Do you believe in magic?

At dangerous idea Victor Reppert recently published a short piece entitled Do you believe in magic?  There followed a lengthy comment thread, much of it the lazy slagging off that VR lets his commenters get away with.  Here is the original post followed by a comment I made and the responses it drew.

VR's original post
I don't believe that reason could arise from nonreason, therefore I think that reason is at the foundation of the universe. According to the naturalistic view, the normative arises from the nonnormative, the logical arises from the nonlogical, the universe exists without an explanation for its existence even though it looks contingent as all heck, the universe was finely tuned for intelligent life, purposes arise where none existed before, consciousness comes from a lack of consciousness. The very foundations of science don't even seem possible in the irrational universe that atheists believe in. Even the very fact that our thoughts are about something else is something that can't be captured by basic physics. It has always seemed to me that the atheists, not the theists, are the ones who believe in magic.
DB said
If magic is the intervention into the world of powers that lay outside it, then theists, on the whole, do seem to believe in magic. On the other hand, the gist of Victor's piece is that atheists, like Lewis Carroll's White Queen, believe in impossibilities. Are both claims true?

I can't speak for the theists on the issue of magic. But some of Victor's impossibilities are more tractable than others. Certainly, intentionality, normativity, purpose, and reason aren't present in the entities of basic physics. But what about the entities of biology? There are the beginnings of naturalistic accounts of how all four can arise in living things. Considering just reason, how do we explain that different people can reason their way to radically divergent conclusions? The Christian theist, I think, might say that reason is present in God at the foundation of the universe, but that in humans it is a weak reed on account of the fall. The naturalist will say that reason is something cobbled together by evolution that gives us an advantage in dealing with the quotidian problems of life. On metaphysical questions it's maybe not so reliable. This has implications for other of Victor's impossibilities which are less tractable. Questions as to the origin of the universe, its apparent fine-tuning, and the origins of life, present formidable problems to the naturalist, and perhaps to reason itself.
C said
DB: There are the beginnings of naturalistic accounts of how all four can arise in living things.
We've been hearing about these "beginnings" for ages now. It's yet more promissory notes.
The naturalist will say that reason is something cobbled together by evolution that gives us an advantage in dealing with the quotidian problems of life. On metaphysical questions it's maybe not so reliable.
So the naturalism should give up naturalism, which is yet another metaphysical question.
DB said
I doubt anything is being promised. But before Darwin, before DNA, before computer and neuroscience, it was never possible to put much flesh on the bare bones of philosophical naturalism. Much has changed over my lifetime. It may all come to nothing of course, and in fifty years time we may be no further forward. But why counsel despair? Where is the American can-do spirit?

DB said
Well, what do people mean when they say that reason cannot arise from non-reason? There seems an obvious counter-example: when it is born a baby seems not to reason at all, but a few years later the child certainly can reason.
DJ said
DB: Well, what do people mean when they say that reason cannot arise from non-reason? There seems an obvious counter-example: when it is born a baby seems not to reason at all, but a few years later the child certainly can reason.
Sometimes, I wonder if people really tries to understand what's being argued at all, when this sounds like an obvious counter-argument.

"Uhhmmm, yeah. That's right. We forgot about babies."

Victor has, after all, written a book on the subject. He shouldn't have to repeat the main insights in every post.

At the otherwise generous Secular Outpost, taste emerging from fertilizer is being presented as a counter-argument from Parsons himself.

As James Chastek once stated, you could believe that the entirety of modern philosophy could be taught as a failure to understand the distinction between actuality and potentiality.
DB said
So 'I don't believe that reason could arise from nonreason' does not imply 'I have never seen an instance of reason arising from nonreason', because one clearly has. Rather it means something like, 'I have an argument that concludes with 'Reason cannot arise from nonreason', and I find this argument compelling'. Others will have examined the argument and not found it so compelling. Both sides will come up with further arguments to justify their positions. These arguments will all contain abstract terms whose meanings people will find hard to explain to one another, let alone come to agreement on. This is reason to doubt our faith in reason, or at least our faith in the use of reason in pursuit of certain sorts of philosophical inquiry.
DJ said
Yes, people tend to disagree. That's why we have rational discourse. To decide which side has the better arguments.

If disagreement is a sufficient reason to doubt reason (pun intended), there's hardly much left to hang on to? Where could we ever stop our skepticism to reason itself?

Problem with most modern skeptics, is that they're not nearly skeptic enough.
DB said
Surely there's lots left to hang on to? Day to day reasoning about concrete things such as why the car won't start is highly successful. As it is in mathematics and the physical sciences. There are two big areas where reason runs into trouble. The first is in understanding each other at a personal level. This extends into the humanities and into history and politics. The second is the domain of 'ultimate questions', of philosophy and religion. Reason's ability to generate widely accepted answers runs out of steam. Or, to mix metaphors, the arguments run into the sand. I think there are reasons(!) for this but they only make sense relative to my naturalistic understanding of what reason is, so there is little point in rehearsing them here. Maybe it's worth saying that in these domains we have only Reason itself to guide us, and perhaps personal experiences of a singular nature which aren't open to all. I don't trust Reason that remains untethered to the ground. The history of philosophy surely shows how easily it runs astray. And I can't speak about and evaluate experiences I've not had.
DJ said
DB: I don't trust Reason that remains untethered to the ground
I agree. That's why I'm an Aristotelian and a Scholastic, and why I'm not clear, same as the OP, as to what "naturalistic reason" could even mean. Few people say it clearer than Etienne Gilson.

Key takeaway: Insufficient grounding. Where first principles are not sufficiently established, the rest seem trivial.

“Since, however, it had become clear to me that, technically speaking, the metaphysics of Descartes had largely been a clumsy overhauling of scholastic metaphysics, I decided to learn metaphysics from those who had really known it, namely, those very Schoolmen whom my own professors of philosophy felt the more free to despise as they had never read them. Their study has wholly convinced me, not at all that to philosophize consists in repeating what they have said, but rather that no philosophical progress will ever be possible unless we first learn to know what they knew.

The chaotic condition of contemporary philosophy, with the ensuing moral, social, political, and pedagogical chaos, is not due to any lack of philosophical insight among modern thinkers; it simply follows from the fact that we have lost our way because we have lost the knowledge of some fundamental principles which, since they are true, are the only ones on which, today as well as in Plato’s own day, any philosophical knowledge worthy of the name can possibly be established.

(…)

The great curse of modern philosophy is the almost universally prevailing rebellion against intellectual self-discipline. Where loose thinking obtains, truth cannot possibly be grasped, whence the conclusion naturally follows that there is no truth.”
DB said
I have to agree that Aristotelianism and its medieval developments are well grounded and worked out systems of thought. The problem, in my view, is that they are grounded in common sense. Aristotelianism is a theory in and of the manifest image, to use Sellars's term. Aristotle and the medievals can be forgiven for not knowing what we have learned about the world since 1600, which in many ways undermines common sense. The question then becomes whether the manifest image can assimilate the scientific image, or whether the scientific image can assimilate the manifest image, or perhaps neither, and a fresh start is needed. My education lay outside the Aristotelian tradition and I'm not as familiar as I'd like to be with the extent to which Aristotelians see this as an issue, and what efforts are being made to tackle it. Those of us who see the scientific image as primary are well aware of the problems we face in accounting for the manifest image. They have been well-rehearsed in these pages, I am sure. Do Aristotelians think that they face no challenges at all?
MrG said
DB: The problem, in my view, is that they are grounded in common sense. [...] what we have learned about the world since 1600, which in many ways undermines common sense.
Well, no, and no. (In my experience, claims about what the mediaevals couldn't have known are generally inversely proportional to knowledge of what they actually said.)
Do Aristotelians think that they face no challenges at all?
Well, new discoveries in physics may pose challenges for physicists, Aristotelian or otherwise; but fundamentals like "there are things that exist" or "some things change" are not going to, er, change, any more than new mathematics is going to undermine Pythagoras's Theorem. The biggest challenge those in the Aristotelian tradition face is getting people to understand their actual views instead of crude caricatures.
DB said
Mr G,  Does the extent of my knowledge of medieval thought (admittedly quite limited, so you can consider your experience now 1001-fold!) have any relevance to how much medieval thinkers knew about the world? The claim is that much more has now been discovered, and some of it is rather undermining of even present-day common sense, which has moved on somewhat since the 13th century, and hence is undermining of Aristotelianism.

For example, we who start in the scientific image, which at its most basic level operates without the notion of 'cause', have an uphill struggle to explain how (efficient) cause arises in the manifest image. Likewise, those who start within the manifest image, and make cause fundamental, have to explain how the scientific image gets by without it. Do present-day thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition see this as a problem, and are they tackling it? I would like to read them.

I would have thought that the history of ideas teaches us that little can be set in stone. Arguably, the work of Bolyai, Lobachevski, and Gauss did undermine Pythagoras, at least until Euclidean geometry was reclaimed and reset in a newer, wider context.
GR said
DB: "Likewise, those who start within the manifest image, and make cause fundamental, have to explain how the scientific image gets by without it."
The "scientific image" does not get by without it. At all. What does happen is that in the *mathematical formulation* of the physical theories, words like "cause", "substance" and "essence" do no do any work. Nor could they, because these are precisely the aspects of reality that cannot be captured by the mathematical formalisms. But that does not mean that these, or their functional equivalents, do not play any role. Of course they do, because scientific theories aim at give a rational understanding of the world, not merely a mathematical description of it useful for prediction purposes.

And *if* you take the latter to be the fundamental job of Science, that is, you take a purely instrumental perspective, then what is so extraordinary that scientific theories do not feature things like "cause", "substance", etc.? They also do not feature things like me, you, Love or the poetry of Wallace Stevens, but that thereby does not cause us to think that the latter do not exist or are less real.

Contrapositively, is everything that does play a role in the physical theory real? There are many things in the physical theories that are merely theoretical artifacts (or at least arguably so). Are the Hilbert state spaces of quantum mechanics real or not? The mathematical description of QM employs them, so by your logic it seems they have independent, extra-mental existence. Now that is a truly fantastical claim. Maybe someone will retort that one can rewrite everything in ZFC or finite order arithmetic or some such. Well, are then sets or sequences of natural numbers real?

The only way your claim would have any weight would be if we already knew that the mathematical descriptions as provided by the scientific theories are exhaustive of reality. But merely assuming that is question begging and is part of the dispute itself.
"Arguably, the work of Bolyai, Lobachevski, and Gauss did undermine Pythagoras, at least until Euclidean geometry was reclaimed and reset in a newer, wider context."
But the fact is that it did not undermine Euclidean geometry; what it did undermine was the belief that there was, or could be (*), no other geometry other than the Euclidean, which is a different thing. This is no different in kind from the belief that all swans were white until a black swan was found.

(*) this is of course, an anachronistic way of putting things. Even in the long, drawn out discussions about the parallel postulate, the issues were not put in these (modern) terms.
MrG said
DB: The claim is that much more has now been discovered, and some of it is rather undermining of even present-day common sense, which has moved on somewhat since the 13th century, and hence is undermining of Aristotelianism.
It’s highly questionable that "common sense" has moved on, unless you take "common sense" in the quasi-facetious sense of Einstein's quip about prejudices laid down before the age of eighteen. I mean something a bit more serious than that; not something merely taken for granted, but sound practical judgement. Common sense tells you that you exist — or that other people exist, even if you haven’t worked through a philosophical demonstration (or even if you have); that 1+1=2, even though you haven’t studied Russell and Whitehead’s proof. That was true for Aristotle, and it is true today.

Of course, Aristotelianism isn’t grounded on common sense anyway. Some views entail that you are “nothing but” a pile of dead, unconscious atoms, say. If the self as an illusion or believing that you have no beliefs, etc. were the only possible logical explanation, we might be stuck with that… but not when there is a system that supplies a perfectly rational and consistent explanation of how you can in fact be what you seem to be (and the atoms to boot). The big deal about Aristotelianism and common sense is not its foundations, but its results; that it’s a system that can actually explain why common sense works, instead of sheepishly having to explain it away as something deluded.
I would have thought that the history of ideas teaches us that little can be set in stone. Arguably, the work of Bolyai, Lobachevski, and Gauss did undermine Pythagoras, at least until Euclidean geometry was reclaimed and reset in a newer, wider context.
As GRodrigues pointed out, it did no such thing — what could that even mean? That in the nineteenth century the square of the hypotenuse suddenly stopped equalling the sum of the other squares? That 3²+4² only approximately equals 5², and Pythagoras just didn’t have an accurate enough ruler to notice? Lobachevski added to our mathematical knowledge, but certainly did not remove anything that had already been established. It's not "Pythagoras's Conjecture" or "Pythagoras's Suggestion”, it is a proof, and not something that will ever be overturned.

Now obviously, not every claim reaches the level of proof. For Aristotle to say, “Chocolate ice-cream is better than strawberry", does not commit contemporary Aristotelians. Some claims are opinions or conjecture. Scientific claims are of their nature provisional — they are not mere opinions, but we know they will be improved and refined. You may see obsolete scientific examples quoted to show how much the Mediaevals didn’t know, but they knew that they were only examples, and subject to change.
Of course Aquinas didn’t know about genetic mutation, but he didn’t have to, because wasn’t staking any proofs on the details of such a claim. In fact, he famously throws in a line about “new species, if any such there be…” because he was completely aware that despite the “consensus science” of his day, biology is not certain in the way mathematics is. That’s why it’s dangerous to brag about what they “didn’t know” — Aquinas didn’t know biologists were going to change their minds and come up with evolution, but he was ready for them anyway. It turns out that the actual foundations, that parts that are supposed to be solid, in fact are, and the claims which can be defeated are not that important. There’s no merit in dismissing the ancients and mediaevals because “we know things” if one doesn’t make the effort to take them seriously and study what they actually said.
DB said
Thanks, gentlemen, for the responses. GR says,
The only way your claim would have any weight would be if we already knew that the mathematical descriptions as provided by the scientific theories are exhaustive of reality. But merely assuming that is question begging and is part of the dispute itself.
I might reply that the Aristotelian equally begs the question in assuming that the apparatus of cause, act, potential, etc, applies throughout reality. But rather than unproductively accusing one another of begging the question let's accept that both viewpoints are in effect axiomatic systems of thought. The question is then which, if either, does the better job of capturing reality? For many, the scientific image fails utterly to engage with what are the most important aspects of reality for us humans, and cannot even in principle address them. But this doesn't mean that Aristotelianism, as a theory of the manifest image, wins the race. As it turns into the final straight of the twentieth century it collides with discoveries about reality that no one could have predicted. These discoveries reveal a part of reality so far removed from common sense that axioms rooted in common sense and intended to characterise it just cannot reach it. Or so say I. The charge is not that bits of ancient and medieval science are wrong. Rather that the metaphysics is no longer up to the job.

On Pythagoras, I think GR gets things just right:
But the fact is that it [the work of Bolyai, etc] did not undermine Euclidean geometry; what it did undermine was the belief that there was, or could be (*), no other geometry other than the Euclidean...
This makes my point. For this belief was the common sense view from ancient times to Kant and beyond.
MrG said
DB: For this belief was the common sense view from ancient times to Kant and beyond.
I think you’re getting too hung up on this “common sense” thing. You can’t simply apply Sellar’s “manifest” label to Aristotelians as though they would accept his dichotomous characterisation of the so-called “scientific image” as a predominating rival. To get anywhere with that, you would first have to show that it does not, in fact, capture reality, and furthermore that it cannot be extended in any way to cover new knowledge. GRodrigues clearly noted that the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry did not overturn any proven mathematics; it merely showed that it was wrong to take it for granted otherwise. And of course everyone didn’t take it for granted — mathematicians were investigating the issue for centuries, which is how they managed to discover these other geometries in the first place. “Aristotelianism” did not stop short with the death of Aristotle, and supposing that any new discovery could warrant throwing out proven fundamentals is as silly as throwing out the scientific method because Newton didn’t know everything.
These discoveries reveal a part of reality so far removed from common sense that axioms rooted in common sense and intended to characterise it just cannot reach it. […] Rather that the metaphysics is no longer up to the job.
But I already pointed out that that’s backwards: Aristotelianism isn’t rooted in common sense, as though Aristotle just looked out the window and wrote down the first thing that came to his head. As I said, it’s the other way around. The fact is, the rejection of various Aristotelian principles is what led to many of the problems that modern philosophy faces. Traditional metaphysics handles these “unpredictable” discoveries better than its competitors. Some of these discoveries may be surprising, but they nevertheless fit within the traditional framework, i.e. they lend it further support. That’s why modern philosophers are starting to rediscover Aristotelian concepts, sometimes explicitly, sometimes re-inventing them (“emergence” seems to be stumbling towards formal and final causes under a new name).

Let’s get some concrete examples on the table: name some specific fundamental premises of traditional metaphysics and some specific discoveries, and explain why you think they are somehow incompatible.

DB said
Mr G, Does the Aristotelian machinery of form, substance, cause, act, potential, etc, offer us any insight or understanding of how matter behaves on the smallest scales and of how space and time behave on the largest scales?

It's in these domains that the problem is starkest. I think the answer is No, primarily because Aristotle can offer us only common sense and the world departs from common sense at these scales. The microscopic world is not the macroscopic world writ small.

But worse, Aristotle offers us no real insights into the everyday world, either. He merely echoes back to us in very general terms what we already know in more specific terms.

I'm sorry to bang on about common sense, but that is just what we are getting. Aristotle did a great deal of careful looking out the window and organising what he saw into general categories and principles. But lacking a telescope and a microscope, just to mention two of the huge range of scientific instruments of the seventeenth century and onwards, for the next two millennia, his unaided eye is no more insightful then any other man's.

Some specific points from your last:
* How then do Aristotelians respond to Sellars's dichotomy? This is really my original question.
* Of course it was taken as granted that Euclidean geometry was the geometry of space. There were no other candidates. What mathematicians were doing was trying to prove the parallel postulate from the other four.
* It is often said but I deny that the rejection of various Aristotelian principles is what led to many of the problems that modern philosophy faces. This is back to front. The problems are like weeds under a heavy mulch. The seeds are there all the time needing only a little thinning of the mulch to spring up.
* In what sense are Aristotelian fundamentals proven? They strike me more as axioms.
MrG said
DB: Does the Aristotelian machinery of form, substance, cause, act, potential, etc, offer us any insight or understanding of how matter behaves
If you’re asking what metaphysics tells us about physics, then the answer is that it tells us that questions about how matter behaves are the job of physics. (Of course metaphysics as a foundation for the more specific sciences does give us the conceptual tools to go about answering those questions.)
because Aristotle can offer us only common sense and the world departs from common sense at these scales. The microscopic world is not the macroscopic world writ small.
On the contrary, common sense would tell you that the microscopic is not the same as the macroscopic! Even though I gave a definition of common sense and explicitly noted that in an Aristotelian context it cannot be taken to mean instinctive or culturally-influenced assumptions, you are still using it in the wrong sense. So let’s avoid the phrase “common sense” altogether, as it’s clearly too confusing. I’ll put it this way: is it remotely plausible that a system that’s been developed over thousands of years by some of the greatest minds known to history really has nothing more to offer than what any average person could come up with off the top of his head? If you honestly think that Aristotle, Aquinas, Scotus, et al. were a bunch of dopes, well, you’ve obviously made up your mind and there’s no point trying to discuss it. Otherwise, we at least have to agree that whether Aristotelianism is right or wrong, it’s not trivial.
But lacking a telescope and a microscope, just to mention two of the huge range of scientific instruments of the seventeenth century and onwards, for the next two millennia, his unaided eye is no more insightful then any other man's.
So what? They let us see more things, and this contradicts which metaphysical principle...?
* How then do Aristotelians respond to Sellars's dichotomy? This is really my original question.
They deny it. It’s a false dichotomy — obviously, Aristotelianism includes and encompasses science: not only is Aristotle sometimes called the first scientist, modern science got its start in the wake of the Aristotelian resurgence in the Middle Ages. Subatomic particles are still described in terms of final and formal causes, they are composites of actuality and potentiality, etc. All that the evidence supports is that specific details of Aristotle’s physics need to be updated in light of new physical discoveries, but since Aristotelians have always acknowledged that scientific theories are subject to revision, this is hardly an objection. Physics had changed from Aristotle’s day to Aquinas’s, and it has continued to change. Ultimately, present-day Aristotelians respond by asking critics to look at what they actually believe instead of swallowing rumours and caricatures.
I deny that the rejection of various Aristotelian principles is what led to many of the problems that modern philosophy faces. This is back to front. The problems are like weeds under a heavy mulch.
On what grounds do you deny it? To assume that all systems face the same problems is to say that all systems are interchangeable, in which case telescopes would be no more or less of a problem for Aristotelianism than for its modern rivals. Take the “problem” of qualia: the “scientific” view is faced with the question of how to explain qualities given an exclusively quantitative view of the world. But for Aristotle qualities and quantities are equally real facets of a physical substance. That problem can’t exist for him. (You might or might not attempt to show there are other problems, but it should be obvious that at the very least they aren’t going to be the same problems.)
* In what sense are Aristotelian fundamentals proven? They strike me more as axioms.
The axioms are pretty rock-bottom, like “reality is intelligible”. (If you want to go around warning people you have accept reason to be an Aristotelian, then I won’t stop you.) There are conceptual schemas (like describing change in terms of act and potency). There are observed facts (e.g. self-evidently true claims such as “something changes”). And of course, there are arguments that work from these starting points without bringing in other, questionable, theories or observations — and therefore the conclusions of which are certain, like various mathematical claims are certain and not able to be overturned by any new observations (however “surprising” and unexpected).

Again, I ask: what specific discovery is a supposed deal-breaker for what specific Aristotelian principle?
DB said
Mr G,
(a) it [metaphysics] tells us that questions about how matter behaves are the job of physics.
(b) Subatomic particles are still described in terms of final and formal causes, they are composites of actuality and potentiality, etc
Admittedly quoted out of distinct contexts, but isn't there a tension between these statements? I grant there is a formalism for calculating probabilities, but I cannot see how final causation plays any role at all.
On the contrary, common sense would tell you that the microscopic is not the same as the macroscopic!
Really? Without knowing what the microscopic looks like? How can this be a 'sound practical judgement'?

Obviously I no more think Aristotle, etc, were a bunch of dopes than I think that 3²+4² only approximately equals 5², or that accepting reason is any onus. Let's be serious. What I will say is that when any thinker speaks as a metaphysician I have grave doubts that he is telling us anything of any depth. Aristotle was clearly capable of marshalling a great many of his own and other's observations into a coherent system of understanding of the natural world, and thoroughly deserves the accolade of 'first scientist'. But when he says something is a composite of actuality and potentiality he is just telling us in rather grandiose language that it is capable of inducing change in other things and undergoing change itself. Or so it seems to me. I might be persuaded otherwise, but I incline towards thinking Aristotelianism is right but trivial, within the context of the manifest image (an important caveat). I accept the point about secondary qualities. But I suspect that had he known more about the psychology of colour vision, scientist as he was, he might have thought differently.

On what grounds do I deny it? I think there are such deep problems in elucidating the common-sense (no apologies) notion of (efficient) cause that I'm inclined to think it cannot be foundational. I'm encouraged in this thought by its non-appearance in physics. This is not to reject an Aristotelian principle but rather to have investigated it more closely. This was open to thinkers from Aristotle's time onwards, so I've no idea why it wasn't taken up until the modern era. Hence I see efficient causation as an element of the manifest image but not the scientific.
MrG said
DB: Admittedly quoted out of distinct contexts, but isn't there a tension between these statements?
Sorry, I was unclear: physics investigates the specifics about the particular forms and behaviour of this or that particular kind of matter. Metaphysics provides the general framework for what forms or final causes are in general. It’s parallel to mathematics: it’s the work of physics to figure out which particular formula applies where, but math provides the underlying tools and explanations for how equations work apart from any particular physical application. That’s why Newton had to discover calculus in order to invent Newtonian mechanics (and Einstein after him had to (get Minkowski to) discover tensor calculus, etc.).
I grant there is a formalism for calculating probabilities, but I cannot see how final causation plays any role at all.
I don’t see how it can not. What do you think final causality is, exactly? To an Aristotelian, what you have just said is that you don’t see how subatomic particles have any behaviour, but of course that makes no sense.
MrG: On the contrary, common sense would tell you that the microscopic is not the same as the macroscopic!
DB:Really?
Yes, the microscopic really is different form the macroscopic: one’s micro, and one’s macro. To assume to that the microscopic world behaves exactly the same as the macroscopic is unwarranted. They might be similar, or they might not, but one at least has to look into the matter first.
What I will say is that when any thinker speaks as a metaphysician I have grave doubts that he is telling us anything of any depth. […] But when he says something is a composite of actuality and potentiality he is just telling us in rather grandiose language that it is capable of inducing change in other things and undergoing change itself.
Starting from act and potency gets you demonstrations of God’s existence, which ought to be profound enough to start with. And it’s not “grandiose”, it’s just technical vocabulary. Every discipline has it, and often the terms have “trivial” everyday counterparts. Obviously a casual and superficial view of Aristotelianism is not going to reveal anything very deep; that brings us back to the Aristotelians’ response that people need to study their views seriously if they want their criticisms to be taken seriously.

(Conversely, the “scientific method” says to get an idea, try stuff, and see what works… isn’t that trivial enough to dispense with in these advanced modern times? Especially given the number of times that “science” has been wrong!)
But I suspect that had he known more about the psychology of colour vision, scientist as he was, he might have thought differently.
Contemporary Aristotelians know more about visual psychology, and they don’t. If you don’t understand what their position is, and don’t have a specific objection, how can you judge one way or the other?
I'm encouraged in this thought by its non-appearance in physics. […] so I've no idea why it wasn't taken up until the modern era.
I don’t know what exactly you mean wasn’t taken up, but as GR explained above, "causality" certainly does appear in physics. Of course it may be implicit, just as the absence of the term “universe” in biology does not mean that a universe is superfluous to biological organisms! It is precisely because it is so necessary that it can be taken for granted. But an even better reason why the word “cause” might not turn up often in physics is because (again) physics is about particular causes, and so it uses a vast array of terminology that refers to specific subtypes of causes. For example, the nearest physics textbook to hand is replete with terms like “pushes”, “pulls”, “exerts”, “displaces”, “applies [torque]”, “produces”, “conducts”, “scatters”, “refracts”, “repels”, “attracts”, “transforms”, “stimulates”, “emits”, and many other highfaluting synonyms for “causes”. Of course, it does occasionally mention “causality” by name, such as when it says, “the laws formulated by Newton are referred to as causal laws”. (It goes on to note that this “deterministic view of the universe had to be rejected by scientists in the twentieth century” — “deterministic”, not “causal”.)

Of course, it's full of other metaphysically-begotten terms, such as "matter", "substance", "potential", "form[ula]s", and so on. (A section under quantum mechanics is even entitled "Philosophic Implications".) Aristotle's fingerprints are all over science, even modern science, whether explicitly or implicitly, whether modern scientists are aware of it (and a few of them are!) or not.
DB said
Mr G, Thanks for bearing with me on this, and apologies for the delayed reply. It's a great help in getting my thoughts clear. Let's go back to what GR said at May 20, 2015 9:43 AM:
The "scientific image" does not get by without it [cause]. At all. What does happen is that in the *mathematical formulation* of the physical theories, words like "cause", "substance" and "essence" do no do any work. Nor could they, because these are precisely the aspects of reality that cannot be captured by the mathematical formalisms. But that does not mean that these, or their functional equivalents, do not play any role. Of course they do, because scientific theories aim at give a rational understanding of the world, not merely a mathematical description of it useful for prediction purposes.
This looks like an argument, using 'because' twice, but it's a nice, bold statement of the Aristotelian viewpoint. If I can summarise:

1. 'Cause', 'substance', 'essence', etc, denote aspects of reality.
2. These aspects are not and cannot be captured by mathematical formalisms.
3. A rational understanding of the world requires more than mathematical descriptions.

I say that we are not compelled to accept any of these claims. Against (3) we can say that the atomic world is known only through mathematical descriptions. Of course these descriptions require interpretation, but then so does any linguistic expression. Against (1) and (2) in combination we can say that vestiges of 'substance' and 'essence' can be found in the atomic world. There do seem to be individuals of kinds characterised by fixed properties, but all this is captured in the mathematical description. It's also worth noting that the notion of 'individual' that applies is not exactly the everyday one: in systems of identical particles it's not possible in general to re-identify individuals over time. The notion of 'the same one' evaporates. This in turn makes it hard to see 'cause' as a relation between individuals, at this level.

But I may have got 'substance' and 'essence' wrong. It seems to me that these words behave like the undefined terms of an axiomatic system, just as 'point' and 'line' function in Euclid. A parallel (sorry!) between metaphysics and mathematics perhaps?

You are right to point out the many terms in macroscopic physics that are freighted with 'cause'. What we find macroscopically is the aggregated result of myriads of acausal microscopic effects. We carve the world up into macroscopic individuals (leaving behind an undifferentiated 'bulk' that is not paid much attention). The existence of these aggregations has no impact on the form of the descriptions of the local microscopic effects. When we try to give an account of the world in terms of individual aggregations, and nothing else, we inevitably arrive at the notion of 'cause' as a relation between the individuals. In this we are inspired by our introspected sense that we can influence the behaviour of our fellows by speech and act and contrivance. It's quite understandable that we resort to this language to convey to others what happens in macroscopic physical situations or experiments, and to help them to understand it.

MrG said
I don’t mind about the delays if you don’t!… so if you’re still reading:

David Brightly: Against (3) we can say that the atomic world is known only through mathematical descriptions.

If that were the case, then (particle) physicists would be mathematicians, not physicists. But even theoretical physicists claim that the symbols in an equation are stand-ins for physical things (“substances”) such as electrons, neutrinos, etc. Plus their colleagues in experimental physics put quite a lot of work into detecting actual particles. If we never detected them, we wouldn’t have any knowledge about them at all.

Against (1) and (2) in combination we can say that vestiges of 'substance' and 'essence' can be found in the atomic world. There do seem to be individuals of kinds characterised by fixed properties

That sounds like an Aristotelian substance to me, not a vestige. The fact that one electron may be intrinsically indistinguishable from another is exactly the sort of issue that “substances” and “accidents” capture, so it turns out they are just as essential to describing the subatomic realm as any other. The fact that it may be difficult (even impossible) in practical terms to identify which electron is which is not a problem on the metaphysical side, any more than a difficulty in identifying an individual person in a crowd all dressed the same. And even if you insist that it’s not merely a question of epistemology, that an electron isn’t “the same one” at all — all that means is that subatomic particles go into and out of existence very easily… which we already knew, and which is merely a new example of good old Aristotelian act and potency.

It seems to me that these words behave like the undefined terms of an axiomatic system, just as 'point' and 'line' function in Euclid. A parallel (sorry!) between metaphysics and mathematics perhaps?

I’d agree that in some sense they are axiomatic, though of course an Aristotelian (or Euclidean) textbook will certainly provide technical definitions of a substance or essence (or line or point). And the definitions are very broad, so that they are able to encompass discoveries no matter how unexpected. The fact that physicists can and do have a lot to say about what electrons are like means they assuredly qualify as “substances” of some sort.

It's quite understandable that we resort to this language to convey to others what happens in macroscopic physical situations or experiments, and to help them to understand it.

I take it you mean that our talk of cause and effect is merely an attempt to describe the alien world of elementary particles in language we can understand. But it wouldn’t help to understand anything if it didn’t bear some resemblance to how particles actually behave, which means some form of cause and effect does apply (even if not exactly as we think of it “macroscopically”). Which is again why it’s important to study what metaphysicians mean when they use those terms in the technical sense. (A physicist uses the word “light” in a way that differs from the everyday use of the word, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a legitimate use, or that it bears no relation to light in the ordinary sense.)

Of course, even the everyday sense of cause and effect is clearly applicable, at least roughly: what is an experiment other than setting up some “cause” in order to, er, cause a particular “effect”? If physicists could not set up particles in some structured way and then observe what happens, then quantum physics wouldn’t be a science. I don’t know what it would be, but clearly it is a science and it’s precisely because we can do experiments, because we can cause certain quantum events, and measure their effects, that we can even talk about these particles in the first place. If cause and effect really didn’t apply, then there would be no meaningful way to say what it is that doesn’t apply to the things we can’t be talking about!  
DB said
Well, theoretical physicists are mathematicians. A particle physics experiment produces a vast pile of numbers which can only be made sense of via mathematics. It's not as if we know these things by acquaintance.

As I see it, the Aristotelian faces the problem of explaining how his concepts of 'substance' and 'cause' as a relation between substances can accommodate,
(a) indeterminacy of location and momentum;
(b) indeterminacy of identity of two distinct kinds---bosons and fermions;
(c) quantum entanglement.
I'm not aware of a latter day Georges Lemaître who has done this. After all, if we really are dealing with 'good old act and potency' and the definitions are 'broad enough to encompass discoveries no matter how unexpected', then it can't be a difficult job, surely? But it is difficult. How, for example, is the notion of 'independent existence' built into the technical sense of 'substance' going to handle the phenomenon of entanglement? Not that other philosophies of physics have answers. It's just that the claims for Aristotelianism appear singularly hubristic. I don't see how the indeterminacy of identity is to be explained by the ease with which 'subatomic particles go into and out of existence'. Nor is it a question of technical definitions. By 'light' physicists mean just the same as the rest of us. They just know a lot more about it.

I'm really making two claims here. First, the above claim that the Aristotelian framework cannot accommodate the quantum world. It simply is not the case that 'we can cause certain quantum events'. All it seems we can do is set physical systems into a state (this is usually done by a process of filtering out the undesired states) in which the quantum processes may or may not take place. More controversially perhaps, I'm saying that we do not have to accept cause and effect in the macroscopic, everyday world, either. Clearly our ordinary thinking about the world involves what we call 'cause and effect'. But if the metaphysician is saying that in some sense we must think in these terms, that it is the only possible way because that is the way things are, then he is in danger of over-reaching himself. For we have found alternatives that work very well indeed.
  
MrG said
David Brightly: Well, theoretical physicists are mathematicians.

Sure, anyone who can add is a "mathematician". But you know what I meant.

if we really are dealing with 'good old act and potency' and the definitions are 'broad enough to encompass discoveries no matter how unexpected', then it can't be a difficult job, surely?

I said the principles were "good", not "trivial". (Newton's laws of motion are pretty simple, so it can't be a difficult job for you to solve the three-body problem... right?) Of course, if we understood fully what was going on, explaining it in Aristotelian terms might not be that hard; the catch is that we don't fully understand everything that's going on. Get back to me when physics has figured out all the details.

How, for example, is the notion of 'independent existence' built into the technical sense of 'substance' going to handle the phenomenon of entanglement?

What precisely about quantum entanglement is it that you think necessarily makes an Aristotelian interpretation flat-out impossible? Two substances have various properties that are related in certain strict ways. Or perhaps you want to say that the entangled substances are really “one” substance in some sense, or something like that — that’s fine, there’s no problem in starting with one substance, and then, say, ending up with two separate substances after wave-function collapse. But then again, you didn’t say quantum entanglement; maybe you were thinking of yarn-ball entanglement. If Aristotle claims that two balls of yarn are separate substances, is he disproved because it’s “difficult” to disentangle them?
Likewise with questions of identity: there is something there (at the end of the day, “substance” is just the technical term for “thing”) — what’s the alternative, that there is nothing there? If something comes into and then out of existence, then there is no identity, because the thing isn’t there any more… the situation may be complex and confusing, but it’s still a situation about something. Clouds are hard to identify too: where exactly does a cloud stop? Appealing to QM sounds all spooky and confusing, but the metaphysical questions apply just as much to things we can see looking out the window, like clouds and balls of wool. (In fact, clouds were even harder for Aristotle, because he wasn’t an atomist, and yet nobody considered this a fatal Achilles’ heel.)

By 'light' physicists mean just the same as the rest of us.

In everyday use, “invisible light” is an oxymoron. In the jargon of physics, on the other hand, “light” means “electromagnetic radiation”, so it’s not a contradiction at all.

It simply is not the case that 'we can cause certain quantum events’.

Of course it is. Otherwise you’d be claiming that it is literally impossible to do quantum experiments, in which case QM wouldn’t be physics or science at all. Oh, maybe you mean that we cannot set up any arbitrary quantum state at will, which is quite true (and not what I claimed). There certainly are some sets of circumstances that can be set up and triggered and produce a certain class of expected results, because that’s exactly what an experiment is, and physicists obviously do perform these experiments, and what’s more they can repeat them, because that’s what science consists of.

But if the metaphysician is saying that in some sense we must think in these terms [of cause and effect], that it is the only possible way because that is the way things are, then he is in danger of over-reaching himself. For we have found alternatives that work very well indeed.

But we haven’t, as I indicated in my previous responses. I don’t see how anything you have said has demonstrated otherwise, other than in the sense that I could claim we don’t need to believe in the third dimension because we can take two-dimensional photographs of everything.

It seems that you are taking the “manifest” view of Aristotelianism as a definition, such that it requires everything to be considered in terms of billiard balls because that's all Aristotle could see out his window. But this is to deal with a caricature. The Aristotelian system that was developed up through the Middle Ages was quite sophisticated and drew a vast set of subtle distinctions that got left behind with the switch to modern “science”-based metaphysics. Newtonian physics was terrific, and it viewed everything as billiard balls, so we should do philosophy that way, right? Except that billiard balls don’t work so well when it comes to Relativity or QM. Some seem to think that Aristotelianism came first and thus must be even more primitive than billiard-balls, but it’s actually far more able to deal with these discoveries. Which brings us back to the original point that Aristotelians reply by saying people need to actually find out what they really believe.
DB said
Of course, if we understood fully what was going on, explaining it in Aristotelian terms might not be that hard; the catch is that we don't fully understand everything that's going on. Get back to me when physics has figured out all the details.

This captures the issues nicely. As I understand it the conventional wisdom is that quantum phenomena cannot be understood in classical terms. It's not that we are missing some details. There are no more details there to be missed! That's why the whole business is so perplexing to our ordinary ways of thought. The only way we have of understanding it is through abstruse mathematics.

...there’s no problem in starting with one substance, and then, say, ending up with two separate substances after wave-function collapse.

The problem here is that the notion of 'substance' becomes non-local and capable of transmitting signals faster than light.

...what’s the alternative, that there is nothing there?

The alternative is that there is something there but it's not a thing, if that's not too paradoxical! In other words, 'thingness' is the wrong concept to apply. But it seems it's the only concept Aristotelianism has.

But we haven’t [found alternatives that work very well indeed]

We disagree then on the meaning of 'cause'. Which is where we began. The alternatives to cause that I have in mind are the equations of mathematical physics. They give us a different way of understanding the phenomena. A different metaphysics, if you like.

It seems that you are taking the “manifest” view of Aristotelianism as a definition

I stand accused of 'vulgar Aristotelianism'. Who should I read to enlighten me? By the way, are clouds substances? I would have thought not since they lack any unifying principle. Like heaps of sand they have no integrity.

MrG said
David Brightly: conventional wisdom is that quantum phenomena cannot be understood in classical terms. It's not that we are missing some details.

These are two different things. I didn't mean to suggest that we need to wait for physicists to figure out whether this indeterminate object "really is" just a fermion or a boson so we know what substance we're dealing with. I just meant that physics isn't a closed book, so future theories may well suggest different or better interpretations. But Aristotle doesn't have any problem if the end result is still something "indetermintate" with respect to being a boson or a fermion (or a wave or a particle, or any other quantum puzzle) — there is no metaphysical reason per se to rule out a substance that simply has curious "superimposed" properties of both. There is a reason to rule that out in classical (i.e. Newtonian) physics. But that has nothing to do with "classical" (i.e. Aristotelian/Scholastic) metaphysics.
Perhaps that's part of the confusion: thinking that "classical" just means anything before twentieth-century physics; but modern physics seems puzzling precisely because science rejected various traditional classifications and distinctions. Modern discoveries are just pulling them back in. So when you appeal to the necessity of abstruse mathematics as an "alternative" to causality, Aristotle just shrugs and says, of course, that's what formal causality has been all along. When modern science seem to "disprove" causality, what they are ruling out is "classical" causality, which was (re)defined to be the narrowest possible sense [that classical science demanded]; on the other hand, Aristotelian causes can cope with it because they were defined in the widest possible sense.

the notion of 'substance' becomes non-local and capable of transmitting signals faster than light.

No problem. Aristotelian metaphysics (unlike classical physics) does not require that substances be non-local. It would certainly be interesting if that turned out to be the best explanation, but it wouldn't destroy the distinction between substance and accident, or between form and matter, etc., etc.

The alternative is that there is something there but it's not a thing, if that's not too paradoxical!

I think it surely is too paradoxical! But again, the paradox is resolved by remembering that the Aristotelian concept of a "thing" is broader than the "classical" one.

By the way, are clouds substances? I would have thought not since they lack any unifying principle.

Yes, I was going to say something like that... that is, it clearly has a sort of unity (or we wouldn't be able to point out a "cloud"), but I expect most Aristotelians would consider them to be artifacts. But in principle, there could be cloudy substances, and if elementary particles are "fuzzy" in that kind of way, it doesn't preclude their being fully Aristotelian substances. (But there's also the possibility that they are indeed not substances, which simply relocates the substances involved, even if it's not obvious to us "where" they are. (There must be a better way to put that. But consider even a Bohmian system where the particle is one substance, and there is another substance, the pilot wave. Or maybe they are both parts of a single substance. Or maybe the pilot wave is actually an artifact...)

I stand accused of 'vulgar Aristotelianism'. Who should I read to enlighten me?

Heh, I like Ed Feser (e.g. Aquinas) since he explicitly explains things in a contemporary context. Copleston's History of Philosophy is also good, though necessarily compact. (Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes might be helpful for context... it can take a sustained attempt to "unlearn" thinking in modern terms before the traditional view suddenly clicks.)
DB said
there is no metaphysical reason per se to rule out a substance that simply has curious "superimposed" properties of both.

The law of non-contradiction perhaps?

So when you appeal to the necessity of abstruse mathematics as an "alternative" to causality, Aristotle just shrugs and says, of course, that's what formal causality has been all along.

'Form' has no precise meaning. In the context of 'formal cause' it is suggestive of many ideas including 'shape', 'plan', and 'orderedness' as opposed to 'chaos'. But mathematics can offer a characterisation of chaos, so I would be wary of identifying mathematics with 'formal causation'.

No problem. Aristotelian metaphysics (unlike classical physics) does not require that substances be non-local.

Do you mean 'local' here? Given A's animadversions on the actually infinite I doubt he would contemplate a non-local, ie infinite, substance.

I have read Feser's The medieval principle of motion and the modern principle of inertia. He says,
Second, that some fundamental material substances (basic particles, say) exist and behave in accordance with such laws can also never be the ultimate explanation of anything, because we need to know, not only how such substances came into existence, but what keeps them in existence. For as compounds of act and potency, they cannot possibly account for themselves, but require something outside them to actualize them at every moment,
and then refers to his Existential Inertia and the Five Ways which is behind a paywall. As I understand these terms something that is not changing does not require an actualiser of its potency. Is that right?

MrG said
David Brightly: The law of non-contradiction perhaps?

What contradiction? There's nothing contradictory about a substance having multiple overlapping properties, or multiple parts with different properties, or properties that behave in different ways under differing conditions. The only way to get a contradiction is to impose some other condition, such as assuming that the objects in question are restricted to, say, acting like Newtonian billiard balls. Historically, of course, physicists assumed that would be the case, so they were caught off guard by QM and it got labelled as "weird" and "spooky", but it isn't really. It's just complex. In fact, one of the motivations for (supposedly) replacing Aristotle was that the system was overall too complicated, but of course it had to be since the metaphysics was meant to explain any possible world with any possible laws of physics, and on top of that it turned out that actual physics needed the more complex system anyway!

But mathematics can offer a characterisation of chaos, so I would be wary of identifying mathematics with 'formal causation'.

A form is that by which something is the particular thing or kind that it is. That entails some sort of opposition to "chaos" (although probably in a trivial way, since "chaos" is simply the absence of order or form). I suppose that when you say mathematics can characterise chaos, you are thinking of Chaos Theory, which obviously does not use the term in its strict Platonic sense, since that would make it the study of order that is unordered. Rather, the whole point of chaos theory is that certain things that seem highly disordered can in fact be the result of highly ordered patterns — even, ultimately, quite simple patterns (that is, it is possible for a elegant and simple equation to produce a highly irregular [at least to our senses] pattern). In practical terms, chaotic systems can lead to unpredictable results because computational accuracy becomes infeasible (e.g. the infamous butterfly-flapping-its-wings)... or conversely, it gives us the tools to approximate very complex systems with much simpler models. But it works mathematically because the systems are deterministic.

Anyway, formal and final causes include (but of course are not limited to) quantitative properties, i.e. anything that can be described in mathematical terms, as modern physics can. So whatever "strangeness" lies in QM, insofar as it can be quantified — and it all can, because that's how the science is done — is describable by formal causes.

Given A's animadversions on the actually infinite I doubt he would contemplate a non-local, ie infinite, substance.

Yes, I meant "local". But "non-local" does not mean "infinite". Besides, infinity is only problematic in certain ways (basically, "completed" infinities, which means an infinity we got to the end of, which has a rather obvious problem). Not that contemporary Aristotelians are limited to calculus, etc. as it was (un)known in Aristotle's day, but Aristotle himself believed that the world had no beginning, so clearly some sorts of real infinities are not a problem.

As I understand these terms something that is not changing does not require an actualiser of its potency. Is that right?

Right, there is nothing actualising those particular potencies. I would say the argument goes roughly like this: something that has potencies is not a necessary being (or it would be pure act); but a contingent being has the potential to not-exist at any moment; therefore there must be something (not itself) that is causing it to be an actual being at each moment of its existence.
DB said
It's worse than mere complexity. No 'thing' can be both a wave and a particle. Particles are point-like, waves are spread out. Contrary properties. Hence the weirdness. The problem is to find some way to understand this.

Not Chaos Theory. Any system with randomly occurring states of equal probability is orderless, eg, coin tossing or die throwing, but very simply characterised mathematically. Such systems are formless yet have mathematical form.

If things have the potential to fall apart then surely it's the absence of an actualiser of such potentials that keeps them in existence, not a presence?

MrG said
David Brightly: Particles are point-like, waves are spread out. Contrary properties. Hence the weirdness. The problem is to find some way to understand this.

No, that's just complexity. The relationships, the mathematics, aren’t as simple as if we had just a billiard ball or just a surging ocean, but it’s only “weird” relative to the expectation of such. Of couse elementary particles arent “both” waves and particles literally. They are like waves in certain ways and like particles in certain other ways. And we do have a way to understand this: they follow precise mathematical rules that have been discovered. What we can’t do is imagine it, because imagination means visualising colour and shape and size in ways that simply do not apply. So particle physics is harder to do than other things, that’s all.

That’s why I keep coming back to specifics. “Weirdness” is just a statement about our psychological reactions. To show an actual problem, you would need to show me some actual equations, describe an actual experimental setup, that results in some contradiction. And, of course, explain exactly what it is a problem for. (This is what Bell did with his famous inequality concerning locality.) That’s what is required, not vague hand-waving about particles/waves/won’t they make up their minds!

(A simple double-slit experiment will suffice to demonstrate a problem if the criterion is matching the classical idea of a particle or wave. That successfully disposes of the notion that all physics is classical. Now, I’m confident that you cannot pose such a problem for Aristotelian metaphysics because metaphysics is the foundation for what it is to have laws of physics at all; it is the most generally necessary framework for thinking about formulas and experiments in the first place, so by giving me formulas and experiments you are necessarily presupposing just what Aristotelian metaphysics supplies. The best you could hope for is some sort of reductio ad absurdum that disproves the possibility of physics altogether. But since I’m quite confident that physics isn’t impossible, I’m confident that nobody will be able to provide such a demonstration.)

eg, coin tossing or die throwing, but very simply characterised mathematically. Such systems are formless yet have mathematical form.

Then they aren't formless. Obviously they don't have every form, they are described by some patterns and not others. To say that a coin-toss is random just means random with respect to some other variable… insofar as “orderlessness” is a lack of form, sure, there is no form, say, of “likelihood of heads related to the phase of the moon”. The mathematics describes the forms they have and doesn’t the forms they don’t. But that is just what formal causation is all about.

If things have the potential to fall apart then surely it's the absence of an actualiser of such potentials that keeps them in existence, not a presence?

That absence is indeed what explains not having the different, fallen-apart parts separating and floating around individually. But rather here the point is that likewise, the thing has a potential to stay together, and that must be actualised just as much as any other potential. I haven’t read that paper either, but Feser has lots of articles on his site about act and potency, and typically he describes this in terms of essence and existence. (If something necessarily existed — if it’s essence entailed existence — then it would be pure act, so something that has act and potency must have its essence separate from its existence. This is just noting that we can think of, say, the idea or form or essence of a unicorn without any unicorns actually existing, i.e. they’re contingent beings. But then if a contingent being does exist, it must get its existence from something else.)

DB said
Aside: Why does Aristotelianism seem to engender such confidence in its adherents? I am suggesting that experimental results have got us scratching our heads over what we understand by 'matter' and 'substance'---and this isn't just a personal quirk of mine---but this is breezily dismissed as mere 'complexity', and anyway, 'you cannot pose such a problem for Aristotelian metaphysics because metaphysics is the foundation for what it is to have laws of physics at all'. Ed Feser is fond of this formula too. Galileo has my sympathies! I have to say that I'm not at all clear as to what kind of statements or principles would form such a metaphysical foundation. But what I'm suggesting here is that Aristotle's ideas can't be adequate because, amongst other reasons, the fundamental notion of 'substance' runs out of meaning in the very small. But this is to cycle back to our starting point. Anyway, here is a proposal for a foundational metaphysical principle: Physical laws have to appear the same in all inertial frames. This is because of the metaphysical principle that 'absolute rest' is meaningless. Coupled with the experimental fact of the constancy of the speed of light it says that the equations of physics must be Lorentz invariant. This is not in Aristotle for obvious reasons. Quite the reverse, in fact.

You say 'they [particles] follow precise mathematical rules that have been discovered'. Well, I'm not sure that 'they' do, because I'm not sure that 'they' makes any sense. At high energies even the number of 'them' from moment to moment is subject to uncertainty. This is my fundamental point. What QM gives us is a set of rules for calculating the probabilities of experimental outcomes. It's not clear that the mathematics is about the properties of individual substances as it is with classical mechanics. It's couched in terms of operators acting on some more basic evolving entity. See below on Bell's theorem.

I don't know if anyone has attempted a double slit experiment with electrons. But we know that electrons display diffraction effects as well as particle effects. The problem is that the particle effects point towards a size (electrons are little bits of matter, right?) that is smaller than the smallest degree of spread-out-ness required by the diffraction effects. This is seen as contradictory, and not just by me. You admit that 'What we can’t do is imagine it, because imagination means visualising colour and shape and size in ways that simply do not apply.' Well, why don't they apply? The simple and reasonable answer is that whatever 'they' are, they cannot be conceived as substances, and this fits well with what we know of their other odd behaviour. But Aristotle may be forgiven for not foreseeing this.

Bell's theorem says that for certain measurements QM predicts different results from 'local realist' theories. A realist theory says that entities are characterised by sets of properties (possibly 'hidden', but determining the motion) with definite, if changing, values at all times. The latter sound just like Aristotelian substances. But experiments back up the QM predictions. So again we pressed to revise our conception of substance.

I accept that the language of act and potency nicely accounts for change in things. But isn't there a logical difficulty in accounting for the continued existence of things in such terms? For if a thing's hanging together is explained by the actualisation of a potential to hang together then it can no longer have that potential. The hanging together cannot be both potential and actual simultaneously. At least, that's how I understand how these terms are to be used. Furthermore, before the potential is actualised what is the 'it' that has the potential? Is it the mere parts, collectively?

To Be Continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment