January 6, 2018

FESER’S ANALYSIS OF CHANGE

A key idea in Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument is his analysis or understanding of change:

A. The occurrence of any change C presupposes the actualization of a potential of some thing or substance S which changes.

There are three phrases that constitute the key components of Feser’s analysis of change:

the actualization of…
…a potential of…
…some thing or substance

To understand Feser’s analysis of change, we need to understand the meaning of each of these key phrases.

 

“SOME THING OR SUBSTANCE”

In Part 7 of this series I pointed out that there are at least four different possible meanings of “substance”.  It is unclear whether the word “thing” represents an additional category (that includes non-substances) or is simply a clarification of the word “substance”.

In the ordinary use of the word  “substance” , this word means a KIND of stuff (like water, gold, salt, alcohol, glass, wood, plastic, etc.), as in the phrase “substance abuse”.  But in philosophy, the word “substance” means, roughly, a particular entity or object.  The word “thing” thus might well be a hint pointing to the philosophical use of the word “substance”, as opposed to the ordinary use of the word “substance”.  In that case, “thing” would NOT refer to something in addition to “substance”, but would simply be a rough synonym of “substance” that is an attempt to disambiguate that term and that points towards the philosophical use of the term. The philosophical use of the term “substance”, however, is itself ambiguous between various different concepts, as I pointed out in Part 7.

 

“A POTENTIAL OF”

A hot cup of coffee has the potential to become a cold cup of coffee;  it does not have the potential to become chicken soup or gasoline.  An acorn has the potential to become an oak tree; it does not have the potential to become a pine tree or a tomato plant.   A green banana has the potential to become a yellow banana; it does not have the potential to become a peach.

Having a potential is NOT, in general, a sufficient condition for the realization of that potential.  One can have the potential to become a famous movie star and yet fail to realize this potential.  A green banana could ripen and become a yellow banana, but it could also be incinerated before becoming ripe and thus fail to become a yellow banana.

It also seems that “having the potential to become X” is NOT a necessary condition of becoming X.

One might not “have the potential to become a famous movie star” and yet, by a matter of sheer luck and coincidence, become a movie star.  When we say that someone “has the potential to become a famous movie star” we mean that they have natural talent and natural good looks that would help them to be a very good and very appealing actor.  But sometimes people who are lacking in natural talent and natural good looks still manage to become very good and very appealing actors.  And sometimes people who are NOT very good and NOT very appealing actors still manage to become movie stars.  If I am correct on these points, then someone who does NOT “have the potential to become a famous movie star” might nevertheless become a famous movie star.

Having the potential to become X, thus seems to mean having some sort of natural tendency towards becoming X.  Having a natural tendency to become X is NOT, however, a necessary condition for becoming X.  Something that lacks a natural tendency towards becoming X might, nevertheless, become X.  A boy does not have a natural tendency to become a woman; however, that is not a necessary condition for becoming a woman.  A boy can undergo sex change procedures and over time become a woman.  Such a boy did NOT have “the potential to become a woman”, and yet he actually did become a woman, by means of surgery, hormone therapy, and psychological counseling.

In many cases, the properties of a thing are the result of a combination of its natural tendencies and particular circumstances.   A hot cup of coffee has the potential to become cold, but only if the air or environment near the coffee becomes cold.  Similarly, a cold cup of coffee has the potential to become hot, but only if the air or environment near the coffee becomes hot.  The coffee has the potential to become boiling hot, or freezing cold, or various temperatures between those two extremes, but which of these potential temperatures is realized depends on the temperature of the air or environment near the coffee.

The potential of the coffee to become cold could be stated in terms of the natural tendency of the coffee to become cold in circumstances where the surrounding air or environment was cold.  It would be unnatural for a hot cup of coffee to remain hot if it was left outside on a cold winter’s day.  It would be natural for a hot cup of coffee that was left outside on a cold winter’s day to become a cold cup of coffee after being outside in the cold for half an hour or so.  It would be unnatural for an acorn to develop into a pine tree, or for a green banana to develop into a peach, and it would be natural for an acorn to develop into an oak tree, and for a green banana to ripen and become a yellow banana.

Here is an attempt to capture this understanding of the phrase “a potential of”:

It is a potential of X to become Y

IF AND ONLY IF

(a) X has a natural tendency to become Y under circumstances C 

AND 

(b) circumstances C are ordinary or common circumstances.

A boy has a natural tendency to become a woman, but only under very specific circumstances that are not ordinary or common.  To make this happen there must be deliberate human intervention:  sex change surgery,  hormone therapy, and psychological counseling.  Under ordinary or common circumstances a boy has a natural tendency to develop into a man, into an adult male.

Natural tendencies are typically associated with KINDS of things, as opposed to particular individual objects or entities.  Acorns, coffee, and boys are KINDS of things, and these KINDS of things have natural tendencies.  A particular acorn, cup of coffee, or boy may also have natural tendencies, but these tendencies are usually derived from (are inferred from) the KIND of thing(s) that the particular entity is/are, from the categories to which that object or entity belong.

The phrase “become Y” is intentionally ambiguous.  This phrase can be used of either a change in an accidental attribute or of a change in an essential attribute, i.e. a change from one thing into a different kind of thing.  A cup of coffee can change from being hot to being cold; it can “become cold”.  Alternatively, a cup of coffee can be changed into a cup of water by separating the water in the coffee from the liquids and particles that turned it into coffee; a cup of coffee can “become a cup of water” under the right circumstances.

 

“THE ACTUALIZATION OF”

The phrase “the actualization of…” must be understood in relation to the phrase “…a potential of”.  The basic idea is that of truth or reality.  Some possibility is described, and then we can talk about “the actualization of…” that possibility, meaning that the described possibility is true or real.  We can describe the possibility of a cup of coffee being cold: “This cup of coffee is cold”.  This description could be FALSE; it could be a possibility that is not yet true or real.   If a cup of coffee is hot, then this possibility is not (at that time) true or real.  If the hot coffee cools down and becomes cold, then the possibility “This cup of coffee is cold” becomes true or real.

But in Feser’s analysis of change, we are NOT dealing with all logical possibilities concerning X; rather, we are focused only on “a potential of X to become Y”.  Since “a potential of X” is something narrower and more specific than all of the logical possibilities concerning X, Feser’s analysis of change limits the scope of events to those in which there is some NATURAL TENDENCY for “X to become Y”.  Only in such cases can there be a change, according to Feser.

 

OBJECTION TO FESER’S ANALYSIS OF CHANGE

Having clarified the meaning of Feser’s analysis of “change”, it seems to me that my original objection to Feser’s analysis of change holds true.   There are changes that are NOT based in a “a potential of X to become Y”.

If a boy becomes a woman, then that is a change, but it is NOT a change based on a potential of that boy to become a woman.  If an ugly and untalented actor becomes a famous movie star, that is a change, but it is NOT a change based on a potential of that actor to become a famous movie star.  Not every change happens in accordance with “a potential for X to become Y”, so Feser’s analysis of change is wrong.

Feser’s analysis of change illogically excludes some logically possible changes by limiting the scope of this concept to events which are based on the realization of a NATURAL TENDENCY in the context of some ORDINARY or COMMON CIRCUMSTANCES.  But some logically possible events and some logically possible changes occur outside of this boundary.

Because Feser’s analysis of change is wrong, a basic premise of Chunk #1 is FALSE:

A. The occurrence of any change C presupposes the actualization of a potential of some thing or substance S which changes.

Thus Feser’s first argument for the existence of God is UNSOUND.

Feser could reply to this objection by rejecting my clarification of his analysis of “change”, but to do so with any degree of credibility, he would have to offer an alternative way of understanding his analysis of “change”, and given that he makes no real effort to clarify this fundamental aspect of his thinking in his presentation of his Aristotelian argument for God, I doubt that he is up to this task.  If Feser was clear in his own mind about this basic concept in his argument, then he would have already provided adequate clarification in presenting this first argument of his case for God.

December 10, 2017

FOCUS ON CHUNK #1

We are examining the first few premises of Edward Feser’s lengthy (i.e. containing fifty statements) Aristotelian argument for the existence of God, in Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG).  What I call Chunk #1 of this argument consists of the following premises and inferences:

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
  4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
  5. So, any change is caused by something already actual.
  6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.
  7. The existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S’s potential for existence.
  8. So, any substance S has at any moment some actualizer A of its existence.
  9. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  10. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  11. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a hierarchical causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  12. So, either A itself is a purely actual actualizer or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress that begins with the actualization of A.
  13. So, the occurrence of C and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.
  14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer. 

(FPEG, Location 477-493, p.35-36)

Let’s focus on premises (1) through (8) for now.   Premises (3), (5), and (8) begin with the word “So”, indicating that these are inferences based on previous premises.  The inferences appear, at least initially, to be logically valid inferences, so the primary question, concerning this first half of Chunk #1 is whether the previous premises are true or false.

Premise (1) is the basic factual claim upon which the argument rests.  This claim seems clearly to be true.  No problem here that I can see.

Premise (2) is vague and unclear, as I have indicated in recent posts (see Part 6Part 5, and Part 3).  This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to rationally evaluate whether (2) is true.

Premises (4) and (7) assert general metaphysical principles.  These premises need to be carefully examined and evaluated.  These are likely points where the argument may be weak or fail.

 

FESER’S ANALYSIS OF CHANGE

Premise (6) is interesting because it provides further explication of Feser’s concept of change.  Premise (6), it seems to me, provides clarification of premise (2).  I think that it makes more sense to move premise (6) to an earlier position in the above line of reasoning, and to combine premises (2) and (6) like this:

2. But change is the actualization of a potential.

6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.

THEREFORE:

A. The occurrence of any change C presupposes the actualization of a potential of some thing or substance S which changes.

This is NOT a formally valid deductive inference. The problem is that (2) is too vague and unclear as it stands.  However, (6) provides some clarification of (2), and (A) can be understood as a clarification of the meaning of (2), the clarification being provided by (6).

It is difficult, if not impossible, to rationally evaluate (2) because it is vague and unclear. However, if we use (6) as the basis for clarifying the meaning of (2), resulting in a clarified re-statement of (2) as (A), then there may be some hope of rationally evaluating (2), by evaluating the truth or falsehood of (A).

There are three phrases that constitute the key components of Feser’s analysis of change:

the actualization of…
…a potential of…
…some thing or substance

None of these three phrases is an ordinary expression.  The word “substance”, for example, is a philosophical term:

Many of the concepts analysed by philosophers have their origin in ordinary—or at least extra-philosophical— language. Perception, knowledge, causation, and mind would be examples of this. But the concept of substance is essentially a philosophical term of art.   (Substance, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

All three phrases use technical philosophical terms.  But Feser does not define ANY of the technical philosophical terms that appear in his analysis of change.  Although the examples Feser gives are helpful, they are not adequate to provide enough clarification of these technical terms to allow an intelligent non-philosopher to rationally evaluate whether (A) is true or false.

The first half of Chunk #1 thus consists of Feser’s analysis of change, premise (A), PLUS two general metaphysical principles, stated in premises (4) and (7).  If any one of these three claims is false, or is too unclear to evaluate, then Chunk #1 fails, as does Feser’s Aristotelian argument for God.  If all three of these claims are true, then the first half of Chunk #1 might well be sound.

In order to rationally evaluate Feser’s Aristotelian argument for God, one must first rationally evaluate Feser’s analysis of change:

A. The occurrence of any change C presupposes the actualization of a potential of some thing or substance S which changes.

Is (A) true or false?  In order to rationally evaluate (A), one must have a clear understanding of the meaning of each of the three key phrases in that premise:

the actualization of…
…a potential of…
…some thing or substance

Currently, I do not have a clear understanding of the meaning of ANY of these three key phrases, so I cannot rationally evaluate (A) at this time.  But these are concepts that originate with Aristotle, and that were used by (and perhaps tweaked by) Aquinas.  So, expositions of Aristotle’s use of these concepts, and of the use of these concepts by Aquinas might help to clarify the meaning of these three phrases.  Since this argument for God is based on Aristotle’s reasoning, I’m going to focus on Aristotle’s use of the concepts, to see if that provides enough clarification to make it possible to rationally evaluate premise (A).

 

THE AMBIGUITY OF “SOME”

In order to rationally evaluate Feser’s analysis of change, we need to have a clear understanding of what the phrase “…some thing or substance” means.  The word “some” is problematic, especially in arguments for God; it is often ambiguous between two meanings:

exactly one

at least one

Given that some changes involve changes in many things (e.g. the water in a pot becoming hot involves many water molecules increasing their movements), it appears that defining change in terms of “exactly one thing or substance” might exclude some actual changes which involve many things.  So, I think it is reasonable to interpret the phrase “…some thing or substance” as meaning:

at least one thing or substance

But what is a “thing or substance”?  Is a cloud a “thing or substance”?  Is a person a “thing or substance”? Is love a “thing or substance”?  Is  coffee a “thing or substance”?  Is the number three a “thing or substance”?  Is World War II a “thing or substance”?  Is the color red a “thing or substance”?  Is the pain I feel in my right foot a “thing or substance”?  Is gravity a “thing or substance”?  Is an idea a “thing or substance”?  Is a mind a “thing or substance”?  Is an angel a “thing or substance”?  Is time a “thing or substance”?  Is God a “thing or substance”?  Is space a “thing or substance”?

If we cannot answer these and other similar questions, then we don’t yet have a clear understanding of what the words “thing or substance” mean.

 

THE AMBIGUITY OF “SUBSTANCE”

First of all, there is a high-level ambiguity between two basic senses of the word “substance”:

… According to the generic sense, therefore, the substances in a given philosophical system are those things which, according to that system, are the foundational or fundamental entities of reality. Thus, for an atomist, atoms are the substances, for they are the basic things from which everything is constructed. In David Hume’s system, impressions and ideas are the substances, for the same reason. In a slightly different way, Forms are Plato’s substances, for everything derives its existence from Forms. In this sense of ‘substance’ any realist philosophical system acknowledges the existence of substances. …

The second use of the concept is more specific. According to this, substances are a particular kind of basic entity, and some philosophical theories acknowledge them and others do not. On this use, Hume’s impressions and ideas are not substances, even though they are the building blocks of— what constitutes ‘being’ for—his world. According to this usage, it is a live issue whether the fundamental entities are substances or something else, such as events, or properties located at space-times. This conception of substance derives from the intuitive notion of individual thing or object, which contrast mainly with properties and events. The issue is how we are to understand the notion of an object, and whether, in the light of the correct understanding, it remains a basic notion, or one that must be characterized in more fundamental terms. Whether, for example, an object can be thought of as nothing more than a bundle of properties, or a series of events. 

(“Substance”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, from the opening paragraphs of the article, emphasis added).

The word “substance” can refer either to a fundamental constituent of reality, or it can refer to any individual thing or object.  A key philosophical issue connects these two different senses of “substance”:

Are individual things or objects the fundamental constituents of reality, or are individual things and objects phenomena that derive from some more basic aspect of reality (like properties or events)?

Different philosophers have had different understandings of the meaning of the word “substance”.  Locke understood the “substance” of something to be whatever remained when you removed all of the properties from that particular thing.  Descartes thought that the “substance” of something was whatever it is that underlies the properties or accidents of that something.  Kant understood a “substance” to be the aspect of something that stays the same when something undergoes a change.  (See entries on “Substance” in A Dictionary of Philosophy by A.R. Lacey, and A Dictionary of Philosophy by Antony Flew).

Since we are concerned with the meaning of the word “substance” in an Aristotelian argument for God, we can ignore the use and understanding of the word “substance” by Locke, Descartes, and Kant, and focus in on how Aristotle used and understood this word.  But this doesn’t clarify things much, because Aristotle used the word “substance” with a variety of different meanings.

In fact, the different uses of the word “substance” by Lock, Descartes, and Kant can be traced back to Aristotle’s different uses of this word.  Here are three different senses of “substance” in Aristotle, as described by Antony Flew:

Sense 1: S is a substance if S is a subject of predicates, but cannot be predicated in turn of any other subject.

Sense 2: … a substance may be said to be that which has an independent existence.

Sense 3: … a substance is regarded as something which remains the same through change.

Flew mentions a fourth sense of “substance” , but he does not explicitly ascribe it to Aristotle:

Sense 4:  … some philosophers view the substance of a thing as what it really is, as opposed to the way in which it appears.

Lacey, however, indicates that Sense 4 represents one of Aristotle’s main uses of the word “substance”:

Aristotle seems to use ‘substance’ in two main senses… . …in the second sense, it is the FORM or essence which makes a substance in the first sense the thing it is.  Socrates is what he is because the flesh of which he is made has taken on the form of a man and not, say, that of horse.  (“Substance”, A Dictionary of Philosophy)

Lacey also mentions a meaning of the word “substance” that Aristotle discusses and criticizes:

Sense 5:  …what remains when one removes the form or properties of something. 

This is the sense of “substance” that was taken up by John Locke.  According to Lacey,  Aristotle dismissed this idea of “substance”, so it seems unlikely that Aristotle would have used “substance” in Sense 5 in an argument for the existence of God.  But that still leaves us with at least four different possible interpretations of “substance”.

November 18, 2017

LACK OF SPECIFICATION IN PREMISE (2)

The more I examine Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument for God, in Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), the more ambiguous and unclear this part of the argument seems to be.

The problems begin with premise (2):

2. But change is the actualization of a potential.   (FPEG, Location 477 )

I initially interpreted premise (2) as asserting this more specific universal generalization:

2a.  ALL LOGICALLY POSSIBLE changes are instances of the actualization of a potential ATTRIBUTE of a SUBSTANCE.

One commenter who has closely followed this series of posts, and who appears to be familiar with Feser’s case for God, objects that Feser does not intend to discuss ALL LOGICALLY POSSIBLE changes here, and, in any case, that Feser’s argument works just fine if we reduce the scope of changes under consideration to something like ALL PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE changes, or ALL NATURAL CHANGES.  One might also reasonably consider reducing the quantifier from ALL to SOME (i.e. AT LEAST ONE).

So (2a), unlike (2), specifies a quantifier: “ALL”, and (2a), unlike (2), specifies the scope of changes under discussion: “LOGICALLY POSSIBLE”, and (2a), unlike (2), specifies the type of thing that can be potential:  an “ATTRIBUTE”, and (2a), unlike (2) specifies the type of thing that can have a potential: a “SUBSTANCE”.

While I don’t claim that (2a) is the correct or best interpretation of (2), it seems to me that (2a) is much more clear, and much less ambiguous than premise (2).  In fact, it seems to me that (2) is so unclear and so ambiguous that it is not possible to rationally evaluate whether premise (2) is TRUE or FALSE, but I am much more optimistic about rational evaluation of (2a).

 

DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS OF (2) HAVE DIFFERENT IMPACTS

Furthermore, in terms of evaluating Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument,  it makes a significant difference what we decide the intended quantifier is, and what we decide the intended scope of changes under discussion is, and what type of thing (or types of things) can be a potential, and what type of thing (or types of things) can have a potential.

Let’s consider some different possible interpretations of premise (2) and note how the different clarifications of this premise impact the soundness or validity or cogency of the first inference in Chunk #1.

 

ORIGINAL WORDING:

1. Change is a real feature of the world.

2. But change is the actualization of a potential.

3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.  (FPEG, Location 477 )

VERSION I:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2a. All logically possible changes that actually occur are instances of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

This version appears to be logically VALID.  However, premise (2a) makes a very strong claim, and I have serious doubts about the truth of (2a), so this version might well be UNSOUND.  Furthermore, (2a) does not appear to be a reasonable interpretation of Feser, given other things that Feser has to say about the actualization of a potential.

VERSION II:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2b. At least one logically possible change would be an instance of the actualization of a potential (if such a change were to actually occur).

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

This version is clearly INVALID.  It has the same invalid logical form as this argument:

Some People are Tall people.

Some People are Short people.

THEREFORE:

Some Short people are Tall people.

VERSION III:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2c. At least one logically possible change that has actually occurred is an instance of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

Although this argument is logically VALID,  (2c) logically implies (3a) all by itself, because (2c) assumes or presupposes the truth of (1a), it is not a cogent argument.   Because (2c) implies (3a) all by itself, this appears to be a QUESTION BEGGING argument.  If one doubts (3a), then one will also doubt (2c), so it is inappropriate to use (2c) as the basis for establishing the truth of (3a).

VERSION IV:

1a. At least one logically possible change has actually occurred.

2d. All actual changes are instances of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

Although this version is not formally valid, it does appear to be deductively valid, because (1a) implies that there has been at least one actual change, and in combination with (2d) that logically implies (3a).   However, (2d) is presumably known either by means of inductive reasoning from experienced examples of actual changes (and is thus an empirical generalization), or by means of analysis of concepts to confirm that (2d) as an analytic truth.

In order to know (2d) by induction from examples, we must first determine that at least one actual change was an instance of the actualization of a potential, but then that would require knowing (3a) to be true, so if (2d) is known by means of induction from experienced examples, then we must FIRST determine whether (3a) is true, in order to establish that (2d) is true, but then we would be reasoning in a circle to infer (3a) from (2d).

On the other hand, if we know (2d) on the basis of the analysis of concepts, independent from experience, then we cannot eliminate any logically possible changes from the scope of the phrase “actual changes”.  So, in order to determine that (2d) is an analytic truth, we need to first determine whether ALL LOGICALLY POSSIBLE CHANGES that actually occur must be instances of the actualization of a potential.  But that brings us back to VERSION I of the argument, and to the problem that (2a) is a very strong claim that appears to be highly dubious.

VERSION V:

1b. At least one physically possible change has actually occurred.

2e. All physically possible changes that actually occur are instances of the actualization of a potential.

THEREFORE:

3a. At least one instance of the actualization of a potential has actually occurred.

Again, we either know (2e) to be an empirical truth on the basis of induction from experience, or we know it to be an analytic truth on the basis of conceptual analysis.  In order to know (2e) to be true on the basis of induction from experience, we would need to first determine that one example of an actual change was an instance of the actualization of a potential, but that means that we would have to determine whether (3a) was true as an initial step towards evaluation of the truth of (2e).  So, if we turn around and later use (2e) as support for (3a), we would be reasoning in a circle.

Could we determine (2e) to be true by means of a conceptual analysis of this claim in order to show it to be an analytic truth?  Perhaps, we could.  Perhaps the concept of a “physically possible change” is best understood and best explained by reference to the idea that things have natural tendencies to change in specific ways in specific circumstances, and that the concepts of “potential” and “actualized” play key roles in such an analysis of the concept of a “physically possible change”.

Unfortunately,  I don’t think that Version V is what Feser had in mind in Chunk #1 of his Aristotelian argument.  In any case, Feser does not argue for a logical or conceptual tie between “physically possible changes” and “the actualization of a potential”, so although I think that Version V is more interesting than the other versions previously mentioned, I don’t think it reflects Feser’s thinking.

 

CLOSING REMARKS

There is a great deal of ambiguity and unclarity in premise (2) of Feser’s Aristotelian argument, which makes it difficult, if not impossible to rationally evaluate that premise.  Part of the unclarity results from a lack of specificity concerning the SCOPE of changes under discussion, and the QUANTIFICATION of claims about changes.  Different interpretations/versions of the initial inference of Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument show that there are different problems with the argument depending on which version/interpretation one adopts.

Furthermore, I have not said much about the problem of unclarity in relation to the type of thing(s) that could BE a potential, and the type of thing(s) that could HAVE a potential.  It makes a difference whether we are talking about potential attributes or potential substances or potential events or potential processes or ALL of these different sorts of potentials, or some combination of these different types of potentials.  It also makes a difference whether we are talking about substances having potentials or events having potentials or other types of things having potentials, or some combination of these different types of things having potentials. None of this is clearly specified by Feser.

Finally, Feser does not, at least not in Chapter 1, define what the phrase “a potential” means, nor does he define the phrase “actualizing a potential”, nor does he define the terms “substance” or “attribute”, which seem to be used or implied in his discussion of examples of the actualization of a potential.

At this point, I don’t see a way to rationally evaluate premise (2).  It stands in need of further specification and clarification.  I will probably move on to examine the rest of Chunk #1, leaving premise (2) as a claim that I cannot, at this point, evaluate as either true or false.  Perhaps, seeing what use Feser makes of premise (2) will help to clarify the meaning of this premise, and make it possible to rationally evaluate it later.

November 11, 2017

POTENTIAL ATTRIBUTES VS. CONTINGENT ATTRIBUTES

I think (i.e. strongly suspect) it is important to understand the relationship between Edward Feser’s concept of the potential attributes of X and logical possibility.  Feser does not provide clarification on this point, at least not in Chapter 1 of his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), where he introduces and makes use of the concept of the potential attributes of X.  So, I think it is worthwhile to try to figure this out for ourselves.

In particular, I think it is important to understand the relationship between Feser’s concept of  the potential attributes of X and the somewhat similar concept of the logically contingent attributes of X.  So, I’m going to make an effort to develop a clearer understanding of this subject.

 

DEFINITIONS CONCERNING LOGICAL POSSIBILITY

Logically Contingent Attribute:

An attribute A is a logically contingent attribute of X

IF AND ONLY IF

A is a logically possible attribute of X and A is NOT a logically necessary attribute of X.

Logically Possible Attribute:

An attribute A is a logically possible attribute of X

IF AND ONLY IF 

the statement that “X has attribute A” is a logically possible statement.

Logically Necessary Attribute:

An attribute A is a logically necessary attribute of X

IF AND ONLY IF 

the statement that “X has attribute A” is a logically necessary statement.

 

EXAMPLES OF TYPES OF ATTRIBUTES

  • Being married is NOT a logically possible attribute of a bachelor.
  • Being four sided is NOT a logically possible attribute of a triangle.
  • Being six feet tall is a logically possible attribute of a bachelor.
  • Having a right angle is a logically possible attribute of a triangle.
  • Being six feet tall is NOT a logically necessary attribute of a bachelor.
  • Having a right angle is NOT a logically necessary attribute of a triangle.
  • Being unmarried is a logically necessary attribute of a bachelor.
  • Being three sided is a logically necessary attribute of a triangle.
  • Being six feet tall is a logically contingent attribute of a bachelor (because this attribute is both logically possible and NOT logically necessary for a bachelor).
  • Having a right angle is a logically contingent attribute of a triangle (because this attribute is both logically possible and NOT logically necessary for a triangle).

 

EXCLUSION OF LOGICALLY NECESSARY ATTRIBUTES

I have defined the concept of a logically contingent attribute so that this EXCLUDES logically necessary attributes, because we are concerned with analysis of the concept of CHANGE, and there is an important feature of logically necessary attributes that relates to CHANGE.

It is important to note that a person who is a bachelor can, of course, become a married person.  But when he does so, he instantaneously and necessarily ceases to be a bachelor.  All bachelors are necessarily unmarried, but it is fairly easy for a bachelor to get married, and thus to cease being a bachelor.  What is ruled out here is the possibility of someone becoming a married person while remaining a bachelor.

A triangle cannot BECOME a three-sided plane figure, because the attribute of having three sides is a logically necessary attribute of a triangle.  We can take a square object (having four sides), remove one side of it, and connect the remaining sides to form a triangle (having just three sides).  So, the number of sides that an object or figure has can be CHANGED, but because triangles necessarily have three sides,  it is NOT logically possible for a triangle to change from having four sides to having three sides, because the initial four-sided object could not have been a triangle.  Nor can a figure change from having three sides to having four sides, and remain a triangle through that process.

 

TWO GENERAL CASES

There are TWO GENERAL CASES concerning the relationship between the referents of the phrases “the potential attributes of X” and “the logically contingent attributes of X”:

I.  The phrase “the potential attributes of X” refers to the same set of attributes as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X” (for any X, where X specifies a particular being or a category of beings).

OR

II. It is NOT the case that the phrase “the potential attributes of X” refers to the same set of attributes as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X” (for any X, where X specifies a particular being or a category of beings).

The “OR” here is EXCLUSIVE.  If CASE I holds, then CASE II does not hold.  If CASE II holds, then CASE I does not hold.

 

THINKING ABOUT CASE I

Let’s think about CASE I for minute.  If the phrase “the potential attributes of X” refers to the same set of attributes as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X”, then I don’t think I have any objection to Feser’s characterization of CHANGE in terms of a potential attribute of something becoming an actual attribute of that thing.

This characterization would, however, be trivial, obvious, and uninformative, because it just means that a CHANGE must start with a logically possible state of affairs and end up with a different logically possible state of affairs.  It is obvious and self-evident and trivial that a CHANGE cannot begin from a logically IMPOSSIBLE state of affairs, and it is obvious and trivial that a CHANGE cannot end up with a logically IMPOSSIBLE state of affairs.  But Feser seems to think that there is some significant, non-obvious, non-trivial truth in his characterization of the nature of CHANGE, so it seems to me that CASE I does not fit with Feser’s understanding of his characterization of CHANGE.

Furthermore,  when Feser asserts that hot coffee can CHANGE to cold coffee on the grounds that coldness is a potential attribute of coffee, he seems to be saying something MORE than just that it is logically possible for coffee to have the attribute of being cold.  He seems to be implying that there is something in the nature of coffee that makes it the sort of thing that can be cold.  This is more like the concept of physical possibility than the concept of logical possibility.

It is physically possible for coffee to be cold, and this physical possibility is more than mere logical possibility.  It is not physically possible for a man to walk on water, but it is logically possible for a man to walk on water.  Thus, the claim that it is physically possible to for X to do Y asserts MORE than the claim that it is logically possible for X to do Y.  Similarly, it seems that when Feser claims that “A is a potential attribute of X”  (e.g. “Coldness is a potential attribute of coffee”), he is asserting something MORE than just that the statement “A has attribute X”  (e.g. “This coffee is cold”) is a logically possible statement.

Therefore,  it seems to me that CASE I FAILS to provide an accurate characterization of the relationship between Feser’s concept of a potential attribute, and the concept of a logically contingent attribute.

 

ANALYSIS OF CASE II SCENARIOS

CASE II is a bit more complicated, because it encompasses three different scenarios, each of which needs to be considered and evaluated:

IIA.  At least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X).

OR

IIB. At least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X).

OR

IIIC. At least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X, AND at least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X.

The “OR” here is EXCLUSIVE.  If  Case IIA holds, then Case IIB and Case IIC do not.  If Case IIB holds, then Case IIA and Case IIC do not.  If Case IIC holds, then Case IIA and Case IIB do not.

 

CASE IIA

IIA.  At least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X).

If there is a potential attribute of X that is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X, then either there is a potential attribute of X that is such that X cannot possibly have that attribute, or there is a potential attribute of X that is a logically necessary attribute of X.  Let’s consider the first alternative:

There is a potential attribute of X that is such that it is NOT logically possible for X to have that attribute.

This makes no sense in relation to the concept of a CHANGE.  For example, it is not logically possible for a triangle to have four sides.  To say that “having four sides” is a potential attribute of a triangle would be very misleading, to say the least.  Furthermore, since it is logically impossible for a triangle to have four sides, it is logically impossible for a triangle to ACTUALLY become four sided.  This is a “potential” that there is no possibility of ever being actualized.  It makes no sense to talk about CHANGE in terms of a “potential” that it is logically impossible to realize.

Let’s consider the second alternative:

There is a potential attribute of X that is a logically necessary attribute of X.

This also makes no sense in relation to the concept of a CHANGE.  For example, having three sides is a logically necessary attribute of a triangle, so a all triangles must always have three sides.  This means that it can never be the case that a triangle BECOMES three-sided.  In order to BECOME three-sided, something must start out not being three-sided.  So, it would be very misleading to say that having three sides is a “potential” attribute of a triangle, at the very least.  Furthermore, since all triangles must always have three sides, it is not logically possible for a triangle to BECOME three-sided, so it is not logically possible for the attribute of having three sides to be actualized for a triangle.  Any existing triangle will already have three sides.

CASE IIA FAILS to provide us with a concept of a “potential attribute of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.

 

CASE IIB

IIB. At least one logically contingent attribute of X is NOT a potential attribute of X (AND it is NOT the case that at least one potential attribute of X is NOT a logically contingent attribute of X).

In this case, there is a logical possibility that X lacks an attribute at one point in time and has that attribute at a later point in time, but this would be considered to be a case in which there was no CHANGE to X, because the attribute in question was not a “potential attribute” of X.

If X lacks an attribute at one point in time and has that attribute at a later point in time, then X has CHANGED.  It makes no difference whether obtaining that attribute was natural, or normal, or in keeping with the nature of X.  Even if that attribute is unnatural, or unusual, or abnormal for X, if X goes from lacking that attribute to having that attribute, then X has CHANGED.

This is similar to the distinction between logical possibility and physical possibility, and to the claim that the concept of CHANGE is restricted to physically possible events.  It is physically impossible to swim across the Atlantic ocean in one minute, but logically possible to do so.  If someone were to swim across the Atlantic ocean in one minute, then the location of that person has CHANGED, whether or not this event was physically possible.  The concept of CHANGE is NOT constrained by the limits of physical possibility; it is only constrained by the limits of logical possibility.  Similarly, the concept of CHANGE is NOT constrained by the limits of “potential attributes of X” if this is something narrower than the constraint of logical possibility (or “logically contingent attributes of X”).

CASE IIB FAILS to provide us with a concept of a “potential attribute of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.

 

CASE IIC

This third case has the problems of both CASE IIA and of CASE IIB.

CASE IIC FAILS to provide us with a concept of a “potential attribute of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.

 

CONCLUSION

The assumption that the phrase “the potential attributes of X” has the same referents as the phrase “the logically contingent attributes of X” makes Feser’s theory of CHANGE obvious and trivial, and it  FAILS to accurately interpret what Feser means by “potential attributes”.  So, CASE I  FAILS as an interpretation of a key concept in Feser’s metaphysical theory of CHANGE.

However, CASE II scenarios ALL FAIL to provide a concept of “the potential attributes of X” that can be used to reasonably analyze the concept of CHANGE.

Therefore, either Feser’s theory of CHANGE is obvious and trivial, or the key concept of “the potential attributes of X” makes it so that Feser FAILS to provide a reasonable analysis of the concept of CHANGE as the actualization of a potential attribute.

November 7, 2017

THE ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (3)

In his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), Edward Feser presents an Aristotelian argument for God in Chapter 1.  In Part 2 of this series I divided that argument into seven chunks.  Chunk #1 consists of premises (1) through (14).  The first sub-argument in Chunk #1 goes like this:

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.

I am very skeptical and suspicious about premise (2), because acceptance of this premise seems to involve acceptance of a dubious metaphysical theory, or a significant portion of a dubious metaphysical theory.

In Part 3 of this series, I objected that (2) seems to be false, because the following alternative to (2) seems to be true:

2aBut change is when a logically possible state of affairs that was not an actual state of affairs becomes an actual state of affairs.

If there are (or could be) changes that are logically possible but that are physically impossible or beyond the natural “potential” of a thing, then (2a) would be TRUE, and (2) would be FALSE.  Premise (2) implies that there is no such thing as a change which is logically possible but that is beyond the natural “potential” of the thing that undergoes the change.  This would either mean that miracles cannot happen, or that miracles do not constitute changes.

COFFEE WITH PARMENIDES

Premise (2) imports an Aristotelian metaphysical theory (a theory about the nature of changes) into the argument.  One motivation for adopting this theory is that it provides, according to Feser, a powerful reply to Parmenides’ argument against the possibility of change.

Here is how Feser describes an argument by Parmenides:

Consider once again your coffee, which starts out hot and after sitting on the desk for a while grows cold.  You might say that the coldness of the coffee, which does not exist while the coffee is hot, comes into existence .  But now we have a problem, says Parmenides.  For if the coldness of the coffee was initially nonexistent, then at that point it was nothing;  and when it later comes into existence, it is then something.  But something can’t come from nothing.  So, the coldness of the coffee cannot come into existence, and thus, the coffee cannot grow cold.  Something similar could be said for any purported case of change–all of them would have to involve something coming from nothing, which is impossible.  Hence, concludes Parmenides, change cannot ever really occur.  (FPEG, Location 167)

Feser believes that Aristotle’s metaphysical theory about the nature of change provides a powerful reply to Parmenides:

There is another problem with Parmenides’ argument.  As the later Greek philosopher Aristotle pointed out, it is a mistake to think that change would have to involve something coming from nothing.  Go back to the coffee.  It is true that while the coffee is hot, the coldness is not actually present.  Still, it is there potentially in a way other qualities are not.  The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a live chicken and begin squawking.  But it does have the potential to grow cold, and it has various other potentials too… . That it has the potential to become cold while lacking certain other potentials shows that the coldness is not exactly nothing, even if it is not yet actual either.  (FPEG, Location 175)

But we do NOT need Aristotle’s metaphysical theory of change to have a powerful reply to Parmenides argument (as represented by Feser above).  All we need is a little bit of common sense.  Let’s have coffee with Parmenides and see if we can straighten him out.

BRADLEY:  Care for some coffee?

PARMENIDES:  Sure,  here is my coffee mug.

BRADLEY:  I see that your mug is empty.  I am now going to pour some hot coffee from this pitcher into your mug.

PARMENIDES:  Thank you.  I’m a bit hung over from the party last night, so coffee will help me to think more clearly about metaphysics and the nature of reality.

BRADLEY:  OK.  Great.   Your mug is now full of hot coffee.  That is clearly a CHANGE.  Your mug was empty just a few seconds ago, and now it is full of hot coffee!

PARMENIDES:  Hold on!  The mug is now full of coffee.  According to you it was empty only seconds ago.  That means that the fullness of the mug came into existence.  But then the fullness of the mug was initially non-existent, and at that point the fullness was NOTHING, and then when the fullness came into existence, it was SOMETHING.   But something can’t come from nothing.  So, the fullness of the mug cannot come into existence, and thus, the mug cannot become full.  It must either have always been full, or else it must always remain empty.

BRADLEY:  I don’t agree.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that your basic assumption is correct and that is is impossible for something to come from nothing.  Your mug being full does involve something; it involves there being something in the mug, namely coffee.  That coffee is something, and based on your assumption, that coffee could NOT come from nothing.  However, the coffee did NOT come from nothing, it came from a pitcher that was full of coffee.  The coffee already existed, it just was in a different location.  When I poured the coffee into your mug, some coffee was transferred from the pitcher to the mug.  Therefore, your mug is full because it has coffee in it, and that coffee came from the pitcher; the coffee did NOT come from nothing.

PARMENIDES:  Perhaps you have a point.  Let me take a sip or two of this coffee and think on this for a while.  Hmmm.  This coffee is a little bitter.

BRADLEY:  Here, let me put some sugar in your coffee.

[BRADLEY takes a spoonful of sugar from a sugar bowl, puts the sugar into Parmenides’ coffee, and stirs the coffee for a few seconds.]

PARMENIDES:  Thank you.  The coffee is tastes much better now.

BRADLEY:  Right.  Just a few seconds ago your coffee had no sweetness, and now it has a bit of sweetness to it.  That is a CHANGE.  Your coffee has become slightly sweet.

PARMENIDES:  Not so fast!   The coffee is now sweet.  According to you it was NOT sweet only seconds ago.  That means that the sweetness of the coffee came into existence.  But then the sweetness of the coffee was initially non-existent, and at that point the sweetness was NOTHING, and then when the sweetness (allegedly) came into existence, it was SOMETHING.   But something can’t come from nothing.  So, the sweetness of the coffee cannot come into existence, and thus, the coffee cannot become sweet.  It must either have always been sweet, or else it must always remain without sweetness.

BRADLEY:  Once again, I disagree with your analysis.  Your coffee being sweet does involve something; it involves there being something in the coffee, namely sugar.  That sugar is something, and based on your assumption (that something cannot come from nothing), that sugar could NOT come from nothing.  However, the sugar did NOT come from nothing, it came from a sugar bowl that was full of sugar.  The sugar already existed, it just was in a different location.  When I put a spoonful of the sugar into your coffee, some sugar was transferred from the sugar bowl to the coffee in your mug.  Therefore, your coffee is sweet because it has sugar in it, and that sugar came from the sugar bowl; the sugar (and the sweetness) in your coffee did NOT come from nothing.

Note that BRADLEY’s replies to PARMENIDES did not require an appeal to Aristotle’s metaphysical theory of change, the replies only required an appeal to a bit of common sense.   The coffee in PARMENIDES’ mug did not come from nothing, it came from the pitcher of coffee.  The sugar in PARMENIDES’ coffee did not come from nothing, it came from the sugar bowl.

Duh.

 

 

 

November 3, 2017

FESER TAKES OWNERSHIP OF THE FIVE ARGUMENTS

In Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), Edward Feser presents five “proofs” or arguments, each of which was inspired by an historical philosopher (or two).  However,  Feser takes full ownership of these five arguments, so that none of these arguments is put forward as merely an historical presentation or as merely a scholarly interpretation of a specific argument by an historical philosopher:

In my earlier books The Last Superstition and Aquinas, and elsewhere, I approached questions of natural theology…by way of exposition and defense of what Aquinas had to say on the subject. (FPEG, Location 39, p.9-10)

…there is a need for an exposition and defense of all the most important arguments for God’s existence that is neither burdened with complex and often tedious issues of textual exegesis, nor preceded by any detailed metaphysical prolegomenon, but which simply gets straight to the heart of the argument and introduces any needed background metaphysical principles along the way. (FPEG, Location 53, p.10)

…the arguments [in this book] are all certainly inspired by several great thinkers of the past–in particular, by Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz.  Indeed, I think that the proofs that I defend here capture what is essential to the arguments of those thinkers.  But I am not presenting an interpretation of any text to be found in the writings of any of these thinkers, and I am not claiming that any of these thinkers said or would agree with everything I have to say.  I defend an Aristotelian proof of God’s existence, but not Aristotle’s own proof, exactly; an Augustinian proof, but not an exegesis of anything Augustine himself actually wrote; and so forth. (FPEG, Location 59, p.11)

The five arguments are thus inspired by historical philosophers, but they are presented as Feser’s arguments, not as Aristotle’s argument, not as Augustine’s argument, not as Aquinas’s argument.  This is one more thing that Feser gets right.  A book that takes on the issue of the existence of God, especially one that provides a case for the existence of God, ought to contain only arguments of which the author takes ownership, and that the author sincerely believes to be good and solid arguments, or at least the best and strongest arguments available.

 

CHUNK NUMBER 1 OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT

The first chunk of Feser’s Aristotelian argument attempts to prove the following metaphysical claim:

14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer.  (FPEG, Location 493, p.36)

Although Chunk #1 can be viewed as being unique to the Aristotelian argument (because each argument attempts to prove the existence of a metaphysical being of a different type), Chunk #1 is still very important to how one evaluates ALL FIVE of the arguments presented by Feser.  This is because, the other four arguments are dependent upon the success of the rest of the Aristotelian argument (i.e. premises (15) through (49) ), and the rest of the Aristotelian argument has a dependency on Chunk #1.

The dependency of the rest of the Aristotelian argument on Chunk #1 is NOT a dependency on the TRUTH of premise (14), however.  Rather, it is in Chunk #1 that the concept of “a purely actual actualizer” is developed and clarified, and the rest of the Aristotelian argument is ABOUT the alleged attributes of “a purely actual actualizer”, so any unclarity, confusion, or logical problems with this concept are likely to impact the truth or the logic of the rest of the Aristotelian argument that follows after Chunk #1.

The rest of the Aristotelian argument could be logically valid, even if premise (14) was FALSE.  It could still be the case that IF “a purely actual actualizer” existed, THEN that being would have various key divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, being the cause of the existence of all things, etc.).   The point of the rest of the Aristotelian argument is to show that various key divine attributes are logically implied by the concept of “a purely actual actualizer”.  But what this concept logically implies, or does not imply, depends on what this concept MEANS.  So,  the success of the rest of the argument depends on the precise meaning of the phrase “a purely actual actualizer”, and the meaning of this phrase is developed and clarified in Chunk #1.

Therefore, Chunk #1 is NOT merely of significance in terms of our evaluation of the Aristotelian argument, but it is of significance to our evaluation of ALL FIVE of Feser’s arguments for the existence of God.

Here are the premises and inferences that Feser provides in support of claim (14):

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
  4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
  5. So, any change is caused by something already actual.
  6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.
  7. the existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S’s potential for existence.
  8. So, any substance S has at any moment some actualizer A of its existence.
  9. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  10. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  11. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a hierarchical causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  12. So, either A itself is a purely actual actualizer or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress that begins with the actualization of A.
  13. So, the occurrence of C and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.
  14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer. 

(FPEG, Location 477-493, p.35-36)

There is a lot going on here in Chunk #1, so it will probably take me a few posts to walk through this part of the Aristotelian argument.

 

THE FIRST SUB-CONCLUSION OF CHUNK #1

The first sub-conclusion that Feser argues for is this:

3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world. (FPEG, Location 477, p. 35)

Here is the summary argument for (3):

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.

 

I take it that the word “change” is NOT a technical term, but has its ordinary meaning, and thus there is no problem with premise (1); it is clearly and obviously true.

Premise (2) might seem fairly innocent at first blush, but I am deeply suspicious of this premise.  Here Feser is inserting some technical metaphysical concepts or terminology into the argument.  Feser makes no effort to hide this fact, and he provides some examples and clarifications of the terms “the actualization of” and “a potential”, so I’m NOT saying that Feser is trying to mislead anyone.  I’m just saying that we ought to be cautious about accepting premise (2), because it seems to involve acceptance of a philosophical point of view, of a metaphysical theory, or of a significant portion of a metaphysical theory.

Premise (3) clearly follows logically from the combination of (1) and (2), so the logic here is OK.

The only concern I have, so far, is with premise (2).  I doubt that (2) is true, but more importantly,  I do not, at this point, have a clear understanding of what (2) means.  What (2) means is crucial for understanding and evaluating both Chunk #1, and the rest of the Aristotelian argument that follows Chunk #1.  So, we cannot pass Go and collect $200 until we are clear about what premise (2) means.

 

CLARIFYING THE MEANING OF PREMISE (2)

Here is what Feser has to say in support of premise (2):

…it is a mistake to think that change would have to involve something coming from nothing.  Go back to the coffee [an example of a change given previously by Feser].  It is true that while the coffee is hot, the coldness is not actually present.  Still, it is there potentially in a way other qualities are not.  The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a chicken and begin squawking.  But it does have the potential to grow cold, and it has various other potentials too–to make you more alert if you drink it, to stain the floor if you spill it, and so forth.  That it has the potential to become cold while lacking other potentials shows that the coldness is not exactly nothing, even if it is not yet actual either.  

What change involves, then, is…the actualization of a potential.  The coffee has the potential to become cold, and after sitting out for a while, that potential is made actual.  This is not a case of something coming from nothing…because, again, a potential is not nothing.     (FPEG, Location 167 to 179, p.18)

Based on the above comments about the “actualization of a potential”, we can eliminate the following interpretation of (2):

2aBut change is when a logically possible state of affairs that was not an actual state of affairs becomes an actual state of affairs.

On this interpretation the coffee is hot at time T1, and it is logically possible for the coffee to be cold, but it is not actually the case that the coffee is cold at time T1.  However, if at time T2 the coffee is in fact cold, then a logical possibility that was previously not an actual state of affairs at time T1 has become an actual state of affairs at time T2.

First, let me explain why I think that (2a) is NOT what Feser means by premise (2).  In explaining the claim that the coffee has the potential to become cold, Feser says this:

The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a chicken and begin squawking.  (FPEG, Location 167, p.18)

Could some coffee turn “into chicken soup”?  This is NOT a physical possibility.  It would be contrary to the laws of nature for a cup of coffee to turn into chicken soup.  In fact, this would constitute a “miracle” if such an event were brought about by God.  However, as Christians often argue, miracles are logically possible even though they are physically impossible. God, being omnipotent, could change a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup.  This would be contrary to the laws of nature, contrary to the laws of chemistry, and thus it is a physically impossible event, but it is NOT a logical impossibility.  There is no logical contradiction involved in the claim that a cup of coffee turned into a cup of chicken soup.

 

AN OBJECTION TO PREMISE (2)

It seems to me that (2a) is TRUE.  But if (2a) is true, then (2) is FALSE.  So, it seems to me that (2) is FALSE.

Feser is clearly asserting that coffee does NOT have the “potential” to become chicken soup, but it is logically possible for coffee to become chicken soup, so having the “potential” to turn into chicken soup requires something MORE than just the logical possibility of turning into chicken soup.  Therefore, when Feser speaks of something having a “potential” this implies MORE than just a logical possibility.   It is logically possible for a cup of coffee to turn into a cup of chicken soup, but given Feser’s conception of a “potential”, a cup of coffee does NOT have the potential to turn into a cup of chicken soup.

This, it seems to me, creates a serious problem for Feser in relation to miracles.  God, being omnipotent, can turn a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (this is clearly analogous to the NT miracle where Jesus allegedly turned water into wine).  This would constitute a miracle, in that such an event would be contrary to the laws of nature and would be brought about by God.  But if we accept (2), then we would be forced to conclude that NO CHANGE OCCURS when God turns the cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (or when Jesus turned the water into wine).  The cup of coffee had no “potential” to turn into a cup of chicken soup, so when God turned it into a cup of chicken soup, this would NOT be a case of actualizing “the potential” of the coffee to be chicken soup.  But since this is NOT a case of the potential of the coffee being actualized, it would not be a CHANGE, according to Feser’s concept of change.

But the idea that God performing the miracle of turning a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (or Jesus turning water into wine) would NOT involve a CHANGE is absurd.  So, if we are going to accept the idea that miracles are logically possible, and that miracles like this involve a CHANGE, then we must accept (2a) and reject (2).

I doubt that I’m the first person to make this objection to Feser’s concept of CHANGE, so I’m going to stop here for now, and look to see if Feser addresses this objection somewhere in his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  

Before we can confidently conclude that we have a clear understanding of premise (2), we need to understand precisely how the meaning of (2) differs from (2a) and either how both (2) and (2a) could be true, or else WHY Feser believes (2a) to be false.  Once these questions have been answered, we should be in a good position to understand and to explicitly state a correct analysis of the meaning of (2).

October 28, 2017

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT

In Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG),  Edward Feser presents his Aristotelian argument for the existence of God.  This is the most important argument in the book, because the other four arguments presented by Feser in later chapters all have a significant dependency on this first argument.

Specifically, the other four arguments rely on the assumption that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, being eternal, being fully good, etc.).  These assumptions are argued for in the Aristotelian argument, so if that part of the Aristotelian argument fails, then the remaining four arguments also fail.  If Feser fails to prove that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes, then ALL FIVE of his arguments for the existence of God FAIL.   Similarly, if Feser succeeds in proving that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes, then significant portions of the other four arguments also succeed.  So, a great deal rests on Feser’s Aristotelian argument.

 

THE BASIC FORM OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT

All five of Feser’s arguments for the existence of God have the same basic form:

I. There is exactly one being of type X.

II. IF there is exactly one being of type X, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

III. God exists.

Feser’s Aristotelian argument can be summarized using the same form:

IA. There is exactly one purely actual actualizer.

IIA. IF there is exactly one purely actual actualizer, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

III. God exists.

In Feser’s formal outline of the Aristotelian argument (FPEG,  p.35-37), there are fifty statements.  Statements (1) through (18) contain the reasoning supporting (IA), and statements (19) through (49) contain the reasoning supporting (IIA).  So, the Aristotelian argument can be divided into two large pieces.

 

CHUNKING UP THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT

I plan to examine somewhat smaller pieces of the argument.  To guide my critique, I will divide Feser’s Aristotelian argument into seven small-to-medium-size chunks:

I.  There is at least one purely actual actualizer: premises (1) through (14).

II. There cannot be more than one purely actual actualizer: premises (15) through (18).

III. Any purely actual actualizer must be immutable, eternal, immaterial, and incorporeal: premises (19) through (27).

IV. Any purely actual actualizer must be perfect and fully good: premises (28) through (32).

V. Any purely actual actualizer must be omnipotent: premises (33) through (37).

VI. Any purely actual actualizer must be  the cause of the existence of all beings, intelligent, and omniscient: premises (38) through (47).

VII. God exists IF AND ONLY IF there is exactly one purely actual actualizer and that  being is immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, the cause of the existence of all beings, intelligent, and omniscient: premise (49).

NOTE: Premise (48) is a conjunction that summarizes several previous sub-conclusions: (18), (21), (23), (25), (27), (29), (32), (37), (39), (44), and (47).

Given this way of dividing the Aristotelian argument up into seven chunks, I plan to write at least seven posts on this argument, and I might well need to write more than one post on some of these chunks, so it could easily take a dozen posts for me to critically examine this first, and most important argument in Feser’s case for the existence of God.

October 25, 2017

In his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG),  Edward Feser lays out what he takes to be the five best arguments for the claim that “God exists”.  Based on a quick glance through this book, it seems to me that Feser does a much more reasonable job of making a case for God than either Norman Geisler (in When Skeptics Ask) or Peter Kreeft (in Handbook of Christian Apologetics).  In my view, based on careful reading of Geisler’s case and Kreeft’s case, each of their cases is a SPOC (Steaming Pile Of Crap).  Feser’s case for God has the distinct advantage of NOT being a SPOC.

I have no idea at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good and strong or bad and weak, but I do see that he gets some important things right, some basic things that Geisler and/or Kreeft got wrong.

The first thing that Feser gets right in his case for God is the length of his case:

  • Norman Geisler’s case for God (in When Skeptics Ask, p.25-33):  18 pages 
  • Peter Kreeft’s case for God (in Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.48-86): 39 pages
  • Edward Feser’s case for God (in Five Proofs of the Existence of God, p17-168): 151 pages

To try to prove the existence of God in just 18 pages, as with Geisler’s case, is completely idiotic.  To try to prove the existence of God in less than 40 pages, as with Kreeft’s case, is also very foolish.  To make a case for God in about 150 pages is a bit too aggressive in IMHO, but this is much more reasonable than trying to do so in less than 40 pages, and I admit that it just might be possible to make an intelligent case for God in only 150 pages.

The second thing that Feser  gets right is his focus on just a few proofs or arguments for the existence of God, unlike Kreeft who presents twenty arguments for God, at least ten of which are complete crap (I have only examined the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s case so far, but all ten are crap).  Kreeft wastes our time with several obviously lousy arguments, but Feser has carefully selected what he believes to be the very best arguments, and then does justice to those arguments by devoting significant space to developing, clarifying, and defending each argument.

Kreeft wrote an average of only about two pages per argument, while Feser devotes an average of about thirty pages on each of the arguments that he presents.  Kreeft presents outlines of arguments that generally consist of between only three to six statements, while Feser presents outlines of his arguments that consist of between 27 and 50 statements for each argument.  Feser, unlike Kreeft, understands that a reasonable case for the existence of God requires one to put forward some fairly complicated arguments.

The third thing Feser gets right is that he devotes a significant portion of each of his arguments to establishing that a particular being possesses several of the divine attributes that constitute the traditional Christian concept of God.  Geisler makes a pathetic attempt to do this too, but his case is so ridiculously short that he cannot adequately explain, clarify, or justify any of his claims or sub-arguments.  Kreeft doesn’t even make the attempt, and so his arguments for God generally FAIL to be arguments for the existence of God.  Kreeft’s arguments are generally not even in the ballpark.  Kreeft is swinging his plastic-toy bat at whiffle balls out in the parking lot, while the rest of us are on the field swinging real bats at real baseballs.

Each of Feser’s arguments can be divided into two phases.  The first phase gets us to the existence of some sort of metaphysical entity or entities.  In the second phase, the argument attempts to show that there is only one metaphysical entity of that sort, and that this entity has many of the divine attributes that constitute the Christian concept of God.  This is how most reasonable arguments for God ought to be structured:

The Aristotelian Argument  

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

14.  So, there is a purely actual actualizer. (FPEG, p.36)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

50. So, God exists.

The Neo-Platonic Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

9. So, the existence of each of the things of our experience presupposes an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause. (FPEG, p.80)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

38. So, God exists.

The Augustinian Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

15. So, abstract objects exist not only in contingently existing intellects but also in at least one necessarily existing intellect. (FPEG, p. 109)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

29. So, God exists. 

The Thomistic Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

23. So, either directly or indirectly, each of the things we know from experience has its existence imparted to it at every moment at which it exists, including here and now, by some cause whose essence and existence are identical, something that just is subsistent existence itself.  (FPEG, p.130 )

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

36. So, God exists. 

The Rationalist Argument

Phase 1 concludes with this statement:

18. So, there must be at least one necessary being, to explain why any contingent things exists at all and how any particular contingent thing persists in existence at any moment. (FPEG, p.163)

Phase 2 concludes with this statement:

27. So, God exists. 

Furthermore, Feser does NOT skimp on the reasoning for the crucial second phase.  In his first two arguments (Aristotelian & Neo-Platonic), about 3/4 of the argument is focused on phase two.  In his third argument (Augustinian), phase one and phase two are of equal length.  In his last two arguments (Thomistic & Rationalist), about 1/3 of the argument is focused on phase two, and phase two of those last two arguments would have been significantly longer, but he abbreviates the reasoning based on the fact that these arguments reuse several steps of reasoning from the Aristotelian argument (statements 15 through 47 of the Aristotelian argument are devoted to showing that “a purely actual actualizer” must possess several divine attributes).  Feser draws an inference (that the being in question has several divine attributes) in just one or two steps, when the actual reasoning if spelled out fully (as in the Aristotelian argument) involves a chain of several inferences involving dozens of statements.

The fourth thing that Feser gets right is his careful use of the word “God”.  It is absolutely shocking how sloppy and unclear and confused Geisler and Kreeft are in their use of the word “God”.  They abuse and misuse and misunderstand this word, and use it with different meanings, shifting the meaning at will, without providing any notice or warning that they are doing so.  No professional philosopher should be as careless as Kreeft and Geisler are with any key philosophical concept or term, but to abuse and misuse the word “God” when one is presenting a philosophical case for the existence of God is shameful and outrageous.

Feser quite correctly avoids using the word “God” until he gets close to the very end of an argument for God, and he is very clear about what he means by this word.  Although I don’t accept his analysis of the concept of God,  it is a fairly common one from the Thomist tradition, and it represents a sincere attempt to capture the meaning of the word “God” in keeping with traditional Christian theology, and which quite appropriately analyzes the meaning of this word in terms of various divine attributes (e.g.  “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, “eternal”, etc.).

CONCLUSION

I don’t know at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good or bad, valid or invalid, sound or unsound, but even if they are all weak and defective arguments, I am still very grateful to Feser for providing a case for God that meets some basic intellectual requirements for making a reasonable case for God.  Unlike the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap, and it is a great pleasure to consider a case that at least has the potential to be a reasonable and intelligent case for God.

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