Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First Way, Part III: The Big Kahuna

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 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
A number of objections and misunderstandings were also dealt with in these prior posts.

We are now ready for the Big Kahuna:

Theorem 1.  There must exist a primary actualizer that is itself not being actualized by another.
  1. Some things in the world are changing. (Observation)
  2. Whatever is changing is being changed by another. (Lemma 1)
  3. There cannot be an infinite regress of instrumental changers. (Lemma 2)
  4. 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.
In short, an essentially-ordered sequence of mobiles and movers cannot go backward without limit, because the  intermediate movers of such a series have no motive power unless they are concurrently being moved. In effect, only the primary mover accounts for the final motion. That's why we can say "Tiger Woods drove the ball" or "Sharon Kam played the concerto." The announcer does not breathlessly inform the viewers that "the #4 wood drove the ball" or "the vibrating reed played the concerto."

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 Kvetches

Is 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
Objection: Things can so move themselves, because... quantum theory!

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.”
“[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.

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."

In his commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, Aquinas states that “those things are called causes upon which other things depend for their being (esse) or their coming to be (fieri).” Causation thus covers any sort of ontological dependence between things: "it is primarily a vertical relation, not a horizontal one." The formal cause of a triangle is three-sidedness, but the three-sidedness does not exist prior in time to the triangle.
  • 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." 
IOW, you don't expect all of Euclid to fall out of the first proposition; so why expect every detail to fall out of the first Question. Why is the First Mover called "God"?

Have patience. The cascade will begin shortly.

Two Immediate Corollaries

Corollary 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 Platform

We 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 Librorum 

Aristotle. 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


  1. I’ve been eagerly waiting for this part of the argument because this is where I have the most difficulty understanding it. First, let me say that I understand the difference between accidentally- and essentially-ordered causal series. That’s not where my lack of understanding lies. But I start getting confused when I start thinking of examples.

    So, in the essentially-ordered series of Sharon Kam blowing into a clarinet and fingering the stops to produce beautiful music, it is Sharon, not the clarinet, that is the mundane prime mover (for the use of “mundane” in this context, see David Oderberg’s article on the first part of the First Way, which I read because you mentioned it somewhere, either on William Brigg’s blog or Ed Feser’s). The clarinet is an instrument without any intrinsic motive power of its own. The music we are hearing at this moment is ontologically dependent upon Sharon.

    But it is not actually Sharon, conceived as a whole, that is making the music, but various parts of her: mouth, fingers, lungs, and below that muscles, neurons, etc. all the way down to the elementary particles that make up her material body at the moment she is playing. But those material elements have no motive power of their own to make music. Ontologically, they are in the same category as the clarinet. The thing that moves her material body to hold, finger and blow through the clarinet so as to make music is her mind or soul (I’m still not sure if mind and soul are the same thing in Thomism, but that is for another day and I don’t think it matters for this example). It is her knowledge of how to play and her intention to play at this moment that moves her material body to produce the music. So now we have reached the true mundane first mover of this series: the mind/soul of Sharon.

    But does not this example contradict both Corollaries 1.1 and 1.2? Sharon’s mind/soul is neither unmoveable nor pure act: the fact that she once did not exist and once did not know how to play the clarinet is proof of that. But the only thing we need to explain about the music we are hearing at the present moment is the fact that Sharon’s mind/soul formed the intention to make the music and then the mind/soul moved her body to realize that intention. If one asks, what moved Sharon’s mind/soul to form that intention, can’t one simply say that it is part of the mind/soul’s essence to form intentions and to move the body so as to realize those intentions? In other words, Free Will, and doesn’t that mean she is a true primary mover in this instance? Isn’t this the end of the causal series? Surely, one is not required to say that a being of pure act acted on Sharon’s soul so as to bring about the intention to play at this particular moment. Doesn’t that negate free will? And if it is her existence that needs explaining, can’t that be explained by the accidentally-ordered causal series of her parents and forebears going back, in principle, ad infinitum?

    Lots of questions, probably too many to be answered in a combox, but I would appreciate any assistance you could give. Thanks for hearing me out.

    1. I'm not a philosopher, though I play one on this blog. :-)
      I would be inclined to say that Sharon Kam, while a primary mover for the acts indicated, is not the primary mover, since as you say you must press beyond that. Sharon Kam is a synole of body and soul, i.e., matter and form, and one must go on to ask what is it that moves her soul, which probably does get you to the Big Kahuna.

      Mind v. soul. IMHO, the first term focuses as Late Moderns are wont to do, upon the purely intellective acts of the human soul. Often, even the intellective appetite (will) is left out, or even denied. Soul, OTOH, is more broadly inclusive of everything that constitutes the life of the body, including all the vegetative and animal powers.

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    3. Mind v.'s an interesting question for the resurrection of the dead, because we've little info. on what that next body will be like. But since we've reason to think it won't be reproducing, for example, it doesn't seem all the vegetative powers would be needed after death. Maybe not all the animal ones, either? Sorry if I'm not putting this well. But to put it in hamburger terms, it seems like by the synole model, everything we have/are now is different and more complicated than we shall be when the soul and "spiritual" body are united at the resurrection, so logically, the things we won't need then ought to be jettisoned at death.....

  2. @LS

    Sorry if I'm about to say something banal, but causation doesn't entail determinism.
    As you noted, Sharon Kam is obviously contingent, and moreover, in order to play the clarinet she obviosly need to be, and that depends on.. so you get to Actus Purus anyway.
    Free will is a matter (obviously, it's not matter, but... See what I did there? Probably lame, but anyways) of formal causality: the Big Kahuna is causing us (to have the form we do), and that includes causing us to be able to make free choices.
    So He can teach us to be kahunas.

    @Mr. Flynn

    Thank you! It's a great exposition of the argument and a very good read.
    I've seen a lot of these, and I must say.. :)

    P.S. Sorry for the deleted comment, silly typos.

  3. @Gregory

    I don't understand the argument you propose. I'm not saying its wrong, just that I need more explanation. How exactly do you get from contingent being to unmoved mover?

    As for free will, I think I understand your point, but the argument in question is the argument from motion, not the argument from causation so I am not sure resort to formal causation answers the questions I proposed above. Of if it does, then why start the argument from motion? Why not start the argument from the fact that people exist, they have such and such form, the only way that form could exist is if a certain kind of being exists who is causing us to have the form we do. That might be a valid argument, but it doesn't sound like an argument from motion

    1. @LS

      Yes, sorry, I should have specified the my use of the word, but then again it is a cosmological argument, so.
      What I should have said is that the potencies that clarinet playing requires have to be actualised, including actualising the potentials of matter making up Mrs. Kam's body to be Mrs. Sharon Kam.

      The argument starts from the fact that motion/change occurs. And potencies need to be actualised. That's why it's an argument from motion/change.
      Obviously, any particular motion of a thing depends on what the thing is, and for it to occur the thing needs to be.

      It really is "Georgy". Sorry for that.
      I spare y'all the Cyrilics.)

    2. @Georgy

      Sorry for using the wrong name. I glanced too quickly and leaped to a wrong conclusion. I think there might be a lesson there . . . .

      Okay, I see now how the argument remains an argument from motion. Your clarification is helpful. One more question, however, which is a repeat of one of my original questions. Why can't Sharon's existence (i.e., the actualization of the potential of matter to combine with a rational soul to form a human being) be explained in terms of the conception and giving birth to that person by her parents (which is the end-point of an accidentally-ordered causal series)? Isn't that like momentum of an object, for example, a thrown baseball, whose movement from point A to point B is explained by the person who threw the baseball (i.e., the baseball moves because of the impetus imparted to it by the one who threw it)? I understand that one response is to say that the here and now existence of Sharon needs to be explained, but I don't understand that argument yet, and, in addition, that response doesn't sound like an argument from motion to me. The potency for existence has already been actualized and Sharon exists at this moment, so where is the change?

  4. @LS

    Oh, It's fine, really. I could've just had "George" there, but that would complicate things with Russians out there. :)

    Parents at conception would be what is called "per accidens" causes (sometimes in fieri, but I'll stick to the older version; not just the parents, obviously: for the rational and subsistent soul is created by God ex nihilo every time, the intellect being immaterial and all :) ), they cause the transition.

    I cause the transition of catfood from a package (with silly pictures of cats) to a bowl. But I do not cause it's continued existence or even it's presence in the bowl (in a way I could, were I to prevent my cat from eating, but that's a bit different).
    But during this there were actions of the other type of causal chains (per se, instrumental etc.) - for example, when I was actualising the potential of the package to remain above the bowl in a specific fashion so that catfood would fall in the bowl. For that I needed to be in a specific pose, and for that I needed to be and so on (any moment would do, really).

    Again, what's relevant here is that things that are composites of act and potency (which is "revealed" by change/motion, where the argument starts) have to be actualised (not just once, now), for potencies of themselves do not have act. If the thing actualising the potential was removed, there just wouldn't be any actualisation of this potential.
    What applies to the music applies to Mrs. Kam. :)

    To the "here and now business", I don't know if it's a good example, but the catfood thing is odd, so..
    I have nothing in me as I am that makes me stay 8 floors above the ground, but I actually am.
    My potential to stay there is actualised by the floor, the potential of which is actualised by the other, then the other and so on to the ground floor. Removing the floor would "deactualise" the first named potential. :)

    1. So, if I understand the argument, you are saying that the continued existence (the existence at this moment) of any contingent being is itself a potency that must be actuallized, which means there must be an actualizer outside that being to do the actualization, and since this is an essentially ordered causal series, that actualizer must be, ultimately, a being of pure act, hence the unmoved mover. My continued existence, in other words, is like my potency to be 8 floors above the ground, which depends upon the existence of the apartment building. If you take away the apartment building, I can't be 8 floors up, and if you take away the unmoved mover, I can't exist.

      Is that right? If so, I guess my last question is why my continued existence is a potency rather than simply a property or characteristic of the fact that I came into existence through the accidently ordered causal series of my parents and forebears. In other words, why is existence like me being 8 floors up in the apartment building rather than like the baseball moving from point A to point B after the pitcher has thrown it?

    2. Try this:

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. ..and one can reply that given that you're a composite of form and matter, and you're actually human (rather than a corpse, say), you therefore are an actualisation of matter (you can outlive this, as a subsistent soul, though it's a remnant of a substance, incapable of naturally acting). In a composite thing act is underlied by a passive potency: a marble statue is; marble has a potency to be fashioned in such a way as to be a statue, whereas, say, gases do not have this potency.
    And if that's true, it will not do to say that your parents and forebears cause the actualisation of this potency of matter, for they are not causally present. You can say neither "nothing" nor "myself" (from nothing nothing comes and a thing cannot actualise itself). And yet it's actualised.

    Adittionally, for a discussion of Newtonian inertia in this context you can see the discussion already referred to by Mr. Flynn:

    I take it you are not arguing against the statement that there are indeed per se series in reality and these do necessitate the Actus Purus?..

  6. "And if that's true, it will not do to say that your parents and forebears cause the actualisation of this potency of matter, for they are not causally present."

    Since I understand the difference between accidentally- and essentially-ordered causal series, this point doesn't really help me. It seems to beg the question, because the question at issue is why it is necessary to have a "causally present" actualizer to sustain a person's existence. I agree that a thing (or any potency) cannot actualize itself, but once actualized why can't the thing's existence be explained in terms of its own nature? That's what our senses tell us. The house remains a house (for a period of time) after the builders are done. The person remains a person (for a period of time) after he is conceived and born. In other words, existential inertia, to use the term Feser uses in the article that Michael cites above, seems to be a principle of being. (The article was helpful, by the way, but I'm still not seeing the necessity of his argument against existential inertia and for a divine conserving cause. But that's probably my fault, not his; I need to think harder.)

    I guess you are saying that the potency for existence, and/or the potency for (prime) matter to combine with form to create an individual human being, must be actualized at every instant, and while that may be true, that is the part of the argument that I don't understand. I don't understand the necessity of it, as opposed to, for example, some other principle that locates persistence of existence in the nature of the matter that makes up the thing in question.

    1. Sorry it took me so long, but I have to confess it wasn't easy to understand the proposal you're making in the last paragraph.
      Particularly the bit about matter. And I'm not feeling altogether well.

      I can be flippant and assume you are using this word in the Aristotelian sense: that matter causes persistence (actualises) to the thing. But that's impossible, for matter is merely potential, and only actual things can actualise other things.
      If you mean that which served as matter (!) for something (oxygen and hydrogen before becoming water, say) in cases of substantial change (like this one), that would make no sense - for you're ascribing causal status to something that no longer is.

      If you've meant "nature" in the Aristotelian sense: natures/essences of things of themselves have no causal efficacy (they are not things, and things efficiently cause things) and are either distinct from each other or not.
      For a nature of a thing to cause "persistence of existence" would be for a nature to just cause existence. But essenses do not act as efficient causes. Things do.
      If in a thing essence and existence are distinct, something else explains their unity and therefore the existence of a thing. And that would be an existent thing.
      If they are not distinct in a thing and its essence just is its existence, this thing exists necessarily.
      But a thing that came to be - a contingent thing, potential being - cannot be said to exist necessarily.

      There Is Being where essence and existence are the same, incidentally - the One that Mr. Flynn referred to as the Big Kahuna.

      Then again, I suppose, if you didn't by the use of these words indicate their proper (Aristotelian-Thomistic) meaning, by "locating persistence of existence in the nature of the matter" you could be just re-stating that things do persist. Or to put it in a more seemingly sophisticated (in reality sophistical) way: it a law of nature that things do persist.
      But that's no explanation at all, just a reformulation of an observation.

    2. That is not to say that contingent things necessarily "come to be" temporarily.
      A potential can be actualised ab aeterno, never beginning in time.
      Yet an existent thing that is composed of potency and act is still causally dependent on something actual. For mere potencies do not raise themselves to act.

  7. I notice that the link you offer in the Indicium Librorum to the Compendium theologiae takes one instead to Q. 2, article 3, of the Summa theologiae. I saw the same thing somewhere else in the series of posts.

    Btw, an excellent series of post, and challenging, one measure of which is the quality of the comments (this comment set aside) this post has brought forth .

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  9. Time lag ... inertia is certainly non-accelerating.

    But one can legitimately wonder whether it is, as Newton thought, of itself non-decelerating as well, or whether it is decelerating with a time lag.

    The SECOND, along with a Geocentric universe, is very much into God is "playing the universe right now". Obviously, a universe rotating around Earth cannot be a perpetuum mobile, its parts changing direction, and therefore not remaining even in Newtonian type inertia. So, if universe continues to rotate, God is rotating it NOW.

    The FIRST, with a universe with everything determined by previous motions and potential energy (why not potential potency or energetic energy, while we are at it?) as a positive factor maintaining the exact quantity of kinetic energy flowing into it and coming out of it, is more like a recipe for proving Deism - or "the watchmaker God". You know, the kind of God, who, like a watchmaker, can die while clock continues ticking. The kind of God Voltaire affirmed was alive and aloof and Nietsche affirmed was dead.

    Again, we have here only dealt with EXISTENCE of God, not with His Unity. If you think it through, Seneca once doubted whether God turned the Universe around us, or only turned US around in the Universe. In the latter case, it could be a God of Earth only - with parallel Gods for other parts.

    Aristotle and St Thomas would have judged that doubt as being somwhat undue. If we believe all we see, we must believe Universe turns around us (as long as we have no proof positive of contrary). If we admit Universe turns around us, we must admit there is a God who is God of the whole universe. Which is kind of parallel to Psalms and Romans saying Day and Night indicate God's glory.

    Do you start sensing something fishy about the implications of Heliocentric doubt?

    Well, duh, St Robert caught a very smelly fish called Giordano.


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