The Privation-Perfection Problem

In Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition he goes through the argument that some Unmoved Mover (called God) must exist, to be the cause of all perfections, must embody all perfections.  In brief, in order to be the cause of some quality, the causal agent must either possess it explicitly (red paint is red and can make other things red) or have the property of being able to cause it (morphine isn’t sleepy, but it’s nature is to induce sleepiness).  In the passage below, Feser is explaining why the Unmoved Mover only possesses good traits, and that’s the facet of this idea that I plan to engage with.

Does this mean the Unmoved Mover has what we would regard as negative or defective features too — blindness, disease, heroin addiction, etc., “eminently” if not “formally”?  Not at all.  For every such feature is what the Scholastics called a “privation,” the absense of a positive feature rather than a positive feature in its own right.  Hence sight, for example, is a positive attribute, being just what an animal’s visual apparatus (comprising the eyes, optic nerves, relevant brain areas, etc.) makes possible when it is realizing its natural potentialities, that is, functioning according to its essence and final causes.  But blindness is not a different positive attribute… it is the absence of sight, a failure to realize a natural potentiality.

The Unmoved Mover… cannot be meaninfully be said to have any of these features even “eminently.”  In fact, since to have a positive feature or perfection is just to actualize a potentiality, and the Unmoved Mover, the source of all such features, is purely actual.  He can only be said to have every perfection.

I have a couple of questions about how Feser can be so confident in divvying up the world into qualities that are perfections and those that are privations.  It’s one thing to do it when the qualities are related to human reasoning or the ability to comprehend moral law.  It’s another when they’re qualities of sense perception or physiological function.

As I wrote in an earlier post on cyborgs and final causes, the telos of a body part isn’t necessarily relevant to the telos of a human.  It is good to hear, but it’s mostly good to hear because it lets us interact with other people and the world around us.  Insofar as we can achieve that goal in other ways, the lack of hearing isn’t a very serious privation.  In a world where everyone signs, lacking spoken communication isn’t a privation.

Human form is better summarized by calling us communicating beings not speaking beings.  And I’m not really clear what about our physical bodies makes it clear that the final cause of being a means of communication is more clearly part of our tongue than our hands.

Which means the perfection/privation distinction seems dependent on the shape of our current bodies or the norms of our culture.  But if that’s the case, many of them seem totally irrelevant to a God whose form is completely non-physical.  Or, at the very least, most sense perfections just get rolled into the perfection of being omniscient.  Any sense-perception we have is somehow sharing in the knowledge of God, but, owing to the limitations of their bodies, different animals and different humans share in this perfection in different ways.

So now, pointing out the kinds of differences in degree that define the privation-perfection spectrum starts to get weird.  Divvying up phenomena into the senses that should perceive them is harder than it sounds.  We experience different parts of the continuous electromagnetic spectrum as heat, light, and DNA damage.  Why shouldn’t we be envious of bees, who can see UV light?  Why shouldn’t we repeat John Cavil’s complaint?

I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me!

The perfection of omniscience doesn’t scale down to the human frame of reference.  There’s a discontinuity between the degrees of perfection humans can have and the complete perfection of the First Cause.  I’m not confident our intuitions can make it across that gulf and remain accurate.  We can’t imagine what a perfection of sensory perception looks like, so we reduce it to a tolerably functional body.  Our best guess for what true perception looks like must resemble synesthesia on steroids, but is mostly incoherent.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

    I think it has to do with things being what they are without regard to circumstance.

    It is good to hear, but it’s mostly good to hear because it lets us interact with other people and the world around us. Insofar as we can achieve that goal in other ways, the lack of hearing isn’t a very serious privation. In a world where everyone signs, lacking spoken communication isn’t a privation.

    1. Whether it is serious or not in the first instance, you still recognize it as a privation.

    2. Whether hearing has an effect on your ability to communicate or not, the ear’s function is not dependent on what utility you get out of it. It is dependent on what ears do. Ears help you hear. If it doesn’t help you hear, it is either not an ear or it is a bad ear. Other claimants to telos are secondary.

    By way of example of what I mean, consider the following comment from John C. Wright, albeit out of context.

    Teleology can be proved to be a category of human thought which is inescapable by a simple thought experiment: suppose there is an object A. Let us say this object A is the argument against teleology. Can the argument A be described as anything other than an argument whose purpose and final cause is to prove the statement that teleology exists in nature is false? Now, this property would exist in the argument no matter who or what spoke or used the argument.

    If I spoke this argument to impress my girlfriend with my intellectual prowess, that would be my purpose, or one of them, but the purpose for which the argument exists is independent of this, and, since that purpose would exist no matter who spoke the argument, it is independent of any human actor. By its very nature, the argument that teleology does not exist in nature, has a teleology. Therefore the argument disproves itself.

    (Incidentally, two spaces between sentences? I thought the Powers Who Be determined that such bourgeois pre-Oceanian throwbacks double-plus ungood since Big Brother invented the computer.)

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    You mention the substrate independence of communication (that a function can use various modes – speech, gesture, type – to operate) and this is a great example to tease out the point on privation vs. perfection. Lack of speech (one bodily deficiency) does not equal lack of ability to communicate (one bodily function).

    Substrate independence means that the function can exist in this situation, even if not the specific mode of its typical operation. This is important. Privation are in functions, not the substrates (though they do need a substrate to actualize in). And because functions are existences without opposites (lack of function is not an entity in itself, lacks of functions do not exist, they are privations, just as dark has no reality except in comparison with light), their lack is a privation, not a thing.

    And some substrates are better than others (God being both the ultimate function and the ultimate substrate, Being Itself).

    Also what you are saying about communication (and function in general) is context dependent, as you mention, it depends on your external world as well. What are others’ expectations of your communicating abilities?

    This function-substrate relationship works with senses too. Which makes the quote from Cavil silly, because of course we already can sense most of the things he wants to sense. Listen to a Geiger counter. Look at a radar screen. We bring other sensory modes into our own sensory modes. The functions of the senses are substrate independent, so we can shift them into the modal range of what we have. Not the perfection of direct modal perception (like a bee seeing UV), or non-modal perception (like God, who as non-material aspatial atemporal pure act perceives all simultaneously), but not bad either. Bees can’t do that.

    You last paragraph needs more teasing out (because it is really interesting!). The discontinuity is infinitely large, but logic transcends the gulf. That’s the imago Dei at work in us. In at least the category of logic, the difference is one of degree, not kind. That’s what’s cool about being human (one cool thing, at least). For other categories, perhaps the modes are untranslatable.

    And speaking of translation, your reference to “speaking beings” is (of course) reminiscent of Aristotle’s zoon logon, usually translated as “speaking animal” or “talking animal” (I’m not sure if you are referencing to Feser in this). But the same phrase can be translated “rational animal” as well, and certainly “communicating animal” could work too, though it loses a lot of specificity since we know many animals communicate besides humans. You could be having a translation problem here, not only between languages but conceptual categories.

  • Ray

    It seems to me that there are much bigger problems with the perfection/privation framework. First of all, conceiving of such evils as aggression, pain, and disease as a lack of something is utterly absurd given what is known about how these thinks work. (How is the presence of a bacterial infection a lack of anything?) But also, there’s plenty of things which just plain don’t fit no matter how hard you try. Is green a privation of red or vice versa? Is positive charge a privation of negative charge, or is it the other way around?

    And then you have odd situations like heat (clearly the presence of something) which when perfected (this probably doesn’t make sense thermodynamically, but whatever) is extremely destructive.

    • Daniel A. Duran

      “conceiving of such evils as aggression, pain, and disease as a lack of something is utterly absurd given what is known about how these thinks work.”

      Ray, pain is not necessarily “evil” or always unpleasant. Pain is a sensation that is subjectively pleasant or unpleasant depending on the person and place. A person might feel gratified at the soreness of a workout, for example. You might hate the pain that you get from cutting yourself with a knife but teenage girl might like and be addicted to that very same pain.

      An infection is an example of a privative evil. The germs or even the toxins from a germ are not “evil” in themselves. I might have a jar filled with tetanus toxins and it does not follow that what is in the jar is “evil” in any meaningful way. What is a bad in a germ is that it damages part of your body. The badness of hepatitis is privative; your liver ceases to function properly, for example. As for colors, how is the variety of beings and things relevant to privation theory?

      “And then you have odd situations like heat (clearly the presence of something) which when perfected (this probably doesn’t make sense thermodynamically, but whatever) is extremely destructive.”

      You mean like the sun?

      • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

        It simply isn’t the case that all badness is privative. Too much heat can kill a person as easily as too little heat. Too much cellular growth (i.e., cancer) can kill a person just as surely as a lack of cellular growth. Having too much money can make a person unhappy just as surely as having too little money. Too strong of an immune response to infection can kill a person just as surely as too little of an immune response. Too much of a neurotransmitter can cause mental illness, as can too little of that same neurotransmitter.

        Sure, if you give “badness” the definition of “a state where something I care about is taken away”, then you can define all badness as privation. But that just proves that circular definitions are circular. I could just as easily prove that goodness is always a privation by defining it as “the removal from my life of some state I dislike”: friendship is the removal of loneliness, satiation is the removal of hunger, wealth is the removal of poverty, and so on.

        • Joe

          Perhaps evil is the privation of proper balance in relation to all the goods you mention?

          • Daniel A. Duran

            “A malfunction of the body can consist of either a deficit of function or an excess of function, which is my point. It is simply not true that all malfunctions are privative in nature, unless, as I said, you adopt a circular definition of privation.”
            “Perhaps evil is the privation of proper balance in relation to all the goods you mention?”
            “Perhaps evil is the privation of proper balance in relation to all the goods you mention?”

            You’re right an evil can be an imbalance in the relation between things as well, like ugliness or immorality. Some scholastic called things like beauty, health and morality “accidental goodness.” ;-)

        • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

          Heat and having money would be an affection and a relation in the Aristotelian system; talking of them in this context is just a category error.

          All your other examples are malfunctions of the human body. If you buy into formal causations and thus into a way the human body is objectively supposed to work, they are indeed privative by definition: in as far as they obtain the form doesn’t govern the substance.

          • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

            A malfunction of the body can consist of either a deficit of function or an excess of function, which is my point. It is simply not true that all malfunctions are privative in nature, unless, as I said, you adopt a circular definition of privation.

        • Daniel A. Duran

          “It simply isn’t the case that all badness is privative.”

          Well, I gave the example of pain as a form of subjective evil rather than a privative one, no?

          “Too much heat can kill a person as easily as too little heat. Too much cellular growth (i.e., cancer) can kill a person just as surely as a lack of cellular growth. Having too much money can make a person unhappy just as surely as having too little money. Too strong of an immune response to infection can kill a person just as surely as too little of an immune response. Too much of a neurotransmitter can cause mental illness, as can too little of that same neurotransmitter.”

          None of the things you mention above kill people in themselves; the immediate cause of death is that they damage or interfere with some organ or organs from fulfilling their natural functions. How does that even conflict or refute privation theory?

          “Sure, if you give “badness” the definition of “a state where something I care about is taken away then you can define all badness as privation.”

          All privations are not good but not all evils are privations, I already answered this above.

          “But that just proves that circular definitions are circular. I could just as easily prove that goodness is always a privation by defining it as “the removal from my life of some state I dislike”: friendship is the removal of loneliness, satiation is the removal of hunger, wealth is the removal of poverty, and so on.”

          You can define things however you want; we cannot stop you. A privation as it is understood in this post, feser above and the scholastics in the past is the lack of some formal attribute in a being, something that is part of the nature that being.

          • Daniel A. Duran

            oh and of course money is irrelevant to what is being said here, almost let that one slip by.

          • Ray

            “None of the things you mention above kill people in themselves; the immediate cause of death is that they damage or interfere with some organ or organs from fulfilling their natural functions. How does that even conflict or refute privation theory?”

            Generally when we speak of something differing from the ideal by way of an absence, there’s only one way a particular feature can be absent. Hence, when the cause of death is “absence of the heart” we don’t really have to ask any further questions to know what’s going on (aside from the possible expectation that some additional tissue in the chest area may also be absent to facilitate the removal of the heart as well as some blood etc.)

            When the difference from the ideal is one of presence, however, there are lots of different things that may be present. e.g. the brain may cease to function due to an infection, mercury poisoning, lead poisoning, a poorly placed blood clot etc. I contend that there are many more ways the body can malfunction than properly function. This would tend to indicate this is an issue of presence rather than absence. You may of course continue to insist otherwise, but it would be an abuse of language and it would interfere with the many useful features of the presence/absence distinction (most notably the uniqueness of the true vacuum state.)

            You have also not dealt with situations where the “natural” state is not uniquely defined e.g. type A or B blood, light or dark skin, red or blonde hair etc. I suppose you can invent another category for these sorts of things, as Gilbert is suggesting Aristotle has already done, but it makes the whole system look pointless and Ad Hoc, and renders any non-trivial conclusions derived from the framework, most notably the presence of one or more divine beings and the necessity of various conservative moral precepts, highly dubious.

        • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

          I thought relative goodness was defined as nearer perfection than the thing compared, and that the greatest good is necessarily perfect.

          (This fleshes nicely with, “He saw that it was good,” in Genesis, but that’s a sidebar.)

          • Daniel A. Duran

            Ray:

            “the brain *may cease to function* due to an infection, mercury poisoning, lead poisoning, a poorly placed blood clot etc.
            Thank you for making the point for me and explaining that the evil in question is not the mercury or lead itself but the fact that it keeps the brain from functioning…for a moment I feared I had to explain what a privative evil is again.

            “This would tend to indicate this is an issue of presence rather than absence.”

            Darn it, spoke too soon. My advice for you is to compare the above with previous paragraph until you see the contradiction.

            The Ubiquitous :
            “I thought relative goodness was defined as nearer perfection than the thing compared, and that the greatest good is necessarily perfect.”

            You can say that but that’s not what I had in mind. There are two types of goodness for the scholastics:

            1-The degree in perfection of a being is called “essential goodness” or “primary goodness” (supposedly an angel has more essential goodness than a human and the virgin Mary has more essential goodness than an angel and so on).

            2-proper relation between things is called accidental goodness. The symmetrical relation between parts gives raise to beauty. The conjuction of acting with right reason, for a proper end and with a good intention gives raise to moral goodness. (if it lacked one of the ingredient the act would not be morally praiseworthy.) The harmonious functioning of different part of the body is another form of accidental goodness, etc.

            “Accidental goodness” is what I had in mind when I spoke of relational goodness.

          • Ray

            “Darn it, spoke too soon. My advice for you is to compare the above with previous paragraph until you see the contradiction.”

            My statement before was no more contradictory than the statement that when a laboratory vacuum ceases to be maintained, the difference from the ideal of the vacuum is the PRESENCE of air.

            Regardless. Go ahead and describe every state that isn’t a human or other live animal as a lack of the live being. It still doesn’t change the fact that the adult human missing a heart requires MORE explanation than the human who has one.

            The problem is not merely that it is unnatural to consider every undesirable thing as the lack of something (although this is certainly the case.) The whole framework motivating this concept of “pure act” rests upon the assumption that the absence of a thing never requires an explanation, and the presence of a thing always does.

          • http://last-conformer.net Gilbert

            Ray,

            The whole point is about substances not actually having the features belonging to their form. The absence is not an absence of any material thing. If there is a way something is objectively supposed to work and it doesn’t that is a privation. The privation is, by definition, in the fact of not working properly, not in whatever causes the not working properly. You’re simply talking about something different from what we are talking about.

            Nothing in the theory says a privation wouldn’t need an explanation, it’s just that a privation doesn’t need the kind of explanation formal features need. There is no voodoo here, just the simple and obvious fact that “why” (the word asking for an explanation) has a slightly different meaning in “why are frogs green?” and “why is this frog red as opposed to the green it is supposed to be?”.

            There is also nothing to suggest that the same privation couldn’t be caused by different causes. We’re just talking about them not being formal causes.

            As for “situations where the “natural” state is not uniquely defined e.g. type A or B blood, light or dark skin, red or blonde hair etc.”, those indeed go into a separate category (“accidents”). But that is not a good argument against the system or its consequences any more than chargeless particles are arguments against Maxwell’s relations.

            And now let me make a point that can’t be made politely: If you want to criticize a concrete book it would be helpful to have read it. You very obviously haven’t read The Last Superstition and almost everything you come up with so far springs from not having done so. It’s like this XKCD comic except that a fixing your ignorance would take only a few hours rather than a few years.

          • Ray

            Gilbert.
            Are you seriously comparing the Thomism to special relativity? Special relativity is a well tested, and well defined scientific theory that basically everyone agrees is true (Leaving aside general relativity for the moment.) Thomism is not even considered to be correct by the majority of philosophers (I suspect it’s even a minority view among Catholics these days), and pretty much everyone else regards it as an antiquated relic which is of historical interest only.

            Special relativity has applications ranging from Doppler radar to high energy physics. Near as I can tell the only applications of Thomism are lending a thin veneer of credibility to a peculiar subset of middle eastern mythology, and justifying a deeply regressive moral code.

            Anyway, I get that you can define your terms oddly and thereby eliminate all the counterexamples to Aristotelian-Thomist premises. I also get that that isn’t what you think you’re doing. Nonetheless, unless you can find some conclusion which is unambiguously true and only reachable by way of Thomistic reasoning, you haven’t done anything to justify the baroque complexity of the system.

          • http://last-conformer.net Gilbert

            Ray:
            - My point was not about analogizing two theories but about the combination of ignorance and arrogance inherent in claiming to have a refutation of a demonstrably not understood theory. But then you did understand that and your first two paragraphs are just there to detract from it.
            -It is true that Thomistic terms are defined very oddly from a modern perspective. Historically it’s actually the other way around: Traditional philosophers came up with those terms. Then some folks in the so-called enlightenment defined their terms oddly and it caught on. Now I actually agree we lost the definitional war a long time ago and ideally we would make up new words for the concepts originally expressed by the old ones. But that will probably never happen because of collective action problems. Anyway
            a) Technical language isn’t anything special about scholastic philosophy. “Force”, for example, means something very different in physics than it does in law and neither is identical to the everyday meaning.
            and b) Reasoning from the everyday meanings of technical terms is still bunk and doing so doesn’t tell us anything about the truth of a theory formulated in that technical language.
            - Your demand of a conclusion “unambiguously true and only reachable by way of Thomistic reasoning” is either not thought out or in bad faith, because you are clearly unwilling to accept a conclusion “only reachable by way of Thomistic reasoning” as “unambiguously true”. By that standard no philosophy could ever be justified.
            - While I have a policy against unnecessary self-binding and therefore won’t make any promises, right now it is my intention to ignore all your future comments. It’s a pity because I actually would like to have this fight with atheists who understand the arguments (or at least try to) and still disagree with them. It’s the best remedy I know against confirmation bias. But the “who understand the arguments (or at least try to)” part is vital and you very clearly don’t qualify.

          • Ray

            Gilbert.

            You are still missing the point of the XKCD comic. Special relativity is universally accepted among a diverse group of intellectuals who have achieved great and highly visible results (e.g. GPS, the atom bomb, lasers etc.) This is strong evidence that the trivial objections don’t work.

            Thomism is popular, but not universally accepted, within a homogeneous group of followers of a man who tried to discourage condom use in AIDS-stricken Africa. It’s also rather old. This is strong evidence that someone has thought of a halfway plausible sounding response to the trivial objections. It does not strongly imply that the trivial objections don’t work. There are still creationists, geocentrists, and even the odd flat earther out there. Some of them are even pretty smart. Groupthink and confirmation bias are powerful things.

            As for my test: Well, I suppose I could have said I wanted a confirmed empirical prediction only available from the Thomistic theoretical framework (that’s how relativity is justified), but you would have complained about that too. Fact is, I’ve seen no reason whatsoever to believe that Thomism follows from any of the premises we share — those being the results of the natural sciences, mathematics, and any observations well documented enough to render hoax and hallucination unlikely possibilities.

            Oh well, I suppose I shouldn’t belabor this too much given that you’re not planning on responding. Pity. I’ll miss your comically unjustified arrogance, but such charming personality traits seem universal among Feser acolytes, and I’m sure there’s one or two more out there.

          • Daniel A. Duran

            Ray:
            “Are you seriously comparing the Thomism to special relativity? Special relativity is a well tested, and well defined scientific theory that basically everyone agrees is true.”

            Ray, you’re confusing hylemorphism with Thomism. Hylemorphism is not a scientific theory; it is a metaphysical system.

            “Thomism is not even considered to be correct by the majority of philosophers. I suspect it’s even a minority view among Catholics these days”

            Because popularity is a reliable guide to truth, popularity also explains why the big Mac is the greatest meal ever and why Stephen King is better than Shakespeare. ;-)

            “Special relativity has applications ranging from Doppler radar to high energy physics. Near as I can tell the only applications of Thomism are lending a thin veneer of credibility to a peculiar subset of middle eastern mythology, and justifying a deeply regressive moral code.”

            Hear Ray laying down the truth infidels! Special relativity matters because it is useful and you can do cool stuff with it. But you cannot do useful or cool things with philosophy which means that it must be sheer sophistry and delusion, all hail scientism that is great!

            GILBERT: Shame on you for not taking scientism as your personal lord and savior. ;-)

            “Anyway, I get that you can define your terms oddly and thereby eliminate all the counterexamples to Aristotelian-Thomist premises.”

            We’re not defining things oddly, this is technical language and many of these definitions were the original definitions for many of the terms you use today. The term ‘movement’ meant ‘to change’ in the past, for example.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

      Isn’t heat considered a quality of a thing rather than a thing itself?

      • Ray

        No. Heat at the most fundamental level is a collection of phonons.

        • http://last-conformer.net Gilbert

          That is true for the largest part of the heat of crystalline solids, but it is not true for all heat and not a good description of what heat essentially is.

          Moreover, it is not even incompatible with what The Ubiquitous said. “There’s a bunch of phonons in that crystal” is just a five dollar phrase for “the atoms are vibrating”. That is a quality of the lattice or the atoms filling it, not a substance.

          • Ray

            Well. Let’s put it this way. If you’re going to claim that all disease is a privation of bodily function — i.e. the function of the body is the presence of something — then that is far more of a stretch than the claim that heat is the presence of something (i.e. energy in the form of phonons or whatever. — and btw it’s not that you can’t treat heat in non-crystalline materials as phonons, it’s just they become strongly interacting, and the framework becomes less useful as a result.)

            No one would even think of modeling disease in terms of particles of bodily function. (At least it would be foolish, since it would imply treating dead bodies as a quantum mechanical vacuum, which unlike a dead body, is a low rather than high entropy state.)

        • Daniel A. Duran

          “My statement before was no more contradictory than the statement that when a laboratory vacuum ceases to be maintained, the difference from the ideal of the vacuum is the PRESENCE of air.”

          You cited mercury and lead poisoning as counter-examples to privation theory and then undermined the example by saying that they cause brain damage. So you did not contradict yourself? nice bluff, Ray.

          Also I am aware that perfect vacuums lack air, how is that relevant to anything said here?

          “Go ahead and describe every state that isn’t a human or other live animal as a lack of the live being. It still doesn’t change the fact that the adult human missing a heart requires MORE explanation than the human who has one.”

          This is confused and confusing. Can anyone tell me what is going on in the first sentence?

          Can somebody tell me how the second sentence is relevant to anything that has been said so far or what the point for it is?

          “The problem is not merely that it is unnatural to consider every undesirable thing as the lack of something (although this is certainly the case.)”

          No one is saying that every ‘undesirable thing is the lack of something’. In fact, I cited pain as something that is physically present and that can be undesirable. That goes to show that you’re not reading what I wrote.

          “The whole framework motivating this concept of “pure act” rests upon the assumption that the absence of a thing never requires an explanation, and the presence of a thing always does.”

          This is confused and irrelevant; no one is saying that the presence of a thing requires an explanation: we’re talking of privations and their nature.

  • Daniel A. Duran

    “Insofar as we can achieve that goal in other ways, the lack of hearing isn’t a very serious privation. In a world where everyone signs, lacking spoken communication isn’t a privation.”

    Lacking the ability to talk even if we all used hand signals would still be a privation, namely, being deprived of the ability to talk. ;-)

    “And I’m not really clear what about our physical bodies makes it clear that the final cause of being a means of communication is more clearly part of our tongue than our hands.”

    Why would Feser say that communication is better served by the mouth than by other means? Did feser, Aquinas or Aristotle assert the above?

    “Which means the perfection/privation distinction seems dependent on the shape of our current bodies or the norms of our culture.”

    A privation is merely the lack of something; our bodies cannot fly or breather under water but that does not change that these constitute privations.

    “But if that’s the case, many of them seem totally irrelevant to a God whose form is completely non-physical. “

    Well, since god is omnipotent having legs will not “add” anything to his being.

    “Divvying up phenomena into the senses that should perceive them is harder than it sounds.”

    Purpose is posterior to being. I am sure that if we had the ability to use x-rays we would find some practical uses for

    • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

      I agree in the main, but one definitional nit-pick:
      A privation isn’t a lack of just anything but of something that formally should be there. So not being able to fly and breathe under water are not privations for humans, though they would be for birds and fish respectively.

      • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

        Yep, the definition of a privation is “the lack of a proper perfection” – something that properly should be there.

      • Daniel A. Duran

        You’re right; I was too hasty. Lacking wings or gills are not privations perse since is not part of our natures to fly or breath underwater, what was I thinking?

        What I should have said is that having gills or breathing under water would add to the degree of our essential being (or primary goodness) if it were part of our natures.

        • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

          Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to pile on. I just had a bit of knowledge and was eager to spit it out. :)

  • Joe

    Not to derail the philosophical discussion but I was just reading about the general resurrection and thought the part about our glorified bodies might appeal to Transhumanists.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12792a.htm

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    Yes, something can be a privation for some things and not for others. For example, edges are a privation in a badly drawn circle but not in a polygon. And while I would disagree with most of your examples that means some perfections are naturally perfections of material substances.

    But that doesn’t make them “totally irrelevant to a God whose form is completely non-physical”. It just means he must have them eminently rather than formally. One standard example of eminent existence is the form of a house existing in the mind of a builder before he actually builds it. (This isn’t the only example and non-conscious entities also have eminent features.) So God can have material perfections eminently because they exist in him as an intellect. Pure actuality =/= pure formality.

    As to John Cavil’s complaint, the reason we shouldn’t repeat it is right in the first sentence: “I don’t want to be human!” Thing is, unlike him we actually are human and not wanting to be human is objectively rejecting ourselves. So we should want what is good for us, i.e. the perfections proper to the human form.

  • Patrick

    Ray: You wrote

    “Are you seriously comparing the Thomism to special relativity? Special relativity is a well tested, and well defined scientific theory that basically everyone agrees is true (Leaving aside general relativity for the moment.) Thomism is not even considered to be correct by the majority of philosophers (I suspect it’s even a minority view among Catholics these days), and pretty much everyone else regards it as an antiquated relic which is of historical interest only.”

    This is why, when you get into debates with people who have wacky made up beliefs that have no predictive power and which rely on unobservable magical elements, you should never, ever, ever let the standard of debate be the internal consistency of their beliefs. Since their beliefs aren’t real and don’t track to anything in the real world, they aren’t limited in what they can squeeze into their theory in order to patch its holes. Any crazy theory can be made internally consistent given sufficient time to think up excuses, and sufficient freedom to utilized unlimited imagination.

    The standard has to be: How do you know?

    If you’re not going to engage in purely empirical terms, then the only useful philosophical means of engagement I know of is reversal. Just invert everything. Hence forth, good is a deprivation of evil. Then utilize all the dishonest tricks they utilize to defend YOUR theory, and when they object to them, point out the parity.

    • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

      Just like light is an absence of dark, you mean?

    • Matt

      I don’t know Thomism that well, but I do know that in the Thomistic system, Goodness is Being. Therefore, the deprivation of Being is Non-Being. Could we say the deprivation of Non-Being is Being? Seems to not make any sense… Just because Thomism arose from the legacy of a medieval Catholic Priest doesn’t mean it is too be swiftly discounted. Truth is truth regardless of the mouth that utters it.


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