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What Can C.S. Lewis’s Sublime Waterfall From His “Abolition of Man” Teach Us Today?

20 Dec

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Post by Nathan Rinne

If I say the “waterfall is sublime” is that an “authoritative statement”? What makes it so?

Maybe we should back up…

What is authority? Maybe we can agree that it is inextricably tied up with concerns about responsibility, knowledge (know-that and know-how), trust, and truth.

That said, is it ultimately something outside of us or inside of us? That is eventually where the question leads.

I’m an academic librarian by vocation, and I get the impression that most every librarian I know thinks that authority ultimately rests “in the receiver of information,” as Bill Badke puts it. In spite of a couple scholarly papers I’ve written against the popular idea among my colleagues that “Authority is constructed and contextual” (see here and here), it seems that even those appreciative of my work calling this into question ultimately think that the statement is problematic but that its “true enough” that they can live with it.

They can’t. None of us can. Because ultimately, truth and Truth gets the final vote. Truth is, in part, that which is the case, is not individualistic, and can create new understandings between us.

To this end, I offer you the following exploration/defense of C.S. Lewis’s sublime waterfall illustration, which I posted today on my academic librarian blog. Even if you think you can dismiss Plato, you nevertheless can’t dismiss Lewis’s important example.

Making the case from reason alone.

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In arguing that there is truth that we all know (see the last few posts on my academic librarian blog, here [“When truth is disregarded, authority weakens”], here [“Aristotle at the library: why philosophy won’t go away”] and here). I recently said, following C.S. Lewis’s classic example from his masterpiece The Abolition of Man, that “we know that waterfalls are sublime — not only that they produce ‘sublime feelings’ in us”*

In response to that statement a librarian colleague said this is Platonic because I am implying that “abstractions have objective reality. Such as the idea that waterfalls are objectively sublime.” (they go on to say “To many of us, our sublime feelings are subjective; they are not a sign of innate sublimeness in whatever evokes those feelings.”)

I will admit that this response, coming from another librarian who also thinks that the phrase “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” is lacking, caught me off guard. Is this necessarily a Platonic statement? If so, why? Could it just as easily be an “Aristotelian” statement?

My NeoPlatonist** friend, Dr. Eric Phillips, said the following in response:

Aristotle was a Platonist to a point, but he went renegade on the question (related to your question) of the separability of the Forms from Matter. His emphasis on the Forms in Matter, and even his insistence that they had to be contemplated in this way, both helped NeoPlatonism to improve on Platonism, but if NP hadn’t also insisted on the transcendence of the Forms, it wouldn’t have been Platonism.

…what’s really at stake in your question about Sublimity-or-sublimity is objectivity vs. subjectivity, and Aristotle was just as much an Objectivist as Plato was. Intellectual content (Form) is in the things already, and is discovered there by the Intellect of the observer. But Plato’s Objectivity is transcendent, thus hardier and more naturally anchored in the Mind of God, as we see in NP.

Plato…

Me:

… my instinct when it comes to the academy… is to stay away from NeoPlatonic assertions… because Aristotle does not deny the forms, but puts them in matter. Here, it just seems to me that one is able to start from our experiences, as existential and historical and evidence-oriented beings, and work from there…

My major concern is that all the classical philosophies seem to get neutered when historicism is understood or experienced as somehow compelling… See, e.g. https://reliablesourcessite.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/5-short-philosophical-reflections-from-hope-to-despair/

 Dr. Phillips:

That’s not a reason to favor Aristotelianism to NeoPlatonism, because NP also holds that we discover the Forms within the objects of our perception. But NP doesn’t end there.

Me:

Yes, that makes sense. It also might make sense then that people consider me to be talking about Platonism, when, in my own mind, I am simply trying to point out that persons cannot stop consistently assuming stability in many of the things in the world of which we speak — even trans-culturally and trans-historically. I don’t even mention transcendent realities (like Forms that exist somewhere outside of us in another realm).

Aristotle…

Do you have a view then about reasons why a person might immediately assume Platonism? Is it because all of us — or perhaps, intellectuals more generally — believe that we all must, from the get-go — be operating from a systematic understanding and/or narrative that we try to convert others to and others try to convert us from?***

Dr. Phillips:

I think people are making the jump to Platonism because they assume Aristotle is one of their own, although he isn’t. …secular intellectuals have out-Aristotled Aristotle, see themselves as part of his branch, and don’t consider how thoroughly he too would scorn them. Also, “Platonist” is a much worse name in their book, because whatever might have been wrong with Aristotle, Plato had it much worse. It’s like calling someone a Nazi instead of an anti-Semite, just to up the ante.

As for assuming that everyone is speaking from a philosophical system that is trying to colonize the world, that’s just the universal PoMo assumption, isn’t it?

Plotinus… father of NeoPlatonism

Me:

Why do they assume Aristotle is one of their own? Are they assuming too much devotion to empiricism in Aristotle (at the expense of a belief in real Essences/Forms)? In other words, they have a post-Ockham view of Aristotle?****

secular intellectuals have out-Aristotled Aristotle, see themselves as part of his branch, and don’t consider how thoroughly he too would scorn them.

By this, do you mean they have put all of the focus on his storied empiricism, and gladly lost the other part?

Also, “Platonist” is a much worse name in their book, because whatever might have been wrong with Aristotle, Plato had it much worse. It’s like calling someone a Nazi instead of an anti-Semite, just to up the ante.

Because he is barely empirical by their standards, and is the Evil Essentialist par excellence. Right?

As for assuming that everyone is speaking from a philosophical system that is trying to colonize the world, that’s just the universal PoMo assumption, isn’t it?

Well, PoMos say there is no truth, and hence this kind of activity is all about power. I do tend to think that we as human beings can’t stop stating what is true about the world and want others to agree with us. We certainly think that there are some things that simply can’t be right and we should be able to convince/persuade others not to believe them. Not everyone necessarily would force everyone to believe what they believe if they could though!

Dr. Phillips:

Yes, you understand me on all three of your questions. Modernists and Postmodernists are used to being on “Team Aristotle” when the annual Plato-v-Aristotle football game comes around, so often all they remember about him is that he was an empiricist and he did science. But to the extent that he was an empiricist, he offers testimony of how empirical observation can discover Form. And they don’t usually think of it in these terms, but they discover Form through empirical observation too. It’s just important to the atheists among them that there not be any Mind higher than theirs with which they might have to compete in understanding that Form and processing its implications. And to say that Form is transcendent is to say that there is such a Mind. (The Prime Mover is not nearly so threatening, because all It does is draw things to develop their own innate potential, whatever that is.)

Me:

What I find really interesting here though is how Rebecca Goldstein seems far less frightening to atheistic types than Thomas Nagel (and his Mind and Cosmos). Maybe this goes to show, however, how Platonism — updated and revised by Goldstein — is not so threatening (just like you say Aristotle is not threatening). But maybe NeoPlatonism is? [See, for example, this article that I wrote, “The Gods of our Brahmins: Thomas Nagel’s and Rebecca Goldstein’s Intelligent Designers,” exploring this topic].

Dr. Phillips:

I don’t know Goldstein except what I just read in your article, but yeah, Old Platonism is definitely less threatening to atheists, because there’s no explicit Hypostasized Intellect, World-Spirit, or One-Beyond-Being. I do think that’s where the system leads, though, if you follow its internal logic. Forms are ideas, and ideas are thinking, and thinking is what a mind does.

Attempting to appropriate Plato while avoiding his God-talk.

FIN

Notes:

*In a library technology conference presentation I made in 2014, I said the following about C.S. Lewis’s approach:

In his brilliant and more or less non-religious book, The Abolition of Man, Lewis basically contended that the [modern scientific and technological mindset] (not his language) had the power to “abolish” man. He made his argument that Western civilization was destroying itself by using a few simple sentences from an English textbook for middle school students.

In this textbook, Lewis points out that its authors, when talking about a waterfall, are careful to point out that we cannot say that the waterfall is “sublime” in itself – that is, intrinsically – but we can say that the waterfall provokes sublime feelings in the one who observes it. Lewis first of all points out that as regards feelings, the word “humble” is a more apt description and from that point on he is off to the races. He spends some thirty pages arguing convincingly that this simple move on the author’s part – where an objective goodness and beauty outside of the human being has been denied – has disastrous consequences for our lives together. In one of Lewis’ more memorable lines he states: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

**Of NeoPlatonism vis a vis Platonism, another learned friend says: “In broad strokes….Aristotle was a Platonist. Plotinus and Proclus mediated classical Platonism and Aristotelianism to a significant extent, such that while Neoplatonism is similar enough to classical Platonism to warrant its moniker, it is dissimilar enough that most of the perennial criticisms of Plato don’t stick to it.”

*** Listen from around 14:30 for a couple minutes: http://zero-books.net/blogs/zero/zero-squared122-lacans-television/ I almost want to say: “Monsieur Lacan, I see what you are saying. Well, my ‘master discourse’ (patriarchy!?) assumes various good hierarchies in nature and society and the belief that we are all human beings who share much horrific and beautiful common ground.”

**** The endgame of Ockham’s approach where universals  are not connected to things, but concepts (prior to Ockham, universals are distinct from, but inextricably linked to stable forms):

“Ontological individualism undermines not only realism but also syllogistic logic and science, for in the absence of real universals, names become no more than signs or signs of signs. Language thus does not reveal being but conceals the truth by fostering a belief in universals. In fact, all universals are merely second or higher-order signs that we, as finite beings, use to aggregate individual entities into categories. These categories, however, do not denote real things. They are only useful fictions that help us make sense out of the radically individualized world. They also, however, distort reality. Thus, the guiding principle of nominalist logic is Ockham’s famous razor: do not multiply universals needlessly. Every generalization takes us one more step away from the real, so the fewer we employ, the closer we remain to the truth.” (Michael, Allen Gillespie. “The Theological Origins of Modernity.” Critical Review 13.1 (1999): 1-30. ProQuest. 20 Apr. 2015, italics mine)

With Ockham, any sense of “natural teleology” is dulled by his denial of forms and the purely mechanistic science made thinkable by it. “Being is not intrinsically good but is value-free; fact and value are separated.” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, 100)

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Posted by on December 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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49 responses to “What Can C.S. Lewis’s Sublime Waterfall From His “Abolition of Man” Teach Us Today?

  1. folly of the cross

    December 20, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Nathan-

    I also think, in general, that we need a serious rediscovery of classical theism and the philosophy that undergirds it if we are to combat the postmodernism and scientism that is now even infiltrating the church. I have been coming to a stronger and stronger conclusion that the move away from realism, in general, is what is at the heart of most theological and philosophical errors we are facing every day. For example, we have lost the concept of teleology, and along with it, the ability to talk about ethics (third use of the law) from a natural-law standpoint.

    In my understanding of philosophy so far, the moderate realism of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition (A-T) seems to account very well for questions of truth and authority mentioned in this article. As I understand it, while forms most certainly are instantiated in the real objects that exist in the world around us, the forms themselves are grounded in the mind of God either as potentials for things that could exist or as the conception/idea of things that do exist. Here is a quote from Edward Feser on this idea:

    “Keep in mind that A-T eschews Platonism and takes a moderate realist approach according to which universals exist only in their instantiations or in an intellect which contemplates them. There is no realm of abstract objects à la Plato’s Forms. What, then, of uninstantiated universals, things that don’t exist but could have? What grounds their possibility? The A-T position is that all universals pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect. Instantiated universals are those ideas that serve as archetypes for the things God creates, uninstantiated universals are the ones that do not. If we think of a possible but non-actual world on the model of an uninstantiated universal, then possible but non-actual worlds are just the ones which exist as ideas in the divine intellect which God has not used as archetypes in creating. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/god-and-possible-worlds.html

    Also, Aquinas Summa Theologica Part I. Q15:

    I answer that, It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word Idea is in Latin “forma.” Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason:

    In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (I:46:1, there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1015.htm

    What would the difference be between this Aristotelian perspective on Augustine (forms as ideas in God’s mind) and neo-platonism?

    In Christ,
    Chris

     
  2. folly of the cross

    December 22, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Nathan-

    I also think, in general, that we need a serious rediscovery of classical theism and the philosophy that undergirds it if we are to combat the postmodernism and scientism that is now even infiltrating the church. I have been coming to a stronger and stronger conclusion that the move away from realism, in general, is what is at the heart of most theological and philosophical errors we are facing every day. For example, we have lost the concept of teleology, and along with it, the ability to talk about ethics (third use of the law) from a natural-law standpoint.

    In my understanding of philosophy so far, the moderate realism of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition (A-T) seems to account very well for questions of truth and authority mentioned in this article. As I understand it, while forms most certainly are instantiated in the real objects that exist in the world around us, the forms themselves are grounded in the mind of God either as potentials for things that could exist or as the conception/idea of things that do exist. Here is a quote from Edward Feser on this idea:

    “Keep in mind that A-T eschews Platonism and takes a moderate realist approach according to which universals exist only in their instantiations or in an intellect which contemplates them. There is no realm of abstract objects à la Plato’s Forms. What, then, of uninstantiated universals, things that don’t exist but could have? What grounds their possibility? The A-T position is that all universals pre-exist as ideas in the divine intellect. Instantiated universals are those ideas that serve as archetypes for the things God creates, uninstantiated universals are the ones that do not. If we think of a possible but non-actual world on the model of an uninstantiated universal, then possible but non-actual worlds are just the ones which exist as ideas in the divine intellect which God has not used as archetypes in creating. Edward Feser Blog “God and Possible Worlds – 2010

    Also, Aquinas Summa Theologica Part I. Q15:

    I answer that, It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word Idea is in Latin “forma.” Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason:

    In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (I:46:1, there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists.

    I am not very familiar with neo-platonic thought. In your estimation, what would the difference be between this Aristotelian perspective on Augustine (forms as ideas in God’s mind) and neo-platonism?

    In Christ,
    Chris

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      December 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Chris,

      Its a great question, and I don’t really know the answer. In many ways, it sounds like NP and A-T are largely similar. I will ask Dr. Phillips to take a look and perhaps pitch in.

      I admit that I myself, not having real formal philosophical training, have picked up what I know about philosophy mostly from reading articles (not too many books) and listening to podcasts (In Our Time, Philosophy Bites, the Philosopher’s Zone [now defunct], and the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps). I have my bachelor’s in science (bio and chem) and so have always tended to be more empirically and [now] existentially oriented.

      As such, this is my own “system,” which is probably most distinct in its approach towards the definition of “universal”. I haven’t gotten too much interaction on it from folks though, so I really don’t know much about its problems and weaknesses…

      http://worldagainstmerages.blogspot.com/2015/10/several-theses-combined-with-some.html

      +Nathan

       
      • Nathan A. Rinne

        December 23, 2017 at 12:05 pm

        perhaps footnote 2 is relevant here:

        “Of NeoPlatonism vis a vis Platonism, another learned friend says: “In broad strokes….Aristotle was a Platonist. Plotinus and Proclus mediated classical Platonism and Aristotelianism to a significant extent, such that while Neoplatonism is similar enough to classical Platonism to warrant its moniker, it is dissimilar enough that most of the perennial criticisms of Plato don’t stick to it.””

         
      • folly of the cross

        December 23, 2017 at 11:04 pm

        Nathan-

        Thanks for the link to your system. I look forward to sifting through it, as I have found much crossover between what I have been studying on my own and the topics that you like to write on.

        I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I greatly appreciate that you take the time to put things like this on your blog. As a newer convert to confessional Lutheranism, I have been having a hard time finding a Lutheran outlet for learning more about a lot the topics that I have been studying on my own – classical theism, ethics, politics, philosophy, etc. Your blog is definitely one of the few places that I know I can find someone who is willing to interact with deeper intellectual topics from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

        Please do let me know if you hear anything of note from Dr. Phillips. I am always looking for good suggestions on philosophy from the classical theism traditions and I have not interacted much with Neoplatonic thought yet. It would be interesting to contrast it to the A-T thought that I have been integrating into my own “system”.

        Thanks again, and have a blessed Christmas!
        Chris

         
    • Jon Alan Schmidt

      December 26, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      … the move away from realism, in general, is what is at the heart of most theological and philosophical errors we are facing every day.

      I am inclined to agree. Feser’s book, The Last Superstition, is a good resource on this topic from a Thomist perspective. Personally, I am more inclined toward the “extreme scholastic realist” form of pragmatism that Charles Sanders Peirce developed and eventually called “pragmaticism” to distinguish it from the nominalist thought of William James, John Dewey, and others. A helpful introduction is Peirce and the Threat of Nominalism by Paul Forster, although I must admit that it took me about two full years of study before I felt like I finally had a solid grasp of Peirce’s entire system. He was a Christian theist and wrote a fascinating article near the end of his life, “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God,” in which he insisted on the indispensability of “necessary being”; but unfortunately, he was rather hostile to organized religion and dogmatic theology.

      As I understand it, the main difference between Plato and Aristotle regarding universals was on the question of whether they exist apart from their instantiations in concrete particulars; Plato said yes, Aristotle said no. Peirce followed Aristotle, defining existence as reacting with other things and reality as having characters independent of anyone’s thinking about them, such that there are real possibilities (such as qualities) and real regularities (such as laws of nature) that only strictly “exist” when actualized. Nevertheless, their reality is what warrants all scientific investigation and theorizing, since otherwise we would have no reason to expect the consistency that we routinely observe in the universe and presuppose for everyday living.

      In this sense, sublimity is a quality – a real continuum of possibilities, one of which is actualized in the waterfall. Peirce associated such possibility with feeling, not in the sense of human emotion or subjective evaluation, but an objective constituent of every phenomenon – the aspect that is what it is in itself, apart from anything else. In comparing it to something or using other words to describe it, we already obliterate its intrinsic “suchness” and irreducible “presentness.” We properly interpret the waterfall as sublime only if we have already cultivated the right habit of feeling through our evaluation of previous experiences against the ideals that we have deliberately adopted as ultimate ends – i.e., the concept of teleology that is indeed largely missing from modern discourse.

       
      • folly of the cross

        December 27, 2017 at 4:24 am

        Thanks for the suggestion on Peirce, Jon. I have had little to no interaction with
        Pierce, phenomenology (just a bit of Heidegger), and certainly nothing with semiotics. It sounds like it would be an interesting area to study to compare with the A-T ideas that I have been studying so much of lately.

        I completely agree with the Feser book recommendation, and I find myself recommending that one in particular very often (along with his book “Aquinas”). Personally, Feser has been one of my most influential philosophical voices, and I have read most everything that he has put out now. Though I am still fairly new to serious study of philosophy, and hopefully have a lifetime of study ahead, I must say that I have been very persuaded by some of these contemporary neo-scholastic authors who posit that the dismissal of A-T and realism philosophy in general stems from the false assumption by many that science disproved scholastic metaphysics. Not only did it not disprove it, modern philosophers like Edward Feser and David S. Oderberg (“New Essentialism”) are showing that the scientific endeavor is likely incoherent without Aristotelian metaphysical concepts (4 causes, essences, act/potency, etc.).

        As I am now finding there are many different realist camps, it does seem to me that there are some basic metaphysical tenets that undergird them that a lot of modern philosophy and worldviews simply take no consideration of. These are the types of things that classical theism are predicated on – act/potency, essence/existence, attributes of God, teleology, natural law, etc. I hope the Lutheran church, and the Christian church broadly, starts to reemphasize our classical theism roots more, as I think doing so will help us better combat the philosophical and theological ills that face us today, both from the culture at large and within the church.

         
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        December 27, 2017 at 5:42 pm

        Peirce’s phenomenology is very different from Heidegger’s; he also called it “phaneroscopy,” because it involves simply looking at the “phaneron” – everything that can be present to the mind, regardless of whether it is real. According to his comprehensive architectonic, it is the most fundamental branch of philosophy, because it depends only on mathematics, which he characterized as the science of drawing necessary conclusions from strictly hypothetical states of affairs.

        The second branch is normative science, which studies the relations of phenomena to ends. It is divided into esthetics, ethics/practics, and logic/semeiotic based on whether the end in view is feeling, action, or thought/representation, respectively.

        The third branch is metaphysics, which investigates the reality of phenomena and is prior to all of the “special sciences,” both physical (physics, chemistry, biology) and psychical (psychology, social sciences). Hence according to Peirce, the notion that “science disproved scholastic metaphysics” is obviously false because science effectively presupposes some version of scholastic metaphysics – the reality of “laws of nature” that govern actual things and events.

        Another helpful resource for reading about realism in general, the scholastic realism of John Duns Scotus in particular, and Peirce’s further development of the latter into extreme scholastic realism is From Realism to “Realicism”: The Metaphysics of Charles Sanders Peirce, by Rosa Mayorga. If I had the time, ability, and expertise – I often describe myself as a professional engineer, amateur philosopher, and Lutheran layman – I would love to develop a full-blown “Christian pragmaticism” that integrates all of this into a coherent whole; maybe someday (retirement?).

         
    • Eric Phillips

      December 31, 2017 at 6:09 am

      Chris and Nathan,

      “Aristotelian Thomism” does have some things in common with Neo-Platonism. Most obviously and relevantly, this idea of “the Mind of God” as the Repository of the Forms comes from the Platonists, not from Aristotle, who was so set on the Forms being immanent that he limited his “God” to the role of moving things towards their inner telos, rather than actually defining them. From the Platonists, I should say, and from the Bible. A Thomist is only so Aristotelian. Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Holy Scripture also figure hugely into Aquinas.

      If Plato did indeed teach a “world of the forms” (this is disputed), that’s entirely gone from NeoPlatonism. There is only one world, perceived more truly by some, and less truly by others. Dogness is wherever you find a dog. And yes, it’s in the divine Intellect, but the divine Intellect is also wherever you find a dog; and wherever you find any Form. It is transcendent and immanent at the same time.

       
      • Folly of the Cross

        January 12, 2018 at 4:49 pm

        Thank you, Dr. Phillips, for elucidating the Neoplatonist position a bit. As I have heard some Thomists allude to the fact that the grounding of forms in the divine intellect is actually a nod to Platonism, I am not surprised to hear you say the same.

        Dogness is wherever you find a dog. And yes, it’s in the divine Intellect, but the divine Intellect is also wherever you find a dog; and wherever you find any Form. It is transcendent and immanent at the same time.

        This is such a good way of putting this. For as technical (and sometimes convoluted) as metaphysics can quickly get, I often find the A-T (and I suspect Neoplatonic) positions to actually just be what our common sense tells us about the world. Everybody acts as if there are essences to things. A thing is what it is and we can know it some sense. While these forms and essences are grounded in the divine intellect, so is everything in a manner of speaking.

        If I may, what are some of the key resources for Neoplatonic thought today or who are some people to read up more on? I have not had much interaction with Neoplatonism but would very much like to compare/contrast it to a lot of the other realist philosophical positions that I have been studying as of late.

        Thanks and God bless,
        Chris

         
      • Eric Phillips

        January 12, 2018 at 9:55 pm

        Right, Chris, there’s nothing really esoteric about the idea of Essence. And certainly not when compared to subatomic particles!

        For a present-day exponent of NeoPlatonism, look for Eric Perl. He was the prof I learned NP from, and the best pedagogue I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting under.

         
  3. folly of the cross

    December 27, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you again for your comments, Jon. I too would like to consider myself an amateur philosopher and Lutheran layman, though I imagine that I am probably far behind yourself in my journey into both realms.

    It looks like I have a couple books to add to the top of my to-read list after I finish my current read through of Luther’s Bondage of the Will and a book on Aquinas and Gerhard that I just started. Do you have a recommendation on which is a better one to start with, as I don’t have any familiarity with Peirce yet?

    If I only am able to find the time, too, I would really like to be able to trace the influence of scholastic metaphysics through the Reformation and see exactly how it was synthesized and when it was discarded. I already have my suspicions, but I would really like to know especially how we lost sight of basic metaphysical ideas like teleology and natural law.

    In my opinion, the Lutheran church is sitting on the best theological system; especially with our distinctions in justification and sanctification and law and gospel, but it appears that we lost our vocabulary (or just our interest) in classical theism ontological concepts somewhere along the way. With this proper historical background knowledge in hand, I would hope it would be easier to see a good way forward to help bring the most helpful elements of scholastic realism back into the basic vernacular of the Lutheran church. God is always in control, and His gospel always reaches those according to His will, but why would we discard such effective tools that can help us, along with the gospel, combat the secular challenges we face today?

     
    • Jon Alan Schmidt

      December 27, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      I suggest starting with Forster’s book, since it is a more general overview that – as its title indicates – surveys Peirce’s multiple-front battle against the nominalism that he saw as perniciously ubiquitous in modern thought. To whet your appetite, there is a fairly comprehensive review and summary at ndpr.nd.edu/news/peirce-and-the-threat-of-nominalism. Mayorga’s book is much more focused specifically on Peirce’s metaphysics, but it also provides helpful historical context.

      I honestly struggle to identify one resource that I can recommend as the “best” introduction to Peirce. As I said before, it took me two full years to wrap my head around his entire system, in part because he never wrote a comprehensive book about it himself. Scholars have to sift through a bunch of published articles and an even larger mountain of unpublished manuscripts in order to piece it all together. If you want it in his own words, I would go with the two volumes of The Essential Peirce, although it took me two complete readings over several months to digest them adequately.

      I share your interest in the role of scholastic metaphysics (and eventual lack thereof) in the development of Lutheran theology. Luther himself is widely perceived (especially by Roman Catholics) as a staunch nominalist simply because of his education in that way of thinking and his rejection of some key theological aspects of Thomism, but my sense is that the truth is much more nuanced. In any case, as Lutherans we recognize the importance of keeping reason in a ministerial rather than magisterial role, always in submission to the Word of God.

      This is a major point of emphasis in the two volumes by Robert Preus on The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism. Although they do not really delve much into scholastic metaphysics, I found them to be very readable introductions to the evolution of our tradition between publication of the Book of Concord and the early 18th century. I learned about them from Robert Baker, who maintains a blog called “Lutheran Orthodoxy” that you would almost certainly enjoy reading; Nathan and I interact directly with him on Twitter from time to time.

       
      • Nathan A. Rinne

        December 28, 2017 at 9:26 pm

        Jon,

        I haven’t yet read all that you’ve written above, but it seems to me that this post: http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com/2014/04/lutheran-theology-and-metaphysical.html

        ….should perhaps be brought into conversation with this post… (note my two comments to Kilcrease there).

        +Nathan

         
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        December 28, 2017 at 11:24 pm

        That post by Jack Kilcrease is indeed quite relevant to this discussion, and I tend to agree with much of what he writes there, especially where he echoes my comments about worldviews on your other blog: “Since the theologian or ordinary believer are not immune to their culture, all theologians and believers will have unconscious commitments to a particular philosophy … So, instead of denying that philosophical influences are there, it would be more fruitful to be honest and self-conscious about our presuppositions and then try to subordinate them to the Word of God as much as possible.” As I often say, the most useful and important function of philosophy as a discipline is to help us identify and explicate those often unrecognized assumptions, both in our own thinking and in the thought of others.

        However, Kilcrease loses me a bit when he keeps repeating (over and over) the word “ecstatic” without ever clearly defining it in this context. My dictionary indicates that it means “beyond reason and self-control,” which does not fit how he seems to be using it. In a couple of places, he pairs it with “relational,” which seems more appropriate.

        Perhaps coincidentally, that would also be more consistent with Peirce’s metaphysics, which tends to treat (dynamic) relations as more fundamental than (static) substances. In fact, he characterized substances as “bundles of habits” and denied that there are any absolute individuals, completely determinate in every respect. Rather than focusing only on language, Peirce emphasized the role of signs in general as the means of our engagement with and knowledge of reality. Consequently, some scholars refer to his system as “semiotic realism,” and it is remarkably consistent with the Lutheran doctrine of the efficacy of the Word. His own favorite name for it was “synechism,” from the Greek word for continuity; needless to say, he utterly rejected any “great disjunction between word and world, language and reality.”

         
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        December 29, 2017 at 3:58 am

        Preus states the following in a footnote on page 237 of his Volume II, subtitled God and His Creation: “Joerg Baur … has shown with much evidence how the Lutherans … are free of philosophical ontology in their theology, but attempt to stick with the Biblical position on several points in opposition to the prevailing metaphysical views of their day. In addition to the doctrine of God’s presence which we have mentioned, Baur mentions the rejection of Aristotle’s prima materia, and also the Lutheran doctrine of original sin, which made original sin a positive evil (concupiscence) and was thus opposed to the philosophical principle that every positive entity (ens positivum) is good.”

         
      • Eric Phillips

        December 31, 2017 at 6:17 am

        Jon,

        The definition of Original Sin in the Augsburg Confession is two negations and an affirmation, “without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence,” but this hardly constitutes a claim that concupiscence is an _ens positivum_. I think I have that Preus book. I’ll have to check that page.

         
  4. folly of the cross

    December 29, 2017 at 5:35 am

    Jon and Nathan,

    Thank you, both for giving me much new to think about.

    I definitely agree with you, Jon, on the need for a ministerial use of reason. With this always as the guiding principle for philosophical inquiry, I hope that philosophy can still be a good and God-pleasing endeavor.

    Thank you for recommending Robert Baker’s blog too. I was actually able to make contact with him a while back through his blog, and he gave me a few resources to check out, including the book on Aquinas and Gerhard that I am currently reading.

    I definitely agree with you also, Nathan, on there being no perfect “system” as your comment on the previously linked Killcrease article states:

    “I think the challenge about speaking about these things today probably has to do more with the fact that there is no “catch-all” philosophical system that could be used to translate the biblical way of speaking into expressions that are easily and generally understood.”

    One of the things that I have come to believe is that, at base, all worldviews are tautological. They all have first principles which reach the limits of how far we can reason to or empirically test. We can just poke and prod these worldviews, then, to see if they are self-consistent and do not contain contradictions. From all the worldviews that I have studied thus far, I truly think Christianity has the most robust and fully consistent view of reality.

    Right now, another part of my current project in studying realism and scholastic metaphysics is that I am trying to discover if there is a base set of metaphysical concepts that are consistent with scriptures, and that most realist systems would agree upon.

    At this point, I definitely agree with this part of your comment on the Kilcrease article, too Nathan, that most people live our lives as if essences are real:

    “Further, I submit all of us believe in things like natures and essences in some sense, if not in the Aristotelian sense.”

    Likewise, it seems to me that there are some necessary conclusions that we can draw from the study of being, e.g. the Aristotelian proof for God (argument from motion using the act/potency distinction). Out of this proof flow the attributes of God; His being the only purely actual actualizer of everything in existence and not containing any potencies (i.e. divine simplicity).

    I am very interested in learning more about Pierce and his extreme scholastic realism to see what it may add to the metaphysical picture of reality. At first glance, Pierce’s pragmatism seems as if it has much that could be fruitful, although, there also appears to be much to be guarded about from a Christian perspective (but this is true of anything that is not straight from God, though, right?). One thing that jumps out at me right away is that Pierce’s semiotics seems to be a tool of inquiry that helps bridge the subjective (internal world) and objective (external world) gap. I am interested to see what will be similar and dissimilar between A-T and this realist form of pragmatism.

    God bless,
    Chris

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      December 30, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Chris,

      “At this point, I definitely agree with this part of your comment on the Kilcrease article, too Nathan, that most people live our lives as if essences are real:

      ‘Further, I submit all of us believe in things like natures and essences in some sense, if not in the Aristotelian sense.’

      Likewise, it seems to me that there are some necessary conclusions that we can draw from the study of being, e.g. the Aristotelian proof for God (argument from motion using the act/potency distinction). Out of this proof flow the attributes of God….”

      I think: “being of one substance with the Father…” Essential to the Gospel? The magisterial use of reason? Contextually determined at the time but evolving?

      The more we mess with this stuff….

      +Nathan

       
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        December 31, 2017 at 4:33 pm

        Nathan, your comment about the Nicene Creed made me curious, so I took a look at what Pieper had to say about the Trinitarian concept of “substance” or “essence” (Greek ousia). Here is what I found in Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, pp. 411-412:

        We sometimes say that three persons have the same essence. This is correct if we use the term as a universal proposition, an intellectual abstraction, or a philosophical (nominalistic) concept, to denote a characteristic which is common to everyone in a class or genus. This definition, however, does not apply to the doctrine of the Trinity. The one divine essence of the three Persons is a true reality, because there is only one such essence which belongs to each person wholly and without division, in fine, is the true God. This is the doctrine of the teachers of our Church. Chemnitz, for example, points out that while the essence of man is said to be communicable, in reality it is only a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect. The divine essence, however, is communicable, is not an abstract concept, a genus, or a species, but is a true reality … The Church therefore does not use the term essence in the philosophical meaning of a universal term, but as the truly existing divine nature … Gerhard defines the term essence in almost the same words as Chemnitz: “The ‘essence of man’ is a universal term, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in thought and conceived by the intellect. But as used of the Godhead, essence is not an imaginary something, as genus or species, but actually exists, though it is communicable.”

        From this passage, it sure sounds like Chemnitz, Gerhard, and Pieper were all nominalists–more specifically, conceptualists–regarding universals in general, and only realists regarding the nature of God in particular. What do you make of this?

         
    • Jon Alan Schmidt

      December 31, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Chris, here are a few other (shorter) reading options for getting acquainted with Peirce.

      – Besides the online review of Forster’s 2011 book, he wrote a paper in 1992 with the same title, “Peirce and the Threat of Nominalism,” that summarizes some of key ideas.

      – A small portion of Mayorga’s 2007 book first appeared as a paper in 2005 with the title, “Diamonds Are a Pragmaticist’s Best Friend,” that briefly describes and compares the different types of realism, including those of Scotus and Peirce.

      – I am about to submit a paper of my own, “A Neglected Additament: Peirce on Logic, Cosmology, and the Reality of God,” that firmly situates Peirce as a theist using an initially unpublished supplement to his 1908 article, “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God,” as its jumping-off point.

      If you are interested in reading any or all of these, please send me an e-mail (JonAlanSchmidt at gmail dot com).

       
      • Nathan A. Rinne

        January 1, 2018 at 1:25 pm

        Jon,

        I’ll be honest. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

        I’m not sure I get how Peiper is using the word “communicable” here as well as “universal term”. As I review the notes from my “system” above, I see I wrote “[Ockham] [and, I assume, Biel] thought *words could be universal* because they are attached to “concepts”, which are those things that Aquinas believed are universal…”

        I wonder how that plays into this. I might have to re-read this article (http://anamnesisjournal.com/2014/12/whats-wrong-ockham-reassessing-role-nominalism-dissolution-west/) before being able to fully grasp Dr. Eric Phillip’s own reaction to your post (I emailed it to him), which is the following:

        “I don’t think it means they’re Nominalists. I think it means they’re (Aristotelian-Thomist) Scholastics, for whom Substance is fundamentally concrete and Essence (to the extent that it is distinguished from Substance) is Form, intellectually perceived, basically a Quality that inheres _in_ Substances.”

        Again, from my own “system”: “we can say that the idea of form in particular (contained above in the definition of universal) is basically of one cloth with the classical philosophical idea of “nature” (or essence, “what it is” ; form basically makes it possible for substance, often thought to be something that takes up space, to be perceived).”

        Another question I’m wondering about here though — connected with a Christology discussion I’ve been having with Dr. Phillips — is whether Thomas would agree with Aristotle about individuals. For Aristotle, I understand he sees particular beings or substances – individuals – as more primary or fundamental than species (even as regards individuals, the significance of accidental properties is also not primary/fundamental) — at least when it comes to speaking about things philosophically…

        Any insights here men?

        +Nathan

         
  5. folly of the cross

    December 31, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    “From this passage, it sure sounds like Chemnitz, Gerhard, and Pieper were all nominalists–more specifically, conceptualists–regarding universals in general, and only realists regarding the nature of God in particular. What do you make of this?”

    This very interesting, Jon. This is exactly why I would like to trace the history of scholastic philosophy in particular through Lutheran thought. Based on my current understanding, I would say that nominalism is not only wrong, it is a big part of many the reasons that a lot of our intellectual endeavors in philosophy and science have gotten so far off track.

    Here is one of the reasons that Edward Feser states that conceptualism (and nominalism) is ultimately incoherent:

    “Furthermore, many of the universals and propositions we entertain are the same as those entertained by people long dead, and will be entertained by people who do not yet exist, long after we are dead. If the human race died out, and some new intelligent beings came into existence, they could come to entertain the same universals and propositions we did. So, universals and propositions are not mere constructs of the human mind, but have some foundation outside the human mind.

    Consider also that this must be the case in order for communication to be possible. Suppose that, as conceptualism implies, the universals and propositions you entertain were sheer constructs of your mind. Then it would be impossible for you and anyone else ever to communicate. For whenever you said something—“Snow is white”, say—then the universals you refer to and propositions that you expressed would be things that existed only in your own mind, and would thus be inaccessible to anybody else. Your idea of snow would be entirely different from my idea of snow, and since your idea is the only one you would have any access to, and my idea is the only one I would have access to, we would never mean the same thing whenever we talked about snow, or about anything else for that matter. But this is absurd. We are able to communicate and grasp the same concepts and propositions. Indeed, we have to be able to do so even to agree or disagree about conceptualism itself. Hence, universals and propositions cannot be mere constructs of the human mind, but must have some foundation outside it.” Edward Feser. Five Proofs of the Existence of God (Kindle Locations 1490-1496). Ignatius Press.

    Of course, we all hold some ideas/beliefs that are probably wrong, so I don’t think this is a defeater for Lutheranism that some of its major theologians may have held to some incorrect philosophical positions. And maybe I am wrong in my current assessment against nominalism, too! In my current understanding, though, I do think it goes to help explain a lot; why we see some of the debates in Lutheranism that we do today that may have a denial of realism as when of its root causes. I think it also shows why philosophy is important to study, especially for theologians, as it often drives our theological interpretations whether we are conscious of them or not.

     
  6. Jon Alan Schmidt

    January 1, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Nathan, unfortunately your blog’s default arrangement of comments and replies is mixing up multiple conversations.

    I have no reason to doubt that Dr. Phillips is right about the scholastic distinction between “substance” and “essence,” but what you brought up here was the Nicene Creed’s statement about “one substance.” The original word there is homoousios, and Pieper explicitly wrote that ousios is the Greek word for “essence.” He went on to discuss homoousios, as well (Vol. I, p. 413):

    Homoousios to patri, consubstantial, or coessential, with the Father. The Nicene formula homoousios to patri, of the same essence with the Father … expresses the Scriptural truth that the Son is of one essence, unius numero essentiae, with the Father … Athanasius understood the term homoousia to denote the numerical unity of the essence, because he rejected every division of the divine essence …

    So it seems to me that Pieper himself treated the two terms as interchangeable, using “essence” in the specific way that I take Dr. Phillips to be saying that the Scholastics used “substance.” Yet Pieper, along with Chemnitz and Gerhard, clearly wanted to say something different about the Trinity than what “essence” means when applied to humanity – “a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect.” The latter seems like a textbook definition of conceptualism.

    As for “Form, intellectually perceived, basically a Quality that inheres in Substances,” Peirce likewise associated “form” with qualities (predicates) of substances (subjects); and again, he defined the latter as “bundles of habits.” As for individuals, he denied that there are any in the absolute sense, since he held that generality is an ineliminable aspect of reality.

     
    • c

      January 1, 2018 at 7:33 pm

      Here is what I can add based on some further reflection (and my limited experience in these realms of metaphysics).

      First, I still agree with Jon that Pieper appears to be taking a nominalistic (specifically conceptualist) read on these concepts of essences. This is because Pieper says that the essence of man is communicable, but only in an abstract concept, not in actuality.

      “Chemnitz, for example, points out that while the essence of man is said to be communicable, in reality it is only a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect.”

      Aquinas, following Aristotle, would likely say that the essence of man is communicable, and it has a real ontological reality that is instantiated in each instance of a given species. So while Socrates is a particular man (there is an essence that exists to him alone – that which makes him Socrates and not another man), there is also a general essence of humanness that is communicated between all men.

      Now on the point of God’s essence, I think Aquinas would largely agree. Here Peiper, Chemnitz and Gerhard all seem to affirm that the one divine essence of God truly exists. The Thomist would agree and would say that this is true because God’s essence is to exist.

      “The one divine essence of the three Persons is a true reality, because there is only one such essence which belongs to each person wholly and without division, in fine, is the true God.”

      Interestingly, I think Aquinas would disagree (though this may just be in differences in the definitions of the terms be used) with Peiper when he says that the divine essence is communicable.

      “The divine essence, however, is communicable, is not an abstract concept, a genus, or a species, but is a true reality.”

      Aquinas says that:

      “First from His simplicity. For it is manifest that the reason why any singular thing is “this particular thing” is because it cannot be communicated to many: since that whereby Socrates is a man, can be communicated to many; whereas, what makes him this particular man, is only communicable to one. Therefore, if Socrates were a man by what makes him to be this particular man, as there cannot be many Socrates, so there could not in that way be many men. Now this belongs to God alone; for God Himself is His own nature, as was shown above (I:3:3). Therefore, in the very same way God is God, and He is this God. Impossible is it therefore that many Gods should exist.” ST. 1.11.3

       
    • folly of the cross

      January 1, 2018 at 7:38 pm

      “I don’t think it means they’re Nominalists. I think it means they’re (Aristotelian-Thomist) Scholastics, for whom Substance is fundamentally concrete and Essence (to the extent that it is distinguished from Substance) is Form, intellectually perceived, basically a Quality that inheres _in_ Substances.”

      Again, from my own “system”: “we can say that the idea of form in particular (contained above in the definition of universal) is basically of one cloth with the classical philosophical idea of “nature” (or essence, “what it is” ; form basically makes it possible for substance, often thought to be something that takes up space, to be perceived).”

      As for the bit on form and essences, in my understanding of A-T, a substance is matter plus form. This is Hylemorphic Dualism. Forms are that which informs matter into being a particular thing. It is tempting to just say that form equals essence, but I think that Thomists may make further distinctions in form so that the equivalence between essence and form is not always exact. Specifically, there are substantial and accidental forms. I do think that substantial forms run very close to an exact equivalence with essence, though.

      “Given that substantial form always informs prime matter, there can be only one substantial form of a thing; for if substantial form informs prime matter, any other form that may accrue to a thing is posterior to it and simply informs an already constituted substance, which is the role of accidental form. Thus, there can only be one substantial form of a thing.

      As stated above, essence is signified by the definition of a thing; essence is the definable nature of the thing that exists. A thing’s essence then is its definition. It follows that on Thomas’s account the essence of a thing is the composition of its matter and form, where matter here is taken as undesignated matter.” http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-meta/

      In his book Real Essentialism, David S. Odergerg even contrasts the Platonic view of an essence and form with the Aristotelian view:

      “According to Plato, essence is given by form only, and form is an immaterial thing subsisting apart from matter. As such it would have to be simple. But simple things are incapable of definition, since a definition breaks an object down into something that is determined by something else – for the Aristotelian, genus as determined by specific difference (speaking abstractly), and matter as determined by form (speaking concretely). Hence, for the Platonist, whatever is proposed as a definition could not really define anything, but could only be an account of what something is like – in Aristotle’s example, that silver is like tin. But the Platonist cannot say what silver is essentially, since the essence of silver is an indefinable form. Aristotle explicitly contrasts Platonism with his own theory of essence as complex, and it is curious that Popper does not notice this. For a clear and correct interpretation of Aristotle, see St Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics, Book 8, Lesson 3 (Aquinas 1995:564–8).”

      David S. Oderberg (2007-11-13T06:00:00+00:00). Real Essentialism (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy) (Kindle Location 6348). Taylor and Francis.

       
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      January 3, 2018 at 5:06 am

      Jon,

      “Yet Pieper, along with Chemnitz and Gerhard, clearly wanted to say something different about the Trinity than what “essence” means when applied to humanity – “a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect.” The latter seems like a textbook definition of conceptualism.”

      I was talking with Dr. Phillips about the two natures in the one person of Christ. He pointed out that the Aristotelians conceive of a Hypostasis as something different from an instantiated Nature, namely as a Substance that serves as a substrate for a Nature…

      It gets messy. E.g., see this where this guy states that both substance and hypostasis have “hypostasis”:
      https://books.google.com/books?id=tQqiAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA156&dq=aristotle+substrate+hypostasis&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJqfCR77HYAhUX0IMKHRWaDvwQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=aristotle%20substrate%20hypostasis&f=false

      Here’s how I break it down: The NeoPlatonist sees the concrete person as pointing beyond itself: it is an instantiated nature of human, divine, or angelic being/nature (this is the fount, so to speak, of the concrete individual before them). The Aristotelian (Thomas, it seems, tried to do both?) sees the concrete person in front of them as the thing that gives us the “Intellectual content (Form)” (see Dr. Phillips above) that our intellect discovers. Form here means the individuals are connected up in one’s minds through concepts, which are universal because of the shared nature that is simply assumed to exist between the individuals (due to the shared qualities).

      I think here the point is perhaps that the quality is re-occurring in the individuals (and, with a hat tip to Peirce, really is never noticed in just one individual, btw!) and this makes it “universal” — and hence its irresponsible to think the concepts can be anything other than what they are (even as these concepts might get adjusted here and there in the definitions, for many things they stay basically the same because of the currently and recurrently existing things we notice [and often can’t not, regardless of “worldview”] that clearly belong together in this or that case). This, in itself, it seems to me, should not be seen as being insignificant and its significance must and will be acknowledged by many a secular thinker.

      More tomorrow, God willing…

      +Nathan

       
  7. folly of the cross

    January 1, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    The one divine essence of the three Persons is a true reality, because there is only one such essence which belongs to each person wholly and without division, in fine, is the true God. This is the doctrine of the teachers of our Church. Chemnitz, for example, points out that while the essence of man is said to be communicable, in reality it is only a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect. The divine essence, however, is communicable, is not an abstract concept, a genus, or a species, but is a true reality.

    Here is what I can add based on some further reflection (and my limited experience in these realms of metaphysics).

    First, I still agree with Jon that Pieper appears to be taking a nominalistic (specifically conceptualist) read on these concepts of essences. This is because Pieper says that the essence of man is communicable, but only in an abstract concept, not in actuality.

    “Chemnitz, for example, points out that while the essence of man is said to be communicable, in reality it is only a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect.”

    Aquinas, following Aristotle, would likely say that the essence of man is communicable, and it has a real ontological reality that is instantiated in each instance of a given species. So while Socrates is a particular man (there is an essence that exists to him alone – that which makes him Socrates and not another man), there is also a general essence of humanness that is communicated between all men.

    Now on the point of God’s essence, I think Aquinas would largely agree. Here Peiper, Chemnitz and Gerhard all seem to affirm that the one divine essence of God truly exists. The Thomist would agree and would say that this is true because God’s essence is to exist.

    “The one divine essence of the three Persons is a true reality, because there is only one such essence which belongs to each person wholly and without division, in fine, is the true God.”

    Interestingly, I think Aquinas would disagree (though this may just be in differences in the definitions of the terms be used) with Peiper when he says that the divine essence is communicable.

    “The divine essence, however, is communicable, is not an abstract concept, a genus, or a species, but is a true reality.”

    Aquinas says that:

    “First from His simplicity. For it is manifest that the reason why any singular thing is “this particular thing” is because it cannot be communicated to many: since that whereby Socrates is a man, can be communicated to many; whereas, what makes him this particular man, is only communicable to one. Therefore, if Socrates were a man by what makes him to be this particular man, as there cannot be many Socrates, so there could not in that way be many men. Now this belongs to God alone; for God Himself is His own nature, as was shown above (I:3:3). Therefore, in the very same way God is God, and He is this God. Impossible is it therefore that many Gods should exist.” ST. 1.11.3

     
  8. folly of the cross

    January 2, 2018 at 4:57 am

    Another question I’m wondering about here though — connected with a Christology discussion I’ve been having with Dr. Phillips — is whether Thomas would agree with Aristotle about individuals. For Aristotle, I understand he sees particular beings or substances – individuals – as more primary or fundamental than species (even as regards individuals, the significance of accidental properties is also not primary/fundamental) — at least when it comes to speaking about things philosophically…

    I would say, that Aquinas would likely agree with this, but I don’t think it has any application to the nature of God. This is because God is not a substance, His essence is existence itself, so He doesn’t contain any parts to be primary or secondary.

    In the general sense, though, the Scholastics thought that universals only exist in the individuated things that contain them, so in this sense, I think you can say that individuals are primary. Also, the Scholastics did distinguish between primary and secondary substance, of which the individual thing was called the primary substance. To me, again, this seems to signify that the emphasis is on the individual existents in nature, and not on the universal natures they share, but I am not exactly sure if there is any intention of emphasis on the scholastics part or if this is just a naming convention to distinguish between them.

    The Scholastics, who accepted Aristotle’s definition, also distinguished primary substance (substantia prima) from secondary substance (substantia secunda): the former is the individual thing — substance properly so called; the latter designates the universal essence or nature as contained in genus and species. And, again, substance is either complete, e.g. man, or incomplete, e.g. the soul; which, though possessing existence in itself, is united with the body to form the specifically complete human being. The principal division; however, is that between material substance (all corporeal things) and spiritual substance, i.e. the soul and the angelic spirits. The latter are often called substantiœ separatœ, to signify that they are separate from matter, i.e. neither actually conjoined with a material organism nor requiring such union as the natural complement of their being (St. Thomas, “Contra Gentes”, II, 91 sqq.). St. Thomas further teaches that the name substance cannot properly be applied to God, not only because He is not the subject of any accidents, but also because in Him essence and existence are identical, and consequently He is not included in any genus whatever. For the same reason, it is impossible that God should be the formal being of all things (esse formale omnium), or, in other words, that one and the same existence should be common to Him and them (op. cit., I, 25, 26). Catholic Encylopedia – Substance

    Now when it comes to applying most of our philosophical principles to the nature of God and Christology, I think all bets are off. Other than what I think are a few necessary deductive conclusion about God (i.e. his omni-attributes and divine simplicity), who really knows what is applicable from these categories to God. Even where we think we can speak on a bit of the nature of God (like his infinite goodness) we are really only speaking analogically anyways. Also, philosophy can’t even demonstrate the few key things actually know about God; His Trinitarian nature or the incarnation. We only know these things about Him because this is what God revealed of Himself to us.

    What were your thoughts on this Nathan? What is the Christology angle you referenced?

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      January 3, 2018 at 11:54 am

      folly of the cross, Jon,

      I still am not sure what communicable really means, at least as regards the difference between something *really existing* or not (e.g. Chemnitz saying the divine essence is a true reality while the “essence of man” is “communicable” [or is just “said to be communicable”?] but in reality “does not actually exist per se”.

      fotc,

      Thanks for digging deep into how substance might be different from essence per se, and how essence and form also are a bit different in A-T. To say that a soul is incomplete seems strange though, given that the Father and the Spirit do not have a body…(even, as yes, I understand, strictly speaking, for A-T, God is “beyond being/essence/substance,” etc.)

      “In the general sense, though, the Scholastics thought that universals only exist in the individuated things that contain them, so in this sense, I think you can say that individuals are primary….this seems to signify that the emphasis is on the individual existents in nature, and not on the universal natures they share, but I am not exactly sure if there is any intention of emphasis on the scholastics part or if this is just a naming convention to distinguish between them.”

      See my response to Jon above…(I also note his interesting comment on Peirce here: “As for individuals, he denied that there are any in the absolute sense, since he held that generality is an ineliminable aspect of reality”) I’m guessing, based on Dr. Phillip’s comments that something like I wrote there might be what A-T had in mind, because if universals only exist in the individuated things that contain them, that doesn’t sound very universal. Again, here is where I point to my own system and my own nuanced updating of the concept of universal, which I think might help and clear up confusion.

      “What is the Christology angle you referenced?”

      Again, see my response to Jon above — and the post I’ll be launching today (here and at Just and Sinner).

      +Nathan

       
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        January 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm

        In this context, I take “communicable” to mean something like “capable of being possessed by more than one individual”; i.e., what universals are under realism. As Chris (fotc) noted above, “Aquinas, following Aristotle, would likely say that the essence of man is communicable, and it has a real ontological reality that is instantiated in each instance of a given species.” By contrast, Chemnitz and Gerhard (according to Pieper) said “that while the essence of man is said to be communicable, in reality it is only a universal concept, which does not actually exist per se, but is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect.”

        As I noted previously, a plain-sense reading of these statements identifies the first as (moderate) realism and the second as (conceptualist) nominalism; the realist holds that universals really are communicable, while the nominalist considers them to be a useful fiction. However, a possible alternative is to invoke the scholastic distinction between existence and reality; then we might have two different ways of expressing (moderate) realism, since it holds that technically universals only “exist” (per se) in their instantiations, but are nevertheless “real” (independent of anyone’s thinking about them) apart from them.

         
      • Nathan A. Rinne

        January 4, 2018 at 11:53 am

        Jon,

        “As I noted previously, a plain-sense reading of these statements identifies the first as (moderate) realism and the second as (conceptualist) nominalism; the realist holds that universals really are communicable, while the nominalist considers them to be a useful fiction. However, a possible alternative is to invoke the scholastic distinction between existence and reality; then we might have two different ways of expressing (moderate) realism, since it holds that technically universals only “exist” (per se) in their instantiations, but are nevertheless “real” (independent of anyone’s thinking about them) apart from them.”

        I may have asked you this before, but do we know who was the first to make this distinction? Was it Scotus, or someone before him?

        +Nathan

         
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        January 4, 2018 at 1:58 pm

        I may have asked you this before, but do we know who was the first to make this distinction? Was it Scotus, or someone before him?

        I do not know for sure, but arguably the distinction between existence (of particulars) and reality (of universals) goes all the way back to Aristotle himself – only substances exist per se, while the constituents of all other categories (e.g., qualities) only exist per accidens by inhering in substances. What makes Chemnitz and Gerhard (according to Pieper) sound more like conceptualists than moderate realists is their characterization of “the essence of man” as “in reality … only a universal concept” that “is only inferred in the thought and conceived of by the intellect.”

         
      • Nathan A. Rinne

        January 5, 2018 at 3:14 pm

        Jon,

        Right. You are saying that what Aristotle just says about qualities, Chemnitz and Gerhard (per Peiper) say about essences — except not even the essences are real, but only conceptual (nominalism). But, when they say “universal concept” do they really mean to say that the essences (like human nature! FC on original sin) aren’t real or to a) distinguish God’s reality from other realities and/or b) essences like human nature are real *because* we have universal concepts? Also, see this twitter thread: https://twitter.com/JonAlanSchmidt/status/949007290979397632

        +Nathan

         
      • folly of the cross

        January 3, 2018 at 7:19 pm

        To say that a soul is incomplete seems strange though, given that the Father and the Spirit do not have a body…(even, as yes, I understand, strictly speaking, for A-T, God is “beyond being/essence/substance,” etc.)

        I think that in scholastic terms a soul as an incomplete substance specifically only applies to humans. Angels (higher up on the chain of being) exist completely as incorporeal entities and thus are complete in their current unembodied state. Likewise, God too would be complete in His state of incorporeality, but again on the A-T account, God is not a genus, substance, or a form, so all these terms do not really even apply to Him in any sense. Here is what Feser has to say on the “essence” of God:

        As I have indicated in earlier posts, the doctrine of divine simplicity is absolutely central to classical theism. To say that God is simple is to say that He is in no way composed of parts – neither material parts, nor metaphysical parts like form and matter, substance and accidents, or essence and existence. Divine simplicity is affirmed by such Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thinkers as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, and Averroes. It is central to the theology of pagan thinkers like Plotinus. It is the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church, affirmed at the fourth Lateran council and the first Vatican council, and the denial of which amounts to heresy.

        The doctrine of divine simplicity has a number of crucial implications, which are, accordingly, also essential to classical theism. It entails that God is immutable or changeless, and therefore that He is impassible – that is, that He cannot be affected by anything in the created order. It entails that he is eternal in the sense of being altogether outside of time and space. It entails that He does not “have” existence, or an essence, or His various attributes but rather is identical to His existence, His nature and His attributes: He is His existence which is His essence which is His power which is His knowledge which is His goodness. (I have discussed some of these points in greater detail in the posts on simplicity linked to above.)

        Why is divine simplicity regarded by classical theists as so important? One reason is that in their view, nothing less than what is absolutely simple could possibly be divine, because nothing less than what is absolutely simple could have the metaphysical ultimacy that God is supposed to have. For anything which is in any way composed of parts would be metaphysically less fundamental than those parts themselves, and would depend on some external principle to account for the parts being combined in the way they are. In that case, either the external principle itself (or perhaps some yet further principle) would have to be simple, and thus ultimate, and thus the truly divine reality; or there is no simple or non-composite first principle, and thus no metaphysically ultimate reality, and thus nothing strictly divine. In short, to deny divine simplicity is, for the classical theist, implicitly to deny the existence of God. Feser blog post “Classical Theism” 2009

        Here are couple helpful quotes on the nature of the human soul from Oderberg and Feser. First, Oderberg gives a quick rundown on why the human substance is a body-soul composite, but the soul of the human can exist apart from the body:

        ######%%%%%%Oderberg definition of man; Hylemorophic dualism####%%%%%

        The central claims of hylemorphic dualism begin with two theses that will by now be familiar: (1) all substances are compounds of matter and form; (2) the form is substantial since it actualizes matter and gives the substance its very essence and identity. Now follow theses (3) the human person, being a substance, is also a compound of matter and substantial form; (4) since a person is defined as an individual substance of a rational nature, the substantial form of the person is the rational nature of that person; (5) the exercise of rationality, however, is an essentially immaterial operation; (6) hence human nature itself is essentially immaterial; (7) but since it is immaterial, it does not depend for its existence on being united to matter; (8) so a person is capable of existing, by means of his rational nature, which is traditionally called the soul, independently of the existence of his body; (9) hence human beings are immortal – but their identity and individuality does require that they be united to a body at some time in their existence. Oderberg, David S. Real Essentialism. Kindle Edition. loc. 745

        This quote from Feser shows how A-T theorists view the human substance as, again a body-soul composite, situated above animals and lesser beings beneath them on the chain of being and below angels and ultimately God moving up the chain of being above human beings.

        Consider now an angel, which stands on the other side of the metaphysical divide marked by human beings. An angel is, by nature, a creature of pure intellect, which entails — given that, as Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers argue, intellect is necessarily immaterial — that an angel is essentially immaterial. (The wings, white robes, and long blonde hair are symbolic — suitable for children’s prayer books but not for metaphysics!) Being immaterial, angels cannot be damaged or physically malformed the way an animal can. (Of course, angels can be morally defective — there are fallen angels, after all — but that is a failure of will, which is an immaterial power that follows upon intellect.) Indeed, being immaterial, they have no tendency toward corruption at all. They are of their natureimmortal.

        And now we come to human beings. A human being is by nature a rational animal. That is to say, a human being is something which by its nature exercises both the animal powers of nutrition, growth, reproduction, sensation, appetite, and locomotion, and the intellectual and volitional powers possessed by angels. Hence it exercises powers of both a material and an immaterial sort. For that reason it is to a large extent capable of damage and malformation, as an animal is; but not completely so. In particular, a human being can be damaged to such an extent that it completely loses the organs of its animal and vegetative powers, and thus cannot exercise them at all — to such an extent that only its intellectual and volitional powers remain. But those intellectual and volitional aspects of human nature, precisely because they are immaterial and thus do not depend on any corruptible material organ, cannot themselves perish, any more than they can in the case of an angel — though they would be impaired given that the human intellect’s normal source of data is the sense organs, which are material, and given that its activity is normally carried out in conjunction with imagination, which is also material.

        Now what we’d have in the case of a dog which had lost its legs, its sense organs, and its higher brain functions is the stub of a dog, the bare minimum consistent with the dog’s surviving at all. The nature of such a poor creature would not have changed, but it would have been reduced to realizing only the smallest fragment of what would naturally flow from that nature. You might almost say that it had been reduced to little more than the nature itself, with almost nothing in the way of a manifestation of that nature. And a human being damaged to such an extent that it could exercise none of its animal capacities and retained only its intellectual and volitional faculties in an impaired state would, you might say, be a stub of a human being, the bare minimum consistent with a human being’s surviving at all — a human being reduced to little more than its nature, with almost nothing in the way of a manifestation of that nature. The key difference would be that whereas the severely damaged dog of our example could also go on utterly to perish, this stub of a human being could not. It is immortal, though the full human being is not, which is why resurrection is necessary. (To be sure, God could annihilate this “stub,” just as He could annihilate anything; but as with an angel, nothing in the natural order could destroy it, because, being immaterial, it would have no inherent tendency toward corruption.)

        Now such a stub of a human being is what a soul is, or a disembodied soul anyway. This is why Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers often call a disembodied soul an “incomplete substance” — not because they are trying incoherently to fudge the difference between a Cartesian res cogitans and the idea of the soul as a kind of form, but because a disembodied soul relative to a living human being is like a legless, senseless, brain-damaged dog relative to a healthy dog. The severely damaged dog is in an obvious and natural sense an incomplete substance, and the disembodied soul is an incomplete substance in just that sense — it is an incomplete, damaged human being.

        This is also a way to understand the sense in which the soul is the substantial form — that is to say, the nature — of a human being. A nature or substantial form is not a Platonic abstraction. It exists in a concrete individual thing, as its principle of operation and the source of its properties. It is there as long as, and only as long as, the individual thing itself is there. But when the operations and properties in question are prevented from being manifested, what we are left with in effect is the principle or source without that which flows from it. Thus to reduce a human being to the bare minimum consistent with its being there at all is to reduce it as far as possible to its nature or substantial form — that is, to its soul alone.
        Feser blogpost “What is soul?” 2012

        Thanks again for the interesting conversation. I think the Thomist’s reasoning that we have a soul and it can survive death is very interesting (they think it is, in fact, immortal, that is to say, non-corruptible like material bodies are). I agree it is strange to think of the human soul as an incomplete substance, but when you couple it with the biblical idea of the resurrection, it seems this coheres with what scriptures describe too. Our final destination is not as a ghostly soul in heaven, but is back in our resurrection bodies, as a complete body-soul composite on the new earth after the eschaton has been completed.

        I have heard that Edward Feser is planning on releasing a book on the soul as one of his next projects. I anticipate it will be a good read on the subject as Feser has that rare quality of being able to take very complex subjects and explaining it in a very digestible and understandable way.

         
  9. Nathan A. Rinne

    January 3, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    From the “system” post (on universals):

    Theses – set 3 (universals, little u)

    -Contra the currents of modern thinking, one cannot but assume the existence of what have been called “universals” – or something akin to universals – that is, things or entities which are or are potentially trans-cultural and trans-historical, i.e. they possess certain forms, characteristics and relations which, as best we can tell from our direct observations* do not essentially change.**
    *Or from the direct observations of those we or others we trust have found to be trustworthy authorities, living or dead.
    **For the theist, to say that there are universals does not mean to say that universals other than God exist necessarily. It is totally reasonable to believe that God chose to create some universals and not others which could potentially exist, so long as they are in accordance with His character.
    -Please note that this definition of universal, while it has things in common with past definitions, has an element of nuance: consideration of one’s empirical experience and the experiences of other human beings is “in the mix”.
    -One might also associate something “universal” with a term like “presence” – that is, having some relation to the things that we sense and experience: surrounding us, having their own being and meaning, and exercising influence over us – even as we might try, as regards these or those things, to “demythologize”, “demystify”, and “disenchant them”.
    -One can make a distinction between “first order ‘universals’”, or things which can begin to be known, in time, by all – the “human community of practice” – without qualification (things like food, water, sky, mother, arms, ears, food, tears, sadness, running, sitting, etc.) and “second order ‘universals’”, which have the potential, given certain opportunities and circumstances, to be known by all (certain kinds of plants and animals, certain kinds of earth, certain kinds of weather, etc.)
    -Assuming that these “universals” exist, we also can’t not avoid speaking in a way that reflects this – even if there is, at times, strong disagreement over what are, in fact, “universals”.
    -Some “universals”, such as of justice*, goodness and love, while being known to be real and true, often seem hopelessly fuzzy and/or multi-faceted.
    *Re: justice, for example, it is not necessarily the case that no sense of clarity at all can be obtained: “Moral indignation is evident even among those, who, like robbers, have little active regard for the common good. Gratitude for favors only makes sense because a favor goes beyond what is just, and resentment for injury only because it falls short of justice. All these natural sentiments presuppose the idea of justice. Property rights likewise depend on it.” (arguments and insights from Thomas Reid, per Holmes, Arthur, 117)
    -The “universal” of love, for example – genuine concern for, and action on behalf of, the good of another – is not known primarily in an abstract way in the human mind, but rather is known largely by practice in the life of human beings (the Christian notes that things like the Ten Commandments are also not only helpful here, but necessary). It is from here that idealizations of the same arise.
    -It is also the case that even if we had the strength of will to fulfill these things in our own lives, they can only be known and enacted in an approximate and imperfect way.
    -The description of “universals” above cannot apply to particular words or terms – these, varying here and there, are not trans-cultural and trans-historical – and therefore, contra Ockham, words should not be called universals (he thought words could be universal because they are attached to “concepts”*, which are those things that Aquinas believed are universal**). More on why this is the case and the importance of language here below.
    *The endgame of Ockham’s approach where universals are not connected to things, but concepts: “Ontological individualism undermines not only realism but also syllogistic logic and science, for in the absence of real universals, names become no more than signs or signs of signs. Language thus does not reveal being but conceals the truth by fostering a belief in universals. In fact, all universals are merely second or higher-order signs that we, as finite beings, use to aggregate individual entities into categories. These categories, however, do not denote real things. They are only useful fictions that help us make sense out of the radically individualized world. They also, however, distort reality. Thus, the guiding principle of nominalist logic is Ockham’s famous razor: do not multiply universals needlessly. Every generalization takes us one more step away from the real, so the fewer we employ, the closer we remain to the truth.” (Michael, Allen Gillespie. “The Theological Origins of Modernity.” Critical Review 13.1 (1999): 1-30. ProQuest. 20 Apr. 2015)
    **for more see the article “What’s wrong with Ockham…” (Hochschild, here)
    -For our purposes, we can say that the idea of form in particular (contained above in the definition of universal) is basically of one cloth with the classical philosophical idea of “nature” (or essence, “what it is” ; form basically makes it possible for substance, often thought to be something that takes up space, to be perceived).
    -If Rebecca Goldstein is correct that Spinoza was correct to say that Plato’s mathematical standard of truth made final causes of forms/natures (teleology) superfluous*, than Plato’s unrefined thinking is certainly harmful to humanity in general and Christianity in particular (Plato at the Googleplex, 53)
    *Spinoza: “Such a doctrine (teleology) might well have sufficed to conceal the truth from the human race for all eternity, if mathematics had not furnished another standard of truth… without regard to… final causes.”
    -But Goldstein and Spinoza are incorrect: the idea of form or nature brings with it the idea of causal powers and teleology – i.e. predetermined conditions which things conform to: “the ends or purposes of things follow from what they are and what is in accord with or capable of fulfilling their natures” (Hochschild)
    -Ockham’s insistence, created by his “razor” which says we should not multiply entities more than necessary, that “all that exists is particular acts and particular substances with particular qualities we can be directly aware of” can suggest a radically unstable, or contingent, creation without inherent logical necessities… the same can then hold true for ethics* (Holmes 73, 74, see more below)
    *Abelard contended that while intentions could be either good or bad, particular actions could not. Then, Duns Scotus was the first to argue that “As Old Testament moral practice was preparatory, our present moral understanding may also be provisional, and for this reason God’s actual commands to us may differ from the Decalogue” (Holmes, 71). Ockham argued that if the world was not contingent, this would necessarily make God subject to the universal forms that were posited.** Of course, one who is more “Neoplatonic” (or, perhaps, simply Christian?) in their view of God and the world, for example, need not insist that a) there is only one possible way of structuring the world, b) that God could not freely choose to create universal forms (and some and not other potential others) that were in accordance with his nature.***
    **The Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor says that nominalism was adopted to safeguard God’s power: so that He would not be limited by overly strict conceptions of nature, particularly human nature. This new focus on “voluntarism” and “nominalism” seems to re-capitulate the Stoic’s reasons for shunning theories of forms while upholding some kind of creator God (though one with the cosmos) and His divine power.
    ***“It is no accident that Socrates propounds what has come to be called the “Euthyphro argument” on the way to his trial. The pompous Euthyphro confidently tells Socrates that the holy is to be defined as “what the gods love.” Socrates points out that this gets things backward: The gods love the holy because it is already holy, not because they regard it so. In other words, things are not good because a supposed God approves of them; rather, God approves of what is good in itself, quite independently of his will. This Socratic argument undermines the entire idea that theology can provide a basis for morality and opens up a quite secular way of thinking about the nature of virtue. As Ms. Goldstein remarks, this was a seminal moment in the history of moral philosophy and indeed in the development of human civilization; it showed the power of pure rational thought.” (from the WSJ review of Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex)
    -As a related aside, one simply need not – and in fact should not – insist that God created (or especially needed to create) the best of all possible worlds, because one can posit an immature, yet, pure “very good”, as well as a mature and pure “very good” (which would in fact ultimately be more desirable).
    -“For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, 74)
    -Teleology is rightly seen as being connected with ethics. For example, the connection between “male”, “female” and “offspring” is clearly more than linguistic. And one does not require formal syllogisms – but only personal exerience perhaps bolstered by historical knowledge – to determine that all children have a mother and a father. Here, what we have learned to call the science of “biology” counters the various kinds of “Gnosticism”, where the material is evil due to its constricting nature.
    -In the early days of scientific inquiry, with men such as Roger (not Francis) Bacon, “confidence that there were such causal powers [due to the idea of form or nature] helped to account for the order of nature and the very possibility of successful scientific inquiry” (i.e. “general belief in [the power of forms] was [not] supposed to replace the empirical work of discovering and characterizing how they operated”)* (Hochschild)
    *”It is commonly said that modern science neglects formal causes but attends to efficient and material causes; but classically understood, efficient and material causes cannot function or even be conceived without formal causes, for it is form which informs matter, giving concrete objects their power to act on other objects….” (Hochschild)
    -“…The loss of formal causality is thus in a sense the loss of efficient and material causality as well—an implication that is not quite fully realized until we see it brilliantly explored in the philosophy of David Hume.” (Hochschild)
    -“With forms as causes, there are interconnections between different parts of an intelligible world, indeed there are overlapping matrices of intelligibility in the world, making possible an ascent from the more particular, posterior, and mundane to the more universal, primary, and noble.” (Hochschild)
    -“It was only a matter of time before some philosopher exploited, as fully as Descartes did, the new opportunity of skepticism made possible by the nominalist rejection of forms and formal causality.” (Hochschild)

    ….
    Theses – set 7 (Universals, big “U” – and the Christian faith)

    -Porphyry asked – assuming “universals” exist independently of the mind (I would say the human being) – whether they are incorporeal, and if they are incorporeal, whether their existence depends on corporeal things. Christians in particular need not assume that “universals”, as they have been defined and discussed here, must be incorporeal, but rather simply know that the One Universal, God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is, three incorporeal individuals, also “persons”, One of who became corporeal – is responsible for all “universals”.
    -Do “universals” exist only insofar as “particular instances” exist? There is no need to dogmatize about this, based on speculations concerning the mind of God, the provider of all universals. After all, for example, before God created the giraffe, need we assert that He necessarily had an “ideal” blueprint? Or was His process more spontaneous and “on the fly”, albeit not apart from “order”?
    -In like fashion, just because consistent mathematical and geometrical patterns and regularities can be identified in the living artwork of the creation*, does this mean that God is best thought of as some kind of mathematician and engineer, creating things step by step through the lifeless forms of shapes, colors, numbers, equations and algorithms?
    *Does the form of beauty cause things to be beautiful? (Plato) Or does beauty only exist because of things that are beautiful? (Aristotle) A Christian can, literally with the help of God, say both statements are true. Aristotle is right to suggest, for example, that without beautiful things there is no such thing as beauty. But we can call God, in one sense, a “thing” as well, though a Thing above and beyond all created things.
    -“Humanity”, or “human”/“being human” is an example of a true and necessary concept which derives from a true universal.*
    *It exists in the forms of individual persons, which exemplify this universal. Abelard’s argument that “being a human” is not a thing (i.e. it is something about which we can have knowledge and by which we can explain features of the world) but something he called a “status, i.e. the way that something is (ways of being are not “things”) – arguing that it is like the slave who is beaten because he refuses to go to the forum (his refusing to go to the forum is not a thing [he himself is a thing] in its own right but is a “status”**, which explains why he is beaten) – is a totally irrelevant analogy.
    The desires of transgender activists aside (who do not want to “pass” for being their “chosen” gender, but simply be seen as “being” that gender) humans can decide not to go here or there, to get married or not, etc. – but we cannot decide not to be human, male, female, etc., although we may choose to be less than fully human, male, female, etc.
    **and the “status” is just a word, like the tense of a verb….
    -Likewise with the non-created, Divinity, or the divine: God.
    -That said, while we can rightly speak of only one divine will among the three individual persons of Divinity, because of the fall into sin we cannot rightly speak of one human will among the persons of humanity.
    -But Christ, through His incarnation, life, death and resurrection, has come to unify all with Him – our disparate wills included – in the Triune God. There is a reason why, as Peter Leithart says, “Humans are the creatures capable of saying ‘we’”.*
    *And for the Christian on the ground, individual human beings, for example, are recognized and valued in the world precisely because God provides loving community, primarily in the mystical yet very real body of Christ – not to be seen as a collection of like-minded individuals.**
    ** For Aristotle, particular beings or substances – individuals – are more primary or fundamental than species (even as regards individuals, the significance of accidental properties is also not primary/fundamental), at least when it comes to speaking about things philosophically.
    -Somehow, all creation will be included in this process as well (I Cor. 15).
    -“…ever since the days of the Early Church, the presence of God in the word has been understood as a realistic and substantial local presence in the church, when the gospel book was enthroned in the midst of the assembly”. (Wenz, Armin)
    -“…the community of communication constituted by the Scriptures* is truly universal in time and space, comprising the past and the future, the living and the dead, heaven and earth, God and mankind”. (Wenz, Armin)**
    *Wenz also says: “The clearer we perceive Christ’s divinity, the clearer is his humanity and vice versa.
    If Christ is really present in Scripture, and if his Spirit is creatively working through the biblical texts, we might apply the Christological paradoxes also to the Scriptures by saying: The more human the texts, he more divine their truth (and vice versa….); the stranger (and implausible at first glance) the message appears, the more current (and plausible in the long run of faith) is its meaning; the clearer it is in contents and truth, the more effective it is in sound doctrine and faith; the more author-oriented our exegesis are (that is, God-oriented), the more reader-response oriented they will be in a true sense; the more passive and receptive the reader is, the richer, broader, and deeper his understanding will be; and the less important the interpreter sees himself, the more intensely he will take care of the autonomous integrity and truth of the biblical text. True exegesis, therefore, has the task of making itself superfluous in the process that the texts in their liberty and authority can do their work as autonomous and powerful means of the triune God, and in doing so draw us into the eternal communion and fellowship of Christ” (Wenz, Armin, Biblical Hermeneutics in a Postmodern World: Sacramental Hermeneutics versus Spiritualistic Constructivism, LOGIA, 2013)
    **This is not to say that we the new creation will not, in some sense, be continuous with the old. Things can be said to remain permanent in a sense. Man will be more fully man. Further, when Paul says there is no longer “male or female” he is talking about how both male and female equally possess the salvation that Jesus Christ brings, not an obliteration in heaven of the difference.

    Conclusion
    -“There is in everyone a quest for truth and also a rebellion against its demands, and a doubting of the truth when it is discovered….there are many partial truths. Jesus is the truth, the whole truth” – Richard Wurmbrand, founder of the Christian organization, Voice of the Martyrs

     
  10. folly of the cross

    January 5, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Jon and Nathan,

    Right. You are saying that what Aristotle just says about qualities, Chemnitz and Gerhard (per Peiper) say about essences — except not even the essences are real, but only conceptual (nominalism). But, when they say “universal concept” do they really mean to say that the essences (like human nature! FC on original sin) aren’t real or to a) distinguish God’s reality from other realities and/or b) essences like human nature are real *because* we have universal concepts? Also, see this twitter thread: https://twitter.com/JonAlanSchmidt/status/949007290979397632

    +Nathan

    We are getting deep into the weeds here! Just to clarify, I think the scholastic position on accidents is that they really do exist, they just are secondary in a sense to the substantial forms. This is because they only exist in a substance, not of themselves. So in a sense, redness is a real, existing property, it just can’t exist all by itself. It is dependent on a substance for existence. This webpage I think gives a nice summary of the substance/accident distinction:

    First, as a kind of preliminary and as tool for philosophical discourse, one should be familiar with the basic distinctions of Aristotle’s logic. The basic logical distinction for our purposes is between accident (what exists in and is said of another) and substance (what does not exist in another & not said of another). As an example of what Aristotle means, consider what is named by the word “white.” The reality that this word names (a particular color) can be said of some other thing as eg. “This thing is white.” “White” is said of “this thing” as though the color belonged to “this thing.” Furthermore, it is understood to exist in “this thing;” one does not find any “white” except that is in “this thing” or some other thing. This way of speaking can be contrasted with another, as for example “This thing is Socrates.” “Socrates” does not name the same kind of reality that “white” does in the previous example. “Socrates” is not said of “this thing” in the same way as “white” is, and “Socrates” does not exist IN “this thing.” Rather, “Socreates” IS “this thing,” and the sentence “this thing is Socrates” is understood to assert an identity between the two realities named.

    This basic notion of Aristotle’s logic reflects the basic distinction in the way reality is stuctured and reflects the basic way that we view reality. The fundamental distinction is between substance and accident. Substance is whatever is a natural kind of thing and exists in its own right. Examples are rocks, trees, animals, etc. What an animal is, a dog for example, is basically the same whether it is black or brown, here or there, etc. A dog is a substance since it exists in its own right; it does not exist in something else, the way a color does.

    Substance and Accidents

    Accidents are the modifications that substance undergo, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

    Substance, and
    Nine Accidents:
    Quantity,
    Quality,
    Relation,
    Action,
    Passion,
    Time,
    Place,
    Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
    Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)
    All these distinctions are basically logical, but in a sense they reflect the structure of reality. One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, nor an accident that is not the accident of a substance. Every dog, for instance, has some color, place, size. Nevertheless, it is obvious that what a dog is is not the same as its color, or its size, etc. http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/substacc.html

    How this all applies to original sin, I am not familiar enough with all the literature to know. I have a feeling this is a complicated topic as even in the AAC I see Melancthon saying that the church fathers got some things right and other things wrong:

    27] Nor only the ancients [like Augustine and others], but also the more recent [teachers and scholastics], at least the wiser ones among them, teach that original sin is at the same time truly these, namely, the defects which I have recounted, and concupiscence. For Thomas says thus: Original sin comprehends the loss of original righteousness, and with this an inordinate disposition of the parts of the soul; whence it is not pure loss, but a corrupt habit [something positive].

    32] In reference to original sin we therefore hold nothing differing either from Scripture or from the Church catholic, but cleanse from corruptions and restore to light most important declarations of Scripture and of the Fathers, that had been covered over by the sophistical controversies of modern theologians. For it is manifest from the subject itself that modern theologians have not noticed what the Fathers meant when they spake of defect [lack of original righteousness]. AAC Section II

    God’s peace,
    Chris

     
  11. folly of the cross

    January 5, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Jon and Nathan,

    Right. You are saying that what Aristotle just says about qualities, Chemnitz and Gerhard (per Peiper) say about essences — except not even the essences are real, but only conceptual (nominalism). But, when they say “universal concept” do they really mean to say that the essences (like human nature! FC on original sin) aren’t real or to a) distinguish God’s reality from other realities and/or b) essences like human nature are real *because* we have universal concepts?

    +Nathan

    We are getting deep into the weeds here! Just to clarify, I think the scholastic position on accidents is that they really do exist, they just are secondary in a sense to the substantial forms. This is because they only exist in a substance, not of themselves. So in a sense, redness is a real, existing property, it just can’t exist all by itself. It is dependent on a substance for existence. This webpage I think gives a nice summary of the substance/accident distinction:

    First, as a kind of preliminary and as tool for philosophical discourse, one should be familiar with the basic distinctions of Aristotle’s logic. The basic logical distinction for our purposes is between accident (what exists in and is said of another) and substance (what does not exist in another & not said of another). As an example of what Aristotle means, consider what is named by the word “white.” The reality that this word names (a particular color) can be said of some other thing as eg. “This thing is white.” “White” is said of “this thing” as though the color belonged to “this thing.” Furthermore, it is understood to exist in “this thing;” one does not find any “white” except that is in “this thing” or some other thing. This way of speaking can be contrasted with another, as for example “This thing is Socrates.” “Socrates” does not name the same kind of reality that “white” does in the previous example. “Socrates” is not said of “this thing” in the same way as “white” is, and “Socrates” does not exist IN “this thing.” Rather, “Socreates” IS “this thing,” and the sentence “this thing is Socrates” is understood to assert an identity between the two realities named.

    This basic notion of Aristotle’s logic reflects the basic distinction in the way reality is stuctured and reflects the basic way that we view reality. The fundamental distinction is between substance and accident. Substance is whatever is a natural kind of thing and exists in its own right. Examples are rocks, trees, animals, etc. What an animal is, a dog for example, is basically the same whether it is black or brown, here or there, etc. A dog is a substance since it exists in its own right; it does not exist in something else, the way a color does.

    Substance and Accidents

    Accidents are the modifications that substance undergo, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

    Substance, and
    Nine Accidents:
    Quantity,
    Quality,
    Relation,
    Action,
    Passion,
    Time,
    Place,
    Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
    Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)
    All these distinctions are basically logical, but in a sense they reflect the structure of reality. One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, nor an accident that is not the accident of a substance. Every dog, for instance, has some color, place, size. Nevertheless, it is obvious that what a dog is is not the same as its color, or its size, etc. http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/substacc.

    How this all applies to original sin, I am not familiar enough with all the literature to know. I have a feeling this is a complicated topic as even in the AAC I see Melancthon saying that the church fathers got some things right and other things wrong:

    27] Nor only the ancients [like Augustine and others], but also the more recent [teachers and scholastics], at least the wiser ones among them, teach that original sin is at the same time truly these, namely, the defects which I have recounted, and concupiscence. For Thomas says thus: Original sin comprehends the loss of original righteousness, and with this an inordinate disposition of the parts of the soul; whence it is not pure loss, but a corrupt habit [something positive].

    32] In reference to original sin we therefore hold nothing differing either from Scripture or from the Church catholic, but cleanse from corruptions and restore to light most important declarations of Scripture and of the Fathers, that had been covered over by the sophistical controversies of modern theologians. For it is manifest from the subject itself that modern theologians have not noticed what the Fathers meant when they spake of defect [lack of original righteousness]. AAC Section II

    God’s peace,
    Chris

     
    • Jon Alan Schmidt

      January 5, 2018 at 6:01 pm

      Nathan: But, when they say “universal concept” do they really mean to say that the essences (like human nature! FC on original sin) aren’t real or to a) distinguish God’s reality from other realities and/or b) essences like human nature are real *because* we have universal concepts?

      Hard to say based on only a couple of summary quotes, but (a) and (b) pretty much amount to the same thing: God’s essence is “really real,” while all other essences are “real” only in the restricted sense that we have real concepts about them – i.e., conceptualism. “Human nature” is then a useful fiction for talking about the “universal” corruption of original sin, while maintaining that it is “really” just a particular property possessed by each individual human.

      Chris: I think the scholastic position on accidents is that they really do exist, they just are secondary in a sense to the substantial forms. This is because they only exist in a substance, not of themselves. So in a sense, redness is a real, existing property, it just can’t exist all by itself. It is dependent on a substance for existence.

      Agreed, but unlike the webpage that you quoted, Aristotle also made a careful distinction between primary substances (particular individuals) and secondary substances (universal essences/natures). In the ongoing Twitter discussion with me, Nathan seems to be taking the position that both of these are real, but accidents–including qualities like redness–are not. All sides agree that primary substances exist per se, but what remains unclear to me so far is whether Aristotle would say the same about secondary substances, as that webpage implies.

      For example, now that all dodo birds are extinct, does the essence/nature of “dodo birdness” still exist? (I would say no.) If so, how and where? (It would seem to require a Platonic realm of substantial Forms.) If not, is it nevertheless still real? (I would say yes, as a continuum of real possibilities that are no longer actualized.) Now substitute the (accidental) quality of redness for the essence/nature of “dodo birdness”; my answers are exactly the same.

       
      • Folly of the Cross

        January 5, 2018 at 9:40 pm

        Jon: For example, now that all dodo birds are extinct, does the essence/nature of “dodo birdness” still exist? (I would say no.) If so, how and where? (It would seem to require a Platonic realm of substantial Forms.) If not, is it nevertheless still real? (I would say yes, as a continuum of real possibilities that are no longer actualized.) Now substitute the (accidental) quality of redness for the essence/nature of “dodo birdness”; my answers are exactly the same.

        Thanks, Jon. That does help make some distinctions clear about what is being discussed. I think I agree with you exactly on the question of the essence of the dodo bird being “real”, but not existing (i.e. not currently being actualized). To me, this simply sounds like the A-T distinction between essence and existence. Looking at it through this spectrum, I think that the A-T theorist would say that essences are in fact “real” (i.e. either instantiated in individual substances or as potentials in the divine intellect). This actually brings us back to my first post above, where I mentioned that A-T posits that the ground for all forms (and other universals) is in the mind of God either as potentials for things that could exist or as the conception/idea of things that do exist.

        Side note – If you haven’t read Edward Feser’s newest book, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, I highly recommend it. I think it will end up being a standard text that anyone who wants to refute A-T proofs for the existence of God will have to interact with for years to come.

        In Feser’s book Five Proofs of the Existence of God, I think he is pointing out exactly what you are talking about when you say that Aristotle held a different position on the “realness” of secondary substances. I think the following quote shows that the A-T position is actually a modification of Aristotelianism, by grounding these secondary substances (universal essences/natures) in the divine intellect (as opposed to the Platonic third realm).

        However, there are universals, propositions, mathematical objects, necessities, and possibilities that the Aristotelian realist is bound to have a more difficult time dealing with. For example, suppose no material world or human minds had existed at all. This is surely possible. But it also would still have been possible in that circumstance for a material world and human minds to come into existence. What would ground that possibility? It cannot be grounded in the essence or nature of any material object, since by hypothesis there would in that case have been no material objects. Nor could it be grounded in the essence or nature of material objects at least as abstracted and grasped by a human mind, since by hypothesis there would in that case be no human minds either.

        Or consider things which not only could have failed to exist, but in fact fail ever to exist—unicorns, centaurs, mermaids, and the like. It is at least possible for such things to exist, and unicornity, centaur-ness, mermaid-ness, and so forth are universals, even if they are uninstantiated. Now what grounds their possibility cannot be the essences or natures of actual unicorns, centaurs, and mermaids, since there have never been such things. Nor can their possibility be grounded in the human minds which entertain the ideas of these things, for these things were all possible even before human minds entertained the ideas. But what, then, can ground the possibility of these “pure possibles” (as they are sometimes called)?

        Consider also, and again, that there are propositions that would be true whether or not the material world or any human mind existed. For example, the proposition that there is no material world nor any human mind in existence would be true if the material world and human minds all went out of existence tomorrow, and would have been true if neither had come into existence in the first place. The proposition that Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March—and every other proposition about historical events—would also remain true even if the material world and human minds all went out of existence tomorrow.

        Then there are the necessary truths of mathematics and logic. These too would have been true whether or not any material world or human minds had ever existed, and these too would remain true even if the entire material world and all human minds went out of existence tomorrow. So, what grounds this necessity?

        This brings us, at last, to Scholastic realism, which is essentially Aristotelian in spirit, but gives at least a nod to Platonic realism.8 Like Aristotelian realism, Scholastic realism affirms that universals exist only either in the things that instantiate them, or in intellects which entertain them. It agrees that there is no Platonic “third realm” independent both of the material world and of all intellects. However, the Scholastic realist agrees with the Platonist that there must be some realm distinct both from the material world and from human and other finite intellects. In particular—and endorsing a thesis famously associated with Saint Augustine—it holds that universals, propositions, mathematical and logical truths, and necessities and possibilities exist in an infinite, eternal, divine intellect. If some form of realism must be true, then, but Platonic realism and Aristotelian realism are in various ways inadequate, then the only remaining version, Scholastic realism, must be correct. And since Scholastic realism entails that there is an infinite divine intellect, then there really must be such an intellect. In other words, God exists.

        Edward Feser. Five Proofs of the Existence of God Mobi (Kindle Locations 1490-1631). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

        This also brings me back to my original post, making me want to ask again if A-T is a modification of the Aristotelian position on the realness of secondary substances, what is the difference between A-T’s position on secondary substances and neo-platonism? I have to imagine that neo-platonism, likewise, would want to ground these universals in the divine intellect.

         
  12. Jon Alan Schmidt

    January 5, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    According to FC SD I.54-62 (citing Luther), original sin is an accidental quality, not a substance. If qualities are not real, then neither is original sin. Furthermore, the following excerpt seems to be relevant to our broader discussion here.

    FC SD I.57: Now, then, since it is the indisputable truth that everything that is, is either a substance or an accidens, that is, either a self-existing essence or something accidental in it, as has just been shown and proved by testimonies of the church-teachers, and no truly intelligent man has ever had any doubts concerning this, necessity here constrains, and no one can evade it, if the question be asked whether original sin is a substance, that is, such a thing as exists by itself, and is not in another or whether it is an accidens, that is, such a thing as does not exist by itself, but is in another, and cannot exist or be by itself, he must confess straight and pat that original sin is no substance, but an accidens.

    If something is not “a self-existing essence,” then it can only be “something accidental” that “does not [and cannot] exist by itself, but is in another.” Aristotle’s distinction between primary and secondary substances is not mentioned, so the question remains: Can a secondary substance (e.g., human nature) exist by itself, or can it only exist in primary substances (e.g., individual humans)? More to the point of this particular text, does original sin (accidental quality) exist in human nature (secondary substance), or only in individual humans (primary substances)? It seems to me that it must be the latter; otherwise, human nature (secondary substance) could not exist in a sinless individual (primary substance) – i.e., Adam and Eve before the Fall, and Jesus Christ from the Incarnation through all eternity.

     
    • Jon Alan Schmidt

      January 6, 2018 at 2:27 am

      I was hoping that Pieper might shed some light on this, but alas … from Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I, p. 548:

      If we distinguish substance and accident in this manner that by substance we mean a thing having a separate existence, and by accident something inherent in a thing as a separable attribute, then certainly original corruption is an accident … To assume that the human nature as such, or according to its substance, is sin, would conflict with the articles of the Christian faith concerning creation, redemption, sanctification, and resurrection. For the Son of God assumed the human nature, without sin, indeed, but according to its substance, its essence, into the unity of His person.

      It sounds like he is saying (1) that human nature as a secondary substance does exist by itself, and (2) that original sin as an accidental attribute does inhere in that secondary substance; yet he still obviously affirms (3) that Christ does have a human nature without sin. When generalized, these propositions strike me as jointly problematic:

      1. That a secondary substance has a separate existence, which once again raises the question of how and where it exists apart from its instantiations in primary substances.
      2. That a secondary substance can have its own accidental attributes, rather than the latter always inhering in primary substances only.
      3. That the accidental attributes of a secondary substance do not necessarily inhere in every primary substance that instantiates it.

      It seems to me that if original sin inheres in human nature itself, and instantiating human nature is precisely what makes something a human being, then nothing that lacks original sin can be a human being – which is clearly false. What am I missing? Or am I right to be bothered? No wonder Mayorga refers to this specific aspect of Aristotle’s thought as “the muddle” in her book (p. 19)!

       
  13. Jon Alan Schmidt

    January 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Chris, are you on Twitter? Nathan and I continue to have a lively conversation there, branching into multiple threads. If you go to https://twitter.com/JonAlanSchmidt/status/949673901356933121 and then scroll up to the top, you will be able to read through most of what we have said so far regarding the topics raised in our comments here. Click on the individual tweets with multiple replies to see other lines of discussion.

     
    • Folly of the Cross

      January 7, 2018 at 4:35 am

      I must admit I have never done the twitter thing before. Maybe I will give it a shot, so thanks for pointing me in that direction, Jon.

      My initial response to both of you in this topic of defining the ontological status of essences, of course, would be too long for a few tweets so I will post my reply, for now, here instead.

      What do both of you think about the scholastic distinction between essence and existence? Scholastics typically posit it is a real distinction, not separable but distinct; that is you never have an essence that is actualized without existence.

      This means that we certainly can apprehend an essence apart from its existence (i.e. the essence of an imaginary species in the example of a unicorn or an extinct species in the example of a dodo bird). This essence is real in that it has the potential to exist if God so chose to actualize it.

      To Jon’s point, I believe he is saying that these potentially existing essences are, in a sense, real and not just conceptions or useful fictions. They are, however, distinct from other real essences that have existence added to their real universal essences. This would be the case for a particular person or a particular tree. Either way, having existence or not, universals are real.

      Here is Feser again on this distinction in his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God. He is arguing towards the existence of God as the one whose essence equals existence, and thus imparts existence to all things.

      Note that to say that a thing’s essence and existence are really distinct is not to say that they can exist separately. It does not entail that (say) a stone’s essence is a kind of object and its existence another object, where either object might exist apart from the other. A real distinction between two things sometimes involves separability, but not always. For example, two dogs, or a dog and its leg, are really distinct, and each might exist apart from the other. By contrast, consider a circle. It has both a radius and a circumference. There is obviously a real distinction between the properties having a radius and having a circumference. This is not because, when confining ourselves to circles, having a radius can ever exist apart from having a circumference. The radius of a circle is really distinct from its circumference, as proved by the fact that the latter is twice the former multiplied by pi. Since the radius is part of the property having a radius and the circumference is part of the property having a circumference, the properties themselves are really distinct though inseparable. The same is true for triangularity and trilaterality.7

      Similarly, there is no such thing in mind-independent reality as a thing’s essence existing apart from its existence (whatever that would mean) or a thing’s existence existing apart from its essence (whatever that would mean). The essence of a stone, or a tree, or a dog, or a human being is not separable from its existence. Still, as with the radius and circumference of a circle, or the triangularity and trilaterality of a triangle, the essence of each of these things is really distinct from its existence.

      So, with each of the things we know through experience, there is a real distinction between its essence and its existence. How is it, then, that these two different aspects of a thing are combined into a whole? It might seem that their inseparability provides an answer: they are together (so it might be claimed) because the essence of a thing and its existence are as inseparable as the radius and circumference of a circle are, or as triangularity and trilaterality are. But this is no answer, because it just raises the question of why they are inseparable. Now, the answer in the case of the radius and circumference of a circle is that these both follow from the essence or nature of a circle. Anything having that essence is going to have the properties having a radius and having a circumference. Similarly, anything having the essence of a triangle is going to have the property trilaterality, which follows from that essence.8

      However, we cannot in the same way explain how the essence of one of the things of our experience is conjoined with its existence. In particular, it cannot be that its existence follows from its essence. The reason is implicit in what has already been said. If you know the essence of a circle, then you will know that any circle will exhibit the properties having a radius and having a circumference; and if you know the essence of a triangle, then you know that it will exhibit the property triangularity. But as we have seen, you can know the essence of a lion, pterodactyl, or unicorn without knowing one way or the other whether any of these animals exists. Hence, the existence of one of these things does not follow from its essence in the way the properties having a radius and having a circumference follow from the essence of a circle, or the way the property triangularity follows from the essence of a triangle. We also have noted that the things of our experience exist in a merely contingent way—which is why they come into being and pass away—rather than in a necessary way. For this reason too, their existence cannot follow from their essence, for if it did, then they would exist necessarily. And while with something whose essence just is existence itself, its existence would, naturally, follow from its essence, we saw that there can in principle be only one such thing. Hence, with things of which there is more than one instance (stones, trees, dogs, human beings, etc.), it cannot be the case that they are things whose essence is identical with their existence, and thus cannot be the case that their existence follows from their essence.

      Nor can it be the case that the things of our experience somehow impart existence to themselves—adding it, as it were, to their essences from outside. The very suggestion would be incoherent. A thing can’t impart or add something, or indeed do anything at all for that matter, unless it first exists. But a thing whose essence and existence are distinct cannot exist until existence is added or imparted to its essence. Naturally, then, a thing whose essence and existence are distinct cannot impart existence to its own essence, for in that case it would have to exist before it exists so as to cause itself to exist—which makes no sense. Nothing can be the cause of its own existence.

      So, nothing in which there is a distinction between its essence and its existence can in any way be the source of its own existence. Its existence must be caused by something outside it—something which adds existence to its essence, as it were. Everyday experience would agree insofar as it tells us that stones, trees, dogs, and human beings have causes. But the dependence of these things on a cause for their existence is more radical than everyday experience would indicate. For notice that everything said so far applies to a thing not only before it comes into being and as it comes into being but always, even after it has come into being. For example, consider a certain dog, Fido. Fido’s existence is distinct from Fido’s essence, doesn’t follow from Fido’s essence, and cannot be imparted by Fido to his essence. All of these things are true not only before Fido exists and at the time he is conceived, but also after he comes into being, and indeed at every moment he is alive. Fido’s existence here and now is distinct from his essence and doesn’t follow from his essence. So, here and now there must be some cause which adds or imparts existence to that essence. Otherwise Fido wouldn’t exist here and now any more than he did before he was conceived. He would “blink out” of existence or be annihilated. Nor can Fido be what is adding or imparting existence to his own essence here and now, any more than he could have before he was conceived. For Fido cannot do anything at all, not even for an instant, unless he exists at that instant. Among the things he cannot do unless he exists at that instant is to impart existence, either to himself or to anything else. So, his causing his own existence at that instant presupposes his own existence at that instant. Hence, the notion of Fido or anything else imparting existence to its own essence even at a particular instant is incoherent. A thing cannot cause its own existence at any one moment of time any more than it can cause it over a series of moments spread out through time.

      Edward Feser. Five Proofs of the Existence of God Mobi (Kindle Locations 2021-2028). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

      It appears that there are many lines of arguments for the reality of universals, even universals in just the potential sense. According to Feser, two such examples would be that it would make an essence a necessarily existing thing to deny the reality of potential essences, and secondly, we know essences before we know if something exists. You can even know what the essence of a lion is before you ever see one to confirm that they exist.

       
  14. Nathan A. Rinne

    January 7, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Men,

    First of all, thanks for the discussion — and for putting up with my opinionated self. I am getting some great education here, and I relish the opportunity to talk with persons relatively well-informed about these matters like yourselves!

    Folly of the Cross:

    “I think that the A-T theorist would say that essences are in fact “real” (i.e. either instantiated in individual substances or as potentials in the divine intellect). This actually brings us back to my first post above, where I mentioned that A-T posits that the ground for all forms (and other universals) is in the mind of God either as potentials for things that could exist or as the conception/idea of things that do exist.”

    In truth, what is said here sounds fine to me, but I don’t care to assert it as being important because I don’t see why it’s important to do so. It might be interesting things to think about, but how does this help us to proclaim the Gospel at all?

    Feser: “For example, suppose no material world or human minds had existed at all. This is surely possible.”

    I also ask the same about statements like this.

    Feser: “unicorns, centaurs, mermaids, and the like. It is at least possible for such things to exist, and unicornity, centaur-ness, mermaid-ness, and so forth are universals, even if they are uninstantiated.”

    Sure, they can exist as secondary universals (my idea of these – they do not always need to have an essence, which I always tether to fundamental things made in the original creation – “dogness” is actually a useful fiction – in truth, its domesticated “wolfness”), naturally occurring things that are potentially discoverable trans-culturally or trans-historically, or things we create which are the same (potentially trans-culturally…), some really created (chariots and iPhones) and some imaginative literary creations.

    Folly of the Cross:

    “I think the following quote shows that the A-T position is actually a modification of Aristotelianism, by grounding these secondary substances (universal essences/natures) in the divine intellect (as opposed to the Platonic third realm).”

    Aristotle also presumably thought that we could talk about real natures but he did so not by relegating them to the Platonic third realm or to the divine intellect but by locating them in the cosmos (original post).

    I said:

    “But, when [Chemnitz and Gerhard] say “universal concept” do they really mean to say that the essences (like human nature! FC on original sin) aren’t real or to a) distinguish God’s reality from other realities and/or b) essences like human nature are real *because* we have universal concepts?”

    Jon replies:

    “Hard to say based on only a couple of summary quotes, but (a) and (b) pretty much amount to the same thing: God’s essence is “really real,” while all other essences are “real” only in the restricted sense that we have real concepts about them – i.e., conceptualism. “Human nature” is then a useful fiction for talking about the “universal” corruption of original sin, while maintaining that it is “really” just a particular property possessed by each individual human.”

    I don’t really get why a and b are the same. With God (a), there is a desire to say that He both exists (i.e. is real) and that He is beyond existence in that He creates existence. Fair enough. We get that. Human nature, which is one and Jesus is consubstantial with according to His humanity, is not a “useful fiction” but must really exist as well. Even non-Christians (like NeoPlatonists) and Aristotelians (original post) acknowledge this, and talk about things like pigness (domesticated wild boarness!), giraffeness, and redness, and probably, for NeoPlatonists, lengthness and threeness, etc. (I don’t go here – see below).

    Again, what is wrong with what I wrote above? (I added some stuff, made corrections, etc — in brackets, below):

    “The NeoPlatonist sees the concrete person as pointing beyond itself: it is an instantiated nature of human, divine, or angelic being/nature (this is the fount, so to speak, of the concrete individual before them). The Aristotelian (Thomas, it seems, tried to do both?) sees the concrete person in front of them as the thing that gives us the “Intellectual content (Form)” (see Dr. Phillips above) that our intellect discovers. [From] here [] the individuals are connected up in one’s minds through concepts, which are universal [***]because of the shared nature that is simply assumed to exist between the individuals [***] ([detected by] the shared qualities).

    I think here the point is perhaps that the quality is re-occurring in the individuals (and, with a hat tip to Peirce, really is never noticed in just one individual, btw!) and this makes it “universal” — and hence its irresponsible to think the concepts can be anything other than what they are (even as these concepts might get adjusted here and there in the definitions, for many things they stay basically the same because of the currently and recurrently existing things we notice [and often can’t not, regardless of “worldview”] that clearly belong together in this or that case). This, in itself, it seems to me, should not be seen as being insignificant and its significance must and will be acknowledged by many a secular thinker.”

    In other words, the shared concepts that we see we have are assumed to exist because shared natures are assumed to exist between concrete individuals (these are just core human assumptions [some call them “basic beliefs” but I’ll insist on calling them tacit knowledge], which, made conscious of them, can be presuppostions we insist on). The question “how and where it exists apart from its instantiations in primary substances” is answered with this, even if we are unsatisfied. We just assume, because of the way God created us, things like humanity, fatherness, motherness, childness, sadness, happiness, beauty, intelligence, honesty, eating, sleeping, etc. This is compatible, Jon, with what you point out Peiper says: “that human nature as a secondary substance does exist by itself”. Now I go here: are humanity and wolfness the same in how they function? I don’t know. In both cases I simply assume a shared nature and will not tolerate those who say it does not exist or that I should not assert this. On the other hand, the nature I share with the both of you (particularly true because we are all in the body of Christ, our Head, whom He means all human beings to be a part of) seems to me to be shared in a special way, perhaps very different than how dogs share a nature. I hope this makes sense.

    Jon:

    “It seems to me that if original sin inheres in human nature itself, and instantiating human nature is precisely what makes something a human being, then nothing that lacks original sin can be a human being – which is clearly false. What am I missing?”

    This is why, perhaps, the FOC struggles with what to call original sin. I think somewhere it acknowledges the difficulties with calling original sin an accident. It doesn’t perfectly “work” the way accidents are otherwise said to work and that we count on them working. The terrible mystery of sin!

    Alright…trying to sum up what I believe about some other stuff now to (not necessarily going into why for each point at this point).

    Love, for example, exists. It is one of those fuzzy but very real universals I talk about (see my system above). I think since it always exists with concrete things, it does make sense for me to say I believe in something like [existing] accidents. It’s fuzzy however, because its not a concrete thing like [exisiting] substances/essences/natures. More clear accidents would be other common physical and character traits and other functions of human beings, for example, and the specific things they do: like walking, sleeping, eating, etc.

    I’m not as convinced however regarding other things like number, color, measurements (length, width, mass, etc) though – even though these things can certainly be readily determined by all and *are at* times important to notice (especially if you are doing engineering work, right Jon?). I don’t care to insist they exist like love does, for example, because I’m not convinced by any means they are as important for human nature, which I believe all of creation was made for. “Things” like this – if we should even call them “things” — are way down the list in terms of importance, and the various –isms of the world often use these factors to justify a lack of love. Scholastic realists might “hold that universals, propositions, mathematical and logical truths, and necessities and possibilities exist in an infinite, eternal, divine intellect,” but I feel no need to assert this. I think the concrete things we work with are more important, and that there are various effective ways and systems to count, measure, etc. depending on the circumstance.

    +Nathan

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      January 7, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      …and with that last post, I need to take a break for a while (on Twitter to Jon). Keep talking if you like, and I will definitely read what you write, and, God willing, chyme in again.

      Have other projects and responsibilities need to attend to.

      Thanks men!

      +Nathan

       
  15. Jon Alan Schmidt

    January 7, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Rather than directly distinguishing essence from existence, Peirce distinguished generality as continuity from particularity as discreteness. A mathematical analogy that I find helpful is a line: it does not consist of points, instead being infinitely divisible into shorter and shorter lines. A point is actually a discontinuity of the line: there are infinitely many potential points on a line, or even on a segment of any finite length; but a point does not actually exist on a line, unless and until it is marked there.

    As a general term, “giraffe” identifies an infinite range of potential giraffes, some of which are actualized as individual giraffes. A giraffe in general is neither male nor female; the principle of excluded middle applies only to an actual lion. Similarly, as a vague term, “red” identifies an infinite range of possible colors, some of which are actualized as individual shades of red that are displayed by existing objects. The red portion of the spectrum includes both crimson and scarlet; the principle of non-contradiction applies only to actual (embodied) colors.

    Peirce thus recognized three modes of Being, all of which are real: possibility (vague), actuality (determinate), and regularity (general). Paradigmatic examples are qualities, things/facts, and habits, respectively. Only the second mode corresponds to existence per se; the other two only “exist,” strictly speaking, by being instantiated in (primary) substances, which are individual “bundles” of habits. An essence (or secondary substance) is then a continuum of potential bundles of habits.

    As realists and nominalists have always agreed, all human cognition – and therefore all human knowledge – is general. We can have no concept of something that is entirely particular, because such a concept would have to be completely determinate in every conceivable respect, which is impossible for a finite mind. This is precisely why a nominalist, who insists that only particulars are real, must also hold that we have no knowledge of “things in themselves.” By contrast, a realist affirms that we can and do have genuine knowledge of the world, since generality is an ineliminable aspect of it – all habits are general, so there is no such thing as an absolute (and therefore incognizable) individual.

    Nathan: It might be interesting things to think about, but how does this help us to proclaim the Gospel at all?

    You could ask the same question about most lines of philosophical and scientific inquiry throughout history. Are you suggesting that such pursuits are only worthwhile to the extent that they directly facilitate proclamation of the Gospel? It seems incontrovertible that God’s design for human nature (see what I did there?) includes curiosity, the desire to learn how the universe works. If God has truly revealed Himself and His will – however incompletely – in His Creation, then by getting to know it better, we get to know Him a little better.

     
    • Folly of the Cross

      January 7, 2018 at 10:36 pm

      Rather than directly distinguishing essence from existence, Peirce distinguished generality as continuity from particularity as discreteness. A mathematical analogy that I find helpful is a line: it does not consist of points, instead of being infinitely divisible into shorter and shorter lines. A point is actually a discontinuity of the line: there are infinitely many potential points on a line, or even on a segment of any finite length; but a point does not actually exist on a line, unless and until it is marked there.

      Jon,

      I have already been coming across this concept of continuity (or continuum?) vs. discreteness in Peirce’s thought in some of the things you have pointed me to. I find the concept very intriguing. Since Peirce was a realist, but apparently of a slightly different sort than pure A-T, I am very much looking forward to seeing what is similar and dissimilar between the two.

      I can already start to see where this line of thinking may be useful when considering the universe at the smallest scales (Plack scale) and also possible in quantum mechanics. Especially in quantum mechanics, things are often better described as a continuum of possibilities that only become discrete and concrete when observed (or possibly actualized?) in particular instances.

      I have the feeling that many of Peirce’s concepts are being considered (or have been) by the more contemporary A-T theorists too, so it will be interesting again to see where there is crossover and/or any disagreement. David S. Oderberg is a prime example of an A-T philosopher who is reexamining the study of essentialism and is working to show how classical A-T principles can be explained in view of our modern scientific understanding of the world. My favorite conclusion of his (and many other realist philosophers before him, including Peirce) is that the scientific enterprise doesn’t even make sense under the nominalist/conceptualist framework.

      Thanks again for pointing me towards some great new resources. If only there were more time in the day to be able to study everything that I would like to!

      In Christ,
      Chris

       
  16. Folly of the Cross

    January 7, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    Nathan,

    In truth, what is said here sounds fine to me, but I don’t care to assert it as being important because I don’t see why it’s important to do so. It might be interesting things to think about, but how does this help us to proclaim the Gospel at all?

    This is most certainly true! In studying a lot of A-T, one thing that I really noticed is how little they ever talk about Jesus. Sure, they will sometimes talk about God as this abstract-seeming purely actual unmoved mover, but there is little reference ever to Christ. One thing I greatly appreciate about Lutheran Theologians is they can’t help themselves in talking about Christ, and what could be more important than talking about God incarnate who came to dwell among us, and then suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins? That truly is where our attention should be. Thank you for this reminder!

    It sounds like in large part, we basically agree on most things. The only thing that I might not agree with still (and this is just based on where my current studies in A-T have brought my understanding thus far) is in the realness of secondary substances (i.e. non-existing essences/universals).

    One of the strange things about A-T for me at first was trying to wrap my head around prime matter and how potentials are a part of reality. I think a large part of trying to understand any robust philosophical system is simply becoming accustomed to the vernacular they use within it. This was certainly the case for me with A-T! There are many long and complex arguments that I have read to really even start to grasp at what is being argued for with real essentialism (hylomorphic dualism) and potential essences are just one part of the complete system. I appreciate you taking the time to consider and interacting with my attempts above to explain it.

    I agree that the above conversations (for the most part) is another instance of something that for 99.9% of cases is not going to affect how we proclaim the gospel. Especially these discussions on the realness of secondary substances are tertiary (at best) to anything related to most theological conversations.

    None the less, thank you (and Jon) again for a very interesting conversation. I have received much to think on and many more topics to study in the near future. I also appreciated the chance to review my notes on many of the concepts that I have been covering in my studies this past year and try to further solidify my understanding of things.

    Good luck on your current projects and congrats on getting your paper accepted to the Concordia Theological Journal!

    God bless,
    Chris

     

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