Monday, July 20, 2015

The Curious "Leads to" Argument

Edward Feser here argues against certain philosophical ideas because they "lead to" certain other ideas. In particular, he rejects a Platonic view of form and occasionalism as a way of understanding efficient causation. In arguing against them, he resorts to this sort of thing:

"So, avoiding occasionalism and thus pantheism also requires affirmation of immanent causal power and immanent teleology -- again, Aristotelian efficient and final causes."

But if occasionalism or the Platonic theory of forms are, in fact, true, it is no argument against them to say that they lead to pantheism: that would just mean pantheism is true as well! And in any case, there is no inevitable slide from such views into pantheism. For instance, Berkeley's understanding that the world is God's ideas is not pantheistic: God's ideas are not God! This blog post is my idea, but you can't kill me by shooting it on the server where it resides.

As Collingwood noted in The Idea of Nature, immanence and transcendence are never absolute, and each implies the other. A form completely transcendent would simply be irrelevant to the thing it supposedly forms. But a completely immanent form is not a form at all: it is just the thing itself. To be a form at all, it must in some way transcend the objects it forms. And as Voegelin pointed out, it is wrong to view Plato and Aristotle as expounding doctrines of form: they are both struggling to find verbal expression for the experiences they have undergone. And their differing expressions of the idea of form are a matter of emphasizing different aspects of the forms.

In fact, if Feser pushes his idea of substance actually being a God-indepepndent property to its logical conclusion, it leads to Deism: the world can now run on just fine without God, thank you. But that is not the right reason to reject it: we should reject it because we have a simpler way of understanding how the world works.

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