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  • Essence/Existence distinction

    I need help in understanding this topic. Currently I don´t have any position on this topic, but this is also why I hesitate to say that there needs to be something which holds my existence up. As I understand it in Fregean or Russellian notions of existence there is no such problems, but I worry that thereby the process of dying is made fundamentally unintelligible, since when there is nothing like existence getting lost once my body dies, it seems like one would have to have a fundamentally reductionistic account of the body, since dying would merely be the relocation of matter. I currently try to find Vallicella´s post on Geachs argument for it, which he supports.
    To reformulate it in aristotelian terms: How do I know that there is really a potential which has to be actualized when it comes to existence and how can I defend that against existential eliminativists?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Kwlsk View Post
    How do I know that there is really a potential which has to be actualized when it comes to existence and how can I defend that against existential eliminativists?
    Presumably since the act/potency distinction is mentioned, both sides have a good understanding of that in terms of the principle of causality with regards to change. Briefly, that nothing changes itself follows immediately from what change is: the actualization of a potential.

    Regarding defending against the "existential eliminativists" I see the objector is not using the act/potency distinction. So we might begin by stating the question in a yes/no form, stating the opposing argument in its strongest form (preferably in a syllogism), our argument to the contrary, and finally a rebuttal of the opposing argument.


    In outline:

    Question: do mobile things posess existential inertia?

    According to Newton's law of inertia, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Do things posess an existential inertia analogous to physical inertia, whereby having begun to be they go on being without a sustaining cause? Or do they lack it, in which case just as a lung collapses without a continuous supply of air, so things would collapse instantly into non-existence, without a continual sustaining cause?


    Objection 1. It seems mobile things posess existential inertia. For <fill in the opposing argument>

    On the contrary, it is evident mobile things lack existential inertia. For what is mobile either begins to be, or not. Certainly that which begins to be is in potency to existence, since whatever begins to be does so by another which already is, for it is indifferent with regard to either alternative. But in terms of existing, the first moment is no different than any other, because that which changes persists throughout its change. Therefore whatever begins to be depends continually on another to sustain it in being. As for an everlasting mobile thing, <insert argument>



    Reply objection 1: <rebut objection 1, often by distinguishing terms>
    Last edited by Awostenberg; 09-08-2019, 10:03 PM.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Kwlsk View Post
      I need help in understanding this topic. Currently I don´t have any position on this topic, but this is also why I hesitate to say that there needs to be something which holds my existence up. As I understand it in Fregean or Russellian notions of existence there is no such problems, but I worry that thereby the process of dying is made fundamentally unintelligible, since when there is nothing like existence getting lost once my body dies, it seems like one would have to have a fundamentally reductionistic account of the body, since dying would merely be the relocation of matter. I currently try to find Vallicella´s post on Geachs argument for it, which he supports.
      To reformulate it in aristotelian terms: How do I know that there is really a potential which has to be actualized when it comes to existence and how can I defend that against existential eliminativists?
      Well I would think you would need to be a realist about essences for living beings which for the Scholastic stand in potency to existence. Essences introduce the idea of metaphysical wholes that are unable to be accurately captured in their quiddity by an analysis of individual material constituents.
      Last edited by RomanJoe; 09-09-2019, 03:34 PM.

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      • #4
        You can first focus on essences. There are such things as essences, what a thing is, and clearly there is a difference between what things are and *that* they are. Our minds can correctly grasp what a unicorn is without knowing if it exists. And if, like me, you share Aristotle's main intuition that such apparently abstract facts are grounded in real, concrete reality, then it follows that there must be something which, in a way, grounds the whatness and the thatness of things. Essence and existence. And it can in any case be argued that the best explanation for abstract facts are generally to be found in real, concrete entities with which we are beter acquainted with. Essence and existence make better sense of the whatness/thatness distinction than other views.

        Or you can take the way of the act/potency distinction for existence. There are many contingent things, things which could have failed to exist. But how is that so? Again, if you share Aristotle's intuition, or just look for a better explanation for this kind of alethic modality (what makes it true that things are contingent?), you will soon find that act/potency make sense of contingency. Things are contingent because even if they exist they really just so happe to be an actualized potency.

        And also, quite apart from that, existential inertia just seems totally ad hoc for contingent things. If they need not have existed, why would it be necessary for them to remain in existence once they exist?

        In face of these issues, I don't think "existential eliminativism" has any plausibility.

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks guys. Admittedly at the moment I ám in a state of flux and punished by doubt which I can´t even really explain. I don´t see how a universe without necessary being, which has the divine attributes (though I´d follow Aquinas and Davies here with not "moral" but ontological goodness) could make any sense but I suppose the vast disagreements are a heavy hurdle for me. For learning I regularly read the old forum and my problem is that although the vast majority there and here are classical theists the fact that there is next to none agreement is strange when one wants to present it as a rational solution. I listened to Almeidas "Closer to truth" video the other day where he presented a highly abstract answer to the modal problem of evil. I have never foiund the PoE to be that much of a problem, I always assumed that when there is something we recognize as good there necessarily has to be the counterpart evil, otherwise the statement "A is good" is meaningless. But my fear is that I am possibly wrong and underestimating the difficulty the problem poses. Other issues are that I don´t really see anymore how the thomistic school can be correct with all the additional metaphysical concepts it needs, e.g. prime matter.
          This puts me in the strange position that I am convinced particularly by the fifth way, but I don´t know how to make it run if the conclusion, God in an extreme form of divine simplicity, is seemingly incoherent. This is also the reason why I don´t hold to any of the first three ways anymore as providing rational answers, because Thomism looks to be ultimately wrong. And I´d say the strongest argument is by far the rationalist argument from the PSR, but although it seems to be obvious, the way it is talked about it seems that many think it can´t be true on an ontological level: https://www.academia.edu/18591080/Th...ficient_Reason
          I mean for example if the PSR itself can´t be true, then Pruss´s and Gale´s WPSR or WWPSR also can´t be true since the latter entail the former. Is there another defense of a rationalist argument where the strong PSR isn´t the logical consequence? An argument that you yourself judge to be good? (Btw his book on the PSR is on the way)

          I´m sorry for my rambling guys. But in my family runs mental health problems and I can´t bring myself to read anymore books or learn for the university until I can resolve that issue to some degree. I even stopped my conversion for now. So maybe you could provide some other resources to look at. DanielCC I´m also asking you since you yourself are convinced that Thomism is ultimately wrong, maybe you could give some advice. The fact that it has been often said that Feser doesn´t sufficiently engage with crititcs in his books has prevented me from reading "Five Proofs" any further.

          Once again guys, I´m sorry. But I also didn´t know any better place to write that down.


          E: Wow, I sound pathetic. I let that stand anyway.
          Last edited by Kwlsk; 09-10-2019, 12:02 AM.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Kwlsk View Post
            Thanks guys. Admittedly at the moment I ám in a state of flux and punished by doubt which I can´t even really explain. I don´t see how a universe without necessary being, which has the divine attributes (though I´d follow Aquinas and Davies here with not "moral" but ontological goodness) could make any sense but I suppose the vast disagreements are a heavy hurdle for me. For learning I regularly read the old forum and my problem is that although the vast majority there and here are classical theists the fact that there is next to none agreement is strange when one wants to present it as a rational solution. I listened to Almeidas "Closer to truth" video the other day where he presented a highly abstract answer to the modal problem of evil. I have never foiund the PoE to be that much of a problem, I always assumed that when there is something we recognize as good there necessarily has to be the counterpart evil, otherwise the statement "A is good" is meaningless. But my fear is that I am possibly wrong and underestimating the difficulty the problem poses. Other issues are that I don´t really see anymore how the thomistic school can be correct with all the additional metaphysical concepts it needs, e.g. prime matter.
            This puts me in the strange position that I am convinced particularly by the fifth way, but I don´t know how to make it run if the conclusion, God in an extreme form of divine simplicity, is seemingly incoherent. This is also the reason why I don´t hold to any of the first three ways anymore as providing rational answers, because Thomism looks to be ultimately wrong. And I´d say the strongest argument is by far the rationalist argument from the PSR, but although it seems to be obvious, the way it is talked about it seems that many think it can´t be true on an ontological level: https://www.academia.edu/18591080/Th...ficient_Reason
            I mean for example if the PSR itself can´t be true, then Pruss´s and Gale´s WPSR or WWPSR also can´t be true since the latter entail the former. Is there another defense of a rationalist argument where the strong PSR isn´t the logical consequence? An argument that you yourself judge to be good? (Btw his book on the PSR is on the way)

            I´m sorry for my rambling guys. But in my family runs mental health problems and I can´t bring myself to read anymore books or learn for the university until I can resolve that issue to some degree. I even stopped my conversion for now. So maybe you could provide some other resources to look at. DanielCC I´m also asking you since you yourself are convinced that Thomism is ultimately wrong, maybe you could give some advice. The fact that it has been often said that Feser doesn´t sufficiently engage with crititcs in his books has prevented me from reading "Five Proofs" any further.

            Once again guys, I´m sorry. But I also didn´t know any better place to write that down.
            You don't need to be a full-blown Thomist, Aristotelian, Leibnizian, Scotist, etc. One can't fully grasp an entire metaphysical system overnight, and you will find yourself bouncing back and forth with their ideas. I don't call myself a Thomist or a scholastic, though I sympathize with a lot of Thomist and scholastic ideas. During certain times of the day I fall into a comfortable agnosticism, or a general ignorance of philosophy. The mind is fickle and rarely finds rest. But as long as I feel like I'm aiming towards truth I am usually satisfied.

            Maybe meditate on some Stoic philosophy? I've found the Stoics to be very helpful with anxiety and obsessive thoughts (Epictetus and Seneca are the best ones IMO). I also used to be in a state where I felt as if my worldview was constantly teetering on the edge of annihilation. It wasn't uncommon for me to frustratingly spend hours of my day trying to find the answers to some obscure philosophical question that I delusionally believed was critical to my entire notion of reality. I remember back in college when I had a panic attack and even slipped into an awful bout of nihilism because I thought a 700 page academic defense of Christ's resurrection I was reading didn't make an airtight case. Little did I know, I was harboring a lot of defective thought patterns. Studying CBT and discovering the Stoic philosophers has been a huge help. Also being open to a general skepticism by not framing it as some monstrous thing has helped too.

            I find truth in the idea of the Jungian shadow. I think we sometimes fail to fully accept our inner-skepticism and intellectual ignorance, labeling them as wrong, heretical, harmful, etc. But doing this is foolish and often these probing thoughts become acidic when they aren't embraced. I used to fear that at every corner there was one more objection, one more bullet to shatter my worldview. I felt like I was in a dark forest trying my best to stay on the path, yet always fearful of lurking eyes watching me, ready to destroy me.
            ​​​​​
            ​​​​

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            • #7
              Consensus or agreement is a HORRIBLE way to judge philosophical ideas, especially today, in the age of contemporary analytic philosophy - when we have a profession that is all about being highly specialized in finding every possible way to challenge any philosophical thesis. There isn't even perfect agreement about whether we are conscious or not; eliminativists exist and have written very interesting books and arguments defending a position, including developig technical defenses against charges of incoherence and so on. But this doesn't change the fact that eliminativism is retarded, of course.

              And for what it is worth, that the universe cannot exist without a divine necessary being has been the consensus of Aristotle, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Leibniz, Samuel Clarke, and so on.

              I don't know what you are trying to convince yourself of. Are you trying to become a thomist? Why? I consider myself a thomist and I think that, by far, thomistic metaphysics makes better sense of reality (that includes act/potency, essence/existence, prime mattr, and so on). But this isn't super important to me - while theism and christianity, by contrast, are super important to me -, I just so happen to think that thomism really has gotten closer to the truth than any other metaphysical school. Sometimes I find this conclusion quite boring, because I myself am more immersed in analytic philosophy and care more about it than traditional, hardcore thomism. It just so happens that I really am convinced that a broadly thomistic metaphysic is correct.
              As I mentioned, I think act/potency, essence/existence etc it both best explain the data we have (change; the grounding of contingency; and so on) and best accord with Aristotelian intuitions which I find very plausible. I am aware of objections but none of them seem to come close to the positive reasons in favor of the concepts. If you reject the real distinction or potency/act as applied to existence, then you have to think of how you could even possibly make sense of all that stuff (such as what grounds or makes something contingent rather than necessary); good luck with that, I know I personally am very convinced the thomistic concepts are the better ones.

              Are you just trying to find a rational justification for theism? If so, then you do not need thomism at all. Thomism is certainly helpful for that, but it is obviously not a requirement. Doesn't mean you'd automatically become a theistic "personalist" either (which is a somewhat stupid dispute, to be honest. I know there are reasons to care about this, and I am a die-hard believer in divine simplicity, but people often exaggerate the disagreements. Most theistic analytic philosophers aren't even really commited to any "personalism", they are more interested in other discussions anyway).

              I am convinced Aquinas's first three ways are sound, but my favorite cosmological argument has always been the rationalist one. It just gets straight to the point. And there really is no way around it: either we have a necessary foundation of existence, or we have a brute fact and contingent things just magically exist instead of nothing with no explanation whatsoever. You just have to reflect on that and think of what seems more reasonable to you. These days I don't care much about arguing about PSR, since it is self-evident to me, and (for some reason) there will always be some people who reject self-evident truths (even stuff such as LEM and PNC); but for those who don't share the intuition and question the principle, I really think they are in HUGE trouble when it comes to coherently keeping a PSR for ordinary events, science, and so on.

              If WWPSR entails PSR, that would (in my view) be a good argument FOR the PSR. But in any case, leibnizian style cosmological arguments do not all require either strong PSR or even WWPSR. We can use principles of explanation for contingent existents (for instance: any existing contingent thing or things, there is an explanation for why these things exist) and even modal versions which do not entail WWPSR or anything (for instance, it is possible that there is an explanation for a totality of contingent things. Google Joshua Rasmussen and Christopher Weaver's "why is there something rather than nothing?" Article).

              If you find yourself suffering from too much epistemic anxiety, I'd also suggest you to explore abductive and inductive cases for theism and Christianity. These eschew the anxiety about certainty and deductions, and still present compelling arguments. Not to sound like a triumphalist asshole or anything, but I really can't take atheism very seriously when I look at how many explanations and solutions theism (and I mean full-blown theism, with God being good in a loving way, etc) gives us for so many different areas: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, mathematics, cosmology, etc. I mean, when we look at it, we have a contingent reality which somehow exists; which also probably had a beginning; which has widespread order and regularity with natural laws; and these laws allow for the development of life and civilization, and are fine tuned for life; and there are conscious beings, rational creatures which somehow have the power to grasp universal, abstract concepts; these rational creatures are capable of learning truths of mathematics and dissecting the structure of the natural laws of the universe; and by the way there are real eternal mathematical truths which we discover and which somehow exist in a way; and there is ethics, the existing rational creatures are able to take part in a rich moral landscape and have to deal with sacrifice, drama, meaning, justice; there is beauty; there are religious experiences; there are many miracle reports; and so on. All of this remains true regardless of what metaphysical principles are true. It is so clear to me that theism makes more sense of reality that I even struggle to treat atheism seriously a lot of times.
              Last edited by Atno; 09-10-2019, 01:03 AM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Kwlsk View Post
                I´m sorry for my rambling guys. But in my family runs mental health problems and I can´t bring myself to read anymore books or learn for the university until I can resolve that issue to some degree.
                My brother died from bipolar-related stuff at 27. If it wasn't for my (milder) mood swings and episodes of anxious perplexity I'd never ask any serious questions or study philosophy and religion at all. You can't possibly envy the majority of people who never freak out over this stuff. I kinda feel sorry for them.

                The urgency of your search is a gift. From G-d. Despite any unpleasant side-effects. We are not capable of completing the task. But neither are we free to give up. G-d isn't going to ask why you weren't Aquinas. He'll ask why you weren't a better Kwisk.

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                • #9
                  Hi guys. Once again, I can´t thank you enough for the kind words and recommendations. I will give a proper reply to you later. It has already become better. A proper reply to the points you raise is warranted.

                  Dominik

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Atno View Post
                    Consensus or agreement is a HORRIBLE way to judge philosophical ideas, especially today, in the age of contemporary analytic philosophy - when we have a profession that is all about being highly specialized in finding every possible way to challenge any philosophical thesis. There isn't even perfect agreement about whether we are conscious or not; eliminativists exist and have written very interesting books and arguments defending a position, including developig technical defenses against charges of incoherence and so on. But this doesn't change the fact that eliminativism is retarded, of course.

                    And for what it is worth, that the universe cannot exist without a divine necessary being has been the consensus of Aristotle, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Leibniz, Samuel Clarke, and so on.

                    I don't know what you are trying to convince yourself of. Are you trying to become a thomist? Why? I consider myself a thomist and I think that, by far, thomistic metaphysics makes better sense of reality (that includes act/potency, essence/existence, prime mattr, and so on). But this isn't super important to me - while theism and christianity, by contrast, are super important to me -, I just so happen to think that thomism really has gotten closer to the truth than any other metaphysical school. Sometimes I find this conclusion quite boring, because I myself am more immersed in analytic philosophy and care more about it than traditional, hardcore thomism. It just so happens that I really am convinced that a broadly thomistic metaphysic is correct.
                    As I mentioned, I think act/potency, essence/existence etc it both best explain the data we have (change; the grounding of contingency; and so on) and best accord with Aristotelian intuitions which I find very plausible. I am aware of objections but none of them seem to come close to the positive reasons in favor of the concepts. If you reject the real distinction or potency/act as applied to existence, then you have to think of how you could even possibly make sense of all that stuff (such as what grounds or makes something contingent rather than necessary); good luck with that, I know I personally am very convinced the thomistic concepts are the better ones.

                    Are you just trying to find a rational justification for theism? If so, then you do not need thomism at all. Thomism is certainly helpful for that, but it is obviously not a requirement. Doesn't mean you'd automatically become a theistic "personalist" either (which is a somewhat stupid dispute, to be honest. I know there are reasons to care about this, and I am a die-hard believer in divine simplicity, but people often exaggerate the disagreements. Most theistic analytic philosophers aren't even really commited to any "personalism", they are more interested in other discussions anyway).

                    I am convinced Aquinas's first three ways are sound, but my favorite cosmological argument has always been the rationalist one. It just gets straight to the point. And there really is no way around it: either we have a necessary foundation of existence, or we have a brute fact and contingent things just magically exist instead of nothing with no explanation whatsoever. You just have to reflect on that and think of what seems more reasonable to you. These days I don't care much about arguing about PSR, since it is self-evident to me, and (for some reason) there will always be some people who reject self-evident truths (even stuff such as LEM and PNC); but for those who don't share the intuition and question the principle, I really think they are in HUGE trouble when it comes to coherently keeping a PSR for ordinary events, science, and so on.

                    If WWPSR entails PSR, that would (in my view) be a good argument FOR the PSR. But in any case, leibnizian style cosmological arguments do not all require either strong PSR or even WWPSR. We can use principles of explanation for contingent existents (for instance: any existing contingent thing or things, there is an explanation for why these things exist) and even modal versions which do not entail WWPSR or anything (for instance, it is possible that there is an explanation for a totality of contingent things. Google Joshua Rasmussen and Christopher Weaver's "why is there something rather than nothing?" Article).

                    If you find yourself suffering from too much epistemic anxiety, I'd also suggest you to explore abductive and inductive cases for theism and Christianity. These eschew the anxiety about certainty and deductions, and still present compelling arguments. Not to sound like a triumphalist asshole or anything, but I really can't take atheism very seriously when I look at how many explanations and solutions theism (and I mean full-blown theism, with God being good in a loving way, etc) gives us for so many different areas: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, mathematics, cosmology, etc. I mean, when we look at it, we have a contingent reality which somehow exists; which also probably had a beginning; which has widespread order and regularity with natural laws; and these laws allow for the development of life and civilization, and are fine tuned for life; and there are conscious beings, rational creatures which somehow have the power to grasp universal, abstract concepts; these rational creatures are capable of learning truths of mathematics and dissecting the structure of the natural laws of the universe; and by the way there are real eternal mathematical truths which we discover and which somehow exist in a way; and there is ethics, the existing rational creatures are able to take part in a rich moral landscape and have to deal with sacrifice, drama, meaning, justice; there is beauty; there are religious experiences; there are many miracle reports; and so on. All of this remains true regardless of what metaphysical principles are true. It is so clear to me that theism makes more sense of reality that I even struggle to treat atheism seriously a lot of times.
                    I always appreciate it when you present Thomism as the champion of common sense. I find Aristotelian-Thomism attractive because it coheres more or less with natural intuition, and, unlike more modern brands of philosophy, preserves (rather than reduces)the rational agent.

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