Aquinas in the Quarta Via argues that there must be something that is most true, best, etc. and most of all being. The reason for this is due to the fact that "magis et minus dicuntur de diversis secundum quod appropinquant diversimode ad aliquid quod maxime est, sicut magis calidum est, quod magis appropinquat maxime calido. "

Why is it that more and less must be said with reference this sort of necessarily existing maximum?

It seems to me that it is inadequate to say it is in the very meaning of relatives that there be an external exemplar, due to the fact that a further argument is needed to manifest that the proposed exemplar measure is more than something arbitrarily posited.

I am not clear about how such an argument would be conducted to answer my question generally. However, it is unwise to ignore the examples given in the argument: good, true, noble, "et sic de aliis huiusmodi." So I would like to propose an argument I recently encountered that I think satisfactorily answers my question in the case of the good. It is still fresh in my mind and I apologize for the lack of formality in my formulation....

Here it is:
-It is the nature of the good not to be limited in its essence.
-Those things which have the good in a limited way therefore do not possess goodness by their essence.
-If it is not from a thing's nature to possess the good, i.e. its essence is not the cause of its goodness, then there must be some other cause whereby it possesses the good.
-This cause either must possess the good in a greater, but similar manner as said things, and is subject to the same explanation, or it must possess the good in an essential way.
-The former case may not go on infinitely.
-That which possesses the good in an essential way therefore possesses the good in an unlimited way.
-And surely to possess any thing in an unlimited way is the maximum or most way it can be possessed.

Therefore, etc. (Corollary: it also seems you could argue similarly with the other examples)

My next question is: What exactly is the common ratio of the aliis huiusmodi? Are they all transcendentals?

Secondly, where in Aristotle and Aquinas is there a greater explanation of these things (I think I should have asked this long ago...)?

Thirdly, is there an answer to my general question posed above?

A recent difficulty was posed in an article entitled "Aquinas and Newton on the Causality of Nature and of God: The Medieval and Modern Problematic" by William Wallace, which I was assigned for a Natural Theology class I am taking. The article states a difficulty about the role of the efficient cause in nature I was hoping to get some help resolving.

He argues, in conformity to Physics II.2, that nature in Aristotle is obviously argued to be a cause formally and materially, and later also argued to be a final cause insofar as it is a telos in II.8. However he contest, despite the obvious numbering of efficient cause by Aristotle in II.3, that Aristotle does not argue that "nature acts as an efficient cause." There is an obvious exception, shown in the De Anima, where the soul is a sort of self-moving efficient cause. But he contest that there is no account of natural efficient causality amongst the non-living. There seems to be some ground for this position, he holds, for the principle "Omnes quod movetur ab alio movetur" seems to assume it, and Aristotle clearly takes up this principle later in Physics VII.

The other qualification is that natural things obviously, self-evidently in fact, are the efficient cause with respect to moving other things, c.f. I-I q.2 art 3. So the question lies more in the role efficient causality plays as an intrinsic cause of some natural being, say, for the sake of contention, a falling ball.



Dull sublunary lovers’ love

A deuely dele in my heart denned

He dein’d cam with wind wavis stille

With heart whose love twas innocent

Glad Hesper o’er buried Phob'

Shone forth bout wan wood mine

Stille resteth sae, O empeyreal skye

Nae tremblith (effraide –alarmed)my brest pro thine

Late weary waited I through wayward thought

Stir hartiness for my heart and yet I the hind

In close awayt for that hew

O Orpheus bid that forest move!

The forward footing tward an hidden shade

Vertue gives her selfe light, through darkenesse for to wade

My self prepayre for he is coming strayt

With naked foot he softly step

to I in chamber made wait

He doth dripth aryse fayre love

Lyllies born rusl’ed feth turtledoeve

Song Thousand shield coateh waitih grove

Strong An gartheth lions pomegrans

Mandrakes long give foth fragrance

And thus did they depart


Line 1: From Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”

Line 2: From “Pearl” by unknown 14th century author: “Me in the doleful dread and bound”

Line 3: C.f. "I Sing of a Maiden”

Line 6: Evening star

Line 7: Wan =dark

Line 12: Note puns on hartiness; hart = male dear, and hind = female deer

Line 13: close/awayt = secret/ambush

Line 13: hew = form

Line 14: Orpheus was the son of the muse Calliope. His music was said to charm wild animals and makes stones and trees move.

Line 17: Direct quote from Spencer- I think from F.Q.

The following is a re-articulation of an online dialectic I gave for the existence of concepts as part of the experience of 'thought.' It was given to an unusual audience of self-described material atheists and agnostics within a very casual forum. It is “just an introduction to my ideas of mind and concepts” to such an audience and I was not interested in pointing out the scientific (or unscientific) nature of the arguments given (in the sense of episteme in Posterior Analytics Bk. 1, 2). More specifically, I try merely to manifest, describe, and explain basic properties of a part of the conscious experience- touching on science but as a philosopher. Given the audience, the arguments are correspondingly somewhat atypical in form and matter for its subject, at least for those from the same school of thought, namely Thomism, as I the author. I am posting it with the hope that such like minds may provide their estimation of the essay’s veracity.

To begin, I will take the term ‘thought’ vaguely here, and am not in any way excluding it to humans or even primates (that issue is outside of my prerogative). Also, I want to leave behind certain arcane and stinging-sounding terms that for my purposes would be more of a distraction than an aid. I am here deliberately absconding from describing the phenomenon at hand as being 'of the soul.' 'Soul' for the Greeks really didn't commonly mean more that 'principle of living (or principle of any certain operation of life, such as thought) and it just doesn't mean the same nowadays, now it is something far more specific and kooky. I think there is a need to recognize the phenomenon of thought vaguely. So take thought here as merely the discursive process where the conscious 'mind' beholds something outside itself (or itself as outside itself). Let's begin with an example.

Think about a cat. Obviously you have some image of a cat. Was it fat or skinny? Say it was skinny. Does that mean a fat cat is not a cat? It would seem that you would still call a fat cat a cat. In fact, if I told you to think of, oh, five cats, one of them probably would have been fatter or skinnier that the other. Suppose, after a bit of reflection, we may see, at least for the sake of argument, that our thoughts about cats include a certain limit to their dimension. At this point we leave the cats behind. Consider that the range of size itself conceptualized does not have a greater dimension. A two foot thing is bigger than a one foot thing. But is a notion of 'two' a bigger one than 'one?' There would seem to be something nonsensical (pardon the double entendre) to about notions being a strictly measurable thing in the first place, and one notion would not measure the other as a notion with respect to size. These so called 'notions' or 'concepts' are the part of thought I am interested in.

This dialectic is certainly inconclusive but I think it also points to something described in another ubiquitously pragmatic neurological pretext as the "storage" problem. A 'concept,' just considering the meaning of the word, is a perplexing thing. They're abstract: 'two-ness' itself isn't simply found as 'two-ness' in any thing's definition. Further, they're common. Taking their meaning alone, their common or universal: "Two-ness" explains any case of 'two,' i.e. you can find them in any appropriately applicable case. How does would an abstract, common thing come from something that is has quite concrete operations, and is particular?

Some, as far as I can tell, mainstream neurobiologist seems to be open to the idea of concepts being at least a very unusual case (according to my neophyte understanding). It is true, that many particular cases of brain operations such as the neural processes behind discernment, reportability, perception, etc are rapidly being explained by neuroscience. But one example of the neurobiology papers I have encountered that notices the peculiarity of concepts (Semantic Memory and the Brain: Structure and Process, by Alex Martin and Linda Chao, found in Current Opinion in Neurobiology 11, 2001) states the problem this way:

Clearly it would be difficult, as well as unwise, to argue that there is a 'chair area' in the brain. There are simply too many categories, and too little neural space to accommodate discrete, category-specific modules for every category. In fact, there is no limit on the number of object categories.
If you think about this, if it is true, it is strange. The claim is that loci in the brain for categorical thought are limited by the fact that the brain itself is limited by what it is. Even more paradoxically, it seems we are able to know a potential infinity of categories of concepts, each category containing therein an infinite number of its own exemplars. Take as an example that there is no limit to how many geometrical figures one could learn, and one can easily imagine an infinity number of any one of those figures, as a case take a circle and continuously extend it's radius). In other words, there is no saying "my brain is full" like the Far Side cartoon. I think it is a sufficient to show that, but not why, there is really is such an infinite is a possibility of mind just by considering such aforementioned geometrical cases, or a case of infinite conjunction (there is something algorithmic about it, actually). See Noam Chomsky's comments on this "creativity" in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Ch. 1.

Another difficulty with concepts is from the property of simplicity that is found in certain concepts. Consider the first and most fundamental act of the mind, sometimes referred to as the simplex apprehensio. In this act the mind first apprehends merely that something is. Contextual examples or illustration is the only means of describing this concept. That is, seeing something as a "this" prior to any sort of defining. Suppose that a neuroscientist claimed to explain a concept 'black dog' via showing how the parts of the meaning were spatially distributed and correlated in different sectors of the brain; i.e. black is at location A, dog is at location B, and the relation (be it some mediation or overlapping cortical regions) between the two give rise to the concept of 'black dog.' Would the concept of unity understood in the unity of the words also be "overlapping?" I think with this explanation you run into a similar situation that Plato was criticized for in Aristotle's 'third man argument,' where an explanation leads the fact that another 'overlap' would be needed to distinguish how the 'black dog' and 'unity' are both 'one', et cetera ad infinitum. Scientifically speaking, how conceptualization may differ in kind from imagining, memory, or other related processes which, to my knowledge, has been shown to have a direct correlation to brain activity might be elaborated on by the argument above. I admit again, however, that my neurobiological knowledge is nothing really more than what I have studied on my own, and I imagine this isn't at all responding to other opposite positions regarding the status of mind in neurobiology.

Of course the greater historical dispute of how concepts seem to differ from other significant mental beings or processes, such as those often related to imagination, has long (even all the way back to the pre-Socratics) taken place is in the philosophical sciences. Hume, as you well know, was the main advocate of conflating concepts and images and making them the same thing fundamentally. I'd like here to provide a brief response to his position. First of all, it seems to me easy to see that, at least at first appearance, there is a difference in speech of 'a cat' and 'what it is to be a cat (whatever that may be)'. The difference is this: that in the first case there is only one example you can give, and in the second there is an indefinite. This can be seen even easier if you consider 'some two,' say two feet, and 'two' as something that is said of many. I am deliberate in using 'said' here because the case seems indisputable as a linguistic phenomenon. We simply speak this way. Moreover, what is understood when a word that can be said of many things is that (at least with the basic definition of the word being applied) it retains its meaning in any case it could be applied to.

Hume's reply is that this 'universalizing' is merely a linguistic convenience, useful for commerce and conversation, but what really is happening in the mind is merely a compiling of particular cases; lining them up, if you will. To me this somewhat misses the point (not to deny it has been developed to a more powerful position by analytic philosophy). To quote his Enquiry, Section 12, 1:
Let any man try to conceive of triangle in general, which is neither Isosceles nor Scalene, nor has any particular length or proportion of sides; and he will soon perceive the absurdity of all the scholastic notions with regard to abstraction and general ideas.
Actually, if there is to be any science at all that is not tautological generalization must happen. Algebra is a great example of how science per se in some way general. However, I think the better response is in the simple fact that thought doesn't ordinarily differ from speech. Our thoughts are in fact the source of meaning in the words we use, and we speak abstractly. Really, whose interior monologue is really different that how they speak?

The analytic philosophers here raise the more fundamental objection to abstract thought. They are permissive of my reply, but then ask coyly, 'but what makes the thoughts anything more than words?' The more despondent of the analytics (including, I think, the late Wittgenstein) end up thinking there is nothing more than words and their proported 'meanings,' which are also just words - amounting to scepticism.

There are a few different ways to counter to this argument. One way that I will not attempt here would be to appeal to the first principles of knowledge; such as the fact there is a self-contradicting incoherence in their claim (or non-claim, for that matter) that is meaningful that concepts are mere convention. This works for me, but the fleshed out argument is very involved, has gotten massive attention by most of the history of philosophy's 'big guns' whom I would be obliged to consider, and may come up anyway if and when we ever discuss Kant. Rather, I'd like to give an argument derived from a discussion Kripke has considering a problem first posed by Wittgenstein.

Suppose your math teacher asks you do a computation you have never done, say 68+57. Suppose further in adding you have never arrived at a solution over 57. You add and get 125, mathematically and metalinguistically correct; metalinguistically meaning just the '+' was the same function you intended the same meaning you always have when you add. But the skeptic classmate to your conclusion and insist that if you really had intended the same function you would have said 68+57= 5. Obviously this doesn't seem right. But the skeptic argues that you couldn't have given yourself perfectly explicit instructions that 125 is the answer here, by hypothesis. What you are doing is applying the rule you have used when adding in the past, and hence you have only instantiated the rule a finite number of times. Further, he continues, in previous operations, the function you were denoting by a '+' was actually a '£,' which will derive the sum x and y if x and y are >57, but will solve with a '5' if otherwise. So, he would conclude, you were not actually using '+,' you were using '£.' To clarify, the skeptic is not asking "How do you know that 68+57= 125?" Rather the question is "How do you know that in '68+57' the '+' used in the past will denote 125? Perhaps before, he will claim, you meant '£,' and so 68+57= 5. You know this is wrong and scour the past usages of '+,' all with sums less than 57. But you find that the facts of your past usages are compatible with either sign. This is when a different matter of fact occurs to you. You are able to articulate the rule of addition, without having to utilize in that definition any particular case. But in order for you to claim this, the fact must be apart from the particular instances you have done. This is not to deny you may have arrived at the fact in someway via dealing with cases of adding. But it also is to say that at some point you saw something behind the cases you had to deal with. The solution hence lies in the fact that we understand what we mean-- despite the fact that material cases of our thought do not disambiguate them from meanings distinct from, but close to, the thoughts intended. I think this is a big deal. The same physical structures instantiate different functions (Tangentially, super computer processes, have brought this more to light, with chess and other examples) but only via the usage of concepts does one disambiguate.

So if I were to summarize my points so far I suppose I would say that the phenomenon of concepts has unusual and distinctive qualities that require explanation. I think a lot of time could be spent disputing and defending even what I have said. Some of the conclusions that would follow from the properties of concepts I have elucidated are also quite contentious, as you probably can infer. It strikes me something like getting groceries at the market; you don't need to be in the market while having them just because you needed the market to get them in the first place. Perhaps such an explanation is needed for concepts too. I wish I knew science better. But now I'm rambling.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home