Pure Act Forum

I have been having a discussion in the comment boxes at Strange Notions with an avatar, Andrej Tokarčík. The discussion has outgrown the comment box format and I have offered to continue the discussion here… in comment box format.

We began debating a variant of the argument from contingency/prime mover as articulated by Thomas Aquinas. See the post by Trent Horn and our discussion.

In brief, Horn says Aquinas argues “everything in motion only moves because it has a potential to move. Since nothing can move itself, an object can only move if its potential to move is activated by something outside of it.”

Andrej accepts that this “something outside of it” entails an ultimate ‘something’ responsible for all motion he calls “Pure Act” which is non-material and in some way related to the Catholic God.

I disagree. I have argued, essentially, that we conclude that things moving are moved by other things because we observe this repeatedly and consistently. We conclude through induction that all things moving were caused to move. I think I have clarified that by using induction what I mean is that all things in motion seem to be caused to move. But all the causes of things we have observed are material. There is no reasonable inference from this that some immaterial ultimate Pure Act entity is involved. I have suggested that Andrej is anthropomorphizing a concept he has of “Pure Act” and accepts this as part of reality, without foundation. Moreover I have suggested that his conclusion of “Pure Act” was reached not through reason and evidence but because of an absence thereof.

We have recently gotten to the point in which Andrej has thought I have ruled out all non-material existence. I do not, but neither to I see any reason to believe anything non-material can exist. I cannot even conceive of what it would mean for something to exist non-materially.

Anyway hopefully we can have some fun dialogue. Here is our last exchange:

ANDREJ Hello, Brian. At first, I’d like to ask You this: You say that it was understandable for philosophers living hundreds of years ago when various natural phenomena were apparently without a material cause to assume the existence of an immaterial cause in order to explain the phenomena. But is it really so that today we’re in a position to positively claim that all natural phenomena have a material cause? To the contrary You Yourself mention the sudden appearances of particles on the quantum level. But how is this not analogical to the motion of sun, which seemed to the medievals to be without a material cause? Back then, You appear to say, they tried to explain the materially-uncaused material phenomena by resorting to immaterial causes. It was even understandable, You said. How come that today we feel completely okay to give up on finding any cause whatsoever of phenomena, which are now so similar to the motion of sun inasmuch as they seem to be without a material cause? Why is it more acceptable to totally give up on the possibility of an explanation of a seemingly-materially-uncaused phenomenon rather than to take advantage of an explanation involving an immaterial cause?

However, absolutely everything I have observed or can conceive of causing motion is material. The inference I get from this is that all motion appears to be caused by something material.

Analogically, I would reason as thus: Absolutely everything I have observed or can conceive of causing motion is capable of causing that particular kind of motion (for what I can say, not everything can cause all possible kinds of motion, e.g. a dog left on his own cannot cause a car to move). The inference I get from this is that all motion appears to be caused by things that are capable of causing that kind of motion.

As I see it, we both attempt to generalise from observations. But it turns out that neither of us has made an observation/generalisation that would undermine his respective world view. I haven’t limited myself to material causes only, while You have. The question is: which of the two chains of reasoning we presented is more probable to be correct? I’d say that mine has got the advantage of not taking the risk of being too specific, as I’m talking about causes in general, while You restrict Yourselves to material causes, without properly addressing reasons for this constraint. “That’s how I observe it!” is not a real justification and is prone to errors of purportedly bullet-proof induction, as I’ll try to demonstrate in the next example.

For instance, I’ve been conducting an experiment lasting tens of years already and still ongoing, in which my observations have constantly — with absolutely no evidence to the opposite — verified the fact that the human species is not extinct. As such, upon an allowable aid of generalisation, I feel qualified to contend with very high confidence that the human species has actually never ever been extinct. Such a result is actually very nice to have, for in that case no mechanisms of evolution are required to explain arising of the species, not to talk about as hard topics as abiogenesis, the origin or the fundamental laws of the universe.

I think that You wouldn’t be very eager to accept such an application of inductive reasoning. But still, it remains an instance of induction :)

We should also avoid the other extreme, though: just because one has to be very careful when reasoning inductively, it does not mean that all such reasoning should be abandoned. Induction just shouldn’t be seen as the final word on neither what we can know nor what we certainly know. (I’d recommend Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan on this topic, despite my not having read through all of it.)

All the best,
Andrej

BGA:

“But is it really so that today we’re in a position to positively claim that all natural phenomena have a material cause?”

Well there is really no need for such a claim. Mine is: as far as we can tell all causes are material in some sense.

“But how is this not analogical to the motion of sun, which seemed to the medievals to be without a material cause?”

This is exactly my point, it was wrong to assume no material cause for the Sun’s apparent motion, we should not make the same assumption with  respect to the appearance of virtual particles or the earliest known state of the Cosmos.

“I haven’t limited myself to material causes only, while You have.”

I have not ruled out immaterial existence, I just see not reason to accept it. My dispute with you is that when you do not detect a material cause, you conclude an immaterial cause. I would say this is  fallacious. It is arguing from ignorance.

“The question is: which of the two chains of reasoning we presented is more probable to be correct?”

Based on the fact that all observed causes are material I would say it is more likely that all causes are material.

“That’s how I observe it!” is not a real justification and is prone to errors of purportedly bullet-proof induction, as I’ll try to demonstrate in the next example.”

Of course induction is not bullet-proof, it leads to weak positions. When I say something is established inductively, I mean it “appears” to be the case. This is what inductive arguments do. Your example more or less sets out the problem of induction. We have no way of knowing that past patterns predict the future but we all behave as if this is the  case. This is what I mean when I say I take the reliability of induction as axiomatic.

I have read the Black Swan twice and I am almost done with Anti-Fragile. You should read the whole thing and I suggest you have a close look at chapter six which begins with “On the Causes of My Rejection of Causes”

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About Brian Green Adams

I am an atheist in Canada. I know something about law. "Brian Green Adams" is a pseudonym, taken from Brian Eno, Robert Green Ingersol, and Douglas Adams. Three of my favourite atheists. Not to mention The Life of Brian, Brian Green (physicist), Eno's "Another Green World", and Adam from Genesis in the Bible. The connection to Brian Adams is an unfortunate coincidence, though I was very fond of him when I was 12.
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45 Responses to Pure Act Forum

  1. Andrej Tokarčík says:

    Hello, Brian. It now appears to me that we’d got side-tracked into discussing the method of induction with respect to the possibility of immaterial beings and so we’ve started to ignore the big picture. Whether generalising from our observations tells us that immaterial beings are impossible/improbable or not, it is irrelevant once the issue is settled by a valid and sound deductive argument. Therefore, I’ll try to approach our discussion from a bit different perspective and also bring it back to the original context of Aquinas’s First Way.

    At the moment, Your only objection against the First Way seems to be that the principle of causality — being derived via induction — cannot be unconditionally taken for granted. That’s true, given that the principle of causality is indeed nothing but an extrapolated observation. But it is not: what we observe is change and to admit that these sense data communicate a truth about reality, i.e. that change is real, together with the principle of non-contradiction is all that we need in order to see the necessity of the principle of causality. For some background information, I’d refer You to this comment of mine: http://www.strangenotions.com/answering-two-objections-to-aquinas/#comment-1236894058

    I think that the comment explains most of it, so I’ll just shortly reiterate: to accept that a thing may be either actually (in act) or potentially (in potency), and that act and potency are distinct, is necessary in order to reconcile the principle of non-contradiction with the reality of change; to be in change (=motion in this context) is then defined as to be in an actualisation of some potency. Being in potency is merely a necessary, not sufficient condition for a change to occur, for if being in potency all alone was sufficient, then all beings in potency would get automatically raised to act on their own, which would mean that act and potency are not distinct and thus our overall attempt to give an account of change has failed. Hence, some other condition is also required, but the only two candidates for this condition are beings in act or non-being/nothing, and non-being obviously cannot influence anything at all. Thus, what follows is that potency must be raised to act by something that is in act, which is given as the principle “whatever is in motion is moved by another”, which in turn translates, getting rid of the notoriously misunderstood term of motion, as “whatever is actualised must be actualised by something already actual”.

    It is now clear, I hope, how the principle of causality is inferred without resorting to the means of induction. All that must be observed is change, combined with trusting our senses well enough to confirm the reality of change. The principle of causality is then attained by reason admitting the principle of non-contradiction, which is why Aristotle and Aquinas didn’t have to rely on inductive reasoning as far as the principle of causality was concerned, nor to be worried about empirical refutations of the principle.

    I’d better stop right here and see what You think about the argument at the moment. If You propose no other objections, I’ll be aware of nothing rendering the First Way invalid or unsound.

    Cheers,
    Andrej

  2. I do not accept that the principle of causation can be inferred without induction. Inferred from what?

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      From the principle of non-contradiction and the reality of change. That’s what the third paragraph of my comment above is about, with the core statement being “for if being in potency all alone was sufficient, then all beings in potency would get automatically raised to act on their own”.

      • As soon as you rely on observation such as the “reality of change” you are relying on induction. How else are we aware of the this “reality” if not by observation? If form observation it is subject to the prospect that all reality, even one’s own thoughts may be illusory. The law of non-contradiction is self-attesting, rules about causation are not. There is nothing contradictory about a self-moving entity, indeed, is this not what you argue Pure Act is?

        But you are right, all of this is a side-bar. I am willing to accept that the motion of things in motion are moved by forces. I just do not know what the source of all energy in the Cosmos is, or if it even makes sense to speak of a source. I see no reason to assume that there is some extra-cosmos being that is responsible. This seems to me to be just an argument from ignorance.

        It might be helpful if you set out your argument in formal logic style, this way we can better establish if there are premises we disagree about.

      • Andrej Tokarčík says:

        You’re right as far as You say that the principle of causality cannot be inferred without performing any observation whatsoever. However, induction is not the same as mere observation, and so induction is *not* necessary to establish the reality of change — for only a single instance of observation of any kind would suffice on its own to prove the reality of change. Indeed, the reality of change is implied by observing anything at all (for observation is an acquisition of information, and acquisition is a kind of change), even more, the reality of change is implied by sensing anything at all (for sensing involves responding to a specific physical phenomenon, and it is impossible to respond to anything without change). Of course, You may still argue that it is too much to concede that our continual, consistent and unavoidable experience of observing/sensing is trustworthy, but then I’d think You’ve pretty much ruled out all possibility of human knowledge, including the discoveries of the natural sciences. Moreover, I’d say that no such argument can be coherent as I explain in the comment at http://www.strangenotions.com/answering-two-objections-to-aquinas/#comment-1239502764 (see especially the part below the first quotation).

        > The law of non-contradiction is self-attesting, rules about causation are not.

        The principle of causality is self-evident as well as the principle of non-contradiction since neither of them can be coherently denied. Suppose that “whatever is actualised must be actualised by something already actual” was false. Then, potentials can be actualised by something which is not actual. Something which is not actual is either potential or non-being. Obviously, non-being (that which is not) cannot be a cause of anything. On the other hand, if a merely potential thing was able to actualise another potential thing, then there could be no potential things because all of them would have become actualised just by the virtue of their being potential, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, but the existence of potential-yet-not-actual things is necessary to account for the reality of change. Thus, the principle of causality cannot be coherently denied.

        Next, to make it clear once and for all, the First Way is *not* arguing for a self-moving entity, precisely because it *is* contradictory to talk about a self-moving entity. The commonly raised objection (Objection #1 in the original article by Trent Horn) says that it is self-refuting to claim that both of the propositions “Whatever is moved is moved by another” and “There is a being that can move itself” are true. And surely it is. But Aquinas adheres only to the first, and not to the latter proposition, which is just a misunderstanding of the conclusion of the First Way. Instead, the conclusion of the First Way is that “There is a being that can move others without itself being moved” or equivalently “There is a being that can move others without itself being in motion”. Pure Act is *not* in motion. That’s why the First Way is said to lead to Unmoved Mover, not Self-moved Mover.

        What is it that makes positing a self-moving entity contradictory? A self-moving entity would have to be moving itself, or equivalently to be being moved by itself. Recalling that motion is just an actualisation of potency, we get that the self-moving entity would have to be actualising its own potency. But that is possible only if the entity is both actual and potential in the same respect and at the same time (i.e., that the entity both is-already and is-not-yet in the same respect and the same time — this reformulation alone should show the absurdity). However, the existence of such a thing entails that actuality is not really distinct from potentiality. We’ve already seen, though, that the reality of change can be properly explained only if we admit that things, which are (that is, beings), are either in a state of actuality or in a state of potentiality and also that actuality and potentiality are distinct. Hence, the existence of a self-moving entity is contradictory as it implies that actuality and potentiality are not distinct and thus change is not real.

        At last, I’m not sure what You mean by formal logic, but Aquinas’s First Way can be more or less formally stated as per following:

        P1. Some beings in potency (i.e., potentials) are being actualised.
        P2. (The principle of causality:) Whatever is being actualised must be being actualised by something already actual.
        P3. A chain of actualisers has no causal power if there is not a being which is not being actualised, yet which just is actual.
        C. Therefore, there is a being which just is actual (i.e., pure act).

        None the less, to fully comprehend Aquinas’s arguments I recommend to become more acquainted with Aquinas’s metaphysical framework, as I’m aware how long it can take to fully appreciate the act/potency distinction. Feser’s Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide is definitely a good start to this end.

        > I am willing to accept that the motion of things in motion are moved by forces. I just
        > do not know what the source of all energy in the Cosmos is, or if it even makes
        > sense to speak of a source. I see no reason to assume that there is some
        > extra-cosmos being that is responsible. This seems to me to be just an
        > argument from ignorance.

        I’m sorry, Brian, but this is just babbling. The First Way is a deductive argument, the structure of which I tried to lay down above. It’s of no use to talk about some purported incoherence of the conclusion of the First Way — You either provide some specific objections against the soundness of the argument or You don’t. Your personal dissatisfaction with the obtained result is irrelevant.

        All the best,
        Andrej

  3. Andrej,

    I’m sorry you think I am babbling. If you think I am not smart enough to grasp these things and should just reread you comments and other people’s books then I would appreciate you say it from the outset.

    If not I am happy to continue and try and work my way through your comments. But please be careful to read my comments clearly. For example, I did not say that the law of non-contradiction is self-evident, I said it is self-attesting. These are very different things and the difference is important.

    I am concerned that we may be speaking what amounts to different languages here in terms of words like “being”, “actualize” and “potency” and I want to make sure we are in the same page. I cannot assess the premises in this language. I certainly grant you that the argument is deductive, but not that the premises are sound. I might, but I need clarification of the language.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Brian, I didn’t intend to imply that You are altogether babbling, just to point out that if a deductive argument is sound, one can do whatever he wants besides finding a concrete error in the argument, the conclusion won’t go away. I should have definitely used an expression less ambiguous than “babbling”. I am sorry, don’t take me wrong.

      With regards to self-evident vs. self-attesting, You are right that I implicitly assumed that those words should mean the same, namely “that which cannot be coherently denied”. It would be helpful if You could elaborate on how You understand the terms, with the emphasis on their difference.

      To put it shortly, “being” is that which is (real) — as opposed to “non-being”, which is not (real). In that sense, the word “being” denotes a particular individual being, i.e., some thing which is (real in some way). It is possible to understand “being” more abstractly as a kind of a principle, in which all things-that-are/beings participate. But this is a less common usage and the existence of such a principal being would have to be proven, while the fact that something is (i.e., that there is *a* being) is simply obvious.

      Now, it may seem that to differ between being and non-being is sufficient. But that would be the case only if our experience involved things that are, but not things that also change. Because change implies that some things are here and now, and also some other things are – just not yet. Thus, we must objectively recognize the different sense of “to be”: a being is either actually (is here and now) or potentially (is not yet). Both actual and potential beings are beings, i.e., things that are (real). We just have to avoid the error of thinking that “to be” means always the same. It does not: it can either refer to being actually or to being potentially.

      To explain change (=actualisation of a potential being) is thus not concerned with giving details about a process. In lieu thereof, to explain change amounts to explaining why a being is actualised in these respects rather than in the other respects in which it is potentially. Or in other words, given that an actual being is actual only inasmuch as it is just an actualised potential being, why is it so that precisely this potential being is actualised rather than another potential being? The First Way shows how such an explanation must proceed and arrive at a being which is not an actualised potential being but purely actual being.

      Don’t hesitate to let me know if You don’t understand anything, but still I think that grabbing Feser’s book on Aquinas is one of the best ways to familiarise one’s self with the terminology used in Aquinas’s arguments.

      Cheers,
      Andrej

    • Could You please elaborate on the difference between self-evident and self-attesting?

  4. So if I understand you, “being” refers to the set of real entities or real objects – everything that exists, that is real in any way? Is that it? Or is reality or being a subset of all that “exists”? In other words, is “being” the set of things that are real and exist but there is also a set of things that are non-real and still exist, or exist, but are non-real? It would seem to me that the latter must be the case. If something is non-being is non-real, I don’t think it makes sense to say it “exists”.

    I think this is important, because I certainly do not accept that “change implies that some things are here and now, and also some other things are – just not yet.”

    “Change” to me is a word used to describe observed differences in reality over time. Change does not imply that some things are here and now. Rather it is our observation that implies that there are things that exist here and now. We receive sensory input that suggests an outside reality composed of material things. I do not see how observation of change implies that new things will come into “being” that the non-real will become real. I can accept that change implies that things in being change state. I do not think it follows that non-real or non-being exist in any way or will come into being or reality. Not sure that is what you are saying either.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Hello, Brian. Sorry for the long delay, the semester just started this week.

      No, “being” does not to refer to any set, perhaps “all beings” could. A being is simply something which is/exists. In this sense, no being can be said to be non-real or non-existing. But potential beings are still beings (existent and real).

      I think that I haven’t expressed myself clearly when I labelled potential beings as being “not yet”. My apologies, that was indeed confusing. However, a potential being does really and objectively exist in an actually existing being which has a potentiality to become that potential being. What the potentialities of actually existing beings point at is said to exist potentially. Thus, potential beings are not non-being or non-real. To the contrary, they are (kinds of) beings and real.

      I’ll just add a quotation from Feser’s Aquinas, which will hopefully help:

      “Take any object of our experience: a red rubber ball, for example. Among its features are the ways it actually is: solid, red, and bouncy. These are different aspects of its “being.” There are also the ways it is not; for example, it is not a dog, or a car, or a computer. The ball’s “dogginess” and so on, since they don’t exist, are different kinds of “non-being.” But in addition to these feature we can distinguish the various ways the ball *potentially* is: blue (if you paint it), soft and gooey (if you melt it), and so forth. So, being and non-being are not the only relevant factors; there are also a thing’s potentialities. Or, to use the traditional Scholastic jargon, in addition to the different ways in which a thing may be “in act” or actual, there are the various ways in which a thing may be “in potency” or potential. Here lies the key to understanding how change is possible. If the ball is to become soft and gooey, it can’t be the actual gooeyness itself that causes this, since it doesn’t yet exist. But that the gooeyness is non-existent is not (as Parmenides assumed) the end of the story, for a potential or potency for gooeyness *does* exist in the ball, and this, together with some external influence (such as heat) that actualises that potential — or, as the Scholastics would put it, which reduces the potency to act — suffices to show how the change can occur.” (p. 10)

      Finally, I think that change can be said to imply that things exist here and now. For if there were nothing here and now, there would be nothing to change and thus no change in the first place. Anyway, if You think that “Why this rubber ball is in such a state that it is red rather than blue?” (or in terms of actuality/potentiality: “Why is this rubber ball’s potential to be red actualised instead of its potential to be blue?”) is a meaningful question, then that’s exactly what it means to explain change in this context — such a question is what the First Way aims to give an ultimate answer to (necessarily arriving at a being which has only actualities and no actualised potentialities).

      Cheers,
      Andrej

  5. Ok, so “being” refers to all states of existence for real things throughout time. It refers to to things as they are are any given point in time as well as all other states they could possibly take. The state they are in at any given point in time is the “actual” state, all other future possible states are “potential”. I do not accept that these “potential” states are “real” or “exist” in any way. For example, we have a rubber ball. It exists, it is actualized, it is material. It, as a gooey rubber ball, you would say is a “potential” state. But at this moment in time, such a gooey state does not exist. We can imagine it as a gooey ball, but this is a concept in a brain, not a thing that exists. This brain state exists but the gooey ball does not.

    The only way I can think of the future gooey ball existing is if we accept time as not “tensed”. (In fact, I have heard that this is what the deep thinkers in physics believe is the case and that our experience of chronology and sequence is illusory.) This is why we talk of time as a dimension. If we return to the ball example, consider a gooey ball that cools and hardens. If we look at time as non-tensed, then both exist, at different points on the time dimension, just like the two sides of the ball exist in different points in the space dimensions. But if we look at it this way, the concept of “change” becomes meaningless. In this sense all potentials that have and will be actualized exist in space/time.

    However, not even this would mean that all potential states of being exist, only those that have or definitely will be actualized. Consider our ball again. If at point A in time it is hard. At point B, it may be soft or remain hard or be changed in a multitude of other ways. (In all cases it will have changed of course because the subatomic particles are in constant motion for all matter.) But at point A, it exists at a specific state. At point B it will exist in a different state but only one of these will be actualized. In tensed time, none of these states at point B exist. In non-tensed time, only one exists.

    I am trying to rephrase your argument in terms that I understand, but I can’t do it. Maybe we can sort out our understanding of exist, change, potential and so on first.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Brian, try to read the passage from Feser’s Aquinas once again. No one says that the future gooey ball exists as such. The gooey ball exists as a potential of the actually existing ball — it is just a capacity of the existing ball to get gooey. The potential must be objective and real, and not merely conceptual, else change cannot be explained at all. And the ball has the capacity to get gooey in any case, not only if at some other point in time it gets actualised.

      Furthermore, it is irrelevant whether time is tensed or not — what is actual and potential can be always stated with respect to a given point in time (whether it’s the most natural “now” or not). We don’t say that potential things exist only if they exist actually at a different point of time, they exist as capacities of related actually existing things at whatever time.

      The argument may be rephrased as per the following:

      P1. Some things are changing.
      P2. Everything that is changing is being changed by something else.
      P3. A chain of changers has no causal power if there is not a changer which is not undergoing change, yet which just is changing others.
      C. Therefore, there is an ultimate cause of all change.

      Best,
      Andrej

  6. Thanks, your rephrasing makes more sense.

    I agree with P1. I am not sure about P2, how do you know this with certainty?

    I don’t understand P3 can you explain this? What do you mean by causal power? And why is this absent in a chain of changers? Why does it gain causal power because there is a changer that is not undergoing change? How can something change others but in no way change itself, this seems incoherent to me. Inherent in my understanding of the act of changing something is a transfer of energy. Inherent in a changer changing something is transferring some energy from it, to the changee, thus changing both.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      P2 has been explained in terms of actuality/potentiality in my very first comment here [1], in the third paragraph. We still need to remember that change is to be understood very broadly: a thing is in change if it is in a non-natural (just transient) state, i.e. in a state for which there are other equivalent states that are yet not active at that moment for some reason. For instance, a proton can be present as part of the nucleus of an atom at some moment; why this particular atom, though? The question is reasonable because the proton could very well be incorporated within another atom. Further, protons can be completely destroyed when absorbed by an electron (raising the electron to a new energy level). Thus, it is also reasonable to ask why our proton is in a state of existence rather non-existence at that moment. Generally, to explain change means to explain why a thing is precisely in the state in which it is rather than another physically possible (=potential) state.

      Thus, P2 must hold: a thing cannot be a sufficient cause of its own change, because then the caused change wouldn’t be an instance of change (=a transient state with other potential states in the same respect) — it would be a natural (=stationary) state of the thing, not a change.

      With regards to P3, imagine a series of mirrors. Mirrors can reflect light. However, there needs to be a source of light outside of the series of mirrors in order for the mirrors to actually reflect light. It is not plausible to say that there is a spatial configuration of the mirrors (even if there was an infinite number of them) which would make the mirrors reflect light without an actual source of light outside of the series of mirrors.

      In this context, it is equally implausible to say that it is possible to give an explanation of change exclusively in terms of changing things.

      Best,
      Andrej

      [1] https://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/pure-act-forum/comment-page-1/#comment-44

      • Andrej Tokarčík says:

        (By the way, I messed up: a proton is *not* that easily destroyed, the absorption part is correct about photons instead of protons, sorry! I hope the example is illustrative in spite of the mistake, though…)

  7. I am glad you made that clarification.

    P2 I could accept that all change seems to be caused by something else but you haven’t demonstrated that ALL change is necessarily caused by something else. You give examples in physics, but these are observed phenomena and we you are extrapolating a rule out of this through induction. It may seem impossible to be otherwise to you, but that does not mean it is.

    P3 seems to be a trying to get me to accept that an infinite regress is impossible. You are saying it is counter intuitive, incredible, but this does not mean impossible.

    To me an unchanged changer is just as incredible and implausible, if not more so, than an infinite regress of causes, but I accept one or the other must be the case. The infinite regress seems to me to become less of a problem when time is and space are indistinguishable as does the idea of causation and change. And we are pretty certain that this was the case in the early Universe.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      I didn’t use the examples of physics to demonstrate that all change is caused — instead, I used them to clarify why it is meaningful to ask for an explanation of change. Afterwards, I pointed out that if there was a thing that is a sufficient cause of its own change, then the thing’s change would have never been an instance of change in the first place, and *this* contradiction shows that an external changer is necessary. All that must be remembered is that when a thing is in change, it means that the thing is in a transient, non-stationary state: if something was a sufficient cause of its staying in a transient state, then the thing would necessarily have to be in that state during the whole time of the thing’s existence, which would in turn imply that the state could have never been just transient, i.e. that thing has never been in change in that respect.

      With regards to P3, it is really impossible (as opposed to only inconceivable) to explain why some particular transient states are active by the exclusive means of other things in transient states. It is necessary that there is a thing which is in a stationary (rather than transient) state because all things in a transient state are in that particular transient state only because there is something else that activates that particular transient state. To that end, a thing A which is itself in a transient state is a cause of an activation of a particular transient state of another thing B inasmuch as A’s transient state is also activated by yet another thing, and so on. It can be seen that A is just instrumental to the end of causing the activation of B’s transient state — A would have no causal power to that end if A’s own transient state wasn’t activated by another thing. Hence, it can be said with certainty that all things in a transient state derive their causal power from other things until a stationary thing, which doesn’t demand an explanation of its causal power, is arrived at.

      (I’m using many new words here with the hope that it would become clearer in this form. I guess it has to do with the differences between the meaning of change from the medieval perspective in contrast to our modern understanding. We tend to view change as a process, but what the First Way attempts to explain is why at any given moment, any thing is in that state in which it is rather than in another state in which the thing could be as well.)

      I recommend reading through [1] for a more elaborate exposition of the questions surrounding P3.

      Best,
      Andrej

      [1] http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

  8. “Hence, it can be said with certainty that all things in a transient state derive their causal power from other things until a stationary thing, which doesn’t demand an explanation of its causal power, is arrived at.”

    No, it cannot be said with certainty. You are simply asserting that all change needs a changer, I guess because that is how nature appears to work to you. Then, faced with the disturbing prospect of infinite regress of change, which you assume is impossible, you assert that there must be an exception to this rule of all changing needing a changer, namely a transcendent unchanging changer.

    I remain unconvinced and I am afraid I have no interest in reading any of Feser’s work. I have not been impressed with any of his writing so far.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Hello, Brian, back in February, I tried to explain my understanding of the discussed matter as best as I can. I obviously failed as You still see some induction used within my argument.

      I tried to demonstrate that the necessity of an actualiser is the crucial condition that differentiates between some transient (=potential) states of a thing being activated (=actualised) and some not: if there were no necessity of external actualisers, there would be no transient states, only stationary (=actual as such) states, and thus we would of course observe no transient states, which is in contradiction with the sense data of change that we have been trying to give an account of in the first place. Thus, I am not starting with the observation of changers/actualisers, I am starting with the observation of things being non-stationary and subsequently attempting to explain under what conditions it is possible for any thing to be in a transient state at all.

      Perhaps we could take the other way around if You are still interested in our discussion: Could You please provide any insights in how You explain our experience of change (or multiplicity/diversity for that matter)? You can perhaps present a model of Your own if You think that the actuality/potentiality is lacking in some way. If, for instance, some quantum phenomena don’t require an actualiser, how is it possible that they are `phenomena’ at all — why aren’t they simply permanently there, without becoming? What is the explanation of their transience/impermanence/non-stationarity?

      Cheers,
      Andrej

      • I have no insights on how to “explain” change or multiplicity/diversity. I do not even understand what you are asking or why. I observe things changing. I observe what appear to be causes of these changes and I identify what appear to be patterns and so on.

        This is really not a problem as far as I can tell.

      • It seems to me as though You were reducing the whole beauty of the investigation of Nature to observation-pattern-identification cycles. Are we able to know any truth with absolute certainty? Is there any objective reality? Those are of course hard questions demonstrated by the fact that the philosophical enterprise has been in a constant attempt to answer them in one way or another for thousands of years, but I’m becoming convinced that our “talking past each other” is caused by our conflicting implicit attitudes towards these matters.

        In the very first post I posted to this blog I linked to a post of mine on Strange Notions where I talked a bit about what made Aristotle think up the actuality/potentiality categories of being. The problem he dealt with was to reconcile our observations of change with the various arguments against the reality of change (back then it was Parmenides, Zeno, more recently Einstein with a bit of extrapolation, McTaggart). Relying on the strength of his reasoning, Parmenides even denied reliability of the senses altogether. The questions remain: Why should we trust our observations at all; shouldn’t pure reason prevail? Or, on other hand, should all arguments incompatible with our observations be dismissed right away? In order to avoid any dogmatic beliefs assumed a priori, we have to take a middle position between the two extremes and reason about what we observe and what follows from the observations. Of course, to explain why things appear to change need not be of interest to everyone, yet it still is a legitimate question demanding an answer.

        Anyway, I would like to bring Your attention to the core of my last post where I tried to summarise why I think I am not “simply asserting” anything or taking advantage of inductive reasoning whatsoever. I must admit I am confused that Your counter-arguments seem to me substantially the same as in the beginning of our discussion…

        All the best,
        Andrej

  9. I think both of our arguments have not changed much. The kind of hard questions you identify here are in my view insurmountable. There is no way to have absolute certainty about almost anything except the logical absolutes and “I think therefore I am”. This is because they are self-attesting, meaning they are true even if we hypothetize them as false. I.e what if I don’t exist to be fooled by the Great Demon? I still must exist to have had that thought!

    There is no work around the problem of induction. We just go with it accepting the limitation.

    • It is paradoxical that You said the questions are insurmountable and gave an answer to the first one in the same breath (and perhaps implicitly to the other one as well). Just consider Your statement:

      > There is no way to have absolute certainty about almost anything except the logical absolutes and “I think therefore I am”.

      Are You absolutely certain about the statement’s being true? If You are not, You should have started with a more humble pronouncement than “There is no way” and also be willing to consider the opposite. On other hand, if You are certain about it, it would have to be a logical absolute by the virtue of its own being true, which in turn implies that it can bear any relation to either the mind-independent reality or the actual capabilities of humans. As such, it is irrelevant to our discussion of what can be known about the external and objective reality. Which is no surprise since You appear to be quite happy to grant that the objective reality does not exist at all (contrary to the trust in observation as a means to affirm the existence of things that You admitted before).

      > “I think therefore I am”

      If You consider thinking to be the defining trait of Your self-knowledge and existence, I hope You have considered the possibility of Your being an immaterial mind. Moreover, it is quite possible that it is not You-as-a-substance that exists but rather You-as-an-accident in which case You should look for some kind of monism ;)

      > There is no work around the problem of induction.

      Could You please point out where do I rely on inductive reasoning in my arguments? I think that You have been consistently confounding induction (which involves generalising from multiple particular instances that have been observed) and observation itself (for instance, a single observation alone is sufficient to establish such notions as external reality, change, diversity of things, no generalisation is necessary).

      Cheers,
      Andrej

      • “which in turn implies that it can bear any relation to either the mind-independent reality or the actual capabilities of humans” -> “which in turn implies that it can bear no relation to either the mind-independent reality or the actual capabilities of humans”

        Sorry for the confusion.

  10. I’ve responded to your comments, but I think this is a bit of a tangent, I get into what I think we should get back to in the last two paragraphs.

    I am absolutely certain that I exist and of the logical absolutes. I am not absolutely certain that there is nothing else we can know with absolute certainty, nor did I say so. I believe with confidence that there is no way of knowing anything else with that level of certainty because of the problem of induction.

    I am not happy to grant that an objective reality does not exist. I believe a material reality exists and that I am part of it. I just don’t and cannot know this with absolute certainty.

    I am not saying thinking is a “defining trait” of self-knowledge etc. The only thing I am sure happens is that I think. Whether this is an emergent property of matter, an immaterial existence, or a sub-routine in a computer, I cannot tell for sure. All I can tell is that there is something that is “me”. I believe I am an emergent property of matter but I believe this on a much lower standard than my belief that I exist.

    I disagree that a single observation establishes an external reality. It simply establishes “some” reality for the observer, this may be entirely immaterial and in your own mind, which is all that “exists”.

    Lets talk a bit about the problem of induction. We observe a ball falling every time we drop it. It feels reasonable to say that this past observation suggests it will happen again if we replicate the circumstances. But there is actually no way to establish this logically. It is actually just a fudge that we say the future will be like the past. This is a problem for all observation.

    Of course you and I and everyone just ignore the problem because it would be paralyzingly and chaotic to act otherwise and it has never failed us in the past. But this severely limits what we can honestly say we know with absolute certainty.

    A premise like “P2. Everything that is changing is being changed by something else.” is derived by extrapolating from observation. The only way we know this is because we observe it. We observe change, we observe what look like causes for change, and we extrapolate this rule. If you were to change this to “it appears that everything that is changing is being changed by something else.” I would grant it.

    I think we are getting bogged down in these premises because you are saying things like “we can know with certainty”. I accept that the argument is in the form of a deductive argument and if it were sound it would be a convincing argument.

    Let us say I accept P1 and 2 for the sake of argument. Lets look at P3. The point seems to be that it is impossible for there to be an infinite regress of change, but it is not impossible for there to be a cause of all change, which does not itself change. To me, both these seem impossible, but observation suggests an infinite regress. It seems to me that the idea of an unchanged changer is not reasonable but just a place holder for an explanation. In other words, because there cannot be an infinite regress there must be some other explanation. I just see no reason to go there. I say it appears that there is an infinite regress, which also seems impossible. Either it isn’t impossible, or there is some other explanation.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Dear Brian,

      I don’t think that the questions of certainty are of marginal significance, as Your sceptical rationalism makes me wonder why we have been discussing Aquinas’s First Way at all. St. Thomas’s goal is to definitively prove God’s existence, while You have basically ruled out a priori the possibility of such certain knowledge. As such, it is a good time to reconsider whether Aquinas’s philosophy and metaphysics can be of any interest to You, because Your chosen first principles prevent any certain knowledge to be derived from sense data, even in the cases when the sense data are *not* used just for a probabilistic extrapolation. From my point of view, You unjustifiedly conflate reasoning from sense data with inductive reasoning, where in fact the latter is just one kind of the former.

      As a side note, this article — http://augustinecollective.org/augustine/recovering-the-metaphysical-character-of-truth — neatly expounds on my point.

      > A premise like “P2. Everything that is changing is being changed
      > by something else.” is derived by extrapolating from observation.
      > The only way we know this is because we observe it.

      No and no. Throughout our discussion I have attempted a few times to show the absolute necessity (i.e., not just probability) of the truth of P2. The reason why P2 is true is not that from the abundant evidence of our senses it can be plausibly inductively inferred that change is caused. Absolutely not! We don’t start with the sense data of change being caused. All that is needed to establish the truth of P2 is the trivial fact of “Things change”, which is as self-evident as it could get. (Anyway, if You think that “I think, therefore I am” is to be known with certainty, then of course, analogically, “I think, therefore I change, therefore something changes, therefore things change” is known with certainty as well.)

      The necessity of a changer is included in “Things change” alone, we don’t need additionally to extrapolate “All change is caused by a changer” from multiple observations. This might be not obvious because most people don’t bother with formalising the notion of change. I am quite sure that no model of change can avoid the principle of causality, which is why I asked You for one.

      I will quote myself (somebody *had* to do that!) from above:

      “[T]he necessity of an actualiser is the crucial condition that differentiates between some transient (=potential) states of a thing being activated (=actualised) and some not: if there were no necessity of external actualisers, there would be no transient states, only stationary (=actual as such) states, and thus we would of course observe no transient states, which is in contradiction with the sense data of change that we have been trying to give an account of in the first place. Thus, I am not starting with the observation of changers/actualisers, I am starting with the observation of things being non-stationary and subsequently attempting to explain under what conditions it is possible for any thing to be in a transient state at all.”

      There is a more formal demonstration of the principle of causality (in terms of actuality/potentiality) in one of the very first posts of mine above.

      Now, in order to address Your questions about P3, I hope You won’t mind if I copy & paste another paragraph I already wrote before:

      “[I]t is really impossible (as opposed to only inconceivable) to explain why some particular transient states are active by the exclusive means of other things in transient states. It is necessary that there is a thing which is in a stationary (rather than transient) state because all things in a transient state are in that particular transient state only because there is something else that activates that particular transient state. To that end, a thing A which is itself in a transient state is a cause of an activation of a particular transient state of another thing B inasmuch as A’s transient state is also activated by yet another thing, and so on. It can be seen that A is just instrumental to the end of causing the activation of B’s transient state — A would have no causal power to that end if A’s own transient state wasn’t activated by another thing. Hence, it can be said with certainty that all things in a transient state derive their causal power from other things until a stationary thing, which doesn’t demand an explanation of its causal power, is arrived at.”

      I would just add that P3 may require more background knowledge, especially of the distinction between essentially ordered (sometimes called per se) series and accidentally ordered (per accidens) series. That’s why I tried to “cheat” at first by taking advantage of the mirrors-reflecting-light-without-a-light-source example, where the mirrors are merely instruments with regards to the activity of emitting light, precisely because they are just reflecting the light, not producing it. The mirrors are just transient light-emitters: there must be a proper light source that is the stationary light-emitter, which is thus the most fundamental member of the whole series.

      For a more detailed discussion, allow me to link to http://www.academia.edu/4415427/There_Must_Be_A_First_Why_Thomas_Aquinas_Rejects_Infinite_Essentially_Ordered_Causal_Series since You don’t like Feser’s writing. (You can find an academia.edu login/password at bugmenot.com.)

      > To me, both these seem impossible, but observation suggests an infinite regress.

      What observation, please?

      Take care,
      Andrej

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Could You please back up Your claim that observation suggests an infinite regress?

  11. I understand the argument and I will accept for the sake of argument that all change has a cause. But then we get to a new problem with P3.

    “P3. A chain of changers has no causal power if there is not a changer which is not undergoing change, yet which just is changing others.”

    To me a thing that is in any sense a “changer” cannot be said to be “stationary” and not undergoing any change. I cannot conceive of such a thing, and no such thing has been observed to my knowledge. Something that causes something to happen, this cause must in some way do “work” it must expend energy, it must apply force, of some kind, it cannot be said to be “stationary” and unchanged. This seems to be in direct conflict with your P2 that all change has a cause. Or, special pleading that there must be a unchanging cause.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      We must remember that even though the actuality/potentiality distinction is indeed inferred from the observation of change in the material world, there is no reason to limit its scope to physical causes exclusively. We don’t need to take any concrete mechanisms of change (energy, force et al.) into account when discussing change in general. Actuality and potentiality must remain distinct in any changing universe, whether ours or not, whether material or not, disregarding the particular physical laws.

      Hence, if an immaterial “thing” turns out to be necessary to account for the observed change in our material universe, then we should be able to accept such a conclusion in spite of its apparent inconceivability. I would include Your own words at this point: “You are saying it is counter intuitive, incredible, but this does not mean impossible.”

      Also note that an unchanging changer does not constitute a special exception of P2: P2 doesn’t say that everything has a cause, only that which is changing (in the sense of undergoing change, i.e. being a recipient of actuality) does. However, an unchanging changer is not changing in this sense, it is just enabling actuality in others while not receiving actuality itself — it must be actual by its very own nature.

      At last, for completeness, I would like to add a quote from Feser’s Aquinas (p. 80):

      “Besides, it is hardly as if the notion of an unmoved mover were anything like as problematic as that of (say) an “immortal mortal.” An “immortal mortal” would be something that both dies and does not die, which is self-contradictory. But an unmoved mover is something that makes other things move without itself undergoing motion, and there is no *obvious* self-contradiction in that. Furthermore, as G. H. Joyce argues, the reason that the movers of our experience are themselves moving even as they move other things is precisely because they are limited in the various ways entailed by being composites of act and potency. (For example, because an arm is actually at one point in space and only potentially at another, its potential to be at some other point in space has to be actualized by something else if it is to get the staff to that other point in space.) But something which is pure act, devoid of all potency, would have no such limitations, and thus not need to be moved itself as it is moving other things. […] Finally, as Garrigou-Lagrange points out, given that (as we will see a little later on) our knowledge of the first mover is necessarily largely negative, it should not be surprising if it is harder for us to get our minds around it than it is for us to understand the more mundane movers of our experience.”

      All the best,
      Andrej

      P. S.: Since we have been having this discussion for some quite time already, I would once again heartily recommend picking a book on St. Thomas’s philosophy instead of relying on Internet resources in order to study his thought more systematically. Don’t read his works (the Summa or anything else) directly unless You want to risk reading modern presuppositions into what he truly means — because what he truly means poses some really interesting challenges to how we tend to think nowadays.

  12. You have not addressed my criticism of P3, let me rephrase. There is a hidden premise in P3, namely at something can actualize change in others, without changing itself in any sense if the term. What is your basis for believing this to be true?

    Don’t worry, I have no intention of reading any Aquinas Internet or otherwise.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      That something can actualise others without changing itself is not a hidden premise. It is Your hidden intuition that this is not possible (which is why You need another premise that would show otherwise). But as I explained in the first paragraph of my previous comment, the actuality/potentiality distinction is very general. We should leave this question open, else we risk assuming some arbitrary constraints. The fact that such a thing is needed does not follow from the actuality/potentiality distinction alone but from that the series of movers are essentially ordered.

      Any essentially ordered series requires a most fundamental member (“first mover”) since the other members (“second movers”) are merely of instrumental nature, as I already tried to defend and where I also linked to the academia.edu article. The only thing that can be most fundamental in a series of things actualising potentials in others is a thing that does not have an actualised potential (and thus is not just an instrument to this effect) yet is simply actual of itself (and thus can actualise others on its own, without external aid). Note the difference between the case of a thing being a cause of its own actuality and the case of a thing being actual by its own nature — we’re talking about the latter, the former would be indeed inconsistent given P2.

      (By the way, Your phrasing “actualize change” is incoherent. Change is defined as an actualisation of a potential. Change is not actualised, a potential is.)

      > Don’t worry, I have no intention of reading any Aquinas Internet or otherwise.

      All right then, I just hope that You are now more familiar with Aquinas’s terms and that You can see for Yourself how mistaken one of Your first comments on the Strange Notions article — http://www.strangenotions.com/answering-two-objections-to-aquinas/#comment-1235269411 — was. Your first comments were quite typical examples of reading various incorrect presuppositions into how Aquinas must have expounded his arguments (“Aquinas has developed a rule through observation, everything we see in motion appears to have a cause for its motion”).

      That’s why it’s much more useful to confront a modern commentary (such as Feser’s), unless one enjoys the taste of having defeated a straw man. In fact, all that I have done so far is presenting the basic notions of St. Thomas’s/Aristotle’s philosophy of nature and refuting the most common objections to the argument from motion, both of which Feser covers in his book to a greater extent.

      Cheers,
      Andrej

  13. You have still not responded to my question. Why do you think it is possible for there to be a “changer that is not undergoing change” when absolutely everything anyone has ever observed is undergoing change.

    My criticism of the first way stands, it is an argument from ignorance. We don’t know whether or not an unchanged changer is possible or an infinite regress is possible or neither. Both are incomprehensible. But incomprehension does not lead to one of these optios being necessary. The reasonable thing to do is to admit we don’t know what the ultimate source of change or “act” is.

    As I have maintained all along “change” and “act” are concepts we use to classify and understand things we observe, these concepts do not exist in any way independently.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Hello Brian!

      I think I have answered Your question of possibility by noting that the existence of an unchanged changer would not entail a contradiction. That is, the ontological principle of non-contradiction still holds even when we consider the existence of an unchanged changer.

      Basically the only requirement to establish a possibility is for it to respect the principle of non-contradiction. You don’t seem to agree with this: in that case, You could perhaps reveal what the criteria of possibility are according to You. Or perhaps You have no such criteria but in that case You cannot derive possibility of anything at all, including Your own existence, not to talk about an unchanged changer.

      > when absolutely everything anyone has ever observed is undergoing change.

      Analogically, absolutely everything that anyone has ever observed interacts with electromagnetic radiation. Why, then, do You think it is widely believed that dark matter exists in spite of its never having been observed? I’d say it is due to reasoning from observable effects to their cause — not unlike the manner of the First Way (not the same either, though).

      > We don’t know whether or not an unchanged changer is possible
      > or an infinite regress is possible or neither.

      First of all, I think You make a mistake when You — given no other information — put possibility and impossibility on the same level of plausibility. In fact, with no background data, it is more plausible that something is possible than impossible, since the fact of impossibility conveys more information than the fact of possibility. That is because when we posit possibility, we don’t make a definitive statement about how the thing is in reality: it may exist as well as it may not. On the other hand, impossibility definitively settles the issue of the thing’s state in reality as well: the thing does not exist because it cannot. Thus, it is more reasonable to assume that something is possible by default because impossibility carries with it a heavier burden of proof.

      I’d just repeat that I think that I have already provided sufficient reasons as to why an unchanged changer is possible, and that any essentially ordered series must have a most fundamental member by definition.

      > Both are incomprehensible.

      This is incorrect. An unchanged changer is inconceivable in the sense that it cannot be properly imagined, but it *is* comprehensible in the sense that it can be grasped by the intellect (to a certain degree anyway) and philosophically reasoned about in abstract terms.

      Recall that dark matter and black holes are inconceivable but comprehensible in the aforementioned senses as well.

      > But incomprehension does not lead to one of these optios being necessary.

      And no one has ever claimed so. That is why the First Way is needed: it is an argument for the necessity of an unchanged changer rather than His possibility, because to see that an unchanged changer is possible is quite trivial once one sorts out his terms.

      > As I have maintained all along “change” and “act” are concepts we use
      > to classify and understand things we observe, these concepts do not exist
      > in any way independently.

      I am not sure what You mean by “independently”. Are You denying that change is real? Is Your thinking real in that case? For thinking is certainly a kind of change. It is inconsistent to deny the reality of change while affirming the reality of Your thinking. Furthermore, if You change in reality, then You are necessarily a composition of actuality and potentiality.

      Of course, “change” and “act” are concepts. But it does not mean that they are not grounded in reality at all.

      Sorry for yet another perhaps-too-long comment. Hope it helps anyway.

      All the best,
      Andrej

      • Again, for something to change something else, if must exert energy and do work. It is indeed a contradiction to say something has done work and not changed. Essentially what you and Aquinas are positing is the non-working worker.

      • Andrej Tokarčík says:

        > for something to change something else, if must exert energy and do work

        It sounds as though You were absolutely certain about it. Could You prove the proposition about any possibly existing thing? If not, how does it make a counter-example?

        You are conflating the very general notion of change with the very restrictive notion of physical work.

        To make an illustration, take Your computer. It’s probably just sitting still on Your table. None the less, there is an instance of change: The table actualises the potential of the computer with regards to the computer’s position in space relatively to whatever referential frame You have. It is obvious, I believe, that the computer has the potential to be on the floor. But it is not, it is on the table, because the table (by its solidity) actualizes the computer’s position on the table.

        Now the question is: What energy does the table exerts and what work does the table do in order to make the computer stay on the table?

        Cheers, :)

  14. Not absolute certainty, just extreme confidence. I do not follow how the table is changing the computer. The earth is pulling it towards the centre of the earth and using the force of gravity, the table and the computer are doing this as well to a minimal extent. The table is pushing up on the computer and it is making use if the electromagnetic and nuclear forces holding the compounds, molecules and atoms of the table together. I see no change occurring here, unless you mean some microscopic changes in the materials, but these would change both changer and changee.

    Or you might speak of the motion of the computer as it rotates along with the earth, around the sun, the sun around the galaxy and the galaxy away from other galaxies. In this case the motion is being caused by gravity, by the changing warp of space time caused by mass. Space time moves matter around relative to other matter and is warped indifferent ways as this occurs. Everything is constantly changing and interacting.

    Why do you say something can change something else and not be changed itself?

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      Hello Brian,

      > Not absolute certainty, just extreme confidence.

      But then, of course, Your claim that “everything must exert [physical] energy to change something else” has no force in this context and it constitutes no objection at all.

      > I do not follow how the table is changing the computer.

      I think it is related to considering change as necessarily associated with a process. Since I have already written about this, allow me just to quote a paragraph or two:

      “I guess it has to do with the differences between the meaning of change from the medieval perspective in contrast to our modern understanding. We tend to view change as a process, but what the First Way attempts to explain is why at any given moment, any thing is in that state in which it is rather than in another state in which the thing could be as well.”

      Or in another discussion:

      “Last but not least, change doesn’t have to be taken as a process, rather, a thing can be said to be in change whenever it has certain attributes which the thing doesn’t have necessarily of itself. For instance, if the same thing is observed to have some different attributes at some distinct time points, the thing will surely not have the attributes necessarily of itself without other influence. In such a case, an external factor (a changer) is required which causes that attribute to be the way it is at each of the considered time points.”

      Hopefully it now becomes clearer why I said that the table was actualising the potential of the computer with respect to the computer’s position. A thing’s being in change can be seen to mean merely that the thing is staying in a certain transient state rather than another equally possible transient state in the same respect. With this understanding, the computer is being changed because it is being located at its actual position rather than another potential position. To explain change in this case is to answer this question: What is supporting the computer’s staying where it is? What is actualising the computer’s potential to be located at this place? The table is definitely part of that answer, a necessary condition for the computer’s staying on the table.

      Then we ask: What is supporting the table’s staying where it is? The floor. Then the building. The earth. The sun. The supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way (or whatever — the particular details don’t really matter, the point remains that any composites of actuality and potentiality require an external support). And so forth, obtaining a series of causes, necessarily subordinated and simultaneously actualising the lower potentials. And such a series demands an ultimate unmoved mover that is just actualising without being actualised, since without it the intermediate actualisers wouldn’t be able to actualise any respective potentials at all. I believe that You can find a very similar (or even better) explanation in the academia.edu article I linked to a few posts back.

      (I am of course once again using my made up terminology of transient etc. to make it clearer for You. To properly understand actuality and potentiality is crucial; there is no use criticising the First Way as long as one hasn’t got a grasp of these concepts. Once again, I recommend a fully-fledged exposition from a book.)

      > Why do you say something can change something else and not be changed itself?

      How is this question different from the question “Why is an unchanged changer possible?” which I have already given an answer to?

      All the best,
      Andrej

  15. I do not agree that “such a series demands an unmoved mover”, it may seem to demand and explanation to you, but as I’ve said several times, anything the unmoved mover does in order to move things, means he has to move and is no longer unmoved. To me it suggests exactly what we observe, a series of seemingly endless causes.

    You say that without this, the intermediate actualizers won’t be able to actualize any potentials. How do you know? Why can’t there be an infinite series going back? Why can’t spacetime be some kind of manifold in which asking for the initial ultimate cause is akin to asking, where is the start if the circle?

    I grant you that we seem to be repeating ourselves so I think we are almost done.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      > as I’ve said several times, anything the unmoved mover does
      > in order to move things, means he has to move and is
      > no longer unmoved

      Indeed, You’ve said it several times, yet have provided no substantial argument to back it up. It is simply a claim that You believe with “extreme confidence” because it’s an extrapolation from a great many observations involving physical objects. However, You have provided no justification for equating all existing things with physical things. If You did, Your objection would have some relevance.

      You don’t seem to realise that there may very well lie a black swan of an unchanged changer beyond the realm of physical objects. Just like there lied a black swan of dark matter beyond the realm of objects interacting with electromagnetic radiation.

      > Why can’t there be an infinite series going back?

      I, too, have tried to explain this several times and to answer all Your related questions. To cover the case that my accounts hadn’t been really comprehensible, I linked to two articles (Feser’s and academia.edu). It would be helpful if You could point to an exact step in one of the arguments that You find unfounded instead of repeating the questions as though no one has even attempted to answer them.

      > Why can’t spacetime be some kind of manifold in which asking
      > for the initial ultimate cause is akin to asking, where is the start
      > if the circle?

      I guess this question could be of importance if we were discussing accidentally ordered series. But since we are dealing with series that are essentially ordered… (By the way, here as well You are committing a fallacy by implicitly assuming that the spacetime necessarily comprises all existing things.)

      All in all, I think that You have unwarrantedly ruled out the possibility of existence of anything non-physical. Contrary to what You have said, it seems to me that there can be no rational argument to convince You about the possibility (not to talk about certainty) of non-physical existence due to Your a-priori restriction of all existence to that of physical/material kind. No such argument can be sound from Your point of view, since You long ago decided on the issue.

      Moreover, I am not quite convinced that You have properly thought over what the distinctive properties of “physical” or “material” actually are, since Your convictions enable You to answer the question with “it’s all there is”. Of course, such an attitude may be sufficient within natural sciences because they operate exclusively in terms of physical things by definition. However, to approach philosophical disputes with an implicit pre-supposition of “what exists must be physical” is not permissible by any means.

      Kind regards,
      Andrej

      P. S.: I would be very grateful if You shared Your criteria used to establish whether something is possible or not.

  16. I think you have misunderstood. I have never ruled out the non-material or non-physical, I just have zero experience of them and a lack of evidence for something does not entail that it exists. I am not ruling out anything. I have said several times that this unmoved mover may account for things or may not. There may be an infinite regress, there may be other options we are ignorant.

    Rather it is you who have ruled an infinite regress and I do not understand why. Last chance to give me your understanding why there cannot be an infinite series of causes.

  17. Andrej Tokarčík says:

    Dear Brian, I am sorry, but I think have provided more than enough material for a genuine inquirer into Aquinas’s arguments to understand why an essentially ordered series needs a most fundamental, independent member enabling the activity of the intermediate members and thus of the whole series. Instead of my explaining it all over again, I would like You to indicate what *exactly* doesn’t seem clear to You.

    Do You think that You understand the distinction between accidentally and essentially ordered series? Do You see how the chain of movers (in the sense that we are discussing them; perhaps “supporters” would convey the meaning better) constitutes an essentially ordered series rather than an accidentally ordered one? Have You had a look at the academia.edu article? Does the article contain any statement that You are skeptical about in particular?

    Best,
    Andrej

  18. I will have a read of the article if you can attest that it has been well received and generally accepted in philosophical scholarship. Are you really saying that it is your position that philosophers agree that an infinite regress is ontologically impossible? I don’t want to waste my time with fringe elements. I’m not a philosopher and have to defer to majority consensus, which I understand is extremely limited in philosophy.

    • Andrej Tokarčík says:

      > Are you really saying that it is your position that philosophers
      > agree that an infinite regress is ontologically impossible?

      No, I am not and neither have I ever intended to do so. I have not linked to the article to persuade You that this opinion is held by a majority. In fact, I don’t know whether it is or not, and I don’t think that it is relevant to our discussion at this point. You should have raised the question of consensus in the very beginning if it has really been a concern of Yours.

      The reason I linked to the article was to provide You with a more elaborate and structured exposition of some reasons for the necessity of P3. Since the author explains many related notions as well — and in quite a readable manner for that matter — I had thought that You would find it useful to gain a better overall understanding so that we could discuss more specific details pertaining to the substance of the First Way. Instead, You have apparently settled on relying on my dense replies to Your questions and objections as the main (if not sole) point of contact with Aquinas’s philosophy, which is rather unfortunate.

      I am not a philosopher either (or perhaps an amateur one, at most). However, since I participate in philosophical debates (such as this one we’ve been having) I am at least willing to attempt to critically engage with philosophical opinions that clash with mine. I would expect the same from You, especially for You were able and willing to criticise the First Way. Actually, I would say that if the fact that You are not a philosopher were to limit You in any way, You would respectfully not dare to criticise one of the most influential philosophers of human history. Yet You did and as such You have entered into a philosophical debate. I believe that You see how hypocritical it would be to mention “not being a philosopher” later on.

      By the way, why do You expect me to demonstrate the soundness of P3 all over again when You don’t want to “waste Your time” with reading an article to which I have repeatedly referred? Have You really thought that it is possible to properly explain *and* defend the First Way via comment boxes exclusively?

      Cheers,
      Andrej

      • Thanks for the discussion Andrej. I think you like me have difficulty giving up the last word. So I will give it to you.

        I will sum up by saying that i am not convinced that absolutely all effects have a cause though I grant this is the way it seems to me by observation. I also think that both an infinite series of causes and a first cause seem to be counter intuitive and impossible. For me I can leave it at that, along with a number of seeming paradoxes an counter intuitive observations of the cosmos. If I had to choose I would go with an infinite regress and guess that this seems impossible due to my own inability to coherently conceive of what reality actually is like. I already know my impression of reality is hugely flawed given relativity and quantum mechanic. The only reason it would seem to me that anyone chooses the unmoved mover, or first cause, is due to a theological predisposition that some transcendent entity exists upon which the cosmos depends.

        I hope you will keep visiting my blog and commenting, questioning and debating. It has been a pleasure.

      • Andrej Tokarčík says:

        Thank You, too, Brian. Take care!

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