More on Natural Law

A reader weighs in with a comment on Natural Law which is more clearly written than what I could say. Allow me to reprint his words here without further comment from me:

Here’s hoping our host won’t mind if a longtime lurker waxes philosophical a bit in defence of the natural law. While it’s true that the natural law arises somewhat spontaneously in men through the moral intuitions, it seems to me that these are only failsafes should we happen to discard our intellects. Mr Wright’s account of the natural law might benefit from the introduction of some metaphysical components that to clarify matters to the honest sceptics in his audience. If one allows for an Aristotelico-Thomistic view, the Natural Law should be rationally defensible (and, I believe, has been held to be so by philosophers from Aristotle to Aquinas) even to one who initially doubts its existence or has corrupt moral intuitions.

The traditional natural law theory is grounded in the idea of teleology or Final causality, which is the idea that things are, by nature, directed towards specific ends, and the idea of Formal causality, that things have a particular substantial form in virtue of which they are what they are. Together, they are the two forgotten members of the Four Causes which have been banished by the modern materialist or mechanistic paradigm to frankly disastrous effect. Of course, the two causes that remain, Efficient and Material causes, are unintelligible without these former two, a consequence which the materialists seem to be for some reason blissfully unaware of.

The idea of Final Causality is obvious in the existence of potentialities and powers, for potentialities are always, insofar as they are potentialities, potentialities *for* something. There is in every potency a directedness toward a particular end or range of ends, so to deny final causality is just to deny the existence of potencies and powers, which, if any sceptic should be insane enough to do so, would be to deny their own intellect, which just is a set of capacities for grasping truth. As for Formal Causality, to have a Formal cause, or Form, is to have a particular sort of distinctive essence, or what it is to be a thing, a quiddity that separates a type of thing from all that is not of that type. That there should be different and distinct things in the world at all is only, it seems to me, intelligible if one accepts the idea of essences that inhere in various things. That these sorts of causes are furthermore deeply interrelated with Efficient and Material causes is easily demonstrable. Efficient causes are only intelligible if one accepts Final causes, for how is there to be the actualization of potency (which is what Efficient causes consist in) if there is no directedness of potency toward an end, and thus, no potency at all? Material causes seem to be reliant on Formal causes in much the same way, for how is it that a thing could be composed of a particular material and not others if there is no such thing as what it is to be a particular material?

The implications of the existence of Formal and Final causality for our idea of natural goodness, from which natural law is derived, are profound. If a thing’s nature consists in having a particular final cause or set of final causes, then the degree to which it attains those ends is the degree to which it achieves its own nature, and thus becomes an objectively *better* example of what it is. For such things, there is such a thing as what it *ought* to be, in order to be what it is; the final ends of such a thing prescribe the good *of* that thing in a real, objective and discernible way. It happens, of course, that humanity is just that sort of thing. The nature of Man is to be a Rational Animal- the rational faculty being a functional capacity directed at grasping the truth through the employment of the intellect, and animalness being a hierarchy of thousands of bodily capacities each in directed towards their own respective functional ends which play a role in the whole. Insofar as each of those capacities is performing its role in the functional hierarchy, goodness, or flourishing, obtains in a man, and insofar as those capacities or misdirected or destroyed or otherwise distorted from their proper harmony, harm and defect occurs in him.

Moral goodness in particular is that subset of natural goodness that has to do with whether or not one’s will conforms to one’s natural good. If a man be of good will, he will not purposely seek evil or defect, but will rather seek the perfection of his nature as he grasps it by reason, which will entail, among other things, that he seeks the good of his fellow-man (as he is a social creature), tries to be a good citizen ( as he is a political creature), tries to be chaste or a loyal spouse to his wife (in accordance with the unitive and reproductive ends of the sexual nature) and especially to be a holy servant of God (as he is a created being, and thus created for God). A man of wicked or evil will, by contrast, will seek what is perverse or intrinsically contrary to the ends at which his nature is intrinsically directed. He cannot, of course, erase that directedness, but he can orient himself toward total failure in achieving the good.

Moral obligations, the “Law” part of “Natural Law,” follow at last from the realization that the finality inherent in human nature is there in virtue of the will of an intelligent power, that wills our good for us, and whose will for our will constitutes what our will ought to be; nature testifies, in short, to normative imperatives from God, or natural obligations, that determine for us what we ought and ought not do, and makes goodness a duty, and badness wrongness.

103 Comments

  1. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    Changing the subject to what you called positive law, I observe that the mass murderer Anders Breivik has been found sane, and therefore guilty. He was sentenced to 21 years of prison, with the possibility of indefinite extension if he’s found to be still a threat at the end of that time. I wonder if you have any comment in your capacity as a lawyer?

    • Comment by Darrell:

      An interesting article from The Atlantic outlining the differences between restorative and retributive justice.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/a-different-justice-why-anders-breivik-only-got-21-years-for-killing-77-people/261532/

      • Comment by Mary:

        Note that even in Norway, they flinch from actually applying the “restorative” justice: they do not prolong sentences until the offender is “healed” for minor offenses, and in this case, the man must serve ten years regardless of whether he’s “healed” — they still in their hearts know that the heart of justice is retributive, and “restorative justice” that ignores proportionately in punishment is the pith and essence of injustice.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          It is not a dichotomy, but a difference of emphasis. The judge does take retribution into account in his verdict, for example here:

          Tingretten mener det lavere beviskravet for tilregnelighet har gode grunner for seg. Straff er riktig nok et tilsiktet onde som gir uttrykk for samfunnets sterke bebreidelse av et lovbrudd. En slik bebreidelse forutsetter at lovbryteren har skyldevne. Straffen har imidlertid også et soningselement som gir domfelte en mulighet til « å gjøre opp for seg ». I dette perspektiv er straffen ikke utelukkende et onde, men også en vei tilbake til samfunnet. Dersom beviskravet for tilregnelighet legges for høyt, vil denne veien stenges for mange lovbrytere med reell skyldevne. Det er dessuten prinsipielt betenkelig å frata lovbrytere skyldevne og derved også moralsk og juridisk selvbestemmelse ved en uberettiget sykeliggjøring av deres sinn. Også i forhold til samfunnet og til de som er direkte berørt av et lovbrudd, tilsier hensynet til en rettferdig gjengjeldelse at lovbrytere med reell skyldevne straffes.

          which I translate thus (noting that I’m not a lawyer in either language, and may get technical terms wrong):

          This court believes that there are good reasons for a lower burden of proof on sanity . It is true that punishment is a deliberate evil which expresses the strong blame that society assigns for a breach of the law. Such blame requires that the lawbreaker can be guilty. However, in addition, the punishment has an element of restitution, giving the criminal a possibility of paying his debt. In this view the punishment is not purely bad, but also a road back to society. If the burden of proof is too strict, this road will be closed to many lawbreakers who are in fact able to be guilty. In addition, to take away the guilt-ability, and therefore also moral and legal agenthood, through an unjustified medicalisation of their mind, gives cause for concern. Further, both society in general and those directly affected by the crime have a strong interest in a just retribution; this concern, too, weighs in the direction of punishment for lawbreakers with true guilt.

          I’m afraid I wasn’t able to put this in really good English; the Norwegian, although somewhat dry and academic, is much better than my poor translation. The singsong intonation of Norwegian changes what kind of sentence structures flow naturally off the page. But at any rate I trust the meaning is clear: Retribution is definitely in there as a concern, which weighs against finding doubtful cases insane.

          The phrase I have translated as “just retribution” is “rettferdig gjengjeldelse”. Here ‘rettferdig’ is composed of ‘rett’, cognate with ‘right’ and having the same meaning; and ‘ferd’, ‘path’ or ‘travel’; the ‘ig’ is an adjectival suffix. Thus ‘rettferd’, ‘right (or righteous) path’, justice; ‘rettferdig’, ‘just’. The components of ‘gjengjeldelse’ are ‘gjen’, cognate with English ‘again’, meaning roughly ‘return’ or ‘back’; and ‘gjeld’, literally ‘debt’ but in this context perhaps rather ‘sin’ or ‘wrong’; compare KJV “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, which in other translations becomes “forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. The ‘else’ is again a grammatical suffix.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I am not familiar with the case and can make no comment in specific.

      I can make a general comment, for what little it is worth. In general, one principle laws should follow is a certain reliability, that is, the punishments remain the same for all crimes of the same magnitude and nature. Unfortunately, a contrary principle says that extreme crimes demand extreme punishments, since proportion between crime and punishment is the very pith of justice. And there is again a principle (recognized, but not invented by, the US Constitution) condemning cruel and unusual punishments. Justice is not meant to be an exercise in public sadism or catharsis.

      Myself, I deem it is an insult to the sacred humanity of the victims of a murderer or rapist to allow a murderer or rapist to live, except in some unusual circumstances calling for leniency. This is, however, a matter where many wise men whose opinions I respect hold the opposite view.

      • Comment by Pierce O.:

        Incarceration does allow the criminal the chance of repentance. The first example that springs to mind is Nazi war criminal Herbert Kappler, who was converted by his wartime opponent to Catholicism while in jail. One soul was saved because his life was spared. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

    • Comment by rlbell:

      I am not our host.

      Breivik is a typical mass murderer. He has made rational decisions based on flawed premises. This is revealed by his choice of defense. He did not deny doing what he was charged of. He did not deny that murder is wrong. He tried to assert that the governing party’s view of immigration was sufficiently bad for his country that his violent attacks were a proportionate defense of Norway. His reasoning would have been laughable if the consequences were not deadly, but he is rational.

  2. Comment by Zach:

    +1. I’m curious to hear what you say as well.

  3. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    To mhssu,
    Thanks for that remarkable exposé. I wish I had a philosophy teacher like you when I was 17. I would probably be a good bit less ignorant now.

  4. Comment by The OFloinn:

    That was well and clearly said. Better than my maunderings on the same topic. I think the basic confusion of wrf3 et al. stems from misunderstanding both “natural” and “law.”

  5. Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

    Beautiful, but I wonder if anyone who hasn’t worked through Aristotle’s Physics and maybe Categories can appreciate why this argument is compelling.

    Because that’s the real trick: you’re dropping into a graduate-level philosophy argument (at least, as universities were gone about back in the 13th century!) that assumes you’ve worked through why there are exactly four causes, and that those causes are of the essential nature of reality – that, to deny the four causes is to deny the intelligibility of anything. They are not just some ideas among many essentially equal ideas. For starters. Then you’d need to understand why the concept of a substantial form is key, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s non-trivial.

    The part that moderns have a very hard time with is the idea that a philosophical argument can be compelling – can demand your assent on pain of loss of your intellectual integrity. Aristotelians and Thomists played nice, yes, but they played for keeps. When you have finally grasped what Aristotle is saying (and I claim only the most tenuous finger hold), you either assent, or you entirely reject any basis for reasonable discourse.

    It’s really that stark. If you doubt it, just look at what passes for reasonable discussion among those who claim to follow other systems of thought, such as Hegelians, Marxists, Kantians, and their innumerable spawn.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      “…graduate-level philosophy argument…”
      I could not put together a flawless argument like that, but with an undergraduate level or, in my case, equivalent self-education in sound philosophy, one can understand it well. I did not read Aristotle except quotations and I know only a few pages of Aquinas directly, but I learned the essentials in a few books meant for the most part for undergraduate students at the end of a liberal arts curriculum.

      That reminds me of Sean M. Brooks’ question in the other thread about Trivium and Quadrivium. In my opinion, the organization and order of subjects may vary in liberal arts studies but the contents should remain the same as it was until the middle of the last century.

      • Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

        I have no doubt you understand the argument without the benefit of the equivalent of a graduate degree in philosophy. The issue I was trying to address is how it more than just an argument among many, but rather is that which the modern world denies, an argument that compels consent.

        Perhaps I’ve totally gotten this wrong, but the impression I’ve gotten over the years – from some St. John’s tutors, for example – is that there are people, not many, who have taken the trouble to understand the argument as presented here but who view it as a sort of mathematical proof – true within the system, but not necessarily true of reality. This is the anachronistic error moderns make of believing that the current era is superior simply by virtue of being current, and that the ubiquitous relativism of today is a higher and superior vantage point than that held by the Greeks and the students of the Scholastic universities.

        The people who were making these arguments originally made them with constant reference to the real world – to the people and things around them. They understood that to deny Aristotle’s fundamental position – that we are intelligent beings living in an intelligible world – is to become intellectually disintegrated. In other words, to embrace insanity.

        Aristotle and Thomas and all sane philosophers proceed from the premise that what appears before us to be happening really is happening – we are all here reading the comments to this blog, the books we talk about do exist, California is a real place, and real people with intellects and wills are discussing philosophy. To believe otherwise is the very definition of insanity. That a madman like Descartes can imagine that this is not so only proves that he is, insofar as he isn’t just pretending, simply a mad man.

        But of course he, and all relativists, really are just pretending. No one can act as if the world and we people in it are anything other than what Aristotle and Thomas understand us to be. The difference is that the perennial philosophers understood that this pretending is a damning intellectual fault, a moral and intellectual failing of the highest order, not something sophomoric pseudo-intellectuals can play at without any repercussions for their own souls and the world around them.

        • Comment by mhssu:

          Most moderns don’t treat Aristotle with any degree of seriousness or respect- the effect, I suppose, of centuries of chronological snobbery. I don’t go to a Catholic university, and one of my lecturers recently made the completely asinine assertion that Galilean physics overthrew Aristotelian metaphysics. I just about popped a vein.

          • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

            “I don’t go to a Catholic university…” means you are a young person? Praise God, there is still hope for the world.

            By the way, I had a lecturer in theology who told us there was no such thing as Christian philosophy, that it was a sort of theology. I did not quite grasp the meaning of it at the time, but a few years later I would have jumped on him.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Well said. You touch on my main complaint about modern philosophers: they are not serious. Hume was kidding. Kant was playing word-games. Nietzsche was putting on a show. Marx was inventing an elaborate psychological system of projection, rationalization, and neurotically mistaking symbols for objects.

          Socrates, on the other hand, wanted to live as befits a man, and die as befits a hero. Epictetus the slave wanted to live as well as he could in his position, and Marcus Aurelius did likewise. They were serious. They actually loved wisdom; they were philosophers.

          • Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

            And to bring this back home: as lovers of wisdom, they of course acknowledged Natural Law – they were constantly measuring their own actions against what is good, right and true. To do otherwise would be insane, or at least base and unworthy.

          • Comment by theshink:

            I have to disagree with you on Nietzsche; what he shows is the logical implications of atheism and the ultimate rejection of Christian heritage. David Bentley Hart put it quite rightly that Christianity was a thunderbolt coming out of a cloudless sky, and that to leave it would leave to nihilism because we could never go back to our pagan past. Nietzsche most elaborately illustrates this in his parable “The Madman.”
            But you make a very interesting point. Most philosophy today has lost its history. It’s mostly some type of pragmatic relativism. And relativism is just nihilism in denial. Modern day philosophy has, for some, lost its purpose, which is well its root word, as you said Mr. Scott, a love for wisdom. That is what Plato rightly commented as the mark for the philosopher in The Republic.
            The classical philosophers would be the heretics and anti-establishment and irreverent intellectual rebels of today, rightly because they believed in Truth, and not just what is under a microscope. They did not become so obsessed with the physical that they lost sight of the metaphysical. A mon avis, the only traditional philosophers today are either Thomists, phenomenologists (indirectly), or theologians.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              My respect for Mr Hart is such that I would trust his deep reading of Nietzsche over my shallow one. I never reread Nietzsche will adult eyes: my memory from college is one of sustained disgust and disbelief: I could not bring myself to believe anyone took such malodorous nonsense seriously. Alas, all too many did and do.

              Let me also recommend, if you have not read it, Mr Hart’s ATHEIST DELUSIONS. You comment may well have come from that work, but if you have not read it, you will see more depth and ramifications to his thought on this topic. Wonderful book.

              • Comment by theshink:

                I got that actually from his article Believe It or Not from First Things. I did read however Hart’s book. He masterfully made it non-evangelizing yet extremely powerful for historical understanding about the implications of the Christian tradition and the myth of secular progress. Some people just do not understand how delicate civilization is.
                I have great regard for Nietzsche, as it is very informing for theology. He, along with Sartre and Camus as non-believing writers, are very helpful for theologians actually. For instance, Derrida is a huge influence on the French Christian philosopher, Jean-Luc Marion.
                Nietzsche, absolutely insane, no doubt about it, should be taken more as a character in a play than as someone to inform one directly. He’s really the ultimate intellectual anti-example. His aphorisms are brilliant. He is the mad philosopher. He is, nonetheless, great when read with the right lenses.
                Although if anyone wants a good response to Nietzsche’s ideas, just read Chesterton. The great Gilbert is in my not so humble opinion one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, economically, theologically, and in just plain old common sense.
                I recommend the scholar Walter Kaufmann when it comes to Nietzsche. He is much better than Heidegger.

            • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

              “…the only traditional philosophers today are either Thomists, phenomenologists (indirectly), or theologians.”

              I suppose you know that, but just to avoid confusion: theology and philosophy are two distinct sciences.

              Of course, to be good at their trade, theologians also have to be good philosophers even if they do not practice the discipline of philosophy for its own sake. Unfortunately, a good introduction to philosophy is not required at many universities to enroll in theology. The result is that many unorthodox theologians ignoring philosophy damage the faith as well as the intellect in others.

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          “…all relativists, really are just pretending. No one can act as if the world and we people in it are anything other than what Aristotle and Thomas understand us to be.”
          They were not pretending. They would not have made so much damage if they had not been mistaken but serious. Apart from Rousseau and Nietzsche, they were generally not mad. Descartes, particularly, was not mad but an intellectual snob: he inferred wrongly that he would be as good in philosophy as he was in physics.

          The keyword, as always, is Truth. From the onset, scholastic philosophy has been attacked and shaken in thinkers not learned, or not cautious enough, by idealism and nominalism. From Luther, Truth has been decidedly replaced in the Protestant world by Will, that is, voluntarism. From Descartes, it has been wounded in the Catholic world by a delusional take on human nature (angelism). From Rousseau, philosophy has descended in the guts. The rest follows in various combinations or novelties arising from these seminal errors. (Cf. Jacques Maritain, Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau — didn’t find it on the web, unfortunately)

          Here I might add to my preceding post that the reason why I grasped easily the truth of Aristotle and Aquinas — the concepts demand a good deal of work, though — is that I am old enough to have had for free a good Catholic education and half of a liberal arts curriculum in a Catholic school. Liberal arts were abandoned in my school just at the end of my 11th year, so my philosophical introduction in the subsequent years was very poor, as was my faith from that time. I began to read philosophy only when I came back to the faith because I went to study theology.

          If the Catholic Church were not the guardian of philosophia perennis, it would have disappeared in the memory hole a long time ago.

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            Once ran across this somewhere I know not where. It aptly summarizes the danger of becoming educated:

            In 1970, Washington’s largesse led the University of Kansas to create a pilot project in classic liberal arts education called the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, or IHP. The program was led by John Senior, Dennis Quinn, and Frank Nelick, three brilliant teachers who believed passionately that higher education meant immersion in the classic texts of western civilization and civilized conversation about them. Many IHP students soon discovered that wrestling with the literary and philosophical classics of western civilization meant encountering, and thinking seriously about, the Catholic Church.

            Conversions, intellectual and religious, followed. Those conversions later produced numerous vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and two bishops. Authoritarian liberals on the KU faculty killed the IHP in 1979.

            • Comment by joetexx:

              Mr Flynn, thank you for bringing up the story of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas.  The tale of its destruction deserves to be far better known; it was one of the opening barrages in the ongoing campaign of political correctness. 

              There is an entire book about it: Truth on Trial: Liberal Education Be Hanged

              I looked up John Senior and the other founders of the program after I heard about it a few years back.  Senior’s Pale Horse, Easy Rider  and 
              Restoration of Christian Culture  are well worth reading, as is Quinn’s
              Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder

              An appreciation of Senior by a student

              Bishop James Conley of Denver was an undergraduate in the IHP

              Here is an  essay by Nelick. 

          • Comment by Joseph M:

            Hey, maybe a distinction is called for here: Cartesians, Humeans (sp?), Kantians, , etc. – I agree they were serious about _something_. Deadly serious. It’s just that they were not serious about philosophy according to one useful test: if you are walking in the agora talking about important things with your friends, or sitting in a classroom, or reading a book, or posting comments on some blog on the internet – well, are you? If your ‘philosophy’ is based on the thought that you’re not, or that it’s fundamental to doubt that you are – well, then you’re not serious about philosophy.

            Because you WILL call a plumber when your toilet gets clogged. You will not sit in the middle of the floor with your eyes closed wondering if your toilet exists. And if you call a plumber specifically, and not just some random person, animal or plant, then you believe something about knowledge such that a plumber is likely to have it and your cat or ficus is not.

            The exception is, perhaps, Hegel and his heirs, who claim, not to deny logic and common experience, exactly, but to transcend it – they are craven mystics in the bad sense of the word – their claims rest on having superior insight, essentially, having received a vision on the mountaintop that explains *everything* – and we little people cannot understand because History, Spirit, the Dialectic or whatever has not deigned to enlighten us. In fact, we are essentially cockroaches in their scheme of things, and have usually been treated as such. Ant attempt to apply logic to their thoughts *proves* that we are cockroaches. Thus Freud dismisses his critics as neurotics, Marx casually condemn vast swaths of humanity to death (that’s what he’s saying, make no mistake) – so, serious, yes, deadly so.

            But not about philosophy. They will call the plumber just the same.

            • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

              “It’s just that they were not serious about philosophy…”
              I agree their premises and conclusions were often bad, sometimes mad, but their reasoning was in a philosophical form, and they intended to do philosophy. Because of their influence, these schools of thought merit to be addressed and studied in philosophy for good reasons.

              First, in any system there is always some truth or some interesting question worthy of being “saved” and given its proper place in philosophia perennis. Second, Christian philosophers have to point out the errors and flaws and explain them so that they can be avoided. And third, the bright side of the thing: in my opinion, there is no better illustration of a concept, particularly for beginners, than an overview not only of possible errors, but of actual errors made about this concept. It is a work befitting Christian philosophers that Maritain was doing systematically, and he advised his fellow philosophers to do the same.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      There is a useful basic text in The Modeling of Nature, by William Wallace. Like the late Stanley Jaki, Wallace holds doctorates in both physics and theology.
      http://www.amazon.com/The-Modeling-Nature-Philosophy-Synthesis/dp/0813208602
      There is a sort of reader’s digest version in a series of lecture notes found starting here: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm#1 with links at the bottoms of the pages and to the various figures. (One or two figures are distorted by bad scanning.)

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      A sad and horrible comment, but quite true. Look at how many people just in this thread alone have, whether they know it or not, abandoned any possible mental model that could allow them to come to any intellectually sound conclusions. One of them thinks he is a meat machine. Another one thinks he has no right to demand honesty from other men, but he’s hope they’d be honest if they happen to be in the mood to feel the whim that hour to be honest.

  6. Comment by theshink:

    If I may post a piece I did this summer on the history of Natural Law theory: http://theironicintellectual.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-origins-and-incorporations-of.html

  7. Comment by Kerry:

    Ha!!! A dangling modifier, “…blissfully unaware of.” Mechanism is therefore true!! And by the way Mr. Wright, changing the subject to what you call natural food, and “whom the Romans called Aquaman”, do you, as a lawyer have an opinion on cranberries? (Very dry sarcasm off.)
    Richard John Newhouse, commenting that Christianity is the meta-narrative which explains everything, then said the modern, nihilist meta-narrative is that there is no meta-narrative. (These are not exact quotes.)

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      Typo: the name is ‘Neuhaus’, German exact equivalent and same pronounciation as ‘new house’.

      It seems right that he would have said nihilists do not have and do not want a meta-narrative explaining anything. How could there be a meta-narrative if there is no absolute truth? It is a good definition of nihilism.

  8. Comment by Gian:

    This of final causes, is it going to be convincing today?
    Physicists do not believe in Final Causes and quantum mechanics lays doubt on the notion of Causality itself.
    The Thomists need to respond to the challenge posed by Modern Physics otherwise they are not going to be taken seriously at all.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      Physicists do not believe in Final Causes

      Yet they rely on them constantly. Without final causes there can be no efficient causation. That is, you cannot have A→B “always or for the most part” unless there is something in A that “points toward” B. Otherwise, you might get C, D, E, or nothing at all. To put it another way, without final causation there cannot be scientific laws; only scientific coincidences (which tomorrow might be different).

      Final causation has made a covert explicit reappearance under the name “attractor basin” and “minimizing the potential function.”

      quantum mechanics lays doubt on the notion of Causality itself.

      Only to people who don’t understand causation. They seem to think it means “predictable.” But heck, Newton’s laws don’t predict when and where an apple will fall. Why should quantum mechanics do so for electrons? The quantum vacuum causes virtual particles. How it does so remains unknown, but we mustn’t allow the Non-causality of the gaps to confuse us. “Don’t know the mechanism” ≠ “there is no mechanism.”

      And combining the two, we have Cramer’s transactions theory of quantum mechanics:
      http://www.npl.washington.edu/AV/altvw16.html

      The transactional interpretation meets the nonlocality problem head on, using a “transaction” model for quantum events which is itself nonlocal because it uses advanced waves which have negative energy and travel backwards in time. This transaction model is based on the “absorber theory” originated by Richard Feynman and John Wheeler.

      • Comment by Gian:

        Cramer does not doubt the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the idea that pairs of “conjugate” variables (like position and momentum or energy and time) cannot simultaneously be measured to “perfect” accuracy, nor can they have well-defined values at the same time.

        If you see the derivations or illustrations the physics textbooks have on Heisenberg’s principle, they all show that the conjugate variables can not both be measurely precisely at the same time. As Father Jaki says “that one can proceed only by an elementary disregard of logic to the inference that “an interaction that can not be measured exactly, can not take place exactly”
        Physics and Miracles

        The “uncertainlity” has two meanings that should have been kept separate but were confounded. (1) Operational uncertainity
        (2) Ontological uncertainity.

        Cramer, as he does not doubt ontological uncertainity, is of no help to the Thomist project.

        • Comment by mhssu:

          What’s wrong with ontological uncertainty? Sounds like a semi-actualized potentiality to me, which is right in line with Aristotle.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          Cramer does not doubt Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the idea that pairs of “conjugate” variables (like position and momentum or energy and time) cannot simultaneously be measured to “perfect” accuracy, nor can they have well-defined values at the same time.

          There’s no need to go all the way down to quantum mechanics for that observation. Consider that classic undergraduate example, where I hold a rope (usually assumed frictionless, but this is not strictly necessary) and shake it up and down, causing a wave to travel down the rope. When the wave reaches the end it is reflected with or without a 180 degree change of phase, if I keep shaking at a certain frequency I get a standing wave of so-and-so many nodes, and so on. Very useful things, ropes. Now, if I just shake my hand once, so the wave consists of a single pulse, then it has a fairly well-defined location, but you would be hard put to measure its frequency. Conversely if I shake my hand many times so there are multiple pulses, then the frequency becomes well defined but you can no longer say very exactly where the wave is. By Fourier analysis we can demonstrate that there is a tradeoff between the exactness with which you can measure these two variables, very similar to Heisenberg’s, with the constant given by the properties of the rope. Voila, conjugate variables. Now, are you willing to say that this demonstrates a lack of causality? If not, why would you make the identical statement for quantum mechanics?

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          Cramer does not doubt the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle,

          The question had to do with the absence of causation itself, which is supposedly a consequence of quantum mechanics, but is actually a consequence of an interpretation of quantum mechanics.

          Something very much like the uncertainty principle was known to the medievals. After all, to fix the location of an arrow in flight (in kinesis, in the process of actualizing a potential) you would have to stop its motion. To measure its velocity you would have to allow it to change locations. Especially if you wanted to do these things precisely.

          • Comment by Gian:

            But did the medievals doubt that the arrow has both a definite position and a definite velocity?

            To doubt that precise measurements can be made of conjugate variables simultaneously is “Operational Uncertainity”

            To doubt that the conjugate variables have definite values simulatenously is “Ontological uncertainty”

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        That is, you cannot have A→B “always or for the most part” unless there is something in A that “points toward” B.

        Sez you. You have not actually done anything to explain causation, you’ve just given it a different name. It’s still a black box, because you cannot say anything about the pointing-toward that couldn’t equally be said of the original causation. This is a mere word game giving the illusion of understanding.

        But heck, Newton’s laws don’t predict when and where an apple will fall.

        They assuredly do, if applied in sufficient detail. Just because you can’t treat the apple as a point mass with no internal dynamics doesn’t mean you can’t model it at all.

        “minimizing the potential function.”

        A mathematical technique for getting the right answer should not be confused with the underlying reality.

        • Comment by The OFloinn:

          Sez you. You have not actually done anything to explain causation, you’ve just given it a different name. It’s still a black box, because you cannot say anything about the pointing-toward that couldn’t equally be said of the original causation.

          Explain in terms of efficient causation alone how A→B “always or for the most part” unless the cause is somehow “directed toward” the effect. No smuggling in finality by the back door, like Dawkins & co. do. And IT JUST IS! is not an allowable answer.

          I think part of the problem is that people think of finality as a sort of backward-reaching efficient cause. It isn’t. And it can’t be harnessed to make useful products for industry “to expand man’s dominion over the universe,” as Bacon and Descartes put it. (Bacon thought finality was real but useless for the new purpose to which the Revolution was bending Science; Decartes thought it was unreal precisely because it was useless.)

          A mathematical technique for getting the right answer should not be confused with the underlying reality.

          Whoa! That’s what Cardinal Bellarmine told Galileo. Kool.

          The wave function at time t+1 is caused by the wave function at time t.

          A mathematical technique for getting the right answer should not be confused with the underlying reality.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Explain in terms of efficient causation alone how A→B “always or for the most part” unless the cause is somehow “directed toward” the effect.

            Just as soon as you explain how “A causes B” is different from “A is directed toward B”. All you’ve done is restate the same thing in different words, which is no help but gives an illusion that you’ve explained something.

            IT JUST IS! is not an allowable answer.

            I can’t help it if your education leads you to want answers that we don’t actually have. We know that A has, in the past, usually been followed by B; we conjecture that it will also be so in the future; we call this pattern-plus-conjecture causation. Then you, or rather Aristotle, come along and demand that we rephrase our observation-plus-conjecture in terms of this nifty new phrase, final causation. It is certainly possible to do so, but why bother? It doesn’t actually explain anything; it’s just a repackaging of the same dang observation and conjecture.

            In a similar vein, “The particle ends up in location X because that minimises the potential” is not an explanation, it’s a description and a mathematical model. In this case the model is at least useful for making predictions about other particles, so it’s not purely a word game. But strictly speaking the word ‘because’ is being abused.

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              You are still treating finality as if it were a sort of efficient cause in competition with efficient causation. The two are complementary. “A causes B” is precisely contingent on “there is something in A that is aimed toward B,” because otherwise A would not be a cause of B in particular. It might cause C or D or nothing at all. This is what we mean when we say that modern scientists deny finality while tacitly relying upon it. Finality is what makes efficient causation lawful rather than coincidental. Think of it like push versus push-toward.

              Think also of “minimizing the potential function” as simply the mathematical shorthand describing the behavior of physical systems. Systems don’t move toward equilibrium states because the math is thus and so. The math is thus and so because systems move toward equilibrium states.

              In fact, the Greek word αιτια doesn’t mean “causes” in the modern usage, which restricts the meaning to efficient causes and thus confuses the issue. It has been translated as “becauses,” the four-fold complete description of what a thing is. They are answers to various questions on the work “make.”
              Being.
              1. Material. What is X made of? (It’s matter.)
              2. Formal. What makes is an “X”? (It’s form.)
              Becoming
              3. Efficient. What made X? (It’s source)
              2. Final. What is X made for? (It’s end)

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Think also of “minimizing the potential function” as simply the mathematical shorthand describing the behavior of physical systems. Systems don’t move toward equilibrium states because the math is thus and so. The math is thus and so because systems move toward equilibrium states.

                Well, yes. That’s what I said.

                “A causes B” is precisely contingent on “there is something in A that is aimed toward B,” because otherwise A would not be a cause of B in particular.

                Again, what is the difference between this, and just saying “A causes B in particular”? All you’re doing is turning around in circles of words. You put in this additional layer, but it doesn’t add anything; in the end you’re no closer to understanding A, B, or the relation between them than you were when you said “A causes B”.

                When you accuse me of sneaking in final causes by the back door, it looks to me like I’m just agreeing that there is, actually, causation. I just deny that the airy word-construct of “final causes” is necessarily useful in all cases. In human interactions, fine, it is often useful to ask why something was done; but then we have in mind a specific doer, who could at least in principle communicate his reasons to us. When we come down to inanimate objects, however, it seems to me that it’s much more sensible to say “A causes B” without bothering about any pointing-toward. In this case the pointing-toward is not adding any information.

                What additional understanding do you have when you say “A points towards B”, that you didn’t have when you said “A causes B”? These are the same statement, but one has more syllables.

                1. Material. What is X made of? (It’s matter.)
                2. Formal. What makes is an “X”? (It’s form.)
                Becoming
                3. Efficient. What made X? (It’s source)
                2. Final. What is X made for? (It’s end)

                This was apparently written with the final cause of making pedants like myself twitch. Between the misnumbering and the misplaced apostrophes… twitch. However. There seems to be a hidden assumption, namely that everything was made by someone for some cause. I see no reason to grant that, without therefore denying that in most human activities it is a useful thing to ask. But the planet Jupiter has no final cause; why should it?

                • Comment by The OFloinn:

                  Again, what is the difference between this, and just saying “A causes B in particular”?

                  To say “A causes B in particular” either smuggles finality in below the radar or else it is simply asserted as a brute fact. Otherwise, you have no grounding for the belief. Tomorrow, A may cause X.
                  Remember, finality was called “the cause of causes” because it was the basis for the other three. It doesn’t especially explain anything in physics. It explains physics.

                  There seems to be a hidden assumption, namely that everything was made by someone for some cause.

                  What someone? Finality means that a thing reaches toward some end. Finality is intrinsic to its nature to do so. Not, like Newton and others thought, imposed from the outside. There are three kinds of finality:

                  1. Termination. It comes to an end, full stop. Telomeres divide several times and then stop. A rock falls to the point of minimal achievable gravitational potential and then stops. A chemical reaction proceeds to equilibrium and stops. Fingers grow to a certain length, then stop. Note that the equilibrium state may oscillate, like predator/prey populations, orbiting planets, or Belusov reactions.
                  2. Perfection. A thing develops toward the point where it cannot be any more of what it is, and any further change will lessen it. An acorn perfects itself as oak; a tiger cub becomes a mature tiger.
                  3. Intention. A thing moves toward an end or purpose. A bird gathers twigs in order to make a nest; it does not gather twigs at random and put them in random places. A tiger stalks in order to find prey. The end of a doctor is health. The end of a strategist is victory. There is no need even for self-awareness: when a seagull drops a clam on a rock in order to break it open and eat it, it is probably not aware of its purpose in the way a shipwright is aware of the ship he intends.

                  A bird’s wing helps it fly and helps it keep warm. But it is for flying in a way that it is not merely for warming.

                  the planet Jupiter has no final cause; why should it?

                  Because otherwise it would fly off into outer space or drop into the sun? Its final state is an orbital state. I gather it also helps keep the inner system freer of debris than would otherwise be the case. There are undoubtedly efficient causes that tell us how it achieves those ends.

                  Here is an example I ran into a while back:
                  Four Causal Factors of Evolution
                  1. Material Cause:

                  the tendency to variation due to constant small random mutations in the genetic code; i. e., a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences
                  2. Formal Cause:
                  the tendency of an interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type
                  3. Efficient Cause:
                  natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind; i. e., the agent determining in which direction species-change will take place
                  Final Cause:
                  the flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental possibilities.

                  • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                    Because otherwise [Jupiter] would fly off into outer space or drop into the sun? Its final state is an orbital state.

                    Why bother? You can just as well say that Jupiter orbits the Sun, full stop. In fact, suppose we combine your statement that the final state is an orbital state, with your statement that if it didn’t have a final state it would fly off or crash into the Sun; we then get “If Jupiter didn’t have an orbital state, it would either fly off or crash into the Sun”. Or, to rephrase further, “If Jupiter didn’t have an orbital state, it wouldn’t have an orbital state”. Do tell!

                    I cannot fathom why you think this is an improvement on the “assertion as brute fact”. What is the difference? You’ve just added a layer of prolix verbiage to the same dang assertion. As an academic I appreciate a good layer of prolix verbiage, but I usually expect it to have a reason to exist.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      Oh, I was just funning. I can’t figure out what has you so exercises over the notion that there are laws of nature rather than simply coincidences of nature. Clearly rest is the final state of motion, and “rest” in Aristotelian terms includes to aei thein (the always-running), i.e., cyclic or osculating equilibria. Remember, inanimate forms are not individuating forms, so it’s not clear to me that we can ask for a terminus or perfection for Jupiter as-such independently of ponderable matter. It might be regarded as simply a heap rather than a substance. I’m not expert enough to say.

                      You seem to be expecting that metaphysics should do the job of physics; but as I understand it, it does the job of explaining the assumptions underlying physics: place, being, cause, end, etc. — matters that a physicist must simply take for granted. After all, what more is said beyond “Jupiter orbits the sun according to [this equation]” if we were to add “because gravity is an efficient cause”? What is all this prolix verbiage about “gravitation”? About “place”?

                      Finality does “add to” A→B. It is why “A→B” exists in the first place.

                      Can modern scientists “explain everything they need to” without reference to the irreducible hierarchy and patterned structure actualizing natural things (what the old philosophers called formal causes)? Can they “explain everything they need to” without reference to the regularities and lawlike tendencies of natural beings (in the old terminology, final causes)?

                      It is true that modern scientists have typically rejected these notions, but they haven’t eliminated them, only ignored them. More precisely, they have presupposed and relied upon them while simultaneously claiming their nonexistence. Yet the very best scientists do not limit themselves to purely reductionistic, “bottom-up” explanations. They know that things are not exhaustively explained by explanations of their parts. They may not use the old terminology, but by their exploration of hierarchy and form such scientists are returning to the tradition of natural philosophy. And natural philosophy leads to metaphysics, to the understanding of being as such.
                      – Joseph Schoenborn

                      Maybe this guy can help you, since he is also a physicist:
                      http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm#6

                • Comment by Patrick:

                  “There seems to be a hidden assumption, namely that everything was made by someone for some cause. I see no reason to grant that”

                  I don’t necessarily grant this either, but I also don’t see the assumption. Where is it made?

                  • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                    In the statement that all four causes are required for a complete explanation. This assumes that the final cause exists for all objects.

                    • Comment by DGDDavidson:

                      Final cause does exist for all objects, but as the OFloinn has explained elsewhere, this does not mean that someone is imparting purpose to them. That things have a direction to some end does not imply a director.

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      Final cause does exist for all objects

                      I have yet to see an argument for, as opposed to a bald assertion of, this statement.

                    • Comment by DGDDavidson:

                      You’ve been reading the arguments at length in this thread; I can’t add anything to what OFloinn and mhssu have already said. The reason you know final causes exist is because, like some of the other things we’ve been discussing in here, you can’ t talk about things without them.

                      All I meant to do was reply to your own assertion that final cause implies God; it does not.

                    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

                      DGD Davidson:
                      Final cause does exist for all objects
                      Dr. Andreassen:
                      I have yet to see an argument for, as opposed to a bald assertion of, this statement.

                      Final cause does exist, but Dr. Andreassen is partly right: he has yet to see an argument of a type that he will never see, because finality is an axiom. However, what arguments have been presented here are not bald assertions, they point to the self-evidence and inavoidability of the principle of finality.

                      Natural sciences take for granted the self-evident principles of metaphysics, that answer to the “why” of things. Their job is on the “how”, the empirical implications and physico-mathematical axioms of their particular field. If scientists want to do philosophy, they have to refer to sound metaphysics, which the likes of “Ditchkins” usually avoid. Fortunately, Dr. Andreassen poses better questions.

                      Axioms flow from each other. Finality is the third one. Efficient causality is the fourth: it flows from finality, as finality flows from the first two principles, identity and sufficient reason.

                      The only way to demonstrate axioms is to reduce the contradictory proposition to absurd, or impossible. If there are efficient causes, there must be finality, otherwise -> reduction to absurd (see Aristotle or Maritain or, I suppose, other classical theists). If there is finality, beings must have sufficient grounds for being, otherwise… Sufficient reason, or grounds for being flows from the principle of identity (and non-contradiction), otherwise… ; this last one is very obvious and leads to the first metaphysical question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

                      (Inspired from Jacques Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics, see archive.org, or the link to the same at the bottom of my page sylvietheolog.wordpress.com)

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      quantum mechanics lays doubt on the notion of Causality itself.

      No it doesn’t. The wave function at time t+1 is caused by the wave function at time t. Our ignorance of which Everett branch we’ll end up in, and inability to observe the other ones, does not imply a lack of causation.

  9. Comment by Gian:

    Virtual particles per se are form a lesser problem. They are a physical interpretation of certain terms in the series expansion of certain probabilities. But quantum mechanics itself instructs us not to take the physical interpretation too literally.

    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

      Does it, indeed? I would like to see you derive this from the axioms.

      What you perhaps meant was that quantum physicists, having no immediately obvious way of deciding what is the true reality underlying their mathematical methods, enjoin a cautious agnosticism until further evidence is obtained. This caution is not embedded in the theory itself, which doesn’t in fact have much to say about what one ought to believe.

  10. Comment by Gian:

    I wonder how much Honor Code and Purity Laws one can get out of Thomistic Natural Law?.

    The honor code says that insults to one’s mother, wife, sister, daughter must be avenged.
    Also insults to one’truthfulness, manhood, country, caste or race or clan must be avenged.

    These are as intutitive as Do not steal and thus as fundamental to human nature as it exists.

    There are also Purity Laws, such as a man is defiled by sexual intercourse and thus he must clean himself before he enters a temple. Or a woman is defiled in childbirth
    or a household is defiled by a death that occurs in the house. And these things have to be purified. These matters are also deeply intutive.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      When did vengeance, which is an evil, put right what was wrong?
      Insulting anyone is wrong, but revenge is not rational. It should be only a last resort, when all other options have been to no avail, and even then it is still an evil.

      • Comment by Gian:

        Vengeance is wrong, clearly, by the Christian moral code. But all people are not Christians.

        Many or most people do feel that an insult must be avenged. The vengeance does right the wrong. The question is how are you going to convince them otherwise except by the authority of the Church i.e. by going above the Natural Law.

        • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

          The Church goes “above” Natural Law???
          Sigh…

          • Comment by Gian:

            Sorry. I should have written “beyond”

            • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

              Still wrong. “Beyond” or “above” may be said of what in the supernatural reality is beyond natural reason and will be known to us only in beatific vision.

              If the Church is to have any authority at all in matters of morals, its teachings have to be in the line of Natural Law, which is modeled on Eternal Law, thus not fundamentally different from it. I remind you that the prescriptions of Natural Law in other civilizations are the same as the Decalogue, and the Decalogue does not demand heroicity of virtue anymore than Natural Law demands it. Revenge is against Natural Law simply because it is evil.

              You should not appeal to the authority of the Church on non Christians, but only to its competency to preserve and interpret Natural Law without error. (Like classical theist philosophy, Natural Law would have been lost in the memory hole a long time ago without the Church.) Christians also benefit to know the arguments of Natural Law to better understand the truth and goodness of Church’s moral positions. They would have less excuses to ignore them.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          But all people are not Christians.

          As we have a thread discussing fundamentals including logic, would you mind expressing yourself in logical rather than colloquial English? “All X are not Y” is a statement that there is no X that is Y; in other words, you are saying that nobody is a Christian. What you wanted to say was that some people are non-Christian, which is correctly stated “Not all people are Christian”. This distinction is often elided in informal speech, but really matters in logic.

  11. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    I can’t figure out what has you so exercised over the notion that there are laws of nature rather than simply coincidences of nature.

    Certainly there are laws. What I cannot figure out is why you think this finality stuff is helpful in thinking about them. If all you want to say is that we observe regularities in the past, and expect them to continue into the future, why not say so?

    Clearly rest is the final state of motion, and “rest” in Aristotelian terms includes to aei thein (the always-running), i.e., cyclic or osculating equilibria. Remember, inanimate forms are not individuating forms, so it’s not clear to me that we can ask for a terminus or perfection for Jupiter as-such independently of ponderable matter. It might be regarded as simply a heap rather than a substance. I’m not expert enough to say.

    I don’t understand what this is trying to say.

    You seem to be expecting that metaphysics should do the job of physics; but as I understand it, it does the job of explaining the assumptions underlying physics: place, being, cause, end, etc. — matters that a physicist must simply take for granted.

    There is an assumption of regularity in nature, yes. If that assumption were shown untrue, physics in its current form would be impossible. I don’t see what final causation has to do with this. You keep asserting that your metaphysics ‘explains’ something, but it doesn’t; it just relabels it. You’ve still got the same dang assumption, now wrapped in a layer of words. If you want to say “You’ve got to make this assumption,” then say so; giving it a fancy name accomplishes nothing.

    After all, what more is said beyond “Jupiter orbits the sun according to [this equation]” if we were to add “because gravity is an efficient cause”?

    Nothing. So I don’t say that. I say that Jupiter orbits according to this equation, and I expect other planets to orbit according to the same one. Done.

    Finality does “add to” A→B. It is why “A→B” exists in the first place.

    Sez you! (Or Aristotle, if you prefer.) Why do you believe that this is a useful statement to make? You’ve added a ‘why’ with no internal details; all this accomplishes is to make your system strictly more complex, without any added explanatory power.

    Again, what is the difference in understanding between “A causes B, brute fact” and “A causes B because finality”? What is the difference between ‘finality’ as an ‘explanation’ for causation, and “dormitive potency” as an explanation for causing sleep? And incidentally, if causation needs a why for its existence, why doesn’t finality? What is the thing that allows finality to exist?

    Your ‘explanation’ doesn’t explain; it just adds a word. If you’re not careful, this can feel like an explanation, as in the example of the dormitive potency. But it’s not. A true explanation adds internal detail; it gives some mechanism. If I say that the potion causes sleep by stimulating the X center in the brain, I have introduced an actual explanation; we can then ask why stimulating the X center causes sleep, and why the potion stimulates it. We’ve opened the black box and taken out two smaller boxes and a gear. But the ‘explanation’ of “dormitive potency” just adds another box, of the same size. So also with ‘finality’.

    • Comment by mhssu:

      “A causes B,” when unpacked, demonstrates Finality, since causation is the actualization of potency, and potency only obtains insofar as there exists a directedness in a thing toward a certain end, and that this direction has such a nature that it will be actualized under so-and-so conditions.

      In order to excise Finality from one’s account of causality between A and B, one has to deny that there is such a thing as potentiality for B that is actualized by A, which would entail that, of the so-called “causal” relations you observe, what you really mean is that B only tends to follow, without observed exception from the presence of A. Of course, this ends up denying the causal relationship between B and A in favor of a coincidental relation. Finality, then, is indeed a necessary component of any account of causation that is not some Humean notion of pure coincidence.

      Not that Humean assertions of pure coincidence can take you far from Finality. Sure, it may undermine any causal relation you observe between any particular observable A and B. However, that B even begins to occur, requires that, when it did occur, it could occur. To say that it did occur even if, when it did occur, it could not have, is pretty absurd. That is just to say, however, that at the moment of its occurrence a potency was actualized, which, as we have seen, entails Finality (and, furthermore, that there was a cause for B in terms of potency and actualization).

      I think it’s revealing that you think that all explanations have to be reductionistic and only in terms of Efficient causes; you have to open the box to find out what’s inside, and the only explanations you’re looking for are those of what causes the movements in terms of more fundamental components inside the box Efficiently causing changes in other parts. Since Aristotle thinks that anything that moves is moved by another, he would agree to this approach if you want to find out what Efficiently caused something to occur. For Aristotle both the parts of a substance and objects external to the substance are metaphysically distinct from the substance itself, so naturally that’s where you would look to find what Efficiently causes some activity in a substance.

      Formal and Final causes are not Efficient causes, sure, but that doesn’t mean that they are not informative accounts of a thing, that explain other aspects of what it is. They describe respectively what a thing is, qua itself, and what a thing is directed at accomplishing under what circumstances, as a member of its kind.

      To use your example of the sleep potion, we can apply the Four Causes thus. The explanation of Efficient causes will seek to explain what series of actualizations leads to the effect of the potion, and this account will necessarily involve accounts of actualizations in the potion’s chemical parts and the causal series in the organs of the imbiber. The explanation in terms of Material causes describes what the sleep potion is made of. The Formal Cause, or Form, is that which makes this particular substance a sleep potion rather than an invulnerability potion or poison or mud. It is an account of the characteristics essential to a thing, and explains what distinguishes it from other things, and puts it in the same kind with other instances of the same. Final Causes, lastly, explain what ends the potion’s capacities are directed at, which explains what end the various components of the sleep potion combine to realize. These are all useful answers to useful questions.

      Suppose, for another example, you were an archaeologist-chemist and found a number of vials of bright green liquid in an ancient alchemist’s lab. You would ask what each does (ie, what ends it is intrinsically directed toward actualizing), what each liquid is (ie, whether they are all of the same essence, or whether some in fact have a different essence but only appear the same), what it’s made of and what causes it to act the way it does, and each would have a useful answer.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        “A causes B,” when unpacked, demonstrates Finality, since causation is the actualization of potency, and potency only obtains insofar as there exists a directedness in a thing toward a certain end, and that this direction has such a nature that it will be actualized under so-and-so conditions.

        These are just the same old word games, slightly rephrased. Why bother with all this verbiage? Just say “A has always (or often) been followed by B, and we expect this to remain true in the future” and be done. The ‘finality’ doesn’t add anything, it’s just a different word for the same thing. You’ve just invented a new word for the fact of causality.

        • Comment by mhssu:

          These are just the same old word games, slightly rephrased. Why bother with all this verbiage?

          Just say “A has always (or often) been followed by B, and we expect this to remain true in the future” and be done

          Because B following A or usually following A doesn’t entail that A caused B- this is not an account of causation.

          Fact is, there’s a difference between causation and simply having B coincidentally tending to follow A, the difference being that A in fact causes B only insofar as it is A that actualizes the potency for B. The word “finality” is important because it gives a label to the element of directedness or teleology that plays an essential role in all causal interactions in nature (if there are in fact causal interactions in nature), but which, as an element of causality, is distinct from the fact of causality itself.

          • Comment by Gian:

            The Scientists think of causation in terms of Events. They say that an event A at time t causes another event B at time t+1.

            The Thomists think of causation in terms of things. They say that a thing A at time t causes another thing B at time t.

            So the physicists and Thomists are talking at cross-purposes.

            • Comment by mhssu:

              The same arguments seem to apply whether you talk of things or events. Unless the scientists speak of events as being connected by nothing more than habitual coincidence (that is, they have no actual causal connection at all), I don’t see how they can avoid talking of event-event causation in terms of the actualization of the potential for a certain event B by a certain event A.

              • Comment by Gian:

                It is unclear what is problem with ‘mechanistic’ view of solar system, for example. The mechanistic view goes well with the Biblical view- initially God created the planets with an impetus and it is the initial impetus that keeps the planets in orbit.

                • Comment by mhssu:

                  Impetus is an actuality actualizing a potency. If the planets did not have the ability or potential at each point to be moved by that impetus, then they wouldn’t move, because it would be the case that they couldn’t move. To have such an ability, to move or be moved is a prrequisite of movement, but that is to have teleology. The mechanistic view is inadequate because it’s incoherent and incomplete without teleology.

                  • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                    Impetus is an actuality actualizing a potency.

                    How is your understanding increased by this verbiage? You are trying to build a foundation for something that already stands perfectly well on its own, namely that the planets move in particular orbits; and then, what’s worse, you’re using the sand of erudition to do so. It certainly looks impressive on the page, provided you don’t pay any attention to what’s actually being said. Which is just another version of the good old dormitive potency.

                    • Comment by mhssu:

                      How is your understanding increased by this verbiage?

                      Gian was talking about an impetus theory of local motion, and talking about how that would be a “mechanistic,” ie, anti-Aristotelian, anti-teleological view. I was simply translating what impetus is into Aristotelian terms- namely, something that is imparted to an object in virtue of which it moves, which actualizes the ability (which is grounded in teleology) to move, which is not at all inconsistent with Aristotle’s metaphysics of motion.

                      As has been pointed out to you by others, by the way, the idea of potency, even the idea of a “dormitive potency” in a certain potion, is non-trivial, since it is to assert that there is a directedness or teleology in the nature of a particular thing toward a particular end to be actualized under certain conditions, and that its effect isn’t merely a case of habitual coincidence.

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      [T]he idea of potency [...] is non-trivial, since it is to assert that there is a directedness or teleology in the nature of a particular thing toward a particular end to be actualized under certain conditions, and that its effect isn’t merely a case of habitual coincidence.

                      And as I have pointed out, there is no difference between saying “actualisable directedness” and saying “habitual coincidence which we expect to continue“. Or in other words, “we appear to live in a universe with regularities, in which past predicts future”. Which is, agreed, the fundamental assumption of physics, but why beat around the bushes with ‘directedness’ and whatnot? You don’t explain anything about why the universe is regular, you just hide the observation that, by dog, it damn well is.

                    • Comment by mhssu:

                      Rolf,

                      You wrote that,

                      “there is no difference between saying “actualisable directedness” and saying “habitual coincidence which we expect to continue.” “

                      Surely, there is. If the relationship between two things/events A and B is only one of habitual coincidental occurrence of B when A is present, then no causal relationship actually obtains between them. There is an ontological difference, in other words, between correlation without causation and correlation due to causation. If the habitual coincidence happens to continue, and it predictably continues, that doesn’t make the coincidence any less coincidental, and thus noncausal, if indeed the relation is actually coincidental.

                      For a true causal relation to obtain between any A and B, that is, a relation that is not merely fortuitous, it would have to occur due to real features of things in the world interacting. Aristotelianism points out that one of these features must be teleology, which guides potencies which are actualized in the event of causation.

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      If the habitual coincidence happens to continue, and it predictably continues, that doesn’t make the coincidence any less coincidental, and thus noncausal, if indeed the relation is actually coincidental.

                      ‘Coincidence’ is being used in two meanings here. One is the literal sense of happening at the same time, “the picnic and the bear incursion unfortunately co-incided”. The other is the colloquial sense of randomness, “fancy meeting you here – what a coincidence!” You are asserting that without something extra, the first sense and the second sense are indistinguishable. I say that this is wrong; if the co-incidence (first sense) is in fact random, it will eventually stop happening. Otherwise ‘randomness’ has no meaning. To borrow a phrase, if your god kept rolling double sixes, you would eventually suspect that it was not playing dice.

                      Now, whether a co-incidence (first sense) does in fact continue is a matter of fact; it is not known to us in the present, but it’s either true or not. If it’s true, then that is a brute fact about reality; if false, then that’s also a brute fact. What is the purpose of labeling these facts as either having or not having the property of ‘finality’? You haven’t said anything more than what’s contained in the fact itself, namely that the coincidence continues, or not.

                      Suppose there is a certain protein which causes sleep when administered. If I say that this is because of the way the molecule fits into a certain brain-cell receptor, I have added useful internal detail: My explanation has gears connecting facts which are smaller than the one I started with. If I say it is because of a “dormitive potency”, what on Earth have I added? All I’m saying is that it causes sleep when administered, which is what was to be explained in the first place! I have in some sense added detail, so it looks like an explanation, but there’s no structure; all the unexplained things are the same size as my initial observation that the potion causes sleep. This is not understanding, it is a layer of words. Now, it is a fact, perhaps unknown to me, that the potion does or does not continue to cause sleep in the future. But if the sleep today is explained by the molecular structure, why isn’t the sleep tomorrow? Either we have an explanation, or not. The ‘finality’ does not add anything either way.

                      For a true causal relation to obtain between any A and B, that is, a relation that is not merely fortuitous, it would have to occur due to real features of things in the world interacting.

                      Why must those features be non-material? The things in the world can just as well be the shapes of proteins.

                      Aristotelianism points out asserts without argument or evidence that one of these features must be teleology

                      I admit the possibility that Aristotle had some argument for his position, but I don’t see anyone here giving it.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Because B following A or usually following A doesn’t entail that A caused B- this is not an account of causation.

            That may be so, but it rather misses my point: To say ‘finality’ isn’t an account of causality either. It’s just a relabeling. All you’ve done is give the same mystery a new name. To say “dormitive potency” is not an account of the power to cause sleep. It would be much more fruitful to say that we don’t have an account of finality, but that it does rather seem that causality exists, and to hold off on trying to explain it until we have some further insight.

            There is an analogy in physics: When I say that the apple fell down because a force acted on it, I have made some reduction in the problem: I can measure the force, predict the future path of other apples, and generally speaking there is some internal detail to my model. If I say that it fell because it was its nature to do so, there is no detail; I have replaced one brute fact, that it fell, with another, that it was its nature. These black boxes have the same size. But if I push the first explanation a little further, I encounter more black boxes; what is the nature of ‘force’? Why do apples move in response to it? This is the point at which you ought to answer “We don’t know; these are black boxes, but at any rate this is what we’ve seen. We’ll get back to you when we have more information.” Now here I’ve elided some more modern physics, in that we do have accounts of force that contain more internal detail than what Newton had; but the point remains that, if you ask this sort of question in physics, there are surprisingly few layers before you get to the shrug of “Well, that’s what we’ve seen”. At that point it is overwhelmingly important not to start making stuff up. If you do, you hide the fundamental question that you ought to be asking.

            Neither of us understands causality in the sense that we have a good model with internal details; “A causes B” is for both of us a brute observed fact. But you insist on hiding this ignorance behind the veil of ‘finality’. “Finality allows causality to exist”, you say, completely ignoring that you’ve just added another mystery the same size as the first one. All you’re doing is moving your ignorance around and giving it a new label.

            What is the thing that allows finality to exist? Be sure to give it a label ending in ‘-ity’, or you won’t be taken seriously.

    • Comment by Gian:

      There is a Low Conception of Sciences in which we aim only to predict the physical phenomena.

      Then there is a High Conception of Sciences in which we seek to understand the nature of things.

      The word “nature” is non-trivial and has all sorts of metaphysical implications.

      You are yourself oscillating between Low and High conceptions, all the time, like any other non-metaphysically aware scientist.

      For instance “dormitive potency” is non-trivial. It means that the substance A has a “power” to induce sleep. That is, it possesses a “nature” and that it induces sleep is not an accident of this or that sample, this or that patient etc.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        For instance “dormitive potency” is non-trivial. It means that the substance A has a “power” to induce sleep.

        But that was the thing to be explained in the first place! The question was “Why does this potion have the power to induce sleep?”; you cannot sit there and tell me that “because it has the power to induce sleep” is a satisfactory answer!

        Then there is a High Conception of Sciences in which we seek to understand the nature of things.

        Yes, and my assertion is that requiring a final cause in all cases is not helpful to understanding. If you see a phallus-shaped object in an archeological dig, and want to label it for your museum, it is helpful to know whether it was intended as a totem in a fertility rite, or as a dildo. But if you see a phallus-shaped rock on the bottom of the sea, it is not helpful to say that water has an innate tendency to carve rocks into shapes; you may as well just say that it does in fact do so, and be done. In the first example, the final-cause model supplies internal detail. In the second case it doesn’t. To ‘understand’ something means to have a detailed model of its existence; it may still have black boxes but they have to be smaller black boxes than the thing itself, and there must be some gears. To say of inanimate things (not made by thinking beings) that they have a final cause does not produce any such gears; it just replaces one black box with another of the same size.

  12. Comment by Gian:

    Goedel’s Theorem and the perils of system-makers

    Any formal system contains true statements that are not deducible from the axioms. That is, the set of true statements is larger than the set of provable statements within any axiomatic systems. This remains so, even if the set of axioms is enlarged to any extent.

    This is a most important result and implies that the human intellect is larger than any axiomatic system and is beyond algorithms. It also kills the dream of the Theory of Everything. This point, ignored by physicists, was made by Father Jaki.

    Individual moral intutions are the reality; Natural Law or Objective Moral Order is a construct, a product of reasoning and a deduction from individual moral intuitions.
    That one criticizes some Positive Law does not establish Natural Law since one always
    does so from the vantage of one’s moral intutitions. The battle over the Positive Law is
    the battle among individual moral intuitions. That is, ultimately, it is the battle of an individual A’s moral intuitions and another individual B’s moral intuitions.

    The harm of thinking that morality is a matter of deductions from some axioms is
    1) The axioms are less certain that individual moral intuitions
    2) The axioms tend to produce certain unintuitive deductions i.e. it is wrong to tell children about Santa Claus, it is wrong to tell a lie to a Nazi at the door, it was wrong for Rahab to tell lies (even though she is praised exactly for the lies).

  13. Comment by Gian:

    Consider, for instance, the morality of contraception. How is the idea of an Objective Moral Order going to discover an agreement between people that have different moral intuitions on it?

    The Catholic Natural Law, arguing from the frustation of an natural end, deems it immoral. While the Maltusian with concerns about overpopulation finds it entirely acceptable or even moral. They are both giving reasons as well but ultimately each individual is going to judge by HIS moral intuition.

    • Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

      You write as if Moral Intuition is always fully formed, immutable, and unchallengeable. I show you mine, you show me yours – and that’s it, discussion over. Since there’s no talking about it and no hope of change, we should just cut to the chase and start shooting each other?

      What if it were possible to discuss individual moral intuition in light of the possibility that ours is not fully formed or immutable, and can be challenged? To do so, we might be forced to appeal to an idea of right and wrong, fair and unfair that is not merely our own feelings. We might be forced, in other words, to consider what has long gone by the name ‘natural law’.

      Of course, if this not possible, it’s a crying shame all those people killed each other to free the slaves, because, after all, many Southerners didn’t feel like slavery was wrong, and the Northerners were just a bunch of religious fanatics trying to impose their beliefs – a simple case of dueling moral intuitions. Or rather, I suppose it was inevitable: if there’s no objective standard, might doesn’t make right, might IS right.

      • Comment by Gian:

        All arguments are going to be judged in the light of one’s moral intuitions.

        Intuitions are not necessarily irrational or pre-rational. They are the law that is written on human hearts. In other words, it is our glimpse of the Eternal Law through clouded lens. The “clouded” is important otherwise a perfect agreement would exist on earth.

  14. Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

    Two thoughts, or perhaps potshots:

    First, ‘Beautiful plumage, the Norwegian Blue’.

    Second, as has been stated any number of times, metaphysics is a fancy name applied to the field of inquiry into the rather basic question: what needs to be true for *anything* to be true?

    The strangely hard part for many people to get, it seems, is that to discuss the question is to eliminate a whole range of ‘answers’ as simply incoherent babbling. There has to be truth. There has to be things. More subtly, for discussion of this question to take place, there have to be other people to discuss it with; there has to be such a thing as ‘discussion’. For discussions with other people to take place, there has to be such a thing as ‘meaning’; meaning has to be conveyable by words.

    Insofar as anyone takes a position that requires the denial of any of these things – if there is no truth, if there are no things, if words have no meaning, if all discussion is propaganda – then his position, as part of a discussion of the truth of certain propositions with other people using words – is simply incoherent, and not an argument at all. It is not serious at all. It is merely word games.

    Modern ‘philosophy’ consists almost entirely of saying one thing – that everything is relative and no one can know the truth – yet behaving as if the world is full of absolutes and we know it. It’s too bad the word ‘hypocrite’ has been redefined to apply only to religious people.

  15. Comment by mhssu:

    Rolf,

    there is no difference between saying “actualisable directedness” and saying “habitual coincidence which we expect to continue“.

    Of course there is. If the relationship between two things/events A and B is the only one of habitual coincidental occurrence of B when A is present, then no causal relationship actually obtains between them. There is a difference, in other words, between correlation and causation. If the habitual coincidence happens to continue, and it predictably continues, that doesn’t make the coincidence any less coincidental, and thus noncausal, if indeed the relation is actually coincidental.

    For a true causal relation to obtain between A and B, that is, a relation that is not merely fortuitous, it would have to occur due to certain features of A and B interacting in a particular way. Aristotelianism points out that one of these features must be teleology in either A or B or both, which guides potencies which are actualized in the event of causation.

  16. Comment by Gian:

    Dorothy Sayers on the Natural Law

    Therre is a universal moral law as distinct from a moral code, which consists of certain statements of fact about the nature of man; and by behaving in conformity with which, man enjoys his true freedom. This is what the Christian Church calls “the natural law”

    The universal moral “law” (or natural law of humanity) is discoverable, like any other law of nature by experience.

    The Mind of the Maker
    ——————————————————-
    That is, the Natural Law is Empirical, in the fullest sense of the word. You can not think your way to the fact that humans marry for life.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      …statements of fact about the nature of man… are empirical???
      Nature = essence = metaphysical statement.
      Dorothy Sayers must have shuddered into her grave.

      • Comment by Gian:

        How does one find out the nature of anything?
        Only by looking at the said thing, observing it .
        One can learn about human nature i) by introspection i.e. internal observation
        ii) and by external observation.

        Do you think you can discover the human nature by some a priori reasoning?
        The metaphysics is deduced from observations.
        The metaphysical statement “Everything that is changed is changed by another” is a deduction from observations.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “How does one find out the nature of anything? Only by looking at the said thing, observing it .”

          Ironically, I have never discovered the principle that all knowledge is based on observation by observing it. Indeed, I do not know what color, shape, duration, or weight a principle of knowledge might be: I have never seen one with my eye.

  17. Comment by Gian:

    The natural law comes in many flavors
    1) The Christian natural law–man is monogamous rational animal
    2) The human nature as per the Theory of Evolution–man is polygamous rationalizing animal.
    3) The Hindu law –mankind is divided into metaphysically distinct types. These types correspond to different rungs on the ladder to Moksha i.e self-realization.

    Etc etc : each religion comes with its own view of human nature,

    • Comment by Andrew Brew:

      And might some of those views be closer to the truth than others? The actual nature of humanity is not a matter of opinion, but of fact (I exclude nihilists and polylogists from the conversation, here). The value of any “view” is precisely proportional to its correspondence to that fact.

      So, no. The natural law is whatever law flows from the nature of Nature, which does not come in different flavours, although truth might be more to some tastes than others.

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      Christian natural law–man is monogamous rational animal: This is truly awful.
      Natural Law is NOT Christian, it is, well, natural, thus universal.
      Philosophy, not Christianity, says that man is a rational animal.
      Monogamous or polygamous are accidents. It is not intrinsically part of man’s nature, nor substance.

      Stop being so foolish. You will scare our Mr Wizard out of this blog and he will be missed.

  18. Comment by Gian:

    “There is an ontological difference between correlation without causation and correlation due to causation.”

    And this can be figured out only when it is possible to “understand” something and thus sciences seek to understand and not merely to record regularities and extrapolate them to the future. We actually have no reason to extrapolate if we entirely lack understanding. Thus, without the concept of understanding, the science is an irrational enterprise.

    The Four Causes are, in turn, inescapable components of understanding the nature of a thing.

  19. Comment by Gian:

    The rationalist philosophy inadequately treats man as a context-free manner. It forgets that an individual man is as much a product of the Law as a creator of it.
    An American is different from an Hindu and why so?. Because the American Law is different from the Hindu Law. Here by law, both the positive man made law and also the unwritten and uncodified customs of the people are meant.

    The rationalistic ethics ignores the fact that each nations looks at the God in its own manner i.e. possesses its own vision of the Good. That’s why there are nations. But nations do not exist for the rationalist.

  20. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    DGDavidson said:

    All I meant to do was reply to your own assertion that final cause implies God; it does not.

    I must say I do not see where I said this, but it’s a big thread. At any rate I am reasonably confident you have misinterpreted me.

    Sylvie D. Rousseau sais:

    Final cause does exist, but Dr. Andreassen is partly right: he has yet to see an argument of a type that he will never see, because finality is an axiom. However, what arguments have been presented here are not bald assertions, they point to the self-evidence and inavoidability of the principle of finality.

    It is clearly not self-evident. It may be unavoidable, but I have yet to see this demonstrated.

    Axioms flow from each other. Finality is the third one. Efficient causality is the fourth: it flows from finality, as finality flows from the first two principles, identity and sufficient reason.

    No, axioms are independent. Statements that can be derived from others are theorems. Perhaps you are using ‘flow’ in some other sense?

    The only way to demonstrate axioms is to reduce the contradictory proposition to absurd, or impossible. If there are efficient causes, there must be finality, otherwise -> reduction to absurd (see Aristotle or Maritain or, I suppose, other classical theists).

    Ok, that at least outlines the form of a compelling argument. I still do not see anyone actually making that argument in this thread. I wonder if you can be a bit more specific than “Aristotle”? Say, chapter and book where he makes this argument?

    Various people have referred to “potentiality”, and seem to be using it in a sense similar to O’Floinn’s “pointing-toward”. Let me see if I can phrase this in my own words in such a way that its proponents agree with the phrasing. It is asserted that, if A caused B, then we must necessarily conclude that B was possible, that the “potential for B existed”. Or to be specific, if age causes me to lose my hair, it is necessary that I always had the potential for baldness. Is this an accurate restatement and example of the assertion “finality is what allows causality”?

    • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

      I wrote an answer that is held for moderation. As our host is absent, it could be a few days before you can read it here. So I posted it on my page (sylvietheolog.worpress.com). You are welcome to comment over there if you wish.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        I’d prefer to keep the conversation in one place as much as possible, but thanks for the response.

        I don’t understand how you reconcile these statements:

        “Pointing toward” is the principle of finality, which is at work when the efficient cause moves a potentiality to actuality in a being; and the efficient cause (fourth axiom) will not move anything if there is not a purpose for it (finality, third axiom), and cannot move anything if formal (fifth axiom) and material (sixth axiom) causes, that are also required for that move to be possible, are not present.

        Your example of baldness might apply for potentiality/actuality, but not to final causality, I believe, because it is an accident in a being

        It seems to me that baldness must have some efficient cause; aging of the hair follicles, cosmic rays, biochemistry, whatever. Now, if the efficient cause will not move anything without finality, and baldness has no finality, then how is it that we observe baldness? Further: If a full accounting of any event requires that we list all its four causes, why doesn’t baldness have a final cause? Is it simply impossible to give a full acount of baldness, by this standard? Or am I misapplying something?

        It is not quite clear to me which axioms are referred to in the first quote; can you point to where they are thus numbered?

  21. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    “…axioms are independent”
    I wouldn’t know about mathematics and physics, but I vaguely recall demonstrations in geometry, the only subject for which I had a small comprehension (probably because I can draw), and I think principles are interrelated in some way. I admired much the demonstrations. I would have liked to remember them but I couldn’t. Anyway, in philosophy all concepts are interdependent. Maritain wrote somewhere about “an edifice of syllogisms carefully built one upon the other”.

    “…chapter and book…”
    There are a good number of references to Aristotle and Aquinas in Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy. His Preface to Metaphysics’ references are mainly from Aquinas and his great commentators, Cajetan and John of St. Thomas. If you are interested, it would certainly be useful to read those two books (or some other and more recent introduction, like Edward Feser’s Philosophy of the Mind and Aquinas); they are not long and are a good overview of the basics of traditional Thomism. (See archive.org or the links to the same at the bottom of my page: sylvietholog.wordpress.com.)

    A little excerpt on the reduction to absurd, from the beginning of the Fifth Lecture in Preface to Metaphysics:
    1. For Thomism there are many first principles. But an order obtains among them. This does not mean that those which come after the first can be demonstrated from it, but that we can prove by a
    reductio ad impossibile, that if any of the other first principles of reason is denied you necessarily deny the first, namely, the principle of identity, and if the principle of identity is denied you can neither think nor speak, cannot indeed exist as a thinking being, as a man.

    I don’t think the reduction to impossible is a compelling argument alone, as all these notions are interrelated. If I remember, Maritain does such a reduction just a couple of times so that we can get the knack of it. Besides, this book is not a treaty, it is a series of public lectures, and as such an agreeable reading.

    Various people have referred to “potentiality”, and seem to be using it in a sense similar to O’Floinn’s “pointing-toward”
    The couples essence/existence, matter/form, potentiality/actuality, substance/accident are part of the definition and analysis of being. “Pointing-toward” is the principle of finality, which is at work when the efficient cause moves a potentiality to actuality in a being; and the efficient cause (fourth axiom) will not move anything if there is not a purpose for it (finality, third axiom), and cannot move anything if formal (fifth axiom) and material (sixth axiom) causes, that are also required for that move to be possible, are not present.

    Your example of baldness might apply for potentiality/actuality, but not to final causality, I believe, because it is an accident in a being and a defect of a bodily function (to grow hair back after it has fallen), thus not a substantial being.

    The finality of every being is a good; every being tends to perfection. A rose will die in a few days but it will grace the garden and give joy to beholders in its time. And it will not wither and fall without having given its seed (if it is not deprived accidentally of this end) so that other roses may grace the garden in their turn. The formal cause is in the essence/nature of the rose plant to grow flowers. The material causes are its physical conformation and a suitable soil, light, humidity. The gardener is the efficient cause. In the case of a wild rosebush, it would be, say, Nature… or a mysterious Gardener.

  22. Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

    I totally agree that the conversation should be kept in one place. It is complex enough for a mere amateur like me to explain these things, but I am learning much at the same time, and there are better philosophers than myself on this blog who will certainly correct my mistakes or misinterpretations.

    (I put a summary of Preface to Metaphysics on my page: https://sylvietheolog.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/mystery-of-being/#more-453)

    While working on it , I was struck by a phrase at the beginning of the seventh and last lecture, which is on efficient causality. After having warned readers against unfitting examples or confusing explanations of causality, Maritain affirms that “speaking generally it would seem that the mystery of being deepens when we come to the principle of [efficient] causality… because of the fact it is existential…”

    Efficient causality in general is evident to us without thinking very hard, but to determine precisely what causes are at work in a particular event and how they work is very difficult, often impossible, since our intelligence is not that of angels, like Descartes thought. Science is devoted to the difficult task to find truth and cause in events triggered by secondary causes. Like OFloinn said, scientists take finality for granted even if they deny it.

    Since cause is hidden in the mystery of matter, a successful reflection about causality would not at first be directed from matter up to final cause but rather, like Greek philosophers did, from being itself through the principles of identity (1) and sufficient reason (2), down to finality (3) and efficient causality (4), then to formal (5) and material (6) causality (the last two are just mentioned, they are not treated in Preface to Metaphysics). The first axioms are intuited in that order because of the richness of being that divides itself successively before our mind into these various notions.

    If philosophy is to mean something, it is primarily about being as such (ontology, metaphysics) and its axioms are intuitively and successively discovered as self-evident and implied in the intuition and analogy of being. Before discussing, in the fifth lecture, the principle of identity, Maritain devotes the first four lectures to capture the ideas of being as such, contrasting non metaphysical views of being, conceptual distinction of essence and existence, intuition of being, analogy of being, transcendentals, tendency, motion leading to potency/act distinction.

    Aristotle’s doctrine of potency and act is the key to efficient causality and this distinction in being arises only at the fourth principle, efficient causality. The first three principles deal with all beings, including the pure act (in which there is no potency), self-subsistent, self-sufficient and only necessary Being, while the fourth axiom and the subsequent apply to contingent beings only.

    The principle of causality is thus: Every contingent being has a ground other than itself, exterior to itself, that is to say an efficient cause. This principle may be expressed more philosophically in terms of potency and act: Every being compounded of potency and act in as much as it is potential does not pass of itself to act. Nothing reduces itself to act – Nihil reducit se de potentia in actum.. It passes to act by the operation of another being in act which causes the change.

    Principle of finality:
    “Potency is always in reference to act and is knowable only through the act to which it is referred. This is one of the two statements of the principle of finality. The second statement and the most important is: every agent acts in view of an end.

    “Being as agent is reference to and determination to a particular good. And this reference is the very ground of the agent’s operation. Before the action is performed it is determined that the agent shall produce this particular effect, perform this particular action rather than any other. For example, the bird is determined to fly by its essence or nature as a bird.

    “To be determined to a term presupposes an ordination, a relation to that term. In the case of being as agent, this ordination or determination must exist between the agent and the term or the action before the agent acts and produces its effect. The determination is the ground of the agent’s action, and the ground of the action must precede, at least with a priority of nature, the action itself. To be a bird is to be ordained to the action of flying.

    “How can there be a relation, an ordination between agent and term before one of them or both exist? Only if the action or effect exists as present in thought, with the existence of knowledge. All this follows of necessity from previous considerations. We are compelled to admit that before being posited in their natural existence the agent’s action and therefore his essence alike exist with an existence superior to their merely natural existence, an existence of knowledge or thought.”

    As you said somewhere in this thread as a reproach to someone else’s remark: final cause implies God. DGD Davidson said it does not necessarily. With the quote in the last four paragraphs you have an idea of what Aristotle and St. Thomas say, and this is only a minuscule hint of the argument. The summary I posted on my page is a bit better but not much. The book is more useful. I discover new things every time I open it.

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