Previous episodes in this exciting series, now drawing toward its thrilling climax:
- Background lays out the history of the Argument from Motion and the impatience of those who demand that it prove more than it asserts to prove (e.g., that it prove that Jesus is Lord or some such thing, as if the objector were genuinely concerned about this shortfall). The initial proposition in Euclid does not prove every conclusion in Euclid, and the same is true in other sciences as well.
- Part I A Moving Tale discusses the concept of "motion" used in the Argument from Motion, and how this is persistently misunderstood today. Kinesis means the actualization of a potential, so "change" is a better summation of the concept than the modern term "motion," which to the our ears sounds like local motion only.
Recall that we are using "motion," "change," "actualization [of a potential]," and "kinesis" as synonyms.
- Part II Two Lemmas demonstrate that
- Whatever is being actualized right now is being actualized by another. In many cases, a thing is changing as a whole because it is being changed by one of its parts. The cat crosses the room to the milk dish because its legs are moving it; its legs are being moved by its muscles, etc. This is because the changer must be actual while the changee must be in potency and what is in potency cannot make something else actual.
- There cannot be an infinite regress of instrumental changers, since an instrumental actualizer has no power to actualize diddly squat unless it is concurrently being actualized itself. Obvious instrumental changers include... well, instruments: golf clubs, clarinets, et al., which have no power to strike balls, make music, etc. unless they are concurrently being employed by a golfer or musician. Not all instruments are obvious: e.g., the muscles are used instrumentally by the nerves to move the arms. But not all changers are instrumental, either, and such "accidental" series can in principle (if not in fact) regress without limit.
We are now ready for the Big Kahuna:
Theorem 1. There must exist a primary actualizer that is itself not being actualized by another.
- Some things in the world are changing. (Observation)
- Whatever is changing is being changed by another. (Lemma 1)
- There cannot be an infinite regress of instrumental changers. (Lemma 2)
- Therefore, there must be a changer that is not itself being changed by another.
|Some folks deny that there must be a First Gear that transmits drive|
to all the others. Or they suppose that the motion of the gears could
be explained if only there were enough gears. But then some
people can believe six impossible things before breakfast.
BTW, notice that the proof does not say that because a sequence of actualizers cannot regress indefinitely, therefore a primary actualizer must exist. Rather, the necessary existence of a primary actualizer (in an essentially-ordered series) is the reason why the sequence cannot regress indefinitely. If there were no drive gear, none of the gears would move.
A second point to note is that the actualizations are concurrent. They do not go backward in time to some remote First Gear, or to some Primordial Sharon Kam. It's all happening right now, baby. The First Gear is right over here; Sharon Kam is right there on stage.
[But TOF, I hear you say, won't there be a time lag between when the first gear begins to turn and the last gear "feels" the motion? Yes. So what? The motion of the last gear is still dependent on the concurrent motion of the first. Remember, kinesis means "change." If the first gear stops turning, the last gear will stop turning just as soon as the impetus already given it by the first gear is dissipated.]
Some KvetchesIs that all, TOF? [TOF hears you say.] Then why the angst? Why the resistance? Why do so many otherwise smart people make fools of themselves by denying the freaking obvious? It is simple, grasshopper. At the conclusion of the Argument from Motion, Aquinas adds the teaser, "And this all men call God."
And that sends those with strong emotional commitments into conniption fits, weaving and tap dancing to avoid an otherwise harmless conclusion. So they raise patent absurdities: things can so move themselves! A sequence of movers can so regress forever! All men call this God? Sez who? And so forth. Most of these have been dealt with in the previous two posts, but let's summarize:
|The First Domino is not God|
There should be a rule that the first person to raise quantum theory (or rather, the Copenhagen Interpretation of the mechanics) loses the debate immediately. It's not as if everything's all settled for good. (See Popper for details.) Even in quantum mechanics, things don't move themselves, parts move wholes, and so on. In this context, and especially for those who object to the whole potency-act thingie or the idea of formal causation, two quotes of Werner Heisenberg, whom we might call "Mr. Quantum Theory" himself, are apropos:
“[T]he atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”and
“[T]he smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language.”(Heisenberg belonged to the last generation of physicists to move comfortably in philosophy.¹ It was also the last generation to make breakthrough discoveries in physics. No doubt a coincidence.)
An objector once cited protons as an example of things that assembled themselves, that they did so back in the Long Ago times of physics legend. Of course, self-assembly is what nature does.² But it is the quarks (assuming they exist) that assemble into protons (assuming they exist). The proton is the final cause of the quark. (Yes, and so is the neutron.) And the gauge bosons would seem to be the efficient causes. But the proton hardly poofs itself into being all by itself.
1. Heisenberg's insights. See also the precis of the Heisenberg-Lukacs discussions (1968) in Ch.3 "History and Physics," in Lukacs, Remembered Past: a Reader (ISI Books, 2005) Lukacs' greatest surprise was that none of the other physicists with whom he discussed the matter seemed interested in the implications of the Uncertainty Principle. They acknowledged it was true, but were not inclined to follow Heisenberg's lead. The flight from philosophy had already begun.
2. self-assembly is what nature does. Recall Aquinas:
"[N]ature seems to differ from art only because nature is an intrinsic principle and art is an extrinsic principle. For if the art of ship building were intrinsic to wood, a ship would have been made by nature in the same way as it is made by art. ... Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship."
Objection: A sequence of movers can too regress indefinitely because... multiverse!
At least regress until you hit the Big Bang. The purpose of course is to deny the best current physics, since it has become metaphysically inconvenient to those who deny the utility of metaphysics. This argumentum ab multiverso is often raised by folks who in any other circumstance would likely howl for "empirical evidence." It is based on the false belief that the necessity of a prime mover has something to do with temporal sequences and therefore if they only had an eternal universe they could stop Aristotle in his tracks.
But Aquinas assumed that the universe was eternal (cf. also Summa theol. I.46.2) and thus had room in it for lots of infinite sequences. He points out explicitly that a sequence ordered per accidens can in principle regress indefinitely:
In efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity "per se"—thus, there cannot be an infinite number of causes that are "per se" required for a certain effect; for instance, that a stone be moved by a stick, the stick by the hand, and so on to infinity. But it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes; for instance, if all the causes thus infinitely multiplied should have the order of only one cause, their multiplication being accidental, as an artificer acts by means of many hammers accidentally, because one after the other may be broken. It is accidental, therefore, that one particular hammer acts after the action of another; and likewise it is accidental to this particular man as generator to be generated by another man; for he generates as a man, and not as the son of another man. For all men generating hold one grade in efficient causes—viz. the grade of a particular generator. Hence it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity; but such a thing would be impossible if the generation of this man depended upon this man, and on an elementary body, and on the sun, and so on to infinity.Only an essentially-ordered sequence requires a first mover. Many folks don't understand Aquinas's insistence that the causal series in his first three ways cannot proceed in infinitum, largely because they don't understand the reasons for that insistence.
-- Summa theologica Part I, Q46, Art.2, reply obj. 7
Moderns imagine causation as a temporal relationship: the cause coming before the effect in time. This is so in many instances, but not in all cases; and even when it is, it is the ontological dependency, not the temporal sequence that matters.
Besides, Aquinas already mentioned multiple worlds¹ (Summa theol. I.25.5) when he wrote:
"Although this order of things be restricted to what now exists, the divine power and wisdom are not thus restricted. Whence, although no other order would be suitable and good to the things which now are, yet God can do other things and impose upon them another order."
-- Summa theologica Part I, Q25, Art.5, reply obj. 3
- Efficient and final causes are (at least sometimes) causes only of the coming-to-be of something, but not causes of its being. A teacher may construct a triangle on a blackboard in order to illustrate Euclid's first two propositions. The teacher is the efficient cause of that triangle and the final cause is to instruct the students. But neither one is a cause of its being a triangle. Rather, they are causes of its coming-to-be.
- Formal and material causes are always causes of the thing’s being. The three-sidedness (formal cause) and the chalk (material cause) are what makes the thing a triangle as such. (Other triangles may be constructed of other matter, of course: pencil, felt, marker, etc.)
Hence, sometimes it is only the becoming of the thing in question, not its being, that is ontologically dependent on a particular cause. This triangle exists only so long as its matter (chalk) and form (three-sidedness) exist. Its existence is simultaneous with these causes, and it will continue to exist as long as these causes continue to act. It will go out of existence if the chalk or the three-sidedness vanish under the harsh critique of an eraser. But it will not go out of existence if the teacher who drew it vanishes in the Rapture or if the students for whose instruction it was drawn were to sleep through the whole affair!
The delightfully-named Caleb Cohoe (p. 12) puts it this way:
Many commentators, especially those who are not specialists in medieval philosophy, are tempted to read the first way as talking about a temporal succession of movers where each mover has been moved by some earlier mover at some point in time but whose current ability to act as a mover does not now depend on being moved by the earlier mover. [As in the toppling domnioes -- TOF] When understood this way, Aquinas’s denial of the possibility of an infinite series seems, as [Bertrand] Russell and Hick suggest, to involve a cognitive failure to grasp that an infinite series is, in fact, a possibility.In Russell's view, Aquinas might have "some background argument against the infinite which he is assuming in his proof." But in fact, the Dumb Ox's head is at another place entirely. The series of actualizers is ordered in terms of ontological dependence, not temporal succession. The golf club striking the ball or the clarinet playing the music are examples. The club has the power to act as a mover only insofar as it is being swung by Tiger Woods. The clarinet has the power to act as a music-maker only insofar as it is being played by Sharon Kam. The moving power of the instruments depends on their being moved concurrently by something that does have the power to move. Instrumental causes "transmit" the motion; they do not originate it.
1. multiple worlds is not the same as the multiverse, although objectors seldom seem cognizant of this fact.
A short but necessary reminder. In a series ordered per accidens, such as a sequence of toppling dominoes, each member of the series possesses in itself the power to actualize another even if prior movers vanish. Each domino, once set in motion by its predecessor, will continue to topple, striking down the next domino in line, regardless whether the previous domino vanishes from the universe an instant later. But since one may argue the concurrent action of another mover -- the gravity of the Earth -- moving the toppling domino, try another accidental series: a series of mothers giving birth to a daughter. The power of a mother to give birth (yes, it is a kinesis) is one possessed naturally by each mother regardless whether or not her own mother continues to exist.This is not true of the golf drive or the clarinet concerto.
For example, given that Tiger Woods swings his arms, which swing the club, which launches the ball, it makes perfectly good sense to say that Tiger Woods drove the ball. But in a sequence in which Ora gave birth to Elsie, who gave birth to Margie, it makes no sense at all to say that Ora gave birth to Margie.
|An essentially ordered series: the vase supports the flower,|
the table supports the vase, the floor supports the table.
All supporters must be acting concurrently.
In the golf swing, all the movers in the series must act concurrently: Tiger's intent, the motor neurons, the nerves, the muscles, the arms, the club. (Note: "concurrent" isn't "instantaneous," so if you uttered that phorbidden word, wash your mouth out with soap.)
Schematically, the difference can be seen as independence or dependence of the causal power:
- Accidentally ordered series: (v→w)→(w→x)→(x→y).
- Essentially ordered series: (v→(w→(x→y))).
In an essentially-ordered series, v is not causing w. Rather, v is causing w to cause x. The causal power of w is ontologically dependent on v, not simply subsequent to it. Hence, in the table example above, right, the floor is supporting the table's supporting of the vase.
|The universe of Lawrence Krauss|
Accidentally-ordered series are "horizontal" while essentially-ordered series are vertical. The first goes back in time; while the second drills down in the present. While a temporal sequence may regress infinitely (provided the space-time continuum is eternal), a vertical sequence cannot. Suppose a flower sits in a vase of water which sits on a table. The vase supports the flower, the table supports the vase, the floor supports the table, the earth supports the floor, the Four Elephants support the earth, the Great Tortoise supports the elephants. It makes no sense to say that it is then "turtles all the way down" for that is tantamount to saying that none of it is supported at all.
Objection: "If everything has a cause, what caused god? Or are you making an arbitrary exception for your god, hunh?
Aquinas does not insist that everything has a cause. He holds (in ST Ia 115.6) that things that happen by luck or chance, have no pre-existing natural cause:
But in natural things there is no such principle, endowed with freedom to follow or not to follow the impressions produced by heavenly agents. Wherefore it seems that in such things at least, everything happens of necessity; according to the reasoning of some of the ancients who supposing that everything that is, has a cause; and that, given the cause, the effect follows of necessity; concluded that all things happen of necessity. This opinion is refuted by Aristotle (Metaph. vi, Did. v, 3) as to this double supposition.IOW, it was the mechanists among the ancients who insisted that "everything has a cause," since their philosophy required such a thing. Thomistic philosopher Ed Feser writes:
Aquinas explicitly denies that everything has a cause. He held that “to be caused by another does not appertain to a being inasmuch as it is being; otherwise, every being would be caused by another, so that we should have to proceed to infinity in causes -- an impossibility…” (Summa Contra Gentiles II.52.5). For writers like Aristotle, Plotinus, and Aquinas and other Scholastics, it is not the fact of something’s existence as such, or of its being a thing per se, that raises causal questions about it. It is only some limitation in a thing’s intrinsic intelligibility that does so -- for example, the fact that it has potentials that need actualization, or that it is composed of parts which need to be combined, or that it merely participates in some feature, or that it is contingent in some respect. Hence these writers would never say that “everything has a cause.” What they would say is that every actualization of a potential has a cause.In particular, the mereological sum of two things is not itself a thing, and therefore requires no cause. Alexander Pruss cites the example of the Sunalex, the sum of Alexander Pruss and the Sun. There is no reason to suppose that the Sunalex has a particular cause. Extending this from n=2 to n=a whole lot, it would seem that the universe (the mereological sum of everything that physically exists) does not itself need a cause. It exists if any single member of the set exists.
Similarly, there is what Plato called tyche or "chance." Now, chance is not a cause of things, but some things happen because two causal lines intersect. TOF has in the past used the story of the man brained by a hammer which just happened to fall from the roof as the man was walking past. There is no cause of being-brained-by-a-hammer-while-walking-past, even though there is a cause for every event in the incident.
If we rephrase the objection as "what causes the uncaused cause?" or "what moved the unmoved mover?" the absurdity becomes obvious.
Objection: "And this all men call God." Really? Sez who? What Ol' Tom should have written is
"And this all men call God. Details to follow."
Have patience. The cascade will begin shortly.
Two Immediate CorollariesCorollary 1.1. First Mover is itself unmoved.
1. Suppose it were moved. Then it would have a potential being actualized.
2. But potentials can be actualized only by something else.
3. In which case, there is something prior to the first mover, a contradiction.
Corollary 1.2. First Mover is a being of pure act.
1. At each level of being, the potential existence at a higher level is actualized by the existence of something actual at a lower lever (e.g., the potential motion of the muscles is actualized by the motion of the nerves and so on.)
2. If this proceeds in infinitum, there would be no first member of the series and none of the higher movers would be moving.
3. Therefore, the series must terminate in something whose existence does not need to be actualized by anything else; that is, by a Being of Pure Act (BPA)
IOW, "the only way to terminate a regress of actualizers of potentials is by reference to something which is pure actuality, devoid of potentiality, and thus without anything that needs to be or even could be actualized."
Now for the High Dive PlatformWe now have a Being of Pure Act (BPA). With this in intellectual hand (so to speak) we can now proceed with a series of deductions regarding the nature of the BPA, which will be our next and final installment.
Indicium LibrorumAristotle. The Physics, Book VI. Book VIII
Chastek, James. "On Jerry Coyne’s claim to miss no subtleties in St. Thomas’s arguments," (Just Thomism, Sep 8, 2009)Chastek, James. "Moved by another and self-motion in nature," (Just Thomism, Dec 2, 2013)
Chastek, James. "Two bases for “everything in motion is moved by another," (Just Thomism, Jan 2, 2014)
Chastek, James. "Omne quod movetur as a principle of all physics," (Just Thomism, Jan 27, 2014 )
Chastek, James. "Inertia, the life of the inanimate" (Just Thomism, June 10, 2014)
Cohoe, Caleb. "There Must Be A First: Why Thomas Aquinas Rejects Infinite, Essentially Ordered, Causal Series," British Journal for the History of Philosophy, September 5, 2013
Feser, Edward. "Clarke on the stock caricature of First Cause arguments," (Feser blog, Jul 12, 2014)
Feser, Edward. "The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia" in Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics, Vol.10, 2012.
Hassing, Richard F. "On Aristotelian, Classical and Quantum Physics." (Lecture, Thomas Aquinas College, Mar. 7, 2003/updated 6/18/08)
Martin, Edward N. "Infinite Causal Regress and the Secunda Via in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas"
Oderberg, David S. "‘Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way," in J. Cottingham and P. Hacker (eds) Mind, Method and Morality: Essays in Honour of Anthony Kenny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010): 140-64.
Pruss, Alexander. Aristotelian Forms and Laws of Nature.
Thomas Aquinas. Summa contra gentiles, I.13, (Dominican House of Studies) Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologica, I Q2 art.3, (Dominican House of Studies)
Thomas Aquinas. Compendium theologiae, Bk.1 ch.3, (Dominican House of Studies)
Unknown. Compendium of Theology -- translated into modern English