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Sunday, December 28, 2008


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Thanks for this post!

You're welcome, Bjork.

A stove, oven, or boiler heats up every part of itself. But only one proper part of it does the heating, though every part of it helps spread the heat. So far, your first premiss seems to stand, though losing one of its supports, the idea that no proper part of a thing can act on every part of the thing. But maybe that support should be restored. Maybe it's that no proper part of a stove can act directly on every part? But then there's the question of what counts as "directly" and for my part I'm unsure. Something to do with shortest paths. Then I guess it gets into radiant heat versus ambient heat and heat in solids.

However, in the case of gravitation, all the matter "acts" on all of itself to compress itself toward the center of gravity. Of course, this gets into tricky questions of what sort of action (action at a distance?) is involved in gravitation. Aristotle saw that which we call the gravity well as a material object's "natural place" and end; the falling object is the agency (slamming into the earth); but then all the terrestrial matter likewise is or has agency, force of weight, pressing inwards. Well, if I knew more about GR, I might have somewhere to go with this.

Another angle: why consciousness as a mover, an agent? If by "consciousness" we mean something with capacities volitional, competential, affective, and cognitive, then okay. But if we're discussing a passive, intellectual cognition - neither will's agency, competency's bearing & coping, nor affectivity's excitedness - but a stable cognition about layers of awareness, layers which become differentiated (actualized?) only if one thinks or has thought actively about them, then we're discussing a kind of form or structure. In a structure, is every part balanced against every part, not in direct contact but still in some significant sense? Not always. But, in a sensitive structure, I would suppose so, and a structure can have both sensitivity and integrity. If cognitive awareness is both sensitive and stable like, say, a web, where motions and vibrations travel very swiftly and more or less directly through the web in an informative way because of the globally effective ways in which the web's parts are supported and linked by one another, then, vice versa, does a web count as a material object which is non-formally reflexive in its supportedness, if not in active, driving agency?

But even if we were considering only a passive intellectual awareness, it's still an aspect of a mind which, unlike a web, has at least the potential to act on or "do something about" the objects of consciousness, even if sometimes the action is mental and cogitative or is more about changing one's relation to them than about changing them. (One can't change the past, but one can adhere to it in habit or break with it.) If the capacity for awareness of one's awareness has a function, maybe it pertains to learning - learning such things as self-control and revising one's habits of interpretation, retraining one's instincts, etc. So in the end it's not really like a web, or like other such phenomena which one could probably dig up, and, if a mind is a material body, it's of a unique kind. But Aquinas spoke about the immateriality of the intellect, not of the whole mind in the modern sense. So it gets too complicated for me again. Signing off! and thanks for your post, it got me to thinking pretty hard today.

Interesting comments, Ben. I have time for just one response.

Consider just the heating element in an oven. It might be a gas burner or an electrical element that emits heat when a strong current is passed through it. It seems plausible to say that the heating element heats itself and every part of itself, which seems to be a counterexample to Aquinas' first premise according to which "one part is the mover and the other the moved." But is it true that a gas burner when ignited heats EVERY part of the gas burner? If it heats every part, then it heats every part of every part 'all the way down.' I am assuming the plausible mereological principle that if a whole has parts, then it also has as parts all the parts of those parts. (Contrast this with sets which do not have as elements all the elements of their elements. E.g. {{a}, {b}} has {a}, {b} as elements but does not have a, b as elements.)

Arguably, however, there are parts of the burner that do not get heated. Heat is a form of kinetic energy of molecules, and so I wonder whether an individual molecule can be said to have a temperature, or whether this can be said only of molecules in the aggregate intereacting with each other. If the latter, then no individual molecule of the burner is heated by the burner when ignited.

Below the molecular level, at the atomic and subatomic levels, it seems one can no longer speak of heat or or temperature. Does the burner heat up constituent electrons, protons, nuetrons, neutrinos, quarks? Isn't 'heat of an electron' a meaningless expression?

There is also this empirical question: does a flame heat every part of itself? The flame heats the metal burner (though not every part of the metal burner as I have just argued); but does the flame heat every part of itself? For example, does it heat the oxygen it consumes? How could it heat it if it consumes it?

I think the potential or virtual infinite of knowledge acts is more what Aquinas intends to indicate in the second premise. So, he says in the sixth paragraph of 49 that the intellect can understand universals (infinites), which indicates it cannot of the same nature as a body (as every material body is finite). This is what he expands on when he points out that the intellect can reflect upon itself. The intellect can both terminate its acts within its own knowledge acts (I know that I know "ad infinitum," which Aquinas explicitly acknowledges in paragraph 9), as well as know itself as a whole (I understand that I have an intellect, and that it has such-and-such a nature). Both are "infinite" acts in obtaining to universals.

In terms of your own proof, I think premise 5 might be too weak (susceptible to a god-of-the-gaps criticism). It seems you would need some sub-proof that shows that material reality cannot exercise this sort of activity in order to demonstrate that it is truly of a different nature from matter. Aquinas attempts to provide this with the discussion of the finite/material and infinite/immaterial distinction.

Hi Bill,

I agree it's very hard to find an example of a body that acts on the whole of itself in the required way. I think this may be because bodies are spatially finite. But though acts of the intellect may be hard to locate spatially, surely they have bounded extent in time, and it's equally hard (if not harder!) to see how the beginning of an intellectual act can be aware of the whole of itself, including its as yet to come end. So I'm not convinced that acts of the intellect have the required reflexive property either.

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