Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Powers and strivings

Neo-Aristotelian metaphysics of causation is centered around the notion of powers. I wonder, though, whether the term "power" isn't too passive to convey the notion. In my sexual ethics work, I have used the term "striving".

One's image of a power may be something like a match: it has the power to start a fire, but it is not doing anything until the triggering condition—heat from friction—is applied. On the other hand, one's imagine of a striving may be something like a bow pulled back, with the tension and compression in the bow's limbs actively exerting a force that is closely balanced by the tension in the archer's muscles. The striving in the bow is something active, as can be seen by the way the archer gets tired the longer the string is held back, and only needs the archer's resistance to end in order for it to be released. Or one's image of striving may be the archer slowly and effortfully (but perhaps with an appearance of effortlessness) pulling back the string.

It is clear that metaphysically the cases of the archer pulling back the string and the archer holding the string are alike. The only difference is that in the case of holding the strivings of the limbs and the archer are balanced while in the case of pulling back the strivings are imbalanced. I think that in the end the case of the match is also metaphysically alike. In my One Body book, I say in this connection that an army in readineness is not an idle army. Likewise, the match in readiness is not an idle match. The powers of the molecules in the match are in balance, holding each other back, actively striving against each other like the archer against the bow.

Even in God there is a constant striving. God intrinsically is pure act, says Aquinas, and the eternal Trinitarian relations of procession emphasize this. It is crucial not to think of the Trinitarian relations as something historical, in the way that human parenthood in non-ideal cases can be, but rather as continuing—the Father did not once and for all generate the Son at the beginning of time, but in the timeless eternity of God's dynamism always is begetting him, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds as the active love between the Father and the Son. And on the economic side, Leibniz talks of the divine ideas of the various worlds that God can create as competing with one another for God to actualize them. We shouldn't overemphasize that competitiveness, but some emphasis is helpful here. (And this competitiveness in the end fits better into an incommensurability picture of creation than Leibniz's optimalism.)

To a large degree everything I said here is metaphor. But good choice of metaphor guides good philosophizing.


Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

It's worth pointing out, in this regard, that Charlie Martin, whose writing is full of metaphor, often refers to a power as a readiness. Heil, deeply influenced by Martin, talks of the manifestation of powers, not as a one time fire sort of thing, but as a continuous manifesting or a continuous mutual partnering.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I'm very speculatively thinking -- at this point this goes perhaps a touch beyond metaphor -- that maybe powers are always being continuously manifested. The apparent distinction between manifesting and unmanifesting powers is the distinction between strivings and strivings for strivings.