Aquinas and the Theory of Comparative Intelligence

0. (This post is the tenth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics.*)

I devoted my post of September 19, 2017, “Aquinas’s Arguments for the Thesis That the Science of the Most Intelligible Objects Is Wisdom,” to a review of the primary argument of the second paragraph of the prologue to his commentary. That paragraph reads:

We can discover which science this is and the sort of things with which it is concerned by carefully examining the qualities of a good ruler; for just as men of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others, whereas those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves, as the Philosopher says in the aforementioned book, in a similar way that science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others. This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

I took note of two things in the passage that “immediately command our attention,” the one Aquinas’s seeming acceptance of slavery and the other “the comparatively straightforward statement of the paragraph’s argument” in its closing lines. First, then, those lines again, and that argument:

[T]hat science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others. This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

I went on to review the argument, first offering the following formulation of it

The science which is intellectual in the highest degree is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.
The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.
Therefore, the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

and then offering an assessment of it as, on the one hand, obviously valid but, on the other, not evidently sound. (Judging that it is not evidently sound is, of course, not the same thing as judging that it is evidently not sound.)

1. The matter of slavery I left for the succeeding post in the series. That post, however, is this post, and I am not yet ready to spell out even a relatively complete argument, let alone a sound or a demonstrative argument, on behalf of the thesis that “those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves,” that I would think myself justified in attributing to Aquinas.

One difficulty, of course, in spelling out such an argument, is that so little is presented in the paragraph that could serve as a basis for it. One would, for example, need to know which, if any, of the following propositions express, for Aquinas, the or a necessary condition for a person being by nature a slave:

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons both having great physical strength and having little intelligence.

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons having great physical strength but not having little intelligence.

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons not having great physical strength but having little intelligence.

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons not having great physical strength and not having little intelligence.

Etc.

I don’t have confidence that Aquinas would say, after due reflection, that the first of the options, the one he most nearly gives expression to, really identifies the or a necessary condition for a person being by nature a slave. Having or not having inferior physical strength is not, after all, identified as a necessary condition of being a ruler.

2. But there is at least that context provided in the passage, one in which “men [sic] of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others.” Whatever else pertains specifically to the relationship of slave-master, I presume, and slave, the slave-master stands to the slave as ruler to ruled. And the person who is by nature the ruler of another stands to the ruled as the person who is the more intelligent to the person who is the less intelligent.

That, of course, suggests convincingly that, in parallel with the argument spelled out above, concluding that “the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences,” Aquinas is committed to the following argument:

The person who is intelligent in the highest degree is the person who is by nature the ruler of the other persons.
The person who is capable of understanding the most intelligible objects is the person who is intelligent in the highest degree.
Therefore, the person who is capable of understanding the most intelligible objects is the person who is by nature the ruler of the other persons.

With his introduction of the notion of superior intelligence and inferior intelligence, etc., Aquinas is committed to a theory of comparative intelligence. It is the task of the present post to spell out some of the basics of that theory of comparative intelligence. Then, in the next post, I intend to weigh the argument just spelled out and concluding that “the person who is capable of understanding the most intelligible objects is the person which is by nature the ruler of the other persons.” And, just perhaps, I may be ready to offer a pronouncement on Aquinas’s apparent acceptance of slavery.

3. To begin, I will assume the following theses to be evident:

It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that x is equal in intelligence to y or x is not equal in intelligence to y.

It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is not equal in intelligence to y, then x is greater in intelligence than y or y is greater in intelligence than x.

It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is greater in intelligence than y, then y is lesser in intelligence than x. (Yes, I share your concern about “lesser.” I thought I needed “lesser in intelligence” to preserve parallelism of expression.)

4. Then, there are three fundamental theses bearing on equality of intelligence.

The Thesis of the Reflexivity of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, that x is equal in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Symmetry of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is equal in intelligence to y, then y is equal in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Transitivity of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, any intelligent being, y, and any intelligent being, z, that, if x is equal in intelligence to y and y is equal in intelligence to z, then x is equal in intelligence to z.

5. There are three fundamental theses bearing on superiority in intelligence:

The Thesis of the Irreflexivity of Superiority in Intelligence: It is not the case, for any intelligent being, x, that x is superior in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Asymmetry of Superiority in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is superior in intelligence to y, then y is not superior in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Transitivity of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, any intelligent being, y, and any intelligent being, z, that, if x is superior in intelligence to y and y is superior in intelligence to z, then x is superior in intelligence to z.

6. There are two theses bearing on what I’ll dub “the utmost in intelligence”: the one is the Thesis of the De Facto Utmost in Intelligence and the other is the Thesis of the De Jure Utmost in Intelligence.

The Thesis of the De Facto Utmost in Intelligence: For any intelligent being, x, x is the most intelligent being if and only if, for any intelligent being, y, if y is not identical with x, then x is superior in intelligence to y.

The Thesis of the De Jure Utmost in Intelligence: For any intelligent being, x, x is the most intelligent being if and only if it is necessary that, for any intelligent being, y, if y is not identical with x, x is superior in intelligence to y.

7. There are, of course, the theses bearing on inferiority in intelligence analogous to those bearing on superiority in intelligence, including, with a plea for your understanding, those of the De Facto Leastmost in Intelligence and the De Jure Leastmost in Intelligence. I’ll leave the working out of their expression to you.

8. The theory of comparative intelligence is but one application of a broad theory of the comparative. Just to take note of the comparisons that Aquinas’s text has thus far called out for, there are the theories of comparative intellectuality, of comparative intelligibility, and of comparative wisdom. I’ll leave the working out of the expression of these theories too to you.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, with occasional minor differences, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

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An Alternative to “Simultaneous” in the Logic of Priority and Posteriority

I am engaged in some thinking, surely elementary, about logical (or ontological) priority and posteriority and their analogy with temporal priority and posteriority. More specifically, I am thinking that, just as there is the one word, “simultaneous,” meaning “at the same time,” i.e., “neither temporally prior to nor temporally posterior to,” so there could or should be some one word, other than “simultaneous,” meaning “neither logically (or ontologically) prior to nor logically (or ontologically) posterior to.” The contrary thought is that I should just go ahead and use the one word, “simultaneous,” to express “neither logically (or ontologically) prior to nor logically (or ontologically) posterior to.” I will appreciate any suggestions or related thoughts.

The ruminations just noted came up as I thought about Aquinas’s understanding of superiority and inferiority, in the theory of which “equal” holds a place similar to that of “simultaneous” in the theory of time, and, more specifically, about his understanding of causal priority and posteriority.

Once again, I will appreciate any suggestions or related thoughts.

Until next time.

Richard

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Aquinas’s Arguments for the Thesis That the Science of the Most Intelligible Objects Is Wisdom.

(This post is the ninth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics.*)

1. In the present post I will first offer, in an at least somewhat summary fashion, the results of the two posts in the present series that bear immediately on the arguments Aquinas has set in front of us in the first paragraph of his “Prologue” to the Commentary. I will next review the prologue’s second paragraph and the argument that it contains. I will then set forth in explicit form the argument which the first two paragraphs taken together present, an argument which Aquinas left implicit.

In, then, my post of July 16, 2017, “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment,” I offered a “critical assessment” of the most explicitly stated of the several arguments that can be discerned in the first paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to the Commentary. As “regimented,” i.e., so rephrased as to make more fully evident its logical essentials, the argument reads as follows:

All sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.
The set of the sciences is a set of several things ordained to a single thing.
Therefore, the set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.

I took it to be sufficiently evident that the argument is valid, that is, it is such that, if the two premises are true, the conclusion also has to be true; were it necessary, one could easily set the argument forth in full set-theoretical dress. But I did not take it to be as evident that the argument is also sound. That is, though it is evident that the argument is valid, it is not evident that, in addition, both of its premises are true. In particular, it is not evident that the first premise is true; in fact, I thought it evident that it is false and offered argumentation to that effect, to which argumentation I refer you. I also noted, on the other hand, that the fact of the argument’s not being sound does not by any means entail that its conclusion is false.

2. Then, in my post of August 19, 2017, “Aquinas’s Argument That Wisdom Is the Ruler of the Other Sciences. A Critical Assessment,” I offered a “critical assessment” of the first paragraph’s primary argument. As duly regimented, the argument is:

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.
One of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences.
Therefore, one of the sciences is wisdom.

I took it to be sufficiently evident that this argument too is valid. But I did not take it to be as evident that the argument is also sound, for two reasons. The first is that the minor premise,

One of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences.

depends upon the argument examined in “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment.” And, as I have indicated, though it is evident that that argument is valid, it is not evident that it is sound.

The second reason for my not taking it to be evident that the first paragraph’s primary argument is sound is that the argument for its major premise simply lacks the premise or premises that a valid argument for the given conclusion would require. As regimented, that argument given is:

It is the office of the wise man to direct others.
Therefore, the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

I am not saying, of course, that there is no valid or sound argument by which Aquinas, or anyone else, could arrive at that conclusion. Nor am I saying that the conclusion is false. I am simply saying that the complete argument that the valid argument would have to be has not been presented to us, at least not yet.

3. Now, on to the review of the prologue’s second paragraph and the argument that it contains. Remembering that Aquinas has, in the prologue’s first paragraph, concluded that

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

the question now is that of which of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences. Aquinas according says, in the prologue’s second paragraph:

We can discover which science this is and the sort of things with which it is concerned by carefully examining the qualities of a good ruler; for just as men of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others, whereas those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves, as the Philosopher says in the aforementioned book, in a similar way that science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others. This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

Two things immediately command our attention. The first, of course, is Aquinas’s argument related to ruler and slave. I will spell that argument out in the next post, something of an appendix to the present post, after I address in the present post the second thing that immediately commands our attention, the comparatively straightforward statement of the paragraph’s argument. I approach things in this order because my spelling out of Aquinas’s argument re slavery will depend upon my spelling out of his argument re the ruling science and the subordinate sciences.

I will render the major premise of the paragraph’s argument, which, in Aquinas’s words, is:

[T]hat science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others.

as:

The science which is intellectual in the highest degree is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

This this rendition preserves, I believe, the meaning of the original while rendering it suitable for its role in the argument at hand.

I will similarly render the minor premise, which, in Aquinas’s words, is:

This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

as:

The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.

The argument, accordingly, is:

The science which is intellectual in the highest degree is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.
The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.
Therefore, the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

The argument is, without question, valid. But is it sound? That is, are both of the premises true? It turns out that that has not been made evident in either case. That is, starting with the major premise, we can easily see that, if the science which is intellectual in the highest degree is, or is identical with, the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences, that identity, that being by the former of the latter, is not immediate. The major premise itself needs then to be demonstrated. And that demonstration will require, in the terminology of the logical tradition, a “middle term” the designee of which is both that which the science which is intellectual in the highest degree is and that which is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

Likewise, turning to the minor premise, we can easily see that, if the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is, or is identical with, the science which is intellectual in the highest degree, that identity, that being by the former of the latter, is not immediate. The minor premise itself needs then to be demonstrated. And that demonstration will require a “middle term” the designee of which is both that which the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is and that which is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.

It necessarily follows that, given what we have been given so far, it is not evident that that argument is sound. It remains to be seen whether Aquinas, in the prologue or later in his commentary, provides us with what is needed for the demonstrations of the two premises.

4. I turn now to the setting forth, in explicit form, of the argument which the first two paragraphs taken together present, an argument which Aquinas himself left implicit. First, then, we have the conclusion of the first paragraph, which will serve as the major premise of the argument being made explicit:

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

and we have that of the second paragraph, which will serve as the minor premise of the argument being made explicit:

The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

The subject of the major premise needs to be expanded so as to match the predicate of the minor premise, thus:

The science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

This rendition represents another instance of preserving the meaning of the original while rendering it suitable for its role in the argument at hand.

The argument of the first two paragraphs is then:

The science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.
The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.
Therefore, the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is wisdom.

Once more, it is evident that the argument is valid. But it is not evident that it is sound, for it is not evident that the arguments which have been offered on behalf of its premises are themselves sound.

5. Setting aside the in fact more numerous posts attempting to specify to some initial degree the ways in which the philosophical perspective motivating this blog coincides, and does not coincide, with that or those of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, I have thus far in the present series of readings of and commentary upon the latter’s commentary on the former’s Metaphysics reviewed the arguments of the first two paragraphs of the “Prologue.” It is not evident that those arguments are sound, though, with one possible exception (see above), it is evident that they are valid. Sound or unsound, they have led Aquinas to the conclusion that:

The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is wisdom.

An understanding of that proposition depends necessarily upon one of just what the “most intelligible objects” in question are. In the initial sentence of the third paragraph, Aquinas tells us that:

Now the phrase “most intelligible objects” can be understood in three ways.

He accordingly, in the third paragraph and in the two succeeding paragraphs, will spell out those three understandings. In, then, the next post but one in the series, I will review the arguments that Aquinas sets forth in the third paragraph.

In, however, the next post, something of an appendix to the present one, I will turn my attention to the argument, noted above, related to ruler and slave.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, with occasional minor differences, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

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Aquinas’s Thesis of the Identity of the Intellect Knowing and the Intellectual Object Known

This post is the eighth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics.*

0. In a previous post, the “Touching upon the Theory of Act and Potency,” of August 23, 2017, I drew attention to a central theory in the holding of which the philosophical perspective of After Aristotle stands in agreement with that or those of Aristotle and Aquinas, the theory of act and potency. I also promised that, in a later post (which I then thought, erroneously, would be the next), I would draw attention to a central thesis in the holding of which After Aristotle’s view differs from those of Aristotle and Aquinas. This is that later post.

1. I need, however, to be a bit more careful than I have been in how I put things. For one thing, the difference at hand consists in the fact, not that I affirm a thesis that Aquinas does not, but that Aquinas affirms a thesis that I do not. For another thing, as I have just signaled in excepting Aristotle, the precise thesis that I have had in mind, one that receives expression in the prologue to and in the first lesson of Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, is not one that, at least to my knowledge, is to be found in Aristotle, though others closely related are. That thesis of Aquinas is the thesis that, in my words:

The intellect knowing an object is a being identical with the intellectual object known.

Given the distinction between act and potency, and actually being and potential being, which I touched upon in “Touching upon the Theory of Act and Potency,” Aquinas is led to affirm both that, still in my words,

The intellect potentially knowing an object is a being potentially identical with the intellectual object potentially known.

and that

The intellect actually knowing an object is a being actually identical with the intellectual object actually known.

Accepting though I do the theory of act and potency, I do not accept the thesis that the intellect knowing an intellectual object is a being identical with the intellectual object known. In what follows, then, I propose to, first, present two passages of the commentary in which Aquinas affirms the identity in question. Second, I will “regiment” the expression of that affirmation, i.e., so rephrase it that its logical characteristics stand out unequivocally, in order to be able to better point out precisely how Aquinas’s thesis is wrong. Third, I will then point out how Aquinas’s thesis is wrong.

2. The text of Aquinas which I quoted in the previous post and in which Aquinas affirms, though in his own words, both that the intellect actually knowing an intellectual object and the intelligible object actually known are actually identical and that the intellect potentially knowing an intellectual object and the intellectual object potentially known are potentially identical, is that of Comment 2, in the first lesson of Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. There, after having reported, in Comment 1, that Aristotle

says … that the desire to know belongs by nature to all men.

Aquinas goes on to say:

Three reasons can be given for this. The first is that each thing naturally desires its own perfection. Hence matter is said to desire form as any imperfect thing desires its perfection. Therefore, since the intellect, by which man is what he is, considered in itself is all things potentially, and becomes them actually only through knowledge, because the intellect is none of those things that exist before it understands them, as is stated in Book III of The Soul [429a23]; so each man naturally desires knowledge just as matter desires form.

The other text in which he offers an affirmation of the identity of the intellect knowing an intellectual object and the intellectual object known, though in this text more specifically of the identity of the intellect actually knowing an intellectual object and the intellectual object actually known, is that of the first half of the fifth paragraph of his prologue to the Commentary. There, speaking of the phrase, “most intelligible objects,” he says:

Third, this phrase can be understood from the viewpoint of the intellect’s own knowledge. For since each thing has intellective power by virtue of being free from matter, those things must be intelligible in the highest degree which are altogether separate, from matter. For the intellect and the intelligible object must be proportionate to each other and must belong to the same genus, since the intellect and the intelligible object are one in act.

In the present post I’ll refrain from dealing with the arguments of the two passages; I will take them up instead as I reach them in the course of the series of posts devoted to the Commentary (to which I pledge to return soon). Besides, the thesis of the identity of the intellect and the intellected object is introduced in the two passages as a premise, and not as a conclusion, of the arguments in them.

3. I’ll take it then as granted that Aquinas has affirmed in the passages quoted that, in my words,

The intellect knowing an intellectual object is a being identical with the intellectual object known.

Next, then, we have the regimentation of that affirmation. So, to begin, let us note that one can reword the thesis that, say,

The human intellect is an immaterial principle of the human person.

as the universal affirmative categorical proposition that

All human intellects are immaterial principles of human persons.

while yet preserving the equivalence of the one to the other; the one is true if and only if the other is true. So too one can reword the more complex thesis that

The intellect knowing an intellectual object is a being identical with the intellectual object known.

as the universal affirmative categorical proposition that

All intellects knowing intellectual objects are beings identical with the intellectual objects known.

4. Now, there are, as it well seems, instances in which it is true that intellects knowing intellectual objects are beings identical with the intellectual objects known, at least if there are intellects knowing themselves. If or as this is the case, then the particular affirmative categorical proposition that

At least some intellects knowing intellectual objects are beings identical with the intellectual objects known.

is true.

But there are also, as it equally well seems, instances in which it is not true that intellects knowing intellectual objects are beings identical with the intellectual objects known. Then the following two equivalent propositions are true, the one the proposition contradicting the above given universal affirmative categorical proposition, viz..”

It is not the case that all intellects knowing intellectual objects are beings identical with the intellectual objects known.

and the other the particular negative categorical proposition

At least some intellects knowing intellectual objects are not beings identical with the intellectual objects known.

5. You may have been looking for at least one example of an intellect knowing an intellectual object and yet not being identical with the intellectual object known. The matter is a bit complicated, but only a bit. So, let’s say that I understand, i.e., have an intellectual knowledge, that the intellectual object sitting in my back yard is a tiger. Then it is the case that

At least one intellect knowing an intellectual object is not a being identical with the intellectual object known.

for I am not, at least not literally, a tiger and neither is my intellect.

From my own Aristotelian philosophical perspective, that observation should be enough in the way of prima facie evidence that Aquinas’s identity thesis is false. But it may be objected that I am presupposing that the tiger sitting in my back yard is as such and simply the intellectual object known, as such and simply the object of the intellect. And some may not accept that presupposition, instead holding that it is not immediately the concrete tiger that is the intellectual object of my intellectual knowledge that the intellectual object sitting in my back yard is a tiger. Rather, that which is the intellectual object in that bit of intellectual knowledge is, not the tiger as such, but the tiger nature by which the tiger is a tiger.

With that precision, however, we still do not have not an exemplification of Aquinas’s thesis, for it would remain that the intellectual object, now the tiger nature, of my intellect’s knowledge is distinct from, not identical with, my intellect.

6. There is much more to be said that is intimately related to the topic of this post, for Aquinas’s identification of the intellect knowing an intellectual object and the intellectual object known, is but a middle position between two relative extremes. On the one hand, there is the thesis that the identity that knowledge is thought to be is not that of the intellect and the object of intellection, but rather that of the intelligent knower and the intellectual object known: the intelligent knower is the intellectual object known. On the other hand, there is the thesis that the identity that knowledge is thought to be is neither one of the intelligent knower nor one of the intellect with the intellectual object known. Rather it is one of the idea, thought, or concept, existing within the intellect and by means of which the intelligent knower and his, her, or its intellect knows and, it is held, is thereby identical with the intellectual known. These theses still require being addressed.

There is, moreover, my own understanding of what is involved in intellectual knowledge. I’ll just state now, and articulate and defend as coming occasions make appropriate, that I am relatively comfortable, at this stage in my philosophical development, in affirming that the real is intelligible and that we humans are capable of a genuine intellectual knowledge of that intelligible real, though we are hardly identical with the object of intellectual knowledge in all cases. I am further relatively comfortable with affirming that we humans are capable of a genuine intellectual knowledge of that which is intelligible only if and because there is within us an intellect by means of which we can have that knowledge, though that intellect is hardly identical with the object of intellectual knowledge in all cases.

Finally, I am yet further relatively comfortable with affirming that we humans are capable of a genuine intellectual knowledge of that which is intelligible only if and because there is within our intellect the conceptual means by which we can have that knowledge, though that conceptual means is hardly identical with the object of intellectual knowledge in all cases.

7. Once again, there is much more to be said. And much more will be said, fortune permitting, in the course of my reading of and reflection upon Aquinas’s commentary. But not here and now, for I have accomplished the primary aim of this post, that of drawing attention to a central difference between the Aristotelian perspective of After Aristotle, even as it remains Aristotelian, and the Aristotelian perspective of Aquinas.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

Posted in Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Bringing in Edward Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Edward Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God* (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) has been out for a few weeks now, though I received my copy, ordered in June, just a few days ago. The book commands serious reading and serious reading is slow reading. I am therefore quite early on in my reading and reflecting upon the book. Even so, I do have some comments on the book I would like to offer, the first of which is that the book is extraordinarily well organized: Feser tells you in advance and clearly what he will do, does it, and then, periodically and helpfully, sums up where the argument stands, telling you what he thinks the book has done.

Second, the book spells out a version of classical Aristotelian metaphysics or, more specifically, of the natural theology that the Aristotelian tradition thinks that that metaphysics includes. This metaphysics adheres to a resolute rationalism, according to which the real is intrinsically rational or, better, intelligible. It upholds, then, among other principles, the principle of non-contradiction, according to which no being can both be and not be, in any one respect and at any one time, and the principle of excluded middle, according to which all beings must either be or not be, in any one respect and at any one time.

In Five Proofs, to be sure, Feser does not so much set forth or defend such principles as he thinks and argues in accordance with them. But he does set forth and defend the theses that are specific to and indeed define any specifically Aristotelian version of rationalism, those of the theory of actual being and potential being, in short, of act and potency, and the distinction between them. Thus the characterization (pp. 18, 19, etc.) of change as “the actualization of a potential.”

Third, the book’s perspective is thoroughly and straightforwardly Aristotelian in upholding in addition the thesis that philosophy, more specifically, metaphysics, and, more specifically still, natural theology are, not just speculative theories, but demonstrative sciences. That is, it is held, within them there are to be found arguments that are not only valid and sound, arguments, but indeed also demonstrative or apodictic arguments, in a word, proofs. And thus the book’s primary claim, that natural theology can prove the existence of God in, as its title tells us, [at least] five ways. As Feser puts it (p. 15):

A long line of thinkers, from the beginnings of Western thought down to the present day—Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, Thomists and other Scholastics, early modern rationalists, and philosophers of some other schools too, whether pagans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, or philosophical theists—have affirmed that God’s existence can be rationally demonstrated by purely philosophical arguments. The aim of this book is to show that they were right, that what long was the mainstream position in Western thought out to be the mainstream position again.

I have for decades now, since undergraduate days, understood full well that the Aristotelian tradition has viewed the philosophical disciplines as, at least in principle, philosophical sciences and at least some of the classical arguments for the existence of God as demonstrative arguments. Still, when I read the above passage of Feser, I found myself, on the one hand, enjoying a refreshed appreciation of just what those views are, and, on the other, a determination to put his claim to the test: that is, I found myself committed to the task of determining which of the theses advanced in his book are supported by arguments both explicit and valid, sound, and demonstrative, most particularly those theses immediately involved in the purported proofs of the existence of God.

And that led me to see more clearly than before what one of the primary aims of my ongoing series of posts devoted to the reading of and reflecting upon Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics has been, that of determining which of the theses, if any, of the Aristotelian metaphysics have been actually proven by Aquinas in the Commentary; this in turn is a purpose subordinated to that of determining which of the theses, if any, of the theses of, finally, metaphysics are supported by arguments both explicit and valid, sound, and demonstrative, most particularly those theses immediately involved in the purported proofs of the existence of God.

It is in line with these aims that although, in my posts of July 16, 2017, and August 19, 2017, the “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment” and “Aquinas’s Argument That Wisdom Is the Ruler of the Other Sciences. A Critical Assessment,” respectively, I found two central arguments of the first paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to his commentary to be both valid, in that, if their premises true, their conclusion has to be true, I did not find it to be evident that they are also sound. That is, though it is evident in both cases that that the arguments are valid, it is not evident that, in addition, their premises, and therefore also their conclusions, are all true. Much less, I will add now, is it evident that they are demonstrative.

Let me close by noting that, along with other works by Feser, his Five Proofs will serve as a constant companion as I work my way through Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. That, it seems to me, is reason enough for me to identify this introduction to Feser’s work as the seventh in the series of posts dedicated to the sustained reading of and commentary upon Aquinas’s.

Until next time.

Richard

* You may easily purchase a copy of Five Proofs through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

** Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

Posted in Edward Feser's Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Touching upon the Theory of Act and Potency

0. I’ll start this post, the sixth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle,* with a brief overview of the posts that have seen the light of day thus far in the series. I’ll then touch upon the Aristotelian theory of act and potency.

1. The posts that have seen the light of day thus far in the series fall into two categories. The first of the two categories includes two posts dealing with the arguments Aquinas presents in the very first paragraph of his “Prologue.” In the first of these two posts, I set out and offered a critique of the paragraph’s most explicitly stated argument, the conclusion of which is that one science must rule the other sciences. In the second, I did the same for the paragraph’s main argument, the conclusion of which is that wisdom is the science that rules the other sciences. The primary critique in both cases is that, though they both are valid arguments, Aquinas does not offer, at least in the prologue, all that we need to see to see whether they are in addition sound arguments.

The two posts are:

Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment

Aquinas’s Argument That Wisdom Is the Ruler of the Other Sciences. A Critical Assessment

The second of the two categories includes three posts reflecting in various ways upon the relationships, or possible relationships, between the neo-Aristotelianism motivating After Aristotle and the Aristotelianism, or, possibly, the Aristotelianisms, of Aristotle and Aquinas. One of the three is the post introducing the series,

Reading Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Introduction

The other two posts point to some of the fundamental ways in which this blog’s philosophical perspective is in agreement with the Aristotelianism of Aristotle and Aquinas, thus justifying the “Aristotelian” of the “neo-Aristotelian” of the tag, “Analyses and Essays from a Neo-Aristotelian Point of View,” at the top of this page. In the one,

The Principle of Metaphysical Realism

I point to the metaphysical realism that After Aristotle shares with the Aristotelianism(s) of Aristotle and Aquinas. In a subsequent postlette (which I, arbitrarily, it has to be said, decided not to include in the numbering of the posts of series),

Metaphysical Pluralism. An Appendix to “The Principle of Metaphysical Realism”

I went on to point to the metaphysical pluralism and, moreover, the philosophical dynamism that After Aristotle shares with the Aristotelianism(s) of Aristotle and Aquinas.

In the remaining of the posts pointing to ways in which this blog’s neo-Aristotelianism is in agreement with the Aristotelianism of Aristotle and Aquinas,

Aquinas on the First Principles 1

I spelled out the metaphysical principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle and underlined the need to distinguish between the two metaphysical principles and the logical principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle, to which latter the metaphysical principles are prior.

I have not yet fully worked out what I will do in the post to come and bearing the title, “Aquinas on the First Principles 2.”

2. The primary intention of the present post is that of drawing attention to a central thesis in the holding of which the philosophical perspective of After Aristotle stands in agreement with that or those of Aristotle and Aquinas. Then, in the next post in the series, I will draw attention to a central thesis in which it differs from it or them.

Both the one thesis and the other, however, receive expression in Comment 2 of Aquinas’s commentary. There, after having reported, in Comment 1, that Aristotle

says … that the desire to know belongs by nature to all men.

Aquinas goes on to say

Three reasons can be given for this. The first is that each thing naturally desires its own perfection. Hence matter is said to desire form as any imperfect thing desires its perfection. Therefore, since the intellect, by which man is what he is, considered in itself is all things potentially, and becomes them actually only through knowledge, because the intellect is none of those things that exist before it understands them, as is stated in Book III of The Soul [429a23]; so each man naturally desires knowledge just as matter desires form.

The philosophical theory making its entrance here, with which After Aristotle’s neo-Aristotelianism is in agreement with that or those of Aristotle and Aquinas, is the theory of actual being and potential being or, as it is often put, being in act and being in potency, or yet more simply, act and potency. The philosophical thesis evident here with which there is disagreement is the thesis of the identity of the intellect actually knowing with that which the intellect actually knows.

3. The theory of act and potency will be the object of extensive discussion as the present series of posts unfolds. In this post, therefore, I will content myself with just the setting forth of two theses that my neo-Aristotelianism upholds and offering some indication of their contemporary relevance. The one is that

Whatever is actually something is also potentially that something.

For example,

Anyone actually knowing what the twenty or so amino acids are is also potentially knowing what the twenty or so amino acids are.

The converse, however, is not true; that is, it is not true either that

Anyone potentially knowing what the twenty or so amino acids are is also actually knowing what the twenty or so amino acids are.

or, generally,

Whatever is potentially something is also actually that something.

Not all persons potentially knowing what the twenty or so amino acids are actually know what they are. That is, it rather is the case that

At least one person potentially knowing what the twenty or so amino acids are is not actually knowing what they are.

or, generally,

At least one thing that is potentially something is not actually that something.

The theory of act potency is, as I briefly indicated above, still with us in contemporary philosophy, albeit, in most cases, with major differences from any Aristotelian understanding. There is, to point to just one example, John-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.**

The duality of potency and act falls by the same stroke [as that of “being and appearance”]. The act is everything. Behind the act there is neither potency nor “hexis” nor virtue.

Sartre’s metaphysics is then, at least to the degree that it consistent, one in which everything that is must be pure act, for it does not provide for any distinction between act and potency. And, as you may be aware, though I am now getting way ahead of myself, for the Aristotelian metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas, the divine and the divine alone is pure act. Sartre may then be seen, at least from that point of view, as holding that all actual things are divinities. As, however, we advance in this series of posts, it will be clear that I, along with Aristotle and Aquinas, do not see it to be the case either that everything is pure act or that all actual things are divinities.

4. The theory of act potency is also, of course, still with us in contemporary Aristotelianism and Thomism. An important statement of the theory can be found in the famous “Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses.” The first of these two theses, as it is translated on the Catholic Biblical Apologetics website, “The 24 Thomistic Theses,”*** reads:

Potency and Act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either pure act, or of necessity it is composed of potency and act as primary and intrinsic principles.

The second of the twenty-four Thomistic theses is

Since act is perfection, it is not limited except through a potency which itself is a capacity for perfection.

This, of course, is not simply a thesis, but an argument. Regimented just a bit, or so spelled out as to bring out its logic just a bit more expressly, the argument is:

Act is perfection.
Therefore, act is not limited except through a potency which itself is a capacity for perfection.

For now, I will content myself with the observation that at least one, and quite likely more than one, additional premise is needed if that conclusion is to be completely justified.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

** John-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, translated by Hazel Barnes (New York, Philosophical Library, 1956), p. 4.

*** One of the places online where a translation of the document can be found is:
http://www.catholicapologetics.info/catholicteaching/philosophy/thomast.htm

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Define or Drop.

In his August 19, 2017, post, “Define or Drop,” the Maverick Philosopher’s”maverick philosopher,” Bill Vallicella, offers the following statement regarding and invitation and directive to “leftists.”

For leftists, words are weapons. If you are a lefty, and you disagree, then I invite you to define ‘fascist,’ ‘racist,’ ‘white supremacist,’ and the rest of the epithets in your arsenal. Define ’em or drop ’em.

He himself, however, does not define “leftist” or “leftism,” at least in this post. I don’t recall him having defined either term in other posts, and I have read many of them.

If, then, Bill, you have defined one or the other in some one of your many, many, posts bearing on leftists, I ask that you let us know in which one. If you haven’t, then, your directive to yourself has to be, “Define it or drop it.”

Until next time.

Richard

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