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Friday, January 29, 2021

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Dear Bill,

I fail to see the justification for your claims that the psyche or the psychophysical complex is not the ultimate subject of experience. The fact that it is an object of introspection does not exclude that it also might be the subject. The exclusion seems to be completely unwarranted, and so the move to the transcendental ego unjustified - all the more so, given the problematic (I would say self-contradictory) nature of this notion.

Your crucial question is: how can my metaphysical self be identical to a physical body? This is my response:

My metaphysical self is a substance: a substance of certain kind, having certain essence. Viz., the essence of a rational animal, i.e., a rational, sentient, living body. What does it mean?

To be a substance is to have the essence of an entity which does not inhere in anything else but is the ultimate bearer and possessor of all its properties and operations.

To be a body is to be a subject of spatial extension and quantifiable material qualities ("physical quantities"). A particular extension and particular qualities are not part of the essence of a body but its accidental forms; what is essential to a body is the requirement to have some sort of such forms. This requirement may be either absolute, so that the substance cannot exist without the respective accidents, or merely aptitudinal: so that the substance naturally is endowed with such forms and needs them in order to "be well", but can, under certain circumstances, be deprived of them.

Note that due to the fact that a particular extension (which endows the substance with really distinct integral parts and disposes these parts in space, and probably also time) is an accidental form, a material substance is not extended and divided into parts in its essence. If a man loses the lower part of his body, his humanity (his human essence) is not halved or reduced to a part: he remains wholly human. Also, the essence is wholly present in each of the spatio-temporal parts.

To be a living being is to have an essence which requires for the respective substance a set of certain active potencies: dispositions to vital operations such as reproduction, metabolism, growth, responsivity, or active motion.

To be an animal is to have an essence requiring a set of higher active potencies, viz. sensory cognitive and appetitive powers. The operations of these powers have a material aspect - they are often localized someplace within the extension of the body (my finger hurts) - but they have also certain immaterial aspects: they are (often) conscious.

To be rational is to have an essence requiring the spiritual -- that is, essentially unextended -- active potencies of intellect and will. The operations of these potencies do not have, as such, any material aspect; they can be said to be at a certain place only in an improper sense, due to their belonging to a subject which is, in virtue of also possessing the accidental form of spatial extension, localized at a certain place.

So, how can my metaphysical self be identical to a physical body? By being, due to its essential make-up, a subject of both spiritual and material accidental forms.

"I am sitting on my chair and thinking." That is: I, the metaphysical subject, have certain location and position, which are bodily, extended determinations. But I also perform certain operation which is completely immaterial -- that menas, it is not in itself extended and has nothing to do with the complex of "material" forms I also possess (such as my weight, appearance, etc.) which are connected to my extension. But the subject is one and the same: it is the sitter who thinks, and noone else, and noone but the thinker who sits (a sort of "communicatio idiomatum"). There is no integral part of the sitter that can be said to do the thinking. The thinking belongs to the sitter independently of his having integral parts, there is no special relation of the thinking to the integral parts qua integral parts. An analogy: a red magnet produces a magnetic field; but its producing the filed is not in any way connected to its redness: it does not produce it qua red, or in a red way or something like that. Its magnetic quality and its hue are disparate - just like my sitting and my thinking are (the difference being that both the hue and the production of the field inhere in the substance through its extension, and so both are extensional in nature; whereas there is no similar common form situated "between" me (=the subject) and both my thinking and my sitting: the only mediator is the substance, the ultimate subject.

My capability of being endowed with this dual set of properties may, or may not, be further explained by my essence being an essence of a hylomorphic compound. I don't know. But it does not seem to involve (unlike the notion of transcendental ego) any obvious contradiction. I do not think qua material: I think qua endowed with intellect. Materiality is not my only dimension, so to speak, I also have others. I am truly material, but I am not material through and through.

Lukas,

Thank you for the detailed and challenging response!

>>To be a body is to be a subject of spatial extension and quantifiable material qualities ("physical quantities"). A particular extension and particular qualities are not part of the essence of a body but its accidental forms; what is essential to a body is the requirement to have some sort of such forms.<<

OK.

>> This requirement may be either absolute, so that the substance cannot exist without the respective accidents, or merely aptitudinal: so that the substance naturally is endowed with such forms and needs them in order to "be well", but can, under certain circumstances, be deprived of them.<<

The second disjunct makes no sense. If it is the essence of a material substance to have some set or other of accidental material qualities, then no material substance -- no body -- can be deprived of them and remain a material substance. (Of course, it can be deprived of them in the sense that, in being deprived of them, it ceases to exist.)

Bill,

I do not say that it is the essence of a material substance to have som set or other of accidental material qualities. I say that an aspect of the essence of a materias substance is to require -- either strictly or not-strictly -- such qualities. The qualities are not part of the essence, they are grounded in the essence. No material substance can be deprived of the requirement of these qualities, but this requirement can, perhaps, be frustrated.

>>Note that due to the fact that a particular extension (which endows the substance with really distinct integral parts and disposes these parts in space, and probably also time) is an accidental form, a material substance is not extended and divided into parts in its essence. If a man loses the lower part of his body, his humanity (his human essence) is not halved or reduced to a part: he remains wholly human. Also, the essence is wholly present in each of the spatio-temporal parts.<<

I am not understanding this (a polite way of suggesting that it does not make sense). You are talking about a material substance, a body. Take my body. It is accidental that I weigh 200lbs. It is accidental that I have the set of material accidental forms and physical quantities that I do have. It is accidental that my parts are disposed in space as they are disposed. (Let's leave time out of it!) But surely it is essential to any material substance including my body that it be extended in space and divisible into material parts. But you seem to be denying this.

If you are thinking of the essence of a material substance as an abstract or ideal object, then of course such an essence cannot have material parts. But apparently you are thinking of the essence as hidden within the core of the material substance, supporting its accidents, and as itself material.

You say that the essence is wholly present in each of its parts. So each proper part of a human animal is a human animal? If I lose my legs, I remain a human animal. But if I lose my head, I cease to be a human animal.

Your conception is exceedingly murky -- which is why scholastic philosophy subsided after Descartes to survive only in isolated backwaters. To put it in the form a cheap joke -- no offence intended -- the mainstreamers came to view scholastic philosophy as so much substance abuse.

But this is not to say that the transcendental turn, let alone the linguistic turn, has led us anywhere!

Bill,

yes, I think that what is essential to material substances is not their actually being extended but their being the sort of thing which requires the accidental form of extension. This is not to say that being actually extended is not de re necessary for most material substances. It seems to me incoherent to think of extension as of an essence of a body, but I concede that it is (probably) a necessary attribute of most bodies. But it cannot be a strictly necessary attribute of spirited bodies, as they can survive without being actually extended. Why do you think that "it is surely essential to any material substance that it be extended in space"?

"Essence" can have two slightly different senses: (1) The intrinsic principle which makes a thing what it is; (2) The thing itself in its nakedness, so to speak, i.e. considered only insomuch as it is essentially determined, i.e. without its accidents. Neither of these is an "ideal object"; the former is a real principle and the latter is its precisely corresponding principiate.

The essence(2) of a body is material(2) in the sense that it requires to be informed by extension. The essence(1) of a body is only material(1) in the sense that it makes the essence(2) material(2). Neither materiality(1) nor materiality(2) involves actual divisibility in parts. Actually divisible in parts is only that which is actually extended, i.e. a material substance qua actually informed by extension.

You say that the essence is wholly present in each of its parts. So each proper part of a human animal is a human animal?

That the essence is wholly present in a part does not imply that it relates to that part as to that whose essence it is. It is the essence of the whole, so it only makes the whole (say) a human animal, not its parts. But it makes each and every part a fully human part. By touching any of these parts you are touching a man.

Compare that with extensional forms. Take a 1m long rod. Its length is not wholly present in each part of the rod but its parts are distributed along the parts of the rod. Remove a part of the rod, and you're removing the corresponding part of its length. But you cannot thus remove a part of a man's humanity (human essence). It is not distributed along his integral parts. This is one of the reasons why actual extension must not be considered to be essential to a man. The "ordo partium in loco" imparted by extension does not affect a man's essence.

If I lose my legs, I remain a human animal. But if I lose my head, I cease to be a human animal.

Let's assume that's true. Of course, a substance cannot survive some of its accidental changes. If you are heated to 120 °C, you also cease to be a human animal. Some accidental changes trigger substantial changes. In fact, there is probably no other way how to trigger a substantial change than to introduce such accidental changes to the substance that it cannot sustain them. A substance requires accidental forms within certain ranges. But that does not make these accidental forms "essential".

But, in fact, I don't think human death should be considered a substantial change. If human soul survives death and if it retains personal identity (otherwise it could not justly receive rewards/punishments for the live man's deeds), then there must be one and the same individual before and after death. Therefore, the "loss of a body" must be a merely accidental change.

Your conception is exceedingly murky -- which is why scholastic philosophy subsided after Descartes to survive only in isolated backwaters.

This is a digression, but, speaking of scholastic philosophy: Is it murky, or does it merely appear murky to those unwilling to make all those "unnecessary distinctions"? My personal impression is precisely opposite: in a scholastic, it perhaps takes a long study, but you can ultimately always say quite precisely what his position is. There are very little controversies over the proper interpretation of scholastic thinkers among experts as soon as their work gets properly explored. Whereas in case of modern thinkers -- well: the interpretations of Husserl's "phenomenological reduction" range from "a methodological rule" (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/husserl/#PheEpo) to "a meditative technique leading to a irrevertible life-changing experience" (https://iep.utm.edu/phen-red/). Concerning Kant, Scruton noted that there is no agreement whatsoever among experts concerning either the content or the strength of his arguments (I have experienced it myself when taking a course on Kant taught jointly by two greatest Czech Kant experts - they never agreed on anything, especially not in their responses to objections). The meaning of a crucial Descartes' term, "idea", changes continuously to accomodate to his various opponents; his notion of the "objective reality of an idea", on which his proof of God's existence (i.e., practically everything) hinges, is muddled to the extreme (in sharp contrast with its obvious origin, the Scholastic notion of objective concept). There even seems to be a kind of law: in case of modern continental philosophers, the greater expert you are, the more probably and more substantially you will disagree in your interpretation with experts on the same level. While in case of the scholastics the inverse seems to hold.

Nevermind - just ranting... :-)


Having spent quite a lot of time around the many, many different stripes of Thomist, I find it incredible that you say this, Lukas:

There are very little controversies over the proper interpretation of scholastic thinkers among experts as soon as their work gets properly explored.

Cyrus,

this is a fair comment. Of course I was overstating a bit (but I was provoked!) If I should vote for the most enigmatic scholastic ever, it would be Aquinas :-) But there are several things to note.

First, Aquinas stands at the beginning of High Scholasticism, which then lasted for several more hunders years. So it is kind of understandable that from the perspective of late, much more detailed and developed doctrines his philosophy is simply underdefined and undeveloped, i.e. open to many different precizations (which are the various strands of Thomism). When speaking about "the scholastics", I rather meant the late, Renaissance or Baroque figures. Of course there always is certain leeway and indeterminacy; but in my experience it is incomparable to the chaos of competing interpretations of modern thinkers, where, as it seems, almost anything is up to grabs, and what is despised most are the traditional, intelligible "schoolbook" portraits of these philosophers.

Second, one has to distinguish between Thomists and Aquinas scholars. A Thomist's goal is to capture, explain, develop and pass on the truth inherent in Aquinas's intellectual heritage. He is doing philosophy with the help of Aquinas, and so naturally interprets Aquinas in accord with what he perceives as philosophical truth. Hence the discrepancies among different Thomists. Whereas a philosophically disinterested Aquinas scholar just strives to have Aquinas right, to describe accurately his thought. The problem is that the historical accuracy of many Aquinas scholars is somewhat, well, influenced by their Thomism.

On the contrary, today's Scotus scholars usually are not Scotists (frankly, nowadays almost anyone is not a Scotist), which seems to be the reason why Scotus scholarship is much more convergent than Aquinas scholarship (of course, another reason is numbers: there are much fewer Scotus scholars than Aquinas scholars, what a shame :-)). True -- intitially Scotus scholarship was also influenced by Thomism, to the effect that while some (such as Gilson) strived primarily to show why and how Scotus, being so different form Aquinas, is so wrong, others (such as Wolter) strived to show that he is not so different after all, and therefore -- maybe? -- not so fatally wrong.

But the recent scholarship which focuses on Renaissance and Baroque scholastics (you see, those who by their "murkines" should have motivated the launch of early modern philosophy) seems to be much less partisan and therefore still much more convergent (but again, the numbers certainly play a role as well).

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