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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

This Is Not Selling Me on Potencies!

I've begun reading Ed Feser's Aquinas, hoping to fill a lacuna in my philosophical education. Now Ed is a fine writer and a clear thinker, so I figure if anyone can sell me on the superiority of scholastic metaphysics over its rivals, it will be Ed. As is my recent practice, I plan to blog the book as I read it: this helps me to take notes for later, and hopefully will prove useful for somebody else as well!

Now, let me open with a caveat here: it is early days in my contemplating the idea of potencies, and I may decide later I was just confused at present, but so far, despite Ed' protests to the contrary, he has done nothing to convince me that Molière was not correct: these Scholastic categories are explanations empty of any empirical content and also otiose. Consider this: Feser quotes Aquinas as saying "the form of numbness is in the eel which makes the hand numb" (p. 23). OK, this strikes me as:
1) Being exactly like the opium example that Molière mocked; and
2) Misleading to boot.

What the eel contains is not "the form of numbness" but a chemical. In humans, that chemical happens to produce numbness. In other creatures, it might produce quite different effects. If, in another creature, the eel's bite produces a fiery burning, does the eel also contain "the form of fiery burning"? And if, in yet another creature, the bite produces a feeling of intense cold, does that mean it also contains that form? And of what use is positing all of these forms and thrusting them upon the poor eel? How is this anything but a useless multiplication of entities? The eel has a gland containing a certain chemical, and that chemical interacts with the nervous system of different bite victims in different ways. And we understand how it does so not by positing forms and placing them in the eel, but by studying the biochemistry of the victim.

More to come.

1 comment:

  1. I was never too enthusiastic about metaphysics to begin with, but I still find your take on this interesting. I don't know that he is saying that numbness is intrinsic to the eel, only that the eel contains a certain form of numbness. Granted, I can get lost in some of Aquinas' writings due to the language used, but surely he had a different concept of biology than we do today.

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