Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. I began this weblog in May of 2004 and have kept it up continuously on different servers, missing only a few days. I'm in this game 'for the duration,' as long as health and eyesight hold out. It has proven to be deeply satisfying, not the least reason for which being that my scribbling has attracted a large number of like-minded individuals, some of whom I have met in the flesh, and have come to value highly as friends.
And for that I am grateful.
What you need to know is that this weblog is just one philosopher's online journal, notebook, common place book, workshop, soapbox, sandbox, and literary litter box. A lot of what I write is unpolished and tentative. I explore the cartography of ideas along many paths. Here below we are in statu viae, and it is fitting that our thinking should be exploratory, meandering, and undogmatic. Nothing human, and thus nothing philosophical, is foreign to me.
The graphic well illustrates my approach. A lonesome traveller meanders along a desert path toward a distant prominence which points up and away to the goal of his Quest, a goal fitfully glimpsed, never grasped. Leastways, not while he is on trail and on trial. The quester quests until his thought rests, but the Rest is far off. Meanwhile there is the Quest, an integral part of which is philosophy, reason's search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. But reason is not reason unless it strives mightily beyond itself to sources of truth that transcend it.
I write about what interests me whether I am expert in it or not. Some find this unseemly; I do not. I oppose hyper-professionalization and excessive specialization. After all, this is only a weblog. Every once in a while I post something that is mistaken, someone corrects me, and I learn something. I admit mistakes if mistakes they be. See how modest I am? On the other hand, this rarely happens. My PhilPapers page currently lists 64 entries and will give you some idea of what I am more or less expert in.
I allow comments on only some posts, usually the more technical ones. And to keep the cyberpunks at bay, Comment Moderation is always on. Comments must address what I say in my posts. If you go off on a tangent, I will most likely not allow your comment to appear. Comments must meet a certain standard, and I do not suffer fools gladly. But on some days I go soft, being only human.
I suppose that in these decadent days of the Decline of the West I should issue a TRIGGER WARNING: this is no place for the politically correct. It is not a 'safe space.' Here you will find free speech, trenchancy of expression, and open inquiry.
We like him because he understands that politics is not a gentlemanly debate but war, and because he is uniquely positioned to punch back hard against vicious leftists who obviously see politics as war. I can't say it any better than the great David Horowitz:
The movement galvanized by Trump can stop the progressive juggernaut and change the American future, but only if it emulates the strategy of his campaign: Be on offense; take no prisoners; stay on the attack. To stop the Democrats and their societal transformation, Republicans must adhere to a strategy that begins with a punch in the mouth. That punch must pack an emotional wallop large enough to throw them off balance and neutralize their assaults. It must be framed as a moral indictment that stigmatizes them in the way their attacks stigmatize Republicans. It must expose them for their hypocrisy. It must hold them accountable for the divisions they sow and the suffering they cause.
Laws against the destruction of public and private property have a disproportionate impact on leftist thugs. Such laws are obviously discriminatory, discriminating as they do between leftist thugs and decent folk, and are therefore unfair. They should be repealed. We need to work together to build a society in which all are treated equally regardless of color, creed, national origin, or behavior. Leftist thugs are who they are, and you must never criticize a person for who she is.
1. First of all, we must insist on a distinction that many on the Left willfully ignore, that between legal and illegal immigration. (Libertarians also typically elide the distinction.) Legal and illegal immigration are separate, logically independent, issues. To oppose illegal immigration, as any right-thinking person must, is not to oppose legal immigration. So no one should be allowed to enter illegally. But why exactly? What's wrong with illegal immigration? Aren't those who oppose it racists and xenophobes and nativists whose opinions are nothing but expressions of bigotry and hate? Aren't they deplorable people who cling to religion and guns? Doesn't everyone have a right to migrate wherever he wants?
2. The most general reason for not allowing illegal immigration is precisely because it is illegal. If the rule of law is to be upheld, then reasonable laws cannot be allowed to be violated with impunity simply because they are difficult to enforce or are being violated by huge numbers of people. Someone who questions the value of the rule of law is not someone it is wise to waste time debating.
But of course a practice's being illegal does not entail its being unjust or wrong or reasonably opposed. So we need to consider reasons why immigration controls are reasonable.
Reasons for opposing illegal immigration
3. There are several sound specific reasons for demanding that the Federal government exercise its legitimate, constitutionally grounded (see Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution) function of securing the national borders, and none of these reasons has anything to do with racism or xenophobia or nativism or any other derogatory epithet that slanderous leftists and libertarians want to attach to those of us who can think clearly about this issue.
There are reasons having to do with national security in an age of terrorism. There are reasons having to do with assimilation, national identity, and comity. How likely is it that illegals will assimilate if allowed to come in in great numbers, and how likely is social harmony among citizens and unassimilated illegals? There are considerations of fairness in respect of those who have entered the country legally by satisfying the requirements of so doing. Is it fair that they should be put through a lengthy process when others are allowed in illegally?
There are reasons having to do with the importation of contraband substances into the country. There are reasons having to to do with the sex trade and human trafficking generally. There are reasons having to do with increased crime. Last but not least, there are reasons pertaining to public health. With the concern over avian influenza, tuberculosis, ebola, and all sorts of tropical diseases, we have all the more reason to demand border control.
Borders are a body politic's immune system. Unregulated borders are deficient immune systems. Diseases that were once thought to have been eradicated have made a comeback north of the Rio Grande due to the unregulated influx of population. These diseases include tuberculosis, Chagas disease, leprosy, Dengue fever, polio, and malaria.
You will have noticed how liberals want to transform into public health issues problems that are manifestly not public but matters of private concern, obesity for example. But here we have an issue that is clearly a public health issue, one concerning which Federal involvement is justified, and what do our dear liberals do? They ignore it. Of course, the problem cannot be blamed solely on the Democrat Party. Republicans like G. W. Bush and John McCain are just as guilty. On immigration, Bush was clearly no conservative; he was a libertarian on this issue. A libertarian on some issues, a liberal on others, and a conservative on far too few.
Illegal aliens do not constitute a race or ethnic group
4. Many liberals think that opposition to illegal immigration is anti-Hispanic. Not so. It is true that most of those who violate the nation's borders are Hispanic. But the opposition is not to Hispanics but to illegal entrants whether Hispanic or not. It is a contingent fact that Mexico is to the south of the U.S. If Turkey or Iran or Italy were to the south, the issue would be the same. And if Iran were to the south, and there were an influx of illegals, then then leftists would speak of anti-Persian bias.
A salient feature of liberals and leftists -- there isn't much difference nowadays -- is their willingness to 'play the race card,' to inject race into every issue. The issue of illegal immigration has nothing to do with race since illegal immigrants do not constitute a race. There is no such race as the race of 'llegal aliens.' Opposition to them, therefore, cannot be racist. Suppose England were to the south of the U. S. and Englishmen were streaming north. Would they be opposed because they are white? No, because they are illegal aliens.
"But aren't some of those who oppose illegal immigration racists?" That may be so, but it is irrelevant. That one takes the right stance for the wrong reason does not negate the fact that one has taken the right stance. One only wishes they would take the right stance for the right reasons. Even if everyone who opposed illegal immigration were a foaming-at-the-mouth redneck of a racist, that would not detract one iota of cogency from the cogent arguments against allowing illegal immigration. To think otherwise is to embrace the Genetic Fallacy. Not good.
5. The rule of law is a precious thing. It is one of the supports of a civilized life. The toleration of mass breaking of reasonable and just laws undermines the rule of law.
6. Part of the problem is that we let liberals get away with obfuscatory rhetoric, such as 'undocumented worker.' The term does not have the same extension as 'illegal alien.' I discuss this in a separate post. But having written thousands of posts, I don't quite know where it is.
7. How long can a welfare state survive with open borders? Think about it. The trend in the USA for a long time now has been towards bigger and bigger government, more and more 'entitlements.' It is obviously impossible for purely fiscal reasons to provide cradle-to-grave security for everyone who wants to come here. So something has to give. Either you strip the government down to its essential functions or you control the borders. The first has no real chance of happening. Quixotic is the quest of strict constructionists and libertarians who call for it. Rather than tilting at windmills, they should work with reasonable conservatives to limit and eventually stop the expansion of government. Think of what a roll-back to a government in accordance with a strictly construed constitution would look like. For one thing, the social security system would have to be eliminated. That won't happen. Libertarians are 'losertarian' dreamers. They should wake up and realize that politics is a practical business and should aim at the possible. By the way, the pursuit of impossible dreams is common to both libertarians and leftists.
'Liberal' arguments for border control
8. Even though contemporary liberals show little or no understanding for the above arguments, there are actually what might be called 'liberal' arguments for controlling the borders:
A. The Labor Argument. To give credit where credit is due, it was not the conservatives of old who championed the working man, agitated for the 40 hour work week, demanded safe working conditions, etc., but the liberals of those days. They can be proud of this. But it is not only consistent with their concern for workers that they oppose illegal immigration, but demanded by their concern. For when the labor market is flooded with people who will work for low wages, the bargaining power of the U.S. worker is diminished. Liberals should therefore oppose the unregulated influx of cheap labor, and they should oppose it precisely because of their concern for U. S. workers.
By the way, it is simply false to say, as Bush, McCain and other pandering politicians have said, that U.S. workers will not pick lettuce, clean hotel rooms, and the like. Of course they will if they are paid a decent wage. People who won't work for $5 an hour will work for $20. But they won't be able to command $20 if there is a limitless supply of indigentes who will accept $5-10.
B. The Environmental Argument. Although there are 'green' conservatives, concern for the natural environment, and its preservation and protection from industrial exploitation, is more a liberal than a conservative issue. (By the way, I'm a 'green' conservative.) So liberals ought to be concerned about the environmental degradation caused by hordes of illegals crossing the border. It is not just that they degrade the lands they physically cross, it is that people whose main concern is economic survival are not likely to be concerned about environmental protection. They are unlikely to become Sierra Club members or to make contributions to the Nature Conservancy. Love of nature comes more easily to middle class white collar workers for whom nature is a scene of recreation than for those who must wrest a livelihood from it by hard toil.
C. The Population Argument. This is closely related to, but distinct from, the Environmental Argument. To the extent that liberals are concerned about the negative effects of explosive population increase, they should worry about an unchecked influx of people whose women have a high birth-rate.
D. The Social Services Argument. Liberals believe in a vast panoply of social services provided by government and thus funded by taxation. But the quality of these services must degrade as the number of people who demand them rises. To take but one example, laws requiring hospitals to treat those in dire need whether or not they have a means of paying are reasonable and humane -- or at least that can be argued with some show of plausibility. But such laws are reasonably enacted and reasonably enforced only in a context of social order. Without border control, not only will the burden placed on hospitals become unbearable, but the justification for the federal government's imposition of these laws on hospitals will evaporate. According to one source, California hospitals are closing their doors. "Anchor babies" born to illegal aliens instantly qualify as citizens for welfare benefits and have caused enormous rises in Medicaid costs and stipends under Supplemental Security Income and Disability Income.
The point is that you can be a good liberal and oppose illegal immigration. You can oppose it even if you don't care about increased crime, terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking, disease, national identity, national sovereignty, assimilation, the rule of law, or fairness to those who have immigrated legally. But a 'good liberal' who is not concerned with these things is a sorry human being.
I am afraid much of it fits the following 'definition':
What is continental philosophy? Continental philosophy is thinking, it is questioning, elaborating questions, making them more comprehensive, deeper, making them worse, proliferating these same questions and adding more and other associated questions. It includes reflection, musing, quandaries, provocations, sometimes it includes comparisons, say, but this was a joke after all, connecting M&E — analytic metaphysics and epistemology — to M&M’s. And this range of different things has been true for quite some time going back to the beginnings of analytic philosophy with the Vienna Circle and logical ‘analysis,’ whereby any time one mentions Vienna it makes a difference to note that one should not forget Freud but one does.
From an interview with Daniel Dennett in the pages of The Guardian (HT: Dave Lull):
I was thinking that perhaps philosophers are exactly what’s needed right now. Some deep thinking about what is happening at this moment?
Yes. From everybody. The real danger that’s facing us is we’ve lost respect for truth and facts. People have discovered that it’s much easier to destroy reputations for credibility than it is to maintain them. It doesn’t matter how good your facts are, somebody else can spread the rumour that you’re fake news. We’re entering a period of epistemological murk and uncertainty that we’ve not experienced since the middle ages.
Dennett is currently much exercised over Donald Trump's alleged lies, exaggerations, unverifiable speculations, and whatnot. But I don't recall Dennett taking umbrage at the unprecedentedly brazen presidential lying of Barack Obama or the seemingly congenital lying of Hillary Clinton. He is a typical uncritical Left-leaning academic. Still, he is right to take aim at postmodernism. Read on:
There’s a perception that philosophy is a dusty discipline that belongs in academe, but actually, questions such as what is a fact and what is the truth are the fundamental questions of today, aren’t they?
Philosophy has not covered itself in glory in the way it has handled this. Maybe people will now begin to realise that philosophers aren’t quite so innocuous after all. Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might actually come true. I think what the postmodernists did was truly evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts. You’d have people going around saying: “Well, you’re part of that crowd who still believe in facts.”
So far, so good.
Yes and one’s true and the others are false. One of those narratives is the truth and the others aren’t; it’s as simple as that.
Is it really so simple? Dennett is suggesting that his naturalist narrative is not a mere narrative, but the true narrative. If so, then there is truth; there is a way things are in themselves apart from our stories and beliefs and hopes and desires. I agree that there is truth. But I wonder how consistent it is for Dennett to hold that there is truth given the rest of his views. This is a man who holds that consciousness is an illusion. He explains consciousness by explaining it away. Now I would say that the urge to explain and understand is the central animating nerve of the philosophical project. As Dennett says,
I put comprehension as one of my highest ideals. I want to understand everything. I want people to understand things. I love understanding things. I love explaining things to myself and to others.
My question, however, is how consciousness could be an illusion but not truth. I say neither is an illusion. Consciousness cannot be an illusion for the simple reason that we presuppose it when we distinguish between reality and illusion. An illusion is an illusion to consciousness, so that if there were no consciousness there would be no illusions either.
This is because illusions have a sort of parasitic status. They are ontological parasites, if you will, whose being is fed by a host organism. But let's not push the parasitological comparison too far. The point is that, while there are illusions, they do not exist on their own. The coyote I wrongly take to be a domestic dog exists in reality, but the domestic dog does not. But while the latter does not exist in reality, it is not nothing either. The dog is not something in reality, but it is something for consciousness. If in the twilight I jump back from a twisted root on the trail, mis-taking it for a rattlesnake, the visual datum cannot possibly be regarded as nothing since it is involved in the explanation of why I jumped. I jumped because I saw (in the phenomenological sense of 'see') a rattlesnake. Outright hallucinations such as the proverbial pink rat of the drunkard are even clearer examples. In dreams I see and touch beautiful women. Do old men have nocturnal emissions over nothing?
Not existing in reality, illusions of all sorts, not just perceptual illusions, exist for consciousness. But then consciousness cannot be an illusion. Consciousness is a presupposition of the distinction between reality and illusion. As such, it cannot be an illusion. It must be real.
But here comes Danny the Sophist who asserts that consciousness is an illusion. Well, that is just nonsense sired by his otherwise laudable desire to explain things coupled with an uncritical and not-so-laudable conceit that everything can be explained. If consciousness is an illusion, then it is an illusion for consciousness. But then our sophist has moved in a circle, reinstating the very thing he was trying to get rid of. Or else he is embarked upon a vicious infinite regress.
Calling Dennett a sophist is not very nice, even though I have very good reason to impugn his intellectual integrity, as you will discover if you read my entries in the Dennett category. So let me try to be charitable. Our man is a naturalist and an explanatory rationalist: he is out to explain everything. But not everything can be explained. Consciousness is not only presupposed by the distinction between reality and illusion, it is also presupposed by the quest for explanation. For where would explanations reside if not in the minds of conscious beings?
But if consciousness, per impossibile, were an illusion, why wouldn't truth also be an illusion? Consciousness is an illusion because naturalism has no place for it. Whatever is real is reducible to the physical; consciousness is not reducible to the physical; ergo, consciousness does not exist in reality: it is an illusion.
By the same reasoning, truth ought also to be an illusion since there is no place for it in the natural world. Note also that Dennett obviously thinks that truth is objectively valuable and pursuit-worthy. Where locate values in a naturalist scheme?
Wouldn't it be more consistent for Dennett to go whole hog and explain away both consciousness and truth? Perhaps he ought to go POMO. There is no truth; there are only interpretations and perspectives of organisms grubbing for survival. What justifies him in privileging his naturalist narrative? It is one among many.
I say consciousness and truth are on a par: neither can be explained away. Neither is eliminable. Neither is an illusion. Both are part of what we must presuppose to explain anything.
Nietzsche had a great insight: No God, no truth. For the POMOs there is neither. For me there is both. For the inconsistent Dennett there is the second but not the first. Again, there is simply no place for truth in a wholly material world.
The graphic infra may help clear things up for those of you lefties who are not permanently lost to TDS. I will add that if Trump is not your president, then you are not my fellow citizen. You are a subversive element, and due no respect, if you do not accept our system of government and the procedurally correct outcome of an election.
Many of us believed that President Obama was doing great damage to America. Now we are convinced that he did more damage to America domestically, to America’s position the world and to the world at large than any other two-term president. He left office with racial tensions — many of which he exacerbated — greater than at any time since the civil rights era half a century ago. He left the world’s worst regimes — Iran, China, Russia, North Korea and radical Islamist terror groups — stronger and more aggressive than before he became president. Economic growth never rose above 3 percent, a first for a two-term president. He nearly doubled the national debt and had little to nothing to show for it. Obamacare hurt more people financially than it helped medically, including physicians. More people than ever are on government aid. The list is far longer than this.
This is a re-run from 24 April 2010. The quotation from James Kalb is worth studying.
But the times they are a'changin' and with Trump in the saddle, a man with the cojones to punch back hard against destructive leftards and quisling wimp-cons, we are likely to see some improvement. Trump's dressing-down yesterday of the lamestream media was a delight to watch.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed into law Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Illegal aliens are of course up in arms over it. But why do the ruling elites tend to tolerate mass illegal immigration? Why are they not upholding the rule of law? James Kalb (The Tyranny of Liberalism, ISI Books, 2008, pp. 49-50) writes,
As to immigration, the people value the ties that make them a people and believe that the country should be run for their own benefit. Ruling elites, by contrast, are concerned with the power and efficiency of governing institutions, the status and security of those who run them, and maintenance of the liberal principles that support and justify their rule. It is in their interest to expand the human resources available to them, even at the expense of those who are already citizens, and to weaken the mutual ties that make it possible for the people to resist rational management and to act somewhat independently. In addition, any moderately self-seeking ruling class prefers cooperating with members of the ruling class in other countries to representing the interests of their constituents. The practical result of such influences has the suppression of immigration as an issue in the interest of an emerging borderless world order. Restrictionist arguments are scantily presented in the mainstream media, and concern with cultural coherence, national identity, or even the well-being of one's country's workers is routinely denigrated as ignorant and racist nativism.
Kalb's book is proving to be an insightful and stimulating read.
You are well-advised to view your life as a self-improvement project, but beware of viewing the lives of others likewise. I mean: as your improvement project. If you are drawn to a member of the opposite sex, be sure you are drawn to her for what she is, not for what you fancy you can make of her. The few exceptions prove the rule: people do not change.
There are 'fixer-upper' houses but no 'fixer-upper' wives.
He who seeks a "fundamental transformation" does not love that which he seeks fundamentally to transform. Wherein lies a proof that Obama and his ilk are not patriots.
A reader inquires, "I'm curious, if someone asked you what you were more certain of, your hands or belief in the existence of God, how would you respond?"
The first thing a philosopher does when asked a question is examine the question. (Would that ordinary folk, including TV pundits, would do likewise before launching into gaseous answers to ill-formed questions.) Now what exactly am I being asked? The question is ambiguous as between:
Q1. Are you more certain of the existence of your hand or of the existence of God?
Q2. Are you more certain of the existence of your hand or of your belief in the existence of God?
My reader probably intends (Q1). If (Q1) is the question, then the answer is that I am more certain of the existence of my hands than of the existence of God. My hands are given in sense perception throughout the day, every day. Here is one, and here is the other (he said with a sidelong glance in the direction of G. E. Moore). It is not perfectly certain that I have hands, or even that I have a body -- can I prove that I am not a brain in a vat? -- but it is practically certain, certain for all practical purposes.
By the way, it borders on a bad joke to think that one can prove the external world by waving one's hands around as Moore famously did. Still, if I don't know basic facts such as these 'handy' facts, then I know very little, things of the order of 'I now seem to see a hand' but not 'I now see a hand.' (I am using 'see' as a verb of success: If S sees an F, there there exists an x such that x is F and S sees x.)
So, for practical purposes, I am certain that my hands exist. But I am not certain in the same sense and to the same degree that God exists. The evidence is a lot slimmer. This is not to say that there is no evidence. There is plenty of evidence, it is just that it is not compelling. There is the evidence of conscience, of mystical and religious experience, the consensus gentium; there is the 'evidence' of the dozens and dozens of arguments for the existence of God, there is the testimony of prophets. But none of this evidence, even taking the whole lot of it together, gets the length of the evidence of my hands that I get from seeing them, touching them, clapping them, manipulating things with them.
When I fall down and feel my hands slam into the hard hot rock of a desert canyon, then I know beyond any practical doubt that hands exist and rock exists. Then I say with 'Cactus Ed' Abbey, "I believe in rock and sun." In that vulnerable moment, alone in a desolate desert canyon, it is very easy to doubt that there is any providential order, that there is any ultimate intelligibility, that there is any Sense beyond the flimsy and fragmented sense we make of things. But it is practically impossible to doubt hands and rock and sun.
The difference could be put like this. The existence and the nonexistence of God are both of them epistemic possibilities: for all I can claim to know, there is no God; but also: there is a God. Both states of affairs are consistent with what I can claim to know. But it is not an epistemic possibility that these hands of mine do not exist unless one takes knowledge to require an objective certainty impervious to hyperbolic doubt.
In the case of my hands there is really no counter evidence to their existence apart from Cartesian hyperbolic doubt. But in the case of God, not only is the evidence spotty and inconclusive, but there is also counter evidence, the main piece of which is the existence of evil. It is worth noting, however, that if one would be skeptical, one ought to doubt also the existence of evil, and with it, arguments to the nonexistence of God from the putative fact of evil. How do you know there is evil? No doubt there is pain, excruciating pain. But is pain evil? Maybe pain is just a sensation that an organism feeling it doesn't like, and the organism's not liking it is just an attitude of that organism, so that in reality there is no good or evil. Pain is given. But is evil given? Pain is undeniable. But one can easily deny the existence of evil. Perhaps the all is just a totality of value-indifferent facts.
As for (Q2), it makes reference to my belief in God. Whether you take the belief as a disposition or as an occurrent state, the belief as a feature of my mental life must be distinguished from its truth-value. I am not certain of the truth of my belief that God exists, but I am certain of the existence of my belief (my believing) that God exists. As certain as I am that I have hands? More certain. I can doubt that I have hands in the usual Cartesian way. But how can I doubt that fact that I have a belief if in fact I have it?
On Aristotle's hylomorphic ontology, form and matter are 'principles' or ontological factors involved in the analysis of sublunary primary substances. These factors are not substances in their own right. Now Thomas is an Aristotelian in ontology. But when it comes to God and the soul he goes Platonist. God is forma formarum, the form of all forms, and yet self-subsistent. The soul after death is capable of existing in separation from matter while it awaits the resurrection of the body. Anima forma corporis: the soul is the form of the body. But in the human case the soulic form is more than a principle invoked in hylomorphic analysis. It is capable of existence independent of matter.
The sublunary Aristotelianism and the superlunary Platonism exist together in a certain tension. Whether this tension gets the length of a contradiction is a further question.
"Get the length of" is a classy phrase which has long languished in desuetude. I resurrect it from the writings of F. H. Bradley.
Concerned as he rightly is with the pollution of the physical environment, the liberal yet cannot seem to muster much moral enthusiasm over the pollution of the cultural environment, if he's even aware of it. Hillary, you will recall, cozied up to Jay Z. If you don't know who he is, good.
A man hereabouts with a passion for chess got my number. We've become friends.
He told me he took a course in the philosophy of religion way back when. I pressed him on details. All he remembers is the old professor walking into the room, flipping a switch, and intoning "Let there be light!"
The chess player's forgetfulness reminds me of a story.
An eager young nun and a wise old nun were discussing teaching. The young nun was waxing enthusiastic over the privilege, but also the responsibility, of forming young minds. The old nun took a glass of water, inserted her forefinger, and agitated the water. Suddenly she removed her finger and the water immediately returned to its quiescent state.
"So much for the forming of young minds," said the older and wiser one.
The spark that ignites populist movements is not so much disparities in wealth and status (they are not always French Revolution or Bolshevik-like class-driven attempts to grab power) as rank hypocrisies: Elites condescendingly prescribe nostrums to hoi polloi, but always on the dual premise that those who are dictating will be immune from the ramifications of their own sometimes burdensome edicts, and those who are dictated to are supposedly too dense to know what is good for them. (Think Steven Chu, the former energy secretary, who either did not commute by car or had a short drive to work, while he hoped that gas prices for the nation’s clueless drivers might climb to European levels of $9–$10 a gallon.)
We’ve already seen Trump’s anti-doctrinaire approach to jobs, trade, and the economy: his notion that the free-market in reality can often became a rhetorical construct, not a two-way street when it comes to trading blocs. Free-market purists might see the outsourcing of jobs and unbridled importation of foreign subsidized products as a way to toughen up the competitiveness of American companies and trim off their fat; but people who take this view are usually the ones who benefit from globalism and who are in little danger of having their own job downsized, eliminated, or shipped overseas. Few of us often ask whether full professors are very productive, whether op-ed writers are industrious and cogent, whether Hollywood actors are worth millions per picture, whether politicians are improving the nation’s lot, or whether journalists are disinterested and competent. Instead, we assume that because they all have well-compensated jobs, they are qualified, essential, and invaluable to the economy.
The Christian is a Platonist about one man, Christ: he pre-exists both his conception and his birth. But there is no Platonism about any other human. The rest of us enjoy no Platonic pre-existence. We are literally nothing until we are conceived. One could say that orthodox Christians are anthropological exceptionalists with respect to one man. And he is indeed a man. If he is fully God and fully man, then he is fully man.
Leftists complain that President Trump is 'authoritarian.' But given the abdication of authority on the part of university administrators who refuse to stand up to leftist thugs and refuse to defend such ideals of the university as free speech and free inquiry, a little 'authoritarianism' looks to be exactly what is needed. It is the surrender of the university admins to the know-nothing and 'transgressive' rabble that would justify Trump's withholding of federal funds from institutions such as Cal Berkeley and NYU. In fact, that is exactly what he should do.
'Progressives' have an Orwellian understanding of tolerance. There is nothing (classically) liberal about them.
The locus classicus of the Euthyphro Dilemma (if you want to call it that) is Stephanus 9-10 in the early Platonic dialog, Euthyphro. This aporetic dialog is about the nature of piety, and Socrates, as usual, is in quest of a definition. Euthyphro proposes three definitions, with each of which Socrates has no trouble finding fault. According to the second, "piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what all the gods hate." To this Socrates famously responds, "Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?" In clearer terms, do the gods love pious acts because they are pious, or are pious acts pious because the gods love them?
What interests me at the moment is the notion of metaphysical grounding which I want to defend against the Noble Ostrich and other anti-metaphysical types. (For it is his failure to understand metaphysical grounding that accounts for the Ostrich's failure to understand my animadversions against ostrich nominalism as well as his failure to appreciate the force of my circularity objection to the thin theory of existence.) In all fairness, though, we must be open to the possibility that there is nothing to understand or appreciate here.
In any case, I will not try to answer a question beyond my pay grade, namely:
Q. Does God command X because it is morally obligatory, or is X morally obligatory because God commands it?
My concern is with the preliminary question whether (Q) is so much as intelligible. It is intelligible only if we can make sense of the 'because' in it. Let' s start with something that we should all be able to agree on (if we assume the existence of God and the existence of objective moral obligations), namely:
1. Necessarily, God commands X iff X is morally obligatory.
(1) expresses a broadly logical equivalence and equivalence is symmetrical: if p is equivalent to q, then q is equivalent to p. But metaphysical grounding is asymmetrical: if M metaphysically grounds N, then it is not the case that N metaphysically grounds M. For example, if fact F is the truth-maker of sentence s, then it is not the case that s is the truth-maker of F. Truth-making is a type of metaphysical grounding: it is not a causal relation and its is not a logical relation (where a logical relation is one that relates propositions, examples of logical relations being consistency, inconsistency, entailment, and logical independence.)
(1) leaves wide open whether God is the source of the obligatoriness of moral obligations, or whether such obligations are obligatory independently of divine commands. Thus the truth of (1) does not entail an answer to (Q).
The 'because' in (Q) cannot be taken in a causal sense if causation is understood as a relation that connects physical or mental events, states, or changes with other physical or mental events, states, or changes. Nor can the 'because' be taken in a logical sense. Logical relations connect propositions, and a divine command is not a proposition. Nor is the obligatoriness of the content of a command a proposition.
So I say this: if the content of a command is morally obligatory because God issued the command, then the issuing of the command is the metaphysical ground of the the moral obligatoriness of the content of the command. If, on the other hand, the content of the command is morally obligatory independently of the issuing of the divine command, then the moral obligatoriness of the command is the metaphysical ground of the correctness of the divine command.
Either way, there is a relation of metaphysical grounding.
My argument in summary:
1. (Q) is an intelligible question.
2. (Q) is not a question about a causal relation.
3. (Q) is not a question about a logical relation.
4. There is no other ordinary (nonmetaphysical) candidate relation such as a temporal relation or an epistemic relation for (Q) to be about.
5. (Q) is an intelligible question if and only if 'because' in (Q) expresses metaphysical grounding.
6. 'Because' in (Q) expresses metaphysical grounding.
7. There is a relation of metaphysical grounding.
OK, Noble Ostrich, which premise will you reject and why?
What is time? Don't ask me, and I know. Ask me, and I don't know. (St. Augustine) This post sketches, without defending, one theory of time.
On the B-Theory of time, real or objective time is exhausted by what J. M. E. McTaggart called the B-series, the series of times, events, and individuals ordered by the B-relations (earlier than, later than, simultaneous with). If the B-theory is correct, then our ordinary sense that events approach us from the future, arrive at the present, and then recede into the past is at best a mind-dependent phenomenon, at worst an illusuion. Either way, not something that really occurs. For on the B-theory, there are no such irreducible monadic A-properties as futurity, presentness and pastness. There is just a manifold of tenselessly existing events ordered by the B-relations. Time does not pass or flow, let alone fly. There is no temporal becoming. My birth is not sinking into the past, becoming ever more past, nor is my death approaching from the future, getting closer and closer. Tempus fugit does not express a truth about reality. At best, it picks out a truth about our experience of reality.
The B-theorist does not deny that there is time. He does not hold that time is an illusion or mere appearance. What he denies is that the sense we all have that time passes or flows is an ingredient in real time. His claim is that real or objective time is exhausted by the B-series and that temporal becoming is at best subjective.
If there is no temporal becoming in reality, then change is not a becoming different or a passing away or a coming into being. When a tomato ripens, it does not become ripe: it simply is unripe at certain times and is ripe at certain later times. And when it ceases to exist, it doesn't pass away: it simply is at certain times and is not at certain later times.
You could say that that the B-theorist has a static view of time that strips way its 'dynamism.'
Employing a political metaphor, one could say that a B-theorist is an egalitarian about times and the events at times: they are all equal in point of reality. Accordingly, my blogging now is no more real (but also no less real) than Socrates' drinking the hemlock millenia ago. Nor is it more real than my death which, needless to say, lies in the future. (But this future event is not approaching or getting closer.) Each time is present at itself, but no time is present, period. And each time (and the events at it) exists relative to itself, but no time exists absolutely.
This is to say that the present moment enjoys no privilege. There is nothing special about it. So you can't say that the present alone exists.
This is not to say that the B-theorist does not have uses for 'past,' 'present,' and 'future.' He can speak with the vulgar while thinking with the learned. Thus a B-theorist can hold that an utterance at time t of 'E is past' expresses the fact that E is earlier than t. An old objection is that this does not capture the meaning of 'E is past.' For the fact that E is earlier than t, if true, is always true; while 'E is past' is true only after E. This difference in truth conditions shows a difference in meaning. The B-theorist can respond by saying that his concern is not with semantics but with ontology. His concern is with the reality, or rather the lack of reality, of tense, and not with the meanings of tensed sentences or sentences featuring A-expressions. The B-theorist can say that, regardless of meaning, what makes it true that E is past at t is that E is earlier than t, and that, in mind-independent reality, nothing else is needed to make 'E is past' uttered at t true.
Compare 'BV is hungry' and 'I am hungry' said by BV. The one is true if and only if the other is. But the two sentences differ in meaning. The first, if true, is true no matter who says it; but the second is true only if asserted by someone who is hungry. Despite the difference in meaning, what makes it true that I am hungry (assertively uttered by BV) is that BV is hungry. In sum, the B-theorist need not be committed to the insupportable contention that A-statements are translatable salva significatione into B-statements.
The B-theorist, then, denies that the present moment enjoys any temporal or existential privilege. Every time is temporally present to itself such that no time is temporally present simpliciter. This temporal egalitarianism entails a decoupling of existence and temporal presentness. There just is no irreducible monadic property of temporal presentness; hence existence cannot be identified with it. To exist is to exist tenselessly. The B-theory excludes presentism according to which there is a genuine, irreducible, property of temporal presentness and existence is either identical or logically equivalent to this property. Presentism implies that only the temporally present is real or existent. If to exist is to exist now, then the past and future do not exist, not just now (which is trivial) but at all.
Please note that the B-theory is incompatible not only with presentism, but with any theory that is committed to irreducible A-properties. Thus the B-theory rules out 'pastism,' the crazy theory that only the past exists and 'futurism,' the crazy view that only the future exists. It also rules out the sane view that only the past and the present exist.
Why be a B-theorist? McTaggart has a famous argument according to which the monadic A-properties lead to contradiction. We should examine that argument in a separate post. The argument is endorsed by Hugh Mellor in his Real Time.
Another consideration is that the physics of Einstein & Co, has no need of temporal becoming. So if physics gets at the world as it is in itself apart from our subjective additions, then real time is exhausted by the B-series.
One of my self-appointed tasks is to beat up on physicists when they play at philosophy and makes fools of themselves. The following is from an interview with Richard Muller in Physics Today:
PT: You mention in your introduction that some physicists have concluded that the flow of time is an illusion. Why do you think that’s not the case?
MULLER: The flow of time does not exist in the usual spacetime diagram of physics. Time is mysterious; in any relativistic coordinate system, it is linked to space. And yet time is different—and I mean much more than simply a sign in the metric. Time flows. Choose any coordinate system and you can stand still in space but not in time. That different behavior breaks the otherwise glorious spacetime symmetry. Moreover, there is a special moment in time we call “now.” No such special location exists in the dimensions of space.
Is this guy serious? His argument boils down to: The flow of time is not an illusion because time flows! There is no spacetime symmetry because there is a special moment in time called 'NOW.' Well thank you very much for resolving this thorny question at long last. The 'diameter' of this circular reasoning is embarrassingly short. Both interviewee and interviewer need a course in Logic 101.
The following entry will give you some idea of the theory that our physicist thinks he has refuted.
However, most people understand their side is good and the opposing side is bad, so it’s much easier for them to form these emotional opinions of political parties.
This sentence features a misuse of 'understand.' 'Understand' is a verb of success. If you understand something, then it is the case. For example, if you understand that both 2 and -2 are square roots of 4, then this is the case. Otherwise there is a failure to understand. 'Understand' in this respect is like 'know' and unlike 'believe' or 'think'. My knowing that p entails that p is true. My believing or thinking that p does not entail that p is true. My understanding that my side is good entails that it is. The above sentence should read as follows:
However, most people THINK their side is good and the opposing side is bad, so it’s much easier for them to form these emotional opinions of political parties.
Not necessarily, says Taubes, who suggests that the ad hoc societal test of the low-carb solution lacks certainty. “If you understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that your disease is caused by sugar and flour and refined carbohydrates,” he says, “you are more likely to adhere to a diet that cuts them out.”
Some will say that usage changes, to which I will reply: no doubt, but not all change is change for the better.
Call me a prescriptivist if you like, but don't confuse me with a school-marm prescriptivist. If you end a sentence with a preposition, I won't draw my weapon. For that is a piece of pedantry up with which I shall not put!
If you like to boogie woogie, I know the place. It's just an old piano and a knocked out bass. The drummer man's a guy they call Eight Beat Mack. And you remember Doc and old "Beat Me Daddy" Slack.
Man it's better than chicken fried in bacon grease Come along with me, boys, it's just down the road a piece.
Ella Mae Morse (1945), The House of Blue Lights. Shows that 'square' and 'daddy-o' and 'dig' were already in use in the '40s. I had been laboring under the misapprehension that this patois first surfaced in Beat/Beatnik circles in the '50s.
President Donald Trump exudes an ideology of "America first." There's only one problem for orthodox Christians, however -- the nation may never come first, because in first place must always be Jesus Christ and his Gospel. In that sense, "Trumpism" is actually a heresy.
Exudes? Does the author know what this word means? Misuse of language is a tell-tale sign of a 'liberal.'
I hope to say more later, but for the nonce, the following must suffice.
America First has as as little to do with national idolatry as it does with chauvinism or nativism or isolationism or racism. The basic idea is that the main obligation of a government is to protect and serve the citizens of the country of which it is the government. It is a further question whether it has obligations to protect and benefit the citizens of other countries. That is debatable. But if it does, those obligations are trumped by the main obligation just mentioned. I should think that a great nation such as the USA does well to engage in purely humanitarian efforts such as famine relief. Such efforts, however, are secondary and arguably supererogatory.
See my America First for the fuller statement of which the foregoing is a slightly redacted excerpt.
As magnificent a subject as philosophy is, grappling as it does with the ultimate concerns of human existence, and thus surpassing in nobility any other human pursuit, it is also miserable in that nothing goes uncontested, and nothing ever gets established to the satisfaction of all competent practitioners. (This is true of other disciplines as well, but in philosophy it is true in excelsis.) Suppose I say, as I have in various places:
That things have properties and stand in relations I take to be a plain Moorean fact beyond the reach of reasonable controversy. After all, my cat is black and he is sleeping next to my blue coffee cup. ‘Black’ picks out a property, an extralinguistic feature of my cat.
Is that obvious? Not to some. Not to the ornery and recalcitrant critter known as the ostrich nominalist. My cat, Max Black, is black. That, surely, is a Moorean fact. Now consider the following biconditional and consider whether it too is a Moorean fact:
1. Max is black iff Max has the property of being black.
As I see it, there are three main ways of construing a biconditional such as (1):
A. Ostrich Nominalism. The right-hand side (RHS) says exactly what the left-hand side (LHS) says, but in a verbose and high-falutin' and dispensable way. Thus the use of 'property' on the RHS does not commit one ontologically to properties beyond predicates. (By definition, predicates are linguistic items while properties are extralinguistic and extramental.) Predication is primitive and in need of no philosophical explanation. On this approach, (1) is trivially true. One needn't posit properties, and in consequence one needn't worry about the nature of property-possession. (Is Max related to his blackness, or does Max have his blackness quasi-mereologically by having it as an ontological constituent of him?)
B. Ostrich Realism. The RHS commits one ontologically to properties, but in no sense does the RHS serve to ground or explain the LHS. On this approach, (1) is false if there are no properties. For the ostrich realist, (1) is true, indeed necessarily true, but it is not the case that the LHS is true because the RHS is true. Such notions as metahysical grounding and philosophical explanation are foreign to the ostrich realist, but not in virtue of his being a realist, but in virtue of his being an ostrich.
C. Non-Ostrich Realism. On this approach, the RHS both commits one to properties, but also proffers a metaphysical ground of the truth of the LHS: the LHS is true because (ontologically or metaphysically speaking) the concrete particular Max has the property of being black, and not vice versa.
Note 1: Explanation is asymmetrical; biconditionality is symmetrical.
Note 2: Properties needn't be universals. They might be (abstract) particulars (unrepeatables) such as the tropes of D. C. Williams and Keith Campbell. Properties must, however, be extralinguistic and extramental, by definition.
Note 3: Property-possession needn't be understood in terms of instantiation or exemplification or Fregean 'falling-under'; it might be construed quasi-mereologically as constituency: a thing has a property by having it as a proper ontological part.
Against Ostrich Nominalism
On (A) there are neither properties, nor do properties enter into any explanation of predication. Predication is primitive and in need of no explanation. In virtue of what does 'black' correctly apply to Max? In virtue of nothing. It just applies to him and does so correctly. Max is black, but there is no feature of reality that explains why 'black' is true of Max, or why 'Max is black' is true. It is just true! There is nothing in reality that serves as the ontological ground of this contingent truth. Nothing 'makes' it true. There are no truth-makers and no need for any.
I find ostrich nominalism preposterous. 'Black' is true of Max, 'white' is not, but there is no feature of reality, nothing in or at or about Max that explains why the one predicate is true of him and the other is not!? This is not really an argument but more an expression of incomprehension or incredulity, an autobiographical comment, if you will. I may just be petering out, pace Professor van Inwagen.
Can I do better than peter? 'Black' is a predicate of English. Schwarz is a predicate of German. If there are no properties, then Max is black relative to English, schwarz relative to German, noir relative to French, and no one color. But this is absurd. Max is not three different colors, but one color, the color we use 'black' to pick out, and the Germans use schwarz to pick out. When Karl, Pierre, and I look at Max we see the same color. So there is one color we both see -- which would not be the case if there were no properties beyond predicates. It is not as if I see the color black while Karl sees the color schwarz. We see the same color. And we see it at the cat. This is not a visio intellectualis whereby we peer into some Platonic topos ouranos. Therefore, there is something in, at, or about the cat, something extralinguistic, that grounds the correctness of the application of the predicate to the cat.
A related argument. I say, 'Max is black.' Karl says, Max ist schwarz. 'Is' and ist are token-distinct and type-distinct words of different languages. If there is nothing in reality (no relation whether of instantiation or of constituency, non-relational tie, Bergmannian nexus, etc.) that the copula picks out, then it is only relative to German that Max ist schwarz, and only relative to English that Max is black. But this is absurd. There are not two different facts here but one. Max is the same color for Karl and me, and his being black is the same fact for Karl and me.
Finally, 'Max is black' is true. Is it true ex vi terminorum? Of course not. It is contingently true. Is it just contingently true? Of course not. It is true because of the way extralinguistic reality is arranged. It is modally contingent, but also contingent upon the way the world is. There's this cat that exists whether or not any language exists, and it is black whether or not any language exists.
Therefore, I say that for a predicate to be contingently true of an individual, (i) there must be individuals independently of language; (ii) there must be properties independently of language; and there must be facts or truth-making states of affairs independently of language. Otherwise, you end up with (i) total linguistic idealism, which is absurd; or (ii) linguistic idealism about properties which is absurd; or (iii) a chaos, a world of disconnected particulars and properties.
The above is a shoot-from-the hip, bloggity-blog exposition of ideas that can be put more rigorously, but it seems to to me to show that ostrich nominalism and ostrich realism for that matter are untenable -- and this despite the fact that a positive theory invoking facts has its own very serious problems.
Metaphilosophical Coda: If a theory has insurmountable problems, these problems are not removed by the fact that every other theory has problems. For it might be that no theory is tenable,while the problem itself is genuine.
Trump Labor Secretary nominee Anthony Puzder is under fire for having employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper. But why should liberals care given that they do not distinguish legal from illegal immigrants while standing for open borders and sanctuary jurisdictions in defiance of the rule of law? Suddenly, these destructive leftists care about immigration law? Liberals should praise Puzder for giving the poor woman a job. After all, as they say, no human being is illegal!
What the Left is doing here is employing a Saul Alinsky tactic. The fourth of his Rules for Radicals reads:
Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.
Leftists judge us by rules for which they have nothing but contempt.
The ordinary hypocrite will not practice what he preaches, but at least he preaches, thereby paying lip service to ideals of conduct that he puts forth as binding on all. The Alinksyite leftist is a hyper-hypocrite who preaches ideals of conduct, not to all, but to his enemies, ideals that he has no intention of honoring.
Of course, I am not saying that Puzder did not do wrong in hiring the illegal immigrant. He did, assuming he knew she was illegal.
(1) Sam is poor at t1 iff Sam is identical with some poor person at t1 (2) Sam is poor at t1 iff Sam is self-identical at t1
(1) is self-evidently true. For it cannot be true that Sam is poor, but not identical with some poor person. Nor can it be false that Sam is poor, but true that he is identical with some poor person.
But (2) is false. Sam is necessarily self-identical, but not necessarily poor. Therefore (2) does not follow from (1), for a false statement cannot follow from a true one.
The fallacy is in assuming that being identical with some poor person is the same fact as being identical with oneself.
I plead innocent of the charge of having committed a logical mistake. I accept (1) but I reject (2) and for the very reason the Opponent supplies: "Sam is necessarily self-identical, but not necessarily poor." In fact, this is the very point I use against him. I claim that his theory cannot accommodate it.
The issue is whether predication can be assimilated to identity. 'Sam is poor' is an example of a sentence which, on the face of it, features a predicative use of 'is' as opposed to an identitarian use. Connected with this is the fact that 'poor' is a predicate adjective, not a noun proper or common. So surface indications are that predication cannot be assimilated to identity, or vice versa, and that the 'is' of identity and the 'is' of predication are distinct and mutually irreducible.
When we say that Sam is poor we cannot possibly mean that Sam is identical to the property of being poor. Why not? First, if Sam is identical to a property, then he is a property -- which is precisely what he isn't. Second, if Sam is poor and his father Dave is poor, and to be poor is to be identical to the property of being poor, then, by the Transitivity of Identity, Sam is identical to Dave, which is absurd.
On the other hand, 'Sam is poor' is equivalent to 'Sam is a poor man.' What we have done is replace the adjective with a (common) name. This lends sanction to the notion that our original sentence can be construed to express an identity between the denotatum of 'Sam' and exactly one of the denotata of 'poor man.' We can give this poor guy a (proper) name: 'Poboy.'
I now ask: what is the truth-maker of 'Sam is a poor man' given that the 'is' expresses numerical identity? What in the world makes-true 'Sam is a poor man'? (If the Opponent declares that there is no need for a truth-maker for this obviously contingent true sentence, then Game Over, and we have nothing more to discuss.) The answer has to be, on the theory under discussion: the numerical identity of Sam with Poboy. Since Sam and Poboy are one and the same, this amounts to saying that the truth-maker of 'Sam is a poor man' is Sam's being Sam.
The difficult with this identity theory of predication ought to be obvious. It succumbs to two related objections as I said earlier:
Objection 1. Sam might not have been poor. But it is not the case that Sam might not have been Sam. So the manifestly contingent truth of 'Sam is poor' cannot be explained in terms of identity.
Objection 2. That was a modal objection; now for a temporal one. The poor have been known to become rich. Suppose Sam goes from poor to rich. The identity theory implies that Sam, who was identical to Poboy, ceases to be identical to Poboy and becomes identical to Richboy. But surely this is absurd inasmuch as it is equivalent to saying that Sam, who was numerically the same as himself, is now no longer numerically the same as himself.
This is absurd because, if Sam changes in respect of wealth, going from poor to rich, there has to be a self-same substrate of this change. Sam must remain numerically the same through the change. After all, the change is accidental, not substantial. The identity theory of predication, however, cannot accommodate these truisms. For if Sam is poor in virtue of being identical to one of the poor individuals, then he cannot become rich without ceasing to be himself.
An Alternative Which Avoids These Objections
Suppose we construe 'Sam is poor' to express the instantiation by Sam of the property of being poor. Then the objections can't get started. The Opponent, however, cannot avail himself of this way out since he is a nominalist, one who rejects properties. He may appreciate that man does not live by bread, or bed, alone, but he does not appreciate that the philosopher does not live by predicates alone -- even if he turns them into names.
But I am not endorsing the alternative since it too has difficulties. Here is one. Sam's going from poor to rich or hot to cold or whatever is an intrinsic accidental change, a real change in Sam. It is not a relational change. But if Sam merely instantiates the property of being poor, and this property is a universal, and indeed a universal that is not a constituent of Sam, then it would seem that what is plainly an intrinsic change has been misconstrued as a relational change.
1. The Riddle of Change. Change is ubiquitous. It is perhaps the most pervasive feature of our experience and of the objects of our experience. But is it intelligible? Change could be a fact without being intelligible. But the mind seeks intelligibility; hence it seeks to render change intelligible to it.
There is something puzzling about change inasmuch as it seems to imply a contradiction. When a thing changes, it becomes different than what it was. But unless it also remains the same, we cannot speak, as we do, of one thing changing. But how can this one thing be both the same and different? We ought not assume that there is an insoluble problem here. But we also ought not assume that a simple solution is at hand, or that some simple fallacy has been committed. We must investigate. We do well to begin with some mundane, Moorean fact.
Suppose avocado A, which was unripe a week ago is ripe today. This is an example of alterational (as opposed to existential) change. Aristotelians and Thomists speak of accidental (as opposed to essential) change. But a wise man does not quibble over terminology. The point is that the avocado has become different. But it has also remained the same. It is easy to see that there is no (alterational) change without unchange, i.e., without the persistence of a substratum of change which, as substratum of change, does not change.
This is because alteration (accidental change) is neither destruction nor duplication. The ripening of an avocado does not cause it to cease to exist. And it is clear that one cannot speak of change if there are two avocados, A and B, indiscernible except in respect of ripeness/unripeness, such that A is unripe at time t while B is ripe at time t* (t*> t). Alteration requires that one and the same thing have incompatible properties at different times. This is necessary for alteration; whether it is sufficient is a further question.
Thus there is an apparent contradiction: the ripe avocado is both the same and not the same as the unripe avocado. If you think this puzzle is easily solved, then you haven't understood it. You cannot understand philosophy unless you understand the problems to which its theories and theses are the responses. Philosophy may be more than aporetics, but it is at least aporetics. If you lack the 'aporetic sense' then you lack the "feeling of the philosopher" Plato describes at Theaetetus 155.
2. Reality is contradiction-free. There are no contradictions in reality, but only in our thoughts about reality. That there are no contradictions in reality is not perfectly obvious, but it is very reasonably assumed to be true, and we have to start somewhere. Now if it is true, and if, as is obvious, changes occur, then the apparent contradiction has to be removed. If the apparent contradiction cannot be removed, that is, shown to be merely apparent, then change, which obviously exists in some sense, will have to be demoted to the status of a Bradleyan appearance. (See F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, Book I, Chapter 5.)
The task, then, is to remove the apparent contradiction.
3. Avocado A, having altered, is both the same and different. How is that possible? One solution involves a distinction between numerical and qualitative sameness. A is numerically the same over the interval during which it goes from unripe to ripe, but not qualitatively the same over that interval. The sense in which A is the same is not the same as the sense in which A is not the same: A is numerically the same over the interval but not qualitatively the same over the interval. I will say no more about this solution in this post.
4. Instead of distinguishing two senses of 'same,' one can distinguish two senses of 'individual.' On an Aristotelian-Thomistic analysis, as presented by John Peterson ("Persons and the Problem of Interaction," The Modern Schoolman LXIII, January 1985, 131-137), the individual1 is the primary substance, the avocado in our example. This primary substance is the individual substance, the individual this-such, together with its accidents. The primary substance at time t (when the ripening process begins) is the unripe avocado, and the primary substance at t* (when the process is completed) is a numerically different primary substance. It follows that the primary substance is not the substratum of change!
The substratum of change — that which stays the same throughout the change — is the individual2, the secondary substance 'in' the individual1. The secondary substance 'in' a primary substance is its individuated essence. Primary substances are capable of independent existence. Secondary substances, as constituents of primary substances, are not capable of independent existence. Yet these secondary substances are what ground diachronic identity. So what grounds identity over time and underlies the change and persists through it is the individuated essence.
One can see how this distinction between two senses of 'individual' removes the contradiction. It is the individual2 (the individuated essence) that is the same over time, and the individual1 that is different over time. There is no one concretum that is the same and different. There are two 'things' in the changing concretum.
It follows that the unripe avocado I saw on my counter a week ago is not numerically the same ripe avocado that I see on my counter today. It is a numerically different avocado.
5. The scholastic analysis can be applied to persons and the problem of their identity over time and through change. Persons are individuals2. Thus they are individuated essences or secondary substances. Elliot drunk and Elliot sober are the same person because the same individuated essence, the same instance of humanity, underlies the change in accidents. But they are numerically different primary substances and thus numerically different human animals.
Peterson thinks this solution superior to the Cartesian view according to which a person is identified with a res cogitans. On the Cartesian view, the person is a primary as opposed to a secondary substance. As a primary substance, the person on the Cartesian view is capable of independent existence. Given that a person remains self-same through change, the res cogitans must remain self-same though change. But then how can Elliot drunk and Elliot sober be the same person? "For individuals1, as was said, are not substrates through any change but are rather the termini in any change, that is, the terminus ad quem [endpoint toward which] and terminus a quo [endpoint from which] of a change." (p. 135)
6. Let us now consider existential or substantial change. When an avocado ripens, it acquires the property of being ripe and loses the property of being unripe. It seems as obvious as anything that alterational or accidental change requires a substratum. But when the ripe avocado becomes the stuff of guacamole, it suffers a much more radical change. The avocado ceases to exist. Can one speak here too of a substratum of change, something in the thing that remains the same through the change?
There is likewise a difference between Elliot's sobering up and Elliot's dying. When he sobers up, the substratum of the change on the Thomistic view is his individuated essence. But what is the substratum of the radical existential change which occurs when he dies? Peterson writes, "The substrate of this change, of course, cannot be a particular human essence since it is just this which has passed away." (135) The particular human essence is subject to passing away since it is a compound of form and matter. So Peterson proposes the Aristotelian view according to which "The substrate of change in the case of essential change is simply the potentiality on the part of any individual to become something essentially different from what it is." (135) This potentiality is matter. Since it is that which individuates the form, matter is an individual in a third sense. There are then three senses of 'individual':
Individual1 = primary substance Individual2 = secondary substance = substrate of accidental change Individual3 = matter = substrate of essential or existential change
7. Possible Lines of Critique
A. Peterson's theory implies that the unripe avocado and the ripe avocado are two primary substances, not one. (Likewise for Elliot sober and Elliot drunk.) But since now there is only one, the ripe one, the unripe one must have passed out of existence. This consequence of Peterson's theory seems to collide with the Moorean fact mentioned above, namely, that alterational or accidental change does not involve the destruction of the thing that changes. If the thing that changes is the unripe avocado one sees and touches, then that thing does not remain self-same over time: it passes out of existence. What remains the same over time is the individuated essence which one does not see and which is not a substance in its own right.
B. Matter, as the substrate of essential change, is prime matter. It is very difficult to see how the notion of materia prima can be rendered intelligible.