Author Topic: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?  (Read 318 times)

Offline Daniel

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Take the universal form of "dinosaurness", for example. There used to be dinosaurs a long time ago, but there aren't any dinosaurs around today, yet there conceivably could be dinosaurs in the future, if scientists ever manage to revive them (like in Jurassic Park).

What I want to know is, how does this discontinuity in the series of instantiations correlate with the universal form, according to the Thomists?

For the purpose of this discussion, let's ignore the possibility of evolution.

So, first consider the non-Thomists...

Plato's answer is straightforward. He says that "dinosaurness" exists eternally, and that the instantiations have no effect upon it. (There used to be instantiations of it, but there are no instantiations of it today, yet there might be instantiations of it in the future. But none of that matters, since there is always "dinosaurness" regardless.)

I think St. Augustine would say pretty much the same thing.

Aristotle has no answer, since he is operating under the presupposition that the universe is eternal. So Aristotle would say either:
1.) "Dinosaurness" always exists, in dinosaurs. (Since there were once dinosaurs in the past, then that proves that there must still be some dinosaurs around today (they must be hiding somewhere...), and there will always be dinosaurs.) Or
2.) "Dinosaurness" does not exist, never has existed, and never will exist. (Since there are no dinosaurs today, then that proves that there never were any dinosaurs to begin with (and that the fossils must all be fake), and there never can be any dinosaurs in the future.)
(For obvious reasons, neither of these positions are tenable.)

But I am wondering what the Thomist would say? My impression is that he would simply say that the existence of "dinosaurness" depends entirely upon the existence of dinosaurs (i.e. when there are dinosaurs then "dinosaurness" exists, yet when there are no dinosaurs then "dinosaurness" does not exist)...

But I'm guessing that there's more to it than that? Because if universal forms are real, then shouldn't they be eternal (or at least everlasting and unchanging)? How can they come into existence and then later go out of existence and then later come back into existence?
« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 09:04:17 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline An aspiring Thomist

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So Thomism would hold that universals can exist in material things themselves. But unlike pure Aristitiliansim, Thomists would say the forms exist also in the mind of God. Finally, both Thomism and Aristotle would hold that forms can exist as abstractions in minds.

 Keep in mind from Aristotleís point of view forms never exist of their own apart from an individual thing or in a mind. However, even from Aristotleís point of view, even if a form did not exist in a material thing or in a mind, it still might have the potential to come into existence through a mind or individual thing. So, the example of an animal species going in out of existence doesnít seem to me to be a huge problem for Aristotle. Dogness coming into existence wouldnít be that different from other change occurring. Daniel, your reasoning seems to be: No dogness then dogness = something coming from nothing. That however does not seem to be different from Parmenides argument that change cannot occur.

That being said, there are certain universals or abstract objects which are necessary and which cannot be explained by existing in material things or in contingent minds. This paces the way for an Augustine proof of God as the necessary mind for eternal truths. Edward Feser does a good job of explaining it and deals with many issues connected with the op.

 
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Offline Daniel

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Ok, thanks. I was a little confused because I forgot that Thomism also holds that universal forms exist in the mind of God.

Daniel, your reasoning seems to be: No dogness then dogness = something coming from nothing. That however does not seem to be different from Parmenides argument that change cannot occur.
Right. Thanks for pointing that out.

Edward Feser does a good job of explaining it and deals with many issues connected with the op.
Do you happen to know which book that's in?


All right, new question. If God knows all things, and if God's knowledge is God, then doesn't this imply a sort of pantheism?: All the forms which exist in the mind of God are somehow contained within God's knowledge, and God's knowledge is God, so all of the forms in the mind of God must themselves be God. Where am I wrong here? I'm guessing it has something to do with me failing to distinguish between necessary truths and contingent truths, or between universals and particulars, but I can't pinpoint the error.

Furthermore, what is up with the human soul? Matter is what individuates one instantiation from another, yet disembodied human souls lack matter. So it seems to follow that human souls are not instantiations. Which means that each human soul must itself be an uninstantiated universal form. But I know that what I just said must be wrong, since this would imply the pre-existence of human souls, the non-existence of the universal human form, and also pantheism. So what is the correct understanding here?
« Last Edit: March 18, 2018, 03:43:37 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline An aspiring Thomist

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In Five proofs for Godís existence Feser talks about the Augustinian argument for Godís existence and the problem of universals and so forth. I sure he does it elsewhere but thatís the only book of his I have read.

God knows many things but not as separate thoughts like we do. He knows with one act of knowing Himself, His own simple essence. Godís knowledge as in what He knows is not God, but His act of knowing which is His act of existing which is essence, is that by which He knows many things. But why donít the things He knows count as parts of Him or are not Him? They are not for a similar reason a form of a cat in your mind is not a cat. They are just abstract objects. Not a very in depth answer but thatís what I got.

I think I heard Aristotle was troubled by the thought of souls being immaterial for the reasons you give. So, I think we need to think of personality as an individualizing component as well as matter. A disembodied human soul would still have the capacity to will and know for itself as opposed to an other.
That soul would also be not whole without its body being united to it I.e a specific example body. Again not a great answer. I know this subject has been discussed by Thomists before. I would just google it.
 
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Offline Kreuzritter

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Plato >> Aristotle. Moderate realism = crypto nominalism. That's my answer.
 
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Offline Daniel

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So would a Thomist say that man had real existence before God created Adam?
 

Offline An aspiring Thomist

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He would say mans essence was a real possibility and his essence existed in the mind of God.