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Pwning the Ox

Pwner
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3/26/2013 8:46:47 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Introduction:

In this post, I'd like to propose my weakest objection to Thomas Aquinas' first way.

Aquinas' first way is an argument wherein he attempts to deduce [1] the existence of an unmoved mover from the series of things in motion, a step which can be used in a cumulative case for God.

What is motion? Well, let's suppose that 'motion' meant a change abstracted from particular details like changing location, time, or laundry. [2] Let motion instead be the transition things make from being potentially real to being actually real, a transition in general enough terms to capture all forms of 'change'. E.g. The change from potentially thinking to actually thinking, from being potentially hungry to being actually hungry etc. etc.

The First Way:

Aquinas attempts to argue that the unmoved mover must be responsible for the existence of the series of things in motion--things that are changing. As best I can tell, the idea is that because of the structure this series has to have, it must include an unmoved mover. What do I mean by structure? Well, Aquinas argues that this series of things in motion cannot be composed of infinitely many members, and that none of its members can have put themselves into motion. He sums his image of this serie's structure in the premise that whatever is moved is moved by another. [3] This rules out things putting themselves into motion, motion arising for no reason at all and things being in motion from all eternity.

Pwnage:

The objection I'll lodge here is that his argument doesn't sufficiently establish that the series of things in motion has the structure it needs to in order for it to entail an unmoved mover.

Let's just suppose for the sake of argument that the series cannot contain infinitely many members, and that none of its members can have put themselves into motion. Still, there could be something that has been in motion from eternity past: its existence wouldn't make the members of the series infinite, and it wouldn't have put itself into motion. This would constitute a counter-example to his claim that anything that is moved is moved by another.

Interestingly, Sobel employs this very objection against the 1st Way:

"[T]he First Way is vulnerable to the apparent possibility of self-moving things that have always been in motion, for Aquinas"s premise that "whatever is moved is moved by another" (ST I q2,a3 p. 22), is presumably meant to be a statement of strict metaphysical necessity. But it seems that at least things in perpetual motion could be self-movers. It seems, in Aquinas"s Aristotelian terms, that they could be at every moment things actually in motion and potentially in motion in the immediate future, their changing potentialities being continuously actualized by the action of their immediately antecedent actualities. This conception of a self-moving perpetual mover does not involve its being "in the same respect and in the same way...both mover and moved" (ST I q2,a3, p. 22)." [4]

Eminent Thomist Br. Benignus describes the difficulty in showing that nothing can be in motion from all eternity: "Appeal to our experience of movement turns out to be inconclusive. St. Thomas could say in his day that we know by induction that no body is in motion except it be moved by another, but his induction was limited to the bodies of common sensible experience and did not take into account molecular, atomic, and subatomic movements." [5]

Br. Benignus concludes that induction can't resolve the issue because all we can infer from our observations of these entities is that we don't see anything external to them causing their motion, not that there is nothing external to them causing their motion.

He argues that such a thing (eternally in motion) is precluded on Thomism, for a number of reasons that needn't delay us. His solution is that unless the objector can provide a better theory of 'change' than the Thomistic model, we should just adopt it, and therefore reject the objection. [6]

But, there's nothing irrational about simply suspending judgment until more conclusive evidence is discovered especially if you don't have good reason for thinking God exists--or have good reasons for thinking he doesn't--prior to discerning this argument.

Conclusion:

Thus, rejecting the first way isn't irrational.

While I think this objection succeeds, it's only cute by comparison to my others.

Notes:

[1]: Unfortunately, the exact logic that Aquinas uses is quite elusive. After a valiant attempt to reconstruct it as faithfully as possible, atheist divine Graham Oppy states: "For starters, the argument seems to be plainly invalid: the most that could follow from the premises is that there are first causes of change that are not themselves in a process of change. There is nothing in the premises of this argument that justifies drawing the conclusion that there is a unique first cause of change that is not itself in a process of change." -- Oppy, Graham. Arguing about Gods. New York: Cambridge UP, 2006. p. 98.

[2]: This is contrasted by the French interpretation heralded by theologians like the Jesuits Marcel Chossat (1862"1926) and Henri de Lubac (1896-1991). The prestigious Dictionnaire de Th"ologie Catholique describes this position clearly:

"As for the argument of the prime mover such as Saint Thomas understood it, it is a long time since it has been taught, even in the Thomist camp. . . If the argument is taken in the sense in which Saint Thomas borrowed it historically from the Arabs, it is not conclusive, and the criticism offered by Scotus is decisive . . . The Neo-Thomists, by adverting to metaphysical considerations . . . actually abandon the physical argument of the prime mover, just as do all the other members of the Thomistic school . . . [The argument has only] survived in the ranks of Protestant scholasticism, among certain philosophers and well-intentioned apologists"." -- Dictionnaire de Th"ologie Catholique, vol. 4 (Paris: Letouzet et An", 1939): col. 932"5. As cited by Fergus Kerr, After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism. Malden (Ma.): Blackwell, 2008. p. 53.

[3]: A Scholastic principle encapsulated as quid quid movetur ab alio movetur.

[4]: Sobel, Jordan Howard. Logic and Theism: Arguments for and against Beliefs in God. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. p. 196. Incidentally, Dr. Craig described this book as an acid bath for theism.

[5]: Gerrity, Benignus. Nature, Knowledge and God: an Introduction to Thomistic Philosophy. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub., 1949. p. 80.

[6]: But, the inability to provide a better model of change wouldn't make a bad model good. Clearly, the objector's failure to meet Benignus' demand wouldn't make it any more certain that moved sub-atomic particles (etc.) are moved by another.
Nur-Ab-Sal
Posts: 1,637
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3/26/2013 4:23:11 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
If this is directed towards me (since I love the First Way) then I'm just haven't read enough to answer it.
Genesis I. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.
Pwner
Posts: 92
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3/27/2013 7:22:48 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/26/2013 4:23:11 PM, Nur-Ab-Sal wrote:
If this is directed towards me (since I love the First Way) then I'm just haven't read enough to answer it.

Oh no, sorry. I was listening to a recent podcast in which Dr. Craig said he was down with the first way (although his repeated use of the word 'cause' made it sound like he meant the 2nd way). This struck me as odd, especially since in his book 'Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview', he'd said the Thomistic notion of 'Purus Actus' was incoherent. But, people change their minds. So, I thought I'd post some thoughts on it.

Honestly, my favorite objection to the First Way (based on my boy Aristotle) is as follows:

1. Every mover moves.
2. Whatever moves is moved by another.
3. Therefore, every mover is moved by another.
Nur-Ab-Sal
Posts: 1,637
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3/27/2013 7:25:27 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/27/2013 7:22:48 AM, Pwner wrote:
At 3/26/2013 4:23:11 PM, Nur-Ab-Sal wrote:
If this is directed towards me (since I love the First Way) then I'm just haven't read enough to answer it.

Oh no, sorry. I was listening to a recent podcast in which Dr. Craig said he was down with the first way (although his repeated use of the word 'cause' made it sound like he meant the 2nd way). This struck me as odd, especially since in his book 'Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview', he'd said the Thomistic notion of 'Purus Actus' was incoherent. But, people change their minds. So, I thought I'd post some thoughts on it.

Honestly, my favorite objection to the First Way (based on my boy Aristotle) is as follows:

1. Every mover moves.
2. Whatever moves is moved by another.
3. Therefore, every mover is moved by another.

Well, isn't (2) avoided by a mover of pure act? Pardon my naivete.
Genesis I. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.
Pwner
Posts: 92
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3/27/2013 8:48:47 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/27/2013 7:25:27 AM, Nur-Ab-Sal wrote:
At 3/27/2013 7:22:48 AM, Pwner wrote:
At 3/26/2013 4:23:11 PM, Nur-Ab-Sal wrote:
If this is directed towards me (since I love the First Way) then I'm just haven't read enough to answer it.

Oh no, sorry. I was listening to a recent podcast in which Dr. Craig said he was down with the first way (although his repeated use of the word 'cause' made it sound like he meant the 2nd way). This struck me as odd, especially since in his book 'Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview', he'd said the Thomistic notion of 'Purus Actus' was incoherent. But, people change their minds. So, I thought I'd post some thoughts on it.

Honestly, my favorite objection to the First Way (based on my boy Aristotle) is as follows:

1. Every mover moves.
2. Whatever moves is moved by another.
3. Therefore, every mover is moved by another.

Well, isn't (2) avoided by a mover of pure act? Pardon my naivete.

The existence of an unmoved mover could be the only counter-example to premise (2). But, turning that on its head, the premise is plausibly true precisely *because* it could only have a single counter-example. I.e. the premise is overwhelmingly corroborated (by hundreds and hundreds of trillions of objects).

But, I think there is a deeper, even stronger motivation for believing (2), and that turns on a distinction between the potential to do something, and the potential to become something.

The former is what's called 'active potency', and the latter 'passive potency'. Thomists assert that the unmoved mover has active potency, but cannot have passive potency. If it didn't have any potency whatsoever (i.e. what you might expect from a description like 'pure act'), then it couldn't have created the universe or anything. They say that passive potency implies imperfection, a lacking that gets fulfilled, which is why the unmoved mover can't have that.

But, this is precisely why Dr. Craig charged this notion with incoherence. How can you have the potential do something, without having the potential to be the doer of anything? If I have the (active) potential to run, then I have the (passive) potential to become a runner. If I have the (active) potential to create, then I have the (passive) potential to become a creator. Somehow, an unmoved mover (or pure act) would have to be able to create, without being able to be a creator.

His conclusion is that the notion is incoherent, which would justify my premise. However, I bring things just a tad further.

Since part of what it means to actually be a mover is to have moved something you were (actively) able to move and it's incoherent for that to have happened unless you were able to be the mover of that thing in the first place, it follows that part of what it means to be a mover is to have passive potency. In my mind, this seals the deal: an unmoved mover cannot exist because it's a contradiction in terms.
Nur-Ab-Sal
Posts: 1,637
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3/27/2013 12:49:55 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 3/27/2013 8:48:47 AM, Pwner wrote:
At 3/27/2013 7:25:27 AM, Nur-Ab-Sal wrote:
At 3/27/2013 7:22:48 AM, Pwner wrote:
At 3/26/2013 4:23:11 PM, Nur-Ab-Sal wrote:
If this is directed towards me (since I love the First Way) then I'm just haven't read enough to answer it.

Oh no, sorry. I was listening to a recent podcast in which Dr. Craig said he was down with the first way (although his repeated use of the word 'cause' made it sound like he meant the 2nd way). This struck me as odd, especially since in his book 'Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview', he'd said the Thomistic notion of 'Purus Actus' was incoherent. But, people change their minds. So, I thought I'd post some thoughts on it.

Honestly, my favorite objection to the First Way (based on my boy Aristotle) is as follows:

1. Every mover moves.
2. Whatever moves is moved by another.
3. Therefore, every mover is moved by another.

Well, isn't (2) avoided by a mover of pure act? Pardon my naivete.

The existence of an unmoved mover could be the only counter-example to premise (2). But, turning that on its head, the premise is plausibly true precisely *because* it could only have a single counter-example. I.e. the premise is overwhelmingly corroborated (by hundreds and hundreds of trillions of objects).

Well, that's because it's only logically possible that there exists *one* being of Pure Act, because if there were multiple, then there would be some distinguishing feature. If there were some distinguishing feature, then there is a potency that one of the beings has not raised to act, and as such is not Pure Act. Thus there can be only one being of Pure Act.

Please note that since you're probably more educated on this subject that I am, I may not know what I'm talking about. However, I do think you are wrong on this point. The not-knowing-what-I'm-talking-about is coming up soon, though.

Since part of what it means to actually be a mover is to have moved something you were (actively) able to move and it's incoherent for that to have happened unless you were able to be the mover of that thing in the first place, it follows that part of what it means to be a mover is to have passive potency. In my mind, this seals the deal: an unmoved mover cannot exist because it's a contradiction in terms.

I think that's because it's a confusion of motion per se and motion per accidens. That is, that God changes per accidens in relation to His Creation, but only accidentally, not essentially. It's not a change of substance, but a change in relation to something else.
Genesis I. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.