William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Philosophy (page 1 of 208)

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

Summary Against Modern Thought: The immortality of the soul, Part I

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.

We’re finally at the immortality of the soul! Well, the start of the proof, anyway. This week is long, but it’s surprisingly easy given what we’d done thus far.

Chapter 79 That the human soul does not perish when the body is corrupted (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

1 From what has been said, therefore, it can be clearly shown that the human soul is not corrupted when the body is corrupted.

2 For it was proved above that every intellectual substance is incorruptible. But man’s soul is an intellectual substance, as was shown. It therefore follows that the human soul is incorruptible.

Notes Where this incorruptible soul reposits is not here proved: like many metaphysical arguments, this one is a proof of existence; it is not a constructive proof. You cannot make your own soul! But you procreate new ones. (Forgive me).

3 Again, no thing is corrupted with respect to that wherein its perfection consists, for mutations in regard to perfection and corruption are contrary to one another. The perfection of the human soul, however, consists in a certain abstraction from the body. For the soul is perfected by knowledge and virtue, and it is perfected in knowledge the more it considers immaterial things, the perfection of virtue consisting in man’s not submitting to the passions of the body, but moderating and controlling them in accordance with reason. Consequently, the soul is not corrupted by being separated from the body.

Notes The soul “is perfected in knowledge the more it considers immaterial things”. Get your mind out of the gutter! This kind of perfection used to be well known in (what used to be called) higher education.

4 Now, it may be said that the soul’s perfection lies in its operational separation from the body, and its corruption in its existential separation therefrom. Such an argument misses the mark, for a thing’s operation manifests its substance and its being, since a thing operates according as it is a being, and its proper operation follows upon its proper nature. The operation of a thing, therefore, can be perfected only so far as its substance is perfected. Thus, if the soul, in leaving the body, is perfected operationally, its incorporeal substance will not fail in its being through separation from the body.

Notes But you lose the chance to further perfect your soul when you hand in your dinner pail. Plan accordingly.

5 Likewise, that which properly perfects the soul of man is something incorruptible; for the proper operation of man, as man, is understanding, since it is in this that he differs from brutes, plants, and inanimate things. Now, it properly pertains to this act to apprehend objects universal and incorruptible as such. But perfections must be proportionate to things perfectible. Therefore, the human soul is incorruptible.

6 Moreover, it is impossible that natural appetite should be in vain. But man naturally desires to exist forever.

This is evidenced by the fact that being is that which all desire; and man by his intellect apprehends being not merely in the present, as brute animals do, but unqualifiedly.

Therefore, man attains perpetual existence as regards his soul, whereby he apprehends being unqualifiedly and in respect of every time.

7 Also, the reception of one thing in another accords with the recipient’s manner of being. But the forms of things are received in the possible intellect according as they are actually intelligible; and they are actually intelligible according as they are immaterial, universal, and consequently incorruptible. Therefore, the possible intellect is incorruptible. The possible intellect, however, is part of the human soul, as we proved above. Hence, the human soul is incorruptible.

8 Then, too, intelligible being is more permanent than sensible being. But in sensible things that which has the role of first recipient, namely, prime matter, is incorruptible in its substance; much more so, therefore, is the possible intellect, which is receptive of intelligible forms. Therefore, the human soul, of which the possible intellect is a part, is also incorruptible.

9 Moreover, the maker is superior to the thing made, as Aristotle says. But the agent intellect actualizes intelligibles, as was shown above. Therefore, since intelligibles in act, as such, are incorruptible, much more will the agent intellect be incorruptible. So, too, then, is the human soul, whose light is the agent intellect, as we have previously made clear.

10 Again, a form is corrupted by three things only: the action of its contrary, the corruption of its subject, the failure of its cause; by the action of a contrary, as when heat is destroyed by the action of cold; by the corruption of its subject, as when the power of sight is destroyed through the destruction of the eye; by the failure of its cause, as when the air’s illumination fails through the failure of its cause, the sun, to be present.

But the human soul cannot be corrupted by the action of a contrary, for nothing is contrary to it; since, through the possible intellect, it is cognizant and receptive of all contraries. Nor can the human soul be destroyed through the corruption of its subject, for we have already shown that it is a form independent of the body in its being. Nor, again, can the soul be destroyed through the failure of its cause, since it can have no cause except an eternal one, as we shall prove later on. Therefore, in no way can the human soul be corrupted.

Notes The “it can have no cause except an eternal one” is the constructive part of the proof.

11 Furthermore, if the soul perishes as the result of the body’s corruption, then its being must be weakened through the debility of the body.

But if a power of the soul is weakened for that reason, this occurs only by accident, namely, in so far as that power has need of a bodily organ.

Thus, the power of sight is debilitated through the weakening of its organ—accidentally, however.

The following considerations will make this point clear. If some weakness were attached to the power through itself, it would never be restored as the result of the organ’s being restored; yet it is a fact of observation that, however much the power of sight may seem to be weakened, if the organ is restored, then the power is restored. That is why Aristotle says, in De anima I [4], “that if an old man were to recover the eye of a youth, he would see just as well as the youth does.”

Since, then, the intellect is a power of the soul that needs no organ—as we proved above—it is not weakened, either through itself or accidentally, by old age or any other bodily weakness. Now, if in the operation of the intellect fatigue occurs, or some impediment because of a bodily infirmity, this is due not to any weakness on the part of the intellect itself, but to the weakness of the powers which the intellect needs, namely, of the imagination, the memory, and the cogitative power. Clearly, therefore, the intellect is incorruptible. And since it is an intellective substance, the human soul likewise is incorruptible.

Notes And the “imagination, the memory, and the cogitative power” are, as all known, often corrupted.

12 This conclusion also comes to light through the authority of Aristotle. For he says in De anima I [4] that the intellect is evidently a substance and is incapable of being destroyed. And it can be inferred from what has been said already that remark of Aristotle’s cannot apply to a separate substance that is either the possible or the agent intellect.

13 The same conclusion also follows from what Aristotle says in Metaphysics XI [3], speaking against Plato, namely, “that moving causes exist prior to their effects, whereas formal causes are simultaneous with their effects; thus when a man is healed, then health exists,” and not before—Plato’s position, that the forms of things exist prior to the things themselves, to the contrary notwithstanding.

Having said this, Aristotle adds: But we must examine whether anything also survives afterwards. “For in some cases there is nothing to prevent this—the soul, for example, may be of this sort, not every soul, but the intellect.” Since Aristotle is speaking of forms, he clearly means that the intellect, which is the form of man, remains after the matter, which is the body.

14 It is also clear from these texts of Aristotle that, while he maintains that the soul is a form, he does not say it is non-subsistent and therefore corruptible—an interpretation which Gregory of Nyssa attributes to him. For Aristotle excludes the intellective soul from the generality of other forms, in saying that it remains after the body, and is a certain substance.

Notes The next paragraphs all rely on the Bible and may be skipped by heathens and heretics.

15 The doctrine of the Catholic faith is in agreement on these matters. For in the work On the Teachings of the Church there is this statement: “We believe that man alone is possessed of a subsistent soul, which continues to live even after divesting itself of the body, and is the animating principle of the senses and powers; nor does the soul die with the body, as the Arabian asserts, nor after a short period of time, as Zeno would have it, because it is a living substance.”

16 This eliminates the error of the ungodly, in whose person Solomon says: “We are born of nothing, and after this we shall be as if we had not been” (Wis. 2:2); and in whose person again Solomon says: “The death of man and of beasts is one, and the condition of them both is equal: as man dies, so they also die: all things breathe alike, and man has nothing more than beast” (Eccle. 3:19). For

Solomon clearly is not speaking in his own person but in that of the godless, since at the end of the book he adds in a decisive manner: “Before the dusts return into its earth, from whence it was, and the spirit returns to Him Who gave it” (Eccle. 17:6-7).

17 Furthermore, there are myriad passages of sacred Scripture which proclaim the immortality of the soul.

Can You Find A Counterexample To Feser’s Defense Of The Perverted Faculty Argument?

Here in a succinct and lovely way is Feser’s distillation of the Perverted Faculty Argument (from his paper of the defense of the same) applied to matters sexual:

  1. Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E.
  2. But our sexual faculties exist by nature for the sake of procreative and unitive ends, and exist in us precisely so that we might pursue those ends.
  3. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to use those faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive ends.
  4. But contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, and acts of bestiality involve the use of our sexual faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and/or unitive ends.
  5. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.
  6. But it can be rational to engage in an act only if it is in some way good for us and never when it frustrates the realization of the good.
  7. So it cannot be rational to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

Below, I am going to assume—please don’t laugh—that you have read Feser’s paper in full, so that terms such as unitive, agents, active frustration and so on are no mystery to you. I’ll pause here and wait for you to finish reading.

Done? His defense pertains, as you now know, more than just to sexual matters, but since sex looms large in the modern mind (understandably), it is these matters which provide most of the material. It is here that most attempts at counterexamples are given (or rather, counterexamples are given so as to defeat the arguments supporting traditional sexual morality). On that subject, Feser says:

A genuine counterexample to the perverted faculty argument’s key premise would have to involve an action that both involved the active frustration of the natural end of a faculty and yet which was in no way contrary to what is good for us, not even in a minor respect. I submit that there are no such counterexamples…

I think his argument (supplemented by writings in his other books) is sound: no counterexamples exist. But that does not imply that it not useful to search for them. Every time you think you’ve managed to slip a wedge into a crack, you realize it was not a flaw in the marble of the argument but was instead a fault in your mind. Every counterexample in which you find the flaw strengthens your understanding of the main argument.

Aiding you in your futile search is this admonition:

First, it cannot be repeated too often…that the perverted faculty argument does not entail that there is anything wrong with the use of man-made devices, or the use of a faculty for something merely other than its natural function, or the interference with natural processes where plants, non-human animals, or inanimate objects and processes are concerned.

Remember! We’re after that which is contrary to E and not “different from E” or “other than E.” A counterexample that claims wearing shoes over rocky terrain as opposed to going “naturally” shoeless does not work. Wearing shoes does not frustrate the natural function of walking; they aid in it.

The most commonly thought of supposed counterexamples—such as “Why not watch porno?” or “Why not masturbate when away from home?”—you saw have responses from Feser, so that there is no need for me to repeat what you already read. How embarrassing would it be to give the same examples Feser did!

An example (and not counter) is: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Sin is easy. Overcoming it in this world hard. Constant thinking about purpose—ends, teleology—helps.

Watch the graphic language. I am not at the computer and the spam filter is brutal.

Summary Against Modern Thought: The Agent & Potential Intellect Exist Together

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.

Two Chapters in one this week. More arguments from our good saint refuting arguments which are no longer in much play. Next week: Proof of the immortality of the soul!

Chapter 77 That it is not impossible for the possible and agent intellect to exist together in the one substance of the soul (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

1 Perhaps someone will think it impossible for one and the same substance, namely, that of our soul, to be in potentiality to all intelligibles, as becomes the possible intellect, and to actualize them, as becomes the agent intellect. For nothing acts so far as it is in potentiality, but so far as it is in act. That is why it will seem impossible for the agent and possible intellect to exist concurrently in the one substance of the soul.

2 Upon close examination, however, it is seen that this concurrence entails nothing incongruous or difficult. For nothing prevents one thing from being in one respect potential in relation to some other thing, and actual in another respect, as we observe in things of nature; air is actually damp and potentially dry, and the reverse is true of earth.

Now, this same interrelationship obtains between the intellective soul and the phantasms. For the intellective soul has something actual to which the phantasm is potential, and is potential to something present actually in the phantasm; since the substance of the human soul is possessed of immateriality, and, as is clear from what has been said, it therefore has an intellectual nature—every immaterial substance being of this kind.

But this does not mean that the soul is now likened to this or that determinate thing, as it must be in order to know this or that thing determinately; for all knowledge is brought about by the likeness of the thing known being present in the knower. Thus, the intellectual soul itself remains potential with respect to the determinate likenesses of things that can be known by us, namely, the natures of sensible things.

It is the phantasms which present these determinate sensible natures to us. But these phantasms have not yet acquired intelligible actuality, since they are likenesses of sensible things even as to material conditions, which are the individual properties, and, moreover, the phantasms exist in material organs. Consequently, they are not actually intelligible.

They are, however, potentially intelligible, since in the individual man whose likeness the phantasms reflect it is possible to receive the universal nature stripped of all individuating conditions. And so, the phantasms have intelligibility potentially, while being actually determinate as likenesses of things. In the intellective soul the opposite was the case. Hence, there is in that soul an active power vis-à-vis the phantasms, making them actually intelligible; and this power is called the agent intellect; while there is also in the soul a power that is in potentiality to the determinate likenesses of sensible things; and this power is the possible intellect.

3 That which exists in the soul, however, differs from what is found in natural agents. For in the latter, one thing is in potentiality to something according to the same manner of being as that of its actual presence in something else; the matter of air is in potentiality to the form of water in the same way as it is in water.

That is why natural bodies, which have matter in common, are mutually active and passive in the same order.

On the other hand, the intellective soul is not in potentiality to the likenesses of things in the phantasms, according to the mode of their presence therein, but according as they are raised to a higher level by abstraction from material individuating conditions, thus being made actually intelligible. The action of the agent intellect on the phantasm, therefore, precedes the reception by the possible intellect, so that operational primacy here is ascribed not to the phantasms, but to the agent intellect. And for this reason Aristotle says that the agent intellect is related to the possible intellect as art to its matter.

Notes It may help to think that nothing is static in the interface between passive and active intellect. There is constant turmoil.

4 A quite similar case would be that of the eye, if, being transparent and receptive of colors, it were endowed with sufficient light to make colors actually visible; even as certain animals are said to illuminate objects for themselves by the light of their own eyes, and so they see more at night and less by day, for their eyes are weak, being activated by a dim light and confused by a strong one. There is something comparable to this in our intellect, which, “as regards things which are most evident of all, is as the eyes of the owl to the blaze of day”; so that the little intelligible light which is connatural to us suffices for our act of understanding…

Notes I kept this for the word “connatural.”

Chapter 78 That Aristotle held not that the agent intellect is a separate substance, but that it is a part of the soul (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

1 Now, since a number of persons agree with the Avicennian theory dealt with above, in the belief that it is the position of Aristotle, we must show from his own words that in his judgment the agent intellect is not a separate substance.

2 For Aristotle says [De anima III, 5] that in “every nature we find two factors, the one material, which, like the matter in every genus, is in potentiality to all the things contained under it, the other causal, which, like the efficient cause, produces all the things of a given genus, the latter factor standing to the former as art to its matter”; and therefore, Aristotle concludes, “these two factors must likewise be found within the soul.”

The quasi-material principle in the soul is “the (possible) intellect wherein all things become intelligible”; the other principle, having the role of efficient cause in the soul, “is the intellect by which all things are made” (namely, actually intelligible), and this is the agent intellect, “which is like a habit,” and not a power.

Aristotle explains what he means by calling the agent intellect a habit, when he goes on to speak of it as a kind of light, for “in a certain way light makes potential colors to be colors actually,” that is to say, so far as it makes them actually visible. And this function in regard to intelligibles is attributed to the agent intellect…

Notes This is a key paragraph, so take your time with it. It no way depends on Aristotle’s different understand of color and light. This is backed up in paragraphs 4 and 6.

4 Aristotle’s reasoning also proves the same point. For in every nature containing potentiality and act we find something which, having the character of matter, is in potentiality to the things of that genus, and something in the role of an efficient cause which actualizes the potentiality; similarly, in the products of art there is art and matter.

But the intellective soul is a nature in which we find potentiality and act, since sometimes it is actually understanding, and sometimes potentially.

Consequently, in the nature of the intellective soul there is something having the character of matter, which is in potentiality to all intelligibles—and this is called the possible intellect; and there also is something which, in the capacity of an efficient cause, makes all in act—and this is called the agent intellect….

6 Yet, what this Aristotelian phrase means is not that the effect produced by the agent intellect may be called a habit, as though the sense were that the agent intellect makes man to understand all things, and this effect is like a habit.

“For the essence of habit,” as the Commentator, Averroes, says on this very text, “consists in this, that its possessor understands by means of that which is proper to him—understands by himself and whenever he wills, with no need of anything extrinsic”; since Averroes explicitly likens to a habit, not the effect itself, but “the intellect by which we make all things.”

Notes The remaining paragraphs I leave off, since most will be now convinced the active and passive intellects are together in one soul. If not, St Thomas has half dozen more observations to make.

Summary Against Modern Thought: The Active & Passive Intellect

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.

As in the past two weeks, we’re in territory which is no longer in live dispute. There are still some nuggets useful for us, however; only these will be highlighted. Next week are two more Chapters in which we will—finally!—wrap up this historical diversion. Then, in two weeks time, the juicy stuff starts. Proof of the immortality of the soul!

Chapter 76 That the agent intellect is not a separate substance, but part of the soul (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation this week.

1 From the foregoing it can be inferred that neither is there one agent intellect in all, as maintained by Alexander and by Avicenna, who do not hold there is one possible intellect for all.

2 For, since agent and recipient are proportionate to one another, to every passive principle there must correspond a proper active one. Now, the possible intellect is compared to the agent intellect as its proper patient or recipient, because the agent intellect is related to it as art to its matter; So that if the possible intellect is part of the human soul and is multiplied according to the number of individuals, as was shown, then the agent intellect also will be part of the soul and multiplied in like manner, and not one for all…

4 Just as prime matter is perfected by natural forms, which are outside the soul, so the possible intellect is perfected by forms actually understood. Natural forms, however, are received into prime matter, not by the action of some separate substance alone, but by the action of a form of the same kind, namely, a form existing in matter; thus, this particular flesh is begotten through a form in this flesh and these bones, as Aristotle proves in Metaphysics VII. If the possible intellect is a part of the soul and not a separate substance, as we have shown, then the agent intellect, by whose action the intelligible species are made present in the possible intellect, will not be a separate substance but an active power of the soul…

6 Then, too, if the agent intellect is a separate substance, its action must be continuous and not interrupted; or at least it is not continued or interrupted at our will—this in any case must be said. Now, the function of the agent intellect is to make phantasms actually intelligible. Therefore, either it will do this always or not always. If not always, this, however, will not be by our choosing. Yet we understand actually when the phantasms are made actually intelligible. Hence it follows that either we always understand or that it is not in our power to understand actually.

7 A separate substance, furthermore, has one and the same relationship to all the phantasms present in any men whatever, just as the sun stands in the same relation to all colors. Persons possessed of knowledge perceive sensible things, but so also do the ignorant. Hence, the same phantasms are in both, and these phantasms will in like manner be made actually intelligible by the agent intellect. Therefore, both will understand m similar fashion.

Notes Yet not all will understand all things, as is also obvious and as the next paragraph shows.

8 Even so, it can be said that the agent intellect is, in itself, always acting, but that the phantasms are not always made actually intelligible, but only when they are disposed to this end. Now, they are so disposed by the act of the cogitative power, the use of which is in our power. Hence, to understand actually is in our power. And this is the reason why not all men understand the things whose phantasms they have, since not all are possessed of the requisite act of the cogitative power, but only those who are instructed and habituated…

15 And again, present in the nature of every mover is a principle sufficient for its natural operation. If this operation consists in an action, then the nature contains an active principle; for instance, the powers of the nutritive soul of plants.

But, if this operation is a passion, the nature contains a passive principle, as appears in the sensitive powers of animals.

Now, man is the most perfect of all lower movers, and his proper and natural operation is understanding, which is not accomplished without a certain passivity, in that the intellect is passive to the intelligible; nor again, without action, in that the intellect makes things that are potentially intelligible to be actually so.

Therefore, the proper principles of both these operations must be in man’s nature, nor must either of them have being in separation from his soul. And these principles are the agent and the possible intellects…

17 Furthermore, no thing operates except by virtue of a power formally in it. Hence, Aristotle in De anima II [2] shows that the thing whereby we live and sense is a form and an act. Now, both actions—of the agent intellect and of the possible intellect as well—are proper to man, since man abstracts from phantasms, and receives in his mind things actually intelligible. For, indeed, we should not have become aware of these actions had we not experienced them in ourselves. It follows that the principles to which we ascribe these actions, namely, the possible and agent intellects, must be powers formally existing in us…

19 Again, a thing that cannot initiate its proper operation without being moved by an external principle is moved to operate rather than moves itself. Thus, irrational animals are moved to operate rather than move themselves, because every one of their operations depends on an extrinsic principle which moves them.

For the sense, moved by an external sensible object, places an impress upon the imagination, thus giving rise to an orderly process in all the powers, down to the motive ones.

Now, man’s proper operation is understanding, and of this the primary principle is the agent intellect, which makes species intelligible, to which species the possible intellect in a certain manner is passive; and the possible intellect, having been actualized, moves the will.

Therefore, if the agent intellect is a substance outside man, all man’s operation depends on an extrinsic principle. Man, then, will not act autonomously, but will be activated by another. So, he will not be master of his own operations, nor will he merit either praise or blame. All moral science and social intercourse thus will perish; which is unfitting. Therefore, the agent intellect is not a substance separate from man.

Notes Unfitting indeed. We are not puppets.

Older posts

© 2017 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑