Thursday, October 26, 2006

Aquinas on causality: follow up.

Share/Bookmark (Continued from "Aquinas on Causality: Any Recommendations?")

I'm particualry interested in formal causation as I'm discussing the soul and the non-life to life problem with a few materialists who dont think formal causation exists.

Ok, I see! So you're interested in formal (and material) causality as it relates to philosophical psychology. Then I'd say:

1) Fr. H. D. Gardeil's volume on Psychology (vol. 3), chapter 1-3, especially 2. There he provides a critique of "mechanism" too, which is a version of materialism.

2) D.Q. McInerny's book on Philosophical Psychology should be helpful if you don't have access to Gardeil.

3) Aquinas, "Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima," Book I, Ch. 5, contains the fundamental treatise on this issue.

4) Aquinas, ST I.75-76, especially 75.1. This is the solution to your problem in a nutshell.

5) Robert Pasnau, "Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature," chs. 1-3, especially 3.

Pasnau is by no means a traditional Thomist (he's way too avant-garde for me) but he has an interesting approach that might help you refute materialism in a convincing way.

But instead of just giving you references, I'd also like to lead you in the right direction, philosophically.

The crux of the problem is: Bare matter, by itself, is chaotic, mere stuff. The living matter within an organism is not bare, crude matter. It operates in a unified way, organically. So living matter is bare matter plus organic unity. And bare matter cannot cause itself to have organic unity--otherwise everything would be alive--so there must be something which gives it organic unity. What could be giving it its unity? What is this "principle of organic unification" (POU)? If the materialists are right, then the POU is itself material--because for them everything is material. But if the POU is itself made out of matter, then it must be asked: what provides organic unification for the matter out of which the POU is made? If you posit another material POU then you'll eventually run into an infinite and pointless regress. So ultimately we must posit a POU which is not itself dependent on another POU, that is, one which is not material. This is what we call "anima" as in "animating principle." (Some people call it "soul," but by this we need not understand some ghostly floaty thing that lives "caged" inside the body. Rather, the "anima" is simply the "first POU.")

This is basically the argument in ST I.75.1, where he concludes that "the soul is not a body", i.e., the soul is not a material POU, but an immaterial one.


Anonymous said...

You wrote, "Bare matter, by itself, is chaotic, mere stuff. The living matter within an organism is not bare, crude matter. It operates in a unified way, organically."

What reason is there to believe that "bare matter" is "chaotic" or "mere stuff"? And what does it mean that it is "chaotic" or "mere stuff"? Are you speaking of elementary physical particles, or of "matter" as in "form versus matter"?

Matter in the sense of isolated atoms, or more elementary particles, behave in orderly ways, yet are not organic by themselves. But why can't they, in interacting with each other in very large numbers behave organically as a collection, that is: in a certain orderly way which emerges from and is based upon the orderliness of the indiviual particles, but which is, in part, unlike the orderliness of the individual particles in that it is an orderliness of the collective interaction of them? And all this without the need for an added POU? A rock does not have organic unity, but it does have properties as an interacting collection of elementary particles that its individual elementary particles don't have. Perhaps it will function as a effective paperweight, while an isolated silicon atom won't. So why can't a dog be nothing more than such a collection of elementary particles with certain emergent, collective properties (which we have come to call "organic") that emerge from the locally orderly interaction of its lawfully-behaving member particles?

If a rock can have properties its elements don't, without the need for the analog of a POU, then why can't a dog have properties--organic properties--its elements don't, without the need for a POU?

Francisco Romero-Carrasquillo said...

By matter I don't mean particles (as you implied, particles are not chaotic stuff, but ORGANIZED stuff). No, I mean the stuff out of which the most elementary particles are made. Bare stuff. It is a concept that can only be conceived, but never found in the real world, because, as Aristotle and Aquinas teach, matter is always found in conjunction with form.

So, when I say "bare matter," by definition I mean "bare stuff" without the organization that we typically find in conjunction with it. That is the very definition of "prime matter" in Aristotelian-Scholastic thought.

Your rock-objection against the POU in an organism is interesting. However, I think it does not stand. The rock does not have any intrinsic unity. The particles of the rock each behave in its own way. Each tends to go down (towards the Earth), for instance. It is only the sheer quantity of particles that makes the difference in behavior between one particle and a whole bunch of them. They are not working together. There is nothing that the particles are aiming to accomplish. They each have a nature and they each act in their own way, independently from each other. They each tend to go down and, given their number, they cause a relatively larger force than a single particle. So there is no unity in their activity, except for the fact that they all adhere together to form one solid body. It cannot be said that the particles operates to attain a goal beyond itself. If we cracked the rock in half, the rock would still be a rock, and it would still weigh the same. The particles would behave pretty much in the same way.

With the dog, however, everything is very different. The heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, bones, blood vessels, etc. are all aiming to work in unison for one single end: the survival and thriving of the individual dog and, ultimately, of the race. A living blood cell outside of the dog behaves differently from when it is in the dog. Inside the dog, it contributes to the nutritional, immunological, regenerational, (etc.) activities of the dog, whereas outside of the dog it does not do any of this. Each cell in the dog operates for a goal beyond itself.

It is no mere convention that we call some things "organisms" and others not. It is not an arbitrary nomination, but one that reflects the world of nature.

As Aquinas argues, if all it took for somethign to be alive is that it had matter, then all material things would be alive! No, it takes more than just matter for something to live; it takes organic unity as well, which can only be caused by a POU--which is something altogether different from matter.