William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Philosophy (page 1 of 115)

The philosophy of science, empiricism, a priori reasoning, epistemology, and so on.

Summary Against Modern Thought: God ‘s Existence And Essence Are The Same

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Thinking cap times, folks. What God is and that He is are the same thing. I AM WHO AM.

Chapter 22: That in God existence and essence are the same

1 FROM what has been shown above, we may go on to prove that in God essence or quiddity is not distinct from His existence.

2For it has been shown above[1] that there is a thing which exists of itself necessarily, and this is God.i Now necessary existence, if it belong to a quiddity which is not that existence itself, is either inconsistent with or repugnant to that quiddity, as per se existence is to the quiddity of whiteness, or else is consistent or akin thereto, for instance that whiteness exist in some other thing. In the former supposition it will not belong to that quiddity to exist per se necessarily, for instance it becomes not whiteness to exist per se. In the second hypothesis, either this existence must be dependent on the essence, or both of them on some other cause, or the essence on the existence. The first two are in contradiction with the very notion of necessary per se existence: for if it depend on something else, it no longer exists necessarily. From the third supposition it follows that this quiddity is added accidentally to the thing which exists per se necessarily: because whatever follows on the essence of a thing is accidental thereto. Therefore God has not an essence distinct from His existence.ii

5…Further. Each thing exists by its own existence. Wherefore that which is not its own existence does not exist per se necessarily. But God exists per se necessarily. Therefore God is His own existence.

7…Moreover. Existence denotes a kind of actuality: since a thing is said to exist, not through being in potentiality, but through being in act. Now everything to which an act is becoming, and which is distinct from that act, is related thereto as potentiality to act: since act and potentiality are reciprocal terms. Accordingly, if the divine essence is distinct from its existence, it follows that His essence and existence are mutually related as potentiality and act. Now it has been proved that in God there is nothing of potentiality, and that He is pure act.[4] Therefore God’s essence is not distinct from His existence.iii

9…Further. Everything exists through having existence. Therefore nothing the essence of which is not its existence, exists by its essence, but by participation of something, namely existence. Now that which exists by participation of something cannot be the first being, because that in which a thing participates in order to exist, is previous to that thing. But God is the first being, to which nothing is previous.[6] Therefore God’s essence is His existence.iv

10 This sublime truth Moses was taught by the Lord: for when he asked the Lord (Exod. iii. 13, 14): If the children of Israel should say to me: What is His name? what shall I say to them? the Lord answered: I AM WHO AM….Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS hath sent me to you; thus declaring His own name to be: HE WHO IS. Now every name is appointed to signify the nature or essence of a thing. Wherefore it follows that God’s very existence itself is His essence or nature.v


iChapter 13. Always Chapter 13. Go and re-read it. Don’t be lazy.

iiRepeat that paragraph three times fast. It’s all there, but not put in the friendliest language to us, whose gray matter is accidentally much smaller than Thomas’s. Considering that paragraph’s density is what might have led him to re-write that proof in a happier way, in the Summa Theologica, Book 1, Question 3, Article 4, sed contra:

First, whatever a thing has besides its essence must be caused either by the constituent principles of that essence (like a property that necessarily accompanies the species–as the faculty of laughing is proper to a man–and is caused by the constituent principles of the species), or by some exterior agent–as heat is caused in water by fire. Therefore, if the existence of a thing differs from its essence, this existence must be caused either by some exterior agent or by its essential principles. Now it is impossible for a thing’s existence to be caused by its essential constituent principles, for nothing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused. Therefore that thing, whose existence differs from its essence, must have its existence caused by another. But this cannot be true of God; because we call God the first efficient cause. Therefore it is impossible that in God His existence should differ from His essence.

Secondly, existence is that which makes every form or nature actual; for goodness and humanity are spoken of as actual, only because they are spoken of as existing. Therefore existence must be compared to essence, if the latter is a distinct reality, as actuality to potentiality. Therefore, since in God there is no potentiality, as shown above (Article 1), it follows that in Him essence does not differ from existence. Therefore His essence is His existence.

Thirdly, because, just as that which has fire, but is not itself fire, is on fire by participation; so that which has existence but is not existence, is a being by participation. But God is His own essence, as shown above (Article 3) if, therefore, He is not His own existence He will be not essential, but participated being. He will not therefore be the first being–which is absurd. Therefore God is His own existence, and not merely His own essence.

Admit it: that is some pretty writin’! “[N]othing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused.” God is not caused, He is the necessary being, as we already learned. Thomas also refers to Article 3, “Whether God is the same as His essence or nature?”, in which he notes that in things composed of matter and form (like us and baseball bats) essence and existence differ, but in things “in which individualization is not due to individual matter”, and since God is not made of matter but does have an essence and since forms or universals don’t exist materially (we are not Plantonists here), God “must be His own Godhead, His own Life, and whatever else is thus predicated of Him.” What is predicated of Him, we are still to learn (Chapter 30).

Now St Thomas continues in Chapter 22, and so shall we, but omitting some of the now redundant material.

iiiThis is redundant, but I like it, because we ever need to emphasize the difference between potentiality and actuality.

ivBy being “first” being, Thomas does not mean God was caused. God’s existence is necessary. It’s not that everything else came “after” God, but that God is necessary for the existence of everything else. God is outside time.

v(Ellipsis original.) We don’t often include scriptural evidence, and even here we are not asking you to rely on it as a separate proof that essence = existence (we already have enough proof). But just look at what this nearly illiterate pre-computerized pre-Enlightenment “desert tribe” came up with! We have deduced from first principles the very same name of God as they knew! I AM = existence. WHO AM = essence. I AM WHO AM is equivalent to existence = essence, and so is HE WHO IS. Ain’t you amazed?! (I’m speaking in the voice of Captain Aubrey.)

[1] Ch. xiii.
[2] Ch. xviii.
[3] Ch. xiii.
[4] Ch. xvi.
[5] Ch. xviii.
[6] Ch. xiii.
[7] vii. 11.
[8] ii.

Truth, Knowledge, Belief, & Gettier Problems

"Hey, you never know."

“Hey, you never know.”

Proof Isn’t All That

The first section can be skipped for those who know what necessary versus conditional truth is.

I recall an anecdote about John von Neumann which had a fellow asking von Neumann for the proof of some mathematical proposition. Von Neumann asked the fellow which of other several theorems the fellow might already know, and he mentioned two, whereupon von Neumann proved the proposition twice, along the two different paths. Implicit in the story is that he could have proven it upon the other paths as well.

We don’t know what this proposition was, so call it X. Since X is necessarily true, we can have knowledge of it, where knowledge, as some philosopher define it, is “justified true belief.” They’d say the justification comes from the proof and the belief comes from us as an act of our intellect.

But does truth come from the proof? Von Neumann showed there were many different ways of knowing a proposition was true, but the multiplicity did not add to the truth of X. X was just true, and always was, regardless whether anybody knew it or believed it. So there is a difference between the truth of some thing and our knowing it; or rather, there seems to be a difference in the justification of our belief the thing is true and its truth.

Let’s clarify. Take our old standby argument with premises E = “All Martians wear hats and George is a Martian” relative to the proposition Y = “George wears a hat.” Y given E is true; that is to say, we know that Y given E is true, that it follows. We may therefore believe Y given E, as a sort of joint proposition, say, Y-given-E. But Y by itself, sans E, is not a necessary truth. Neither is E by itself a necessary truth. But Y-given-E is. Y therefore is a conditional truth, given or accepting or believing or having faith that E.

A necessary truth is one which is true no matter what. Take non-contradiction. It cannot be true that Z = “X is true and so simultaneously is not-X true”. In other (and confusing words), not-Z is true. There isn’t any way to think that Z (except, as many do, by changing it so that Z is no longer Z, and then forgetting they made changes). Why is Z false? Who knows? God made it that way. Why is it true that W = “For every natural number r, r = r”? I have no idea. God made it that way. What is our justification for believing W? Faith? Or is it that we’re too light in gray matter to discover a proof—or, worse, a counter proof?

Actually, we do have reasons for believing not-Z and W. That we cannot think of how Z is true is a dandy reason for thinking it false, and all experience is that for every natural number r, r does indeed equal r. Induction supplies the rest. From our senses to the truth!

All this is just a sketch, which we needed for the real meat which follows.

Get Gettier

A man hears his wife say she bought him a lottery ticket and he thinks to himself, R = “I now have a chance to win”. Unbeknownst to him, his wife was teasing. We know this, his wife knows this, but the man does not. The man accepts his wife’s word, conditional on which he believes R. R given the premise “Wife bought ticket” is thus a conditional truth. A believable truth, too, given he accepts (unconditionally) his wife’s word. R is not necessarily true, however, as is obvious.

Now Edmund Gettier famously claimed there were situations in which a person has a justified true belief, yet that belief did not meet the test of knowledge. Our lottery situation isn’t quite what he had in mind, because everybody would agree that R is a conditional but not necessary truth. To make this a “Gettier problem”, let’s add the premise “The man’s mother bought him a ticket for the same drawing but told nobody”. It is clear that R is now true, say Gettier followers, and the man is should believe it, but his claim doesn’t rise to the level of knowledge because his accepting R is based on his believing something which is false in fact (his wife’s joke).

But R is still a conditional truth to us and to the mother, who know of her actions. R, being contingent, can never be a necessary truth.

Gettier “problems”, I think, are based on forgetfulness. We forget who knows what and we forget what question is being asked of the evidence. To the man, R is conditionally true based on one set of premises, and to us it is conditionally false based on one set of evidence (just the wife’s statement) true based on another set (adding the mother’s). R is never true is the necessary sense. Plus, there are any number of premises which can exist, and which can be believed, that make it conditionally true. Even conditioned on the premise, D= “I, the man in this example, bought my own ticket” R is still only conditionally and not necessarily true.

In short, Gettier “problems” aren’t. This, incidentally, is one of the few cases where symbolic logic helps; I mean, being able to write the story down in symbols makes it much easier to see what goes where and who knows what, so that it is less easy to slip up.


I’m taking this example from Wikipedia, which (yes) does a good job explaining the set up.

The [justified true belief] account of knowledge is the claim that knowledge can be conceptually analyzed as justified true belief — which is to say that the meaning of sentences such as “Smith knows that it rained today” can be given with the following set of necessary and sufficient conditions:

A subject S knows that a proposition P is true if and only if:

  1. P is true, and
  2. S believes that P is true, and
  3. S is justified in believing that P is true

Recall von Neumann’s example and that X being true and anybody knowing X and the proof or belief of X are not the same thing. And also note that this definition mistakenly forgets to emphasize whether P is a conditional or necessary truth.

Here is a Gettier problem (also Wikipedia):

Smith has applied for a job, but, it is claimed, has a justified belief that “Jones will get the job”. He also has a justified belief that “Jones has 10 coins in his pocket”. Smith therefore (justifiably) concludes (by the rule of the transitivity of identity) that “the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket”.

In fact, Jones does not get the job. Instead, Smith does. However, as it happens, Smith (unknowingly and by sheer chance) also had 10 coins in his pocket. So his belief that “the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket” was justified and true. But it does not appear to be knowledge.

What has gone wrong?

The Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy

Perry trying to impose a curious view.

Perry trying to impose a curious view.

Here is an example of the Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy (ITBF), taken from the New Republic article “The Straight, White, Middle-Class Man Needs to Be Dethroned” by Grayson Perry, a self-labeled “artist” (the trick these days is to discover who is not an “artist”):

They dominate the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population. With their colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks, they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardrooms, and also in the media.

Incidentally, it was only after reading up on Perry’s background and noting his obsession with the sexual, that I figured out that “colourful textile phalluses” meant ties. Skip it.

The fallacy does not lie in the statement itself, because, of course, it is possible, and even common, to impose one’s beliefs, values, and preferences on another. Indeed, it is even necessary that imposing occur. That fallacy thus lies in stating that it should not or could not.

Since some form of imposition is necessary, the presence of the fallacy, then, is always an attempt to impose beliefs, values, and preferences other than the ones being railed against. First a proof of the necessity, then proof that the fallacy wielder really just wants his own way.

Newborn and infants must have beliefs, values, and preferences imposed upon them, or else they will die. Children, too. The State imposes the belief that killing for fun and profit (of those human beings who managed to escape the womb, at any rate) is wrong, and it further imposes its value that those who kill will be punished; and it expresses preferences for the kinds of punishment. You can dispute that the State should do this, but even insisting on anarchy is to impose beliefs, values, and preferences.

If you say to another man, “Do not steal from me” or “Do not slit my daughter’s throat” you have imposed or are seeking to impose. If you ever say “should” or “ought” you are imposing, and the same is true if you use synonyms of these words like “judgmental” and “hateful” and so on.

It doesn’t even matter if, as Hume insisted, there really is a distinction between “is” and “ought” (and that is disputable), any time you approve or disapprove of another’s actions, you have imposed or are seeking to. The only slim possibility of non-imposition is if you are utterly indifferent to not only your own self, but to all others. That indifference includes the absence of love or hate or any other emotion.

Now evidence that the fallacy is always inverted.

At Truth-Out.org, in the article “Meet the Right-Wing Christian Companies Trying to Impose Their Values on Their Workers“, the author echoes the common complaint that employees not being given (government-mandated) free things because they are employees is an imposition. Which, of course, it is. The employees instead want to impose their belief that they should be given whatever it is they want and to not be required to give anything in return for it. Strangely, and in an indication of how far gone our culture is, the ITBF was convincing to Government.

Think Progress carried the article “Catholic Bishops: ‘Religious Liberty’ Includes Right To Discriminate Against Gay People, Impose Values“, which is seeped in the Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy. Many today have forgotten the (what used to be) obvious fact that imposing beliefs is what religions do, and so to complain about this is a marker of insanity, stupidly, or political Machiavellianism. The Think Progress folks instead want to impose their values in the expected way.

These examples can be multiplied indefinitely, so it is easy to lose the wonder you should feel whenever you encounter the fallacy. But do try to be vigilant.

Now this Grayson Perry who supplied our first example of the fallacy goes on to say that straight, middle-class white men is a “group that punches far, far above its weight.” A curious claim given the list of accomplishments by this “tribe” (to include the computer on which Perry wrote his fallacy and the internet which served it up to his readers).

But it is clear which beliefs, values, and preferences Perry wishes to impose on us (for I can reveal Yours Truly is a member of this suspect group). I wonder if he’ll get away with it.

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is His Own Essence

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

The soup thickens. We haven’t learned much about God yet, other than He exists, is not composite, is outside time, is pure actuality and so forth. To go further, we need to expand our vocabulary and introduce the idea of essence. Well summarized by The Catholic Encyclopedia (CE), this is “the radical or ground from which the various properties of a thing emanate and to which they are necessarily referred. Thus the notion of the essence is seen to be the abstract counterpart of the concrete entity; the latter signifying that which is or may be [(in actuality, in potential)], while the former points to the reason or ground why it is precisely what it is.”.

Chapter 21: God Is His Own Essence

1 FROM what has been laid down we are able to conclude that God is His own essence, quiddity or nature.i

2 In everything that is not its own essence or quiddity there must needs be some kind of composition: for since each thing contains its own essence, if a thing contained nothing besides its own essence, all that a thing is would be its essence. Therefore if a thing were not its own essence, there must be something in it besides its essence: and consequently there must be composition therein. For which reason the essence in composite things has the signification of a part, as humanity in a man. Now it has been shown[1] ^1 that in God there is no composition. Therefore God is His own essence.ii

3 Again. Seemingly that alone which does not enter into the definition of a thing is beside the essence of that thing: for a definition signifies what a thing is.[2] Now only the accidents of a thing do not enter into its definition: and consequently only accidents are in a thing besides its essence. But in God there are no accidents, as we shall show further on.[3] Accordingly, there is nothing in Him besides His essence. Therefore He is His own essence.iii

4 Moreover. Forms that are not predicated of subsistent things, whether the latter be taken universally or singly, are not single per se subsistent forms individualized in themselves. For we do not say that Socrates, or man, or an animal is whiteness, because whiteness is not singly per se subsistent, but is individualized by its subsistent subject.iv Likewise natural forms do not per se subsist singly, but are individualized in their respective matters: wherefore we do not say that this individual fire, or that fire in general is its own form. Moreover the essences or quiddities of genera or species are individualized by the signate matter of this or that individual, although indeed the quiddity of a genus or species includes form and matter in general: wherefore we do not say that Socrates, or man, is humanity.v Now the divine essence exists per se singly and is individualized in itself, since it is not in any matter, as shown above.[4] Hence the divine essence is predicated of God, so that we say: God is His own essence.vi

5 Further. The essence of a thing is either the thing itself, or is related to it in some way as cause: since a thing derives its species from its essence. But nothing can in any way be a cause of God: for He is the first being, as shown above.[5]vii Therefore God is His own essence. Again, that which is not its own essence, is related in respect of some part of itself to that essence, as potentiality to act: wherefore the essence is signified by way of form, for instance humanity. But there is no potentiality in God, as shown above,[6] therefore it follows that He is His own essence.viii


iQuiddity: the whatness (as Kreeft says), “the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other” (Wesbster, from where we learn the rarely used synonym haecceity).

iiThe essence of you, dear reader, is that you are a man (male or female), which is to say, a rational creature (in Aristotle’s sense). But you are also more than just your essence. Some of you are tall, others are not as blessed. Some have hair on head and some wear hats. That is, as Aquinas says, you are composite, made of more than one thing. But we already know God is not composite, thus He must be His own essence.

iiiHaving or not having hair, or having or not having facial freckles, is an accident. With our without, the essence behind them is still man or woman. The Aristotle reference has him saying (what is obvious) that “we must argue from a definition, viz. by assuming what falsity or truth means.” Else we go nowhere. And that “the essence of a thing is that which is expressed by its definition” (CE, above).

ivWhiteness does not go walking about on its hind legs, i.e. it is not individualized in itself. But my white hat carries on being white because the hat carries on (continues to exist).

vPerhaps it’s obvious, but that humanity exists as an essence, and that Socrates or you is not that essence, but merely examples of it, is one point. How we know it is another, as it always is. Why mention it? Well, Star Trek fans, since our essence is being a rational animal, that essence might come in other accidental packages. See this essay by Fr Schall. Or work by David Oderburg (where’s the link?).

viThis obviously follows from the premises. But on that subject, more next week, when we learn that God’s existence is His essence.

viiBack to the Unmoved Mover, the Unchanging Changer! Chapter 13, that is. See the links from last week’s review.

viiiThis follows simply from above; i.e. don’e forget the second premise “if a thing contained nothing besides its own essence, all that a thing is would be its essence.” And do meditate on the difference between potentiality and actuality. So much flows from this distinction that it isn’t funny (as my old grandma used to say about a related topic).

[1] Ch. xviii.
[2] 4 Metaph. viii. 4.
[3] Ch. xxiii.
[4] Ch. xvii.
[5] Ch. xiii.
[6] Ch. xvi.

Statistics Good, Bad & Ugly

Lee van Cleef doesn't like your models.

Lee van Cleef doesn’t like your models.

In an attempt to catch up on my 300-some emails (yes, the total has grown considerably; probably because of recent publicity), here are some articles sent in by readers that bear attention.

Wee p-value surge

From our friend John Cook, the paper (pdf) “A surge of p-values between 0.040 and 0.049 in recent decades (but negative results are increasing rapidly too)”.

Whatever the theory is, the result is that P-values are magical thinking.


Reader Al Perrella sends in “Why Psychologists’ Food Fight Matters: Important findings haven’t been replicated, and science may have to change its ways.

More wee p-values, but in disguise. The real reason for the “replication” or “reproducibility crisis” is revealed here, in The True Meaning Of Statistical Models.

Only when users of statistical models think of them, as physicists think of theirs, in a predictive sense, and thus become verifiable, will the crisis dissipate.


Perrella also sent “Placebos work — even without deception”. How does knowing you’re receiving a placebo and either getting better or not differ from not getting a known-placebo?

The headline is busted in the usual way. It makes it sound like known-placebos always work, even though in the quoted experiment it is clearly seen that they don’t.

People who beat each other have better health

Reader I. Fox writes, “Recently, BDSM practitioners have put out studies that say they have better mental health than those overall, and that, like homosexuality, is a perfectly normal behaviour. This document, written by a queer child psychiatrist (conflict of interest is noted) with the usual emotional arguments.”

The paper (pdf) is “Psychology & BDSM: Pathology or Individual Difference?” by Margaret Nichols, which opens “As a clinical psychologist, I am a member of a profession that many believe has replaced religion in its power to influence social opinion and behavior.”

And off she goes trying to influence. She calls her pals, “the kinky community.” Her “work” naturally excited the minds of those who contribute to Live Science: Bondage Benefits: BDSM Practitioners Healthier Than ‘Vanilla’ People. “[S]ome psychiatrists see the inclusion of BDSM and other kinks in the manual as stigmatizing”.

Heaven forfend perversion should be “stigmatizing.” Equality will be our death.

Don’t think so? Fox also sent this: Trans-Uterus, in which men pretending to be women are given uteruses (uterii?) and who then pretend they might get pregnant.

Which is fine. Hey, who am I to judge? But it’s not fine when you insist I pretend too. That’s tyranny.

Book recommendation

Reader Chris writes,

I’ve been reading Standard Deviations by Gary Smith, and think of your blog every time I turn a page. It’s a popular work for sure, and not very heavy on philosophy. I’m not sure if prof. Smith is a logical probabilist, or what, however he touches on so, so many topics you’ve covered over the years. Regression to the mean, the “law of averages”, Texas sharp-shooter, correlation/causation, file-drawer effect and over-certainty in general.

Among the many studies he thoroughly debunks are the “abortion leads to crime reduction”, “successful businesses become mediocre and that’s what keeps our economy running”, and “EMFs from power-lines cause cancer in children”.

You could probably finish it in a day or two. I wanted to send the recommendation your way in case you’re ever lonely and feeling quixotic about fighting this uphill battle against statistical over-certainty.

I haven’t seen it yet, but looks like it could be good.

Antibiotics linked to child obesity

The beauty of the phrase “linked to” is that it means anything you want it do. Thanks to reader Alan Watt for alerting us to the article “Children who receive a lot of antibiotics before age 2 are slightly more likely than others to become obese, a new study shows.

Slightly. Add in the model uncertainty and that due to concentrating on wee p-values and parameters and not observables and make a guess what will happen.

Highway Help!

Reader Jason asks us:

My wife, child, and myself are considering a move to a property that is approximately 860 feet from HWY 5 in San Juan Capistrano. My wife is pregnant and we have been reading about the harmful effects of living too close to a major highway.

My question is if you would consider this distance from the highway exceptionally unsafe?

Only if you play in the traffic.


More Bayes in the news, sent in by reader John B.

Harry Potter

Our friend Ye Olde Statistician alerts us to the breathless statistical study, “D‚Äčid Harry Potter Influence The Political Views of Millennials?

The right answer: probably not, but who knows?

Survey says

YOS also shows us the absurdity of surveys: “An item on the Beeb alerted me to the fact that the Danes have — yet again — scored highest in some international measurement of happiness levels.

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