Friday, February 27, 2009

William of Ware: a lesser mind?

Medieval philosophy does not consist only of Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. There were many, many more philosophers back then. But not all of them were anywhere near as sharp as those I just mentioned.

Scotus's alleged teacher is a character by the name of William of Ware. I don't really know much about William except that he followed Henry of Ghent's claim that the divine essence is like the quasi-matter or subject of the Son's generation. And I only know this because I read about it in an article.

So I was re-reading that article the other day, and for the first time I decided to pay attention to one of the quotations from William (before I had always just skipped over it). This paragraph struck me as such a bad piece of philosophy that it made me think William might be one of those lesser minds that are simply not as bright as the Anselms and the Ockhams. Maybe I'm wrong about this; I've only read this one little paragraph. But I had the thought nonetheless.

Here's the paragraph. William writes:
'In book 5 of The Physics, the Philosopher argues as follows to show that generation is not motion: "what is moved, is; what is generated, is not; therefore, generation is not motion". In the first premise, the word "what" is taken subjectively for the subject of motion. Therefore, it must be taken in the same way in the second premise, for if it were taken to refer to the end point of the generation [i.e., the substance that's generated], then there would be a variation in the argument, and it would not go through'. [Vienna, 1424, fol. 29vb]
The implied conclusion here is that the subject of generation -- i.e., matter -- is generated. Let me explain this in more detail.

Aristotle tries to distinguish generation and motion on the grounds that generation causes something that didn't exist to come into being, and motion causes something that already exists to move. The thrust of the quotation from Physics 5 is clearly that what's generated didn't exist before, while what's moved did.

But William looks at the logical form of the argument. Here it is:
(1) What is moved, exists [before the motion].
(2) What is generated, does not exist [before the generation].
(3) Therefore, generation is not motion.
As William points out, this argument is only valid if the term 'what' stands for the same thing in both (1) and (2). If it stands for different things in (1) and (2), then it commits the fallacy of equivocation.

Now, on a standard scholastic-Aristotelian analysis, motion and generation are both types of change. A change occurs when something x acquires a new property F that it didn't have before.

Motion fits this definition because an object moves when it acquires a new place, and so the object is x, and its new place is the acquired F. Generation also fits this definition because a living organism is generated when a lump of matter acquires a substantial form, so the lump of matter is x and its new form is the acquired F.

With this in mind, William points out that in premise (1), the term 'what' clearly stands for x, i.e., the subject that acquires a new F (where, in the case of motion, x is the object that moves, and F is the new place it moves to). But since 'what' in premise (2) has to stand for the same thing, it must also stand for x, i.e., the subject that acquires a new F (where, in the case of generation, x is the lump of matter, and F is the form it acquires).

So if we substitute the subjects of motion and generation for 'what' in (1) and (2), we get this:
(1*) The object that is moved, exists [before the motion].
(2*) The lump of matter that is generated, does not exist [before the generation].

William then looks at (2*) and infers that a lump of matter is generated, for (2*) states that the lump of matter did not exist before the generation, whereas (1*) states that an object that's moved does exist before it's moved.

So the conclusion here, as William sees it, is that matter is generated. (Or, to put it slightly more generally: the subject of a generation is itself generated.)

Now, that, it seems to me, is absolutely crazy. Apparently, William is here taking an argument from Aristotle so literally (in terms of its logical form) that he reaches a very un-Aristotelian conclusion. One of the foundational claims of Aristotelian philosophy is precisely that every change (even generation) requires a substrate or subject that persists throughout the change. If you claim that the subject of a generation is itself generated (as William is here), you have traveled very far from Aristotle indeed.

Surely William can see this. You would think that instead of denying a fundamental Aristotelian claim, he would instead say that Aristotle's argument is (at worst) either invalid or (at best) not to be taken so literally.

And indeed, the argument is, in fact, invalid. Premise (1) states that the subject of motion exists before the motion (or at least independently of the motion), while premise (2) states that the product of generation (i.e., the whole organism that's generated) does not exist before the generation (or at least not independently of the generation). But those two claims in no way entail the conclusion (3) that motion is not generation. So William could have had a nice point here if he would have just shown that Aristotle's argument is invalid when taken too literally.

But instead of doing that, William took the crazy route. Bad scholastic philosophy, if you ask me. As I said above, this is an example of the lesser minds you can find in medieval philosophy. The better minds like Scotus and Ockham would never even dream of such bad philosophizing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Per se unity

The scholastics often follow Aristotle in saying that the matter and form in a living organism have 'per se unity'. What's that?

Well, the basic idea is that different ingredients can be tied together more or less loosely. Consider the following cases.

(i) Items in a pile of trash are tied together extremely loosely. It doesn't take a lot of force to separate them, and the items aren't held together in a pile because they each have some intrinsic power to join together.

(ii) Socrates and his pale color are tied together more tightly than a trash pile, but not so tightly that they can't be taken apart, so to speak. After all, Socrates can get a tan, in which case Socrates and his pale color are no longer together. It doesn't necessarily take a lot of force to separate them, for natural processes like getting a tan can do the job; we don't need God stepping in here. Also, Socrates and his pale color do have intrinsic powers to join together. Socrates has the (passive) power to be pale, for example.

(iii) Matter and form are supposed to be tied together far more tightly than either of the previous two scenarios. The way that matter and form come together to form 'one thing' is, for the Aristotelians, a paradigm case of unity. But like case (ii), it doesn't necessarily take a lot of force (like God) to separate matter and form, for natural processes like copulation and decomposition can do the job. And like case (ii), matter and form do have intrinsic powers to join together. Matter, for example, has the (passive) power to acquire a form.

The problem is, it's incredibly difficult to define 'per se unity', at least for the scholastics (it's also difficult for Aristotle, but I'm not interested in that here). There are a number of difficulties here.

I can define accidental unity like this: when a substance x (like Socrates) and an accident F (like his pale color) are tied together, x can survive the gain and loss of F. In other words, F does not determine the identity or persistence conditions of x. So x and F are tied together loosely enough that they can separated without x being destroyed.

One is then tempted to say that per se unity occurs when some x and F are tied together so tightly that they can't survive being taken apart. But that doesn't work. Here are some counter examples.

(a) Living organisms gain and lose matter all the time. Particles are constantly flying out of and into me, and biological cells are continually dying and being regenerated. I see no reason why an organism can't survive a total replacement of its matter. Aristotle, I think, says this somewhere (though I can't remember where, and I may be mis-remembering this fact). The scholastics also think so, but for an additional reason: they believe the body is restored (replaced?) after death, and most believe that God could miraculously replace a sick person's heart with a new, healthy heart, so mutatis mutandis for the whole body.

(b) Matter can survive the loss of a form, and indeed this is what happens in every normal case of change down here on earth. For example, when water is turned into steam, the scholastics (following Aristotle) would say that a chunk of matter first has the form of water, and then it loses that water-form and acquires a steam-form; but the matter is the very same throughout the whole process. As with all Aristotelian changes, the matter (by definition) persists throughout the change.

(c) For the scholastics, the soul can survive the loss of its body. They believe the soul survives for a time without its body, after it dies. Right now I have my body, but when I die, my soul gets separated from my body, and then it gets reacquainted (over coffee, probably) with a body in heaven.

So matter and form aren't inseparable. For all intensive purposes, it looks to me like they're tied together in exactly the same way that a substance and an accident is. Matter can survive the gain and loss of a form, and a form (like the human soul) can survive the gain and loss of matter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Aquinas on the origination relations of the Son and Spirit

According to Aquinas’s argument thus far, if the Son and Spirit are distinct, then they must have opposite features. The only kinds of opposite features they can have are the correlative features of ‘being the producer of’ and ‘being the product of’ that arise from instances of origination.

Consequently, if the Son and Spirit are distinct, they must each have one of those features. So if we take this argument seriously, Aquinas is saying that all three persons must be distinguished by the features 'being the producer of' and 'being the product of'. Those are the only options. So each divine person must either be the producer of, or produced by, another person.

This goes for the Son and Spirit too. If they are to be distinguished from each other, one must be the producer, and one must be the product. But which is which? Is the Son the producer, or is it the Spirit?

Aquinas simply says that the Son must be the producer of the Spirit, not the other way around, for nobody says that the Spirit produces the Son. Rather, everybody says that the Spirit is given by and from the Son.

Aquinas may be referring to Anselm here. In De processione 15.2 (Schmitt, 215), Anselm argues that either the Son is produced by the Son, or the Son is produced by the Spirit, and since nobody thinks the Son is produced by the Spirit, then it must be that the Son produces the Spirit. Henry of Harclay, when commenting on this particular argument in Aquinas, thinks Aquinas is just plain quoting Anselm here. And that may be.

But in any case, we have finally reached the end of this first argument for the Filioque in the SCG. Whew.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aquinas on what kinds of correlatives distinguish the Son and Spirit

It's been some time since I've posted, as I've been busy writing a paper on Arius and Athanasius. That's pretty much done now, so I can jump back into what I've been posting about for the last couple of months, namely one of Aquinas's argument from the Summa Contra Gentiles on the filioque. This argument is fairly complicated, so I've been posting on it for some time now.

Up to this point, Aquinas has argued that spirits can only be distinguished as opposites, and the only kinds of opposite features that can distinguish the Son and Spirit are correlative opposites (like 'double' and 'half', or 'father' and 'son'). But then Aquinas wonders which kind of correlative opposites distinguish the Son and Spirit. In the last post, I explained that Aquinas says there are two basic kinds of correlatives: sameness-correlatives and action-correlatives. Sameness-correlatives are 'being the same as' (or 'being different from') with respect to substance (i.e., identity and distinction relations), quantity (equality and inequality relations), or quality (similarity and dissimilarity relations). Action-correlatives obtain between things that do an action and things that have that action done to them. Okay, so that's where we got to last time. Let's move on.

Given these two kinds of correlatives, which kind applies to the Son and Spirit? Aquinas says the first kind (sameness-correlatives) doesn't apply. Long before Aquinas’s day, Augustine established that the Father, Son, and Spirit must all be the same in substance, quantity, and quality. That is, they are all the same substance (they are all the very same God), they are all equal in magnitude or greatness, and they are all qualitatively similar (all have the same divine attributes).

Aquinas accepts this Augustinian rule, and so the divine persons can’t be different in any of those ways. Consequently, they can’t be opposites in any of those ways either. If two things are the same, they’re not opposites. Cicero and Tully are not opposite substances because they’re the same substance; two 10kg blocks are not opposite in weight because they have the same weight; and two white objects are not opposite in color because they’re the same color. So the divine persons are not opposites with respect to sameness-correlatives.

That leaves the second kind of correlatives, i.e., those based on action. But here, Aquinas makes an odd statement:

When it comes to correlatives based on action or passion, one of the pair of correlatives is in a subject that’s unequal in power [to that of the other’s subject]. The only exception are correlatives based on origination, for there nothing is designated as the ‘lesser’. Rather, in cases of origination, we find something that produces another which is similar and equal to it in nature and power.

Aquinas seems to be saying that most of the time, when one thing acts on another, one of them has more power than the other. But there’s a special case where this doesn’t happen, and that’s called ‘origination’. In cases of origination, one thing produces another, and the producer and the product are the same kinds of things (similar in ‘nature’, as Aquinas puts it), and they have the same degree of power.

What I don’t get about this is the claim that an action always involves one thing that has more power than another. What about when living organisms beget offspring? In those cases, Aquinas is happy to say that the producer and the product are the same kinds of things, and so they would also be equal in power. Humans are humans, and they have the exact some innate powers, irrespective of whether they’re fathers or sons.

Perhaps Aquinas is thinking about the raw materials that a producer uses to make a product. Raw materials don’t have any of the powers they have once they’re fashioned into a product (raw steel isn’t drive-able, but a car is), and so of course the producer has more power than the raw materials it uses to make a product. Or maybe Aquinas is thinking of offspring that need to develop their powers. Human zygotes don’t initially have the same powers as their parents. They have to develop those powers.

More generally, perhaps Aquinas is thinking that every action involves an agent and a patient, where the agent has active powers (powers to do something), and the patient has passive powers (powers to have something done to it). Thus, for every standard case of action down here on earth, the agent is more powerful than the patient.

But if that’s right, then Aquinas thinks ‘origination’ is a very specific kind of production that occurs only in the Trinity. Natural generation here on earth would not count as ‘origination’. Only in the Trinity is the producer and the product totally equal in power, for that’s the only instance of production that doesn’t involve any ‘moment’ when the patient (an underdeveloped product or the raw materials) has less power than the producer.

There might be something else going on here too. In most cases of production, producers cause their products to come to exist. That is, products depend on their producers for their existence. One would think that this applies in the Trinity too. If the Father produces the Son, then surely the Son depends on the Father for his existence.

However, the Son is supposed to have aseity -- and part of what it means to have aseity is not to depend on anything for existence. How then, can the Son both have aseity and be produced? This is a difficult issue, and I don’t intend to go into it here. The point is just that Aquinas might be thinking that products normally don’t have aseity, but in the divine case, the products (the Son and Spirit) do have aseity, and so he uses a special word -- ‘origination’ -- to talk about that special kind of divine production.

Still, that seems a stretch. Aquinas makes no mention of aseity or existential dependence here. Instead, he talks about the producer and the product being the same in kind and power. So I would think my former comments about power are closer to the mark.

In any case, Aquinas concludes from this that ‘origination’ is the only action that applies to the Son and Spirit, and so the only kinds of correlatives that can apply here are those based on origination. And presumably, these correlatives are the features of ‘being the producer of’ and ‘being the product of’ for an instance of origination. Finally, then, Aquinas has identified the opposite features in question. These are the features that distinguish the Son and Spirit.