William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Contingency & Necessity

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.

Previous post.

The First Way is in the bag. And now we continue, fresh as it were, with the Second Way. But since this introduces what are unfamiliar concepts to some, we again slow down. But have no fear: after this chapter, we can again speed up, because most of the terms will by then be familiar.

Chapter 13: Arguments in proof of God’s existence

16 We have thus clearly proved both statements which were supposed in the first process of demonstration whereby Aristotle proved the existence of a first immovable mover.viii

17 The second[16] way is as follows. If every mover is moved, this statement is true either in itself or accidentally. If accidentally, it follows that it is not necessary: for that which is accidentally true is not necessary.i Therefore it is a contingent proposition that no mover is moved.ii But if a mover be not moved, it does not move, as the opponent asserts. Therefore it is contingent that nothing is moved, since, if nothing moves, nothing is moved. Now Aristotle holds this to be impossible,[17] namely, that at any time there be no movement.iii Therefore the first proposition was not contingent, because a false impossibility does not follow from a false contingency. And therefore this proposition, Every mover is moved by another, was not accidentally true.iv

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iMost things you know are contingently true. It is true (supposing) that your car is in your driveway, but only because you bought a car and parked it there. The universe did not require you to buy this car. Not everybody has a car (Yours Truly does not). Propositions which are contingently true can be imagined false. I can easily imagine you too do not have car. No rules of logic would be violated were that to be so.

A necessary truth is that which cannot be other than true. A necessary truth cannot be imagined false. Here is a necessary truth: “A thing cannot both exist and not exist simultaneously.” It is impossible to imagine, or more properly to think of, a thing existing and not existing at the same time. Logic cannot be violated.

When speaking of contingency, some speak of “possible worlds”, as if the world in which you do not own a car is, somehow, brought into existence by your imagining you do not have a car; a sort of milky idealism. Or that this “possible world”, simply because it can exist, actually exists; perhaps part of a multiverse or one of the “many worlds” where all events occur.

But this thinking mixes up the existence of a thing with the knowledge of the thing. Ontology is not epistemology. Things can exist without your, or anybody’s, knowledge. And you can have knowledge (or rather can think) of things that do not exist, like conservative sociologists or the Starship Enterprise. The latter does not come into existence just because it can be imagined.

Now some say of necessity that nothing occurs “at random” or “randomly”. But this is to make the same mistake. Randomness isn’t a thing. It therefore cannot be a cause. Best way to think of this is to substitute “ignorance” every time you see random. If the sentence is still sensible, then the author has a proper understanding; if not, then not.

iiIf it is only contingently true that “no mover is moved”, it can be imagined that “it is false that no mover is moved.” And you have to love the next two sentences.

iiiSome highlights from Aristotle (following the footnote):

…Now the existence of motion is asserted by all who have anything to say about nature, because they all concern themselves with the construction of the world and study the question of becoming and perishing, which processes could not come about without the existence of motion.

It is not always asserted by some readers here, but let that pass. Continuing, we see that talk of “infinite possible worlds” is not a new invention. (I added extra paragraphs for readability.)

But those who say that there is an infinite number of worlds, some of which are in process of becoming while others are in process of perishing, assert that there is always motion (for these processes of becoming and perishing of the worlds necessarily involve motion), whereas those who hold that there is only one world, whether everlasting or not, make corresponding assumptions in regard to motion. If then it is possible that at any time nothing should be in motion, this must come about in one of two ways…

…Motion, we say, is the fulfilment of the movable in so far as it is movable. Each kind of motion, therefore, necessarily involves the presence of the things that are capable of that motion. In fact, even apart from the definition of motion, every one would admit that in each kind of motion it is that which is capable of that motion that is in motion: thus it is that which is capable of alteration that is altered, and that which is capable of local change that is in locomotion: and so there must be something capable of being burned before there can be a process of being burned, and something capable of burning before there can be a process of burning.

Moreover, these things also must either have a beginning before which they had no being, or they must be eternal. Now if there was a becoming of every movable thing, it follows that before the motion in question another change or motion must have taken place in which that which was capable of being moved or of causing motion had its becoming.

To suppose, on the other hand, that these things were in being throughout all previous time without there being any motion appears unreasonable on a moment’s thought, and still more unreasonable, we shall find, on further consideration. For if we are to say that, while there are on the one hand things that are movable, and on the other hand things that are motive, there is a time when there is a first movent and a first moved, and another time when there is no such thing but only something that is at rest, then this thing that is at rest must previously have been in process of change: for there must have been some cause of its rest, rest being the privation of motion…

We went as as this for two reasons: (1) Aquinas was not pulling his assertion about Aristotle out of thin air, and that Aristotle’s assertion is true, and (2) for the phrase “rest being the privation of motion”. This is a tease, but the concept of privation will become important for us. For instance, evil, as it will turn out, is privation of the good. But let’s not get distracted by this today.

ivSince we’ve already done a lot, without really have done much, we leave this phrase hanging in the air, as it were. We’ll pick up with it again next week. Very little was proved this week, except Aristotle’s small proposition.

Next installment.

[16] [8 Phys. v.]
[17] 8 Phys. i.

22 Comments

  1. “We have thus clearly proved both statements which were supposed in the first process of demonstration whereby Aristotle proved the existence of a first immovable mover.viii”

    What??? No, “we” haven’t. And even if there is some immovable mover, you certainly have no proof whatsoever that it is God. “We” do not have any science pointing in that direction.

    I understand you are arguing against modern thought (not so sure it’s a good idea, but…), if you all you have to fall back on are the musings of ancient and medieval characters, all you’re doing is ignoring everything we have learned since them.

    JMJ

  2. Sander van der Wal

    14 July 2014 at 1:26 am

    Why would it be impossible that nothing changes anymore at some point in the furure? Earth will still revolve around the burnt-out sun, but everything will be frozen stiff. Or all matter in the galaxy will be consumed by the central black hole, a bit later. There will be less and less change. Resulting in the proposition to be contingent.

  3. Speaking of “first” is academic when there is no time, time only exists when there is mass.

  4. ” “We” do not have any science pointing in that direction.”
    Scientism alert!

  5. “Why would it be impossible that nothing changes anymore at some point in the furure? Earth will still revolve around the burnt-out sun…”

    In that case there must be change for the Earth to be revolving.

  6. Sander van der Wal

    14 July 2014 at 6:41 am

    @Mike

    Yes, the boring kind of change that nobody cares about.

    And secondly, now there are two kinds of Motion. One, celestial bodies moving around each other for eternity. And everything else, the kind of Motion that runs out of steam in the near future.

    Having two kinds of Motion weakens your argument substantially. Why would a First Mover star Moving some things for eternity, and other things for a short while?

    And is that difference accidential, or essential?

  7. Ye Olde Statisician

    14 July 2014 at 10:32 am

    We have thus clearly proved both statements which were supposed in the first process of demonstration whereby Aristotle proved the existence of a first immovable mover.

    What??? No, “we” haven’t.

    Seems pretty clear.
    a) Everything that is changing is being changed by another. Change is reduction from potency to act. Something in potency cannot also be in act. Something that is not (yet) actual can’t do diddly squat. So the thing that is undergoing actualization cannot be actualizing itself if itself is not yet actual.
    b) There cannot be an infinite regress of intrumental changers because instruments have no power to actualize unless they are being moved by something already actual. An infinite string of instruments is actually inert.
    Of course, suspecting You-know-who at the end of the syllogism, the Late Modern finds it highly rational to deny the syllogism.

    And even if there is some immovable mover, you certainly have no proof whatsoever that it is God.

    You have been cautioned to patience before. The full dialectic has not yet been laid out. You are complaining that because it has been demonstrated that supplements of the same angle are equal you don’t see how a point equidistant from the endpoints of a line segment lies on the perpendicular bisector of the line segment.

    “We” do not have any science pointing in that direction.

    Why should there be? Science deals with the metrical properties of physical things. When the things are not physical or their properties not metrical, science is silent.

    Why would it be impossible that nothing changes anymore at some point in the furure?

    So, you’re saying that after the physical order has passed away eternity will commence?

    Speaking of “first” is academic when there is no time

    Why? “First” does not mean “prior in time.” It means “primary” as opposed to “secondary.”

    Why would a First Mover star Moving some things for eternity, and other things for a short while?

    The primary actualizer is moving things at all times, not only at some hypothetical “start.” Also, “eternity” does not refer to a long period of time, but to timelessness. Time is the measure of motion in changable being. If there is no matter, there is no time.

  8. Why would it be impossible that nothing changes anymore at some point in the furure? Earth will still revolve around the burnt-out sun, but everything will be frozen stiff. Or all matter in the galaxy will be consumed by the central black hole, a bit later. There will be less and less change. Resulting in the proposition to be contingent.

    You can’t make this stuff up. Supposedly, “nothing changes anymore” except that “there will be less and less change”. Sorry, but no thing is not less and less a thing. I name this the Krauss fallacy.

  9. Sander van der Wal

    14 July 2014 at 11:54 am

    @YOS

    Wait long enough and Motions do not happen anymore. When there is no moved, there is no mover. Aristotle holds it impossible for things not moving, but that appears to be wrong according to curren theories. Hence, movement is accidental.

    Why do you say that if there is no matter there is no time?

  10. “Why do you say that if there is no matter there is no time?”

    Isn’t time just a measure of change? so if there is no matter there can be no change (what would be changing?), therefore, no time.

  11. Wait long enough and Motions do not happen anymore. When there is no moved, there is no mover.

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premise even if we accept it arguendo. You’re asserting that where there is no contingency there is no necessity which is obviously false.

    Aristotle holds it impossible for things not moving, but that appears to be wrong according to curren theories. Hence, movement is accidental.

    Firstly, no he doesnt. Secondly, which things and what theories? Thirdly, yes, Aristotle and Aquinas agree.

    Why do you say that if there is no matter there is no time?

    Because matter changes and change is temporal.

  12. Mike, that is exactly right.

  13. Ye Olde Statisician

    14 July 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Why do you say that if there is no matter there is no time?

    Hans Erren said so, above, evidently thinking it some sort of objection.

    Wait long enough and Motions do not happen anymore.

    So you are saying that at some time the world will come to an end. Is that an objection?

  14. Correction: Thirdly, no, if change were accidental then we should expect any type of change from any type of thing and yet we only see a limited range of dispositions inhering in things.

  15. Comments from the increasingly wearying peanut gallery of tyro Whig philosophers aside, classical Thomism is incoherent as a defense of the Catholic Faith, by its own standards.

    There is no denying that a man has the freedom to waste his time in any dad-blamed way he chooses. However, classical Thomism (and Feser-ism) is a waste of time.

    Even aside from the extensive prestidigitation required to make the Unmoved Mover, the Deus Unus, have any resemblance whatever to the Most Holy Trinity, Classical Thomism has no coherent account of individual moral responsibility. Reductio ad absurdum, at a conference of Thomists several years back, I heard it proposed without objection (though of course not precisely with these words) that the moral acts of Jesus Christ Himself were intelligible as a Very Good Example of some Truth prior to Truth Himself. In the same vein, classic Thomism cannot make the ‘material singular’ intelligible, or rather, the intelligibility of an individual Jane or John is ultimately extrinsic, not intrinsic.

    Consider this salient passage from Donald J. Keefe, SJ, Covenantal Theology, 2nd edition, 443-6.

    ====

    Perhaps the clearest manner of putting the distinction between the rationalism of the classic Thomism and the historicity of its covenantal conversion is by insisting that “essence” in its covenantal meaning is not a “possible”; not only is it not a possible in the sense of a possible object of creation, but essence is not a possible also in the sense of having an autonomous or “potential” intelligibility as disjunct from its actual existential subsistence. This is the strict implication of the ex nihilo character of the Good Creation, and of the New Covenant: “essence” has no antecedently intelligible possibility whatsoever. The freedom of creation active spectata requires a cognate freedom in creation passive spectata. The nominalist notion of creation as involving a divine choice by the potentia absoluta between an infinite number of divine ideas, each seen sub specie aeternitatis to be a “possible object of creation,” is simply an absurd limitation imposed by a nonhistorical and cosmological pseudo-rationality upon the free covenantal immanence of the Creator in his creation.

    Within the dehistoricized and cosmological format of classical Thomism, as also within that of Aristotelianism, essence is not understood to be an intrinsically free transcendental relation; its supposed intrinsic analysis, borrowed from Aristotelianism in toto and presupposing an essentially necessary substance, looks only to the necessary conditions of essential possibility, of essential intelligibility, and finds them in the form-matter correlation, which therefore applies not to the existentially contingent substance of the Thomist analysis of creation, but to the intrinsic causes of essence considered as in se, in abstraction from the historical, existential and covenantal contingency of creation.

    The qualitative intelligibility of a material essence such as concrete humanity is then accounted for by reference to its univocal participation in a common or specific form, while its quantitative or spatial and temporal intelligibility (its location in space and time) is underwritten by an act-potency analysis of the concrete individual which supposes the possibility of such location to be caused or accounted for by an immanent or intrinsic principle of individuation, viz., materiality. In correlation with quantified matter (materia quantitate signata), the specific or universal form is understood to be submitted to quantification by this determinate quantum, this particular location within the indefinite or random range of possible spatio-temporal extension (materia in commune). The actual concrete particularity of such location is assumed to be caused by matter and therefore to be intrinsically unintelligible (i.e., in terms of act and potency) and consequently to be metaphysically uninteresting: that such a material entity be thus capable of particular location concludes the metaphysical quaerens of classic Thomism, which at the level of material essence is intent only upon a response to the Platonic denial of the possibility of the inherence of form in matter. The concrete actuality of the inherence of form in matter, the haecceitas of the material entity, is simply without metaphysical interest to the Thomist analysis, for its materiality can add nothing to its formal intelligibility.

    The same cosmology finds it intrinsically or metaphysically significant on the level of the qualitative metaphysical question (i.e., why is a given material entity of this formality rather than another?) that one be a human being instead of, e.g., a tree, but that one be this particular human being rather than another within the possible range of formal variation specific to humanity is alike without explanation and without significance; particularly this is the case as to the masculinity or femininity of one’s humanity. A member’s participation in the formal perfection of a species such as humanity is always univocal, and qualitative variations within the possible range of specific similarity are dealt with finally as qualitatively insignificant, hence as quantitative, as due to the randomness inherent in the materiality of the species which more or less inhibits (by the so-called recalcitrance of prime matter) the concrete realization of the full formality of the specific perfection. The affinity with Platonism of such an explanation of intraspecific variation is striking, in that it is then impossible to account for such variation within the species other than in terms of greater or lesser participation in the specific form. Inevitably either the masculine or the feminine will then be qualitatively superior to the alternative qualification, as less distanced from human perfection by materiality: it is not difficult to hazard how this will turn out.

    Within the classic Thomist analysis, such freedom as a material essence possesses it has by reason of its extrinsic relation to Esse. Considered normally as in se, it has the intelligibility of a “possible,” whether a possibility of thought or of creation: these twin possibilities were taken to be the same, since both refer to the intrinsic rationality of a material species; as Gilson once saw with a Cartesian clarity, this makes the contingency of creation quite abstract, a merely logical relation to a creator which contributes nothing to the quite abstract and merely possible intelligibility of the material essence.i The coherence of this view with the usual Thomist disinterest in the material singular is evident.

    The classic Thomism can explain the intraspecific communication of the materially individuated members of the species only in terms either of formal necessity or of quantitative randomness. The members of a material species are either (1) locked within the immanent formal intelligibility of the species (viz., of the abstract specific form), or (2) are submitted to the extrinsic and thus purely ideal material intelligibility which a statistical analysis may assign them in order to reduce the randomness of spatio-temporal individuation and extension to a mathematical description of the mechanics of the physical universe.

    The classic Thomist metaphysics is thus unable to account for the intelligibility which the act-potency method supposes, as a systematic and a priori necessity, to be intrinsic to the material individual: even when the individual is considered as a creature, this attribution is also finally extrinsic to the intelligibility of the creature and thus is nominally understood as at best a merely logical reference to the entirely transcendent freedom of the Creator.

    The Thomist ethics habitually masks the unacceptable moral implication of the concrete inconsequence of the individual member of the human species by the invocation of a “natural” morality, and thus of a moral human nature, but without providing any metaphysical basis for it other than the immanent rationality of an ungraced intelligence: abstract nonhistorical rationality is taken to be rationality itself. This is only to restate the original problem: how can that rationality, and the ethic which it would ground, be moral rather than merely immanently necessary? Namely, how can it be so individuated as to be at once free and certain in its unique and personal application? To this quandary the “natural law” elaborated by St. Thomas provides no sufficient reply.ii One may summarize the flaws in the classic Thomist analysis of material being by remarking that all act-potency analysis must be seen to bear upon substance, not upon some supposed component of substance such as an essence denuded of existence. The contingent intelligibility and thus the substantial reality of a created substance cannot but be free: if form and matter correlate as act and potency to compose it, that correlation must be free, for the prime analogate of such a composite substance is the free union that is the New Covenant. Any other view of the Thomist matter-form analysis is no more than the reinvocation of the Aristotelian material substance, which knows alike nothing of the Esse-essence correlation and of the historicity or the free contingency in being which it is intended to underwrite. It is yet the more evident that such a metaphysical analysis can do no justice to the humanity of our Lord, whose freedom is personal and therefore intrinsic. Neither can it do justice to those for whom he died, whose freedom is also intrinsic, because it is grounded, created, in his.

    Reference has already been made to the problem of assigning substantiality, whether to the individual, as is usual, or to the species, as seems to be more in accord with the act-potency analysis and even with the definition of substantiality, a reality whose unity in being is in se et non in alio. Whichever course be taken, the classic notion of material substantiality must remain incoherent, as has been shown: there is in fact no provision in the classic analysis for a concrete specific form in which the individual member of the species might participate and thus find a base even for its immanent (necessary) intelligibility and its (necessary) intraspecific or immanent activity, while to attribute substantial being to the material individual is to leave the reality of intraspecific communication unaccountable. This systematic impasse eliminates the rational possibility within the classic Thomist metaphysics of any material substantiality, whether of the species as a concrete universal, or of the isolated material individual, and does so without remainder.

    The conclusion is then forced: the notion of a material substance, insofar as concerns the classic Thomist format, is unintelligible, incapable of a coherent act-potency account.

    ===

  16. @JohnK,

    Just when I thought Jesuit exposition couldn’t get any worse…speaking of wasting time, thanks for the irrelevant wall o’ text clogging up an otherwise salient discussion.

    @Sander, Hugh, et al.

    3rd round of this now, and it seems like you guys are shying away from even being able to state the opposition’s position correctly, shown by the continued misstatements of the concepts involved (change, motion, necessity, etc.). You obviously don’t have to agree with them, but at least follow where YOS and the like have been trying to elucidate things, or there won’t be any progress

  17. Sander van der Wal

    14 July 2014 at 4:59 pm

    @Joshua

    Misunderstanding, not misstating.

  18. Sander van der Wal

    14 July 2014 at 5:35 pm

    @YOS

    If the universe evolves as predicted, then there will be less Motion. For the sun and other stars to shine you need hydrogen. The amount is limited. So at some point there is no more hydrogen that can be turned into helium. Same thing with the other elements. Far enough into the future, nothing moves anymore. Space keeps expanding, but that apparently doesn’t count as moving. Or maybe it does, and then that is the only thing happening.

  19. Ye Olde Statisician

    14 July 2014 at 5:39 pm

    If the universe evolves as predicted, then there will be less Motion.

    So what?

  20. Fletcher Christian

    14 July 2014 at 7:13 pm

    The prevailing opinion about the long-term future of the Universe is that there will eventually be no motion (or at least an infinitesimally small amount), even of a meaningless sort, because there will be no matter. Such things as proton decay, decay of various orbits due to gravitational radiation and Hawking decay of black holes will see to that. And then there will be nothing left, except for a tiny number of photons at a temperature of a femtokelvin or so and a tiny number of positrons and electrons, separated on average by a distance equal to or greater than the horizon distance of our present Universe.

    Lit up, every googol years or so, by a brief flash of gamma radiation as two of the positron/electron pairs find each other.

  21. Ye Olde Statisician

    14 July 2014 at 7:46 pm

    But again, so what?

    there will be no matter = no universe
    nothing left, except for a tiny number of photons = not nothing left
    a tiny number of positrons and electrons = not nothing left
    an infinitesimally small amount = motion
    proton decay = motion
    decay of various orbits due to gravitational radiation = motion
    Hawking decay of black holes = motion
    a brief flash of gamma radiation = motion
    as two of the positron/electron pairs find each other… without moving??

    I’m having a hard time understanding how this is all supposed to be an objection. So long as matter exists, motion exists. You are saying that when matter no longer exists, motion will cease. The Aristotelian position is that space and time are a consequence of matter. If there is no matter than there is no space or time; hence, no universe.

  22. Sander van der Wal

    15 July 2014 at 2:00 am

    @YOS

    Not an objection per se. At least, not yet.

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