Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Empirical science and the transcendentals


As James Ladyman notes in Understanding Philosophy of Science, “many scientists intuitively regard simple and unifying theories as, all other things being equal, more likely to be true than messy and complex ones” (p. 83).  In the minds of some prominent scientists, this simplicity criterion is tied to aesthetic value.  Einstein is often quoted as saying that “the only physical theories that we are willing to accept are the beautiful ones.”  Paul Dirac went so far as to opine that “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”
 
But this attitude is often treated as problematic by other scientists and philosophers, and not without reason.  In Hume, Kant, and other modern philosophers, aesthetic judgments are typically treated as subjective, reflecting merely our reactions to objective reality rather than anything in objective reality itself.  Science, by contrast, is regarded as the objective intellectual enterprise par excellence.  So how could aesthetic value legitimately guide theory choice in science?

Even simplicity stripped of its aesthetic dimension remains problematic.  Ladyman brings it up in the context of discussing methodological principles in science that appear to be unfalsifiable (contra Popper’s famous criterion of what demarcates science from non-science).  Paul Feyerabend argues that the scientific obsession with unifying phenomena by bringing them under simple general laws often involves an oversimplification that papers over the “abundance” and diversity that actually exists in nature. 

There is some truth in these criticisms (and, in my view, in Feyerabend’s in particular).  Still, there is also something plausible in the scientist’s concern for simplicity and beauty, which is why scientists persist in valuing these criteria despite the fact that they are indeed problematic, or at least are problematic given the philosophical assumptions to which scientists tend either explicitly or implicitly to be committed. 

But the problem, I would say, is precisely with those background philosophical assumptions – namely, modern post-Cartesian, post-Humean assumptions – rather than with the criteria of simplicity and beauty themselves.  For these criteria are not only not problematic, but on the contrary are quite natural, given a more traditional metaphysics – in particular, given the Scholastic doctrine of the transcendentals, which has its roots in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy.

A “transcendental” property, in the sense in question here, is one that all being or reality as such possesses simply by virtue of being, and which can accordingly be predicated of everything.  The standard list includes (in addition to being itself), oneness (or unity), goodness, and truth.  Some writers regard beauty as an additional transcendental, though others take it to be just a special case of goodness.  Either way, it is among the properties we can predicate of all being.

The transcendentals are “convertible” in the sense that they are really all the same thing looked at from different points of view.  For example, truth is being considered as an object of the intellect, and goodness is being considered as an object of the will.  Because they are convertible, wherever we can apply one transcendental, we can apply the others.  Hence if we can say of a thing that it has being, then we can also say of it that it is good, that it is one, that it is true, and that it has beauty. 

To take a simple example, consider a cat.  To be a cat at all is to be a good cat in the sense of a good specimen of “catness”; and to be deficient as a specimen is, by the same token, to have less being.  For instance, if a cat is missing a leg, it lacks some of the being or reality that is constitutive of “catness,” and is for that reason less good a specimen of “catness” than a cat with all four legs would be.  And a byproduct of that imperfection is an absence of some of the beauty that would be present in a more perfect specimen.  To be a cat is also to exhibit oneness or unity insofar as in a fully functioning cat, all its parts operate together for the sake of the whole.  When this is not the case – when there is some dysfunction that prevents the parts from so operating – the cat is once again lacking some of the being or reality that is constitutive of “catness,” and it is also once again lacking some of the goodness and beauty it would otherwise have.  To be a cat is also to be a true cat in the sense of being something conforming to the concept that an intellect would form of what it is to be a cat.  In these ways the being of a cat is convertible with its unity, goodness, beauty, and truth. 

Needless to say, fully to spell out the doctrine of the transcendentals, and to justify the more general Scholastic metaphysical background assumptions needed in order to make it intelligible, would take more than a brief blog post.  I give an exposition and defense of the doctrine in Aquinas (see especially pp. 31-36) and in my essay “Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good,” reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays.

The point for present purposes is just this.  Given the transcendentals, it is not surprising that considerations of simplicity and beauty would be thought appropriate criteria for choosing between theories about objective reality.  Note first that the transcendentals being and truth are relatively unproblematic even given standard modern metaphysical assumptions.  (Though I wouldn’t say that they are unproblematic full stop.  See the remarks about truth below.)  No one thinks it contrary to the objectivity of science when scientists say that the entities their theories postulate have being or reality, or that the theories themselves are true.  (To be sure, instrumentalists deny that the entities referred to by scientific theories really exist and that the theories are strictly true.  But instrumentalists don’t accuse scientific realists of a failure of objectivity, but merely of being mistaken.) 

Now, given the convertibility of the transcendentals, wherever there is being or truth, there is also going to be oneness or unity and (either because it is a transcendental in its own right or because it follows from goodness) beauty.  Hence the absence of unity and beauty is bound to be an indicator of some absence of being and truth.

Consider also that “simplicity” of the kind taken to be a criterion of theory choice is closely related to the transcendental oneness or unity.  Ultimate explanation in science is thought to involve taking all the diverse and complex natural phenomena and higher-level laws that there are down to one set of fundamental laws rather than to several, and to laws that can be stated relatively crisply and elegantly rather than in a convoluted way.  This bears a family resemblance to the Scholastic notion that there is a hierarchy of kinds of thing ordered according to their degrees of simplicity and unity.  On this view, aggregates have a lower degree of unity or oneness than substances do, material substances have a lower degree of unity than incorporeal substances (i.e. angels) do, and incorporeal substances have a lower degree of unity than God, who is absolutely simple or non-composite.  And this hierarchy of degrees of unity is also a hierarchy of degrees of being and of goodness (and thus of beauty).

Aquinas’s Fourth Way essentially makes of this notion of a hierarchy of things possessing the transcendental attributes an argument for the existence of God.  The basic idea is that degrees of being, goodness, oneness, etc. point to the existence of something that is the most real, unified, good, etc. thing possible – where the most real thing, the most unified thing, etc. must be the same one thing looked at from different points of view, given the convertibility of the transcendentals.  (See Aquinas for a detailed exposition of the argument.) 

Modern scientists don’t reason exactly this way, of course, but they aren’t as far from the spirit of the argument as they might seem at first glance.  For they do tend to think that the more ultimate or fundamental some set of laws is, the more simple and beautiful they will be.  There is even a sense in which they take the fundamental laws to be more real than anything else.  For one thing, they take these fundamental laws to be in some sense the source of the reality of all other things.  For another, they constantly feel a pressure in the direction of a reductionism which treats the fundamental laws and the entities they govern (fundamental particles, say) as the most real entities.  To be sure, they often resist this pressure – by no means are all scientists ontological reductionists – but the point is that the fundamental laws and entities tend to be treated as the only unproblematically real things, whereas everything else has to either reduced to, or explained as emerging out of, these fundamental laws and entities.  What is fundamental is in that sense taken to have the highest degree of being as well as the highest degree of simplicity and beauty. 

That is not far from the thrust of Fourth Way-style reasoning.  One difference, of course, is that modern scientists don’t take the reasoning to what Aquinas would regard as its logical conclusion, viz. that the ultimate explanatory principle would have to be something entirely beyond the corporeal world altogether (not to mention something that would have to have the divine attributes).  A second difference is that modern scientists are not really systematic about all this.  They retain their attachment to criteria like simplicity and beauty in a merely intuitive way, without bothering clearly to explain what their rational basis is.  (These two differences are connected.  For to work out rationally and systematically what in modern science are left as mere intuitions would lead precisely to a return to something like the doctrine of the transcendentals – and to its theological implications as the sequel.)

As indicated above, even the transcendental truth is, on closer inspection, problematic when detached from the older metaphysics.  Michael Polanyi points out in his book Personal Knowledge that simplicity as a criterion of theory choice essentially functions as a proxy for rationality.  That is to say, scientists are drawn to theories that make the world intelligible.  But a thing’s rationality and intelligibility have to do with its relation to the mind, and modern scientists tend to be committed to the idea that an “objective” account of the world must subtract from it any reference to the mind.  Hence scientists operate with what amount in Polanyi’s view to “a set of euphemisms” (p. 16).  He writes:

The term ‘simplicity’ functions then merely as a disguise for another meaning than its own.  It is used for smuggling an essential quality into our appreciation of a scientific theory, which a mistaken conception of objectivity forbids us openly to acknowledge.

What has just been said of ‘simplicity’ applies equally to ‘symmetry’ and ‘economy’… They must stand for those peculiar intellectual harmonies which reveal, more profoundly and permanently than any sense-experience, the presence of objective truth.

I shall call this practice a pseudo-substitution.  It is used to play down man’s real and indispensable intellectual powers for the sake of maintaining an ‘objectivist’ framework which in fact cannot account for them.   (pp. 16-17)

Though he doesn’t put it this way, what Polanyi is pointing out here is that modern scientists are implicitly committed to the reality of truth as truth is understood within the doctrine of the transcendentals – that is to say, to truth conceived of as being or reality in its relation to an intellect.  The reason they prefer terms like “simplicity” and “economy” is that they tend also to be committed to the assumption that intellect is a highly derivative phenomenon – a mere byproduct of evolutionary history that appears very late in the game as it were – and thus ought not to enter into our characterization of reality at the most fundamental level.  And the trouble is that when this reference to the intellect is deleted, it is no longer clear why simplicity and the like ought to be criteria of theory choice.

Keats was right to say that “beauty is truth, truth beauty,” but wrong to follow up this claim with the further assertion that “that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  For we do need to know something else – namely the traditional, Scholastic metaphysics that makes the first claim intelligible.

40 comments:

  1. 'Ladyman', tsk tsk tsk... such an unfortunate last name.

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  2. The problem with science attempting to find the final elegant and simple set of PHYSICAL laws is that they are looking for these things in the "wrong direction" as it were. This is inevitably true given the fundamental indeterminism of the physical. For every new and elegant theory that emerges to explain Matter at the "fundamental level" the indeterminism inherent will push the theory back toward rococo Models of physical reality which open up new vistas of complexity. This is exactly what happend with string theory. It will always happen. It will happen because of what matter IS (pure potentiality). Only by analyzing the higher NON-Phyiscal level of reality will the mind finally find the beauty and simplicity it longs for. Matter is beautiful in its infinite COMPLEXITY, God, in his perfect Simplicity. They go together, not unlike bride and bridegroom.

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  3. The transcendentals must mean something slightly different when predicated of God, a scientific theory, or a cat.

    I assume that when talking about God, we mean that He is truth, goodness, and beauty Himself.

    But we also mean something different when predicating goodness of a substance (the cat) and goodness of theory, which I assume can be thought of as an accident of a particular substance (the scientist A).

    Isn't the analogical use of the transcendentals so different as to inform us of very little? I mean the transcendentals' extension is maximal, hence their comprehension (content) is minimal.

    I don't mean to deny the thesis - I admit it - but it doesn't seem to makes us much wiser... Or am I missing something?

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  4. I'm not 100% convinced that angels are truly incorporeal and find Aquinas defense of the idea wanting. Might angels be only incorporeal "compared to us" but nonetheless material, or "related to material" in some absolute sense. I find this idea attractive as it presents a heirarchy of Being in which only God is totally and truly immaterial; a concept that works nicely with the notion of Prime Matter as pure potentiality.

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    1. There is always Bonaventure... plus I heard there was a dissertation about spiritual matter somewhere out there in the aether...

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    2. Angels can be specified in relation to material kinds and particulars. Function suffices for specification. Hence individual human beings but also nations and probably families too have guardian angels.

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  5. Benedict XVI said that the most effective witnesses for Christianity were the beauty of its art and the holiness of its saints. You have to be able to see the beauty and goodness first, and feel them deeply, before you want to investigate them intellectually.

    But philosophy has an important role to play, at least for those with an intellectual bent, in showing that these things are real and true and not just epiphenomena to some more mundane level of reality.

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  6. I'm still a hack with respect to philosophy. I recently finished Rob Koons and Timothy Pickavance's "Metaphysics: The Fundamentals". I came away from this post thinking perhaps part of what Polanyi identified as pseudo-substitution is motivated by discomfort of what David K Lewis considered magical abstractionism (page 171).

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  7. "Simplicity" in science is better stated as parsimony, which is taken as qualitative parsimony. This is a bias in favor of quantities, which have no parsimonious limits. And so science posits large quantities of a few kinds of things. A different bias would lead to a different science. Pluralism extends to science, too, if we let it.

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  8. It would be very nice to see Dr.Feser's remarks on Ross and Ladyman's Every thing must go

    Its completely antithetical to Feser's work, its a ferocious attack on any kind of non Naturalist or Quasi Naturalist Metaphysics.

    Right within first few pages, they remark that Standard Analytic Metaphysics or Neo-Scholastic Metaphysics (it seems odd conflating the two) "contributes nothing to human knowledge" and " misrepresents what we know from science"..

    And I do agree with at least some parts of their theses

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    1. He addresses them in Scholastic metaphysics and a few posts on this blog.

      Their argument can only really get of the ground if they argue for some kind of caution with regards to metaphysics or classical philosophy.

      Even that is probably bogus though.

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  9. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2015/03/pigliucci-on-metaphysics.html

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  10. The Fourth Way is predicated on Plato's Theory of Ideas. It is uninformative and unintelligible.

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    1. You should read Feser's Aquinas. He argues against this connection.

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    2. Also, I am not sure why one would think Plato's forms are simply uninformative (is this supposed to be ironic?) and unintelligible?

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    3. You forget that Plato was still a realist and a dogmatist and could easily trap you in your scepticism.

      Modern science is more Platonic than not. It reduces things to abstract IDEALizations, e.g. perfectly linear motion or point-particles for local motions. but point particles aren't even physical objects and virtually no motion is ever actually and perfectly linear. So how are our physical theories so good at making accurate predictions? Because reality still approximates to these things.

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  11. Paul Dirac went so far as to opine that “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”

    I think what Direc here means is this: The physicist looking for a solution (or for that matter an engineer looking for a solution) have to deal with the problem that there are always different paths to proceed, each one of probable failure, and each one costing much work before failure is confirmed. There is no “scientific” way to decide which of the various available paths to proceed is the more likely to lead to success, but one must make a choice. Dirac is expressing an *empirical* fact theoretical physicists learn from practice, namely that the best choice if often not that which at first sight appears to fit better with the data but the one that appears to be more elegant.

    There may be a theistic explanation for that empirical fact. Being made in the image of God we all (including physicists) have some direct awareness of God whether we know it or not. For example that faculty grounds our sense of the moral good. And our sense of beauty. Now, naturaly enough, the way God structured physical reality is beautiful. The physicist senses that beauty is a “meta-property” if you will of physical structure and thus uses her sense of it to guess – with some profit – which of different paths of investigation is more probable to lead to success, i.e. to lead to the right beautiful structure God has in fact created.

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    1. the way God structured physical reality

      Since you don't believe in physical reality, it puzzles me that you would say this.

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  12. ”To be a cat at all is to be a good cat in the sense of a good specimen of “catness”; and to be deficient as a specimen is, by the same token, to have less being.”

    I think this statement makes no sense whatsoever:

    Instead of the cat, take murder. Does it make sense to say that a particular murder is good in the sense of being a good specimen of “murderness”. Say, has the required form perhaps of premeditation, cold-bloodiness, and so on? And that such a good murder has more being than a sloppy kind of soft-hearted murder (of the kind depicted in the movie “Infamous”)?

    Further, an ugly cat (or for that matter a cat missing one leg) has no less being than any other. Neither, it seems to me, does this statement make sense in the context of transcendentals. A beautiful cat partakes closer in the beauty that is God (or reflects better the beauty of God), but again to say that it therefore has more being is a misuse of language. After all the beautiful and the ugly cat are both parts of the excellence of creation, partake equally in created being, and are both equally loved by God. Incidentally I find it remarkable (and perhaps telling) that the scholastics did not realize that love is a transcental too. I think there are fundamentally exactly three transcendentals: truth, the good (or beauty), and love. And the three are indeed “convertible” in their essense. I like to think that these three are the hypostases of God.

    Perhaps one should not confuse Plato's idea of ideals with theism's idea of transcendentals. They are in the same neighborhood but are different.

    ”Aquinas’s Fourth Way essentially makes of this notion of a hierarchy of things possessing the transcendental attributes an argument for the existence of God.”

    I think there are two ways to represent Aquinas's fourth :

    First as a description of how reality in fact is, and here the Fourth Way works beautifully. All of created reality partakes in God's perfection in different degrees, and to follow the direction all sets of things have towards perfection leads one's mind to God. Or perhaps I should say, lead's one awareness towards God - opens one's eyes. Now to the degree that the correct description of reality works as an argument, the Fourth Way works as an argument for theism. Albeit as a rather weak argument, since the agnostic will realize that other non-theistic metaphysical theories are viable alternatives too, since they comport with all the data she has.

    To be an forceful argument the Fourth Way should work up from premises. Suppose the agnostic accepts the premise that transcendentals come in degrees that point to one maximum. In other words that there must be in reality the maximally good thing that causes the goodness of the lesser things, the maximally true thing that causes the truth of the lesser things, etc – and moreover that all these maxima are one and the same. Even when convincing the agnostic that the metaphysical ground of all reality is the one maximum of all transcendentals will miss the goal of arguing for God. Why? For God is the greatest conceivable being, not just the actual maximum. The agnostic can easilly conceive such that maximum being less than the greatest conceivable being, perhaps a maximally good but imperfect demiurge. The fact that all transcendentals in our experience are quite less than perfect (less than the greatest conceivable) allows the agnostic to hypothesize an imperfect (less than the greatest conceivable) maximum.

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    1. Why? For God is the greatest conceivable being, not just the actual maximum. The agnostic can easilly conceive such that maximum being less than the greatest conceivable being, perhaps a maximally good but imperfect demiurge. The fact that all transcendentals in our experience are quite less than perfect (less than the greatest conceivable) allows the agnostic to hypothesize an imperfect (less than the greatest conceivable) maximum.

      This does not work as an objection. The maximum being in question would just turn out to be the perfect being (the conceivability of a more ‘perfect’ being is irrelevant – either the agnostic here has to claim that being is possible – in which case there agnosticism is at dire risk anyway – but not equitable with the maximum limit of the transcendetals, or that said being is not possible after all), the ‘more perfect being’ being the result of fallible modal intuition.

      Alone 'Bare' Conceivability is a guide to possibility but not an infallible one. This is one reason why the term ‘Maximally Great’ is preferred to ‘No Greater Than Which Can be Conceived’, as that latter definition puts too much of an emphasis on human psychological capacities.

      (In fact we can ‘convince’ of many ‘more than perfect’ beings, the ‘being which is standard Omnipotent and can make square-circles’ or the ‘being better than that which is maximally great’ – our conception gives us a very clear modal intuition of their status as impossible beings)

      The more interesting tactic would be to argue that maximal limits of the transcendetals are all possible just not compossible (cannot be possessed by the same being), in other words that the transcendetals are not convertible after all. Here of course return to the old atheistic argument disproof of God based on the Divine Attributes.

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    2. @ OA police,

      the conceivability of a more ‘perfect’ being is irrelevant

      I assume that no theist will ever accept that God is less than than the greatest conceivable being. That's the very gist of the idea of theism.

      Incidentally, strictly speaking St Anselm's definition is a negative one. It says that no matter a created mind's cognitive capacity any idea of God that is less than the greatest being it can conceive is wrong. Thus it is a maximally useful definition, the perfect definition for everybody: the ignorant child, the questioning adolescent, the uneducated or educated adult, the cultivated person, the theologian, the mystic, the saint.

      Alone 'Bare' Conceivability is a guide to possibility but not an infallible one. This is one reason why the term ‘Maximally Great’ is preferred to ‘No Greater Than Which Can be Conceived’, as that latter definition puts too much of an emphasis on human psychological capacities.

      Just a moment. Aquinas's Fourth Way is based on our judgment of the degrees of perfection in the transcendentals. If you call that judgment a matter of “human psychological capacities” then you have just handwaved the Fourth Way away.

      To make certain I explain well my objection let me use numbers. So in our judgment the transcendentals we know in our current life come from a low of degree 5 (very bad but not the worse conceivable bad – or absolute lack of goodness - that would be 0) to a high of degree 80 (very good but less than the greatest conceivable good that would 100). Actually, interestingly enough, a 0 degree thing cannot exist; there is no 0 degree cat for it wouldn't be a cat, nor a 0 degree triangle (for it wouldn't be a triangle) and so on. Makes sense: no being can be without participating in God's being.

      Now according to the Fourth Way the metaphysical ultimate must therefore be a transcendental with degree over 80 – the required maximum. So far so good. Where's the argument that the maximum is 100 as theism requires, and not 90? To work as a forceful argument we'd need to clearly judge the existence of a transcendental of degree 99.99 which would make it probable that the maximum is indeed 100. But that's not the case in actual creation. There is no 99.99 degree cat, nor a 99.99 triangle, nor 99.99 human – in our actual condition all creation stops pretty far from God. Actually the Christian might say that Christ is the 99.99 degree human, but the agnostic would not accept that premise without accepting that Christ was God incarnate, which kind of defeats the exercise.

      [continues below]

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    3. [continues from above]

      In fact we can ‘convince’ of many ‘more than perfect’ beings, the ‘being which is standard Omnipotent and can make square-circles’ or the ‘being better than that which is maximally great’ – our conception gives us a very clear modal intuition of their status as impossible beings)

      True. Our sense of perfection also makes us aware that the conceivably greatest powerful being is not the one who can do everything we may suggest, but the one who does everything it wants (effortlessly if it so wants). And given that the greatest conceivable being is rational and thus does not want to make square-circles we find that the whole question of square-circles, absurdly heavy stones, and so on, is wrong to start with. Thus, I say, St Anselm's definition helps us overcome this erroneous understanding of omnipotence.

      Here of course return to the old atheistic argument disproof of God based on the Divine Attributes.

      Well, intrinsically all these atheistic arguments cannot succeed: We know that the greatest conceivable being is inherently coherent. Now for each such atheistic argument there are two possibilities: Either it fails to demonstrate a contradiction between divine attributes or it doesn't. If if fails then that's that. If it succeeds then it has just helped theists overcome a conceptual error about the attributes of God. - The same thought can be restated thus: Consider the set of all conceivable beings and remove from it all beings with incoherent attributes. One element of the remaining set is the greatest being you can conceive, and by definition it is coherent. Thus theism is inherently coherent.

      Interestingly enough, since all humans appear to have basically the same awareness of the transcendentals, theists and atheists can work together in clarifying which are the correct attributes of God. At least as far a natural theology goes, which given the premise that we are made in the image of God probably goes pretty far.

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  13. Instead of the cat, take murder. Does it make sense to say that a particular murder is good in the sense of being a good specimen of “murderness”. Say, has the required form perhaps of premeditation, cold-bloodiness, and so on? And that such a good murder has more being than a sloppy kind of soft-hearted murder (of the kind depicted in the movie “Infamous”)?

    There is no universal Kind represented by the term ‘murder’. To designate moral properties to an Event as opposed to an Agent is a category mistake. Furthermore degrees of Being and Goodness are only applicable to biological Kinds, as they are the only Kind capable of being instantiated imperfectly.

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    1. @ Daniel,

      To designate moral properties to an Event as opposed to an Agent is a category mistake.

      True, but we are here discussing the theory of transcendentals. In this context all things that have being have the transcendentals to some degree. So in the example that Feser uses the cat has a degree of goodness, even though it's not a moral agent. The way I imagine this is that all creation through the transcendentals participates in God's being, albeit in various degrees of distance. God, through the natural end imbued in all creation, calls all things into perfection – like an attractive force. In one theistic eschatology all creation will in the end be united in God's being.

      Furthermore degrees of Being and Goodness are only applicable to biological Kinds, as they are the only Kind capable of being instantiated imperfectly.

      Surely triangular shapes can also be instantiated imperfectly. As do chairs, such as the uncomfortable ones. The suggestion that only biological kinds can be instantiated imperfectly surprises me; perhaps we are talking past each other.

      Incidentally I am having trouble with the concept of “degrees of being”. I can understand the concept of a being which is transcendentally further from God, but not of a being with a lesser degree of being. But perhaps people use “lesser being” in the way I'd use “further from the truth that is God”.

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    2. Instead of the cat, take murder. Does it make sense to say that a particular murder is good in the sense of being a good specimen of “murderness”.

      And, in addition, this makes no sense because that which is evil already represents a privation of goodness and being; you cannot take a privation and say of it "what does it mean to speak of a 'good' or 'better' instance of this" as if that were an objection. Dianelos can just reject the whole A-T being / privation :: good / evil relationship altogether if he wants to, but he use a "good" privation as an objection to it.

      In fact, Dianelos's ideas are so completely opposed to everything that is A-T that it makes little sense for him to continue commenting. It's about like having a cockfight promoter applying to be a PETA executive.

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    3. And yet he will keep commenting, interminably.

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  14. Hi Dr. Feser!

    I hope you got my email ;)

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  15. So, I just checked with the show host Justin Brieley of Unbelievable radio show, and he said he tried to get Feser on! Do you know how cool that would be?!?! It's a shame that you are always busy Ed, on the otherhand I inpatiently tapping my foot to get my hands on your new books in the works. I'm a hypocrite, I know.

    Anyway, If you ever see this comment, it would be awesome to see you on the show at some point; Kicking ass and taking names. Getting medieval with some scientism schmuk.

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  16. Creationists know its about who decides when conclusions have been made about what is true in nature. So simplicity, or not, still needs a final conclusion and someone to do it.
    It ends up being a human being (tailless primate for some).

    Who created the universe etc? If a creator then its an option the universe is based on final simple conclusions. If its by chance in whole or part it must be based on simple conclusions/laws
    It must of started simple and then got complex and so this complexity must have its essence in existing simple original laws.
    I think any side is right to presume simple foundations behind any complexity.
    Once again the "organizer" of the universe is the first big player in these matters.

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  17. goodness is being considered as an object of the will

    While I agree that this is true at least subjectively true in all cases of any willing per necessity, I think goodness also has an independent and objective being in reality too: in the hierarchy of being, being is a principle (e.g. of activity) of all and any other being (and even in a sense of non-being; e.g., Dr. Feser is 'not-fat'; while Michael Moore is not 'not-fat') and being itself is good (for if being literally in principle were actually or in any way 'not-good' how could anything be either a) positively good (for anything that is would have to be not-good; and how could the principle on which everything that is is based produce something contrary to it) or b) fail to be positively not-good (i.e. bad or evil)?).

    There only would seem to be three options: Being is either in principle
    a) good or actualized goodness
    b) neutral or
    c) not-good (i.e. bad or evil)

    C) seems impossible because how could the evil or bad exist in a non-derivative way of the good; and if the good exists even potentially then per necessity it would have to be a being, and so being could not in principle be not-good. B) seems attractive because in this case we could be all pessimistic and sceptical to a degree, arguing goodness is a subjective kind of projection of man universally or of particular individuals onto things, though the things themselves are neither good nor bad. More seriously, however, we might want to say being in principle is neutral so that it could be the host of contraries (i.e be either good or bad/evil); however, in this case being is made into a substance, which except perhaps in the case of God is simply not true (it is never absolutely true to claim being is four feet long or white or healthy or whatever).

    Furthermore, accidents would seem of necessity to have to be not-beings, if being or all being is substance and then we would have to inquire how or what makes being to be either good or evil without any actuality to base this upon that inheres in the thing, which presumably at least abstractly would have to be a being (e.g. if health is real and a state of affairs in the world and is also good at least for some things; and health for this individual is having an arrangement of parts in a certain order or ratio, then if anything is actually good certainly that order or ratio that is the case of something's being said to be good would have to itself be good - for this is exactly what makes and causes the thing to be healthy and therefore good); but then either this state of affairs is real and actual or otherwise it is not, and since it is being then being itself would have to be also good and accidents would have to be beings). But the problem then becomes how do we account for evil or bad; but if we divide good and evil not between actual beings but between being and not-being, then those things that are - insofar as they actually are - can be said to be good and that which is not could be said to be bad or evil. Hence insofar as some being can not-be, this is sad to be bad or evil at least for it; and other "bads" or evils would have their bases in not-being at least in some respect. For example, something is said to be bad or evil because of a failure of some perfection (which is good) to be actualized and this lack-of-being is the cause of something's being said to be bad or evil.

    1/2

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  18. 2/2
    To account for degrees of goodness we merely need to acknowledge an hierarchy of being or beings. The egalitarians may revolt at this but in the very act of doing so and in justifying it to themselves or others they do in fact have to produce a contrary hierarchy (for per necessity e.g. equality cannot be absolute otherwise they would have no justification for revolting against some order or arrangement in the first place, for this would have to be equal with their own contrary system; but presumably they cannot believe it is actually equal otherwise they would not revolt against it - they also have to affirm the existence of good and goodness in the world. Hence we can argue that a radically reductionist materialist cannot logically have any preference for any system of government if they deny objective good or goodness for if they do they have to add or include goodness in being and reality; and if it exists then they have to produce some account of it or how it exists, and in doing so would of course to that extent cease being a radical reductionist).

    TL;DR : Long story short, the will by nature aims at goodness that exists in reality both potentially and actually: the will is good when its object is also objectively good and bad when its object is objectively bad; and by analogy to the senses, if the will wills what is good, then goodness itself must be an objective component of reality just as the ears hear because there really is sound in reality.

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  19. @ Aristotle's Jedi:

    "The Society of Scholastic Philosophers: Be Careful! We Will Go Medieval On Your Ass."

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  20. @Timocrates,

    ‘The Axiom of Choice: Going Mediaeval on Buridan’s Ass.’

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  22. Speaking of empirical science, what would you say about this, and do you think it is relevant to your interest?

    How Brainless Slime Molds Redefine Intelligence [Video]

    Single-celled amoebae can remember, make decisions and anticipate change, urging scientists to rethink intelligent behavior

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brainless-slime-molds/

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    1. Imagination is not intellect.

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    2. And they are not making decisions. It is pleasure or pain or appetite that is deciding for them.

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    3. I see. Sloppy writing then.

      What exactly is the difference between imagination and intellect though?

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  23. Isn't there a hidden empirical issue here? If a general sense of simplicity and beauty truly structures evaluates scientific work that is later assessed to be progress (more often than not, at least), might that be demonstrable?

    If its true that out epistemic limits, within their limitations, are somehow "in accord" with the way the world really works, then our epistemological contours are themselves expressive of reality itself. I'm not looking to philosophy of science to "prove" this – but I'd be suprized if it turned out otherwise!

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    1. Ecactly, erich. That fact scares a lot of people.

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