Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Theistic Arguments: Essentially Ordered Series

I have been in a revived discussion with Martin, The author of the Thomistic philosophy blog known as Rocket Philosophy.  The discussion first began three years ago on my post where I was talking about infinite series, and WL Craig's illogical "proof" that such a thing can't exist.  Theists make claims of that sort to bolster their theistic arguments, assuming that there must be a first cause or a first mover.  For the record, while I agree that there cannot be an infinite set of physical things within the confines of our finite universe, there is no reason in logic or mathematics that an infinite set of things cannot exist in principle, and Craig's argument (based on mathematical logic) is both naive and incorrect.  But the comments following my article eventually led to the topic of "Essentially Ordered Series", and Martin entered the fray, trying to explain to me what that is, and that I am exasperatingly stupid because I couldn't understand the concept.  Martin later made comments to that effect on his own blog, like this:
Another time I was trying to get skeppy, again, to just UNDERSTAND what is meant by "essentially ordered series" and he refuse to allow his brain to go that far. Carrying on and on about "science!!!!" and how "science!!!!" has refuted essentially ordered series. Here is that thread: http://theskepticzone.blogspot.com/2014/09/theistic-arguments-series-on.html - Martin
It is my contention that Martin is so stuck on his medieval Thomistic philosophy that he refuses to take, or even to attempt to understand, a view that is more consistent with modern science.  Anyway, I stayed out of the discussion at his blog until just recently, and neither of us has budged in our position.  In light of that, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a more complete explanation of my own understanding of the concept of essentially ordered series, and why it is shown to be meaningless in the context of modern science.

First, what is an essentially ordered series?  We're referring to some kind of causal chain, and there are two basic types, according to the philosophy of Thomists.  Martin explains it in his own post, but he used the term "vertical causal series" to identify it.  This is distinguished from a "horizontal causal series", otherwise known as accidentally ordered series.  The vertical (or essentially ordered) series is "concurrent", while the horizontal series is temporally sequential.  In the vertical series, all elements must exist simultaneously, and the original (or sustaining) cause is passed through the chain of causality to produce the final effect, which is concurrent with the original cause.  He uses the example of an illuminated room, where there is some distant power station that generates electricity, which travels down the transmission line and into the lamp, which in turn produces light that illuminates the room.  And as long as the power plant produces electricity, the room remains lit.  The horizontal (or accidentally ordered series), on the other hand, is temporally sequential, and causal elements in the chain need not continue to exist at the time the final effect is produced.  An example of this would be the siring of offspring, where the grandfather produces the father, who in turn produces his own son, even though the grandfather might be dead by that time.  The grandfather is not the sustaining cause of the son.

OK.  That's not so difficult to understand.  Here's another explanation of it.  I think I get the concept, despite Martin's insistence that I don't.  But there seems to be some kind of notion on the part of Thomists like him that this concept, which is used in Aquinas' First Cause argument (and that was the topic of Martin's original post), is either unknown to, or beyond the understanding of mere atheists, who have no inkling of the compelling power of Thomistic philosophy.
He also refuses to allow himself to understand the difference between ontological and temporal priority, so he keeps trying to "refute" essentially ordered series by slipping back into temporal priority. Drives me nuts. There's zero rational exchange with him. - Martin
But hold on.  There are some big problems with these Thomistic notions of causality.  And while I understand the concept, I disagree that it is realistic.  Based on a more scientific understanding of causation, my position is that there is no such thing as "concurrent" causation, there are no essentially ordered series, and the distinction between horizontal and vertical series is purely illusory.  So I tried to explain to Martin what I mean by all this, and he's the one who just doesn't get it.  The two major issues I have with essentially ordered series are 1: that the very notion of causal series is belied by the fact that any effect is the result of many causes, and 2: that causation is always temporally sequential. 

On the first of these, it is overly simplistic to say that A causes B, and B causes C, etc.  It is not only A that causes B, but innumerable other factors that may not be as obvious as A.  Consider the motion of the earth in space.  You could say that the sun's gravity causes the orbital movement of the earth.  But in reality it is mutual interaction between the earth and the sun (they actually orbit each other), the moon, and all other planets, along with their moons, as well as our galaxy, about which the sun orbits, and other galaxies that all influence the motion of one another.  The point is that there is never a single A that causes B, or a single B that causes C, and so on.  So the idea of a chain of causation, or causal series, is bogus.  You can identify causal items as a chain only by artificially narrowing your view to an arbitrary subset of the actual causal factors that are in play, and ignoring all the rest.  But that's not realistic.  Furthermore, from the perspective of a particular outcome, there is no "original cause" at the beginning of the supposed series, because the causal factors branch out in many different directions, and all of them play a role in the outcome.  Even though one of those branches may seem to be essential in producing the result, the same thing might be said about various other causal factors, even if they are not recognized as such.

On my second major objection to essentially ordered series, the notion that there is any concurrent causation is an illusion.  In Martin's example, if you remove the power plant, you have removed the sustaining (original) cause of the illuminated room.  But the effect is not instantaneous, as he claims.  In fact, nothing is.  An electric generator takes electrons from the transmission wire.  But that is only at its own end of the wire.  The deficit of electrons creates a charge imbalance, which causes electrons in an adjacent part of the wire to jump into the vacant space.  And that ripples down the length of the wire.  But each individual movement of electrons takes time.  In reality, if the power plant suddenly disappeared, the effect wouldn't reach the far end of the wire until a small time later.  So the reality is that the lamp would continue to produce photons for some time after the power source is gone.

And what we see as an illuminated room is really a series of individual events, where our eyes sense photons, one at a time, which then produces a fused image in the brain, which we see as a coherent picture.  No one photon produces more than a tiny part of the image.  In reality, whenever we see an image, it is always a result of many individual events that happened some time earlier.  But that time may be so short that we believe the effect is concurrent with the cause, when it's really not.  And the same thing can be said of any cause that Martin calls "concurrent".  There is always a time lag, and there are always temporally sequential events that are involved in any given outcome.  Concurrent causation is an illusion, and essentially ordered series, as envisioned by Thomistic philosophy, simply do not exist in reality.

Does Martin understand any of this?  I don't think so.  "Science!!!!" is something that Martin dismisses out of hand, on the assumption that his philosophical beliefs are superior.  But we must remember that Thomistic philosophy, while compelling to someone who desperately wants to have a philosophical justification for his theistic belief, is based on assumptions that have no epistemic justification, and a medieval understanding of how things work in the world.  Martin doesn't want to adopt a more scientific view of reality, because he understands, deep down inside, that it would destroy the basis of his belief system.  And he's not about to let that happen.  So instead, he lashes out at me, and anyone else who would challenge those beliefs.


  1. im-skeptical, I think this is a much better response than everything I read from you on Martin's blog. The main point really is that 'the notion that there is any concurrent causation is an illusion'. I was also thinking about that when I wrote my answer, and I thought it was obvious, but I did not specify it. I now realize that it was not clear at all, either from my comment or what you wrote to him before. Therefore, I think it's a bit unfair to claim that Martin is rejecting science here. It's not even clear whether he considered that detail...

    Moreover, even though I think this is a great point, the notion that existence itself cannot be an infinite series is not justified anyway. So even if there were such a thing as true instantaneous/congruent causation, it would still not mean that there must be some initial item, as everything we observe has a cause and it thus creates an exception, for no good reason, other than the alternative sounds worse to some people.

    Also, I think yet another example can be used to make your point even stronger here, and it's the hand-stick found in the article you linked to, or the hand-hammer used by Martin (a hammer being kind of a short stick in this case). This is a splendid example because we can prove that it is not concurrent, even if it looks like it is. How? By thinking of an hypothetical stick that is, say, 1 light-year long. Under the concurrent view of causation, the person moving the stick would move the rock at the other end as soon as they move their hand, which moves the stick, which moves the rock. However, in reality, it would take more than 1 year for the rock to start moving. We know it's 'more' than 1 year as that would be the fastest possible path for the force from the hand to travel to the rock, via the stick, to put it simply (it would be much longer in practice).

    This is the same as the same principle as the transmission line you mentioned, but I would argue that it's even stronger, as an example, as it uses a solid object which 'looks' like it causes something to change right away, when we know it doesn’t, and cannot.

    Finally, all that to say that this notion of concurrent causation being an illusion is actually exactly the same as my idea that everything, literally everything, we see on Earth can be traced to the stars in our galaxy. It shows that temporal events are sufficient to explain everything, the kind of non-essential series basically, and it pushes back the question to existence itself, to the universe itself. And that point, who are we to pretend that we know that a thing is needed for the universe to exist? Who are we to say it must have not been infinite, or that it is infinite, or that we can even know in the first place?

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree that the example of the stick would be stronger, but to me it seems more difficult to explain. I think of it in terms of strain in the material of the stick. When the hand moves, it causes the stick to bend slightly, as the part being held by the hand begins to move, and the far end of the stick has not yet moved. The resulting strain propagates down the length of the stick as the material begins to move in response to the strain. It is most easily seen by observing something that is much less stiff, like a flimsy yardstick, for example. The stiffer the material, the faster the movement propagates (and with less bending). But it is never instantaneous.

      As for starting causes, I didn't want to get into that, but I think that all macro-scale events are caused bu something else (which is always temporally before it). But quantum events are uncaused (at least by any notion of causality that we can identify), and they can initiate events at the macro scale. For example, an atom may spontaneously decay, emitting a particle, that then strikes a DNA molecule, producing a mutation. This is something that can't be traced back to the early universe, but is entirely random. And the initiation of the universe itself, according to current cosmological theory, was a quantum event.

  2. Yes, completely agree! Good point with the stiffness of an object, and how it's harder to explain...

    The DNA comment makes me think of Martin's use of the banana and enzyme examples and why it's wrong, because it's all the same atoms anyway if one wants to really trace it all thr way

  3. In QM theory - "spooky action" is thought to be instantaneous. (I'll leave the details for you to look up if you want to....)

    1. Ya I was thinking about that too, but it seems different from a notion of sustaining existence of something else, which is what the argument we are discussing is about (you can see more on Martin's blog). QM's entanglement is more about 2 things changing at the same time because of some cause.

    2. Well, I think entanglement might infer some difficulties for skeps points here (as well as aquinas's). If the universe is nonlocal at the particle level , that suggests our intuitive notions of time and space and cause may not give us much insight at all about the way things "really" are

    3. Yes, exactly. I mentioned in a recent comment that one of the biggest problem with this argument is that it assumes that we have the correct picture of causation/reality/existence, but we could be wrong... we're just humans trying to understand an extremely large old and complex universe, from our point of view. I find it both humbling and fantastic that we cab know that we almost certainly don't know... if you know what I mean.

    4. In my discussion of causation, I was careful to include the caveat of macro-level phenomena. I understand that quantum events do not follow the same set of rules. And I think that's OK for the purposes of the discussion regarding essentially ordered series, since Thomistic notions of causation are macro-level, anyway. Aquinas had no concept of quantum events.

      I agree that when quantum phenomena are taken into account, things are not what they seem to us. But I don't think Thomists are ready to take physical reality into account at the macro-level level, let alone quantum.

  4. Found this comment at Feser's echo chamber.

    GermyClean says"
    My biggest problem with the blogger's argument is that, if true, it would clearly violate PSR, which I think makes for an incoherent philosophy.
    - The PSR is refuted by quantum mechanics. It is NOT an axiom of logic. Physics does not require causation or reason. Things simply behave according to the regularity that is reflected in physical laws.

    He adds:
    im-skeptical seemed to repeatedly misconstrue Aquinas' fifth way and final causation. ... he approaches Thomism without having substantial experience with it.
    - GermyClean should read his Feser. He is just as guilty of this as I am. Perhaps Ed Feser doesn't have substantial experience with Thomism.

    Tritium chimes in with this:
    "Im-skeptic" assumes that any effect in the causal chain of an essentially ordered series must be identified with a singular cause, acting alone and apart from any contributing causes
    - The notion of an "instrumental cause" (Feser's terminology) implies a singular primary cause, even if it is not the only contributing cause. Furthermore, the examples that are typically used to illustrate the principle completely ignore any contributing causality, which presents an unrealistic conception of causality. You should apply the same principle of charity to what I write as you would to any of your fellow Thomists.

    "Im-skeptic" assumes an essentially ordered series requires that an effect be simultaneously concomitant and contemporaneous with its cause.
    - Read your Feser. He says that the only exception to simultaneity would be if there was some kind of "time gate" through which the chain of causation passes. But it is arguably possible at least in theory for there to be a per se causal series in which some of the members were not simultaneous. Suppose a “time gate” of the sort described in Robert Heinlein’s story “By His Bootstraps” were possible. According to him, in the absence of this "time gate", causation would indeed be simultaneous. But physics has completely debunked this notion. Causation is ALWAYS sequential.

    1. Again, the central theme of these conversations on whether EOS can exist is the concept of physics vs. metaphysics. As Martin has stated in his discussion here (http://inaweofeverything.blogspot.com/2012/04/on-aquinas-and-cosmological-argument.html), we are not proposing a physical argument in contrast with modern physics, but something much more fundamental. Our goal is to explain how anything exists at all, at this very moment. We see that potentialities being actualized is an effect, and we know the explanation cannot being the explanandum. We see that things actually exist, here and now. Why is this the case? To do this, we look for examples in nature, such as the hand + stick + stone example, that can illustrate our point. This is not as complex as we make it out to be.

      If Tritium wants to come here and defend his points, I'll let him do that. However, I'll say that Martin has already extensively commented on your individual objections to EOS.

      I'll also comment on the tone once again. Please, let's both drop the snark! There's no need to call Feser's blog an echo chamber (I could just as easily call this one, albeit a much smaller one).

      I also hope that this quote, "Perhaps Ed Feser doesn't have substantial experience with Thomism," isn't meant to be taken seriously. The man has a PhD in philosophy and is one of the most preeminent writers on Thomism today...

      "You should apply the same principle of charity to what I write as you would to any of your fellow Thomists."

      I'm trying to, and you should as well.

  5. If I understand Tritium et al., one rejoinder they are making is to say that you are wrong to think the Thomist account of per se causal series entails that an effect has a single proximate cause higher in the series. Tritium et al. seem to want to allow that a per se causal series as Aquinas conceives of it can allow an effect to have more than one proximate cause.

    But perhaps Tritium et al. do not understand Aquinas. "An effect cannot exceed its cause, but a cause can exceed its effect, so from one cause can proceed many effects, though one effect cannot proceed immediately (immediate) from many causes," De Potentia 3.16 ad 8. Aquinas does allow that many agents can by reduction be counted as though they constitute one causal agent, as with guys pulling a ship, but then, we still have the ship's locomotion caused by one proximate cause in the series.

    1. That seems to be consistent with Ferer's "instrumental cause". I don't see how you could read that as a multiplicity of causes.

      I have often found that many people at Feser's consider themselves to be experts by comparison to the "village atheist". I don't consider myself to be an expert by any means, but they tend to be far too quick to dismiss reasonable criticisms coming from the atheist.

    2. We're all just people trying to find the truth about our reality, aren't we? I'm not an expert either, I'll admit that up front. I'm just a college student working on his Bachelor's degree.

      "I don't consider myself to be an expert by any means, but they tend to be far too quick to dismiss reasonable criticisms coming from the atheist."

      That's what us theists find with some atheists, too. It's just how it works when discussing religion, I suppose.

    3. I try not to dismiss an argument before I understand something about it. On the issue of the single cause, What I said seems to agree with what both Aquinas and Feser have said. It seems strange, then to be told that I am wrong on that point. But perhaps I don't understand it as well as I thought. In that case, further explanation would be in order.

    4. It seemed to me that Dr. Cundy and Scott Lynch gave you further explanation and explained what you had misinterpreted.

    5. This is likely going to be my final comment here. I don't think a dialogue between us is going to cover any more ground than what you and Martin have already covered in the past, nor do I think a discussion between us will be productive- it's already taken away some of my time to do homework, which... I have to do for obvious reasons.

      I do have a final point to make, though. You're a smart man. I have good reason to think that- you're good at expressing what you think and holding your own in conversation. However, being smart and good at debate does not mean you always understand something, regardless of whether or not you think you understand it correctly. On the blog "Atheism and the City," run by The Thinker (who commented here recently), I see this happen all the time in Thinker's discussions with Phil, a Thomist who frequents his blog. Thinker is an incredibly intelligent man, but simply put, he doesn't always understand A-T- even when he thinks he does.

      I hope this message finds you in good health and happiness, and I hope you continue to explore philosophy reasonably and in good faith.

      You can have the last word, if you'd like.

    6. Last word? OK. I think it is a mistake to conflate disagreement with failure to understand. That's something that Martin never did understand.

    7. Thank you for your arguments and your apology, which I wholeheartedly accept. Again, I don't think a continued dialogue between us would be fruitful, and I simply don't have the time or energy for it. And, though I disagree with what you've said, I'm attempting to give it as much merit as possible in my mind. Hopefully, this way, you can know that not all Thomists are closed-minded.

      Happy trails.

  6. Oh, and I was working on a response to your comment here, but I lost the work when I submitted that last comment. I also have lots of homework that I have to do as well, so please don't expect the quickest response. I did respond to you on Feser's blog as well, however.

    1. Here is the response I gave to you there:


      Thank you for coming here to discuss your post. I've read some of your works before, and found them interesting.

      -The PSR is refuted by quantum mechanics. It is NOT an axiom of logic.

      For this, I would point to a few things: first, the fact that there are various philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics... at least 18, according to Wikipedia. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics) Some of these interpretations would involve brute facts, others would not. Further, Heisenberg noted that act and potency were hinted at in quantum mechanics. As you said to me, read your Feser. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/09/heisenberg-on-act-and-potency.html

      Moreover, the arguments for PSR, as provided by Feser and Alexander Pruss, are essentially unrelated to quantum mechanics but instead relate to epistemology and skepticism, among other things. Read your Feser (and Pruss!). http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/LCA.html, summarized here http://rocketphilosophy.blogspot.com/2013/12/alexander-pruss-on-principle-of.html

      >Both Martin and Feser have described essentially ordered series as being characterized by simultaneous causation, which is passed through intermediate elements. Physics has completely debunked this notion.

      Then you've completely misread Martin, who specifically said the following for you in your discussions on his blog:

      " As you can see above, the key point really has nothing to do with how concurrent a cause and an effect are."

      He *really* wanted to drive this point home for you, but I guess you're still sticking with your previous conception.

      Feser also notes in his book Scholastic Metaphysics that the truly important aspect of EOS is that every cause except the first is an instrument, not that all causes are simultaneous. (Yes, he does note simultaneity as a part of EOS, but he's discussing the metaphysical matter of instrumental causation rather than a physical matter in contrast to Newton, and he explicitly says the instrumental causation is the true key to EOS.) To quote Martin again, "In an essentially-ordered series, by contrast, the effect is just being “passed along.”"

      To hone in on your mention that "Physics has completely debunked this notion," I'll just quote Martin again, in a discussion he had on a different blog: "It is a mistake to confuse [essentially ordered series] with a physical argument in conflict with Newton." Further, "the argument is not a physical one. It isn't a quasi-scientific hypothesis. It's rather much more fundamental."

      >I refute the notion that there is any kind of causal "series."

      Yes, you made that very clear in your blog post.

      >- Read your Feser. He says that the only exception to simultaneity would be if there was some kind of "time portal" through which the chain of causation passes.

      Mind your tone. Once again, we're not dealing with a physical argument here, but a metaphysical one. The goal is to discern why objects subject to the laws of physics exist at all, and we can use certain metaphysical examples to come to some conclusions about it. That's all there is to it; the explanation cannot be the explanandum.


    2. (cont)

      >Read your Feser: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/06/four-causes-and-five-ways.html

      This page doesn't address anything pertaining to what I said above, and your tone could use some work... I encourage anyone reading this to read the dialogue that I was referring to at this link: http://www.quantum-thomist.co.uk/my-cgi/blog.cgi?first=45&last=45. In this thread, Dr. Nigel Cundy and Scott Lynch unpack im-skeptical's misconceptions about final causality.

      I also encourage you, as Scott Lynch did, to read Feser's Teleology: A Shopper's Guide. http://www.epsociety.org/userfiles/art-Feser%20(Teleology)(1).pdf

      You really didn't say much of anything you hadn't already said in your comment, other than making a few snarky remarks. As per usual, this seems in character for the person whose blog has the evidently unbiased tagline, "Speaking out against bullshit."

      NOTE: I apologize for the snark in these responses. I was a bit frustrated by the tone I had received in your comments, and responded accordingly. Hopefully, our tones can both be more respectful in the following comments (assuming there are some).

    3. @GermyClean, in "Shopper's Guide" and other writings, Feser repeats an argument which as far as I know goes back at least to Garrigou-Lagrange. That is, in arguing that we cannot locate the final cause securely in the thing, but rather, in God's mind as an exemplar, Feser says that in order to have causal efficacy, the final cause, or end, must "exist in some way." But the only way Feser finds open is for the end or final cause to exist in a mind, and that must cash out as God's mind. Not in the thing, as Aristotle spoke of the end.

      Do you think this argument will work, in the face of Aquinas' as well as Aristotle's insistence that the end is prior in explanation/ratione or what have you, but posterior in existence?

      That which directs the thing to exercise its powers to actualize its end is its substantial form. A-T makes it clear that the form and the end are one, for the end state just is the thing's actualization of its form. The form is the principle of its existence. Aquinas often says that the final cause is the cause of causes vel sim., but he makes it clear that the final cause/end does not EXIST prior to the others. The exemplar in God's mind is not identical to the end state of the thing; the thing in nature never replicates the exemplar in God's mind fully, and for the exemplar in God's mind to exist, it would have to have a form -- which would entail composition within God.

      So I am not convinced that the end "must exist in some way" prior to the form. Do you have views on this?

    4. Honestly, I don't have much of a view on this- I just haven't studied it enough yet.

      The impression that I've always gotten is that Aquinas' view on final causality simply states that material things work for an end despite not having an intellect, and that such order points towards a God that would direct material things to their end. Moreover, as you pointed out, "Aquinas often says that the final cause is the cause of causes vel sim., but he makes it clear that the final cause/end does not EXIST prior to the others." I think this makes more sense than Garrigou-Lagrange's argument, so I'm inclined to agree with you on this matter.

      Again, I'm just a beginner when it comes to A-T, so please don't expect my answer to be the greatest. I'm sure there's some kind of problem with my response (there always is in philosophy, isn't there?), but if you'd like to engage further in this, I do truly recommend asking about it in Feser's blog comment section. Unlike what im-skeptical said about it being an echo-chamber, I find it to be a pretty productive forum, and I've gotten lots of help expanding on and unpacking philosophical problems there.

      I hope this finds you in good health,

    5. Thank you for coming here to discuss your post. I've read some of your works before, and found them interesting.
      - As far as I can tell, new comments are not accepted in Feser's post of Dec 23.

      first, the fact that there are various philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics...
      - That fact alone should be reason doubt whether the PSR must be axiomatic. Whose interpretation is correct?

      Moreover, the arguments for PSR, as provided by Feser and Alexander Pruss, are essentially unrelated to quantum mechanics but instead relate to epistemology and skepticism, among other things.
      - I don't reject macro-level causality. I do reject it for quantum events. And that doesn't mean I must become a philosophical skeptic, despite Pruss' claim. And it is widespread. Quantum events happen without specific cause, all around us, all the time.

      Then you've completely misread Martin, who specifically said ...
      - The conversation goes back earlier than that. Before that, he had always claimed it was temporally simultaneous.

      Yes, [Feser] does note simultaneity as a part of EOS, but he's discussing the metaphysical matter of instrumental causation rather than a physical matter in contrast to Newton, and he explicitly says the instrumental causation is the true key to EOS.
      - I get the point about the essential aspect instrumental causation. But Martin has completely missed MY point, which is basically that ALL causation is temporally sequential, and ALL causation is multiply-faceted (as opposed to ordered in a series), and as a consequence 1) pass-through causation is an illusion, 2) the existence of an "instrumental cause" is an illusion, and 3) it becomes impossible to distinguish any supposed essential from accidental ordering.

      Further, "the argument is not a physical one. It isn't a quasi-scientific hypothesis. It's rather much more fundamental."
      - Here, we come to metaphysics as the refuge of the Thomist whenever his claims don't agree with modern physics. As a branch of philosophy, metaphysics deals with things like being, and what kinds of things exist. If you want to talk about how things work (including causation), that IS in the realm of physics. Metaphysics is not some kind of separate realm, where things have their own rules, distinct from physics. In any coherent system of understanding, they must be in complete harmony, as it was for Aristotle.

      Mind your tone. Once again, we're not dealing with a physical argument here, but a metaphysical one.
      - I will make an effort to mind my tone. But I will not apologize for disagreeing with Thomists on the most fundamental aspects of reality.


    6. This page doesn't address anything pertaining to what I said above, and your tone could use some work
      - On the question of the fifth way, I probably didn't understand what your objection was ("im-skeptical seemed to repeatedly misconstrue Aquinas' fifth way and final causation.") How did I misconstrue these things? Can you be specific as to what I got wrong?

      You really didn't say much of anything you hadn't already said in your comment, other than making a few snarky remarks. As per usual, this seems in character for the person whose blog has the evidently unbiased tagline, "Speaking out against bullshit."
      - Let me apologize for my attitude. In my own blog, civil discourse is generally met with more of the same. But I have not always had fruitful discussions with the folks at Feser's. I have been attacked (unjustly, in my opinion) without initiating any such hostilities myself. Even Feser has engaged in ad hominem and a good measure of "snark" against me. I tend to avoid that forum for this very reason. As for the tagline in my own blog, I think the world is full of bullshit. It doesn't mean I can't engage in a civil discussion.

  7. One property of a series of causes hierarchically ordered per se, which I rarely see in discussions but which is in Aquinas, is that the first cause initiates the series so as to achieve/actualize an end. Aquinas gives examples of an artisan who picks tools that will serve as instruments for producing the product, or a king whose ministers carry out his orders, as his instruments. As we've discussed elsewhere, in A-T, natural things that lack will are said to aim at ends and thus to act with intentionality. Aquinas however, unlike Aristotle, always drives intrinsic finality in nature back to extrinsic finality of ends in God's mind. I don't know of a place where Aquinas talks about a per se causal series, the first cause of which does not possess and act according to mind.

    The first cause then imposes an order on all the secondary causes. In contrast, causes or agents in an accidental series are not ranked in an ordo insofar as they are seen to be in the accidental series -- although each of them will, in Thomas' view, belong to some other series that is ordered per se.

    Some citations (skip these if time is lacking):

    A. “… in causes ordered per se ... the first cause moves all the mediate causes toward the effect; however in causes ordered per accidens it is the converse, for the effect which is produced per se by the proximate cause is produced per accidens by the first cause, existing apart from its intention." (On the Liber de Causis, 1).

    B. “For some things to be ordered per se, it is required that the intention of the first go all the way to the last. For if the first intends to move / aims at moving the second, and its intention does not go further, but the second moves a third, this will be apart from the intention of the first mover. Such an order therefore will be per accidens. It is necessary therefore that the intention of the first mover and orderer, namely, God, proceed not only to some of the entities but all the way to the ultimate/final ones.” (On Separate Substances 15).

    [[C. “it is an accident to the teacher of music that he teaches a pale man; indeed, it is quite apart from his intention; rather, he intends to teach someone who is capable of learning the subject.” SCG III.86.12.

    Also on intent in a causal series: “in any effect, that which is the final end is intended properly by the principal agent, just as the order of an army by the general" ST 1a 15.2 c

    What's important about this?
    1. im-skeptical, be careful when you speak of instrumentality or instrumental causes. In A-T, the first cause, esp. when it has mind, is not an instrumental cause. An instrumental cause by definition is a subsidiary causal agent that acts as a tool in the causal chain initiated by the first cause. The instrument gets all its causal power from the first cause (and derivatively from secondary causes higher in the series than it).
    2. But... I wonder whether Aquinas' denial of ultimate intrinsic finality, in opposition to Aristotle, leads him to conceive of causal series ordered per se as though they all initiate from a first cause that has mind. In that case, I wonder whether Thomistic discussions of per se causal series slip in notions of intelligent governance, such that they verge on begging the question. When I've pointed out on Feser's blog that Aquinas' discussions of per se causal series put an intelligence in the first cause, as I recall, I was dismissed as failing to understand Aquinas.

    1. You're right. I misread what Feser said about instrumental causes. Going back to the source, I see that they are part of the causal chain in an essentially ordered series, not the primary cause. But aside from the mistake in terminology, I think I still get the basic concept. It is that primary cause (which I incorrectly called the instrumental cause) that is passed instrumentally through to the final effect.

      But the big issue that I have with that is still the same. It is that the very idea of a causal series is illusory, and inconsistent with reality. I understand that we may intend to make something happen, an so initiate action with that goal, but we can't ignore the fact that there are other causal factors at play. In many cases, it might be fair to say that the original act of intent might only play a minor role in making the final effect come about. And often, those other causal factors override the intention of the actor, causing a different effect to come about. I still maintain that (with the possible exception of certain idealized cases), it is practically impossible to distinguish essential from accidental. So the whole concept basically meaningless.

      Regarding your last point, if God is the first cause of all motion, then it would seem that EVERYTHING is essentially ordered, since all causes are instrumentally passed through to their final effects. Of course, that seems to obviate free will, but that's another discussion.

    2. I agree that it obviates free will. Thomists have a way of trying to get around this problem, but I think only Thomists find it sound.

    3. "I understand that we may intend to make something happen, an so initiate action with that goal, but we can't ignore the fact that there are other causal factors at play. In many cases, it might be fair to say that the original act of intent might only play a minor role in making the final effect come about. And often, those other causal factors override the intention of the actor, causing a different effect to come about. I still maintain that (with the possible exception of certain idealized cases), it is practically impossible to distinguish essential from accidental."

      I think you are right to press this point. It seems to me that the Thomist analysis of any string of causes, and of the change that comes at the end, is "armchair" and a less precise model or idealization of the phenomena than is one expressed mathematically by a scientist.

      Cf. "For the fact that there are many causes of one thing accidentally presents no difficulty, because many things may be accidents of something that is the proper cause of some effect, and all of these can be said to be accidental causes of that effect." In V Meta l. 2 C773. In other words, the Thomist can look at some event and confidently pick out the proximate "proper cause/s" while sifting out and ignoring the accidental causes. Yet, the Thomist will say that the scientist only gives us a mathematical representation of reality, while he, the Thomist, gives us reality!

    4. Damn, ficino... you're good at this stuff. Kudos to you! c:

    5. Although, I will say that the last quote you extracted would seem to match with what Martin had been saying since 2012- we should not confuse Thomistic discussions of act and potency with physics, as they are trying to come to a much more fundamental conclusion than that.

      This thread on Reddit seems to contain a discussion similar to the one this has evolved into, between /u/GoodDamon, who, for context, was one of the main people on an old yet prominent thread on whether or not essentially ordered series actually exist, and who insisted that act and potency had been invalidated by modern physics due to his question of transitivity. You'll see more in the post proper. https://www.reddit.com/r/askphilosophy/comments/ul16q/aristotles_actpotency_model_of_change_is_it_a/

      I find it to be a very interesting conversation discussing the roles of metaphysics and physics.

    6. Oops, my sentence with "between" is off structurally. It's not important, just read the post. The other user is /u/wokeupabug, who seems to specialize in the history of philosophy and/or classical philosophy.

    7. Did you see my comment on metaphysics as the refuge of Thomists?

    8. @GermyClean, I looked at the discussion on reddit from six years ago. Interesting but not so much for me. I haven't back into this problem via Zeno's paradoxes. I do agree, though, that it's a tricky question, how much metaphysics can seek to set down rigid principles, presented as necessary truths, not only about systems of notions but about things in space-time physical reality. Some modern metaphysicians I have read insist that metaphysics needs to inform itself rigorously from the findings of science and needs to work from them. Among Thomists, I don't see this willingness, though in some I see an eagerness to prove that Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is needed for the scientific enterprise to escape absurdity. I am suspicious of what looks like adherence to a system originally wedded to very rudimentary science, when disconnects are waved off as obsolete science irrelevant to the metaphysics. When we try to see why A-T metaphysics is a system of necessary truths, it seems we often end up at an impasse where the Thomist treats his metaphysical propositions as self-evident and the skeptic declines to see them so. A way to break through the impasse would be great - I don't know enough science to follow along when the discussion gets deep about quantum things etc.

    9. ficino4mi, I think this impasse is just as significant as you've noted. Edward Feser seems to be working under this perspective you've noted here, "though in some [Thomists] I see an eagerness to prove that Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is needed for the scientific enterprise to escape absurdity," with his new book, "Aristotle's Revenge," slated to come out this month, and I've seen some good work done in trying to reconcile modern physics with Thomism by Dr. Cundy at his blog "The Quantum Thomist." I've also seen some fruitful discussions on Atheism and the City, the blog I've mentioned here a couple of times, but even there, the impasse between Thinker and Phil can be pretty immense, and much of the time they agree to disagree.

      It is genuinely unfortunate that such an impasse exists, however.

      "A way to break through the impasse would be great - I don't know enough science to follow along when the discussion gets deep about quantum things etc."

      I don't know either. But, hey, we're all just armchair philosophers here (me more than you).

    10. @GermyClean, let's just say my leather-covered armchair is almost certainly older than your armchair. Metaphorically speaking, that is. (:

      I wrote a long reply to one of Nigel Cundy's OPs, and it got lost in cyberspace. The gist was, I thought his willingness to allow that things at the quantum level can have no determinate end state, but only one of a range of end states, seems to me to destroy A-T. Because the end state correlates with the substantial form. The form and the end are one in extension. So, if no determinate end state, no determinate form. That destroys A-T. One might try to save determinate forms and end states at the macro level, but if they evaporate at the micro level, it then needs to be proved that they remain as bona fide causes at the macro level. I do not know that such has been proved.

      I agree with you that at bottom, we are trying to understand our world, and from there, our human lives, the best we can.

    11. An interesting thought, and not one I have the ability to respond to. I know almost nothing about QM, other than that virtual particles exist and that they act indeterminately!

      Thanks for being sympathetic to my need to avoid comboxes. You genuinely seem like a great guy. If I knew you in real life, I'd like to think we'd hit it off. :)

    12. virtual particles exist and that they act indeterminately!
      - And they come into existence with no cause and no reason. It doesn't matter much what your interpretation of QM is, or what the Quantum Thomist says. They violate the principles that you base your beliefs on, and you are left trying to explain these things away.

  8. I'd say that your comment is pretty much the motif of the whole conversation: you claim that modern science has surpassed A-T, while I deny that claim as I believe denying PSR would logically lead to skepticism about truth. This is essentially the crux of the matter, one that I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on. But, if you're interested in the PSR, there are a few good discussions about it on The Thinker's blog Atheism and the City, between Thinker and a Thomist named Phil. Pretty much anything I would have to say about PSR has already been stated there.

    If I was more sympathetic to brute facts, I'd have less of a problem accepting your argument on EOS and QM. And, again, I should stop doing this and go do my homework. (I just keep feeling compelled to return and check if you've said anything else...)

    1. Sure. The argument is bound to go nowhere.

      But what I see among Thomists is a never-ending process of rationalizations to explain how their metaphysics is still valid as they are presented with modern observations that appear to be in conflict with that metaphysical system. Just as scientific understanding is always subject to change when we learn more about reality, Metaphysics should never be cast in stone. If it is, you eventually come to the point where metaphysics is seen as something separate from empirical knowledge of the world, as if it is a totally different explanation for things that bears no relationship to science. That's not what Aristotle had in mind, and I don't think Aquinas thought of it that way.

    2. @GermyClean, when you have free time from your homework - more important than comboxes! - you may profit by reading the exchange between Edward Feser and Keith Parsons from four years ago, if you have not read it yet. An index of their contributions is here:


      One point on which I did not see Feser offering a knock-down reply was Parson's observation that we cannot be SURE that our cognitive capacities are not deceived. Therefore, we cannot be sure that we have access to a PSR when we think we have such access. Therefore, arguments from the PSR are moot. Someone (I forget who) brought that up subsequently on Feser's blog. I don't recall that the problem was addressed.

      Having worked through Schopenhauer's "On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason" in Fraktur, I retain kindly feelings toward the PSR. Who can argue with Schopenhauer's "sehr kluger Pudel"? (very clever poodle). But I can't go to the mat for the PSR. If in particular cases we can find explanations for things, I suspect that's the best we shall do. I don't see why we have to be hardcore about the PSR in order to keep investigating and going on as far as the argument or the inquiry takes us.

      Anyway, I digress. The Feser-Parsons exchange had a lot of interesting points.

    3. I will read the exchange, but I'll note that I've heard Parson's statement directly applied as an argument against a secular, materialistic determinism. So said this theist, what Parsons says is true if we are directed by laws of physics that simply don't care whether or not we find actual truth- even natural selection only cares that we survive. However, if we posit the existence of a God who is the ultimate truth, and who wills the human mind towards the truth, as St. Augustine or St. Thomas believed in, we have great reason to believe that we can fully know the truth.

      Thank you for your words.

    4. Ficino,

      I read the Feser-Parsons exchange (albeit, I'll admit I skimmed some parts). What a great exchange! I found both Feser and Parsons extremely engaging, and it was honestly pretty inspiring to see how their relationship has evolved from slamming each other down to truly seeking to learn from one another. Great stuff.

      I didn't necessarily find Parsons' arguments against the PSR all that convincing, although it surely does come from an interesting place. I have to admit that I've thought about it before, though I don't think it's an argument that should make us throw away the baby (or, poodle?) with the bathwater. I would also still affirm what I said before, and perhaps, I would even use Parsons' argument to add to the significance of the threat of skepticism. If we deny that we can actually find truth based on rejecting our most fundamental faculties (essentially, by considering our most fundamental perception of reality as a brute fact), then wouldn't consider the most fundamental layer of reality itself- existence- a brute fact do the same? And, then, shouldn't we be even more apt to avoid that conclusion?

      Perhaps, sometime, I'll bring it up on Feser's blog and see how it goes.

  9. Here is more argument about accidental vs per se causal series and how a per se series allegedly is concurrent but not instantaneous:


    1. From the article:
      Anyone caught using "instantaneous" should immediately wash his (or her) mouth out with soap.
      - Feser should stand corrected. This guy, unlike Feser, recognizes the physical reality that I have been talking about all this time.

      instrumental (secondary) movers can propagate a change, but cannot originate it.
      - OK. This is a reasonable way to put it. It's a shame that neither Feser nor Martin stated it in this manner.

      But it does raise the issue that given the modern concept of causality, ALL change is propagated from multiple earlier causes, whether or not you want to call them "instrumental". Who can say what the primary cause is? The man pushes the stick. But the man himself is acting according to the propagation of various causal factors that ultimately come down to the laws of physics. And many of these causal factors are not "concurrent" in any real sense, except that they all come to bear at the moment of the action. The man may be influenced by what he had for breakfast, or what he read in a book years ago. The contents of the book itself may have been influenced by events in past centuries. But that's just one of innumerable different strands of causation that all come together at one time. (Consider, for example, all the causal factors that made the stick strong enough to push the rock instead of breaking.) It all boils down to a complex matrix of causality that belies the very idea that there is a "series" of causation. It may well be (and undoubtedly is) the case that some insignificant event far away and long ago made a crucial difference in the outcome of what happens now.

  10. From Aquinas' commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, XII l. 6 C2505:

    "Yet “nothing is moved by chance,” i.e., without some fixed cause, but there must always be something existing which is the cause of motion. For example, we now see that some things are moved in this way by nature or by force or by mind or by some other agent."

    Not being schooled in physics beyond one college semester, I take it on authority that this is false: "nothing is moved without some fixed cause." Then it follows that it's false that there must always be something existing, which is the cause of the motion, correct? If we're going to allow that at the quantum level some motions have no fixed cause, then I don't see how the A-T doctrine of motion and an Unmoved Mover can stand.

    This problem is correlative to what I raised above, that if at the quantum level there are not determinate end states, then there are not determinate forms.

    I am not understanding how quantum theory and A-T can be harmonized.

    1. You are correct about quantum mechanics (and this is something that I have studied at graduate level). In essence, everything in quantum mechanics is governed by statistical relationships. In other words, all quantum events are a matter of chance. As an example, a radioactive atom is expected to decay at some time. If you have a million of them, you can say that after an interval of time, a fraction of them will have decayed, And after another interval of the same length, the same fraction (approximately) of the remaining atoms will have decayed. But you can't say that this particular atom will decay at this particular time. Each individual quantum event is in fact a matter of chance, and no cause can be attributed to it.

      While the Quantum Thomist tries desperately to make a hand-waving explanation of how this fits A-T doctrine, it really doesn't. I noticed during my discussion with him that he had made one such explanation, and then changed to a different one after I objected to it. In other words, there is no established A-T doctrine that covers quantum mechanics. He's just making it up as he goes.

  11. It does seem that, if Thomists want to fully harmonize A-T with quantum mechanics, they'll have a large project ahead of them. As skeptic points out, there is no established A-T doctrine that covers quantum mechanics; though, it is, of course, a relatively new and extremely complicated scientific field.

    And, finally, I will note that I only brought up The Quantum Thomist to highlight the conversation that skeptic had there about final causality and the Fifth Way, and just to show that there are Thomists who are attempting to harmonize A-T with quantum mechanics. I never said, nor was trying to do so, that such a project would be easy for them to do, or that they had been fully successful at doing so as of now. I don't think that Dr. Cundy is some kind of metaphysical or scientific master, though he has also studied quantum mechanics at the graduate level and has a doctorate in it.

  12. I have a few more thoughts on these subjects, and then, I'll truly have said everything I can on this matter. I will leave the last words for you two. Hopefully.

    I'll restate what I said in my above comment: I don't know exactly how to reconcile quantum mechanics with act and potency. However, this doesn't mean that I'm conceding the PSR. Both of you would surely admit that we should abandon those views that lead us into total skepticism, thus making truth arbitrary and ultimate truth impossible to conceive.

    I stand by the claim that rejecting PSR would lead to precisely this. For, if we were to represent the universe as a sort-of Venn diagram, a large circle with smaller circles and points at various locations within it, and we are to say that the universe (the large circle) is brute, then everything else becomes brute as well- even if we can surmise some mundane or arbitrary truths about our world, like economics. (I have brought up this argument with one of my philosophy professor who does believe in brute facts, and he has said it is valid. I will not say this interaction proves the argument correct, but if skeptic can bring up his experience with quantum mechanics, I can bring this up.)


  13. Ficino brought up Parsons' argument that even those who accept PSR cannot know for sure that our senses are even reliable enough to know truth, but that our senses could be deceived is simply further exemplifying the point I make here. We should reject those views that would leave us in radical skepticism, and thus, we should accept that our sense faculties and mind are sufficient for us to find actual truth. Even if you say we don't have the evidence to do this, we can still say that such a truth is self-evident, else we are left in absurdity, just as abandoning the PSR would leave us in absurdity.

    Further, skeptic has noted that he rejects PSR and is not radically skeptical due to it. I do not deny this claim. But, I also do not deny that there are Catholics who are pro-choice, and do not see a theological problem with that. The Thinker, on his blog, believes Thomists to be Cartesian dualists, even though his interlocutor Phil notes that Thomists are actually hylemorphists. What I am saying here is that people can have beliefs and yet not fully acknowledge the logical implications of those beliefs. Clearly, this is true; the latter two examples should especially exemplify this for you, as they are calling out theists for not accepting the logical implications of their beliefs. (As a note, Phil is right about the hylemorphism, but I digress- the fact that Thinker believes Phil doesn't understand the logical implications of his beliefs is the point I'm getting at.)

    Throughout our discussion, skeptic has noted that philosophy is the refuge of Thomists. Is he wrong? Not necessarily. All the Thomist is doing with the PSR is saying that we should reject those views that leave us with radical skepticism. This is clearly true. The question is whether or not rejecting PSR leaves us with radical skepticism, which is not something that I've seen an adequate objection to. For more on this, check out the various discourses about PSR on Atheism and the City, which I will provide links to if you're interested. Essentially, what I'm saying is there is a difference between rejecting views that leave us in radical skepticism, and, as skeptic believes Thomists do, desperately find ways to ignore the empirical evidence that’s out there.


  14. On the subject of QM, I will also state this. Now, I’m not saying this is wholeheartedly the truth, but in Norris Clarke’s book “The One and the Many: a Contemporary Metaphysics,” Clarke points out late in the book (I don’t quite recall where) that, concerning QM, it is possible that God works in the realm of chance. If God truly is actively sustaining our world as the Thomists believe, and rejecting PSR does lead to radical skepticism, then the theist could always just say that God himself is causing quantum events so as to maintain the structure of the universe, and that their randomness simply reflects his perfect free will that is selfsame with his essence. Again, I am not saying this is true, but the popular “God of the gaps” argument cannot apply here at all, as most atheists refer to quantum events as brute facts- events that just are, and have no explanation at all.

    I will also point out that, if one is to reject A-T, it is up to them to provide an alternative system that describes the universe better, is coherent, and does not lead us into radical skepticism. It is the burden of proof of the objector to show that their system can explain our world better than the alternative. For example, for a materialist to reject A-T, they also should propose their own metaphysical and philosophical system and show that it is possible. If they cannot do this, then we do not have reason to accept that system of thought. And, even if they succeed at taking down the system of thought they are attacking, if they cannot defend their own system of thought, then all we have to do is have both sides go back to the drawing board and try again. I will once again provide links to Atheism and the City that pertain to this subject matter, if either of you would like them.


  15. I will end this by discussing tone once more. I do not want an apology about disagreeing with A-T. There is no need for that. But, if you cannot make arguments about A-T without insulting its proponents, it becomes much more difficult to want a sustained discussion with the persons involved. Insults do not add to an argument. They are not substantive. Trying to portray the other side in a negative light does not add anything to the argument either. Ficino has done a great job at not doing this, while skeptic is more suspect. Mind your tone. Other than the first posts on Feser’s combox, which I apologized for, I have not insulted either of you at all (in fact, I’ve only had words of praise for ficino!). To be portrayed as desperately trying to maintain a crumbling philosophical system, and hiding from empirical evidence, instead of trying to defend philosophical truths that I believe rejecting would lead to incoherence and radical skepticism, is not going to lead to charitable conversation. I don’t care if you’ve had bad experiences talking to theists, even Edward Feser himself, in the past. Not every theist is going to attack you or use ad-hominem. Not all of them are desperately trying to rationalize the unrationalizable. Some just want to get out of their safe zone and dialogue with people who disagree with them. Please understand this, and act accordingly.

    I don’t expect to be able to “convert” either of you to my way of thinking- in fact, I expect some pretty firm responses against what I’m saying here. If anyone in the world could do this, it would surely not be me. However, hopefully, this post will get out everything I want to say, and my compulsion to continue checking this blog for further comments will go away soon. Thank you again for this conversation- I appreciated getting to talk to intelligent atheists like you two. I truly hope the best for both of you in the future, and I hope that you can find truth and peace in your lives.

    If you want those links to Atheism and the City I’ve mentioned, I would love to give them to you. That blog has helped me immensely in my studies of A-T and the objections to it. Perhaps you would find that not all theists are desperately grasping for straws.



  16. A note on "tone": Might I suggest that you may be a bit thin-skinned? You say "To be portrayed as desperately trying to maintain a crumbling philosophical system, and hiding from empirical evidence, instead of trying to defend philosophical truths that I believe rejecting would lead to incoherence and radical skepticism, is not going to lead to charitable conversation." But it goes both ways. I hope you can see this from another perspective. You are telling me that the philosophical views that I defend are incoherent and lead to radical skepticism. I could just as well take this as an insult - but I don't. We are both defending our own views. This is what we debate. I don't care to be walking on eggshells to avoid any hint of an insult, while my opponent claims with impunity that he defends the "philosophical truth" against my own incoherency.

    At any rate, you have said a lot that seems worthy of discussion. If I get a little time soon, I'll write a full post to address some of these issues.

    1. Fine, but I won't refrain from using your same tone myself. Notify me when you're ready.

    2. Actually, I think this might be the end for me in terms of our debate. I truly don't enjoy debating at all. As I've said before, the reason that I keep responding is more of an anxious compulsion than anything else. Full disclosure: I have generalized anxiety disorder, and debating just exemplifies it. Quite seriously, when I saw you had responded, my heart rate spiked to about 130!

      If you'd like to debate Thomism with someone, I'd recommend you go to Atheism and the City instead, and bring your post to The Thinker's interlocutor, Phil, who I've mentioned previously. Not only is he much better suited for debate than I am, but he will give you more thorough and learned responses than I can! I will be blunt- I have only truly studied philosophy for about seven months now, while he has studied it for over seven years. If you truly want a discussion with a Thomist, instead of a stressed out eighteen year old, Phil is the man to go to. If you're interested, I recommend messaging him on his Disqus page, https://disqus.com/by/Phil_L14/. You can also try here, http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2018/10/god-eternity-free-will-and-world_16.html, but the comment sections on Thinker's blog have gotten so big that they tend to slow down my computer.

      Yes, as you can see, you were right about me being thin-skinned. We can both agree on that. Sorry to get a bit emotional, but please understand.

      I look forward to reading the discussion that you two have.

  17. GermyClean, you are eighteen??!! Wow, you are so much farther ahead of where I was at that age. My hat is off to you (but you're not gonna take my battered old Cincinnati Reds hat!).

    When I was a college freshman, I took a course, Introductio to the Great Philosophers. Oh man, it not only changed my life, its aftermath pretty much directed my life. We started with Hesiod and ended up with Kant, and from then on ... I was hooked. Did I discover the meaning of life? Well, kind of. Loving people and doing some substantive work. And trying not to let the other fellow trick me with rot (some British analytic guy said that - maybe Frank Ramsay?).

    I spent the whole afternoon in a colloquium on Aristotle's Metaphysics Lambda 6 and 7. At the end, we - i.e. top Aristotelian specialists [not me, of course, I was just tossing in stuff from the sidelines] arrived at consensus about rather little among the thorny problems of those chapters.

    I'm going to end this post with one memory. As a graduate student, and then a very fervent Christian, I lived with other fervent Christians - most of them. There was this Japanese-American guy who told us that one winter, he lived all alone, and he had to go within himself. And in himself he found strength. I can visualize him now... and remember how I thought his discourse betrayed a "man-centered" conception. Why wasn't his strength found in Christ? Well, decades later ... I feel I know what he meant, and I appreciate it. "Know thyself," Plato tells us, was written at the entrance of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. I don't know whether there is some Ground of Being out there, though I incline to think that the Thomist version of such is not. I believe that if you know yourself pretty well, if you love other people genuinely, if you strive to accomplish some significant work and serve your generation, that will be a life well lived. Rock on, F

    1. I never would have thought I'd tear up (in a positive way) by discussing religion with skeptics. Thank you for the kind words! :D

    2. I couldn't improve on that.

      In any case, if I make a post to discuss more of the points you raise (and perhaps others), you don't need to see it as a battle that must be engaged. You can comment if you choose to.

      There is one thing that still bothers me, though. What is your objection to what I have said about the fifth way? Cundy and I disagreed as to whether final cause implies an intelligence, but his position seems to be closer to Aristotle's, while Aquinas leaves no doubt about it (as Ficino has documented for us). I would think that any Thomist would follow Aquias' position.

    3. Perhaps I won't respond to your new most myself, or I'll give small comments- more likely the latter. If I view this as something I have to engage in, our discussion will never end; after all, since this is your blog, it's inevitable that you'll get the last word- so, I have to let bygones be bygones at some point. Also, I've already messaged Phil, so it's likely he'll comment as well. If you don't send him the post, I will.

      I solely brought up Dr. Cundy's post because I found it telling that you described the fifth way as circular reasoning, Scott Lynch and Dr. Cundy tried to make clear it was not, and you maintained that it was circular reasoning. Perhaps if you go back to that thread and read the dialogue, you would see what I mean. I have little else to say about this.