The Argument from Finity

I have from time to time argued that this or that indispensable aspect of our lives presupposes in its partiality and incompleteness the prior exhaustive comprehension and completeness of the eternal divine act, so that absent that act we could not do what we do in fact constantly do. The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude and The Argument from Truth both come to mind. The basic motion of such arguments is this: you can’t get a posteriori partiality or finitude of any sort unless wholeness and infinity have been accomplished a priori. More simply, the a posteriori as such presupposes the a priori, and cannot come to pass without it. No infinity, then no finite thing whatever.

The invaluable Chastek comes now with another version of this argument, which – it being (as is his wont) so succinct as to pucker – I now quote in full:

Hume: Just because the universe came from a mind does not mean it came from an infinite mind.

Objection: A finite mind could account for the universe as a fiction but not as real; but the universe is real, therefore, etc.

Ad minorem: Even an omnipotent mind cannot determine any information that falls outside of the text or script or shot. No degree of textual insight, for example, can tell us on what day of the week Othello killed Desdemona, how many plants they had in their house, whether the floor was covered or with what, whether the killer was right or left handed, ad infinitum. But any detail that a finite mind can know is present to someone who sees a real husband kill his wife. And so if the real proceeds from a mind, it proceeds from one that can determine every possible way that every possible finite mind could consider the details outside of any one account or story. But any mind capable of producing, and therefore accounting for all that can be known by any possible finite mind is not itself finite, therefore, etc.

The first premise might of course seem problematic to some. Why should we think that the universe came from a mind of any sort? This question turns out to be easier than at first it seems, for under the principle nemo dat quod non habet, a thing cannot give rise to another thing utterly unlike itself in any given respect. So, minds can’t be generated by mindless stuff. Minds can’t “emerge” from “mindless” stuff if they aren’t in it to begin with – so that, after all, it is not truly mindless stuff.

The universe has minds, so it must have come from something that has mind. Whatever else we may or may not say about the cause of this world, then, we may say that it is a mind, or rather is mindful.

Convicted atheists will balk at this sort of thing, of course. But not for any reason good enough to warrant their doing so (Romans 1:18-23).

28 thoughts on “The Argument from Finity

  1. Pingback: The Argument from Finity | Neoreactive

  2. What do you think of the idea of mind as an emergent property? I reject it myself (naturally enough), but the line you’re taking in this argument will eventually lead the interlocutors to take a position one way or the other on reductive physicalism. From there I guess the point of contention is whether or not materialism is true.

    There’s a book a couple of years old attacking materialism from multiple view-points that you may or may not have heard of: The Waning of Materialism (though some of the contributors do hold to some form of emergent materialism).

  3. Oops. I see you mention it in your second to last paragraph. Still, the question “why must “nemo dat” be an assumption?” will come up.

    • Just as you can’t get something from absolutely nothing, so you can’t get any *sort* of something from absolutely nothing of that sort of something. If you had a bunch of things that existed that were, e.g., absolutely chaotic, there is no way that those chaotic things could combine into any order whatever.

      • You keep asserting that as if it was some self-evident axiom, but it isn’t. Indeed, it seems both obviously false as a matter of fact, and an extraordinarily depressing and lifeless view of the universe (that is, I can’t see why anybody would *want* to entertain such a view, true or not).

        It seems far more nihilistic than materialism, as it has no room whatsoever for creativity or any other authentic human action.

      • Jim was right!

        Ex nihilo nihil fit sure looks self evident to me, a.morphous. Do you know of a counterexample? Or, can you explain how something from nothing could be accomplished?

        I’m not saying that new sorts of things cannot make an appearance in the actual world. I’m saying only that such new things cannot come from nowhere, or from nothing. They can’t have come only from what preceded them, or they would not be really new, but rather only aspects of their antecedents. They must then have come from something that is not in this world, or at least not only in this world.

        Nor am I suggesting that creatures play no role in the world’s ingression of novelty. On the contrary, they are the media of that ingress. Without that mediation, everything that was done in the world would be completely God’s doing.

        I have to say that I feel rather distressed – for your sake – that you find the existence of God such a depressing notion. It seems to me rather wonderful and thrilling that behind everything we see there is a great mind at work.

  4. Ex nihilo nihil fit sure looks self evident to me … Do you know of a counterexample?

    How about every single biological organism, trait, and mechanism? For starters.

    I’m not saying that new sorts of things cannot make an appearance in the actual world.

    I՚m sorry, I thought the actual world was what we were talking about. I don՚t feel motivated to argue over any of the manifold non-actual worlds; if I have objections to yours I can just pay it no mind and enjoy ones more to my taste.

    But while nonactual worlds are unthinkably infinite, there is only one actual world, and we can՚t both be right about it, hence an argument.

    I’m saying only that such new things cannot come from nowhere, or from nothing. … They must then have come from something that is not in this world, or at least not only in this world.

    You are saying that the only way new things can enter the actual world is from somewhere else, that is, from a non-actual world.

    Nor am I suggesting that creatures play no role in the world’s ingression of novelty. On the contrary, they are the media of that ingress.

    Great, “creatures” get to be media, Old Nobodaddy fron Nonactuality gets to be the artist.

    I have to say that I feel rather distressed – for your sake – that you find the existence of God such a depressing notion.

    Well in this case it is not the existence of God that depresses me, but that the metaphysics you seem to need to support your idea of God has no place for human agency or creativity, this is, for the things that make life worthwhile and distinguish it from that of other “creatures”.

    It seems to me rather wonderful and thrilling that behind everything we see there is a great mind at work.

    I feel that way in Disneyland, but the real world is quite a different experience. There՚s no grand design, no video surveillance, no staff keeping everything in tidy working order.

    • Whether biological organisms, traits, and mechanisms somehow emerge from a world utterly devoid of any such thing is precisely the question: was there anything in the world like them before they appeared? To adduce them in answer is to repeat that question. A telling counterexample will be a clear case of some sort of thing appearing from a demonstrably utter lack of any thing like or potentially like it. The sudden appearance of a virtual particle from the quantum vacuum would not do, for example, because it is in the nature of the quantum vacuum to foam virtual particles: the quantum vacuum *just is* a foam.

      My personal hunch is that before life fully floresced in it, the world was chockablock with life-like stuff – with partially actualized life. Or rather, that the stuff of the world *just is* a bit alive. That hunch is borne out by the tremendous difficulty that biologists and physicists have in specifying the categorical difference between animate and inanimate entities. I doubt there is such a hard categorical difference.

      But even if it were so – even if life, mind, and so forth were all implicit in the world from the get go, so that they foam up from the cosmos by its nature, and being as such is by nature somehow always a bit alive, awake, etc. – you would still have the problem of what sort of thing the living mindful universe came from: was it something dead and mindless? Nemo dat quod non habet: nothing can’t donate anything to something, and nothingness of x can’t furnish x. This is a metaphysical truth. It is manifest in math, as it is everywhere: you can’t get 10 from anything less than 10.

      When I say that novelty can occur in the actual world, all I mean to say is that this is not a block universe, and that we have freedom and power to choose among real options – that by our acts novel potentialities are actualized, which are not wholly predetermined by their antecedents. We don’t disagree with each other on this score. So there’s no need to get all huffy about imaginary worlds.

      … it is not the existence of God that depresses me, but that the metaphysics you seem to need to support your idea of God has no place for human agency or creativity, that is, for the things that make life worthwhile and distinguish it from that of other “creatures.”

      Classical theistic metaphysics does not rule out our agency or creativity, but rather just differentiates them from the agency and creativity of God. The things that make our life worthwhile, and that we so treasure, are not deleted from reality by theism, as they are by eliminative materialism. They are, rather, only more carefully and properly understood: Men are not God, that’s all. While we can shape the character of a moment of becoming, we cannot get such moments going ourselves. Nor can we invent possibilities that were never before possible, or forms that were never before forms. This is just logic: if x is possible at time t, then it is eternally possible at time t. T cannot itself bring it about that x be possible at t, for what is possible at t is implicit in the definition of t ab initio. What’s more, t can’t do *anything at all* until it is completely actual, so that its choice of x or y is over and done with. Put another way, t cannot be a factor of t. If it could, there would be no time paradoxes such as those that lard Back to the Future.

      To be a medium of creaturely instantiation of the Ideas in the Mind of God does not seem to me to be an ignoble thing. Indeed, what could possibly be nobler? Great artists commonly understand – nay, experience – their production of art in this way. Thus Athena springs fully armored from the forehead of Zeus, the Muse sings in Homer, Mozart comprehends entire compositions in a flash and races to get them all down on paper before he forgets anything, Byrd hears fitting settings of the scripture he contemplates delivered all at once to his listening ear, novelists find their characters taking on lives of their own and dictating their own speeches, and so forth. Then also there is the whole vast literature of inspiration.

      Such instances of extraordinary divine flux into human life are experienced, not as vile dull stenography, but as approaching the sublime apogee of human virtue and good fortune, the maximum of mundane human being, and of joy therein.

      I can appreciate that atheism seems true to you – that is why I feel distressed in your behalf – but the question is whether or not it *is* true. Simply saying that it is won’t do. You must demonstrate that it is.

      • [A.morphous: while you were composing this comment, I was busy editing – for clarity, not for substance – the comment to which it responds, and which it quotes. I have changed those quotes so that they conform to their original in its latest form. I don’t believe this at all affects the cogency of your objections. KL]

        Whether biological organisms, traits, and mechanisms somehow emerge from a world utterly devoid of any such thing is precisely the question: was there anything in the world like them before they appeared? To adduce them in answer is to repeat that question.

        There՚s plenty of geological and paleontological records available.

        My personal hunch is that before life floresced in it, the world was chockablock with life-like stuff – with partially actualized life.

        Well, there were certainly precursors to life as we know it (perhaps autocatalytic reaction networks), but those too had to arise out of something else.

        you still have the problem of what sort of thing the living mindful universe came from: was it something dead and mindless?

        Yes, that is the problem, and yes, that appears to be how it works.

        Nemo dat quod non habet: nothing can’t donate anything to something, and nothingness of x can’t furnish x. This is a metaphysical truth.

        No, it isn՚t, and like I said, you keep asserting things like that as if it they were self-evident truths. They aren՚t, and since that is precisely the question under debate, simply asserting it doesn՚t advance the argument very far.

        It is manifest in math, as it is everywhere: you can’t get 10 from anything less than 10.

        I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, it seems to rest on a bad analogy between math and the physical world. In math you don՚t “get” 10 from anywhere, it is (under the default Platonism of working mathematicians) eternally just there in math-space. And if you are constructing the integers, you usually do start with 0 and work up, so you do in fact get 10 from something less than 10.
        Human beings and human minds, on the other hand, are not eternal, they are historical contingent beings who live finite lives in a given chunk of time. We have some idea how we “get” human beings from earlier and lesser beings, thanks to Darwin.

        Classical theistic metaphysics does not rule out our agency or creativity, but rather just differentiates them from the agency and creativity of God. …Nor can we invent possibilities that were never before possible, or forms that were never before forms.

        This manages to combine a tautology (yes, anything that comes into existence has to have been possible – so what?) with a contradiction (creativity is precisely inventing things that did not previously exist, even if their possibility did, and if all forms were pre-invented by God, then humans can՚t really be creative).

        To be a medium of creaturely instantiation of the Ideas in the Mind of God does not seem to me to be an ignoble thing.

        Artists are free to think about the source of their ideas as they like (and I note that most of your examples have nothing to do with God; they indicate that often the inspiration of art lies outside of consciousness, not that it necessarily comes from heaven). Indeed, the idea of God can be very useful for artists and others who need to transcend the limitations of rational, left-brain thought. That doesn՚t mean God is real – it is one of the functions of artists, after all, to spin stories and fictions.

        I can appreciate that atheism seems true to you – that is why I feel distressed in your behalf – but the question is whether or not it is true. Simply saying that it is won’t do. You must demonstrate that it is.

        And why do I have this burden of proof? You’re the one who claimed to have an argument for god, I’m poking holes in it. As far as I can tell, I have nature and science on my side, and you have some Latin phrases that seem like unbeatable weapons to you but appear as rusty and obsolete antiques to me.

      • That there are plenty of geological and paleontological records of the appearance of novel biological traits does not answer the question of whether those novelties arose from an utter dearth of anything like them. Again, it merely restates the question by noticing the novelties we are asking about.

        You say that it appears as if these novelties did indeed arise out of such an utter dearth. The question is whether that can have been possible. You think so, but you have not provided either an example of something arising from nothingness thereof, nor any explanation of how to get any something from such a nothingness. All you have done is to say, “well, it looks as though that’s how it happened.” That’s not good enough. All that statement does is restate the problem under consideration.

        I assert that it is a metaphysical truth that you can’t get something from nothing. You disagree. Well then, show us how it is done, or has been done.

        It might have been easier for you to take on board if rather than saying that you can’t get 10 from anything less than 10, I had said instead that you can’t get 10x from anything less than 10x. That ties the expression more tightly to the actual (as distinct from the abstract) world: you can’t count up 10 real nails or pins or acorns if you have less than 10 of them on hand.

        Nevertheless x might indeed stand in for the number 1; it is true that you can’t get the number 10 from less than the number 10: under the Platonic approach to the numbers, 10 is as you say eternally present, so that the question cannot arise; and deriving 10 algorithmically from 1 requires 9 iterations of the additive algorithm that starts with 1, for a total of 10 numerals, so that here again you can’t arrive at 10 from less than 10 (you can’t stop the iterations at the production of 9 and end up with the production of 10).

        But all that is a tangent. Let’s put it this way: you can’t derive x from less than x.

        Darwin doesn’t get around this limit. He doesn’t tell us how x has been derived from something less. He tells us only about rearrangements of what is already there. In Darwin, and in the neo-Darwinian synthesis, there is no “progress” from one form to another, no “more” arising out of “less,” but rather only blind rearrangements of particles.

        … creativity is precisely inventing things that did not previously exist, even if their possibility did, and if all forms were pre-invented by God, then humans can՚t really be creative …

        A form *is* a possibility. Creaturely invention consists in actualizing a form that has existed eternally as a possibility. “Invention” is an apt term for the process: the creature grasps an eternal concept that has never before been actualized, and acts to implement it actually; in so doing, the creature admits into the actual world the wind, the ghost, the spirit of the purely Formal world – invents. This is why artistic invention has traditionally been understood as inspiration.

        But what creatures cannot do is initiate this process of invention. They cannot initiate a moment of their own becoming, because a moment of becoming that does not yet actually exist has no properties or capacities of any sort. Notice that while you are capable of preventing your continued existence, you are not capable of procuring it. Your continued existence arrives for you, moment by moment, and you then capitalize upon this gratuitous gift, working your own way with it. You did not bring about this moment of your becoming, but rather only find yourself in it, willy nilly.

        Creatures cannot kick off becoming. They supervene upon it. They do not create the forms that they actualize, and they do not create their own becoming, their own capacity to actualize forms. In these senses, yes, creatures do not create. But they do create in that they freely choose what concepts (forms, possibilities, ideas) – novel in their world as yet, or not – they shall implement in act.

        You feel that our lack of God’s powers empties human creativity of all its value, but your assessment is radically at odds with those of the great artists, poets, and musicians.

        Human art is a loser’s game, like golf. You win by avoiding errors. The sculpture lay buried in the marble; Michelangelo had only to discern and uncover it, without damaging it in the process. So he said, anyway. Such discernment and discovery is no mean or ignoble feat. It takes extraordinary genius, intelligence, patience, discipline, humility, and talent.

        Just as all the possible chess games must exist formally in order for any of them to be played actually for the first time, so all the possible musical compositions must exist formally in order for any of them to be played actually for the first time in the mind of the composer.

        And why do I have this burden of proof? You’re the one who claimed to have an argument for god, I’m poking holes in it. As far as I can tell, I have nature and science on my side, and you have some Latin phrases that seem like unbeatable weapons to you but appear as rusty and obsolete antiques to me.

        You have been trying to poke holes rather in the premise that nemo dat quod non habet. So far you have not made a dent in it. You have asserted, but nowise shown, that it is untrue.

      • …does not answer the question of whether those novelties arose from an utter dearth of anything like them.

        As far as we can tell, the initial stage of the universe was a hot glowing gas without any complex forms, These arose later. I don՚t suppose that you believe that the forms of things like racoons and banjos was present in the first nanoseconds after the big bang.

        In Darwin, and in the neo-Darwinian synthesis, there is no “progress” from one form to another, no “more” arising out of “less,” but rather only blind rearrangements of particles.

        Uh, no. Evolution is blind rearrangement plus selection, and the result is in fact new forms. This is pretty basic stuff.

        Creaturely invention consists in actualizing a form that has existed eternally as a possibility

        I don՚t find this to be a useful notion. Like I said, it is tautologically (that is, uninterestingly) true that any new thing that arises has to have been possible. And if you want to take the set of all possible forms, and treat it as a quasi-mathematical set that exists eternally, well, knock yourself out. This is going to be a very large set, containing not only the platonic form of Banjo and Racoon but all other musical instruments and animals that might ever be. If you want to describe the process of invention in the actual world of having one of these forms actualize itself, again, go ahead. It՚s not an obviously wrong point of view, it just doesn՚t seem very useful to me.

        But you seem to be implying that because this form-world exist there must be a personified agent that built it. That՚s where we part ways. Mathematics exists without anybody having created it; the quasi-mathematical set of all forms is the same.

        Just as all the possible chess games must exist formally in order for any of them to be played actually for the first time, so all the possible musical compositions must exist formally in order for any of them to be played actually for the first time in the mind of the composer.

        True story: a long time ago, I was working on a computer system that offered interactive graphics (before they were common). At one point I decided to make the ultimate program, that would enumerate all possible displays. I think this was a 512×512 screen of binary pixels, so there would have been 2262144 possible images, which the program would dutifully step through. So yes, all of these existed in possibility space and given enough time would have existed in actuality as well.

        You have been trying to poke holes rather in the premise that nemo dat quod non habet. So far you have not made a dent in it.

        We seem to be talking past each other. You mean that anything that exists in reality has to have had some sort of pre-existence in formworld. I mean that new things appear in reality at time t that weren՚t there at time t-1, regardless of whether or not they were hanging around in formworld for all eternity waiting to be born.

      • The forms of raccoons and banjos had to have been somehow present at the first moment of the Big Bang, or there could never have been such things as raccoons or banjos. As you say, this is tautologically true. There must be a form-world. The only question is as to its mode of existence, and of its implicit presence in the actualities of this world. Obviously the form of the banjo was not concretely and explicitly expressed in our world at the first moment of the Big Bang, but it must have been somehow present in or to this world at that moment in order for it to attain eventual concrete expression in it.

        Plato thinks form-world has an existence separate and different from that of this world, and that this world is a projection of that. Aristotle thinks the form-world is implicit in concrete actualities. Philo and Augustine think in essence that both Plato and Aristotle are correct: the Forms exist implicitly in concrete actualities (which each express some of them explicitly), and primordially in the concrete actuality all men have called God, as ideas in his mind. Philo and Augustine both identify the Platonic Realm as the Logos of the Trinity: it is in God that the Forms are all primordially implicit, and this world is a projection and participation of the Logos.

        You say that the notion of the form-world is not wrong, but only that it is not interesting or useful to you. Yet you have gone so far as to have written an algorithm to explore one of its sub-domains. I grant that we don’t need to think about the form-world from one moment to the next, and apply it consciously as an intellectual tool. The thing is that it is not possible to live except by invoking it as a presupposition. At every moment we face options: what is this, if it is not to confront the form-world? If we dispense with the form-world, do we not dispense with options, and thus with agency? Can we really perform that dispensation, or can we only think about whether that dispensation is truly among our options, and conclude that it is not?

        It may be then simply that the notion of the form-world is not interesting or particularly informative to you because it lies at the basis of all your cognitive and volitional operations, as one of their essential presuppositions. We don’t think about it much because we don’t need to, and we don’t need to think about it because we can’t think without it. So it doesn’t come up for much discussion or deliberation.

        Nevertheless the notion of the form-world has a useful and interesting role to play in our philosophical economy when it comes to the question of the ultimate origin of novelty in the actual world, which has been the main focus of our discussion in this thread. Things that are new in actuality must not be new formally. We return then to the question, where and how are forms that have not yet been expressed actually?

        We can say that the form of the raccoon was implicit in the form of the Big Bang – indeed, it seems that we must, for the Big Bang did in fact include an explicit expression of that form. Not that raccoons were present in the first moment of time, of course. But, NB that we are still in the Big Bang, which is still banging – the whole cosmos in all its cosmogonic details is within the initial singularity – or, equivalently, the cosmos just is the singularity, an integral whole.

        Where then did the cosmos, the Big Bang in which we all live, get the form of the raccoon? It cannot have got that form from an absolute dearth thereof. It must have got that form from some other, prior concrete thing. I mean this *quite* concretely, as in, it takes money to make money, TANSTAAFL, momentum is conserved, and so forth. One of the interesting things about the conservation laws is that in logic they have to hold not only within physical systems but across their boundaries: you can’t get an absolutely novel sort of event within a physical system that is not already absolutely available as a proposal for the evolution of that system, whether or not there is in fact such a system in the first place. This fact is expressed in the truth – as you say, the tautological truth – that you can’t get something from nothing.

        The Big Bang of our cosmos must then have got all its potentially expressible forms from some concrete exogenous source; only thus could those forms have then been endogenously implicit in it, so that it could itself give eventual rise to them concretely.

        We seem to be talking past each other. You mean that anything that exists in reality has to have had some sort of pre-existence in form-world. I mean that new things appear in reality at time t that weren’t there at time t-1, regardless of whether or not they were hanging around in form-world for all eternity waiting to be born.

        But you seem to be taking both sides of this argument, for as you also say:

        Like I said, it is tautologically (that is, uninterestingly) true that any new thing that arises has to have been possible. And if you want to take the set of all possible forms, and treat it as a quasi-mathematical set that exists eternally, well, knock yourself out.

        I too take both sides of this argument. They do not contradict each other. So we agree about both these sides. You then say:

        But you seem to be implying that because this form-world exist there must be a personified agent that built it. That’s where we part ways. Mathematics exists without anybody having created it; the quasi-mathematical set of all forms is the same.

        I should like to suggest that in fact we do not part ways where you think we do. I don’t think that there is a personified agent that built the form-world. As eternal, the form-world is neither built nor created. It just is. But it is concrete, or it isn’t at all. It is actual, or it isn’t at all. So it is every bit as solid and real as any concrete actuality of our world; indeed, more so, as Plato thought: for it is not actual in exactly the same way as the actualities of our world, in that unlike them it is eternal.

        It is by touching it – or being touched by it – that the actualities of our world gain access to novel forms, and are informed by them.

        Where we do part ways is that you think the form-world is not a personal agent, and I think it is. Obviously the forms of personhood and agency must be present in it. I suppose we would agree about that, for if they were not, they would not be possible at all. The question then is whether the form-world explicitly and concretely expresses the forms of person and agent – or better and more fundamentally, and subsuming both personality and agency, mind – that must be present in it at least virtually.

        This comes down to the question whether it is possible to exist at all without expressing the form of mind at least a bit. Could the form-world – I’ll call it the Logos, as philosophers have perennially done – possibly exist other than as a mind? Obviously it is possible to exist without doing so as a raccoon or a banjo. These forms could be present in the Logos implicitly, rather than explicitly. There is no necessary banjo.

        But mind is different. It is fundamental to being. Why? Because being always involves an actual implementation of some form or other, literally an act of in-formation, in which a form is taken into an entity and forms it. The process of information involves a signal, a source, and a receiver. And this is a mental operation; it is a cognitive operation. To receive the signal of a form is to know it – to feel it, to suffer it, to be patient of it. All touching is mental. Only thus could we know of touching, only thus could we feel it – only thus could we know of a thing what it feels like.

        Whatever else it is, then, the Logos must be a mind. In no other way could it be informed by the form-world of which it is the concrete implementation in actuality.

        +++++++++++++++++

        As for evolution of novel forms, yes of course biological evolution involves selection. But selection does not result in the creation of new forms, but rather only in the deletion of forms already expressed. Nor does random variation in a population create new forms, but rather only shuffles forms already present in it, either implicitly or explicitly.

    • You are speaking different languages. You don’t suppose that Kristor means that forms are temporally prior rather than ontologically prior, yet you insist on writing as if that is what he means. If you object to the concept of something ontologically prior to time and space, restrict your objections to this.

      • I have addressed exactly this point, in my last paragraph above and in comments on other threads. Temporal priority has a pretty well-defined and agreed upon meaning. Ontological priority is a metaphorical construction that attempts to map this everyday notion of temporal ordering onto something else (and mixes it up with social hierarchy, that is, status-ordering). So “ontological priority” is a vague concept without a definite meaning.

        That’s not to say it is a worthless notion. Metaphors are great and we can’t live without them, but reasoning with metaphors produces more metaphors, not definite ironclad results. It’s not so much the idea of ontological priority that I object to as it is Kristor’s belief that he can construct rigorous formal arguments around it.

        If I can sum up the Kristor view, it is that there is a world of forms, which is prior to ordinary phenomenal reality. Not prior temporally, but prior in some other sense, perhaps more important or more foundational or something like that. This priority is so basic that nothing in reality can come into existence unless it already exists in formspace, but formspace contains every possible form so that isn’t a problem. Human invention and creativity (and I guess the biological versions of the same) consist in our ability to access formspace and bring some small set of those possible forms into reality.

        That doesn’t strike me as outrageously wrong, but perhaps not very useful. And it’s clearly a metaphor, because if formspace is anything at all it isn’t a separate world, but an integral part of the only one we actually have access to. Thinking about it as a separate world may be useful to some extent, but harmful in others. You can substitute whatever you like for “useful” and “harmful”, but I mean roughly “leading to an accurate model of reality” and its opposite.

      • That is a fair summary of my position, a.morphous. I would say by way of correction only that form-space is not so much an integral part of the one we actually have access to – although it is that, insofar as we do indeed have actual access to it – as vice versa.

        The ontological priority of the Logos over any contingent actual world lies in the fact that it is necessary and eternal, whereas contingent worlds are not; and in the fact that contingent worlds necessarily presuppose its actuality, but it does not presuppose theirs. This is not a merely metaphorical priority; it is logical. If a contingent world is not eternally possible, then as a matter of logic it cannot ever possibly come to pass.

      • Michael Hornum’s Introduction to Guthrie’s translation of Porphyry’s Launching Points to the Realm of Mind puts forth some good questions to materialists about the intelligibility of the material world if separated from the Demiurgic Intellect:

        In our society such misconceptions are even more prevalent. Platonism has been much maligned because the idea of an incorporeal, archetypical realm has been seen as merely the projection in our minds of sense objects, and thus less real than those objects. The materialist-positivist assumption that there are no such incorporeals and that the sense world is the summit of reality, however, has serious faults. The first is that mathematical consistency can be explained by the assumption that mental objects have an objective existence, while it cannot be demonstrated through purely formulist theories, as incompleteness theories have shown. This has led certain logicians and mathematicians, such as Kurt Gödel, to view mathematical entities as having an existence independent of the mind of the theorist. We do not create but discover them. A second difficulty is the obviously transitory nature of the moving, evolving physical universe in which all is born and perishes. This flux, down to the very shifts of minute particles such as molecules, atoms, and subatomics, make the supposed reality of the sense world quite fleeting. How can it be lauded as the only reality when its very essence is never quite the same? It cannot truly be said to “be” but only to “become,” and if the reality of something is defined by its essence, what are we to say of that which never really is something but is always becoming something else? If one accepts the idea that the universe, including ourselves, is completely in a state of flux, one has to wonder how we can experience the stable essence of an object enough to be able to define and delineate it from others, or how we can even postulate the eternal. Either not all here is in flux, which would contradict our basic assumption, or we must partake of something transcendent but present to the flux in order to experience or conceive of unchanging essence at all. Sense perception is not mistaken in recognizing the presence of some substantial essence in an object, but in attributing this to the physical object itself and not to the archetype behind it. These points, if certainly not sufficient by themselves to demonstrate the validity of the Platonic theory of Forms, do at least show that there are serious flaws in the common assumption about what is truly real and that ideas like those of “idealists” should not be so swiftly dismissed.

      • Just so. The difficulty that we have – we moderns, all of us, dyed in the wool – in reconciling the Realm of the Forms with the Realm of the Senses is that we tend to think of the former as insubstantial compared to the latter – less concrete, less immediate. It’s the other way round. The corporeality to which we are accustomed is thin and attenuated and evanescent compared to the corporeality of the Realm of the Forms. We think of that Realm as disembodied, when it is the Original Body. It is not a material body, true (for “material” means “capable of change,” ergo “incompletely actual”). Yet it is a body, a living, spiritual body, the hardest densest thing of all.

        Just as the mountain is invisible to the mayfly who lives a day at a pool in a river running down its foothills, so is the Realm of the Forms invisible to us – not in principle, but in practice, and as a matter of mental habit. The less a feature of reality changes, the less are we apt to notice it. Things that never change, that cannot change, are the hardest to notice.

        The trick to thinking of the Logos properly is to think of it as being just as “solid” as a hammer or a rock, but by contrast with them *utterly permanent.*

        The Heraclitean river is an apt metaphor here. The Realm of the Senses is the river. The Realm of the Forms is its bed, the groove in the mountain through which it flows – except that, unlike real land, which is subject to erosion and weathering, the Realm of the Forms is changeless. The river and its bed are both real, and together constitute an interactive system.

        The molecules of water roiling along in the river interact mostly with each other, and do not notice the unchanging bed, or the gravity that binds them to it, except when in their plunging they ram into it. Then they call it the Tao, the Natural Law, that forms the flux.

        There may of course be many rivers rolling down that mountain.

      • Incidentally, if you want to understand the priority of formal causes to their instantiations, you should check out the discussion on the necessity of causal powers in Feser’s “Scholastic Metaphysics.” I couldn’t do it justice with my thumbs, but the gist is that causal power must be inherent in the form even if the form is never actualized. In other words, the properties of forms and thus the forms themselves must be ontologically prior to their instantiations. Certainly, if forms exist then ontological priority must exist to the same extent.

      • One way to understand how causal power is inherent in forms is to realize that a form *just is* a tendency toward an actuality – is, i.e., a potentiality. This is easier to get by analogy with potential energy in physics: the potential energy of a rock at the top of a mountain *just is* its tendency to roll to the bottom of the valley. Unless it is somehow impeded, it *will* roll downhill.

        Forms then tend of themselves to actualize. To be a form is to urge instantiation. The ordaining constraint upon the infinitely variegated forms of the Logos is then a prevention of most more than it is a promotion of some. When Jesus says, “Let there be Light,” he is *allowing* Light – other sorts of things, presumably, are disallowed. He releases the light; it breaks forth, flows forth. In Genesis 1, God creates by a repeated separation and constraint of the forms.

        And this is how we can reconcile the classical doctrine of creatio ex nihilo with the notion of creation proposed by Jon Levenson as true to the Bible in his Creation and the Persistence of Evil, of creation as a constraint upon chaos that makes room for order. The two notions do not conflict. Jesus allows some forms to actualize, but not others. Absent his “fiat,” they might all in principle actualize in an unadulterated chaos. And, even given his limit on what may happen, the forms urge each their own instantiations, so that the instantiation of one ipso facto urges the instantiation of its neighbours in configuration space as a next proximal parsmonious move (sinful errant options being all adjacent to righteous alternatives in configuration space). Mere variation as history proceeds will then likely as not tend toward some Fall or other. Thus, the potential for evil, and for its persistence in history – its recrudescence, and the concupiscent tendency thereto – despite YHWH’s providential acts to correct and constrain it.

        Yet still, all the forms are necessarily well behaved in their aboriginal state within the Logos himself, in terms of which in the first place they have each their definitions and characters, their characteristic properties and propensities. So then must all things inevitably tend to an eschaton in which all forms find their proper complete fulfillment in actual things, and YHWH is all in all. The eventual complete victory of the Logos itself, in which all the forms are properly reconciled to each other and meted out in an actual world maximally beautiful and good, is logically assured.

  5. Kristor,
    While physicists and biologists may find it difficult to define “life”, a precise definition is available in classical philosophy–living things show immanent causation while non-living things do not.
    That is, living things show self-perfective bahavior. This is how living things are defined in classical philosophy.

    I do not understand terms like “infinite mind” or “finite mind”. To me, it is misleading language. The words “finite” or “infinite” have precise meaning in mathematics, but what do you mean by them here?

    If you mean infinite mind=omniscience then it may be better to translate it as all-knowing mind.

  6. Maybe the problem you and Amorphous are having is that you two don’t have a common definition of mind.

    Many reductionsists regard Mind as an aggregate by defintion. This solves, in their eyes, the problem of mind emerging from mindlessness. Daniel Dennett (if you can stand to read him for more than a few minutes), for instance, argues that even inanimate things like thermostats (his example) are instances of intentionality and ordered systems. The human mind works under the same principles but is far more complex. Therefore, mind as it occurs in dogs, cats, and even humans is merely a quantitative problem.

    Doesn’t at all satisfy, but that seems to be how they get out of the nihil fit argument.

    • Well, I’m pretty sure that intension is indeed intrinsic to being per se – that mind is at least minimally present in every instance of being – in which case yes, our minds would not be categorically different sorts of things than the rest of what appears to us. After all, the only evidence we have, and can have, of what it is like to be at all is our impression of what it is like to be us. We have exactly zero evidence that there is any other way to be than intensionally. Prima facie, then, it would seem that what intension is like to us would be more or less what it is like to be finally caused.

      This notion (together with a few others) does go far to eliminating the mind/body problem introduced to Western philosophy by Descartes.

      But it doesn’t work as a means of escape from ex nihilo nihil fit. Even if being in our universe – or even in all possible universes – is essentially mental (at least to some minimal degree), the question remains whether the source and basis of this (or any) universe is likewise mental. Under nemo dat quod non habet, the answer must be yes: you can’t get a mental universe out of mindlessness.

      • “mind is at least minimally present in every instance of being”
        Is this a conclusion from Thomism or your personal preference or some other philosophy –shades of Leibeinz’s monads?

      • It is mostly an intuition, borne out of just the reflection I adduce in my last comment: the only evidence we can possibly have about what it means to be is our evidence of what it means to be us – and we are intensional.

        Intension – meaning, “aboutness” – looks awfully like the inward aspect of finality. It looks as though meaning is what it is like to be finally caused. Our acts of being are taken in respect to their actual past, to be sure, and that past is not their product but their datum. Our acts have their meanings to us in respect to the meanings we take from their past. Nevertheless the meaning we take from our past is never blind to the meanings we intend in our acts. We will and do in respect to the meanings we take from what has happened, but also we take those meanings in terms of what we would will and do. Thus the final meaning of our past is always a function of what we will and do in fact. Each new moment reinterprets the past, and proposes to its future some new meaning.

        In and for itself, the past is indifferent to what future moments of becoming make of it, for since from its perspective such futurities are as yet simply inactual, it cannot reckon them at all (leaving aside such data about its future as it may glean from its encounter with the Logos and his knowledge thereof). But for any moment of becoming, its past is past at all *only* as datum for its own final end – its past *just is,* and *only is,* that datum. No entity can know any other except as a datum of its knowing. Thus for every entity its past is such only precisely *as its own:* i.e., only as ordered toward its own final end.

        Accepting the Aristotelico-Thomistic proposition that all things are finally caused, then, perhaps all things are intensional. Perhaps, i.e., there is to all things an inward aspect of their finality, as well as an outward. It is hard to see how it could be otherwise: how do you get an outside of something that has no inside? Or, alternatively, what could it mean to say that a certain congeries of properties really do inhere in some object outwardly – i.e., to our apprehension of it qua object – if they do not really inhere in it inwardly – i.e., in and of, and for, itself? How could there be true extension without intension?

        Certainly we may say that all things are about other things. We may – and, as it turns out, well can – treat even of ‘merely’ physical transactions as exchanges of information between entities. How could information inform if it meant nothing to the receiver – if, i.e., it was to that receiver nowise a signal, but rather nothing but noise – if, i.e., it was not information in the first place? Modulation, NB, does not by itself suffice to overcome this difficulty: you can’t modulate noise into signal. Ditto for signal processing: no signal, no signal processing.

        A natural (to me) next step: causation essentially boils down to aboutness, and causal relations among things are the ways that they are about each other.

        None of this is in conflict either with Aristotle and Thomas on the one hand, or with Leibniz and Whitehead on the other. I personally have no difficulty reconciling the four of them. The trick is to stop thinking of corporeal things as inert compositions of dead stuff that has only Cartesian extension. Then you can understand each of these four thinkers (and many others, too, including Newton and the Platonists) quite well in terms of each other. Indeed, it was hard for me to understand any of them at all, until I stepped outside of Cartesian dualism.

        I hasten to add also that none of this is to be taken to mean that all things have experiences as complex as ours. It suggests only that the most fundamental aspect of experience as such – the thing that makes every experience an experience in the first place – might be what it is like to interact causally with a world. But on the other hand we ought nevertheless to recall humbly that we have no idea how rich or complex the experience of a cell might be. Or any other entity.

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