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Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

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NOTE: Today we begin a two part series by Dr. Edward Feser exploring questions about science, philosophy, causality, and radioactive decay. We'll share the second part on Wednesday.
 


 
 
At the Catholic blog Vox Nova, mathematics professor David Cruz-Uribe writes:

"I… am currently working through the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas as part of his proofs of the existence of God… [S]ome possibly naive counter-examples from quantum mechanics come to mind. For instance, discussing the principle that nothing can change without being affected externally, I immediately thought of the spontaneous decay of atoms and even of particles (e.g., so-called proton decay).
 
This might be a very naive question: my knowledge of quantum mechanics is rusty and probably out of date, and I know much, much less about scholastic metaphysics. So can any of our readers point me to some useful references on this specific topic?"

I’ve discussed this issue before, and one of Cruz-Uribe’s readers directs him to a blog post of mine in which I responded to a version of this sort of objection raised by physicist Robert Oerter. Unfortunately, the combox discussion that ensues largely consists of a couple of Cruz-Uribe’s readers competing with each other to see who can emit the most squid ink (though Brandon Watson manfully tries to shine some light into the darkness). One reader starts things out by writing:

"Feser’s… argument seems to boil down to saying, 'Just because we can’t find a cause for quantum phenomena doesn’t mean there isn’t one.' … Thing is, Bell has shown that you can’t have local unknown variables in quantum events. Bohm’s interpretation would give you the possibility of unknown variables (thus taking out the random, seemingly acausal, aspect), but at the price of locality (in short, such variables would be global, and not tied to a specific location; so you lose any predictability, anyway)."

As readers of the post on Oerter know, this essentially just repeats the completely point-missing objection from Oerter that was the subject of the post, while ignoring what I said in the post in reply to the objection! The combox discussion goes downhill from there, with so many points missed, questions begged, and crucial distinctions blurred.

Cruz-Uribe’s reader accuses me of having a “weak” understanding of the relevant physics, which is why he launches into the mini lesson on Bell and Bohm. But it’s his reading skills that are weak, since I made it clear in the post that I wasn’t in the first place making any claim about the physics of systems of the sort in question, and thus wasn’t saying anything that could be incompatible with what we know from physics. In particular, I wasn’t advocating a “hidden variable theory” or the like, but rather making a purely philosophical point about causality that is entirely independent of such theories.

This is one of many factors that hinder fruitful discussion of these topics even with well-meaning people (like Cruz-Uribe) who know some science but know little philosophy. They constantly translate philosophical claims into the physics terms that they feel more comfortable and familiar with, and proceed to run off at high speed in the wrong direction.

This is why you really can’t address specific issues like radioactive decay without first doing some general philosophical stage-setting. For it’s never really the empirical or scientific details that are doing the work in objections to Scholastic metaphysics like the one at issue. What’s really doing the work is the ton of philosophical baggage that the critics unreflectively bring to bear on the subject—the assumptions they read into the physics and then read back out again, thinking they’ve raised a “scientific” objection when what they’ve really done is raised a question-begging philosophical objection disguised as a scientific objection.

(I imagine that educated religious people like Cruz-Uribe and his readers aren’t fooled by this kind of sleight of hand in other scientific contexts. For instance, I’d wager that they would be unimpressed by arguments to the effect that neuroscience has shown that free will is an illusion. As I have argued here and here, neuroscience has shown no such thing, and such claims invariably rest not on science but on tendentious philosophical assumptions that have been read into the scientific findings. But exactly the same thing is true of claims to the effect that quantum mechanics has falsified the principle of causality, or that Newton or Einstein refuted the Aristotelian analysis of change.)

In what follows, then, I will first prepare the ground by calling attention to some common fallacies committed by critics of Scholastic metaphysics who appeal to modern physics—fallacies some of which are committed by Cruz-Uribe’s readers in the course of their combox discussion. Anyone wanting to comment intelligently on the subject at hand has to take care to avoid these fallacies. Second, I will make some general remarks about what a philosophical approach to the subject at hand involves, as opposed to the approach taken by physics. (I’ve discussed this issue many times before, and indeed did so in a couple of posts—here and here—that followed up the post on Oerter that Cruz-Uribe and his readers were discussing.) Finally, in light of this background I’ll address the specific issue of radioactive decay and causality.

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

So, let’s consider some of the confusions that are rife in discussions of the relationship between physics on the one hand and philosophy (and in particular Scholastic philosophy) on the other:

A. Conflating empirical and metaphysical issues: Those who know some science but not a lot of philosophy very often assume that when a Scholastic philosopher says something about the nature of causality, or substance, or matter, or the like, then he is making a claim that stands or falls with what physics tells us, or at any rate should stand or fall with what physics tells us. But this is a category mistake. Scholastic metaphysics is not in competition with physics, but approaches the phenomena at a different (and indeed deeper) level of analysis. Its claims do not stand or fall with the findings of physics, any more than the claims of arithmetic stand or fall with the findings of physics. Indeed, like arithmetic, the basic theses of Scholastic metaphysics are (so the Scholastic argues) something any possible physics must presuppose.

Sometimes the critics assume that Scholastic metaphysics is in competition with physics because they are themselves making question-begging metaphysical assumptions. For instance, they might assume that any rationally justifiable claim about the nature of matter simply must be susceptible of formulation in the mathematical language of physics, or must be susceptible of empirical falsification. They are essentially making a metaphysics out of physics. Only physics can tell us anything about the nature of physical reality (so the critic supposes), so any claim about the nature of physical reality is implicitly, even if not explicitly, a claim of physics. As we will see below, this cannot possibly be right. Physics cannot even in principle tell us everything there is to know about physical reality (let alone reality more generally). But even if the assumption in question could be right, it simply begs the question against the Scholastic merely to assert it, since the Scholastic rejects this assumption, and on the basis of arguments that need to be answered rather than ignored (arguments I’ll discuss below).

Sometimes the conflation of empirical and metaphysical issues is due less to such large-scale philosophical assumptions than to a simple fallacy of equivocation. Both physicists and Scholastic metaphysicians use terms like “cause,” “matter,” and the like.  A superficial reading therefore often leads critics to assume that they are addressing the same issues, when in fact they are very often not using the key terms in the same sense.

Sometimes the conflation is due to sheer intellectual sloppiness. Critics will formulate the issues in ridiculously sweeping terms, making peremptory claims to the effect that “Aristotelianism was refuted by modern science,” for example. In fact, of course, the labels “Aristotelianism” and “modern science” each cover a large number of distinct and logically independent ideas and arguments, and these need carefully to be disentangled before the question of the relationship between Scholastic metaphysics and modern physics can fruitfully be addressed. It is no good to say (for example) that since Aristotle’s geocentrism and theory of natural place have been falsified, “therefore” we should not take seriously his theory of act and potency or the account of causality that rests on it. This is simply a non sequitur. Such issues are completely independent of one another, logically speaking (regardless of the contingent historical association between them).

B. Conflating genus and species: Even when physicists and Scholastic metaphysicians are using terms in the same sense, critics often confuse what is really only a specific instance of the general class named by a term with the general class itself. For example, where the notion of “cause” is concerned, Scholastic metaphysicians distinguish between formal, material, efficient, and final causes. Where efficient causes are concerned, they distinguish between principal and instrumental causes, between series of causes which are essentially ordered and those which are accidentally ordered, and between those which operate simultaneously versus those which are ordered in time. They distinguish between total causes and partial causes, and between proximate and remote causes. They regard causality as primarily a feature of substances and only secondarily as a relation between events. They distinguish between causal powers and the operation of those powers, between active causal power and passive potencies. And so forth. All of these distinctions are backed by arguments, and the Scholastic maintains that they are all necessary in order to capture the complexity of causal relations as they exist in the actual world.

Now, those who criticize Scholastic metaphysics on scientific grounds typically operate with a very narrow understanding of causality. In particular, they often conceive of it as a deterministic relation holding between temporally separated events. They will then argue (for example) that quantum mechanics has undermined causality thus understood, and conclude that it has therefore undermined causality full stop. One problem with this, of course, is that whether quantum mechanics really is incompatible with determinism is a matter of controversy, though as I have said, nothing in the Scholastic position stands or falls with the defensibility of Bohmian hidden variable theories. The deeper point is that it is simply fallacious to suppose that to undermine one kind of causality (and in one kind of context) is to undermine causality as such. Certainly it begs the question against the Scholastic, who denies that all causality reduces to deterministic relations holding between temporally separated events.

The conflation of a general class with a specific kind within the general class is evident too in discussions of motion. Scholastics and other Aristotelians think of motion in general as change, and change as the actualization of potency. Local motion or change with respect to place or location is just one kind of actualization of a potency, and is metaphysically less fundamental than other kinds. When motion is discussed in modern physics, however, it is of course local motion that is exclusively in view.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this focus, but it would be fallacious to draw, from what modern physics says about “motion” (in the sense of local motion), sweeping conclusions about what Aristotelians say about “motion” (in the sense of the actualization of potency). This would be to confuse what is true of one kind of change for what is true of change as such. Yet this kind of fallacious conflation is very common. Of course, a critic of Scholastic metaphysics might claim that local motion is the only kind of change there really is, but merely to assert this is simply to beg the question against the Scholastic, who has arguments for the claim that local motion cannot be the only kind of change there is. (I have addressed this particular issue in detail elsewhere, e.g. here and here.)

C. Confusing general principles with specific applications of those principles: When a thinker, whether a philosopher or a scientist, puts forward a general principle, he sometimes illustrates it with examples that later turn out to be deficient. But it simply doesn’t follow that the general principle itself is mistaken. For example, people often think of the evolution of the horse as a neat transition from very small animals to ever larger ones, as in the kind of exhibit they might have seen in a natural history museum as a child. It turns out that things aren’t quite so neat. There is no hard and fast correlation between the size of a horse and where it appears in the fossil record. It doesn’t follow, however, that modern horses did not evolve from much smaller animals. That earlier accounts of the evolution of the horse turn out to be mistaken does not entail that the general principle that horses evolved is mistaken. (Intelligent Design enthusiasts are kindly asked to spare us any frantic comments about evolution. This is not a post about that subject. It’s just an example.)

However, though philosophical naturalists never tire of making this point when Darwinism is in question, they suddenly forget it when Aristotelianism or Scholasticism is what is at issue. For example, Aristotelians defend the reality of final causality the idea that natural substances and processes are inherently “directed towards” certain characteristic effects or ranges of effects. In previous centuries, the idea was often illustrated in terms of Aristotle’s view that heavy objects are naturally directed toward the center of the earth as their “natural place.” That turns out to be mistaken. This is often treated as a reason for rejecting the idea of final causality as such, but this simply doesn’t follow. In general, the deficiencies of this or that illustration of some Scholastic metaphysical thesis are simply not grounds for rejecting the thesis itself. (I’ve addressed this issue at greater length before, e.g. herehere, and here.)

The Limits of Physics

So that’s one set of background considerations that must be kept in mind when addressing topics like the one at issue: the begged questions, blurred distinctions, and missed points which chronically afflict the thinking of those who raise purportedly scientific objections to Scholastic metaphysics. Let’s move on now to the second set of background considerations, viz. the limits in principle to what physics can tell us about physical reality, and the unavoidability of a deeper metaphysical perspective.

As I have emphasized many times, what physics gives us is a description of the mathematical structure of physical reality. It abstracts from any aspect of reality which cannot be captured via its exclusively quantitative methods. One reason that this is crucial to keep in mind is that from the fact that something doesn’t show up in the description physics gives us, it doesn’t follow that it isn’t there in the physical world. This is like concluding from the fact that color doesn’t show up in a black and white pen and ink drawing of a banana that bananas must not really be yellow. In both cases the absence is an artifact of the method employed, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality the method is being used to represent. The method of representing an object using black ink on white paper will necessarily leave out color even if it is there, and the method of representing physical reality using exclusively mathematical language will necessarily leave out any aspect of physical reality which is not reducible to the quantitative, even if such aspects are there.

But it’s not just that such aspects might be there. They must be there. The quantitative description physics gives us is essentially a description of mathematical structure. But mathematical structure by itself is a mere abstraction. It cannot be all there is, because structure presupposes something concrete which has the structure. Indeed, physics itself tells us that the abstraction cannot be all there is, since it tells us that some abstract mathematical structures do not fit the actual, concrete material world. For example, Einstein is commonly taken to have shown that our world is not really Euclidean. This could only be true if there is some concrete reality that instantiates a non-Euclidean abstract structure rather than a Euclidean abstract structure. So, physics itself implies that there must be more to the world than the abstract structure it captures in its purely mathematical description, but it does not and cannot tell us exactly what this concrete reality is like.

That physics by itself only gives us abstract structure is by no means either a new point or a point emphasized by Scholastics alone. It was made in earlier generations by thinkers like Poincaré, Russell, Eddington, Weyl, and others, and in recent philosophy has been emphasized by Grover Maxwell, Michael Lockwood, Simon Blackburn, David Chalmers, and others.

Moreover, we know there must be more to causality specifically than physics does or could tell us about. The early Russell once argued that causation must not be a real feature of the world precisely because it does not show up in the description of the world physics gives us. For physics, says Russell, describes the world in terms of differential equations describing functional relations between events, and these equations make no reference to causes. “In the motions of mutually gravitating bodies, there is nothing that can be called a cause, and nothing that can be called an effect; there is merely a formula” (“On the Notion of Cause,” pp. 173-74).  Russell’s position has been the subject of a fair bit of attention in recent philosophy (e.g. here).

Now, I don’t myself think it is quite right to say that physics makes no use of causal notions, since I think that physics tells us something about the dispositional features of fundamental particles, and dispositionality is a causal notion. Still, as other philosophers have argued, higher-level causal features—such as the causation we take ourselves to experience continuously in everyday life, in the behavior of tables, chairs, rocks, trees, and other ordinary objects—are more difficult to cash out in terms of what is going on at the micro level described by physics. Hilary Putnam is one contemporary philosopher who has addressed this problem, as I noted in a post from a few years ago. Trenton Merricks is another, and argues that at least macro-level inanimate objects are unreal, since (he claims) they play no causal role in the world over and above the causal role played by their microphysical parts.

Merricks thinks living things are real, and certainly a Russell-style, across-the-board denial of causation would be incoherent, for a reason implicit in a fact that the later Russell himself emphasized. Our perceptual experiences give us knowledge of the external physical world only because they are causally related to that world. To deny causality in the name of science would therefore be to undermine the very empirical foundations of science.
 
 
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
(Image credit: Write Science)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • William Davis

    It's refreshing to see a sincere article about science and it's relationship to philosophy.

    I've recently come to a possible metaphysical realization based on quantum mechanics and relativity that I would like to see "picked apart"

    First, relativity gives us an indication that space and time are a single substance "space-time" that actually is warped by gravitation and affect by speed relative to an inertia reference from. So space isn't an abstraction, it is a substance.

    We have experimentally demonstrated that quantum fluctuations can bring matter and anti-matter in and out of existance in a vacuum. Even in a vacuum there is still the "quantum-foam", so even a vacuum is not "nothing".

    This raises the question, does "nothing" even exist. The correspondence theory of truth says that for something to be "true" there must be a corresponding "thing" in reality that matches the concept. But if even a vacuum is not "nothing" how can anything correspond to nothing?

    If you think about it, if nothing doesn't "exist", it answers the "Why is there Something rather than Nothing" question very neatly. It's simple, Nothing doesn't exist, we just made that up. That makes it a "bad question".
    I'm not certain that is true, but if Occam's Razor has any merit...

    Baruch Spinoza argued that there is only Everything, and that God IS Everything, so the entire universe is inside God. This ontology makes perfect sense, and requires no "creation" because "creation" is only necessary if nothing "exists". So to be a creationist, you must first believe in "nothing" then solve the believed problem of "nothing" with something else that is believed without empirical evidence, a creator.

    I still like to think there is a creator, but if all of this logic is sound, is it "true"?

    • William Davis

      I bring up Spinoza because Einstein "loved Spinoza" Here is a really bad poem he wrote to Spinoza:

      "How much do I love this noble man

      More than I could say with words

      I fear though he’ll remain alone

      With a holy halo of his own…

      You think his example would show us

      What this teaching can give humankind

      Trust not the comforting façade:

      One must be born sublime"

      http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/news/einsteins-bad-love-poem-2#.VM-D4J3F_Dc

      Who understood what I am saying better than Albert Einstein, who seemed to have some type of "divine" insight into the nature of reality.
      Think of the "miracles" that have come into being due to his ideas, not only GPS (requires relativistic calculations for time dilation) but E=mc2, which culminated in the thermonuclear weapon, something so terrible no one would have imagined it was possible before Einstein. (It is ironic he was completely against war).

      • Nanchoz

        I agree with your thoughts about nothingness. Actually it couldn't possibly exist. For " nothing " to exist it should fulfill the requirement of no existing. Which is an awful contradiction indeed.
        Given that nothing does not exist implies that reality is full of existence. Even the most perfect vacuum or void is filled with being. quantum fields for physics? totally unactualized potency for thomists?
        But unactualized potency doesn't exist also because it lacks the act of existing. So the perfect vacuum or the "nothing" from which creation is brought must be something else.
        I think the answer could be implicit in the multiverse theory. Given the fine tuning of the physics variables of our universe it is posited that theoretically multiple universes go in and out of existence, being our universe the one (And only?) that effectively can give rise to intelligent beings among an infinite number of other non humanoid apt universes.
        I would like to think that in thomist view those infinite universes don't exist in potency or virtually but actually. We can assign a number to each of that universes from 1 to infinite right? But also we can assign -1 to -infinite. I mean that each universe gets annulled by its counterpart (as could be matter and antimatter for instance)
        So from that multiverse soup our universe could be created by a especial act of depriving it from its counter-universe. Why ? Because it leads to the existence of ourselves. A simple act of love.

        • William Davis

          Well thought out response. I just have trouble thinking this universe is all about us. It seems to be "designed" to create galaxies more than anything else (and I "love" galaxies, they are incredibly beautiful). If the universe is all about "us" then I think it is about something we may eventually become, not what we are now. I love to look at the world through the lens of different "schools" of thought, and we can come to truths by mixing ideas. The problem is that my mind cannot contain all these views at once, and seems inadequate for comprehending truth. I do all kinds of things with diet and exercise to improve mental performance, but it isn't enough. We may need better "hardware" to find better answers, but that is just my crackbrain theory. Thanks for responding, and I do like your point of view, I just am deeply suspicious of human "bias".

    • Loreen Lee

      I agree that this is a particularly good sign that this site is developing in its approach to the issue. I also reflect on a possible change which emphasized debate and argument, towards more comprehensive and charitable discussion.
      When I came to this site and found the article on Spinoza I thought perhaps I have a choice to make. So I'm going to drop out of this discussion, with great regret and assign myself to a period of 'limbo' but within the health prospect that I may be able to understand a bit better those modes Spinoza talks about. I love the continuity, and possible correspondence, I am finding in the opportunities presented me, and what I hope to be the development of my thought. I am saying possible correspondence because I have read paper both on the shortcomings of correspondence theories and consistency. One of the reasons I merely assign myself to finding coherence, or at least connections between ideas. etc. Some day I may actually learn how to think, but right now I'm going to let the neurons in my brain have a little holiday, and let them dance as well as they can to that per-determined harmony in conjunction with that music of the spheres.!!!

      • William Davis

        I think I need a rest too. This particular argument I'm making feels like "divine insight" to me. If you let it sink in that Everything IS God, then every experience you have is divine. Every experience, with your children, every sunset you watch, every picture of galaxies from Hubble, all of it is divine. It brings home the truth that each moment is a gift, and as Buddhism claims, we should not spend our lives running from "bad" and chasing after "good", but experiencing God.

        "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."Henry David Thoreau

        • Isn't that Pantheism? The belief that everything is God? BTW, I know that kind of receiving (let everything sink in), and I can tell you that it's not good. We need some grate to filter the fallen hairs, one, and the experiences you're talking about is only reflects the divinity of God. They are not God. Does the sun created the world? Do the Galaxies created human? I think this is something that you should ponder, or, in christian language, meditate.

          • William Davis

            If you look at my comment history, you will find I have a better historical and philosophical understanding of Christianity than most Christians do. The ancient Sumerians invented the Western notion of God, and claim the gods made man out of clay to be slaves to work the fields (the Sumerian gods had to eat and sleep, the original flood myth says the gods brought the flood because people were making too much noise and they couldn't sleep). Genesis incorporates this idea, and keeps God as a manlike being who walks through the Garden, wrestles with Jacob, behaves like a jealous husband (Amos), is angry and vengeful, and does things like kill Job's children because of a "bet" with Satan.

            Christianity evolved God to be compassionate, and eventually made him the God of the omni's. Spinoza's view of God is the final evolution of God, and what is fascinating is that science has revealed his idea of a single substance to be correct. Einstein himself did not think space was a "substance" until he developed his theories. This is probably why he "fell in love" with Spinoza and his God. You should really check out Spinoza's philosophy. His views were far ahead of his time (he lived in the 1600s). If you think you know more about "reality" than Albert Einstein, my response would be "whatever dude."

            "Bento (in Hebrew, Baruch; in Latin, Benedictus) Spinoza is one of the most important philosophers—and certainly the most radical—of the early modern period. His thought combines a commitment to a number of Cartesian metaphysical and epistemological principles with elements from ancient Stoicism and medieval Jewish rationalism into a nonetheless highly original system. His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. They also lay the foundations for a strongly democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion. Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza."

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

            Spinoza believed in what Dr. Goldstein calls a “Final Theory of Everything,” and refered to a combination of nature, substance, and God. The Final Theory of Everything includes all laws of nature, reasons for them, and even a reason for the theory itself. Spinoza says in his Ethics that the only way to obtain happiness is the pursuit of reason; in understanding more of the Final Theory of Everything, you get closer to God and experience amor dei intellecutalis, the intellectual love of God.

            Spinoza’s God cannot love us back and does not resemble the God of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, the three major religions in his time. Naturally, it was not surprising the Spinoza was declared an atheist (despite his assertion for the existence of God) and reviled as a heretic for many years afterward.

            "His ideas, however, have resonated with generations of thinkers. Enlightenment philosopher John Locke was influenced by Spinoza’s ideas regarding the separation of church and state; a leading neurologist today, Damasio writes of Spinoza’s amazing ideas regarding the mind and body, some of which are consistent with recent research in the theory of emotion. Some string theorists call themselves “Spinozists,” believing that a final theory of everything can indeed be worked out through mathematics alone, using the pure reason Spinoza had advocated. And not least of all, the most famous Spinozist of all might be Einstein, who was influenced by and agreed with many of Spinoza’s ideas. His poem conveys his love towards Spinoza, a feeling shared by many throughout the centuries:"

            http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/news/einsteins-bad-love-poem-2#.VNDh1J3F_Dc

          • William Davis

            This type of "pantheism" is not for the weak minded, it is for a philosopher. The weak minded still need stories and traditional religion (and I enjoy the stories myself), though I think we would all be better off if we made them non-superstitious. Decisions and morality must be based on reason. If God is the substance of the universe, and all evidence is that he is, than pantheism is "true." You would have to construct a philosophical argument as an "objection" if you actually want to discuss (I challenge anyone to do so). I continually have Christians run from me because I have done my homework, and do not try to "bias" truth. Being "right" gives you a distinct advantage in a argument :)

          • Kevin Reiner

            Well, different story for me. I have found GK Chesterton and you found Bento Spinoza. I'm sure that I'm still ignorant with a whole lot of Catholic teaching, but hey, I already read the dogmas. I can't read the guy's writing because that would endanger myself, thus putting me into sin.

            What I can say is that one, Spinoza is loving wrongfully, for love is in the will, not in the intellect. Archbishop Fulton Sheen taught that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is Loving, Beloved, and Love respectively. Holy Spirit is also the Will of God. A->B, A->C, therefore B->C. Since we are the Image of God, and our love is expressed in actions, thus come forth from our will, we can say that Spinoza is willing to love the products of intellect, which is knowledge.

            Two, Dogma of the Catholic Church agrees that God can be found by reason, but how incomplete such knowledge would be. Permit me to use an analogy. If we want to know a girl, it is better to wait for her to reveal herself, than simply listening to your friends to know her. Reason is an appetizer for the main course. And St. Thomas Aquinas told us in first part that sciences have a hierarchy. My understanding is this: Science of the natural, such as physics, metaphysical, such as philosophy, and revealed, which is Theology. That could be wrong, but my point is that the lower sciences will have difficulty in knowing God, and even fall into many errors, when we confuse sciences with each other, like Spinoza did, which we can see from him being declared heretic.

            I hope this can be a good talk. Sure I did not cover many of your points, and I might get horribly wrong, but that's my capacity. I advise, for the Love of God, to go beyond being right, and start seeking truth.

            P.S.: Wait, I thought you are a man! I have just gone to your profile to check your comment history as you recommend when I saw your face and... wait... how feminine...

          • William Davis

            Lol, someone my wife's facebook picture is appearing as my avatar, I think I've somehow associated both our facebook accounts with the discuss account. I'm male.
            My problem is that I've made my life so much better by using science and reason to determine "moral" or right action. I have my own food laws (based on the affect of food on the functionally of the brain), I engage in mindfulness, I cultivate patience and compassion as a matter of habit (I think this is clearly found in Christianity) but I do it as a matter of understanding neuroplasticity. Compassion and love are directly linked to feelings of well being, reduced stress and long life. In a nutshell, doing the right thing and selfishness are inexplicably linked, if what we really want is to be happy. Not only is my own life better, but my wife and kids are happier, so are people I deal with at work. Happiness is contagious, and it isn't the same thing as pleasure or pain, it is something much deeper in the mind. We know chemicals like drugs influence moods, intellect, and moral behavior so this shouldn't be a surprise. I also reject the soul hypothesis, there is too much neurological evidence that contradicts it.
            One of the biggest examples is split-brain syndrome:
            "Gazzaniga and Sperry's split-brain research is now legendary. One of their child participants, Paul S, had a fully functional language center in both hemispheres. This allowed the researchers to question each side of the brain. When they asked the right side what their patient wanted to be when he grew up, he replied "an automobile racer." When they posed the same question to the left, however, he responded "a draftsman." Another patient pulled down his pants with the left hand and back up with the right in a continuing struggle. On a different occasion, this same patient's left hand made an attempt to strike the unsuspecting wife as the right hand grabbed the villainous limp to stop it."
            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201211/split-brains

            So we have people that have a different "will" on each side of the brain, and one of the "wills" disappears when the split in the brain is repaired. Tons of neurological evidence supports the idea of "will" as being the product of a noisy committee composed of different brain regions. Damage to certain regions affects the "will". There is a lot more where this came from.
            In summary, I understand what Christianity is trying to accomplish, but I think we now have tools to do understand what is going on inside our heads better, and do a better job than Christianity was able to. I think this is actually fulfilling Christ's mission, to help the world and reduce suffering. I'll close with a scripture from Mark 9
            38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone[j] casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

            In the spirit of Christ, truly I tell you the goal of modern psychology and neurology is to cast out demons (problems in the mind). I'll let Jesus's words speak for himself. Surely, there are multiple ways of casting out demons, and I am not anti-Christian. Mine is a difficult path of academics, it is not for the faint-hearted. I simply have found a hard path that I believe is better at casting out demons for me. As someone who is basically an atheist, I am still united with Christianity in what I believe is it's ultimate goal.

          • Kevin Reiner

            Well, I did not expect that, I was surprised when I saw the pic.

            To answer this, remember that while the weird will and the physical condition of the brain goes hand in hand, it does not mean that the brain affected the will. Allow me to give another analogy. If a speedboat and a cargo ship goes west, it does not mean that the cargo ship is pulling the speedboat. It might be the Will of God to cure him from that dual will condition when we try our best to cure it, Him being merciful. After all, leaving a patient in that condition might not be the best that can happen.

            According to you, you tried to make compassion a habit. But I can't help but to remember the sermons of John Vianney. He said that religion should not be mere habits, but should be a religion of the heart.

            Anyway, if brain is holding the will and other faculties of the soul, then we are sure prisoners of the body. Yet we always long for freedom. Why do we long freedom so much, if there is not one liberator? For if there is no liberator, men would have given up the quest for freedom far long before. After all, the Greeks are not that primitive.

            Problems of the mind are not devil, they are evil, for the good not being accomplished. If demons were only inhabiting the intellect, then why did our heart shrinks? They are chaining us in despair that comes from pride. Notice that one who despaires will show pride in the beginning. Judas, he was so prideful he thought he knew better than Jesus. He plotted, thinking that he would be able to outsmart the "problem". Yet Jesus was captured, he panicked, being guilt - ridden, and despaired, resulting in him committed suicide.

            Once again, I am close to the limits of my capacity. But I'm glad to be posting here!

    • hernan Zampar

      For Classic theism

      • William Davis

        Is that supposed to represent the "singularity" before the Big Bang? :P

        • Krakerjak

          Good one,,,,love humor....we all have to lighten up a bit.

    • Roman

      Interesting thoughts for sure. However, I think that you are relying on several false premises. For example, it is not correct to say that space and time, or space-time are substances, let alone a single substance. The space-time continuum is simply a convenient way to model the behavior of the universe. Space-time itself is a manifold that is described by a coordinate system and comprised of many different substances. A substance by definition is a "specific type of matter having uniform properties." We would not say that the substance of stars (primarily helium & hydrogen gases) is the same as the substance of planets like Earth, Mars, and Venus (rocks, i.e., minerals and metals primarily). Spinoza used the term "substance" in such a broad way as to render the word meaningless.

      You have not proven that the universe is necessary, i.e., nothing is not a possibility. You have only shown that within our universe there is no such thing as true nothing, i.e., theoretical vacuum. The question isn't whether "nothing" exists..... its whether nothing should or would be the normative case outside of the creative act of a primary mover, i.e., God. Bear in mind also, that since our universe is believed to be finite, there is at least the possibility that beyond our universe there is "nothing".

      We can also bring up the fact that we observe "uncaused" events in physics as this article mentions

      The article does not concede that these are uncaused events. Its bringing up the fact that causality has a different understanding or usage in scholastic philosophy than it does in some branches of science. Quantum physics is probalistic in nature, i.e., we can only predict the probability that a quantum event will take place. This is a limitation on our knowledge, not proof that the event does not have a cause.

      • Michael Murray

        Space-time itself is a manifold that is described by a coordinate system and comprised of many different substances.

        Space-time is modelled by a manifold and "substances" are modelled by various kinds of fields defined on space-time or on other geometric objects (fibre bundles) related to space-time. So "comprised of" is not really correct.

        • Loreen Lee

          I just ran across an opportunity to read a bit of Aristotle again. Yes his 'substance' is within the individual/particular??? which even gives possibility to the idea/reality of mathematical points, even Leibniz in relation to the monads, and those heights of intellectualizations that I am incapable of reaching......And those Buddhists had the audacity to say that thoughts were 'real'!!!!

        • Roman

          Space-time is modelled by a manifold

          Ah...no. You are misusing the term "space-time". As Wikipedia states:

          "spacetime (also space–time, space time or space–time continuum) is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single interwoven continuum."

          Saying, as you did, that "space-time is modelled" is saying that a mathematical model is modelled - a nonsensical statement.

          Neither is it correct to say, as you did, that space-time "is modelled by a manifold". As I said, "space-time" IS a manifold. Regarding this, Wikipedia also states

          "In cosmology, the concept of spacetime combines space and time to a single abstract universe. Mathematically it (i.e., space-time) IS A MANIFOLD, consisting of "events" which are described by some type of coordinate system"

          Regarding reference to Space-time as a 'substance". This is a matter of debate among cosmologists and physicists. But lets just say for argument sake, it is appropriate to use this language. This does not invalidate my usage of the word "substance". The fact is that "substance", which refers to matter having uniform properties or characteristics (this is the common usage in science. ), can be used to organize the material world in many different ways, depending on which properties you are concerned with.You can find slightly different variations of this definition in different dictionaries. Dictionary.com has "substance is a species of matter of definite chemical composition." At the highest level of the universe where we are looking at the entire universe solely on the basis of how it behaves with respect to space and time, we could conceivably refer to space-time as the substance of the universe since the universe as a whole has the common property of behaving as single interwoven continuum. But to use my example, if we look at the universe from the standpoint of chemical composition, then clearly the universe is not one uniform substance but, as I said, is comprised of many types of substances with different chemical compositions and physical properties.

          My comments regarding the universe and the use of the word substance was in the context of the Spinoza proof. Which I cover in more detail below. Suffice it to say there are numerous problems with his use of this term. He never really defines it He makes claims about substances we know to be false (example: Spinoza asserts in Proposition no.2 that "Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another". There are countless examples that refute this. Lets take hydrogen and helium for example....two difference substances (i.e., chemicals) according to chemistry with different attributes, e.g., different densities and different nuclear structure. However, they do also have much in common. Both have the physical state of a gas under normal ambient conditions. Both gases are highly flammable. Both gases are less dense than air....etc. More on this below.

          • Michael Murray

            OK sure if space-time is the model and space and time the physical things then space-time is a mathematical model for space and time.

          • Roman

            nice!

      • William Davis

        Thanks for the well thought out response. I agree with many things you wrote but I'm using Spinoza's definition of a substance. The first definition in Webster dictionary is ": a material of a particular kind" Space-time seems to bend like a material, it has properties like a "substance", at least that is how Spinoza defines substance. I don't think that is meaningless. He came up with this in the 1600s, and look at how well it fits physics. I agree about our limits, but this philosophical view seems to have predictive power. Like I said, this is what Einstein believed, which is fascinating in itself. Check out a summary of the proof about God being the "substance". Space-time would be a different "mode" of the substance.

        "In propositions one through fifteen of Part One, Spinoza presents the basic elements of his picture of God. God is the infinite, necessarily existing (that is, uncaused), unique substance of the universe. There is only one substance in the universe; it is God; and everything else that is, is in God.

        Proposition 1: A substance is prior in nature to its affections.

        Proposition 2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another. (In other words, if two substances differ in nature, then they have nothing in common).

        Proposition 3: If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them cannot be the cause of the other.

        Proposition 4: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes [i.e., the natures or essences] of the substances or by a difference in their affections [i.e., their accidental properties].

        Proposition 5: In nature, there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

        Proposition 6: One substance cannot be produced by another substance.

        Proposition 7: It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.

        Proposition 8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.

        Proposition 9: The more reality or being each thing has, the more attributes belong to it.

        Proposition 10: Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.

        Proposition 11: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists. (The proof of this proposition consists simply in the classic “ontological proof for God's existence”. Spinoza writes that “if you deny this, conceive, if you can, that God does not exist. Therefore, by axiom 7 [‘If a thing can be conceived as not existing, its essence does not involve existence’], his essence does not involve existence. But this, by proposition 7, is absurd. Therefore, God necessarily exists, q.e.d.”)

        Proposition 12: No attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided.

        Proposition 13: A substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible.

        Proposition 14: Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.

        This proof that God—an infinite, necessary and uncaused, indivisible being—is the only substance of the universe proceeds in three simple steps. First, establish that no two substances can share an attribute or essence (Ip5). Then, prove that there is a substance with infinite attributes (i.e., God) (Ip11). It follows, in conclusion, that the existence of that infinite substance precludes the existence of any other substance. For if there were to be a second substance, it would have to have some attribute or essence. But since God has all possible attributes, then the attribute to be possessed by this second substance would be one of the attributes already possessed by God. But it has already been established that no two substances can have the same attribute. Therefore, there can be, besides God, no such second substance."

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

        Spinoza's proof is elegantly simple here. I like Occam's razor, that is why I like his theory of "God". Do you have any objections to these specific proofs?

        The question isn't whether "nothing" exists..... its whether nothing should or would be the normative case outside of the creative act of a primary mover, i.e., God. Bear in mind also, that since our universe is believed to be finite, there is at least the possibility that beyond our universe there is "nothing".

        Too much believing for my taste, but of course we don't "know" that it isn't true. We have no idea whether the universe is finite or not. I personally think it is not finite, we just have a hard time (or probably can't) imagine such a thing. The farther we see out, the farther it is. If Spinoza was right about substance, maybe God (i.e. Nature) is infinite. Do you believe God is human like? If so is it based on evidence other than "divine revelation" (I know a great deal about the Bible and Christianity and it has way too many flaws to appear even close to divine). I think we WANT to believe the prime mover is human like, and we have used that fact to exploit "God's Authority".

        This is a limitation on our knowledge, not proof that the event does not have a cause.

        I agree completely about the limits of our knowledge, we are just really getting started with this stuff. Public education has only been around for say 150 years. I find what we will learn in the future to be something to really look forward to.

      • William Davis

        "Spinoza believed in what Dr. Goldstein calls a “Final Theory of Everything,” and refered to a combination of nature, substance, and God. The Final Theory of Everything includes all laws of nature, reasons for them, and even a reason for the theory itself. Spinoza says in his Ethics that the only way to obtain happiness is the pursuit of reason; in understanding more of the Final Theory of Everything, you get closer to God and experience amor dei intellecutalis, the intellectual love of God."

        The Final Theory of Everything is so relevant today, and this great Philosopher was the first to propose it, heck he was one of the first to propose separation of church and state and many secular ideas we hold dear, here is what the Stanford article says about him at the beginning

        "Bento (in Hebrew, Baruch; in Latin, Benedictus) Spinoza is one of the most important philosophers—and certainly the most radical—of the early modern period. His thought combines a commitment to a number of Cartesian metaphysical and epistemological principles with elements from ancient Stoicism and medieval Jewish rationalism into a nonetheless highly original system. His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. They also lay the foundations for a strongly democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion. Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza."

        Can you blame us for being Spinozists? Talk about prophecy and divine revelation..., this man's ideas have changed the world.

        • Loreen Lee

          It leaves out Beauty, or Order, or the Sublime or Teleology as in Kant's Critique of Judgment, or the ability to place particulars within the context of a universal. Some are made without the universal. This idea is associated for me both with the material universe, and my consciousness of beauty. Enough for now. Thanks. See Third book of Kant, for the description of all the kinds of beauty. Fascinating. And of the sublime. (and the ridiculous!!! grin grin).

          • William Davis

            You are right Spinoza was all about reason. There is beauty in reason, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am not a creature of pure reason, but I have a very strong gravitation to reason, and I see beauty in it too. I agree with Kant, however there is beauty to found outside of reason, and I don't dismiss this as many pure rationalist do. I still think the rationalist are correct when it comes to objective reality, but they are missing a piece of the human condition (at least most humans). Some could care less about beauty, and that is just who they are "wired" to be.
            No wonder Kant wrote "Critique of Pure reason", lol.

          • Loreen Lee

            Anyway, just a little data mining here. (Forgive me no name). One of the professors who helped me get started in philosophy had a passion for beauty, and thus hung out with all the artists at the pub. I couldn't understand it. How could a philosopher be so interested in beauty. After I read about and yeasr later actually read Kan'ts Critique of Judgment, I found it was the basis of what defines us according to Aristotle's conception of being sapient. But there seems to be some confusion here. Beatitudes, though. And Kant describes many kinds of beauty, one particularly associated with the good, which Kant 'relates' to necessity, and universality, and reason, (Categorical imperative/Natural Law connection) also defined in many way, but there is no Golden Rule, explicitly, except for the need for a Kingdom of End, (Jerusalem etc.) That the end of this story, at least so far as I hope to have covered the structure. Thanks for your lol. I'm not going to attempt to define that though!!!! I guess I still haven't reached an adequate intellectual perfection, or a sufficient reason, but maybe that would be opening up another argument, - that would/could/should to test my logic!!!! (Assumption unwarranted. Back to the books/uh/computer.)

          • William Davis

            Here's a good Buddha like quote from Spinoza, "“The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure....you are above everything distressing.” "

          • William Davis

            Last comment. One weakness of "pure reason" is that things that are unethical, like eugenics are "reasonable." There has to be a "tone" to reason when it is used in a moral sphere.

          • Loreen Lee

            Very insightful. Thanks.

      • Loreen Lee

        I believe that Spinoza concept of substance when it comes to God is that it is something of which space and time (other words could be substituted) are merely two of an infinite number of attributes.

        I am also familiar with an idea of substance that regards it in relation to unity/mathematical, wholeness, etc. qualitative and I'm stuck here for further 'hook ups!'. Keep trying. This is from my Catholic upbringing, partially, at least, I believe. Am thinking of connections, getting confused Thanks.

  • Krakerjak

    Limit of Physics

  • Krakerjak

    Limits of physics.
    I posted this earlier and it was removed for some reason. Did I put someone's nose out of joint with a bit of humor?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The cartoon is great irony, since no one anymore supposes the atom to be a miniature Newtonian solar system. In fact, as Heisenberg pointed out, such objective properties as shape and location have no meaning in the atomic and subatomic realm. What is the shape of an atom? Where is an electron located? "The desired objective reality of the elementary particle," he wrote, "is too crude an oversimplification of what really happens." And "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning," which is a nice prefiguring of Dr. Feser's example of the black-and-white banana.

      • William Davis

        Perhaps the modern "specialization" of science as something separate from philosophy is a mistake. It seems that most of the great scientists were also philosophers, and their philosophy helped them imagine physical reality "outside the box". Perhaps this is one reason why scientific progress has ceased to be very innovative in recent years. A university should try mandating more philosophy to be taken by science majors to help expand their view of reality. It would at least be useful as an experiment even though it goes against the grain of the modern "compartmentalization of ideas".

        • Papalinton

          William, it seems that there is a real barney within contemporary philosophy circles, from those that seek to incorporate the science into their deliberations to those that endeavour to maintain the traditional theological base to their philosophising. That is, there is scientifically-informed philosophy and scientifically-uninformed philosophy. Dennett represents the former, seeking new and fresh ways in exploring philosophical issues of great importance, looking to account for scientific knowledge. Feser represents the latter, seeking to defend medieval classical scholasticism as a model of philosophical thought.

          • William Davis

            I agree about Feser. I've typically been very critical of Catholicism on this site, just wanted to point out a general principle we have in common.

          • William Davis

            If you look farther down, you'll see were I think quantum physics and relativity lead when when it comes to God. It isn't where they keep trying to force it at all. Spinoza was a "heretic" they resent, it burns them up that it looks like he was right. His "God" has about the same ontology as atheism.

          • There is philosophically-informed science and philosophically-uninformed science. Dennett represents the latter.

            I wrote this 10 years ago and little has changed:
            Skinnerian Neuromythology: Consciousness Explained -
            http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/skinnerian-neuromythology-consciousness-explained-6063.html

          • Papalinton

            Clearly, Johnboy, you make the misguided suggestion that philosophy relationally precedes science investigation. Nothing could be more counterfactual to the historical overview provided by the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy overview. Your 'philosophically-informed science'/'philosophically un-informed science' simply does not accord with either the historical or evidentiary record.

            It's a lovely attempt of yours at an abstruse revision of the historical record but it does not hang together as a viable and veridical explanatory tool.

          • Clearly, you have engaged neither my epistemology nor my critique but are offering facile generalizations with no specifics to back your claims. Because ---

            As a matter of fact, I do NOT subscribe to a foundational epistemology but a pragmatic semiotic realism.

            Where did I make the suggestion that philosophy was "relationally prior" to scientific investigation? My own approach hangs together quite neatly with the overall thrust of that encyclopedia article. I even explicitly stated that metaphysics must be approached as a posteriori, hypothetical and fallible, also that its concepts must be abstracted from the descriptive sciences and finally that it examines descriptive accounts in order to make explicit what are their implicit metaphysical presuppositions.

            In my own nonfoundational epistemology, I am concerned with value-realizations (akin to evolutionary adaptive significance,
            among other things). Value-realizations are delivered by our hermeneutical spirals, each method necessary, none, alone,
            sufficient. Science is inherently normative. For every value-realization, we describe reality, asking "What's that?" and then evaluate it, asking "What's that to us?" and then norm reality, asking "How might we best acquire or avoid that?" and then interpret reality, existentially acting per the deliverances our descriptive sciences, evaluative cultures and normative philosophies. While we recognize such categories as methodologically autonomous, we also recognize that they are axiologically integral, again, each necessary, none sufficient, for all practical purposes.

            As for Dennett, I simply parodied your facile caricature of Ed Feser? It would have been as hyperbolic as your own oversimplification except that I followed up with a rather substantial critique, point by point, drawn from the literature. Of course he's worthy of engagement. I engaged him elsewhere in this forum not long ago, to wit: "Ironically, Dawkins, Dennett and some cognitive scientists have, through their own genetic, mimetic and computational fallacies, similarly devalued human nature, not recognizing the degree of nonalgorithmic conscious we enjoy semiotically, however otherwise algorithmic much of our behavior may be. The executive summary of Terry Deacon's critique is simply that we mustn't confuse replicas and replicators."

            Your prose, in response to me, consists of little more than flowery wordsmithing but traffics in facile overgeneralizations. It's not terribly interesting save for the effort I chose to expend correcting your mischaracterizations and tossing your red herrings off the trails where others of us are trying to advance an earnest discussion.

          • Papalinton

            "I even explicitly stated that metaphysics must be approached as 1) a posteriori, 2) hypothetical and 3) fallible, also that 4) its concepts must be abstracted from the descriptive sciences and finally that 5) it examines descriptive accounts in order to make explicit what are their implicit metaphysical presuppositions."

            And Dennett doesn't observe this protocol? A bit self-serving and a tad pseudo, no?

            By your introducing the notion of 'scientism' [notwithstanding the smiley face] you unequivocally evince your disdain for scientific exposition constituting a reasonable, plausible and justified explanatory paradigm underpinned by a robust and compelling epistemological rationale which itself is grounded within its own principles and standards. 'Scientism' is a pejorative much favoured by those that gainsay the genuine and veritable role the sciences play as an explanatory tool.

            There was no parodying of Feser on my part. One need only recount the extent of on-going academic citations and referencing, drawn from both philosophers, to appreciate which has engendered the greater relative influence in and impact on contemporary mainstream philosophical thought internationally. No disrespect intended, but Feser's broad appeal is embraced largely in Catholic theological circles. This, in and of itself, is a delimiting feature.

          • Dennett, obviously, follows that protocol to an extent vis a vis proximate realities, although derailing with his cursory dismissal of competing philosophies of mind. Regarding putative primal and ultimate realities, unlike most others of large intelligence and profound goodwill, he seriously derails in not recognizing that other tautologies than his can be reasonable, existentially actionable and normatively justified.

            Rather than your continuing to put words in my mouth, wholly disregarding what I have actually said, I generally disdain those definitions of scientism included here: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

            I didn't say you parodied Feser. Rather, I said that I was parodying your facile caricature of Feser. I'm not interested in who Dennett and Feser's audiences are for purposes of this conversation. Rather, my purpose was too substantiate his delineation of categories, his methodological distinctions over against others' category errors. You haven't addressed the substance of his claims, which distinguish between the descriptive, evidential science of QM Theory and the normative science of metaphysical conceptions of causation, i.e between positivist and philosophic methods.

          • Papalinton

            "Dennett, ...... although derailing with his cursory dismissal of competing philosophies of mind." caricaturing a sedulous philosopher if ever there was an example. Dennett's perspective can hardly be characterised as a result of 'cursory dismissal'. Rather, cursory dismissals of competing philosophies of mind are historically the franchise of theologically-based philosophers in their endeavour to obscure, to obfuscate, to misrepresent real and legitimate alternatives to a staid, timeworn, and dishevelled tradition of metaphysic, a metaphysic framed around inexplicable supernaturalism, agency and intentionality, and ineffable live [putative] non-human entities that inhabit a netherworld, to whom we extend our sociability and with whom we are able to socialise and converse across a natural/supernatural divide; all this predicated on faith. The bottom line of Feserite philosophy is precisely to defend this metaphysic.

            Sorry, Johnboy, your argument remains wholly unconvincing resting as it seems within a camp of philosophy that is steadily losing intellectual and academic interest within contemporary philosophy, if indeed you do subscribe to a Feserite philosophical worldview, or a derivation of it. Perhaps I read too much into your defence of Feser. But then what possible motivation would you have to comment on this site other than to defend your 'Strange Notions'?

          • LOL! because, my good interlocutor, as I just explained to Ignatius, few places on the web are populated by so many with whom I disagree on either side of almost every issue. Thus raising the chance that I'll be challenged and can learn more from everybody, as opposed to inhabiting ideological bubbles, where all my biases would merely get reinforced.

            You haven't been engaging me seriously because you have jumped to too many conclusions and imputed too many stances to me making too many fallacious authoritarian and ad hominem appeals. It's almost as if you are cutting and pasting screeds over against prior antagonists that have zilch to do with me, in general, what I've shared here, in particular.

            I've dialogued with many nontheists and atheists, few who are as militant as Dennett and Dawkins, fewer still who appreciate their vitriol even when recognizing their substantive contributions. In that regard, they belong to a mere fringe, thankfully. Ler me make this more concrete for you. Neither the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment nor the religious freedom clause of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in any jeopardy of being amended, addended or deleted, as so few people of large intelligence and profound goodwill, whatever their worldview, find merit in the prescriptions of the militantly atheistic cabal.

          • Papalinton

            "I affirm truth whenever and wherever I find it."
            Of course you do, whatever your personal version of that truth might be. I can see the truth oozing through the pores of your epithets, 'atheists .....militant', and 'militantly atheistic cabal'. If ever someone was bringing an ideological bubble to this site, perhaps some introspection on your part might likely disclose the source.

            I'm not holding my breath.

          • Militantly atheism is not an apt description for this?

            Exhibit A

            http://atheism.about.com/library/quotes/bl_q_DDennett.htm

            q.e.d.

          • Papalinton

            This is intensely interesting, Johnboy.
            In which particular point of the seven in your Exhibit A, or collectively, does this militancy manifest? I am curious, because any commonsensical reading of the points identifies all of them as pretty much stock-in-trade standard, serving as they do unambiguously differentiating religious from the non-religious position.

            Or does Dennett's militancy manifest itself by having the audacity, nay, the gall to insist on an evidentialistc approach, you know, demand proofs, evidence, facts, verification and some smidgeon of authentication from those that claim a reality immune from substantiation. [Methinks a case of special pleading here.]

            Or is it that Dennett's militancy is reflected in his expectation that these alternative stances, other ways of knowing, must first establish their epistemic credentials from which a standard of reasonableness can be determined? Clearly the centuries-old hiatus in theo-philosophical scholarship has contributed little to consolidating the bona fides of a theologically-based metaphysical stance let alone as an explanatory paradigm worthy of the name.

            No, Johnboy, no prima facie case has been established here for any form of militancy despite your invocation of the q.e.d. mantra.

          • Loreen Lee

            Please read Wittgenstein and explain it to me. Thanks.

          • Militant refers - not to the substance, but - the style of argument (e.g. aggressive & combative).

          • Hey, Papalinton, I've been preoccupied with musing about dialethism but, beyond the style-substance distinction, wanted to comment on the substance (yet again, from a different perspective).

            >>>This is intensely interesting, Johnboy.<<>>In which particular point of the seven in your Exhibit A, or collectively, does this militancy manifest? I am curious, because any commonsensical reading of the points identifies all of them as pretty much stock-in-trade standard, serving as they do unambiguously differentiating religious from the non-religious position.<<>>Or does Dennett's militancy manifest itself by having the audacity, nay, the gall to insist on an evidentialistc approach, you know, demand proofs, evidence, facts, verification and some smidgeon of authentication from those that claim a reality immune from substantiation. [Methinks a case of special pleading here.]
            <<>>Or is it that Dennett's militancy is reflected in his expectation that these alternative stances, other ways of knowing, must first establish their epistemic credentials from which a standard of reasonableness can be determined? <<>>Clearly the centuries-old hiatus in theo-philosophical scholarship has contributed little to consolidating the bona fides of a theologically-based metaphysical stance let alone as an explanatory paradigm worthy of the name.<<<

            Category error. Metaphysics are philosophic not theological, which is why, for example, Christianity has been described as still in search of a metaphysic.

            Now, regarding moral reasoning, that must be accomplished in a robustly evidential manner

          • Loreen Lee

            This is drawing sides again, on both sides. This is not even Wittgenstein's language is a living form. I'm not sure the solution is 'reasonable', if reason is defined by logic. It's OK I've been deemed a nut case in my life, and am too old to fear another round of deception. Truth, etc. etc. I'm not sure it' a matter of 'defining' the concept.

          • Rational does not equal logical in my book. Nor empirical. Reasonable reflects a hermeneutical spiral, wherein the logical and empirical are necessary but not sufficient. I won't describe the spiral here as I've already flung my daily ration of electrons into the blogosphere.

          • Loreen Lee

            It is possible that our motivations differ. I got into this mess through a struggle to find and defend my personal identity, with respect to both church and state.

          • Loreen Lee

            Maybe it's important to keep a sense of humor!!!

          • Loreen Lee

            I have always had to work to 'find' my consciousness!!!!

          • Loreen Lee

            Science has not 'explained' what Hegel calls 'dynamic' form. (Possibly found within language and even related to time. Just don't know. There is difficulty with categories of 'being' here. And of course, the physicists for a time questioned whether time was real. And of course the relativity. etc. etc. etc. You have to be both a mathematician and a scientist and a philosopher. The whole thing is 'too much'.

        • Marc Riehm

          What could possibly make you say that "scientific progress has ceased to be very innovative in recent years"? What is your basis for that judgment - your personal jadedness? Pick up a Scientific American, man.

          • William Davis

            No new fields of study, or major new theories, just refining old ones. It is a high standard, and innovative is a "relative term". If you think I'm anti-science, I'm not, but it could ALWAYS be better.

          • Luke

            Not that I think this is the case, but a slowing of discovery / new theories could mean that we're asymptoting toward truth. Quantum field theory, for example, if correct, rules out any meaningful undiscovered forces. Just food for thought.

          • William Davis

            That's true. It could also mean we have "standardized" learning too much. Public education has only been around for little over 100 years, we are really new at this. I think our discovery of knowledge is just beginning, but that is surely a pure opinion based on speculation. Throughout history, all generations thought they knew what was there to know, that is my only evidence :)

          • Loreen Lee

            This attitude has also been expressed by a cosmologist. See SN - a post by Geena . Throughout history I believe there can be found a presupposition that 'we know it all' or if I may say, an identity with God, which may or may not be moral. But I can't find a consistent, coherent and correspondence!!!!

          • Michael Murray

            It depends of course on where you set the bar for innovation. Would you regard general relativity as refining Newtonian gravity ? I realise that wasn't a recent development I'm just try to see where the bar is set.

          • William Davis

            I realize I'm being idealistic, and there is likely a need for a lot of refining before we can reach a new "innovation", but I would argue relativity reinvented physics as opposed to refining. I'm a believer in the "Final Theory of Everything" which may never be achievable, but why not set the bar high. I'm not trying to be unnecessarily critical (though obviously comes off that way). Most recent innovation has mostly been technological, in my opinion. This technology is feeding back into science, in things like neurology (neurology and psychology have made a lot of progress in recent years).
            Some of this comes back to my biggest fear, and it isn't dying. I'm afraid if we don't solve our energy problems in the not too distant future, it may lead to catastrophe (not just climate change, but nuclear war over energy sources). We have always turned savage when resources have become scarce in the past, I can't, for the life of me, see why we would be any different now.
            We are really having a hard time with the "energy problem", I think some major redefining of physics may be necessary to achieve that, and it can't come soon enough (I fear for my children and their children).

          • Loreen Lee

            Read the comment about Bob Dylan. Krakerjak.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks William I can see where you are coming from.

            We are really having a hard time with the "energy problem", I think some major redefining of physics may be necessary to achieve that, and it can't come soon enough (I fear for my children and their children).

            So do I (although my children don't have any children yet). I do wish people would think more about how much our freedoms and quality of life depend on resources. I can imagine all kinds of dystopian futures where the human race survives but wishes it hadn't !

            I've seen many people suggest thorium nuclear reactors as a possible way forward. But we don't seem to be doing anywhere near enough research on them at the moment.

          • William Davis

            I know no one wants to hear, but I think energy taxes would go a long way to help. First, we obviously need the money at the federal level, and second I don't think anyone can rationally argue that market incentives are the most powerful force on earth, at least at this point in history (if you look at drug laws, and immigration, it is clear that markets trump laws). I do software for building automation, and one of it's primary goals is reducing energy consumption. We have trouble in many southern markets because energy prices are so low it doesn't make economic sense to upgrade outdated and inefficient systems. I think this is a clear case where we need government leadership (even though that has become an oxymoron lately) in thinking about the future, markets only think in the short term.
            There are some promising technologies in the works, and thorium does have potential, we just need a bigger kick in the butt to put more "energy" into the problem.

      • David Nickol

        The cartoon is great irony, since no one anymore supposes the atom to be a miniature Newtonian solar system.

        It's a cartoon, fer goodness sakes!

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Exactly. Hence, the irony of chasing a butterfly while leaping over an even more groundless "butterfly."

      • What we often overlook and what Heisenberg did not, is that our imaginations are confined to the macro level of material reality. In contrast, the mathematics applied to measurement is not. The
        mathematics of measurement is also applicable to instrumental measurements at scales below and above the scale of competence of the human imagination. For example, we can’t conjure up a sense-level narrative of the mathematics at the quantum mechanical level that will satisfy our imagination. Yet, as Aristotle pointed out, we can’t think period without some composite phantasm at the level of sensation.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The mathematics, which apply only to problems of simplicity (and hence involving simplifying assumptions), are more in the way of formal causation. Being abstracted, they reflect only a portion of the physical reality. Problems of disorganized complexity and of organized complexity often seem to use mathematics, but the former depends on statistics (which is not mathematics) and the latter uses modeling. One may obtain something that looks like an equation, but which is (especially in the latter case) entirely heuristic. That is, one obtains more-or-less useful results to inputs, but no insight to the physical nature of the situation. "A description that is adequate to the facts will seldom have the right mathematical shape," (Milton van Dyke iirc)

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: "A description that is adequate to the facts will seldom have the right mathematical shape," (Milton van Dyke iirc)

            Yeah, mathematics/extension/space. intuited according to Kant. It's metaphysical category freedom, as distinct from immortality and God. space time and consciousness or a relation between the former two. I can't help think these concepts etc. are dialectical and not analogical. Perhaps the Old Testament, rather than the New Testament God. Hope I'm not expelled for these thoughts. Thanks.

          • Would you elaborate on 'statistics (which is not mathematics)'? Is the meaning similar to 'taxonomy is not mathematics; it uses mathematics'? If we take away the mathematics of sets and subsets as well as the geometry of morphology from taxonomy, nothing is left.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            A mathematical model relates a small number of physical entities into a mathematical equation, such as that momentum (impetus) equals mass times velocity. There are three entities tied by an equation derived from Newton's Second Law. There is causation implied: the momentum is caused by the product of the mass and velocity.

            A statistical relationship otoh is boiled out of a mass of data usually involving many entities. "Equations" that come out of it are typically heuristic: they may yield accurate results, but they do not reflect any actual relationships among the entities involved. The typical such regression equation is a linear sum of the variables involved, which may serve as a reasonable approximation to the results over a suitable range of the estimators. But there is no causation implied; only a correlation.

            For example: a study of wall thickness of press-molded plastic parts using a 2IV8-4 fractional design resulted after reduction in the following regression:
            Thickness = -9.54 + 0.227 (Film Density) - 0.0482 (PreHeat Temp) - 0.0185 (Vacuum Pressure)
            R²(adj) was 85.7% which is quite good correlation. It means 85.7% of the variation in thickness is "explained" by the relationship with the three variables.

            However, only a lunatic would suppose that thickness is somehow a sum of a density, a temperature, and a pressure. The coefficients are purely ad hoc and serve only to convert dimensions to cm. In the analysis, two pairs of the original 8 variables suffered from multicollinearity and a choice was made in the reduction which variable in each pair to discard and which to keep. For example, if tensile strength had been kept and film density discarded, a different "equation" would have been obtained that was just as "good" in terms of R²(adj).
            ++++
            After Weaver:
            http://people.physics.anu.edu.au/~tas110/Teaching/Lectures/L1/Material/WEAVER1947.pdf
            1. Simplicity: a few entities: mathematics.
            2. Disorganized complexity: many entities acting in similar fashion: statistics.
            3. Organized complexity: many entities and the manner in which they are connected: modelling.

        • Loreen Lee

          I noted this 'problem' when I tried to 'imagine' one trillionth of a trillionth, of a trillionth of a second in the description of the expansion of the universe. I also cannot 'imagine' all of the proofs of God's existence, which makes me wonder about what the 'beatific' vision means within the difference between such concepts as logic and intuition.

          • What I meant to indicate is that intellectual knowledge is not restricted to what we know via sense knowledge, but our imagination is. In our imagination we can cut and paste, but even then we haven't gone beyond the limits of sense knowledge.

          • Loreen Lee

            Yes, but perhaps it is also possible, that within the confines of language there are possible restrictions, particularly within our use of language, in the application of concepts to experience, - oh so many possibles to consider - sure mathematics IS incontestable. It is the relationship not only of the dynamic ( (language?) but even what I understand is difficulty in relating mathematical 'forms' (Aristotelean language) to an empirical reality of mufti-universes. In this way, cannot even mathematics be considered a metaphysic in some of the many applications of that word, or definitions of that word?.

            My son, for instance got a Dean's medal or something at University for his understanding of math. One day we were sitting in a cafe and he started explaining a math idea to me. It didn't make any sense. There didn't seem, for me any correlation between what I perceived and what he was talking about. He finally said: Oh, mom. This is math.
            So please understand what you are dealing with when you, thank you, respond.
            My point in the last comment, was indeed that the concept was not within any possible 'sense experience'. So I did understand you!!!!! I cannot possibly imagine the 'inflation of the universe'.....For me it is purely an intellectual construct. Either that or a 'miracle?????'.

          • Loreen Lee

            Clarification. There is a distinction between imagination and intuition made by Kant. He says math is the result of such (universalizing?)(even a sense of visionary! intellectualizations or something) intuition, and thus disagrees with Russel et al that math is (merely) a (logical construct?) I am now capable of reading Kant, I am sure, after so many efforts, but feel I may not have the time nor strength. I'm limited to Stanford, I feel.

      • Marc Riehm

        The atom in the cartoon is a conceptual symbol. It is an icon. It was chosen because that specific symbol evokes one thing in our minds: science. There is nothing ironical about it. You won no points with your Cliff Clavin-like observation and your misdirection and your party-pooping utter lack of humour.

        • Krakerjak

          You are correct of course in that the atom in the cartoon was chosen to represent science and the hurdle it represents to some philosophers. I thought that would be obvious to most.

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah! Someday I too shall know myself!

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Au contraire, mon frere. I found a second source of humor embedded in the first, superficial one. That makes my reading twice as humorous!

    • Loreen Lee

      'Love' it! Yes. No philosophy, (and possibly, although this may be a 'dangerous' statement, has any scientist, ( am thinking particularly genetics) is comprehensive. But there is always more to be found in any one approach. And it is also interesting to find ways in which the theories possibly develop over time. I actually like the idea of 'me' chasing the 'me' in the net!

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Feser objects that quantum mechanics cannot undermine the metaphysical principle of causality, but fails to mention why counterexamples taken from quantum mechanics are not counterexamples. I'm curious about this point.

    With regard to the principle of causality, why is it thought to be true by Aristotelians? If the reasons are empirical, then we do not have reason to believe that the principle is true. What metaphysical demonstrations are there that the principle of causality is true?

    Sometimes the critics assume that Scholastic metaphysics is in competition with physics because they are themselves making question-begging metaphysical assumptions. For instance, they might assume that any rationally justifiable claim about the nature of matter simply must be susceptible of formulation in the mathematical language of physics, or must be susceptible of empirical falsification.

    I don't think that is claimed by many people. However, if you are going to make metaphysical claims about the nature of matter that contradict the mathematical formulation that has been tested, I would require a great deal of evidence in support of your metaphysical claim.

    Suppose I was to allow that no empirical evidence can be used to prove or disprove metaphysical claims, how would we go about proving or disproving causality?

    Now, those who criticize Scholastic metaphysics on scientific grounds typically operate with a very narrow understanding of causality. In particular, they often conceive of it as a deterministic relation holding between temporally separated events. They will then argue (for example) that quantum mechanics has undermined causality thus understood, and conclude that it has therefore undermined causality full stop.

    No, it also undermines the Scholastic conception of causality.

    There is nothing necessarily wrong with this focus, but it would be fallacious to draw, from what modern physics says about “motion” (in the sense of local motion), sweeping conclusions about what Aristotelians say about “motion” (in the sense of the actualization of potency). This would be to confuse what is true of one kind of change for what is true of change as such.

    One counterexample is enough to make a principle false. If change in position is a type of change, then yes it falsifies the Aristotelian concept of motion.

    When a thinker, whether a philosopher or a scientist, puts forward a general principle, he sometimes illustrates it with examples that later turn out to be deficient. But it simply doesn’t follow that the general principle itself is mistaken.

    No, logically it does not follow, but how are we to know that the principle is true? It seems that usually these principles are argued with examples and analogies, so it is important that the examples and analogies are not mistaken as is often the case.

    For example, Aristotelians defend the reality of final causality the idea that natural substances and processes are inherently “directed towards” certain characteristic effects or ranges of effects.

    But why should I accept final causality?

    One reason that this is crucial to keep in mind is that from the fact that something doesn’t show up in the description physics gives us, it doesn’t follow that it isn’t there in the physical world.

    But for what reasons would I posit things that don't show up in the physical description?

    The method of representing an object using black ink on white paper will necessarily leave out color even if it is there, and the method of representing physical reality using exclusively mathematical language will necessarily leave out any aspect of physical reality which is not reducible to the quantitative, even if such aspects are there.

    But causality is qualitative. This is why we have reason to believe that your principle of causality is incorrect.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      But why should I accept final causality?

      Because scientific laws work, which they would not do if the inputs were not directed in some manner to the output. Sodium and chlorine combine to produce salt, not tiger lilies or potassium bromide or the Brooklyn Bridge.

      If change in position is a type of change, then yes it falsifies the Aristotelian concept of motion.

      Actually, it does not.

      No, [quantum mechanics] also undermines the Scholastic conception of causality.

      No, although it may undermine Modern expectations of predictability, as Heisenberg pointed out.

      • George

        But if god wanted sodium and chlorine to produce tiger lilies, it could totally happen, right?

        • Mike

          Is your point that God created reality to be real in a particular way?

        • NO! The will and intellect of God are not opposed. His will cannot trump his intellect. A miracle does not contradict nature. It goes beyond what we know of nature. Miracles are not frivolous.

    • >>> Feser objects that quantum mechanics cannot undermine the metaphysical principle of causality, but fails to mention why counterexamples taken from quantum mechanics are not counterexamples. I'm curious about this point.<<>>With regard to the principle of causality, why is it thought to be true by Aristotelians? If the reasons are empirical, then we do not have reason to believe that the principle is true. What metaphysical demonstrations are there that the principle of causality is true?<<<

      While metaphysics, in general, the principle of causation, in particular, are not immune to critique, they are not probabilistically falsifiable by descriptive sciences. Rather, they are critiqued by the normative sciences of philosophy, which might probe, for example, whether or not a given tautology is logically valid, whether or not its distinctions make for real differences, whether or not it is pragmatically significant, whether or not it is existentially actionable, hypothetically fecund, heuristically valuable and a host of other epistemic virtues, all which are necessary for descriptive sciences to flourish, even if not sufficient for complete explanatory adequacy (to which science makes no pretense unless conflated w/metaphysical presuppositions, whether by scientism or religious evidentialism).

      • Krakerjak

        Metaphysics probes reality asking: What must a physicist (scientist)
        presuppose about reality in order to do physics (science) in the first
        place?

        "The word ‘metaphysics’ is notoriously hard to define.
        Twentieth-century coinages like ‘meta-language’ and
        ‘metaphilosophy’ encourage the impression that metaphysics
        is a study that somehow “goes beyond” physics, a study
        devoted to matters that transcend the mundane concerns of Newton and Einstein and Heisenberg. This impression is mistaken. "

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

        Just my two cents.

        • That's an excellent article, as most indeed are in that online encyclopedia:
          http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/#MetPos

          And I wholly concur that "beyond physics" is a popular misconception. I subscribe to the Peircean approach that approaches metaphysics as 1) hypothetical 2) a posteriori 3) fallible.

          But please, toss in 2bits worth of reflection telling us what you think in addition to that two cents, which told us what someone else did not.

          • Krakerjak

            I subscribe to the Peircean approach that approaches metaphysics as 1) hypothetical 2) a posteriori 3) fallible.But, please, toss in 2bits worth of reflection telling us what you think in addition to that two cents, which told us what someone else (myself included) did not.

            I can much more easily wrap my head around your 3 point approach to metaphysics than I can around the lengthy Stanford article. Thanks.
            My simplistic understanding in a nutshell from what I can glean on metaphysics, is as follows. It can be useful and perhaps essential, as a conceptual bridge between scientific intuitions and experiences, and can also facilitate discussions among religion, philosophy, and science, as long as one avoids lending too much credence to the woo woo of Depak and ilk.Though I understand that you philosopher types can go into much deeper water on this, where I don't dare or care to tread.

          • Establishing THAT certain time-honored categories of our various autonomous methods represent distinctions that make a difference is one thing. Establishing norms of epistemic virtue for HOW one employs such methods is quite another.

            For example, while I critique the notion that the move from methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism is driven by metaphysical necessity, I am similarly unimpressed with the idea that such methodological stipulations as the principles of causation and sufficient reason necessarily lead us to indubitable metaphysical conclusions.

            What I have proposed is that we pay attention to the status of our concepts such that 1) those which have been negotiated among and/or between earnest communities of inquiry are considered theoretic, 2) those still in negotiation, heuristic 3) those non-negotiated, dogmatic and 4) those non-negotiable (like first principles), semiotic. To successfully bridge our intuitions with experience, leading to the next scientific advance, we should employ as many theoretic and semiotic concepts as possible, as few heuristic concepts as necessary, and avoid too many dogmatic concepts.

            Also, what happens too often is that some metaphysicians stray from these rubrics: 1) The normative mediates between the descriptive and interpretive to effect the evaluative. 2) These categories, while methodologically autonomous, are axiologically integral.

            Some, for example, claiming to be integralists, assert that values can be realized from each method, that
            interpretive religious experience or mysticism, alone, has some epistemic deliverance, apart from descriptive science or normative philosophy. Others make the same claims for science and/or philosophy, alone and apart, vis a vis human value-realizations. That's NOT integral. Those maneuvers lead, instead, to arational gnosticisms, fideisms, sterile rationalisms and a host of other epistemic pejoratives. In effect, they are claiming - not only methodological, but - axiological autonomy for their illicit approaches.

            Done improperly, a metaphysic can result in a nonvirtuous cycle of abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarifying, where the rubber of inductive testing never hits the inferential road. Metaphysicians too often naively employ concepts without stopping
            to ask whether or not those concepts successfully refer to, much less describe, a given reality --- -concepts like "nothing" and categories like "necessary". Sometimes its concepts are either too broadly or narrowly conceived vs conventional usage and require a great deal of disambiguation, otherwise one's conclusions are not only embedded in one's premises but are pre-loaded into one's definitions.

            When it comes to ultimate reality, metaphysics offers no successful proofs, only tautologies, not all equally taut per my criteria above as well as a host of other epistemic virtues I won't inventory here and now. Metaphysics does help us establish the reasonableness of our questions, the existential actionability of our beliefs (existential disjunctions, a living as if), provided they have been normatively justified as "live options."

            Metaphysical tautologies regarding ultimate and/or primal realities, which vary in degree of epistemic virtue and pragmatic utility, are suggestive in their ontological implications but not decisive. We can safely live and let live to the extent people practice different evaluative dispositions toward ultimate reality, where they may derive consolation and comfort for the journey.

            When it comes to normative implications for interactions in this proximate reality of self, others and cosmos, we must much more rigorously insist that human morality is transparent to human reason without the benefit of any so-called special divine revelations. We cannot have people being martyred in the hope of gaining six dozen or more virgins. For anothrr example, those who imagine that natural law deliverances are unproblematic, especially when divorced from more personalist approaches and relationality-responsibility models, can, for example, get overly physicalistic, biologistic, rationalistic, a prioristic, legalistic and ritualistic regarding the deeply contoured and richly textured complexities related to sex, gender and life issues, leading to a seriously impoverished anthropology and moral theology. This does happen in the Roman tradition among many in the teaching office, not so much among the incredulous laity, who ignore them.

            Thanks for the conversation and your challenges. I apologize if my tone and tenor got a tad testy. These exchanges are easier in person with nonverbal cues and not taken oneself so seriously.

          • Krakerjak

            We should employ as many theoretic and semiotic concepts as possible, as few heuristic concepts as necessary, and avoid too many dogmatic concepts.

            Yeah...I think I follow you there. I presume you mean that as a simple method for applying metaphysics as a "tool" in our attempt to understand reality?

            We have already established that metaphysicsis is notoriously hard to define,according to the Stanford philosophy site.

            Metaphysics to me seems to be in simple terms about asking questions about reality that don’t really go anywhere else other than asking the questions. Admittedly a simplistic view. on my part, and though I do appreciate you're help in trying to bring me up to speed, I simply do not have the educational background in philosophy to understand all the terms and nuances of such, other than that which I have read or studied on my own in my spare time. I am a retired senior citizen and my background has been in surveying, drafting, computer graphics and working in the field pertaining to hydraulic power generation. So as you can see I am a bit out of my element in discussing these things....but am doing the best I can to keep my head above water....for no other reason other than that I am interested in these things and am trying to get a better grasp on reality since I am now on the homestretch.:-)
            Thanks for the conversation John.

          • I'm the retired Chairman, President & CEO of Louisiana Bank, whose graduate studies were neuroendocrinology. Same autodidact boat as you, never having taken courses in philosophy or theology, although I have published what includes a reconsideration of the quest for metaphysics, which has an indispensable job to do, just not as small or large a job as too many imagine, more of a goldilocks-sized job.

            Thanks for the conversation, which was in many ways disappointing, truth be told, but I'll accept the charitable interpretation that my prose was too dense and your interests lie elsewhere. Be well. See you round the bend, perhaps, with a clean slate.

          • Loreen Lee

            This was a big help to me. I've just been concerned for some long now that 'something just is not right'. Bought a lot of books to read in my old age, then thought, no I can't take it anymore. I've got to figure this thing out by myself. But my resources and talents are very limited, and it helps keep me going, indeed I almost automatically fall into satire.
            Edit: Don't always 'understand it all'. Just doing the best I can with the questions and comments. Searching Google, etc. etc.

          • Your intuitions, I find, are very much spot-on.

          • Loreen Lee

            Yes, I have been a do-it-yourselfer too. Another quote: asking the questions.
            This could be related to the raising of particular maxims which fit a particular situation. What is the 'rule' applicable when having an abortion for instance? Or is it just: You gotta do what you gotta do, without any considered reflection?. Personal vs. Universal, and where in this duality is the distinction between moral and pragmatic etc. necessity? universality? And what of 'just wars'!!!!
            Morality: the hardest discipline there is?????

          • Loreen Lee

            Had a lot of questions. Jut one here: Quote: (existential disjunctions, a living as if),
            I believe that within Kant's categorical imperative the 'as if' is categorical as within the first logical category of relationship: substance/accident/attribute!!!! Your example would be possible pragmatics rather than morality, because it is governed by 'heuristics' ? like subjectivity/self interest rather than in consideration of the categories of necessity, and universality, which explain the use of as if, as considered outside of possibility, often, and are thus 'regulative' concepts only.

          • The existential disjunction or "living as if" in my usage is an interpretive stance. It's what one actually does after describing, evaluating and norming a reality.
            The descriptive moment might be robustly scientific or merely derive from one's participatory imagination (nondiscursive yet informative). The evaluative moment assesses the adaptive significance of the reality or the value to be realized (or threat to be avoided). The normative moment includes both moral and practical
            assessments of different ways to realize the value.

            The interpretive moment is robustly pragmatic.

            All of this is guided, regulatively yes, by an implicit equiprobability principle, which seeks an answer to the question --- All things being otherwise equal, informatively, what performative strategy should one employ?

            The answer is that one should do
            whatever is the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing. From a sociobiological perspective, this meets one's survival imperative and fosters transkin altruism. From a religious perspective, our existential orientations are also interpreted as transcendental imperatives.

            Considering our inescapably tautological stances toward primal and or ultimate realities, we encounter quite the existential disjunction. The equiprobability principle guides people in different directions that can be equally reasonable.

            The reason our worldviews are equiprobable is precisely because their tautologies are, at best, merely valid, logically, and merely plausible, evidentially. Plausibility is probabilistic but way too weakly so, based, as it is, on abductive rather than inductive inference. (All this over against new forms of logical positivism and radical empiricism that subvert from within.)

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Hey Johnboy, good to hear from you.
        I agree that what physics presupposes about reality in order to work is a matter of philosophy. However, Feser's metaphysics certainly contains stronger statements than what is necessary to do science. I don't need four different causes nor do I need that every effect has a cause.

        For instance, in the case of radioactive decay, we do not know what causes an atom of Uranium to decay, not can we predict what particular atom will decay. However, depending on the isotope, I know how long it will take for half of it to decay. This is a descriptive and predictive, but seemingly acausal.

        Feser makes a strong claim that for every contingent effect there exists a cause outside of the effect. The claim is unnecessary for science, because we can explain phenomena without reference to causation. Certainly, there exists effects that fall within Feser's principle, but his examples do not make an argument, for examples are only precursors to arguments. Furthermore, his examples are all empirical, imprecise, and fail to uniquely describe the cause. Meaning, I can give multiple final causes to processes, events, and things. Because his examples on cause and effect are empirical, I see no reason to believe that causality is not a physical and empirical phenomenon. I don't see a priori arguments for his causative principle, nor do I remember Aristotle giving them.

        Because science can describe things without resorting to Feser's notions of causality, his notions are not necessary to science. Scientists do not unknowingly use Feser's metaphysics.
        Since causality is always argued empirically (at least from what I have seen from SN - I am not as sophisticated philosophically as other posters here), it would seem that Feser's notions of causality rise and fall with empirical investigation. One cannot hand wave about metaphysics (as Feser does) and make that the end of the argument.

        Quantum mechanics does give us good reason to deny Feser's principle of causality. Firstly, quantum mechanics makes very robust and accurate predictions. Secondly, we know from Bell that any nonlocal variable that is added to quantum mechanics will change the predictions of quantum mechanics. Causation is not part of the wave function and the wave function tells us everything there is to know about quantum mechanics. Therefore, while we do not have proof that Feser's principle of causation is incorrect, we have very good reason to reject it - indeed accepting it would seem like bad metaphysics. I cannot accept a metaphysical system that contains Feser's principle, and I don't think that anybody should.

        Do you accept that every effect must have a cause? If so, why?

        • If you read my latest prior post, you might discern that, while I do not feel that moves from methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism are robustly warranted, epistemically, neither do I believe that our methodological stipulations to principles of causation and sufficient reason, albeit indispensable to inquiry, deliver indubitable metaphysical conclusions. Both of the above metaphysical maneuvers vis a vis primal and/or ultimate reality are unavoidably tautological, which doesn't mean they are unreasonable, only that they add no new information to our systems, neither positivist or philosophic. Both can be articulated in a logically consistent manner and both are plausible in the weakest inferential way. Both lack explanatory adequacy because their abductive hypotheses and deductive clarifications are not testable by inductive testing in a robustly probabilistic way. My own pragmatic semiotic realism does recognize the phenomenological reality of regularities via a vague modal ontology, which doesn't specify via any particular root metaphor the precise nature of those regularities, whether, for example, they are emergent and might be as local as our neighborhood fantasy football rules or more universal, transcending our spatiotemporal milieu.

          As I explain elsewhere throughout this thread,
          I draw categorical distinctions that don't consider metaphysical accounts of causation as evidential, probabilistic or falsifiable. In other threads, I do note that formal-final causation conceptions have recently had great heuristic value in our semiotic sciences when combined with emergentist paradigms, but those notions of downward causation and teleodynamics wouldn't necessarily implicate violations of physical causal closure, so are only weak analogues, perhaps, to many of the more robust Aristotelian and Thomist conceptions.

          I remain mostly agnostic metaphysically but defend the category, philosophically, and have articulated some norms for making such tautologies more taut, more epistemically virtuous. My concern has been to chastize those accounts that seem to be proving too much, telling untellable stories, saying way more than one could possibly know, giving way too much normative impetus to de-ontological accounts derived --- not from metaphysical verities and ontological necessities, but - from fallible, often merely plausibilist, rarely robustly probabilist phenomenologies, which would seem to prescribe a moral probabilism, for example, a not indubitable natural law deliverances, which smack of an incredibly naive realism.

          I come to this forum to be challenged because so few places on the web are populated by antagonists (e.g. nominalists and essentialists), few on either side with whom I always dis/agree. I'm not on any particular side, only injecting my own stances which often see folks arguing past each other.

          Take care, Ignatius. Thanks for responding. I agree and disagree but don't want to reiterate all I've already said, the length of which is in jeopardy of offending charity.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: Both of the above metaphysical maneuvers vis a vis primal and/or ultimate reality are unavoidably tautological

            In a recent conversation, I ran across the evidence that gave me an insight that tautologies develop/arise, can produce tautologies. Haven't the means of proof or demonstration.
            There are so many 'connections' to make, I get confused.
            Thanks.

        • Loreen Lee

          Quote: Feser makes a strong claim that for every contingent effect there exists a cause outside of the effect. er makes a strong claim that for every contingent effect there exists a cause outside of the effect.
          Don't know where this example is of a contingent of necessity say of intentional agency. I'm not a lawyer.. Perhaps it would be difficult to prove intentionality etc. in any case.,(what if it's one person's word against another's) but I can only imagine what a victim of say, rape trauma would feel like if they could not account for the 'cause' of the effect.
          End of story. I'm no quantum physicist! Thanks.

      • Loreen Lee

        And according to logical, relational characteristic given by Kant.
        Metaphysics. Substance and accident/attribute: categorical and assertoric. (necessity) Possibly mathematical and dynamic forms as in Hegel, I believe.
        Causality: (in time I believe as contrasted with freedom: possibly derived from the spatial intuition and thus extensive. hypothetical and probabilistic. future? Possibility.
        Relationship: The disjunctive, logically. Agent and Passive, and others. either/or; both X an Y, and possible extension into other options like either/or, both XBut for what reasons would I posit things that don't show up in the physical description?Y and Z or both XY and Z. the first of these alternatives producing a negation. (Possible many considerations in deciding which is to be the X, Y, and Z.
        Possible actuality, but in a state of some kind of flux of contradiction or dialectic, even. What do you think? The either/or, is possibly some kind of analogical thinking?????
        I keep working at finding coherence in all of these relationships. Sometimes, for me anyway, the process provides me a bit of humor!!!
        Please correct when in error. Thank you.

        • That either/or can refer to what they call the "excluded middle" or EM in "first principles" lingo, which includes noncontradiction or NC.

          The way I approach modal ontology is that for 1) possibilities, NC folds but EM holds 2) actualities, both NC and EM hold and 3) probabilities, NC holds but EM folds.

          As for necessities, I have no need of that hypothesis. Just kidding, but for all the attention NC gets from sophomores who are overenamored with syllogisms, EM
          seems way overused, itself, in metaphysics. More often, seems to me, one should prescind from the necessary to the probable when describing reality. A fallibilist epistemology doesn't overuse either-or, all or nothing.

          • Loreen Lee

            Been reading up on Aristotle's logic for about the last two hours now. What is remarkable is how much it proceeds inductively and from a particular. And the potentiality actuality distinction talked about here, sounds to be like potentiality being simply actualized in the future, Not more complicated than that. Also identity, contradiction and excluded middle. Haven't seen them for ages. Are these perhaps ontological, perhaps and the syllogisms deductive. No need to answer. I'll get to it. But here's a link, if you're interested. http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk/lawsofthought.htm I can learn so much just taking things as they come in the discussions. One thing at a time. Thanks.

          • Seems to me that NC and EM are part of the logic of our modal ontology of possible, actual and probable. These categories roughly correspond to our inferential modes, where we abduct possibilities, induct actualities and deduct from probabilities (maybe even from necessities, but ...).

            These categories are integrally related, each presupposing the other. In a modal ontology, in my view, possibilities are only found instantiated in actualities, which emerge from probabilities. It's irreducibly triadic.

            Syllogisms are deductive. Testing is inductive. Hypothesizing is abductive. These inferential modes differ in proceeding from general to specific (deductive being strongest), from particular to general (inductive being weak inference) and from known effects or properties to unknown causes or subjects (abductive inference being the weakest).

    • Loreen Lee

      Quote: But for what reasons would I posit things that don't show up in the physical description?

      Since yo'ur a scientist, may I posit a concrete example that hopefully will be evidential. You see, sometimes I simply forget where I put my purse. Oh, the lack of principle in the 'end times' of these senior years.

  • Marc Riehm

    Philosophers have been bandying words for millenia, and they have yet to convince one another of much (or so it seems to me). Of what use is that pursuit, if agreement amongst the experts cannot even be reached?

    I see much philosophy and metaphysics on this website, being vaingloriously paraded as being superior to science, because "deeper" (as if that has any real meaning). But the philosophical experts themselves are hardly in any sort of agreement about much of it.

    I can't pretend to fathom philosophy. Perhaps I'm not abstract enough. But when the philosophical community can come out in reasonable, expert consensus about the unmoved mover, I'll listen. Until then, I'll listen to the physicists, who at least have strong agreement about so much, and a fundamental approach which provides mechanisms for unambiguous proof about ideas. That is called "science", and it's a good deal more solid than all of the metaphysics bandied about here. It built our bloody world, after all.

    • Doug Shaver

      Philosophers have been bandying words for millenia, and they have yet to convince one another of much (or so it seems to me).

      The way it seems to you is the way it really is.

      Of what use is that pursuit, if agreement amongst the experts cannot even be reached?

      I was in my 50s when I came to realize that, after a lifetime of thinking philosophy was a waste of time, I'd actually been doing it all along. I figured I should at least learn how to do it right, and so I went back to college and got a degree in it.

      Philosophy is not about learning what to think. It's about learning how to think. You don't learn that by finding some authority to tell you. You learn it by watching the authorities argue among themselves about how to do it and then reaching a judgment of your own as to which of them is getting the better of the others.

  • Marc Riehm

    The author is mistaken about physics being a purely mathematical subject matter. It is descriptive, too. In fact, description generally precedes the math, because the physicist describes what (s)he observes, and then attempts to answer the questions "how much?" and "why?". Math is of course an incredibly useful tool. And casual observation leads naturally to quantification in very many cases. Think of Newton tinkering with his prisms. He observes the spectral split of white light. He describes it. Maybe next he measures the spread, and relates that to the properties of the prism. Soon, a formula appears.

    Other famous examples include:
    The Michelson-Morley experiment, which employed quantitative experimental methods to disprove the idea of "ether". The result was not a number, or a formula, but the disproof of an idea, of a model.

    The Rutherford gold-foil experiment, which employed experimental methods to demonstrate that atoms consisted of tiny, positively-charged nuclei surrounded by electron clouds, disproving the "plum pudding" model. Again. the primary result was a concept, not a formula or a number.

    Physics consists of, first and foremost, ideas and conceptual models. Happily, a very large number of these can result in useful mathematical models, too. And thus, our world.

  • Mike

    "any more than the claims of arithmetic stand or fall with the findings of physics"

    This should be repeated over and over and used to illustrate how Category Mistakes operate!

    • Loreen Lee

      The difficulty is in recognizing them!!!!

      • Mike

        Yes i agree with that.

  • Loreen Lee

    A long summary (irony) of my reflections on this post. Thank you.

    Just doing a bit of musing now, as you understand from past comments
    of mine, that you may or may not be interested in, as I understand. But
    after a recent 'revelation!' in which I finally 'saw' the meaning in a
    former comment that Joyce's 'Finigan's Wake' was with respect to states
    of consciousness, and relationships both internal and 'external'.
    Consequently this a great philosophic satire, suggested with respect
    to the post offered on Radioactive Decay and Potentiality and
    Actuality,a 'poetic' interpretation which as an examination of my
    consciouness can only be complimentary to that described within the
    scientific context. .
    Within my internal consciousness for instance,
    on the assumption that I was 'open' to becoming aware of what
    constitutes the 'stochastic' (one perspective on Aristotle's
    philosophy) in relation to a possible understanding/reinterpretation of
    Aristotle's (modal) logic as well as the 'metaphysics' of causation: I
    have now found many possibilites..
    My immediate 'presuppositions and
    intentionality' readily found an 'answer' which has long been
    outstanding in that 'historical/memory relationship of 'self' to
    'church'. Thus, it was quite disconcerting to consider that the primary
    assumption that I perhaps was taken to assume within a religious context
    was that the immediacy of the moment was one of potentiality and not
    actuality. This would have left me open to being, within the context of
    a universalized metaphysic, merely within a secondary causation to what
    is argued as 'being' from an 'epistemology' that there is an overall
    comprehension, or omniscience that is the primary cause. I also
    considered that this has become a principle of a prior causation not
    only identified with God, but with the assumption that rational
    explication/interpretation has subsumed 'all?' particulars, even that.of
    my immediate 'self' awareness. Thus the assumption that the immediacy
    of the intuition of the moment is preceded by a rationality or that
    intuition is 'necessarily' dependent on 'reason' independent of my
    personal intuitions/pereptions, and that thus I may interpret my self as
    being 'locked' within a state of possibility rather than any immediate
    actuality either of intuition or perception, and indeed reason. That is
    descriptive of many 'passive' states of mind produced .through
    processes of external control over an individual..
    .
    However, If
    the actuality of my consciousness in time, as say, a nuclear scientist's
    is based on a intuition of what constitutes this remarkable physical
    phenomena, then to interpret the words spoken within today's post,
    perhaps if I were to be within a state of intuition of potency, even as
    interpretated as receptivity, rather than within the 'actuality' that is
    generalized in my mind, the phenomena considered (as in the case of the
    quanta) could possibly not be found to have any explanation. There
    would necessarily be an appeal to 'reason', at some level with respect
    to even causative explanation. In this case, the possibility of their
    not being a cause within this phenomena, is certainly worth
    consideration, for the reason is perhaps not yet sufficient enough to
    explain the phenomena..

    Within an 'historical' context to be
    'definitive' and thus 'productive' of a causal relationship in which my
    'self' is defined within a causative and 'authoritarian' context be it
    'Church' or 'State' or 'Other'. then my state of being is indeed
    'defined by a rational law and order, (or not as in some cases of
    authority that as an example are rule by force) that is 'eternal' to
    this self-perception of immediacy in actuality of being, or what is
    called today an 'authentic' self.
    I could go on, indefinitely with
    possibilities. Perhaps this is what they studied in modal logics both
    with respect to epistemological definitions, and modal realities.
    So
    with respect to this, are there, as an abduction, significant
    impressions and interpretations of relations within my memory which are
    at this moment, or have been, perhaps/possibly in a process of
    'radioactive decay! Could there be any possible truth within this
    metaphysical speculation? Could this happen, even, during the turn
    about of certain neurons in my brain during a reconsideration of active
    and passive relations I have experienced during the development of my
    awareness of the 'cause' of states of passivity, or even
    passive/aggression..
    In considering my actual intuitions to the
    blog's priority of potency, it is perhaps possible to 'think I am, but
    not quite sure' , and indeed this might be a very good description of a
    mental state related poetically as 'waves and particles' of meaning
    within my mind.
    Although is it may not possible to be within the
    moment in a state of actuality, potency, or even necessity,
    concurrently, as has been predicated on the conception of God,
    perhaps,there are various combinations and processes in relation to
    both epistemological and ontological categories, that could be made more
    explicit, and conscious..After all the 'definition of God' is
    considered to be a 'necessary state of being', although I am not aware
    of distinctions within the orthodoxy which distinguish their conceptions
    of will, reason and judgment, which could be related in any coherent
    way, (at least to me) to the existence of a quanta reality.Edited:
    as I usually have to do after getting away from it for awhile to have
    further (hopefully more objective) consideration of what I have
    previously attempted to express. Does not the possibility that both the
    movement from empirical evidence to theory, as well as the movement
    from theory to evidence, (whether or not that is regarded as the best
    'method' as in the first case, to science, and the second to religious
    dogma, generally) not suggest that the on-going process of mind within
    both theory and practice may be regarded as an interactive process, and
    that both may bring discoveries and consolidations..
    Final Edit made. Thank you.

  • Edmund T. Dean