Author Topic: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?  (Read 645 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 Aristotle’s point of view forms never exist of their own apart from an individual thing or in a mind. However, even from Aristotle’s 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 doesn’t seem to me to be a huge problem for Aristotle. Dogness coming into existence wouldn’t 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 God’s existence Feser talks about the Augustinian argument for God’s existence and the problem of universals and so forth. I sure he does it elsewhere but that’s 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. God’s 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 don’t 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 that’s 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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Online 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.
 

Offline John Lamb

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2018, 02:25:30 PM »
"So would a Thomist say that man had real existence before God created Adam?"

The medievals (like Thomas) called the universals in God's mind "exemplars," which have eternally existed in God's mind.

However, I don't think Thomas would say that man had real existence before God created Adam, but only an ideal existence (existing in the Idea, in the Mind of God.)

I think this is where Thomas and Plato diverge. For Plato, the Idea of Man is what is real, and we particular men are some kind of falling-away-from or emanation or imperfect realisation of that real Idea, and in some sense we are illusory. This is where Plato's metaphysics becomes very vague in my opinion and where Aristotle most criticised and diverged from him.

Plato gives ontological primacy to the World of Ideas, so that the material world is only a shadow of that eternal ideal world. Plato says that we material things "participate" in these Ideas, but what exactly he means by "participate" is vague and Aristotle mocked him for this vagueness. Thomas would say that we "participate" in the exemplars in that God uses the exemplar "Man" in his Mind to create each of us particular men, the same way a builder uses the idea of "house" in his mind to build many particular houses (this is called "exemplar causality".) But then it's the individual, substantial men that are real; they are not just illusory shadows of the universal Idea. Plato seems to think that the salvation of the human soul would be it's giving up of its individual existence in order to return to the World of Universals, and ultimately being absorbed into the highest universal which is the Good. This in my opinion is where Plato has Gnostic and Pantheist tendencies.

Aristotle, on the other hand, gives ontological primacy to the individual substances: the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the plants, the animals, and men. These individual substances are the "stuff" of reality, including God who is the infinite divine substance which is the First Cause and Last End of all finite substances.

There are certain things I find attractive of Plato's metaphysics but I can understand why Thomas' reformed Aristotelianism (which has Platonic/Augustinian elements, e.g. the exemplars) became the Church's semi-official metaphysics: it is incarnational. The essences or universals exist primarily in the substances themselves, not only in the ghost world above, of which we are mere wisps or shadows or emanations. I don't know how Plato would react to "the Word was made flesh." In Plato's mind, it seems that the Word's (i.e. the Universal's) falling into the world of flesh is the original sin, the fall; I don't think he'd comprehend why God would want to unite Himself personally to matter. He seems to have a quasi-Gnostic suspicion of matter as a prison of the soul, and the soul itself as a kind of illusionary off-shoot of the All-Soul.

The Gnostics invented a kind of sub-divine being called the "Demiurge" to explain how the material world came into existence, and I believe they identified the God of the Old Testament with this "Demiurge". Christ, according to the Gnostics, was something higher and different from the Demiurge / God of the OT; Christ never became flesh, but only pretended to have flesh in order to fool the Demiurge and lead men to escape the material world and re-enter the ideal one above.

St. Robert Bellarmine said that Plato's thought is more dangerous than Aristotle's precisely because it is closer to Christianity, i.e. Plato is so close to Christian theology that he presents a much more attractive stumblingblock to Christians than does Aristotle. This was the experience of the early Christians because those submerged in Platonic thought were often ensnared by Gnosticism, which we can call a flesh-hating or anti-incarnational Christianity (Christian heresy). Gnosticism was revived again in the middle ages (Catharism/Albigensianism in the West; Bogomilism in the East), and there are Gnostic strains in modern thought. Aristotle is easier to restrain because his doctrine does not have obvious religious implications, apart from demonstrating conclusively that there is a Divine Being, an Unmoved Mover.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2018, 03:05:40 PM by John Lamb »
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Offline Quaremerepulisti

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2018, 08:34:23 PM »
Saying universals (or exemplars) exist "in the mind of God" is simply a Band-Aid covering over the problems in the system (moderate realism).  It can't say they exist in reality even if not instantiated (that would be Platonism), but it can't say they don't exist in reality if not instantiated, because that leads to absurdities like the one pointed in the op, where we talk of "dinosaurs" but the universal no longer exists - nominalism will eventually be true except for eternally existent entities.  So it comes up with this Band-Aid solution.

But it, too, is absurd.  The "mind of God" is God, by Divine simplicity, and nothing ontologically dependent on God can exist "in" God - if it did, that would be pantheism.
 

Offline John Lamb

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2018, 10:04:52 PM »
It can't say they exist in reality even if not instantiated (that would be Platonism), but it can't say they don't exist in reality if not instantiated, because that leads to absurdities like the one pointed in the op, where we talk of "dinosaurs" but the universal no longer exists - nominalism will eventually be true except for eternally existent entities.

The universal "dinousaurness" would still have an ideal or mental existence, even without a real one, so we would be able to speak of it like we speak of unicorns or goblins or any hypothetical but not real creature. It wouldn't be nominalism to say that universals have no real or actual existence except in individual substances, because nominalism states that such "universals" are mere names or labels and there is no real unity of form or essence between one individual dog and another, whereas moderate realism supposes that we can abstract a universal "dogness"  from the dogs which supposes a unity of essence in the dogs themselves and not a mere family resemblance or appearance to our eyes.

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But it, too, is absurd.  The "mind of God" is God, by Divine simplicity, and nothing ontologically dependent on God can exist "in" God - if it did, that would be pantheism.

This is just a human way of speaking about God's mind. The exemplars don't have any individual, ontologically real existence in the Mind of God, as though God's mind is divided up or distinguished between a vast multitude of individual "thoughts."  When we say that all goodness exists in God so that the different goods of creatures all pre-exist in Him in the one infinite Good which He is, so we say that the thought or idea of every individual creature pre-exists and is understood by God in that one infinite Thought which He is. Our human minds see a multiplicity where for God there is unity.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2018, 10:12:23 PM by John Lamb »
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Offline John Lamb

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2018, 11:03:20 PM »
I just wrote this but I don't know if it has any sense. The first sentence relates to something a better Thomist than myself told me recently, that the blood (and other parts) of the human body is not a substance of its own, but is only a virtual substance subsisting in the one human substance.

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If human blood has no substantial reality separate from the human substance, but only a virtual reality subsisting in the human substance — then how can we avoid saying that human beings, and all individual beings, have only a virtual reality subsisting in the One self-subsisting divine substance? Whereas we see a multiplicity of things, in the divine Mind all is One. Does this mean that our human point of view is an illusion and that insofar as we understand a multiplicity of things, we grasp only a virtual and non-substantial reality? No, because just as God understands and perceives all things through His Oneness, so we understand and perceive all things in the oneness of our minds — this is what it means to be made in the “image of God.” In a way, the divine power bestows a substantial reality onto that which in itself has only a virtual reality. To perceive a mulitiplicity of things in our minds is in a way to participate in God’s act of creation by which He distinguishes things, and this is the unity of the divine Mind and the human mind. The individual things are real, not merely virtual, because God wills to create them ex nihilo and bestow upon them substantial reality. To return to the Oneness of the divine Mind (mystical contemplation) is not to deprive the individual substances of their forms. Against pantheism, the oneness of the human mind with the divine Mind is not an absolute oneness, but only a relative oneness; only God is absolutely One in Himself, standing alone and apart (transcendence). Pantheists confuse the absolutely One which is in God alone, with the relatively one which is in creatures, dissolving the latter into the former so that they cease to be. Nominalists, by contrast, deny that there is any oneness even in creatures, and see any apparent oneness as a mere mental relation; thus they inevitably come to see God as unreal, a mere mental fabrication, just as pantheists see creatures as unreal mental fabrications (illusions).

-

The mystery of the "one and the many", which was Plato's main study, i.e. the problem of universals –– is definitely one of  the most important discussions in philosophy, if not the most important. The solution to it all lies in the mystery of the Incarnation, i.e. how the One God, absolutely One in Himself, can take flesh by entering into the world of multiplicity. Gnostic/pantheist philosophies end up denying the flesh / the many, and materialist/nominalist philosophies end up denying the One / God. Both "dissolveth Jesus", to use St. John's phrase. I think the reason the Church has favoured Thomism is because it has tended to exclude both these errors arising from false metaphysical presuppositions. As I said earlier, there is something about Aristotelian metaphysics (moderate realism) which is incarnational.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2018, 11:14:56 PM by John Lamb »
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Offline Quaremerepulisti

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2018, 09:40:22 AM »
The universal "dinousaurness" would still have an ideal or mental existence, even without a real one...

What on earth does this phrase even mean?  Moderate realism has to make an ad hoc distinction between "ideal" and "real" existence, whereas Platonism merely makes the common-sense distinction between existence of a universal and its instantiation.  But what does it actually mean for something to exist "ideally" but not "really"?

We are told that what makes Thomism so great is that we don't need to start with an absurd assumption, like in other philosophies (might makes right, our senses might not be reliable, we are a "ghost in a machine", etc.).  But it isn't up to the task.  It has its own absurd assumption.

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It wouldn't be nominalism to say that universals have no real or actual existence except in individual substances, because nominalism states that such "universals" are mere names or labels and there is no real unity of form or essence between one individual dog and another, whereas moderate realism supposes that we can abstract a universal "dogness"  from the dogs which supposes a unity of essence in the dogs themselves and not a mere family resemblance or appearance to our eyes.

But that's not the argument.  After all dogs are dead, does the unity of form or essence cease to exist as well?  Yes, according to moderate realism.  That, I say, is absurd.  How can God create another "dog" when the essence of "dog" has ceased to exist?  If your answer is that He recreates the essence of "dog" before creating another dog, then that falsifies the assumption and shows that universals in fact exist apart from individual substances.  Moreover, when we talk about "dogs", this is nominalism today, even if it wasn't in the past, because there is no longer any extant universal "dogness" to abstract.

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This is just a human way of speaking about God's mind.

I'll make a similar objection to what you just said here, and you can of course reply again that this is just a human manner of speaking.  But if it's a human manner of speaking all the way down, then you never arrive at reality in itself but only a flawed human manner of speaking about it.  And philosophy is supposed to arrive at reality in itself (that's its proper subject matter).  If you don't, the discipline is instead linguistics.

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The exemplars don't have any individual, ontologically real existence in the Mind of God, as though God's mind is divided up or distinguished between a vast multitude of individual "thoughts."  When we say that all goodness exists in God so that the different goods of creatures all pre-exist in Him in the one infinite Good which He is, so we say that the thought or idea of every individual creature pre-exists and is understood by God in that one infinite Thought which He is. Our human minds see a multiplicity where for God there is unity.

This is a contradiction, of course.  You first start by saying that exemplars don't have ontologically real existence, and you end by saying that they do.  Which is it?  And if they do, they are God, because God is His thought.

 

Offline Quaremerepulisti

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2018, 09:54:12 AM »
I just wrote this but I don't know if it has any sense. The first sentence relates to something a better Thomist than myself told me recently, that the blood (and other parts) of the human body is not a substance of its own, but is only a virtual substance subsisting in the one human substance.

And again, that's an absurdity and a Band-Aid.  It's an absurdity to say heart, lungs, brain, etc., exist only "virtually" but not "really".  We can clearly see them, we can (and do) clearly abstract to the universal of a heart or lungs, and so on.  It goes against our common sense and our everyday experience.  But Thomism must take recourse to this Band-Aid due to its principle that matter is the basis of differentiation, and how can it differentiate a heart and a human at the same time?

Moreover, as you say, how do we know we, ourselves, don't exist only "virtually" as part of larger "real" reality?

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The mystery of the "one and the many", which was Plato's main study, i.e. the problem of universals –– is definitely one of  the most important discussions in philosophy, if not the most important. The solution to it all lies in the mystery of the Incarnation, i.e. how the One God, absolutely One in Himself, can take flesh by entering into the world of multiplicity. Gnostic/pantheist philosophies end up denying the flesh / the many, and materialist/nominalist philosophies end up denying the One / God. Both "dissolveth Jesus", to use St. John's phrase. I think the reason the Church has favoured Thomism is because it has tended to exclude both these errors arising from false metaphysical presuppositions. As I said earlier, there is something about Aristotelian metaphysics (moderate realism) which is incarnational.

But early Christians adopted Platonism and hardly became gnostics and pantheists.
 

Offline Graham

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Re: How do Thomists explain discontinuity in instantiating the universals?
« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2018, 11:37:09 AM »
How about the eternal world of forums, where the enlightened contemplate the true reality of posting?