logic. It's a perfect example of the confusion between the scientific question "How?" and the metaphysical question "Why?". How does A move? B. How does B move? A. Scientifically, this explanation isn't terrible.

    Turn it into a metaphysical question, though, and everything falls apart. Why does B move A? A. Why does A move B? B. It's an infinite circle that explains absolutely nothing--equivalent to saying that the engine car's movement can be explained via the box cars. Unless either A or B is logically prior to the other, then nothing is explained. Luckily, in a real-world example, one of them would be logically prior. Let's say that B was moved into rotation with A by the cause B1. This makes A logically prior to B, which removes the circularity. However, A itself must be explained through more fundamental forces (A1) that determine its temperature, consistency and so forth; otherwise, it could not rotate with B. This makes A1 logically prior to A, and the Unmoved Mover returns.

    As for fundamental particles being First Movers: that doesn't work. These particles only have their attributes by virtue of something else. For example, the mass of any particle requires a further explanation, which mainstream science generally considers to be the Higgs boson. However, the Higgs itself requires yet another explanation, onward (seemingly) forever. A First Mover, by its nature, is something that does not change or require explanation in terms of anything else. As a result, no particle can be a First Mover.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Turn it into a metaphysical question, though, and everything falls apart. Why does B move A? A. Why does A move B? B. It's an infinite circle that explains absolutely"

      That makes no sense. It's not a metaphysical question and cannot be turned into one when the physics fails to please you.

      Delete
    2. Um, I was referring to the way Robert turned it into a metaphysical question. Was that not obvious?

      Don't bother answering that question. Whatever you say, I know it's going to be some kind of inane troll attempt. I will not be baited again.

      Delete
    3. I would rather see Prof Oerter answer RS.

      Delete
    4. rank sophist,

      "Um, I was referring to the way Robert turned it into a metaphysical question. Was that not obvious?"

      Gravitational force is not metaphysical. That's obvious to me.

      Delete
    5. rank wrote:
      "Let's say that B was moved into rotation with A by the cause B1. This makes A logically prior to B, which removes the circularity."

      But B1 would be part of an accidental causal series, not an essential causal series. And Feser says that you can't use an accidental causal series for the First Way (2. is no longer true).

      "As for fundamental particles being First Movers: that doesn't work. "

      I'm only using "first mover" here as whatever is first in the causal chain - assuming (3.) is true. To get to an unmoved First Mover from (3.) takes several more steps. Your argument is circular: it assumes the very conclusion that is in question.

      Delete
    6. >But B1 would be part of an accidental causal series, not an essential causal series.

      No it would be the first mover & starter of the essential series. Your claim only makes sense if you claim the two bodies orbiting each other never began to do so and have always done so. But you would still have to metaphysically account for their motion.

      That just doesn't happen anymore then an infinite number of un-powered boxcars really do pull a caboose on the proverbial train tracks.

      >And Feser says that you can't use an accidental causal series for the First Way (2. is no longer true).

      But you really haven't shown us how B1 is an accidental cause? You just labeled it such.

      Besides returning to the infinite boxcars can't account for pulling a caboose analogy. You don't defeat the analogy by postulating the boxcars and caboose are on an incline(in which case gravity serves the first cause replacement for the locomotive).

      Which applies back to your planets orbiting each other analogy. Gravity clearly is the first cause in this essential chain.

      So this criticism fails. I'll leave others to mop up.

      Good try thought boss.

      Peace be with you.

      Delete
    7. Robert,

      But B1 would be part of an accidental causal series, not an essential causal series. And Feser says that you can't use an accidental causal series for the First Way (2. is no longer true).

      Yes, B1 was an accidental cause. (Sorry, Ben.) My goal there was merely to show that A was logically prior to B, which allowed us to get away from the circular reasoning and re-establish a causal chain. (In other words, A1 -> A -> B. B pushes A around as well, but A is the beginning of this series from a logical standpoint.)

      However, B itself, like A, is under the effect of more fundamental forces (B2) that allow it to stay at a certain temperature, consistency and so forth, so that it can rotate with A. I didn't feel that it was particularly necessary to mention this in my first post, but I suppose I should have.

      Essential series converge in almost infinite ways, without losing their essential quality. I feel that a diagram of the A-B series might help make this clearer.

      A1 -> A
      v
      B2 -> B

      B1 (accidental cause) is excluded from this diagram for clarity.

      I'm only using "first mover" here as whatever is first in the causal chain - assuming (3.) is true. To get to an unmoved First Mover from (3.) takes several more steps. Your argument is circular: it assumes the very conclusion that is in question.

      I think you're confused, here. "First Mover", "Prime Mover" and "Unmoved Mover" are all names for the same concept. Particles can't be First Movers because, for a First Mover to be a First Mover, it must be first. It cannot rely on any other causes; otherwise, it would not be the first. As I said, particles rely on other things (such as the Higgs field) for their causal power, and therefore cannot be first in a causal chain.

      Delete
    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    9. Sorry, Blogspot broke the diagram. Should have previewed first. Allow me to fix it:

      A1 -> A
      --------v
      B2 -> B

      Delete
    10. RS

      Why wouldn't gravity be the first cause here in the essential series since it holds the whole thing together and is the cause of the planetary bodies orbiting the center of mass?

      Granted the examples of first causes in the essential chain given in TLS aren't absolute. The "hand that pushes the stick etc" is moved by muscles, nerve impulses, biochemical reactions, physics, Quantum physics etc so it's not strictly the first cause & as Feser says but is merely illustrative.

      Your thoughts?

      Delete
    11. Ben,

      As Oderberg describes in Real Essentialism, laws of nature like gravity are just abstractions. They are really "laws of natures"--intrinsic principles that objects possess. Conceiving laws of nature as ontologically real "rules" that are imposed from the outside is an old, long-refuted idea from the Enlightenment.

      This is why I didn't mention gravity as causing anything. Considered on its own, it doesn't cause anything. Rather, A and B just have gravity--it is not ontologically separate from them. Even if some kind of gravity-imparting particle was discovered, this would not change. Think of it in terms of the Unmoved Mover argument. You can't reduce "A causes B" to "God causes B"--this turns it into occasionalism, which explains nothing. (Come to think of it, "laws of nature" are a bit like naturalistic occasionalism...) Likewise, you can't coherently reduce "A causes B" to "gravity particles cause B". This is the correct way to look at it: "A causes B, but it has this causal power by virtue of a more fundamental process".

      However, as you can see, this reduces gravity from an "all-encompassing cause of everything" to "another link in the chain". These gravity particles--as physical, changing things--would require explanation in terms of yet another cause, and therefore could never be the First Mover of anything.

      Delete
    12. I think I am beginning to understand.

      Here is a thought. If Prof Oerter characterization "the causes are present at once, as they are in the situations Feser calls "essentially ordered chains," no one of them need be considered the "first." is correct then let us apply it to the Solar System. We all know the Earth doesn't so much revolve around the sun as it does the Solar Mass point.

      The orbits of the planets and the Sun around the Solar Mass point are an essentially ordered chain that has no member that can be considered first(according to Oerter).

      So does this mean that punk Galileo pretty much got what he deserved at the hands of the Church trying to prop up the sun?

      If we can't say that A=Sun is logically prior can we go back to a sort of nominal geocentracism?

      OTOH if you are correct the Sun would be logically prior and thus effectively the center of the solar system.

      Does this make sense? Because I am trying to be a smartass & cute here but I might have an intuition that tells me I am not succeeding.

      Any thoughts RS? Am I wrong? I don't mind if I am I just want to know.

      Delete
    13. Ben,

      I would need to know more about astronomical physics to answer that question with any kind of certainty. My initial impression is that the Sun would be logically prior, but I'm not sure. Oderberg mentions something along these lines with regard to essence: you begin with the most general categories (which are metaphysical), but, as you get closer to your target, science must be used to pin it down exactly. Such is the case with something like gold being "a metal with atomic number 79". This is a metaphysical statement about its essence, but scientific data is needed for it to be accurate.

      (As an aside, when I wrote that objects "have" gravity earlier, I should have mentioned that this applies even to stuff like quarks. Anything with mass has gravity.)

      Delete
  4. "A First Mover, by its nature, is something that does not change"

    How do you know that?

    ReplyDelete
  5. BI,

    Because the original name for "First Mover" is "Unmoved Mover". The entire argument rests on the concept that it actualizes other things but does not itself require actualization. Otherwise, it would be coherent to ask, "What moved the Unmoved Mover?"

    ReplyDelete
  6. Rank,

    So you are just assuming what you are trying to prove?

    I understand the concept of a first mover - that is, something that moves other things without it having been moved by something else. But why cannot the first move has as its nature the power to move and/or change itself? On it's own?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Unmoved Mover is purely actual, with no parts or potentials. It's infinite, simple and all-encompassing. As a result, it can't change. In extremely non-technical terms, however, it could be said to "change itself". This has nothing to do with the act/potency one-thing-causes-another system, though; or with any part (there are none) of the Mover being altered. Rather, the Unmoved Mover's will is the same as its action, meaning that it can cause anything that it "wants" (analogically) to. It might be said to "change itself" in that sense, but only in the loosest terms.

      Delete
    2. "The Unmoved Mover is purely actual, with no parts or potentials. It's infinite, simple and all-encompassing. As a result, it can't change."

      How do you know? What are your methods?

      Delete
    3. Why I'm letting you bait me into this, I have no idea. Feel free to object to any of these points, but your arguments had better be good.

      1. Because something that is purely actual is the only way to end the infinite regress of causes.

      2. Because something that is purely actual, by definition, cannot have potentials.

      3. Because something without potentials cannot have parts, since parts, by definition, are things that can be used potentially.

      4. Because something without parts or potentials must necessarily be simple, and therefore non-physical.

      5. Because something capable of actualizing all potentials, by definition, must be all-encompassing.

      6. Because something that is purely actual, all-encompassing and non-physical is infinite. Further arguments exist to solidify the infinity of the Unmoved Mover (namely, Ways 2-4), but this is reasonably strong as-is.

      Delete
    4. Rank,

      You have tied yourself up in a hopeless knot. You have admitted that the first mover can change itself. So the first mover cannot be pure actuality.

      It's easy to contradict yourself when your just making stuff up.

      Delete
    5. "Because something that is purely actual, by definition, cannot have potentials."

      Thomists really seem to think they can hide their muddled thinking by defining terms to suit their cause.

      Delete
    6. You have tied yourself up in a hopeless knot. You have admitted that the first mover can change itself. So the first mover cannot be pure actuality.

      It's easy to contradict yourself when your just making stuff up.


      I knew your dyslexia would show up sooner or later.

      Delete
  7. Of course the first, last and most persistent superstitions that Edward Fester promotes are the childish and even infantile mommy-daddy "creator"-God idea. And the obviously absurd idea about the presumed "resurrection" of Jesus, and the equally absurd notion that human beings, both individually and collectively are "saved" by the "death-and-resurrection" drama as "reported" in the Bible.

    No matter how sophisticated the apologetics for the "creator"-God idea seem to be, the notion of a "creator" implies that God is always apart and separate from "his" creation, including, necessarily human beings, the supposed pinnacle of "creation".

    When properly examined such is a terrifying description of humankind and the Cosmos, and completely God-less too.

    It is thus no wonder that Fester's politics are so dreadfully dismal too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. >(This post was written before I saw Feser's second response to my series. I will address his responses in a later post.)

    This post makes all the same mistakes as your other posts. You keep insisting on making an argument from physics and not one from metaphysics.

    Thus as a critique of the arguments found in THE LAST SUPERSTITION none of the ones you have given are successful and none rise beyond the level of one long category mistake.

    Prof Oerter did you learn any philosophy of science in your career?

    Do you understand at all the difference between philosophy vs empirical science?

    I am strongly skeptical.

    But you have been more polite and civilized then some of Feser's Atheist critics.

    Just sadly not anymore effective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Do you understand at all the difference between philosophy vs empirical science?"

      Does "Ben" understand that empiricism is a philosophic school? That science is (in some quarters) the rejected child of philosophy?

      Delete
    2. Of course but I have yet to see you ever make a philosophical case for it or deal with the contradictions is poses. You simply assume empiricism Ad hoc then judge religion or philosophy from empiricist standards.

      So far that has never been convincing.

      Delete
    3. Djindra,

      You do realize that empiricism and empirical science are two different things, correct? If not, I recommend that you refrain from making any further posts about philosophy.

      Delete
    4. BenYachov,

      "I have yet to see you ever make a philosophical case for it or deal with the contradictions is poses. You simply assume empiricism Ad hoc then judge religion or philosophy from empiricist standards."

      I am not a "hard" empiricist. I don't believe all knowledge comes through experience and only through experience. Every school can be taken to ridiculous extremes. We are not born blank slates. We know certain foods taste good, certain human faces are beautiful and certain smells are bad because we're programmed to respond in certain ways. That knowledge is not derived from experience -- that is, not through an individual's experience.

      But in general, I would defend empiricism by its successes. Now you might claim that's circular reasoning. But I'd call it feedback with a known, universally accessible standard by which we can detect failure -- something outside ourselves. I don't think your system has that -- at least not to a meaningful degree. So the other tact I would take is to show why non-empirical knowledge is more suspect than empirically derived knowledge. So empiricism wins not because I can "prove" it with a mathematical certainty, but because it's the best (or more likely) means to an end.

      Delete
  9. According to Turing, at the fundamental level of physics all of these various types of causes reduce to algorithms. If it's physical, then you can model it computationally. If it ain't, then you can't.

    A lot of these problems about actualisation of potentials, changes, movers and unmoved movers derive from the belief in a fundamentally static universe in which change is exceptional.

    However, the problems surrounding these concepts disappear if we accept a view of the universe in which change is ontologically fundamental, and the 'existence' of phenomena is secondary. All functioning phenomena are impermanent, and, viewed from a long enough timescale, all objects are processes.

    Even an isolated electron minding its own business is not the same from one microsecond to the next. It's an impermanent, constantly evolving quantum wave-thingy. And a perfect vacuum is a seething mass of virtual stuff popping into and out of 'existence' for no sensible reason.

    The exceptional features of the universe are things that appear to 'exist' or endure, not things that change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @seanrobsville

      What you doing here to put it in simplistic terms is advocating the metaphysics of Heraclitus over and against that of Aristotle's metaphysics.

      Well I don't know what a philosophical defense of Heraclitus might look like & of course it must be given with a philosophical criticism of Aristotle.

      But you my friend have actually more then anyone here including Prof Oerter come close to trying to answer Prof Feser.

      You are making the beginnings of a philosophical response.

      I am impressed and pleased at least someone is trying to argue philosophy.

      Prof Oerter seriously scrap what you are doing try listing to Sean.

      Delete
    2. "What you doing here to put it in simplistic terms is advocating the metaphysics of Heraclitus over and against that of Aristotle's metaphysics."

      Exactly!

      Delete
  10. Prof. Oerter,
    I think both you and I would want to say that the cause of A's change in velocity is B's massiness, and vice versa, so that the chain of causality appears to run in a circle. I suspect, though, that an Aristotelian might say that the cause is B's massiness being actual, and the next step in the chain is to ask what caused the actualisation of B's massiness. Quite where we go from here perhaps awaits a response from Ed Feser.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The problem is Prof Oerter's Scientism driven belief he can refute Aristotle's metaphysics with physics.

      He is doomed to fail. He needs a philosophical argument like Sean the Buddhist.

      Delete
  11. Prof Oerter,

    I would like to read a good defense, or at least explication, of the First Way as the scholastics understood it. But Feser’s account seems... so thin. I realize that you are summarizing from a book, but still, the discussion appears to imply Feser doesn’t fill up the gaps in his book. Is this so, or are most of these gaps actually addressed?

    1. Your quote indicates that Feser’s defense of what he terms the “causal principle” (1) is two, very brief, one-line arguments: (i) setting up the straw man that “[a] potential ...precisely because it is merely potential, cannot actualize itself” (it is the actuality of the thing that changes, not the potential “actualizing” anything), and (ii) “ if a potential could actualize itself, there would be no way to explain why it does so at one time rather than another” (the actuality [physical quantum state] of all things indeed changes indeterministically, with no explanation why it changes when it does - so what?). That is, above all, an extremely BRIEF argument for what is perhaps the main premise of the First Way. Even your own brief 5-point argument in your “Metaphysics > Physics” post is longer and (as a result) clearer! Is the above really all Feser does by way of justifying the “causal principle”?

    2. This chaining rule [the first premise of a cosmological argument] is bad. On its own, it only connects to one past object - the actuality that actualized the change. Aquinas himself says “*IF* that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another” [my emphasis]. So you only actually get regression if you add another principle or premise to the argument. There is a gap in the logic here.

    3. Feser’s argument against infinity [a second major premise of nearly all cosmological arguments] is again amazingly shallow, seeming to essentially repeat verbatim what Aquinas himself says [“this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover” - Summa Theologica]. This is a naive treatment of the paradoxes of infinity, something for which Aquinas can be excused but from our 21st-century Feser I would expect more. Doesn’t he provide other arguments against infinity, or at least brings this sorry “argument” more meat - like, I don’t know, cashing it out in formal logic? Asserting that “ ...it is only the first member which is in the strictest sense really doing or actualizing anything" is only a rephrasing Aquinas, not explaining and showing why he is right. Nor does raising “examples” like trains does anything to actually justify the premise - it may help to clarify it, but what I’m looking for here is justification, not clarification.

    4. Even if granted, these premises only establish that there is a first element that WAS not “put in motion” - past tense. There is nothing to indicate that, having put the chain of events into motion, the first element would now be barred from changing. In other words, there is a giant gap between step 3 (establishing a first mover) and 4 (claiming that it is pure actuality).

    5. Does Feser truly does not deal with the fact that having a first-element to every [essential] causal chain is not the same as having the SAME first element to every [essential] causal chain?! That is another serious gap.

    ...

    ReplyDelete
  12. ...

    6. Does Feser truly not deal with the fact that even if accepted, the above premises only lead to a dichotomy between a circular and finite chain of causes?! [You insist on “networks” of causes, but I find circularity within them is the only feature that matters.] Yet another gap.

    7. Feser seems to vascillate between different formulations of the “causality principle”. The idea that “Whatever changes is changed by something else” talks about different THINGS, and hence establishes a chain of THINGS (at best). Yet the principles are explained by “potentials” and “actualities” that “actualize themselves” or not - not by things. The gap here is perhaps less germane to the argument, but is annoying.

    8. Finally - does Feser ever explain why we should attribute a quasi-reality to the “potential” of something, instead of adopting the Parmedian view that change IS an illusion, that what exists exists as it actually is, and view potentials [phase space] merely as modes of description, in the standard Humean way? Does he ever explain how an actuality CAN actualize anything? How can it actualize one thing rather than another thing? In short - does he ever justify the Aristotelian metaphysics that underlies his Thomistic account?

    There is also the "gap problem", of identifying the first cause/mover with god - but sure, let that slide for now. The rest of the argument seems just... presented too briefly and lacking sufficient rigor.

    Is this really the best we can have on the Scholastic view? Surely, there is a more rigorous, extensive contemporary source?

    Yair

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yair,

      The simple solution to your many questions of Prof Oerter about Feser's book is to obtain a copy for yourself and read it and see if your understanding of the Book jives with his.

      I have read TLS, AQUINAS, and posts on Feser's blog about AT metaphysics and I have in other post threads here accused Prof Oerter of misreading and misunderstanding Feser.

      Not willfully or with any malice mind you. Prof Oerter both here and originally over at the Dangerous Minds blog has confessed to not understanding philosophy. He has also asked us to excuse him if he gets it wrong in some of his responses as he wants clarification to understand the concepts better. That is very noble and I respect that sentiment).

      Thus as someone with scientific sympathy and knowledge a duplicating of results is required.

      You should read the book for yourself rather then believe Oerter or me. At least you would have common ground with both him and I.

      When I get around to it I'll see if I can scrounge up some links too a defense of the FIRST WAY and AT philosophy to get you up to speed.

      Cheers and Regards.

      Delete
    2. BenYacov -

      My time - and money - is severely limited. I might pick up the book in time, but only if I'll be reasonably certain I will find the experience of reading it worth-while. At this point, I frankly doubt it - Oerter's critique and especially the discussions around me leave me with the impressions Fesser simply isn't adressing key points and is trying to explain rather than justify clearly. This is supported by ranksophist's characterization of the book, too - and he's a fan. So I'm left to conclude this is simply not the book I'm looking for. If you can point me to a more rigorous, careful, and clear analysis - I'd be grateful.

      Yair

      Delete
    3. I recommend the book, nonetheless. Feser is more detailed in some areas than others, but the book earned him a high-five from Anthony Kenny (one of the biggest contemporary critics of Aquinas). Having read it end-to-end, I can tell you that Robert misunderstood several of the arguments that Feser made therein. It is one of the best defenses of final causality that exists today.

      Anyway, if you want more meat, David Oderberg's Real Essentialism is the place to look. He covers hylemorphism and act/potency in more detail than I've seen in any other single source. He also defends these ideas against the most prominent and well-informed arguments of contemporary philosophy. I've heard similar things about Feser's Aquinas, which I have not yet read. Feser's blog is another good place to check out.

      Also, do you plan to respond to my posts below? If I had realized that you weren't interested in a detailed argument, I wouldn't have bothered writing so much.

      Delete
    4. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll consider purchasing both books - although certainly not in the immediate future in any case (reading such a book, critically, would take much time I cannot afford). "Real Essentialism" sounds more promising, but is also more expensive. Hmph. Well, we'll see.

      Sorry for not continuing the discussion. My original post was seeking information on the book's comprehensiveness, no more. However, your points tempt me. I will make a reply in the next few days. (I have very little time, so if you want to continue the discussion - I'm afraid you'll have to be patient.)

      Cheers,

      Yair

      Delete
    5. Hi, Yair,

      I think it's fair to say that, yes, TLS really is that thin. I think you can safely skip it. Maybe his Aquinas - written for a professional audience, presumably - is better. I haven't read it.

      Delete
    6. So I take it you didn't read the footnotes or look up any of the books in the bibliography? Or any of the papers cited? That's not reading a book that's skimming it boss.

      To date you have been treating TLS in isolation as sort of Sola TLS. Which doesn't make any sense. Should I get a copy of A THEORY OF (ALMOST) EVERYTHING & read it exclusively & ignore anything else you have written while reading it not as a book on theoretical physics but treat it like a book of metaphysics?

      Would that work or would it be a disaster?

      Boss you kept insisting on treating the argument from motion as a physics problem and not a metaphysics problem.

      Thus I maintain respectfully none of your critiques to date are valid & remain category mistakes.

      But I still salute the effort you put into even if I think it failed to convince me on rational grounds.

      Delete
  13. Yair,

    Not to be snarky, but you do realize that The Last Superstition is aimed at a general interest audience, right? Feser's goal was not to get into the dry, difficult, technical stuff, but to provide an access point for this material. Even then, there is more meat to his arguments than you realize. Let me take a shot at your objections.

    1. Your quote indicates that Feser’s defense of what he terms the “causal principle” (1) is two, very brief, one-line arguments: (i) setting up the straw man that “[a] potential ...precisely because it is merely potential, cannot actualize itself” (it is the actuality of the thing that changes, not the potential “actualizing” anything), and (ii) “ if a potential could actualize itself, there would be no way to explain why it does so at one time rather than another” (the actuality [physical quantum state] of all things indeed changes indeterministically, with no explanation why it changes when it does - so what?). That is, above all, an extremely BRIEF argument for what is perhaps the main premise of the First Way. Even your own brief 5-point argument in your “Metaphysics > Physics” post is longer and (as a result) clearer! Is the above really all Feser does by way of justifying the “causal principle”?

    Feser is appealing to the traditional Aristotelian framework for explaining change. Back in the day (way back), the philosopher Parmenides denied that change was possible through a priori reasoning. His arguments are still impressive, and they were considered unbeatable at the time; but I won't get into them here. Suffice it to say that the result was a kind of idealism with a decidedly Cartesian bent. Aristotle wanted to show that the common sense understanding of change was not an illusion, and so he created a metaphysical system to explain how it was logically possible.

    In this system, there is a distinction made between "actuality" and "potentiality". Actuality could be described as "current existence", while potentiality is "potential existence". My mousepad is actual as it sits here on my desk, but it has the potential to be, for example, set on fire. However, potentiality considered on its own is just an abstraction, so it is incapable of doing anything. Part of Parmenides' paradox rested on this idea: that nothing can come from nothing, and things like potentiality, being nothing in particular, cannot change anything. Aristotle agreed with this, but got around it by saying that only something actual can change something from potentiality to actuality.

    As a result, my mouse pad can potentially be set on fire, but something actual must enact that change. If one was to deny act and potency, it would be necessary to explain from scratch how change is even possible, which takes us back to the Greeks again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 2. This chaining rule [the first premise of a cosmological argument] is bad. On its own, it only connects to one past object - the actuality that actualized the change. Aquinas himself says “*IF* that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another” [my emphasis]. So you only actually get regression if you add another principle or premise to the argument. There is a gap in the logic here.

      If something actual is needed to actualize a potential, then a chain automatically appears. No logical flaw here. Two kinds of chains are possible: those ordered "essentially", and those ordered "accidentally" (using an old definition of that word). An essential chain is when one cause relies on another to sustain its causal power. In an earlier thread here, I gave the example of a monitor cord leading to a monitor. However, any actuality-potentiality hybrid that is sustaining something else must necessary be getting that sustaining power from a further source. The monitor cord has no power unless it's plugged into a tower, which in turn must be plugged into a wall, etc. For an accidental series, the effect does not need a sustaining cause. For example, a man might set a fire and then blink out of existence; but the fire would remain.

      3. Feser’s argument against infinity [a second major premise of nearly all cosmological arguments] is again amazingly shallow, seeming to essentially repeat verbatim what Aquinas himself says [“this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover” - Summa Theologica]. This is a naive treatment of the paradoxes of infinity, something for which Aquinas can be excused but from our 21st-century Feser I would expect more. Doesn’t he provide other arguments against infinity, or at least brings this sorry “argument” more meat - like, I don’t know, cashing it out in formal logic? Asserting that “ ...it is only the first member which is in the strictest sense really doing or actualizing anything" is only a rephrasing Aquinas, not explaining and showing why he is right. Nor does raising “examples” like trains does anything to actually justify the premise - it may help to clarify it, but what I’m looking for here is justification, not clarification.

      If the chain went to infinity, then you'd be dealing with a logical infinite regress, which is a fallacy. It would fail to explain anything at all. It is logically necessary that a pure actuality be at the bottom of all essentially ordered chains.

      Delete
    2. 4. Even if granted, these premises only establish that there is a first element that WAS not “put in motion” - past tense. There is nothing to indicate that, having put the chain of events into motion, the first element would now be barred from changing. In other words, there is a giant gap between step 3 (establishing a first mover) and 4 (claiming that it is pure actuality).

      Only something that is purely actual is incapable of change. Only something that is incapable of change can stop the regress of changes--otherwise, you could ask for an explanation of the First Mover as well, and the problem would resume.

      Also, the First Mover did not "set things in motion". Rather, it is what actualizes all essentially ordered change at every moment.

      5. Does Feser truly does not deal with the fact that having a first-element to every [essential] causal chain is not the same as having the SAME first element to every [essential] causal chain?! That is another serious gap.

      He deals with it. It's quite simple from a logical standpoint. The idea that there could be more than one pure actuality fails for two reasons. First, pure actuality has no parts or potentials, and therefore cannot be divided; which means that separate "pure actualities" would be contradictory. Second, it violates Occam's razor, because only one pure actuality is needed to explain change.

      8. Finally - does Feser ever explain why we should attribute a quasi-reality to the “potential” of something, instead of adopting the Parmedian view that change IS an illusion, that what exists exists as it actually is, and view potentials [phase space] merely as modes of description, in the standard Humean way? Does he ever explain how an actuality CAN actualize anything? How can it actualize one thing rather than another thing? In short - does he ever justify the Aristotelian metaphysics that underlies his Thomistic account?

      I didn't know you were familiar with Parmenides. In any case, Parmenides viewed reality to be an illusion; not just change. All of reality is a series of changes, and so everything we see must be an illusion.

      As for why something can actualize one thing rather than another, one must appeal to hylomorphism--which is a topic for another day.

      Delete
    3. ranksophist -

      "Not to be snarky, but you do realize that The Last Superstition is aimed at a general interest audience, right?"

      I don't think there IS a general interest audience for scholastic philosophy... but yes, I get your point. It appears the book just isn't written for my needs and interests.

      As for the rest of your comments - I'm sorry, but I can't afford to respond at length. I did read and think about them. Overall, I'd say that I'm a Parmenidiean still, and more importantly for this present discussion that even if A-T arguments can be made in defense against some of my points above it appears, from your comments, that Fesser mostly doesn't address them directly, at least. In other words - it appears his formulation of the argument is intended to elucidate it, not to rigorously pursue it.


      Cheers,

      Yair

      Delete
    4. But you have made this judgment from a refusal to read the book.

      Therefore it's empirically meaningless.

      Delete
  14. ranksophist -

    I think it's safe to say that I won't "make a reply in the next few days" by now. Sorry, real-life commitments are just too much for me right now, I simply cannot afford to take the time for such a discussion. I apologize.

    Yair

    ReplyDelete
  15. Something causally prior need not imply temporally prior (cf. this article and "Some Causes of the Elimination of Causality in Contemporary Science" by Gerald F. Kreyche).

    The latter article quotes C. S. Peirce:

    Whether we ought to say that a force is an acceleration, or that it causes an acceleration, is a mere question of propriety of language . . . . Consequently, if we know what the effects of force are, we are acquainted with every fact which is implied in saying that a force exists, and there is nothing more to know. {Charles S. Peirce, Values in a Universe of Chance, ed. Philip P. Wiener
    (Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1958), p. 129.)}

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Alan. I'm not sure if you're agreeing or disagreeing with me.

      In my example, mass A causes B's change of velocity, and B causes A's. They are simultaneous. But is one of these causally prior to the other?

      Delete