Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Klingon bat'leth sword

My daughter and I are Trekkies, and she asked me for a bat'leth prop for Christmas. I made one out of wood, painted with metallic paint, with leather wrapped handles. Here are the instructions.

Trust in the virtuous and the morality of lying

Helga is well known to be perfectly virtuous. Her best friend Kurt is accused of conspiring to peacefully overthrow a tyrannical government, and will be tortured to death and executed unless Helga can convince government agents that he did no such thing. As a matter of fact, Helga has conclusive first-person evidence that Kurt did no such thing, much as that government deserves to be overthrown.

Suppose that it is sometimes permissible to lie. Then surely lying to save a peaceful conspirator against a tyrannical government would be a paradigm case of permissible lying, and indeed of obligatory lying. Thus, if Helga testifies to government agents that Kurt is not a conspirator, she is doing precisely what a perfectly virtuous person would do if Kurt were a conspirator. Thus if she is known to be perfectly virtuous, her testimony to Kurt's not being a conspirator is unworthy of credence. In fact, her testimony would be more worthy of credence if she were somewhat less virtuous and rigidly opposed to lying in all cases. Thus the permissibility of lying would make the testimony of the virtuous be worthless in a number of high-stakes cases.

But the virtuous are precisely the people whose testimony should carry weight, they are precisely the trustworthy, at least in cases where they are in a position to know whereof they speak. So the conclusion that Helga's truthful testimony about Kurt is worthless is paradoxical. And this paradox gives one reason to reject the premise from which the paradox was derived, namely that it is sometimes permissible to lie.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Despair, virtue and the afterlife

  1. If it is physically guaranteed that virtue will perish, despair is the right attitude.
  2. If there is no life after death at least for the virtuous, it is physically guaranteed that virtue will perish.
  3. Despair is not the right attitude.
  4. So there is life after death at least for the virtuous.
Making this argument precise would take some work. One would want to say something about the scope of "virtue" (human virtue? individual virtue?), and one would want to say a little more about "right attitude".

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eternalism and accidents without a subject

A classic objection to transubstatiation, famously pressed by Wycliffe, is that according to the Catholic understanding of the doctrine, the accidents of bread and wine persist even though the substance of bread and wine no longer exists. But in Aristotelian metaphysics, accidents are essentially dependent on their substance.

Eternalism—the view that past and future and present things all exist—provides a neat way for the Catholic to respond to Wycliffe. One can, if one so wishes, hold on to the idea that it is metaphysically necessary that a subject exists if an accident exists. But one denies that it is metaphysically necessary that the subject exists at the same time as the accident. The eternalist then holds that even if the bread and wine have perished at a time t1 after transubstantation, nonetheless it is true at t1 that the bread and wine exist, where the "exist" is tenseless. On this view, every accident has a subject in the same world but not always at the same time.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Are parts modes?

There are two variations on Aristotelian ontology. On the sparser version there are substances and their modes (accidents and essences). On the more bloated version there are substances, modes and (proper) parts. I want to argue that the more bloated version should be reduced to the sparser one.

Parts in an Aristotelian ontology are unlike the parts of typical contemporary ontologies. They are not substances, but rather they are objects that depend on the substance they are parts of. At least normally when a part, say a finger, comes to be detached from the substance it is a part of, it ceases to exist—a detached finger is a finger in name only, as Aristotle insists.

This makes the parts of Aristotelian ontology mode-like in their dependence on the whole. Ockham's razor then suggests that rather than supposing three fundamental categories—substances, mode and parts—we will do better to posit that a part is just a kind of mode. Thus, I really do have a heart, but my heart is just much a mode or accident of me—my cardiacality—as my knowing English is. Both my heart and my knowledge of English confer on me certain causal powers and causal liabilities (knowing English makes me liable to having my feelings hurt by uncomplimentary assertions in English!)

This is not an elimination of parts. Some of my accidents are parts and others are not. Which ones? I do not know. Maybe those accidents that occupy space are parts and those accidents that do not are not. My knowing English doesn't occupy space, while my cardiacality is somewhat vaguely but really located located in space.

Perhaps we need a finer distinction, though. Consider the strength of my arm. This isn't a part of me, but it seems to be located in my arm. I suggest that we distinguish between three ways that a mode can get a location. It can (a) inherit a location from a subject, or (b) it can inherit a location from its own modes, or (c) it can be located in its own right. I suggest that a mode is a part if and only if it has a location of type (b) or (c). The strength of my arm inherits its location from its subject—my arm—and hence is not a part. (It's important to the full development of this ontology that modes can nest. Thus, my arm is a mode of me, and the strength of that arm is a mode of this mode. Both I and my arm are subjects of the strength of the arm.)

I think the distinction between type (b) and type (c) parts is worth thinking about. Maybe matter, that mysterious ingredient in Aristotelian ontology, can be identified with type (c) parts?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Being is grounded in fundamental being, and presentism

Assume a bloated ontology, on which there are events, chairs, holes, waves, etc. In defending such a bloated ontology, we should sensibly say that these beings are grounded in what the fundamental beings are and how they are, and so the bloat does not infect fundamental reality.

So far so good. But what if we add presentism into the mix? Imagine two worlds, A and B, that are exactly alike at time t, but in one of them a race is beginning at t and in the other it is ending at t. We may here suppose massive mental dysfunction in B, so that everybody thinks the race is beginning, whereas in fact it has just ended.

Then in A at t, there is an event E that doesn't exist in B at t: the beginning of the race. Suppose t is the present moment and A is actual. Then E is not grounded in what the fundamental beings are and how they are, given presentism, since the fundamental beings and how they are are the same between A and B. In our bloated ontology, there really are events, and E really does exist, though. And so we have a violation of the principle that all beings are grounded in the fundamental beings and how they are.

Some presentists will get out of this by saying that A and B differ in the past, and facts about the past are grounded in what God remembers. Note first that this requires a denial of divine simplicity. For, given divine simplicity, there cannot be two possible worlds that differ only in how God is, since that would imply an intrinsic accidental property in God. Second, we have the standard criticism that this gets things the wrong way around: God remembers the past because it was so, rather than its having been so because God remembers it thus.

The above is a slight tweak on the usual grounding objection to presentism. But I do think that while one might balk at the claim that all truth is grounded in what fundamentally exists and how it is, it is plausible that all being is so grounded.

The best way out for the presentist is to deny the bloated ontology, of course.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A perdurantism without temporal parts

Standard perdurantism holds that we are four-dimensional worms made up of three-dimensional temporal parts. Many of the changing properties that we think of ourselves as having directly, we actually have derivatively from the temporal parts. Thus, I am typing a post in virtue of having a temporal part typing it up, and I am conscious of the screen in front of me in virtue of a temporal part of me being conscious of it.

Standard perdurantism has many problems, for instance:

  1. Perdurantism commits one to proper parts, and implausibly thin and hyperplanar ones.
  2. Surely I am that entity which is non-derivatively consciously rather than that entity which is derivatively conscious.
  3. Perdurantism normally comes along not just with slices, but thicker temporal parts. But then Merricks argues that we cannot know how old we are. For all I know, I might be the temporal part from five minutes ago until now (in which case I am five minutes old), or from ten minutes ago until now (in which case I am ten minutes ld), and so on. Only a handful of temporal parts containing my present stage have the age I think myself to have, so probably I don't have the age I think myself to have.

There is, however, a perdurantism without any of these problems, if one accepts the right kind of trope theory. Suppose I exist at t. Then my existing at t is a trope of me, call it et. At least unless t is the first moment of my existence, et is an accidental trope: if I perished before t, then I wouldn't have had et. (If essentiality of origins holds, then it is an essential property of me that I exist at the first moment of my existence.) Note that I am not committing myself to the controversial thesis that existence is a property. Even if existence isn't a property, it is plausible that existence in a location—i.e., spatial locatedness at x—is a property. And if so, then why shouldn't temporal locatedness at t be a property?

I now suppose that I am a four-dimensional entity that has (where the "has" is not tensed) all of the et tropes (where t is a time during my existence): it is true to say that I exist at all these times. But many of the temporally qualifiable predicates, like "is conscious" and "is bent", that apply to me apply in virtue of et itself having certain tropes. Thus, I am now bent or conscious in virtue of enow having a certain bendedness or consciousness trope.

Strictly speaking, it's not enow that is bent or conscious, but it has the kind of trope which makes that substance that has the enow trope be bent or conscious. Compare this: If I am gorging myself, then that happens in virtue of an eating trope itself having a gorging trope. But the eating trope isn't gorging itself. It is I who am gorging myself. So the gorging trope is a trope of eating such that any substance that has the eating trope with the gorging trope gorges itself. The gorging trope, thus, makes me—the substance—be a gorger and makes my eating trope be not a gorger, but gorgingly. This is linguistically tricky.[note 1]

On standard perdurantism, I persist over time in virtue of having temporal parts that exist at various times. On this trope perdurantism, I persist over time in virtue of having temporal locatedness tropes.

On this theory, the temporal locatedness tropes et play the role of the temporal parts of standard perdurance. But they aren't parts. So we aren't committed to parts, much less implausibly thin and hyperplanar ones.

We also do not have the problems in (2) and (3). For while I am conscious at t in virtue of et having a certain consciousness trope ct, that consciousness trope doesn't make et be conscious. So while I am conscious in virtue of something other than me—namely, et—being a certain way, I am not conscious in virtue of something other than me being conscious. Thus, I do not derive my consciousness from the consciousness of anything else, and so I am non-derivatively conscious. I do derive my consciousness from something else being a certain way, but when that something else is a trope of me, that's quite innocent. Thus, (2) is not an issue here.

Nor is (3), for the obvious reason that a fusion of et-type tropes, even if there is such a fusion (which I very much doubt), doesn't think. It's substances that think, and they think in virtue of having certain tropes. The tropes don't think, and neither do their fusions.

I don't think this is the whole story. If I were seriously defending this story, I wouldn't say that I have the trope et directly. I might say that I have the trope et as a trope of my humanity, where my humanity may well be the only trope I have directly (see the paper of mine here).

I don't know if the above story is true. I am a bit sceptical of the thinness and hyperplanarity, as it were, of the et tropes—they don't seem to me to be very natural. And I am not 100% sure I want to commit to tropes. But this version of perdurantism might be true.

Note, also, a neat thing. Normally the perdurantist needs to argue why perdurance is preferable to exdurance. But I do not think there is any plausible trope exdurantism paralleling this trope perdurantism.

Objection: The trope et is a part of me, so this devolves to a more standard perdurantism.

Response: Maybe in some sense my tropes are parts of me. But they are different sorts of parts from the kinds of parts that standard perdurantism invokes. For tropes depend, at least for their identity, on that which they are tropes of. But the whole is constructed out of the temporal parts on standard perdurantism. So trope perdurantism reverses the order of grounding.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Existence, eternalism, continuous creation and concurrence

The doctrine of continuous creation is something like this:

  1. For all x and t, if x is a creature and x exists at t, then x is created or preserved by God at t.
On the other hand, the doctrine of concurrence is something like this:
  1. God causally concurs in every instance of creaturely causation,
where the exact details of concurrence need to be spelled out, but it is some sort of causal cooperation in or causal responsibility for the instance of creaturely causation. Given the auxiliary hypothesis that:
  1. For all x and t, if x is a creature and x exists at t, then either x is created or preserved by God at t or x is created or preserved by a creature at t,
we have a somewhat handwaving argument from (2) to (1), namely an argument that given (2), when the second disjunct in (3) holds, so does the first. For suppose that x is created or preserved by a creature at t. Then by (2), God concurs in this. But if God concurs in creation or preservation, then God creates or preserves (albeit non-solitarily).

In the literature, (2) is seen as a stronger and more controversial claim than (1), and the above argument vindicates this.

Interestingly, given eternalism, there is an argument—albeit rather handwavy—from (1) to (2).

Start with this observation: Given eternalism, existing in 2014 is rather like existing in Waco. It isn't a case of existence simpliciter, but is simply the possession of a locational property. (Given endurantism, to exist in 2014 is like being wholly present in Waco; given some four-dimensionalist theorys, it's like being partly present in Waco; but on all the theories there is a close analogy.)

Now, according to (1), when x exists at t, God is causally responsible for this. But it is strange and ad hoc given eternalism to think God is causally responsible for temporally locational properties, but not for spatially locational ones, nor for other non-privative properties. So it is very plausible that:

  1. If God is causally responsible for every case of a creature's possession of temporal location, then God is causally responsible for every case of a creature's possession of a non-privative accidental property.
  1. Every instance of creaturely causation is the causation of the possession of non-privative accidental properties or the causation of existence.
And it seems that it is "metaphysically harder" to cause existence than to cause the possession of an accidental property, so:
  1. If God concurs in every case of the creaturely causation of the possession of non-privative accidental properties, then God concurs in every case of the creaturely causation of existence.
From (4), (5) and (6), we conclude that if (1) is true, then given eternalism we have God concurring in every instance of creaturely causation, and so we have (2).

This argument is handwavy, but it does show that it is ad hoc to hold on to (1) but deny (2).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Predictions and presuppositions

It is a prediction of Newtonian physics that two isolated massive bodies will move relative to each other in a conic section. It is a presupposition of Newtonian physics that there is space. It is a prediction of perfect being theology that persons (or at least, good persons) live forever. It is a presupposition of perfect being theology that there are objective values.

The distinction matters epistemologically. Suppose you have significant but non-overwhelming evidence for Newtonian theory but don't notice that the theory presupposes that there is space. And then you learn that there is this presupposition. This should make you both (a) more suspicious of Newtonian theory (after all, the presupposition might be false) and (b) more friendly to the idea that there is space (after all, the inference to best explanation argument for Newtonian physics now extends to the existence of space).

On the other hand, if you don't realize that Newtonian physics implies that two bodies will move in a conic section, and then you come to realize it, that will make you want to run to the observatory to see if the prediction is true. But while you're running to the observatory, your credence in the theory will not have gone down. It will only go down if the prediction is not borne out.

Likewise, suppose that you have significant but non-overwhelming evidence for perfect being theology, and then you realize—somehow you missed it before—that this theology presupposes objective values. If your evidence for objective values is non-overwhelming (I think it's overwhelming) then this realization will make you more suspicious of perfect being theology. On the other hand, if you realize that the theory predicts that persons live forever, that by itself shouldn't make you more suspicious of the theory, just make you look for evidence for and against this prediction.

Yet, you might think this: "Both the prediction and the presupposition is something you get committed to by the theory. Learning that you're committed to more things by a theory makes the theory more top-heavy, and so it should make you more suspicious of the theory."

That's a mistake. Discovering that a scientific theory has predictions you didn't see before doesn't by itself make us more suspicious of the theory (of course, if we have evidence against the predictions, that's a different thing). But the thought highlights a crucial question: What is the difference between the presupposition and the prediction? Both are implied (entailed, or maybe just significantly probabilified) by the theory. The difference isn't logical, but I think explanatory:

  • A prediction of a theory is an implication that the theory explains.
  • A presupposition of a theory is an implication that the theory does not explain.

From a Bayesian point of view, we can now say a little bit more about what happens when we discover a new prediction or presupposition. In general, when we discover an implication of a theory, we realize that we were mistaken in regard to logical interconnections. When that happens, we need to go back to the drawing board, and re-do our relevant priors.

Now when we learn of a new prediction of a theory, that doesn't affect the complexity of the theory, because only the explanatorily fundamental parts of a theory enter into the complexity of the theory (see this post), and while perhaps complexity isn't the only determinant of priors, I do not see any other relevant one here that would raise the probability. So our priors for the theory stay the same, but now the prediction gets tied to the theory, so that the evidence for the theory ends up typically being evidence for the prediction as well.

On the other hand, when we discover a new presupposition, that makes the explanatorily fundamental parts of the theory more complicated, and so the prior for the theory should go down a little. But at the same time, once we factor in the posterior evidence, then typically the evidence for the theory will transfer to the presupposition. As a result, our prior for the theory goes down, and hence so does the posterior, but the posterior for the presupposition is apt to go up.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The doctrine of transubstantiation has two primary components:

  • The real presence of Christ's body and blood
  • The real absence of bread and wine.
Some objections center on the Real Absence. After all, it looks like bread and wine are present—why would God make our senses deceitful? And why would God destroy the bread and wine? Doesn't nature build on grace? (Quick answers: Senses give prima facie reasons to believe, but in the context of the liturgy as a whole there is no deceit as it is explicitly stated that this is Christ's body and blood. And we are built out of our food, even though our food is destroyed when we eat it.)

One theory that attempts to avoid the Real Absence is impanation. Analogously to how Christ became a human, he now becomes bread and wine. But here is a curious fact about impanation. While it does hold that bread and wine exist after consecration, it has to say that the bread and wine cease to exist after consecration. In other words, the particular piece of bread and the particular sample of wine that were present before consecration cease to exist given consecration, and what we have after consecration is a new piece of bread and a new sample of wine. But if this is right, then impanation really doesn't help much with the two objections to Real Absence. We still have cessation of the existence of bread and wine. And while our sense that bread and wine are present is not mistaken, our sense that it's the same bread and wine as before consecration is mistaken. So impanation doesn't offer much of an advantage with respect to the objections.

But am I right? Does impanation imply that the old bread and wine are absent after consecration? I think so. First, consider the analogy with the Incarnation. The thought was that just as Christ came to be a human being, so too Christ came to be bread and wine. But the human being that Christ came to be did not preexist the incarnation. By analogy, the bread and wine that Christ came to be should not preexist the impanation.

Second, let's call the post-impanation bread B, and the pre-impanation bread A. Then B is Christ (just as the post-incarnation human, Jesus, is Christ). But identity is transitive. So if B is Christ, and A is identical with B, then A is Christ. Which is absurd. So the impanationist needs to deny that A is B.

But perhaps my arguments are a misunderstanding of impanation. For maybe the impanationist doesn't say that Christ becomes bread in the same way that Christ becomes human, but that Christ becomes bread in the same way that Christ becomes flesh. When Christ becomes flesh, there isn't a piece of flesh that is Christ. Rather, Christ comes to be a composite of flesh and soul. Now the analogy between impanation and incarnation forces the idea that there be a Y such that Christ comes to be a composite of bread and Y, analogously to his coming to be a composite of flesh and soul. But it is far from clear what Y would be.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A world abuzz in activity

I sometimes think that the phrase "causal power" doesn't quite convey what the causal powers theorist means or should mean. When I hear the phrase, it makes me think of a mere potentiality, a disposition which needs separate activation. But this is a mistaken image.

A causal power should be seen as active. It is a striving, a conatus. I lie on a bed typing this post. The elasticity of the springs strives to lift me up. The gravitation attraction between my body and the earth strives to press me down. There is not much motion, as the forces have balanced out, but both forces are constantly active. If gravity suddenly disappeared, the bed's springs would eject my upward, and if the springs suddenly disappeared, I would slump down.

The world is abuzz in activity. It trembles with action. Objects strive in various directions in their causal powers, pulling hither and yon (cf. Amjum and Mumford).

Aristotle talks of two levels of potentiality. I am in first potentiality for speaking German—I would have to learn it in order to speak it—and in second potentiality for speaking English—I can do it whenever I wish to. Second potentiality is also first actuality—the general human potential for speaking languages is realized in me in respect of English. And then there is second actuality—I am now in second actuality for writing in English. So we have a three point scale of actuality:

  1. first potentiality
  2. second potentiality = first actuality
  3. second actuality.
Having a causal power, a conatus or a striving is something intermediate between the first and second actuality. When unopposed, the causal power causes second actuality—actual action. When opposed, we just have a tense striving, a pull.

The world, both physical and mental, is a world of tension. Forces push against forces, reasons push against reasons. Or, more precisely, substances with forces or reasons push against the same or other substances with opposed forces or reasons.

Sometimes an image helps develop good metaphysics. That's all the above is: an image.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Love as the whole of morality

After a disaster, there are two people left in the world, A and B. Each fully loves the other, and each fully loves herself. However, they hear noises in the woods occasionally, and come to form a justified false belief that there is a human being in the woods. In fact, there isn't—there is just wind. Now, A comes to love the alleged person, exhibiting the love by leaving food out. On the other hand, B comes to hate the alleged person, exhibiting the hatred by setting traps.

Both A and B love each human being. Yet, clearly, B is doing something wrong. So, it seems, loving each human being is not sufficient for morality.

Yet the New Testament suggests that it is. It seems part of the message of the New Testament that love of God and neighbor fulfills the moral law. And the First Letter of John suggests that one loves God to the extent that one loves one's neighbor.

I think there are two moves here. One is to take the claims in 1 John as applying to typical cases. Typically, one loves God to the extent that one loves one's neighbor. Cases like that of B are too out of the way to be what the author of the text was talking about. And then one can argue that B by failing to love someone that he takes to be a creature of God is failing to love God. So on this view, the foundation of Christian ethics is not just love for neighbor, but either both love for God and love for neighbor, or just love for God, though typically love for neighbor is indicative of this.

The second move would be that to love one's neighbor requires not just that one love each individual neighbor, but that one have a disposition to love all possible people, should they be actual. This seems right to me, actually. For another kind of case would be this. Suppose that the world is down to two people, and they are virulent racists, but they are both of each other's preferred race. They love every human being who exists. But they don't have a disposition to love all possible people.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Space, time and discreteness

A first plausible thesis:

  1. Space is discrete if and only if time is discrete.
This is very plausible in any picture like that given by modern physics where space and time, while not on par, are very closely related. It's also intuitive. For suppose space is continuous but time is discrete. Then a small enough object will jump over some intervening space when it moves during a unit of time, which seems strange. Conversely, if space is discrete but time is continuous, then objects always move jerkily: for a bit of time they stand still, then they instantaneously jump to a new point in space, and then they stand still for a little longer. That's strange, too.

Here's a second plausible thesis:

  1. A small object can rotate by any small angle without its internal measurements changing much.
But now imagine that space is discrete, with the smallest distance between points being about α. Imagine an object occupying exactly two points x and y spaced out by approximately α. Now swivel that object slightly around the point x without changing internal measurements much. The other point in the object will either continue occupying y, in which case the object hasn't rotated (contrary to (2)), or will occupy some point very close to y (but there isn't any such point, since the minimum spacing is about α), or the object will come to occupy only one point (in which case its internal measurements will change much).

If the above argument isn't clear, just imagine a hexagonal or square grid, an object composed of two points on the grid, and think what it would be to rotate that object by a small angle (smaller than 90 degrees in the case of the square grid and smaller than 60 degrees for the hexagonal one).

So (2) gives us good reason to deny that space is discrete, and then (1) gives us good reason to deny that time is discrete.

But this was too quick. Both my arguments for (1) and my argument that (2) forbids space to be discrete made a crucial assumption, namely that space has a certain fixity to it that it is independent of the objects in space. For suppose that time is continuous but space is discrete. I said that it follows that objects move jerkily. Not so. For the points that the objects occupy could be moving with the objects! Thus an object could move smoothly because the spatial points in it could be moving. The discrete space, then, wouldn't be a regular grid. It would be a mess of points, which shift around as the objects they are in shift. (This doesn't affect the argument that we shouldn't say that space is continuous but time is discrete.)

The same flaw affects my argument based on (2). I was assuming that as I rotate the two-point object, the points x and y stay fixed. But what if points are defined by objects, and so the point y rotates with the object? Again, we wouldn't have a regular grid. We would have an irregular changing grid, where the real points are defined by the objects.

The resulting view of space would be, I think, a version of Aristotle's picture, where space is infinitely divisible but not actually infinitely divided. In the case of our two point object, there could be a point at distance α/10 from y, but there isn't, unless we rotate the object that defines the points.

In other words, Aristotle's account of space is the only discretist view of space that accommodates the intuition that objects can be rotated by small amounts without great distortion. That's pretty neat, I think.

What's the motivation for thinking this is the truth of the matter. Well, causal finitism gives one good reason to think that time is discrete (or at least discrete when we restrict ourselves to a local area of space). The implication from discrete time to discrete space in (1) survives my above criticism of the argument. So we have good reason to think space is discrete. And then the rotation argument yields a version of Aristotle's view.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Deep Thoughts XXXIX

You cannot leave an empty room.

[The idea behind this lovely tautology is from my daughter Clare.]