Showing posts with label Aristotle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aristotle. Show all posts

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 8: Aquinas’s Metaphysics Part 2

I tried this with the part 1 of this lecture, but it didn't seem to shorten it at all!  I used the the text of the lecture and just commented on what I thought interesting.  Too much of it seemed important and the entry ended up much longer than I wanted.  So here goes part 2.

Here lies an apparent contradiction how is there unity in the diversity of the universe.  Even the word bespeaks of the contradiction, uni and diverse share roots with universe.  Parmenides denied one half of the apparent paradox, manyness.  This eliminates change as well because change is just a manyness in time, before and after.  He was a monist/pantheist everything is one god, the universe, everything because there is only one thing.  The direct opposite can be found in Heraclitus he denied any permanence, saying that all reality was like a river that you could never step into twice.  Plato resolved the problem by distinguishing two worlds, matter where there is manyness and the world of the forms where there was unity.  Aristotle joined Plato’s two worlds with substance being matter and form together.

Aquinas commented on the error of Parmenides and other monists with this:
“They fell into error because they dealt with being as though it were a univocal concept and an essence . . . this, however, cannot be done, for being is analogous . . . Parmenides argues as follows: outside of being there is nothing but nonbeing, and that which is not being is nothing. Since being is one, whatever is outside the one is nothing.’ From this argument of his it is clear that Parmenides was thinking of the concept of being, which appears always to be one and the same, and univocal, for it is unthinkable that something be added to the concept of being so that one concept of being be distinguished from another. For that which would be added to being must necessarily be something outside of and distinct from being. But the only thing outside of or extraneous to being is nonbeing or nothing. Hence it appears that the notion of being cannot be modified, cannot be anything but one, unique, and univocal.”
If there is only one thing, individuality is an illusion.  However, radical pluralism is nominalism: it denies universal ideas existence, and reduces them to mere words.  But, the evidence of our senses shows us both oneness and manyness.  Any good philosophy has to account for all possibilities, not ignore what we don't like or want to understand.

As Professor Kreeft says, "Aquinas explains the oneness of beings by the fact that they all share the act of existence, which is itself one and the same simple act.  But beings are different because this act of existence is received into many different essences."

I also like this quote, "Aquinas calls God the pure act of existence unlimited by any finite essence."

This is not to reduce God to a philosophical abstraction, just a way of talking about God that makes sense.  This does not change how God is the God of Abraham, Isaac etc.  This isn't about just philosophy, it's about the real world as well.

Everything that is real shares a kinship in the act of existence.  And, as God is the infinite pure act of existence this is one way in which God is omnipresent.  "God is existence itself, and existence itself is most intimately present at the heart of every being. Therefore God is most intimately present at the heart of every being."

So here we have it, God is everywhere but this is NOT pantheism, because it’s the act of existence and that transcendent fact that so is intimately present to everything.

Prof Kreeft goes into a long discussion about Angels and their differences from humans, but I'm not going to go into it here.

This is important to Aquinas' philosophy: "Like Aristotle, Aquinas defines change as the transition from potentiality to actuality, and he distinguishes two different kinds of change: accidental change and substantial or essential change. When I get older, smarter, or fatter, that’s only change in accidents, but when I die, that’s a change in essence."

Something remains the same in accidental changes, I am still me even though my entire body's cells have died and been replaced by new cells.

Each person also goes through essential change twice, when we are conceived and when we die.  Corpses are not people nor any kind of a person.

Again "following Aristotle," seems Aquinas was quite enamored with Aristotle's philosophy, "Aquinas distinguishes four causes, four kinds of causality: form and matter are the two intrinsic causes, the formal cause and the material cause; and the efficient and final causes are the two extrinsic causes."

This final point, which Aristotle and Aquinas call a "final cause," has fallen out of modern usage, possibly because it's not considered scientific.  All things act in definite ways.  Puppies always become dogs (assuming they don't die prematurely),  Birds fly, fish swim etc.  Puppies never become horses and rocks can't swim and never will.  This is final causality, things are directed to their specific ends.

As Aquinas argues in one of the five ways, everything that begins to exist needs an efficient cause to account for its existence.  If a thing itself were its own sufficient reason, it would have to exist always.  Either this sufficient reason is eternal or it would have to give existence to itself—which is impossible: nothing can give what it doesn't posses.

Again, sorry no picture!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You Part 4: Logic: What Is Valid Reasoning?

I'm sorry for such a long time between entries!  If you're following my series, or my blog in general, the last entry was on the nature of truth.  This lecture/entry is on logic and reasoning.  There's a few courses available on this topic available at  As we've been discussion truth is objective in relation to reality, or as Prof McGinn says, "Beliefs are true or false; reasoning is valid or invalid."  So here we are discussion logic in relation to validity NOT truth/falsehood. The best classical example comes from Aristotle, All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal.  The thing I like (and hate at the same time) about logic is the way it can be expressed somewhat mathematically.  The problem comes in knowing what the symbols mean.  I learned about this use of symbols in a class on logic but I haven't really gotten the hang of how to use all the symbols.  This simple lecture from Prof McGinn doesn't really go into all that but I feel it's worth mentioning here.  That classical example would be written something like:

∀ P ⇒ Q     All Ps are Q               All men are mortal
A ⇒ P        A is a P                      Aristotle is a man
∴ A ⇒ Q      Therefore, A is Q    Therefore Aristotle is mortal

If everything of a group has a certain property, then every particular part of that group also has that property.  Also, if one particular thing has a property, then something has that property.  I know it sounds silly and basic, but that's the way it's supposed to be.  Logic, for the most part, is straightforward and basic.

While Prof McGinn doesn't go over that symbolic logic, he does cover the three main classical laws of logic.  As I understand it, they were codified by Aristotle and the lectures refer to them as, "three traditional laws of logic: the law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of noncontradiction."  I don't necessarily agree with this idea as common sensical as it seems, but Prof McGinn says that these laws of logic are inescapable and the even the concept of a universe where these rules don't hold true is inconceivable (you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means).  The book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid seems to say that "kōans (公案)" are examples of mankind's ability to step outside this idea that logic is inescapable.  I don't completely agree with everything that book says but it seems that is the case.  One of problems I have is these sayings are just that, sayings.  They may indicate that mankind can think illogically, but that doesn't mean one can escape the rules of logic.

Take the law of identity, everything is identical to itself.  It seems to me that it's possible to conceive of a place where that isn't the case.  But, just because one can conceive it doesn't mean one can actually go to such a place or make something that doesn't follow that law.  Or the law of excluded middle, which says that everything has a given property or it lacks it.  Or the law of non-contradiction, which says that nothing can have a given property and not have the same property at the same time.  So, we can conceive of things that don't follow these laws, but we can't actually make things or find things that don't follow said laws.

Now that's a snake

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


WOW deep stuff!  There's a whole Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article (sixteen pages long in 12pt type!) about time.  Needless to say, my entry won't be anywhere near as comprehensive.  Which I'm sure you'll all agree that's a shame.  Ha!  Well, here goes.  As usual this discussion was inspired by the History of Philosophy podcast, this time it was an episode about Aristotle's view of time.  I've done a quick search on my blog alone and found that I've used the word "time[s]" approximately 126 times (before this entry of course, I've used the word six times in this entry alone!).  Of course not all those usages were the simple noun, time.

We use the word all the time, but what do we really know about time?  "I don't have enough time."  "I ran out of time."  "A stitch in time saves nine."  "Time flies."  Numerous other casual references to time pop up in conversation all the time.  What do they all mean?  Is time measurable movements as Aristotle seems to define it?  Is time an empty void to be filled as Plato seems to define it?  Both seem to be acceptable ideas/definitions of time.  And when it comes down to brass tacks does it really matter?  The argument is, sort of, moot.  It's a discussion piece but it ends up in the same regression to which epistemology eventually runs, there's the skeptical answer that no matter how you slice it, you can never know for certain that you're experiencing what you're actually experiencing and that it's not all a figment of your imagination/dream/Matrix/brain-in-a-vat.  It's very similar when it comes to time.

We can number or measure time, we call it a watch or clock.  We experience the passing of time, assuming that we can trust our senses, at least we can see change over time which is how we perceive as time changing.  Is that what time is?  Change?  Something more substantive?  Does time actually exist?  If there weren't any minds to perceive time, would it still exist, if it exists in the first place?  I certainly don't have any answers, in fact, I really only want to bring up the questions about this.  What do you all think?  Do you have the answers?  Sorry to be pessimistic, but philosophers have been arguing/considering these thoughts for years and no one really has all the answers, so I doubt you (though you altogether form a formidable intellectual force) will be able to answer these questions.

One parting thought, these questions of the existence of time bring up the concept of infinity that I've discussed before.  Aristotle, because his concept of time relates to movement requires that time be infinite.  Here's my synopsis of the argument.  If time is the measurements related to movement then it has to be infinite, because if there was something that moved the first movement of time, then there had to be time before time.  So, if time is something moving or at least related to movement then it must be infinite.  I'll sum up my view, as I've already mentioned.  Infinity in time is related to space in that physical universe cannot be infinite and therefore time cannot be infinite.  God, however, is outside space and time and is the infinite unmoved mover, and uncaused first cause of all causes.  That's just my view, no real answers just what I think.  Good luck with your search for your answers.

If the tsunami/waterlevel ever gets this high, pretty much the whole island is screwed.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Teleology and Chance

Sorry (again), for the long time between entries!  I've been so busy.  It sucks too because I've been trying to focus on reading a book I borrowed from a coworker and I haven't been prioritizing well and my Bible reading has been suffering.

Anyways, in the course of my listening to the History of Philosophy podcast, I've recently come across a couple recordings talking about Aristotle's ethics.  Well, two of the ideas Professor Adamson has mentioned about Aristotle that I've enjoyed learning about are the ideas of chance and teleology.  I'll cover chance first because it is the most interesting and in my mind the most controversial.

According to the podcast talks about Aristotle defining chance being only intelligible in the light a final cause or goal.  In general, I enjoy this professor's impartiality, however, in this particular podcast Professor Adamson makes it abundantly clear that he is completely convinced that Darwin's theory of Evolution is completely true and unquestionable.  Aristotle clearly believes in a teleological view of nature and that chance as something that is NOT the norm, incredibly exceptional.  Aristotle wouldn't have any concept of how nature, which is uniform (in many ways) and has predictable processes, could come about through random chance, since chance is NOT normal.  To this concept, Prof Adamson says that Darwin has since proven that random chance does lead to nature/life as we understand it.  I'm sorry Prof but I have to disagree with you, no one has yet to prove that random natural occurrences/changes can lead to the diversity/complexity of nature.  I'm not stupid, there appears to be some evidence, and I certainly don't have answers to all the evidence and some of my answers are based on faith, but it's certainly not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.  What bothers me is that Prof Adamson takes Darwin's ideas one-hundred percent on faith as truth.

The other concept that I can get behind from the lectures on Aristotle I've already somewhat alluded to, teleology.  If you're not familiar the idea revolves around the concept of a sense of purpose.  The main argument for God that comes from this concept goes like this.  Do your eyes have a purpose?  Do your ears?  Do all you separate organs/body parts?  How can it be that each disparate part could have a purpose and come together as a random assortment.  Life does have purpose.  I feel that Aristotle and so many others have missed that purpose, or as the Bible says "[they have] changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen."  (Romans 1:25 KJV)  I'm not usually one for ceremony but I like the way the Westminster Shorter Catechism states this final end for which man was made by God, "What is the chief end of man?  Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.  If one lives with that in mind the teleology of Aristotle is clear, that God made mankind with the purpose of loving God forever.

I love this beautiful place

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Aristotle on Logic

When it comes to learning logic Aristotle is one of the founding fathers.  If you want to study logic a great place to start is Aristotle's collective work called the Organon traditionally made up of 8 different books: The Categories, On Interpretation, Prior-Analytics, Posterior-Analytics, Topics, Sophistical Refutations, Rhetoric*, and The Poetics*.  The last two are the ones that many modern philosophy/logic students often don't consider logical works, and it seems like these last two were just kind of thrown into the mix.  Sophistical Refutations is kind of like a text on anti-logic, a kind of how to spot the sophistical, empty arguments.  Of course, these works cover a wide range of logic and Aristotle's works in general cover a very broadly defined concepts of logic and philosophy.  There's no way I or anyone else could even try to attempt to cover every bit of these works but I've been listening to the History of Philosophy podcast, and Professor Adamson gives a nice overview of these works.  He talkes about how ancient philosophy students would start their foray into logic and philosophy with these works.

So far the podcast, as I've been going through it, has only given a broad overview of the logical works. To me, the most interesting book is the first one listed, The Categories.  In general, it's about categorizing various things.  The categories for different objects are listed as: substance, quality, quantity, relation, place, time, position, state, action, and being acted upon.  How certain parts a thing are essential to that that thing, and some are accidental.  It may seem silly but there's a problem I have with this.  One of the concepts within the philosophy of language is that words are given their meaning through a somewhat arbitrary process.  Prof Adamson uses the example of a giraffe quite often, so I'll follow his example.  I'm assuming everyone of my readers knows what a typical giraffe looks like.  One of the examples is a giraffe painted blue, so we have a blue giraffe, but that's just an accidental characteristic of that particular giraffe, or if there was a giraffe with a broken foot.  Those are accidental characteristics of giraffes.  So here's my question, one would assume that a long neck and legs would be considered essential characteristics of giraffes.  However, what if I told you that I had a short-necked short-legged giraffe?  What makes what I'm calling a giraffe?  Me calling it a giraffe?  According to some concepts of linguistics that's part of what makes it a giraffe.

The next on the list, On Interpretation is also quite interesting.  To me, it has one of Aristotle's most important contributions to logic and philosophy.  I've always heard it called the "Law of Non-contradiction" though Prof Adamson doesn't specifically mention it.  In general, this particular text is about negation and how to make statements and syllogisms.  I don't have the space to explain all that but I would like to talk a little about non-contradiction.  According to the professor of the logic course that I was taking through negating a statement isn't as easy as it appears.  The most straightforward method is to append the statement with "it is not the case that..."  So, the non-contradiction idea is this: two statements that are contradictions of each other cannot both be true at the same time.  For example, the statements "giraffes exist" and "it is not the case that giraffes exist," cannot both be true at the same time.  Obviously, at some time in the future or in the past giraffes may or may not exist, but at the same time they cannot both exist and not exist at the same time.  Though according to Prof Adamson, it seems that Aristotle leaves an exception to this idea, namely, for statements about the future.  For example, the statement "I will win the lottery tomorrow" is about the future and it is both true and not true at the same time.  Tomorrow, when I'm taking a bath in gold and jewels like Scrooge McDuck, I still can't say that statement was true or false just because it ends up coming true doesn't mean that when it was made it was true.