Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Twenty Four Thomist Theses

No, this is not punishment for Lent. I love Thomism, and in 1914 the Catholic Church endorsed these Twenty Four Theses as the core of Thomistic philosophy and a reliable guide for genuine philosophical insight.

These Theses are seriously Thomistic-- they are profound, employ a technical vocabulary, and require quite a bit of thought and reflection and some background familiarity with the issues and concepts involved. In other words, they are excellent philosophy. They represent the core of Thomist metaphysics, and thereby the core of Western philosophy. One of the real indictments of our educational system is that most even well-educated people don't even know these exist, let alone have any familiarity with them.

I'll try to take them one by one over a series of posts. My interpretations are of a very amateur sort, but I hope they convey some of the truth expressed in each and serve to inspire deeper reading and contemplation.

Thesis 1:

Potency and Act so divide being that whatsoever exists either is a Pure Act, or is necessarily composed of Potency and Act, as to its primordial and intrinsic principles.

The distinction between potency and act is the core of Thomist metaphysics. Act means actuality-- the aspect of something that exists that is perfect, in the sense that it is what makes it what is truly is. Potency is possibility-- potency does not exist, but it potentially exists. Being-- all that exists-- is wholly described by either act alone or potency mixed with act. 

An example of a combination of potency and act in a substance is an acorn. The act of an acorn is what it actually is: a little hard roughly round seed made of organic matter, with a shell, of a brownish-greenish color, etc. The potency of an acorn is an oak tree and all of the intermediate stages of growth of the acorn. The acorn itself is not an oak tree, but it has the potency (the potential) to become one. Potency is, in this sense, in between existence (act) and non-existence (non-being). 

Aristotle's brilliant doctrine of potency and act-- adopted by St. Thomas-- solves the ancient riddle of change in nature-- the debate as to whether change exists (Heraclitus) or is an illusion (Parmenides). Aristotle's answer is that there are three ways of delimiting existence-- actuality, potency, and non-existence. Change is the elevation of potency to act. 

In an acorn, the acorn per se is act. The oak tree is potency. And a Corvette is non-existence. An acorn is an acorn, it can be an oak tree, and it can't be a Corvette. 

Everything that exists-- God, angels, man, animals, inanimate things-- must be either Pure Act-- actual perfection without admixture of potency (possibility), or a mixture of potency and act, which is something capable of perfection, but actually in admixture of imperfection (potency) and perfection (act). The term "perfection" in Thomist metaphysics does not mean quite what the modern term perfect means. It means (in Thomism) that a substance has all of the attributes it can have, with no possibilities left unrealized. 

Only God is perfect Act. All created substances are admixtures of act and potency. 

It is a mistake to see the Thomist delineation of potency and act as metaphysical speculation unconnected to reality. Werner Heisenberg, who unlike most modern scientists actually knew something about metaphysics, famously observed that the quantum mechanical collapse of the waveform is an obvious example of reduction of potency to act. 

Centuries before modern physics, metaphysicians like Aristotle and St. Thomas laid the groundwork for an understanding of nature at its foundation. 

39 comments:

  1. This is cool. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    JH

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  2. Egnor: Werner Heisenberg, who unlike most modern scientists actually knew something about metaphysics, famously observed that the quantum mechanical collapse of the waveform is an obvious example of reduction of potency to act.

    The collapse of the wavefunction is a kludge that bridges the gap between classical and quantum physics. Modern quantum mechanics has reduced it to the entanglement that develops between the quantum system and its environment. Hitching your wagon to a dated concept from quantum physics is postmodernist woo.

    At any rate, all this Thomist nonsense adds not one bit of understanding to the good old Copenhagen formulation of quantum mechanics. I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

    Hoo

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    1. The collapse of the potentialities of multiple possible quantum states to a single actual state is an astonishing instantiation of classic Aristotelian metaphysics-- that natural change represents the reduction of potency to act. There is of course much more to this-- the association of waveform collapse with measurement is an instantiation of the Aristotelian doctrine that the agent intellect can only capture act, but not the potency, of a substance. Einstein and Minkowski's dictum that unaccelerated motion in spacetime hews to straight worldlines and that gravitation curves spacetime and worldlines is a beautiful instantiation of teleology-- the tendency for natural motion to hew to ends.

      Get a philosophical education, Hoo.

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    2. Egnor, you don't understand my point. I don't care if Thomists get orgasmic when they read Heisenberg. I am asking you what physicists can get out of Thomistic mumbo jumbo applied to quantum mechanics. So far you answer is "nothing."

      Hoo

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    3. Insight is what physicists can get out of Thomism. But that's not what you're interested in. Your interest is to deny God using any pretense you can think of. Scientism, in all of its intellectual vacuity, is merely one of the more recent pretexts.

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    4. Physicists can get insight from lots of things. Give a specific insight physicists got out of Thomism. A physical theory inspired by Thomistic understanding.

      Hoo

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    5. All modern science derives from Aristotelian metaphysics and Christian theology. No modern science ever emerged in any culture that did not incorporate Aristotle/Aquinas. Not in Africa, not in China, not in any pagan land.

      Science has metaphysical origins. You are ignorant of the roots of your profession. The atheist inference that the universe has no cause and no purpose and no reason for its existence is lethal to science. You are living off Christian fumes, which will run out, extinguishing scientific progress,

      You don't have a clue about any of that.

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    6. Egnor,

      No. Modern science originated from the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed off 30-40% of the European population in the first epidemic in 1347-48.

      Christianity failed miserably in explaining the Great Mortality. Medical 'science' of the day failed miserably with its reliance of authorities dead for a thousand years.

      Many of the accepted authorities of the day were killed off and the survivors started to look for methods that did work. The Black Death also killed off the feudal system, with the surviving workers become more valuable and better paid. It encouraged new technologies and ways of doing things.

      Anyway. Science won't disappear if Christianity disappears. China is doing very well without it.

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    7. Egnor,

      This is called bait and switch. We aren't talking about the origin of science. We are talking about the utility of Thomistic meanderings to modern science.

      Let me draw this parallel. Chemistry had its origins in alchemy. However, I do not need to study alchemy in order to understand chemistry. Historical origins are interesting, but they are largely irrelevant to the actual practice.

      I'd ask you again what the use is of Thomism in modern science, but I think it's clear that you have no answer to that.

      Hoo

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  3. "The acorn itself is not an oak tree, but it has the potency (the potential) to become one."

    An acorn contains and infant oak tree ... in much the same way that a womb contains an infant human being. The acorn does not *become* an oak tree; rather, the acorn feeds the oak tree that is already present until the tree can live apart from the acorn.

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    1. A perfect illustration of the vacuity of Thomistic mumbo jumbo.

      Hoo

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    2. No, you intellectually dishonest liar. It is a perfect example of people using imprecise language, which often leads, as in this case, to statements that are incorrect-or-false as stated while still being imprecise-yet-correct as meant.

      The correction of the problem isn't to sneer -- which is your *only* response to anything meant to show the falsehood of materialism/atheism -- but to make the language precise.

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    3. So, what insight does this exercise produce for a biologist? I contend none. It's harmless mental masturbation.

      Hoo

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    4. This OP isn't about instructing the biologist as a biologist; it is far more important than that: it is about instructing the man as the image of God.

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    5. Do you agree then that Thomism is useless in science?

      Hoo

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    6. Do you agree that 'science' is useless in finding truth?

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    7. If by "finding truth" you mean "confirmation of Christianity", I agree.

      Your turn to answer my question.

      Hoo

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    8. Lying fool, you didn't answer the question: Do you agree that 'science' is useless in finding truth?

      Or, to put is another way -- and since we both know that you will not answer, for your 'Science!' fetishism forbids honesty on this matter, I will supply the correct answers -- Are *all* scientific statements true (*)? Are *any* scientific statements true (**)? Is there any scientific means to distinguish a scientific statement that happens to be true from one that happens to be false (***)? Lastly, given that science has no means at all to distinguish a scientific statement that happens to be true from one that happens to be false, in what way is 'science' useful in discovering truth (****)?


      (*) Everyone knows that the are not, that at least some of them are false.

      (**) While this or that person asserts that this or that scientific statement is Truth, the truth is this: due to the nature of modern science, it is logically possible that *all* scientific statements are false.

      (***) No. If one claims that some particular scientific statement is true, one is making an extra-scientific claim and basing the claim on extra-scientific methods or facts or reasoning.

      (****) In no way al all.

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    9. What a raving lunatic! LOL.

      Here's a scientific statement, Ilíon: Freely falling objects accelerate in Earth's gravitational field downward at 9.8 meters per square second. If you doubt the truth of this statement, I invite you to test it by jumping out the window.

      Hoo

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    10. Here is another truth uncovered by science, Ilíon:

      A hydrogen atom consists of a single electron orbiting a proton.

      Go ahead and dispute that. I thoroughly enjoy such dumbfuckery.

      Hoo

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    11. Once again, Lying Fool:

      Is every scientific statement true? (no)

      Are any scientific statements true? (who knows)

      How does one distinguish a scientific statement which happens to be true from one which happens to be not true? (by non-scientific means)

      Do you really wish to dispute the truth of what I have said, and on what rational ground?

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    12. LOL. I gave you two true scientific statements, Ilíon. I am not sure whether you possess the reading comprehension to parse them, but I don't really care.

      Here is another:

      Water can be obtained through a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen; every molecule of water consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.

      If you are not sure whether this statement is true, you have failed high-school chemistry.

      Hoo

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  4. "In an acorn, the acorn per se is act. The oak tree is potency. And a Corvette is non-existence. An acorn is an acorn, it can be an oak tree, and it can't be a Corvette."

    An acorn is, in fact, composed of two individual sibling organisms (*). In the case of an acorn, one organism is an embryonic oak tree, which is potentially a mature oak tree. The other organism, while certainly of the oak species, is not a tree in potential or in act; it is potentially the life-support system for the embryonic oak tree as it seeks to mature to the point that it can feed itself, when its potential is actualized, it ceases to exist.

    The acorn is an immature oak tree (act), whose telos (potential) is to be a mature oak tree, and the tree's non-tree sibling (act), whose telos (potential) is to be food for the tree in its forst stages of growth.



    (*) as is true of seeds in general. Further, these two siblig organisms are not actually the children of the plant from which they come, but its grandchildren.

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  5. "The term "perfection" in Thomist metaphysics does not mean quite what the modern term perfect means."

    The terms perfect/perfection mean completion; thus, as you point out, an entity that is perfect is one with no potential of change.

    That moderns frequently misuse the term to mean "maximal goodness" is not the fault of Thomas.

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  6. 'Science!' is a toy -- a distraction -- for little boys.

    Men do theology ... which is, and ever has been, "the queen of the sciences".

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    1. Yet it is you Lion, who resorts to challenging the the manhood of those that don't agree with you. What a joke.


      -KW

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    2. But then, KW, we all know that you are a liar, and that you will say *anything* ... and its opposite.

      Do you dispute my claim that 'science' is useless in finding truth? Which is to say, do you assert that 'science' can give us truth? And, if so, on what rational ground do you base that assertion?

      I have already explained above *why* it is true that 'science' is useless in finding truth. And, of course, you have nothing with which to show that I have misunderstood or misrepresented the facts nor reasoned incorrectly from the facts. All you have is pointless snark.

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    3. Theology the "queen of the sciences"? Hahaha. Although not surprising coming from an ignorant code jockey with gay facial hair.

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    4. Aristotle once said most arguments are a result of equivocation. I'm not sure where he said that, but he's right.

      "We should be abandoning their [Aristotle, St. Thomas] ideals, as well as acting unfairly, if we allowed a student to believe that what is meant by 'science' in Aristotle or Aquinas must be roughly the same as what is meant by science today. He will find out eventually that they really have no more in common than the proverbial dog and constellation which go by the same name"

      - Charles de Koninck

      http://www.isnature.org/Files/DeKoninck_Random_Reflections_on_Science_and_Calculation.pdf

      Curio

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    5. Troy, did you just use 'gay' as a pejorative grade-school insult? No matter how you frame it, that's a betrayal of your lofty progressive ideals.

      C

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  7. You can spend hours trying to make someone understand the whole acorn thing and they would learn nothing about the acorn. In the same amount of time I could teach someone the basics of how and why an acorn becomes a tree, and point them in a direction that could fill their lifetime with ever greater understanding. Other than for it's historical interest, only reason this ignorant middle ages philosophy is still discussed at all is because in the end it “proves” your gods existence.


    -KW

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  8. Citizen Boggs, Committee of General SecurityMarch 30, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    Popeye: " I could teach someone the basics of how and why an acorn becomes a tree..."

    You could not teach the basics of a flush toilet, Popeye.

    And Toots, who admittedly knows nothing of philosophy and has so demonstrated here on many occasions (remember his idiotic confusion of materialism and methodological naturalism?), attempts to critique, of all people, Werner Heisenberg and Thomas of Aquinas. It's ambitious, I'll give it that. :-D

    It's a good day, Egnor. Nice post. The trolls are out. It's like hunting over a stock tank in Western Colorado.

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    1. Egnor can quote Heisenberg and Aquinas all he wants. None of this bullshit is remotely useful in science.

      Hoo

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    2. Utility is not a necessary condition for truth. And when did anyone ever claim philosophy was supposed to be "useful in science"?

      Curio

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  9. That's what ignorant religious midgets like Egnor always say - that their important holy men had it all figured out long before modern scientists did. Without exception the vague generalities ("potency" and "act" - haha what a joke) offered by those holy men can be interpreted to mean almost anything and therefore explain nothing and are utterly useless in furthering our understanding of the world.

    One of my favorite reasons for rejecting the stories about Jeebus as fabricated bullshit is that Jeebus offered no correct insights whatsoever into the workings of the natural world. Being the alleged Son of The Lord, he was in a good position to offer some advice to his followers on, say, the means to prevent microbes from killing them - saving many millions of lives. But he didn't because the men who invented him knew nothing about microbiology.

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    1. All hail the Lord Science.

      C

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  10. "You are living off Christian fumes, which will run out, extinguishing scientific progress ..."

    Not to worry: after the God-haters bring down the New Dark Age, we Christians will preserve civilization -- and rationality -- just as we did before.

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    1. Ilion,

      What makes you think there's a New Dark Age coming? And why do you think Christianity preserved civilisation in the last one?

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  11. Philosophy alway buries its undertakers.

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