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Modern authors regularly published anonymously. Why did they do so, and to what effect? How to handle anonymous texts in scholarship? We discussed these topics in a recent panel on Anonymous Modern Philosophy with Julia Joráti, Alex Douglas, and Sandra Lapointe at the APA Pacific. Here you can listen to recordings of the talks:

 

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Interested in self-consciousness and personal identity? This week the Descartes Research Group at Western University, lead by Benjamin Hill, is holding a virtual masters seminar on Udo Thiel’s The Early Modern Subject (2011). Event details:

Friday April 29
9:00-11:00 am EDT
Western University
Arts & Humanities Building, Room 2R07

For virtual attendance, join here. The portal will open 30 minutes before the session begins.

Benjamin Hill writes:

“The session will involve Prof. Thiel answering questions and responding to critical reflections that the research group as well as a number of external experts have formulated. Philosophers interested in personal identity, consciousness, and their relationship will be especially interested in Prof Thiel’s thoughts.”

A great opportunity to dive into early modern identity questions (if you weren’t sucked into those already).

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Thanks again to Chloe Armstrong and Jeff McDonough for their discussion last week. Here are links to all the relevant posts.

The paper being discussed: “Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists”

Chloe’s first post, A Leibnizian Way Out of the Rationalist’s Dilemma (Part 1): https://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/a-leibnizian-way-out-of-the-rationalists-dilemma-part-1/

Jeff’s first reply: https://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/a-leibnizian-way-out-of-the-rationalists-dilemma-mcdonough-reply-part-1/

Chloe’s second post: A Leibnizian Way Out of the Rationalist’s Dilemma (Part 2): https://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/a-leibnizian-way-out-of-the-rationalists-dilemma-part-2/

Jeff’s second reply: https://philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/mcdonough-reply-part-2/

Comments on all these posts will remain open for another couple of weeks, if anyone else wants to contribute to the discussion.

 

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At the end of her last post, Armstrong raised the question of why we should be tempted to follow Leibniz’s way out of Della Rocca’s Dilemma if we reject key aspects of Leibniz’s way into the problem. The short answer, I think, is that the aspects of Leibniz’s way into the problem that are most problematic are not essential to his way out of Della Rocca’s Dilemma. Leibniz’s suspect commitment to relations being at least partially ontologically grounded in the divine intellect makes Della Rocca’s Dilemma more challenging, not less. Watching Leibniz juggle five balls makes it easier to see how we can juggle three.

 

I introduced the distinction between ontological and semantic grounding largely to explain the sense in which relations are and are not ideal for Leibniz. If we turn specifically to Della Rocca’s argument against the possibility of relata jointly grounding relations I don’t think that distinction is particularly important. What is important is the thought that at least some relational facts might be wholly grounded in their relata, that, for example, the fact that a and b co-exist might be wholly grounded in the existence of a and the existence of b. Borrowing notation that I learned from my colleague Selim Berker, we might express (what I’ll call) Leibniz’s Key Thought by saying that [p • q] <- [p], [q] where “[p]” is shorthand for “the fact that p,” and “[p] <- [q]” is shorthand for “[p] is fully grounded in [q].”

 

Although I think most contemporary philosophers accept Leibniz’s Key Thought, Della Rocca and Bradley would, I believe, demur. They think that [p], [q] cannot fully ground [p • q] on their own. Something more, in their view, is needed, namely, [p] and [q]’s standing in a certain relation, call it “R.” So, to fully ground [p • q], we’d need at least [p], [q] and R. But wait, they’ll say, [p], [q] and R also can’t fully ground [p • q] on their own. For the same reason as before, something more is needed, namely, their standing in some relation, call it “R’”. And so on. If one allows the first regress, obviously we’ll be off to the races. Either we will be committed to doubling back at some point, falling into a vicious circle, or we’ll be launched on an infinite regress. I think contemporary rationalists should follow Leibniz’s lead and nip the regress in the bud by accepting his Key Thought.

 

If I’ve understood her correctly, Armstrong sees Della Rocca’s argument against the possibility of relata jointly grounding relations slightly differently. Her suggestion is that, according to Della Rocca, “the coexistence of a and b requires the relation of partial grounding, which is itself grounded in the coexistence of a and b.” This suggestion, she thinks, generates an “additional fact in need of explanation … namely, why does the fact that a’s existence partially grounds a and b’s coexistence require appeal to both a and b?” But, as I think Armstrong would agree, if there is such a fact as a’s existence partially grounds a and b’s coexistence, it looks like it too can be grounded in a’s existence and b’s existence. Using Berker’s shorthand, and letting “[p] <- – – [q]” stand for “[p] is partially grounded in [q],” we can say [[p • q] <- – -[p]] <- [p], [q]. If Leibniz’s Key Thought is accepted, it will take care not only of Della Rocca’s Dilemma as I’ve interpreted it, but also as Armstrong has interpreted it. Either way, contemporary rationalists could do a whole lot worse than to follow Leibniz’s way out of Della Rocca’s Dilemma.

 

Thanks again to Armstrong for her careful reading and thoughtful comments. And thanks to Stewart Duncan for setting up our exchange.

 

[Posted on behalf of Jeff McDonough]

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In Part 1, I raised some questions about how to understand semantic grounding as a response to the Rationalist’s Dilemma within Leibniz’s system. In this post, I will explore the notion of semantic grounding as a response to the dilemma as it arises for adherents to the PSR more generally.

 

According to McDonough’s solution, relations are semantically grounded in their relata jointly and still satisfy the PSR. In particular, McDonough thinks that the relation of coexistence is unproblematically grounded in the existence of its relata:

 

If one has an explanation for the fact that my dog exists, and one has an explanation for the fact that my cat exists, then ipsis factis one has an explanation for the fact that both my dog and cat exist…what is harder to imagine is [Leibniz] agreeing with the intuition that, say, having explained the fact that one substance exists and the fact that another substance exists, there should remain an additional fact still standing in need of explanation, namely, the fact that both substances exist (McDonough 379).

 

However, Della Rocca offers an argument against the possibility of relata jointly grounding relations. This argument is part of what makes Della Rocca’s dilemma worrisome for those that accept the PSR but reject Leibniz’s views on the ideality of relations (or substance-accident ontology for that matter). Della Rocca argues that the coexistence of objects cannot be grounded in the existence of those objects as follows:

 

…in order for a relation between a and b to hold, the relation must be partially grounded in a (and also partially grounded in b). Call this relation of partial grounding (between a and R) R’. So R holds in part because R’ holds. Why does R’, the relation of partial grounding between a and R, hold? There’s a relation, R’, of partial grounding between a and R only because a coexists with b. Call the relation of coexistence R”…Now in virtue of what do a and b co-exist, i.e. in virtue of what does the relation, R”, of coexistence hold? Just as R’ obtains in part because a and b coexist, so too R” obtains because a and b coexist…so R” holds in part because R” holds…And here we reach a circular explanation of a relation (Della Rocca 149).

 

The key move in the above argument is that grounding the coexistence of a and b requires the relation of partial grounding, which is itself grounded in the coexistence of a and b. McDonough, as we saw above, thinks that coexistence can be semantically grounded in existence, because it’s unlikely that “there should remain an additional fact still standing in need of explanation, namely, the fact that both substances exist.” It is, however, worth revisiting this issue precisely because Della Rocca does not think that coexistence directly appeals to the coexistence of both a and b. Instead, the relation of partial grounding generates appeals to the coexistence of a and b. My point is that the additional fact in need of explanation is a fact about grounding—namely, why does the fact that a’s existence partially grounds a and b’s coexistence require appeal to both a and b?

 

Perhaps Della Rocca is emphasizing the partial aspect of this relation. In order for it to be true that a partially grounds the coexistence of a and b, b must also partially ground coexistence. So the conditions under which a partially grounds a and b’s coexistence depends upon both a and b existing, or their coexistence.

 

On the one hand, I’m not sure I’m doing Della Rocca’s objection justice for, when reframed this way, it is still difficult to see why the partial grounding relation requires appeal to coexistence. The partial grounding relation itself is not so specific as to involve the other objects involved in partial grounding. Thus, to my mind, a’s existing partially grounds the coexistence of a and b in the same way that a’s existing partially grounds the coexistence of a and c, in the same way it would partially ground the coexistence of a, b, and c.

 

On the other hand, it is also true that a’s existence does not partially ground a and b’s coexistence without b’s existence. This, at least for me, gives Della Rocca’s worry some bite. But what this suggests is that a’s partial grounding depends on b’s existence, and thus only derivatively on the coexistence of a and b. So we have reason to think that a’s partial grounding relation too depends on a’s existence and b’s existence. This is consistent with what McDonough says about semantic grounding: not only is coexistence grounded in existence, but also the partial grounding of coexistence is grounded in existence. What is surprising, perhaps, is that a’s partial grounding depends upon b’s existence, but as long as it does not depend on their coexistence it is not circular.

 

Della Rocca’s argument above focuses on circularity, but he also raises an infinite regress worry—a Bradley-style regress—whereby the relation between x and y is grounded in a further relation which is grounded in other relations which are themselves grounded in other relations and so on (151). The relation of partial grounding is itself partially grounded thus there is the possibility for an infinite regress of grounding relations. While Leibniz seems opposed to an ontological regress of relations (see Mugnai 2010) it is less clear whether he would object to a semantic regress. Because the issue here is rooted in the ontological aspect of relations I have focused more on the circularity worry. However, if partial grounding can be grounded in existence, then even if there are an infinite number of semantic grounding relations as long as the ground for each is not itself a relation there is not a vicious semantic regress.

 

I’ll leave it to the reader to determine the gravity of Della Rocca’s objection, and the viability of my recommendations using McDonough’s resources. But, as I’ve rendered it, I think that Della Rocca’s objections raise the following important questions for developing a notion of semantic grounding:

 

  1. Do semantically grounded relations generate further truths about grounding?
  2. If grounding is a relation, are its instances semantically grounded?
  3. Is coexistence the (partial?) ground of the grounding relation for coexistence?

 

Works Cited

Della Rocca, Michael (2012). “Violations of the Principle of Sufficient Reason in Leibniz and Spinoza.” In Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schnieder (Eds.), Metaphysical Grounding, Understanding the Structure of Reality (139-164). Cambridge University Press.

 

McDonough, Jeffrey (2015). “An Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists.Ergo, 2, 367-392.

 

Mugnai, Massimo (2010). “Leibniz and ‘Bradley’s Regress.’” The Leibniz Review, 20, 1-12.

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I want to start off by thanking Chloe Armstrong for carefully reading and presenting my paper. She does a great job of summarizing my overall view in the beginning of her post. After that she proposes to reexamine the notion of semantic grounding first with respect to Leibniz’s own system and then with respect to Michael Della Rocca’s more general Rationalist Dilemma.

 

In my paper, in a footnote, I note that “Leibniz’s full semantics is, of course, further complicated by … his esoteric view of truth.” Armstrong presses this point, wondering how we might reconcile my “account of semantic grounding with Leibniz’s conceptual containment theory of truth.” The answer she offers seems to me essentially right. Given Leibniz’s conceptual containment theory of truth, at the end of the day, he’ll have to say that the truth of relational statements is at least partially dependent upon concepts in the divine intellect. The response I offer on Leibniz’s behalf to Della Rocca’s challenge, however, should remain effective as long as he allows – as I think he does, and as Armstrong suggests – that the truth of relational statements concerning co-existence are either partially or immediately grounded in features of the actual world.

 

Della Rocca’s Rationalist Dilemma is a challenge not just for Leibniz but for all would-be rationalists. In my paper, I suggest that at least some contemporary rationalists might want to follow Leibniz’s way out of Della Rocca’s Dilemma. Some of Leibniz’s background commitments are, however, highly contentious. Armstrong thus wonders, quite fairly, “Why, then, should we take Leibniz’s way out if we reject key aspects of Leibniz’s way into the problem?” Why indeed? I’ll take up this question in my reply to Armstrong’s second post.

[Posted on behalf of Jeff McDonough]

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[Comments on Jeffrey McDonough’s “Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists” (Ergo 2015), by Chloe Armstrong]

 

Consider the following argument that starts with a Leibnizian view about relations:1

  1. Relations are ideal; they are not accidents that inhere jointly in their relata but exist insofar as they are apprehended or cognized by a mind comparing the relata.2
  2. Coexistence is a relation.
  3. Thus, the coexistence between distinct objects is ideal.
  4. If coexistence between distinct objects is ideal, then no numerically distinct objects can coexist.
  5. Therefore, no numerically distinct objects can coexist.

The conclusion of the argument endorses radical monism—the   denial that there exists a plurality of objects (including substances, attributes, and modes). This conclusion is unacceptable for Leibniz who maintains that there is a plurality of substances each with a multiplicity of states. (See, e.g., Monadology §§1-8.) Leibniz is in trouble if his analysis of relations undermines the existence of distinct objects. However, the problem runs deeper because Leibniz’s views about relations results from his commitment to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR):

 

If an object x is in a certain state (or has a certain property or whatever), then there must be some thing or things in which the state is grounded, some thing or things in virtue of which the thing is in that state (McDonough 368).

The PSR, so formulated, requires that all states—including relations—be grounded. If the only way to ground relations is to affirm their ideality, then Leibniz’s commitment to the PSR seemingly entails radical monism. Michael Della Rocca (2012) summarizes: “Leibniz’s dilemma is this: EITHER give up the claim that there is a multiplicity of objects and that there are states of objects OR give up the claim that relations are grounded” (157).

 

Leibniz’s Way Out:

Jeffrey McDonough argues that Leibniz has a way out of this dilemma: the fact that coexistence is an ideal entity does not rule out the possibility of coexisting objects. The key is to distinguish two types grounding relations: ontological grounding and semantic or truth-making grounding. The ontological ground of a relation is that in virtue of which the relation exists (373). For example, the ontological ground of the relation of coexistence is an idea in God’s mind. Semantic or truth-making grounding explains why a statement or proposition is true, and, in the case of relations, it specifies the conditions under which a relational predicate holds (375). McDonough observes that the fact that the ontological ground of relations is ideal and mind-dependent does not thereby render the semantic ground of relations mind-dependent. Instead, the truth of relational predication might well be grounded in non-relational properties of each of the relata. In the case of coexistence, McDonough claims that the semantic ground of the relation is the existence of each of the relata. Put differently: coexistence is semantically grounded in existence. Thus, premise (4) of the above argument is false because coexistence is ontologically ideal but semantically real. If coexistence is a two-place relational predicate, Rxy, the fact that R picks out an ideal entity does not prevent Rab from being true as long as a and b each exist.

 

Semantic Grounding in Leibniz’s System:

I want to consider semantic grounding first with respect to Leibniz’s own system, and then with respect to Della Rocca’s more general way into the Rationalist’s Dilemma (which does not depend on uniquely Leibnizian views about the ideality of relations).

 

I’m particularly interested in the first issue, since it is not clear that we can successfully account for semantic grounding of coexistence in the Leibnizian system. This is because there are texts in which Leibniz not only identifies relations as dependent on God’s mind, but also seems to affirm that truth is similarly dependent:

 

The reality of relations is dependent on mind, as is that of truths; but they do not depend on the human mind, as there is a supreme intelligence which determines all of them from all time (New Essays 265).

God not only sees individual monads and the modifications of every monad whatsoever, but he also sees their relations, and in this consists the reality of relations and of truth (Notes for Leibniz to Des Bosses, 5 February 1712).

The above passages seem to assimilate the ideality of relations and the ideality of truth(s). If both the ontological and semantic grounds of coexistence are ideal, McDonough’s distinction between ontological and semantic grounds might not be viable for Leibniz.

 

This issue is also tied to the question of how to reconcile McDonough’s account of semantic grounding with Leibniz’s conceptual containment theory of truth. While it is very natural to ground the truth of coexistence of a and b in the existence of a and the existence of b, Leibniz famously maintains that truth is a matter of conceptual containment. Whether existence is contained in the complete concepts of substances is a controversial interpretive matter, but Leibniz does make it clear that the truth of other relations, such as Caesar having crossed the Rubicon, is true because the concept of having crossing the Rubicon is contained in Caesar’s concept. This suggests that—contra McDonough’s suggestion—the semantic ground for relations rests not in features of the relata themselves, but their concepts or notions.

 

I think, however, that reconciling the conceptual containment theory of truth with McDonough’s account will help explain how relational truths are semantically dependent on God’s mind, but not ideal in the same way as the ontological ground of relations. Perhaps relations are semantically grounded in both the existence of the relata and the concepts of the relata. For example, if God creates substances according to their complete concepts, then complete concepts semantically ground relations by (at least partially) grounding the relevant features of the substance that in turn ground the relation. In this sense truth is mind-dependent, but not ideal, because there is no individual entity corresponding to God’s idea of a relation in the world, but there are entities corresponding to complete concepts and those entities are the immediate ground of relational truths.

 

Both Della Rocca and McDonough stress that Della Rocca’s dilemma is not unique to Leibniz’s system, but confronts anyone committed to the PSR. That said, the above formulation of the problem depends on distinctive Leibnizian commitments including the ideality of relations. Why, then, should we take Leibniz’s way out if we reject key aspects of Leibniz’s way into the problem? I’ll take this question up in Part 2.

 

[Thanks to Stewart Duncan for inviting this post, and thanks to Jeff McDonough in advance for taking the time to respond.  In Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists” McDonough not only steers us through some of the most challenging aspects of Leibniz’s system, but also–amidst these opaque topics–develops the resources to engage the Rationalist’s Dilemma.   My comments reflect only a portion of McDonough’s enlightening and subtle discussion.]

Notes:

  1. This is drawn from Jeffrey McDonough’s argument in “Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists” (Ergo 2015). McDonough’s version is based on Michael Della Rocca’s discussion in “Violations of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (in Leibniz and Spinoza),” in Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality (Eds. Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schnieder), Cambridge University Press: 2012, 139-164.
  1. The sense in which relations are mind-dependent does not follow directly from Leibniz’s immaterialism. The distinction between ideal and real is one that Leibniz draws within his system. Relations are ideal in the sense that they are not states of the substances that they relate, but instead states that depend on a mind that understands the relevant features of the substances and compares them.

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I’m pleased to announce that we will continue our series of discussions of papers published by Ergo. (For previous discussions, look here.)

The next discussion will look at Jeffrey McDonough‘s paper “Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists”, which was published in volume 2 of Ergo. The commentator is Chloe Armstrong. I’d like to thank both Chloe and Jeff for participating in this event. We will publish comments and replies next week. Comments will be open on all posts, for those who would like to participate in the discussion.

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In my first post on Schmid’s paper “Finality without Final Causes,” I gave some background to and summarized Schmid’s core argument for the conclusion that on Suárez’s own account of final causation there cannot be final causes either in the divine or natural realms. Final causation in the natural realm is supposed to derive from final causation in the divine realm, external actions derive their final causes from immanent actions, but God’s immanent actions have no final causes.

I’ve argued in the past that Suárez can solve this problem. The general strategy is to tell a different story about how final causality works in the case of God than in the case of human beings. More specifically, deny in the first place that external actions inherit their final causes from immanent acts in the case of God. That is, restrict that story to the case of finite rational agents. Suárez does this explicitly: “We deny that it is always necessary that there be causality of an end internal to the agent itself in order for it to be able to have a place beyond the agent in its other effects” (DM 23.9.9). The concerns stemming from God’s pure actuality do not apply in the case of God’s transeunt or external actions, so if God’s immanent acts can be transparent to final causality in this way, then it seems that God’s transeunt actions can have final causes after all. This might still leave a worry about metaphorical motion. After all, there is no place for metaphorical motion in either God’s immanent or transeunt acts. But didn’t Suárez say that the causality of the end consists in metaphorical motion?

Here I think it is important to notice an easily overlooked structural feature of Suárez’s disputation on final causation, DM 23. The disputation consists of ten sections. The first section, as one might expect, introduces final causes and asks whether there are any in reality. In that section he divides agents into three classes: the uncreated rational agent (God), created rational agents (e.g., human beings), and natural agents (e.g., plants). He then says that since the case of created rational agents is better known to us (we ourselves are such agents), he will first discuss final causation in that realm and then later talk about the other agents (DM 23.1.8). He only returns to the other agents in sections nine and ten (on God and natural agents, respectively). That means that in all the intervening sections he is still restricting his attention to the human case.

That the discussion in sections two through eight is restricted in that way is borne out by the objections he does and does not consider. For example, in the seventh section he asks whether cognition of an end is necessary for final causation. The obvious potential counterexample for any Aristotelian is the case of natural agents, but Suárez does not consider that objection. This would be a significant oversight if he took himself already to be establishing a perfectly universal claim that cognition is necessary, but it makes good sense if he is restricting his attention to created rational agents. The structure of Suárez’s discussion raises interpretive questions, since one might well want to take some of the conclusions in sections two to eight as applying more generally than just to created rational agents. But for present purposes, the important point is that there seems to be textual room for restricting the story about metaphorical motion to the domain of created rational agents. In other words, the claim that an end’s causality consists in metaphorical motion of the will need not be read as applying to the divine case.

Or so I suggested. Schmid has a well-argued reply. Recall that Suárez wants there to be a common concept of cause such that final causes will really be causes. But, Schmid argues, this requires an analogy of intrinsic attribution, which requires that efficient and final causes both infuse being into another thing but in different ways, and the way in which final causes exemplify that characteristic is through metaphorical motion. Hence, whatever Suárez says about ends in the case of God’s actions, they do not metaphorically move and so they do not satisfy the characteristic of being a cause and so they do not fall under the common concept of cause. If the term ‘final cause’ is applied in the divine case, it becomes an equivocal term. Schmid is willing to grant that God acts for a purpose and so allows that there is finality in divine actions. But there is no final causality. In short he answers affirmatively the question in the title of his paper: “Finality without Final Causes?”

My first reaction to Schmid’s argument is fear and trepidation. Final causation is a challenging enough topic. Bring in scholastic doctrines of analogy and an absolutely simple (yet three) being who has intellect and will but is pure actuality, immutable, and impassible … It’s a familiar thought that there is one way of being right and many ways of being wrong, but here all ways start looking wrong.

Being less courageous, I will ask some questions rather than asserting a position contrary to Schmid’s:

  1. Suárez clearly thinks that ’cause’ is an analogical term, but is it clear that Suárez thinks it does not apply univocally to efficient and final causes? DM 27.1.11 suggests to me that he thinks it applies univocally in at least some cases. This might not help Suárez out. Schmid’s argument against analogicity might work just as well against univocity. Still, if Suárez does think that efficient and final causes are univocally causes, that might affect how we should understand his account more generally.

  2. Instead of focusing on the account of metaphorical motion in DM 23.4, could we take our lead from DM 24.2.12 where Suárez says that “final causality … only consists in this dependency which the action has by the agent having thus ordered it to the end”? The suggestion would then be that this dependency counts as the infusion of being. Furthermore, God’s transeunt actions can have this dependency via God’s eternal love and intention. The way created rational agents order actions to an end involves metaphorical motion, but God can order actions to an end without metaphorical motion. In either case, transeunt actions come to have the relevant dependency that satisfies the characteristic needed for an analogy of intrinsic attribution. I am not sure that this could be made to work, but my general thought is there may be ways to wriggle out of seeing metaphorical motion as the only way final causes could have a genuine influxus.

The second question, of course, is the crucial one with respect to Schmid’s core argument. If something along the lines of my suggestion can be made to work, then Suárez might be able to retain his account of final causation and have it apply in the divine and natural realms after all.

I also have two questions of clarification:

  1. Schmid talks of describing an actualization of the will from two sides, from the side of the end or final cause and from the side of the will or efficient cause. Is this supposed to imply that the efficient cause’s physical motion and the final cause’s metaphorical motion are in fact one and the same motion, just under two descriptions? To use Suárez’s language are the physical motion and metaphorical motion distinct ex natura rei or only conceptually?

  2. Disagreements over whether something is an F can be rooted in two different places. The disagreement might indicate disagreement about what conditions need to be met for the concept to have application or there might be agreement about that but disagreement over whether those conditions are met. I often find myself unclear about which sort of disagreement is at stake in discussions of final causation. Am I right in thinking that the key issues in this paper concern the concept of final causation rather than what the world is like? More precisely, does an Aristotelian who thinks there is unproblematic final causation in the natural realm without appeal to God disagree with Suárez about what conditions need to be met for the concept to have application, or is there disagreement about what natural agents are like and how they work?

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[This is part of a series of blog posts about articles in the new, open-access journal, Ergo]

We are all familiar with challenges to final causation in the natural, i.e., non-rational, realm. More surprising is Stephan Schmid’s conclusion in a recent paper, “Finality without Final Causes? – Suárez’s Account of Natural Teleology” (Ergo 2015), that on Francisco Suárez’s account of final causation there can be no final causes for divine actions. Schmid also argues that there fails to be final causation in the natural realm on Suárez’s account, but that is a consequence of the prior absence of final causation in the divine case.

Schmid’s paper is an unusually rich one. He has an earlier book, Finalursachen in der frühen Neuzeit, in which he examines the views of Aquinas, Suárez, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz on final causation, and so he has given this matter extended thought and has the historical expertise to situate Suárez’s view properly. The fruit of this expertise is evident in this paper’s simultaneous attention to details of the texts and arguments and eye towards the bigger picture. As a result, there is much worthwhile material that I will ignore in this post. Read the paper!

The core argument in Schmid’s paper can be stated easily enough. Teleology in the natural realm is to be explained by appeal to final causes in the divine realm. But the notion of final causation finds no application on the divine side. Why not? Because transeunt or external actions inherit their final causes from immanent or internal acts (for example, my walking to the library inherits its final cause from my intention to check out and read a book), but God’s immanent acts have no final cause since God is pure act and so does not have an actualizable will. Consequently, teleology in the natural realm cannot be explained by reference to God.

That’s the short version. Properly appreciating the argument, however, requires some stage-setting, so let’s step back. Suárez wants final causes to be causes. That is, there is supposed to be a concept common to all four Aristotelian causes. So on the one hand, we need a concept broad enough to cover efficient, final, material, and formal causes. On the other hand, Suárez does not want a notion so broad that all principles are going to count as causes. This is where Suárez appeals to the notion of infusing or inflowing being: “a cause is a principle that per se infuses being into another thing” (DM 12.2.4 — English translations of all the texts cited in this post can be found through my “Suárez in English Translation” webpage). All four causes are supposed to satisfy this account while non-causal principles such as privations are not.

To complicate matters, the four causes obviously do not inflow being in the same way. Whatever exactly efficient causes do, for example, is certainly not the same as what material causes and formal causes do, which inflow being by constituting that which they cause. As a result, Suárez does not think the term ’cause’ applies univocally. He does, however, think we can avoid mere equivocal predication, which would be to abandon hope of a common concept. What he wants is analogical predication or, more specifically, predication that is analogical by intrinsic attribution. As Schmid puts it, “different Cs can also be called Cs in an analogical sense if they fall under a common concept while complying with the characteristics of being a C in different ways” (398). In the case at hand, as we saw, the characteristic of being a cause is per se infusing being into another thing. So insofar as, say, an efficient cause and a material cause comply with that characteristic in different ways, they are causes analogically by intrinsic attribution.

Schmid takes an important part of the story to be that efficient causes come to be seen as the paradigmatic causes. And, indeed, Suárez explicitly says that efficient causes “most properly infuse being” (DM 27.1.10). That Suárez says this indicates that he is not using ‘influxus‘ in its most obvious and natural sense. What happens when the Thames flows into (influit) the North Sea? The very water that was in the Thames becomes part of or helps constitute the North Sea. But if we think of that model, then we might well conclude that matter and form most properly flow into their effects, not efficient causes. This is a salutary reminder, then, that Suárez’s talk of infusing being should not be understood as the literal transfer of some parcel of being from one thing to another thing.

Whatever exactly it means to infuse being into another thing, efficient causes do it most properly. Suárez’s task now is to show that the other Aristotelian causes satisfy that characteristic in different ways such that they all fall under the concept of cause, albeit only analogically. In the case of final causes, Schmid takes Suárez’s answer to be that ends’ metaphorical motion is how they satisfy the infusing being condition. As Suárez says, “the causality of an end consists in a metaphorical motion of the will” (DM 23.5.2). Schmid rightly points out that describing the motion as metaphorical is not meant to call into question the reality of the motion. What is metaphorical motion? When my will turns from potentially loving an end to actually loving the end, that change or motion can be described from two sides. On the one hand, it can be described as having been generated by my will. On the other hand, it can be described as having been drawn out or attracted by the end, an end that seemed good to me. The latter is the metaphorical motion of the will and it is the way in which final causes “infuse being into another thing.”

Immanent acts such as an act of love for an end are the fundamental cases. But if those immanent acts issue in external acts such as walking to the library, those external acts inherit final causality from the immanent acts. Reading such and such a book seems good to me and so I come to desire reading it and form the intention to read it. I consider various means and decide the best way to read the book involves walking to the library to check it out. The end did not directly attract my legs, but, nevertheless, my legs move for the sake of the end thanks to the intervening immanent act.

As stated, this story obviously does not hold in the case of natural, i.e., non-rational, agents such as squirrels, oak trees, and rocks. For starters, they do not have wills and hence do not have wills that can be metaphorically moved. Schmid has a detailed and rewarding discussion of final causation in the natural realm and of the different ways in which natural teleology might be explained by final causes in the divine realm. I’m going to skip over most of that discussion and simply note that Suárez concedes that the actions of natural agents have no final causes insofar as we consider strictly the natural agents themselves, but he goes on to argue that their actions do have final causes thanks to God’s involvement.

So Suárez argues. Schmid, however, thinks that Suárez’s argument fails, because there can be no final causes of God’s actions and hence there is no final causation to be inherited by natural agents. The problem is that God is supposed to be pure actuality and consequently immutable and impassible. Suárez recognizes the worry and promptly acknowledges that there are no final causes of God’s immanent acts. God loves himself and other things, but there is no final cause of that love (DM 23.9.3). But, as we saw earlier, external actions inherit their final causes from the immanent acts that lie behind the external actions. Since there is no final causality to inherit in this case, God’s external actions lack final causes. Of course, there is then also no final causality for natural agents to inherit.

In short, Schmid argues that most of the instances of final causation that Suárez wishes to claim are in fact not such instances on Suárez’s own account of what final causation is.

That, as I understand it, is Schmid’s basic argument. I’m on record arguing that Suárez has a solution to this problem.* In my next post, I will briefly sketch my proposal, explain the response Schmid has to my proposal, and then raise some questions for Schmid’s account.

* “Final Causality: Suárez on the Priority of Final Causation.” In Suárez on Aristotelian Causality, ed. by Jakob Leth Fink, 122-49. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

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