Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A technical problem for organicism

Van Inwagen’s account of composition is that

  1. the xs compose a whole if and only if their activity constitutes a life.

Here is a possible problem that just occurred to me. Let x1 be me and let x2 be one of my particles. Then x1 and x2 compose me.

Now when a plurality of things have an activity, that activity is a joint activity. However, just as it is ridiculous to say that I and my right leg have walking as a joint activity, it seems incorrect to say that I and my particle have a joint activity that constitutes a life. Thus, it seems incorrect to say that x1 and x2 have an activity that constitutes a life. Of course, x1 by itself has an activity ϕ that constitutes a life, and x2 participates in ϕ. But given that ϕ is the activity of x1 by itself, it seems incorrect to say that ϕ is a joint activity of x1 and x2.

One might try to define a more technical concept of engaging in an activity that implies that whenever x1 engages in an activity ϕ with the help of a part x2, that always counts as x1 and x2 engaging in ϕ. Here is an attempt:

  1. The xs engage in an activity ϕ if and only if each of the xs contributes to ϕ and together they accomplish all of ϕ.

But it seems wrong to say that I and my particle x2 together accomplish a life. That would once again sound like we have a joint activity, which we don’t.

This is better:

  1. The xs engage in an activity ϕ if and only if each of the xs contributes to ϕ and anything that is a part of something that contributes to ϕ overlaps one of the xs.

But this falls afoul of van Inwagen’s requirement that an answer to the special composition question make no reference to mereological concepts like parthood or overlap.

But perhaps I am needlessly fastidious about the use of language. Maybe I and my heart, or I and my topmost particle, do engage in life. We do sometimes use this locution about a government body: "x, with y at the helm, ϕed." Maybe if that's true, we can say that "x and y ϕed", despite y being a part of x. But it still sounds wrong.

Android Shogi app with Bonanza engine

I updated an old Android Shogi (Japanese chess) app that uses the Bonanza engine to work better with newer devices (and I also simplified it a bit). I also added optional animal-themed pieces (like in Dobutsu Shogi in the Greenwood) as that's what I'm more used to from playing with my kids.

Google Play:


Source Code:

[Note: the Bonanza engine is for non-commercial use only]

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Dr. Smith ate a banana

Suppose you receive this trustworthy report:

  1. Dr. Smith ate a banana.

You are now in a position to learn this additional fact:

  1. Someone whose last name is “Smith” ate a banana.

But (2) does not logically follow from (1). So how do we learn (2) from the report?

Knowledge of English tells us that “Dr. Smith ate a banana” has “Dr. Smith” as the subject and that this sentence attributes eating a banana to the subject of the sentence. Assuming defeasibly that the the use of English in the report is correct, we conclude that someone correctly styled “Dr. Smith” was reported to have eaten a banana. And assuming defeasibly that the report itself is factually correct, we conclude that:

  1. Someone correctly styled “Dr. Smith” ate a banana.

Knowing English, we also know that anyone correctly styled “Dr. Smith” has the last name “Smith”, so we get (2). We also know that anyone correctly styled “Dr. Smith” has a doctorate, so:

  1. Someone with a doctorate ate a banana.

These are instances of the familiar fact that what we learn from receiving a report goes beyond the propositional content of the report.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The argument from vocation

  1. I have a calling.

  2. If I have a calling, someone with authority over me calls me to a particular form of life.

  3. No human being with authority over me calls me to a particular form of life.

  4. So, an authoritative non-human being exists.

Different people vary as to whether they think they have a calling or vocation in the sense relevant to the argument. Note, however, that for the argument to work, it is enough for there to be someone in whose case (1)–(3) are true.

I think the most problematic premise in the argument is (2). There is an alternate account of calling, on which one’s duty to take on a particular form of life, when one has such a duty, is determined by one’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses as combined with opportunities available to one and the needs of others. But it seems intuitively unlikely that such circumstantial facts are sufficient to determine a particular form of life, except in the case of persons in emergency situations or with limited opportunities.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Self-locating beliefs in the Trinity

Here is a difficulty for the doctrine of the Trinity that I don’t remember coming across before:

  1. The Father and the Son have the numerically same divine mind.

  2. If x and y have the numerically same divine mind, then x and y have the same divine beliefs.

  3. The Father has an “I am the Father” divine belief.

  4. So, the Son has an “I am the Father” divine belief. (1–3)

  5. An “I am the Father” divine belief in the Son would be false.

  6. There are no false divine beliefs.

  7. So, the Son has no “I am the Father” divine belief. (5–6)

  8. Contradiction!

Here, premise (1) follows from the heuristic that what there are two of in Christ, there is one of in the Trinity: there are two minds in Christ, so one mind in the Trinity. Non-heuristically, if there are two minds in Christ—the human and the divine mind—the mind must be a function of the nature, and as there is one divine nature in the Trinity, there is one mind in the Trinity.

There is a quick way out of the paradox: Restrict premise (2) to propositional beliefs rather than de se or self-locating beliefs. The belief that would be expressed in English by “I am the Father” is a de se or self-locating belief. There are corresponding propositional beliefs, such as the belief that the Father is the Father and the Son is the Son, but these are unproblematically had in common by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

However, while this quick way gets one out of the argument, it nonetheless leaves raises the difficult question of how it is the Father knows de se that he is the Father and the Son knows de se that he is not the Father, while yet there is one mind.

The solution had better be in terms of the relations between the divine persons, for there is no difference between the persons of the Trinity except the relational. I am reminded here of Thomas’s discussion of creation and the Trinity:

And therefore to create belongs to God according to His being, that is, His essence, which is common to the three Persons. Hence to create is not proper to any one Person, but is common to the whole Trinity.

Nevertheless the divine Persons, according to the nature of their procession, have a causality respecting the creation of things. For as was said above, when treating of the knowledge and will of God, God is the cause of things by His intellect and will, just as the craftsman is cause of the things made by his craft. Now the craftsman works through the word conceived in his mind, and through the love of his will regarding some object. Hence also God the Father made the creature through His Word, which is His Son; and through His Love, which is the Holy Ghost. And so the processions of the Persons are the type of the productions of creatures inasmuch as they include the essential attributes, knowledge and will.

Thus, each divine person is fully the Creator, but is fully the Creator in a way that takes into account the relationship that defines the person in the Trinity: the Father creates in a Fatherly way, the Son as the Logos through which creation is done, and the Spirit as the Love in which creation is inspired. What makes it be the case that the Father creates in a Fatherly way is just that the Father creates and he stands in the relations that constitute him as Father; what makes it be the case that the Son creates in a Filial way is just that the Son creates and he stands in the relations that constitute him as Son; and similarly for the Holy Spirit.

We might thus imagine the following story. There is a state F of the divine mind such that the Father’s Fatherly instantiation of F constitutes F into a belief that he (de se) is the Father. The Son instantiates the numerically same state F in a Filial way. But while a Fatherly instantiation of F is correctly described in English as constituting an “I am the Father” belief, a Filial instantiation of F is not aptly so described. Perhaps, a Filial instantiation of F is aptly described as a believing of “I am the Son of the one who is the Father.” Thus, the de se beliefs of the persons of the Trinity are constituted by mental states common to the Trinity and the relations constituting the persons.

A few thoughts on a fashionable virtue

Alice is thinking about a question q in science or philosophy, and concludes that figuring out whether a certain mathematical proposition p is true will help her make progress on q. So Alice tries to prove p. She puts some time in, but keeps on failing. She tries another approach for proving p. That also fails. And another, with the same non-existent result. This makes Alice think that perhaps p is not true at all. She tries out a few potential counterexamples. Some of them turn out not to be counterexamples, though for one or two she can’t prove or disprove whether they are counterexamples. She goes back to trying to prove p, and makes no progress. Then she goes back to q, and finds a different mathematical proposition, p2, such that figuring out whether p2 is true will help her make progress on q. She now tries to figure out whether p2 is true. And so on. This is a not unrealistic picture of how research in mathematics-heavy theoretical disciplines sometimes goes.

Alice’s research activities involve a lot of persevering but also a lot of quitting: she perserves for a while on an approach, and then quits (perhaps only temporarily), and tries a new one. The quitting is itself in the service of a higher level goal. For instance, she quits trying to prove p in order to try to disprove p, but both tasks are in the service of trying to figure out whether p is true, which in turn is in the service of learning about q. There is thus a lot of quitting which is actually a form of perservering in investigating q.

Alice’s research behavior can easily sound like it exhibits the virtue of grit. But it might also be an instance of one of the virtue’s opposed vices: being a quitter or being stuck in a rut. The story I gave is compatible with Alice putting too little time and effort into each sub-goal, and it is also compatible with Alice being under the sway of the sunk costs fallacy and spending too much time and energy on each approach before moving on to a different one. As is often the case, the virtue here is a balance between opposed, a balance that cannot be quantified but requires sound judgment to determine.

We normally think of grit as opposed to being a quitter, but quitting in order to move on to a different approach to a higher level goal can be an exhibition of grit. This can repeat at even higher levels of the hierarchy than those mentioned in my initial story. Alice might quit working on q and instead work on some other question in her discipline. Or she might quit working in her discipline, and aim to advance human knowledge in another discipline. Or she might even quit trying to advance human knowledge, and seek to advance human wellbeing in a different respect than knowledge.

But there is a sense in which the vice of being a quitter—a form of acedia, I suppose—is more opposed to grit than the vice of being sticking in a rut. What can be rational is to quit working for one valuable goal in order to work for another valuable goal (often, but not always, the other goal will be a subgoal of some goal that one is thereby continuing to work on). But there is such a thing as quitting completely: giving up on life. And that is always extremely bad. On the other hand, getting stuck in a rut forever, and never quitting, is bad, but at least there is some hope—it might work out, in a way in which completely giving up will not.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The memory theory of personal identity and the Incarnation

Memory theories of personal identity don’t work for the Incarnation. For Christ’s human mind cannot remember what Christ’s divine mind thought, as it infinitely exceeds the capacity of a human mind.

Objection 1: The Catholic tradition holds that Christ always had the beatific vision. In the beatific vision, the simple God becomes the object of contemplation, and since the simple God is identical with his thoughts, God’s thoughts become the object of contemplation as well.

Response: That’s not memory. And if it were, then memory theories would imply that the blessed in heaven are one person with Christ.

Objection 2: It is not necessary that Christ as human remember Christ’s divine thoughts, but only that Christ as divine see Christ’s human thoughts.

Response: If Christ’s divinely seeing Christ’s thoughts makes for an identity of persons, then absurdly God is also identical with all of us, since God sees all our thoughts.

Objection 3: Memory theories concern identity across time. But Christ’s human and divine natures exist at the same time, if God is omnitemporally eternal, or Christ’s human nature exists in time and the divine nature exists outside of time. In neither case does we have identity across time, and so the memory theory of diachronic identity is unaffected.

Response: If God is omnitemporally eternal, we have another counterexample. Orthodox theology holds that there is one divine mind. Thus, the Son’s thoughts at t1 the Father’s thoughts at t1, and hence what the Father remembers at t2 of what he had thought at t1 is just as much a memory of what the Son had thought at t1, which implies the heretical conclusion that the Father at t2 is identical with the Son at t1. So, the suggestion in the objection only has a hope if God is outside of time.

Next observe Christ is like us in all things but sin. In particular, he is as capable of amnesia as we are. Suppose Christ suffered amnesia at t2, so that at at a later time t3 he did not remember what he thought at an earlier time t1. But the metaphysical bond between the divine nature and the human nature would surely not be broken by amnesia. So the human being named “Jesus” at t3 would be the same person as the Second Person of the Trinity, and the human being named “Jesus” at t1 would also be the same person as the Second Person of the Trinity. Thus, by symmetry and transitivity of identity, the human being named “Jesus” at t3 would be the same person as the human being named “Jesus” at t1, despite there being no memory connection, and hence contradicting the memory theory of personal identity.

Perhaps, though, it can be claimed that the Incarnation would of logical necessity be terminated by amnesia. But surely if the Incarnation were terminated, the Second Person of the Trinity could become incarnate once again. In this subsequent incarnation there need be no memories of the first incarnation. Yet if the first-incarnate Son were the same person as the Second Person of the Trinity, and the second-incarnate Son were the same person as the Second Person of the Trinity, it would follow that the first-incarnate Son would be the same person as the second-incarnate Son, once again leading to a case of diachronic identity that contradicts the memory theory of personal identity.

Existential inertia and relativity

According to the doctrine of existential inertia, objects have a metaphysical tendency to continue existing absent interference. Existential inertia differs from ordinary physical inertia, in that existential inertia is supposed to come from the metaphysics of time and existence, while physical inertia comes from the laws of nature.

Let’s now imagine that Bob is a physical object that pops into existence at some point z0 in spacetime, in a universe with nothing that would annihilate Bob (and with Bob lacking any means of self-annihilation). Then according to existential inertia, Bob will continue to exist. But what does that mean in a relativistic setting? Times correspond to spacelike hypersurfaces. A time is future with respect to z0 provided that it corresponds to a spacelike hypersurface intersecting the future light-cone centered on z0. Thus, what we get is:

  1. If Bob exists at z0, then for every spacelike hypersurface H that intersects the future light-cone of z0, Bob exists at some location or other on H.

This is strange on two counts. First, it seems odd that for every spacelike hypersurface that intersects the future light-cone of z0, we have some sort of a metaphysical guarantee that Bob is somewhere on it—not at any particular place, mind you, but somewhere or other on it. Maybe it doesn’t seem as odd to you as it does to me, though.

Perhaps more seriously, however, (1) describes a metaphysical tendency that makes crucial reference to the speed of light.

In fact, (1) seems to somehow make speed-of-light limits have some sort of metaphysical force. For suppose that Bob faster-than-light travels from z0 to some point z1 outside the light-cone of z0. Then after that episode of faster-than-light travel, Bob could continue living a normal slower-than-light life, while violating (1) with respect to a number of hypersurfaces (that intersect the future cone of z0). Thus, while violations of existential inertia are supposed to come from destructive powers, a violation of (1) can come from simple faster-than-light travel.

If we suppose that the metaphysics of time requires a privileged reference frame, the above problems disappear. They also disappear if we think that objects come along with a privileged internal time sequence, and that existential inertia is defined with respect to that internal time sequence.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Self-regarding moral reasons

Many contemporary ethicists believe that:

  1. Moral reasons are always other-regarding.

Add this very plausible premise:

  1. No action that is on balance supported by moral reasons is bad.

Suppose Alice is out of food on a desert island. She will die of starvation in a week. A malfunctioning robot shows up and offers her a deal (Alice verifies the robot’s buggy software to ensure it would follow-through on the deal). In exchange for her agreeing to be tortured horribly for the week of life that she has left, the robot will fly to the other side of the world, and tell a joke to a random stranger who will have a minute of enjoyment from the joke.

Clearly, Alice has a moral reason to go for the deal: it will brighten up a stranger’s day. By (1), accepting the deal is on balance supported by moral reasons, for the only relevant moral reason against the deal is the harm to Alice. Thus, the action is not bad by (2). But it is clearly a bad action.

I suppose one could reject (2), but it seems to me much better to reject (1), and to hold that prudence is a moral virtue, and if Alice takes the deal, she is morally failing by imprudence.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The unity of consciousness

I am now simultaneously aware of the motion of my fingers and of the text on the screen. Call this co-awareness. Co-awareness is not the same thing as awareness by the same subject. For if I type with my eyes closed and then stop typing and open my eyes, the tactile and visual experiences still have the same subject, but there is no co-awareness. Perhaps co-awareness is awareness by the same subject at the same time. But experiments on split-brain patients suggest that it is possible to have one subject with two simultaneous awarenesses that are not co-awarenesses.

Consider this very simple theory of co-awareness: it is not possible to have co-awareness between two distinct awarenesses. The case I started this post with was poorly described. Strictly speaking I had a single awareness of the conjunctive state of affairs of my fingers moving and there being text on the screen. I did not have an awareness of my fingers moving, nor did I have an awareness of text on the screen, but only of the conjunction.

On this view, rather than my co-hosting a quale of moving fingers and a quale of black markings on a white background, I am hosting a conjunctive quale of moving-fingers-and-black-markings.

All this, however, seems implausible. It certainly doesn’t fit with how we talk: everyone would say that I was aware of my fingers moving.

Similarly, I note, if Alice were to tell me that Bob was lazy and stupid, I would be correct to report that Alice told me that Bob was lazy, even though Alice did not in fact express the proposition that Bob was lazy, but only the conjunctive proposition that he is lazy and stupid. It is good use of ordinary language to attribute the statement of a conjunct to someone who stated a conjunction containing that conjunct. The same is true of awareness: we can attribute the awareness of a conjunct to someone who is aware of a conjunction. Maybe the right way to talk about this is to distinguish non-derivative and derivative, or focal and non-focal, senses of assertion and awareness. Alice non-derivatively asserts that Bob was lazy and stupid, and derivatively that Bob was lazy. I am non-derivatively aware of the conjunctive state of affairs of motion of my fingers, the text on the screen and a variety of other things, and derivatively of each conjunct.

With this distinction, we can build on the simple theory of co-awareness:

  1. It is not possible to have co-awareness between two distinct non-derivative awarenesses.

  2. Co-awareness occurs between two derivative awarenesses A and B provided that there is a non-derivative awareness C such that I count as having A and B in virtue of C being an awareness of a conjunction that includes the object of A as well as the object of B as a conjunct.

In a way, this simply shifts the difficulty of figuring what makes it be the case that an awareness is an awareness of a conjunctive state to the difficulty of figuring out what makes a non-derivative awareness of a conjunction be an awareness of a conjunction. That is, indeed, a tough problem. But it is a problem that is just a special case of a general problem that we would need to solve even if we had solved our original co-awareness problem in some other way: the problem of the logical structure of the objects of perception. If I see a shape in the distance that looks like a dog or fox, what is it that makes me have an awareness of a disjunction between a dog or a fox? If I see something that looks like it’s not a dog, what is it that makes me have a negative awareness of a dog?

It may seem puzzling how there can be a logical structure to qualia. I don’t see why not. But then I am strongly inclined to a representationalism that holds that the differences in the qualitative properties between conscious states are determined by the differences between the states’ representative properties. And representative properties have a logical structure.

An argument against naturalism from the concept of the numinous

  1. If naturalism about our minds is true, then the correct account of intentionality is causal.

  2. On a causal account of intentionality, our possession of an irreducible concept is caused by something which falls under that concept.

  3. The concept of the numinous is irreducible.

  4. Therefore, if naturalism about our minds is true, our possession of the concept of the numinous is caused by something numinous. (1–3)

  5. If there is anything numinous, then naturalism in general is false.

  6. If naturalism about our minds is not true, then naturalism in general is false.

  7. So, naturalism in general is false. (4–6)

What do I mean by “the numinous”? Since I claim it to be irreducible, I had better not try to define it. But I can point to it by means of our experiences of the holy, the uncanny, etc.: see Rudolf Otto’s book on the holy.

I think the best objection to the argument is to say that numinous can be reduced to the negation of the natural. But that objection seems to me to be mistaken. Imagine some simple particle-like thing that doesn’t interact with anything else in a way that is governed by the laws of nature. That thing wouldn’t be numinous. Likewise, not all magic is numinous: quite a bit of the magic in the Harry Potter stories is not numinous at all (there is nothing numinous about the chocolate frogs).

Friday, June 11, 2021

Do we need Anarchist Islands?

Suppose that the right account of state authority requires the consent of the governed. A standard view is that this consent is presumed in virtue of the resident’s choice not to leave the territory of the state. This would have worked when world population was lower, and there were places where one could live close to the “state of nature”, with all the freedoms and costs entailed by that. But nowadays if someone is living in a democratic state, there really is no way to get significantly more freedoms: one can move to a different democratic state, which only provides an alternative with respect to relatively minor matters of detail, or one can move to an undemocratic state, where one only has fewer freedom.

I told a version the above story to two of my kids, and one of them suggested that in order to ensure the legitimacy of governments we need “Anarchist Islands”. (There was also the suggestion of settlements on Mars. But because Mars is so inhospitable, I think it is not possible to live in the “state of nature” there.)

I think it would be really interesting if it turned out that for a while we had legitimate goverments, but once unpopulated land disappeared, the legitimacy went with it, and now in order to ensure legitimacy, we need to sacrifice a significant amount of resources, leaving aside land to open the possibility of choosing not to live under a government.

All that said, I don’t agree with views on which the consent of the governed is essential.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Reid's critique of Aristotelian accounts of perception

Reid thinks that the Aristotelians make the same mistake as the Lockeans and Berkeleians: they all think that the phenomenal qualities or “ideas” (in the Lockean sense) in our minds are similar to the properties of physical objects. Thus, the sensation of hardness when I press my hand on the table is supposed to be similar to the physical hardness of the table. But Reid thinks that a bit of reflection shows that the mental entity is quite different from the physical entity.

Presumably, the reason the Aristotelian is accused of this mistake is that the Aristotelian is supposed by Reid to think that a single objectual quality, such as hardness, is found in the table and in the mind (presumably in different ways).

However, I think the criticism of the Aristotelian fails. Let’s take the Aristotelian theory to be as Reid seems to think of it. We still have a choice as to what item in the Aristotelian view we identify with the phenomenal qualities. There is

  1. the hardness itself


  1. the sort-of-but-not-quite-inherence relation between the mind and the hardness.

Which one of these is the phenomenal quality or “idea”? The difficulty here is that Reid seems to accept two claims about Lockean “ideas”:

  1. we always have immediate awareness of “ideas”


  1. “ideas” are the states of awareness.

On the Aristotelian view in question, (1) satisfies (3) and (2) satisfies (4). But (1) does not satisfy (4), and I don’t think the Aristotelian should allow that (2) satisfies (3).

The Aristotelian can now give this story in response to Reid. If we identify (1) as the phenomenal quality, the “what I feel”, then there is nothing absurd about saying that what I feel—namely, hardness—is what is in the extramental table. If we identify (2) as the phenomenal quality, on the other hand, then the Aristotelian will agree with Reid that the phenomenal quality is not found in the extramental object, because the inherencish relation is only found in the mind.

In fact, the Aristotelian’s refusal to accept that there is a single sense of “ideas” that satisfies (3) and (4) is a very good thing. For if we accept both (3) and (4), then for anything we are aware of, our state of awareness will itself be something we are aware of, and any awareness will immediately imply infinitely many levels of higher-order awareness, which is empirically false.

I am not a Reid scholar, however. I might be badly misreading Reid.

Unfelt pains

Here is something everybody should agree on: there are no unfelt pains.

The obviousness and clarity of this strongly suggests:

  1. Pain is the very same concept as awareness of pain.

But if (1) is true, then we should be able to put “awareness of pain” wherever we have “pain”. Thus:

  1. Awareness of pain is the very same concept as awareness of awareness of pain.

And we can repeat the substitution:

  1. Awareness of awareness of pain is the very same concept as awareness of awareness of awareness of pain.

This leads to an endless regress. I won’t worry about that. Instead, I will worry about the fact that from 1–3, the following follows:

  1. Anyone who is in pain is aware of awareness of awareness of awareness of pain.

But 4 is empirically false. It is especially false in the case of intense pains that are so overwhelming as to make the multiple levels of awareness in 4 impossible.

So, we should reject 1. How, then, do we explain why there are no unfelt pains?

I think the answer is to say that “x feels a pain” or “x is aware of a pain” can be understood in two ways:

  1. x is aware of their state of paining

  2. x is paining.

I think that in ordinary usage of “feels a pain”, 6 is the right understanding even if 5 is a more literalistic translation. Given that to be aware of a pain just is to pain, it’s trivial that there are no unfelt pains, since anyone who is in pain is paining just as anybody who is engaged in a dance is dancing.

(If instead we opted for the unordinary sense of 5, then it would be false that everyone who is in pain feels a pain, since one might have the first-order pain without the second-order awareness of that pain.)

So far this sounds like the familiar adverbial theory of perception. But I don’t like the adverbial theory of perception. After all, to feel is to be aware, and to be aware is to be aware of something. What is one aware of when one is feeling pain? The natural answer is that one is aware of pain. But that gets us back to 1–4.

So if it’s not pain we are aware of, and yet we don’t want pure adverbialism for pain, what are we aware of? Thomas Reid noticed that we have a word for the hardness of a physical object, namely “hardness”, but not one for the corresponding phenomenal state. In the case of pain, it seems to me we have the opposite predicament: we have a word for the mental act of sensing, namely “pain”, but no word for the property that the act of sensing represents. (Reid's account here is that pain is a mere sensation, without anything represented, but I don't like that.)

But we have a word that comes pretty close. Anyone who feels pain feels unwell. And to feel unwell is to sense (one’s) unwellness (in a non-factive sense of “to sense”). So to feel pain is to sense a particular kind of unwellness (there are other kinds of unwellness, like the ones sensed in nausea or itching). We don’t have a word for that particular kind of unwellness, though we can describe it as the kind of unwellness that is properly sensed in pain. (By the way, the word for the genus of sensations of unwellness seems to be “discomfort”. Every pain is a discomfort, but nausea and itching are discomforts that aren’t pains.)

Sunday, June 6, 2021

A fun little argument against four-dimensionalism

  1. Spinning a rigid object cannot affect its shape.

  2. If four-dimensionalism is true, spinning a rigid object can affect its shape.

  3. So, four-dimensionalism is not true.

The easiest way to see that 2 is true is to imagine that space is two-dimensional. Then if objects are considered to be extended in time, as the four-dimensionalist says, an object intuitively thought of as a rectangle that stays still is really a rectangular prism, while if that rectangle is spun by 90 degrees, it looks like a twisty thing.

I don’t think it’s too costly to deny 2. And perhaps one can make sense of some notion of internal shape that doesn’t change no matter how a rigid object moves around.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Chrome extension: Blacker Text

Web design has opted for dark grays as opposed to blacks. For a middle-aged person like me, this makes things less pleasant (and perhaps harder, but I don't have the empirical data to show that) to read: the grays not only look dimmer, but also fuzzier to me. So I wrote a simple Chrome extension that automatically snaps near-black colors to black (and near-white to white, for use on dark-mode sites) on all websites, except within links. You can adjust how close you have to be to black (or white) to snap. 

Update: Here is the FireFox version.

The result of using this extension for the last week has been a pleasanter web experience: a lot of sites look crisper, more like reading a book printed with high quality ink on high quality acid-free paper. I miss it on my phone since mobile Chrome doesn't support extensions (I am tempted to switch to a mobile browser that does support extensions, but haven't done so yet).

Eventually, if there is any actual interest in the extension from people other than myself, I may add some per-site options in case some site is broken by this. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ill-suited matter, form, and immortality

A question I haven’t seen explored much by contemporary neo-Aristotelian metaphysics is that of matter ill-suited to the form. Is it metaphysically possible for a bunch of molecules arranged like a normal oak tree to have the form of a pig? It would be, of course, a very unfortunate pig. Or is some minimal amount of match between the actual arrangement of the molecules and the form needed?

On light-weight neo-Aristotelianism, on which forms are simply structural properties, the answer has got to be negative.

But on heavy-weight neo-Aristotelianism, on which forms are irreducible entities, it seems like there should be no such restrictions. Why couldn’t God unite the form of a pig with a body as of an oak tree, or the form of an oak tree with a body as of a human?

However, supposing that we take such a liberal view on which there is no such thing as matter metaphysically incompatible with a form (presumably pace historical Aristotelians), we then have a puzzle. If it would be metaphysically possible for a pig form to be united to a bunch of organic gases, why is it that when pigs are vaporized, they (we assume) invariably die? Here is my story. Assume for simplicity time is discrete. At each time t, a pig—in virtue of its form—has a causal power to continue existing at the next time. But causal powers have activation conditions. The activation condition for the causal power to continue existing at the next time is an appropriate arrangement of the pig’s body. When the pig’s body becomes so distorted that this activation condition is no longer satisfies, the pig loses the power to go on living. And so it dies. However, of course, God could make it keep on living by a miracle: a miracle can supply what the causal powers of a thing are incapable of.

This account has one somewhat implausible prediction. Suppose that some powerful being instantaneously scatters the molecules of an ordinary pig across the galaxy, so that at t1 we have an ordinary pig and at the next time, t2, the pig molecules are scattered. Because at t1 the pig has a causal power of continuing to exist conditionally on its molecules being appropriately arranged at t1, and this condition is indeed satisfies at t1, the pig will live one moment in scattered condition at t2—and then perish at the next moment, t3.

On this account, external causes do not directly destroy an object. Rather, they destroy the activation condition for the object’s power to continue existing. When that activation condition is destroyed, the object (barring a miracle) ceases to exist. But it has that one last existential hurrah before it falls into nonbeing.

Does it follow that on a heavy-weight Aristotelianism with my story about death, a pig metaphysically could survive the annihilation of its body? I am not sure, but I am inclined to think so. Indeed, I am inclined to think that if we had a normal pig at t1, and then at t2 the matter of the pig were annihilated, the pig would still exist—reduced to an abnormal immateriality—for that one instant of t2, and then, barring a second miracle, it would slide into non-being at t3.

What about us? Well, Aquinas argues for our soul’s natural immortality on the grounds that the human soul has a proper operation that does not depend on the matter, namely pure thought. I have never before been impressed by the move from a proper operation independent of matter to natural immortality, but in my above (neo-Aristotelian but not very Thomistic) setting I see it having significant force. First, we have this question: What are the activation conditions for the human’s power-to-continue-existing? It makes sense that for a being whose only non-existential operations are material, the activation conditions should be purely material. But if a being has a proper operation not dependent on the matter, then it makes perfect sense for the activation conditions of its power-to-continue-existing not to include material conditions. In fact, something stronger can be said. It seems absurd for a thing to have a power to continue thinking whose activation conditions outstrip its power to continue existing. It would be like a power to play soccer without a power to move. So, it seems, if Aquinas is right that we have an immaterial operation, then we have the power to continue existing even absent a body. Of course, God can stop cooperating with any power we have, and if he stopped cooperating with our power-to-continue-existing, then we would stop existing (unless God miraculously sustained us in existence independently of that power!), but naturally we would continue to exist. Assuming, of course, Thomas is right about us having a proper operation that does not depend on matter, which is a different question.

(And unlike Thomas, I think we have immortality, not just our souls.)