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 , , , , , , , , , | 4 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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Aquinas’s Argument That Wisdom Is the Ruler of the Other Sciences. A Critical Assessment

0. This post is the fifth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. In my post of July 16, 2017, “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment,” the second such post, I presented a critique of one of the several arguments present in the opening paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to his commentary, the one of which he gave the most explicit and easily understood statement. The paragraph in question reads:

When several things are ordained to a single thing, one of them must rule or govern and the rest be ruled or governed, as the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] teaches in the Politics. This is evident in the union of soul and body, for the soul naturally commands and the body obeys. The same thing is also true of the soul’s powers, for the concupiscible and irascible appetites are ruled in the natural order by reason. Now all the sciences and arts are ordained to a single thing, namely, to man’s perfection, which is happiness. Hence one of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom; for it is the office of the wise man to direct others.

The argument critiqued in the July 16 post, so “regimented,” i.e., so simplified and rephrased as to make more fully evident its logical essentials, 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 for the purposes at hand that the argument is valid, that is, it is such that, if the two premises are true, the conclusion too 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, and therefore also its conclusion, 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 in “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment” 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.

1. In today’s post I propose to offer a similarly critical examination of the paragraph’s main argument, an argument discernible in the paragraph’s last sentence.

Hence one of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom; for it is the office of the wise man to direct others.

Now, it seems to me that the argument that can therein be discerned 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.

2. My revision of Aquinas’s statement of the minor premise of the argument,

[O]ne of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all of the others.

as

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

is done simply in order to remain consistent with the choice I have made of “ruler,” rather than the paragraph’s alternatives of “governor,” “director,” and “mistress,” as the means of expressing the relationship of authority at hand.

At any rate, that minor premise follows from the conclusion of the argument examined in “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment” and reproduced early on in this post:

The set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.

The argument having that proposition as its premise and the minor premise at hand as its conclusion is:

The set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.
Therefore, one of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences and arts.

Fully expressed, this argument too is somewhat complex. But I will assume it to be evident that the argument is valid.

3. Let us turn now to the major premise of the paragraph’s main argument. In Aquinas’s own words, the premise reads as:

[O]ne of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom….

As somewhat regimented, it reads:

The mistress of all of these sciences rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom.

or, as further regimented:

The mistress of all of these sciences is wisdom.

With one more step in its regimentation, we have:

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

4. This premise too requires that an argument be made on its behalf; there needs to be a middle or mediating term between the subject and the predicate of the conclusion. Inspection of the paragraph reveals, however, but one candidate for the role of the needed premise for the argument:

[I]t is the office of the wise man to direct others.

But the argument that we then have

[I]t is the office of the wise man to direct others.
Therefore, the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

is far from complete; it is lacking the additional premises that any valid argument for the given conclusion must include.

This is not to claim, clearly, that a valid, and indeed sound, argument involving the premise and the conclusion we have cannot be elaborated. Nor is it by any means to claim that the conclusion is false. But it is to claim that it is not evident that the main argument of the first paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle is one justifying its conclusion.

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:

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Aquinas on the First Principles 1

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

0. This post is the fourth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle (as its subtitle indicates, I think of my immediately preceding “postlette,” “Metaphysical Pluralism. An Appendix to ‘The Principle of Metaphysical Realism’,” as but an appendix to the full post immediately preceding it, and not itself a full post.). In the post that I identify as the third in this series, “The Principle of Metaphysical Realism,” I presented the principle in question, that

There is at least something.

or that

At least something exists.

as “the utterly basic, and thus absolutely first, principle of metaphysics,” prior even to the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle most often, if not always, identified by the Aristotelian tradition in philosophy as the “first principles.” I further presented it as one basis for identifying the philosophical perspective motivating After Aristotle as Aristotelian or, at least, neo-Aristotelian in nature. In the postlette immediately following that post, I went on to point out that the philosophical perspective motivating After Aristotle accepts not only the principle of metaphysical realism but also the thesis of metaphysical pluralism, that

At least one being is an existent and it is not the case that at most one being is an existent.

or, more briefly

There are at least two beings.

or, yet again, though I there neglected to offer this version

There are many beings.

Finally, in the same postlette, I went on to offer a statement of the thesis I identify as that of philosophical dynamism, that

At least one being is a changing being.

as another thesis which the philosophical perspective of this blog shares with the Aristotelianism, or Aristotelianisms, of Aristotle and Aquinas. I could have, and probably should have, gone on to take the obvious step of affirming the thesis of pluralistic dynamism, that

There are many changing beings.

But I did not.

1. In the present post I want to move on to offer a part of the discussion of the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle which I promised in “The Principle of Metaphysical Realism” would be forthcoming; in the next post I’ll offer its continuation, relating the principles as formulated here to their formulations in a mode reflective of a more contemporary conception of logic.

I’ll begin with statements of the two principles as metaphysical principles, i.e., as principles bearing upon beings. The metaphysical principle of non-contradiction is the principle that:

No being can both be and not be, in any one respect and at any one time.

The metaphysical principle of excluded middle is the principle that:

Any being must either be or not be, in any one respect and at any one time.

Understand that the “be” of “be and not be” and “be or not be” is taking the place either of “be a being” or “be an existent” or of “be a being of a certain kind,” as in, for example

Venus exists.

and

Venus is the Morning Star.

2. The statements that Aquinas, like Aristotle before him, offers of these principles are not always similar in expression to those I have just offered. In some cases, of course, their expressions, though dissimilar, are perfectly equivalent. Thus, for example, in his Comment 600, in Lesson 6 of his commentary on Book IV of the Metaphysics, speaking of Aristotle’s notion that (Comment 599) “the most certain or firmest principle should be such that there can be no error regarding it; that it is not hypothetical; and that it comes naturally to the one having it,” Aquinas says*

Then he indicates the principle to which the above definition applies. He says that it applies to this principle, as the one which is firmest: it is impossible for the same attribute both to belong and not belong to the same subject at the same time. And it is necessary to add “in the same respect”; and any other qualifications that have to be given regarding this principle “to meet dialectical difficulties” must be laid down, since without these qualifications there would seem to be a contradiction when there is none.

I’ll take it to be sufficiently evident for our purposes that Aquinas’s formulation of the principle of non-contradiction, as

[I]t is impossible for the same attribute both to belong and not belong to the same subject at the same time [and…] in the same respect….

is equivalent to the formulation I offered above, in that the one is true if and only if the other is.

3. But not all statements of a principle identified as that first principle are equivalent to that formulation. There is, for example the statement of “the most certain of all opinions” that we can read in Comment 718, in Lesson 15 of his commentary on Book IV of the Metaphysics.

He accordingly says, first (381), that it is clear from the above statement that the most certain of all opinions or views is the one which states that opposite statements or propositions, i.e., contradictory ones, are not true at the same time.

The doctrine, however, that contradictory propositions cannot both be true, at the same time, etc., is not a metaphysical doctrine, one bearing upon extra-mental and extra-linguistic reality. Rather, it is a logical doctrine, bearing upon, first, propositions and then statements, mental realities and linguistic realities respectively. We have to distinguish, that is, between the metaphysical principle of non-contradiction and the logical principle of non-contradiction. The one is prior to the other: it is because, in reality, no being can both be and not be, in any one respect and at any one time, that no two propositions, one of which affirms something and the other of which denies it, can be both true.

We find Aquinas similarly offering a statement of the logical principle of excluded middle, rather than one of the metaphysical principle of excluded middle, in Comment 720, in Lesson 16 of his commentary on Book IV of the Metaphysics.

He [Aristotle] says … that, just as contradictories cannot be true at the same time, neither can there be an intermediate between contradictories, but it is necessary either to affirm or deny one or the other.

And I respond similarly: The doctrine that one of two contradictory propositions must be true, at the same time, etc., is not a metaphysical doctrine, one bearing upon extra-mental and extra-linguistic reality. Rather, it is a logical doctrine, bearing upon, first, propositions and then statements, mental realities and linguistic realities respectively. We have to distinguish, that is, between the metaphysical principle of excluded middle and the logical principle of excluded middle. The one is prior to the other: it is because, in reality, any being must either be or not be, in any one respect and at any one time, that of two contradictory propositions, one affirming something and the other denying it, one or the other, but not both, must be true.

In brief, a logical doctrine, bearing upon propositions, and a metaphysical doctrine, bearing upon real beings, have to be distinct, because propositions and real beings are distinct.

4. Now, like the principle of metaphysical realism, the principles of non-contradiction and of excluded middle are not principles that can simply go without saying, for there are those who deny them. There is, of course, the statement of Walt Whitman that serves above as a preface to this post. And there are philosophers of the highest stature who deny them. Thus the striking statements of the pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus (who “flourished,” as they say, circa 500 BCE)**:

110. Into the same rivers we step and do not step. We exist and we do not exist.

113. It is one and the same thing to be living and dead, awake or asleep, young or old. The former aspect in each case becomes the latter, and the latter becomes the former, by sudden unexpected reversal.

And in contemporary philosophy, there is the thesis of “dialetheism.” In their article, “Dialetheism,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,*** Graham Priest, perhaps the foremost of its proponents, and Francesco Berto describe it as follows:

A dialetheia is a sentence, A, such that both it and its negation, ¬A, are true (we shall talk of sentences throughout this entry; but one could run the definition in terms of propositions, statements, or whatever one takes as one’s favourite truth-bearer: this would make little difference in the context). Assuming the fairly uncontroversial view that falsity just is the truth of negation, it can equally be claimed that a dialetheia is a sentence which is both true and false.

Dialetheism is the view that there are dialetheias. One can define a contradiction as a couple of sentences, one of which is the negation of the other, or as a conjunction of such sentences. Therefore, dialetheism amounts to the claim that there are true contradictions. As such, dialetheism opposes the so-called Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) (sometimes also called the Law of Contradiction). The Law can, and has been, expressed in various ways, but the simplest and most perspicuous for our purposes is probably the following: for any A, it is impossible for both A and ¬A to be true.

If, of course, there are true contradictions, then there have to be things which, in an Aristotelian formulation, both be and not be, in the same respect and at the same time. And similarly, if there are true denials of the principle of excluded middle, then there have to be things which, in an Aristotelian formulation, need neither be nor not be, in the same respect and at the same time.

5. One of the primary aims of this series of posts on Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics has to be that of replying to the vision of thinkers like Heraclitus and Graham Priest. I plan to do this as the opportunities for doing so arise as I work my way through the commentary. For now, let me close the present post by observing that this blogger’s philosophical perspective is in complete accord with that, or those, of Aristotle and Aquinas in its recognition of the principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle as essential philosophical truths.

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:

** William Harris, “Heraclitus. The Complete Fragments.”
http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/Philosophy/heraclitus.pdf. Accessed August 7, 2017.

*** Graham Priest and Francesco Berto, “Dialetheism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/dialetheism/. Accessed August 7, 2017.

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