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Author Topic: A Challenge for Mr. Coulombe re. His Ultra-Realism FAQ  (Read 767 times)

Vox Clamantis

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Mr. Coulombe, I posted about your Ultra-Realism FAQ about a month ago. In response, you were challenged. The original thread is here, but the responses in question are as follows. I'll post them separately so you can respond, if you want to respond, separately and more easily:


Quote from: Post 1

I've only read the first few questions, so these are initial comments and thoughts.

He's certainly a clear writer. But there are so many caricatures of both Platonism generally conceived and Aristotelianism here that one really doesn't know where to begin. He does an amazing job at setting up Aristotle as some kind of materialist villain though who, like a Sith lord, has turned against his master. The scoundrel!

To take just one example, his discussion of universals at the beginning is so simplified (and perhaps it must be for a basic FAQ page) that it doesn't do justice to the complexity of the medieval debates on this topic. There was a whole spectrum of realism, different forms of "ultra-realism" and "moderate realism" etc. There were reductionistic and non-reductionistic realisms. There were anti-realisms, both moderate and radical, also reductionistic and non-reductionistic. And even within these camps of reductionism vs. non-reductionism, there were divisions. Here is a very simplified breakdown of the major points of discussion from the point of view of the accident of relation:

Some basic propositions which most medievals either accepted or rejected:

(1) Relations are that in virtue of which things are related.
(2) That in virtue of which things are related are properties or accidents shared by multiple subjects.
(3) There are no properties or accidents shared by multiple subjects in extramental reality.
(4) Things are related independently of any activity of the mind.

Here's how some of the above propositions may have been combined to form broad viewpoints:

Moderate Realism

(1) Relations are that in virtue of which things are related.
(3) There are no properties or accidents shared by multiple subjects in extramental reality.
(4) Things are related independently of any activity of the mind.

Radical (Ultra) Realism
(1) Relations are that in virtue of which things are related.
(2) That in virtue of which things are related are properties or accidents shared by multiple subjects.
(4) Things are related independently of any activity of the mind.

Radical Anti-Realism
(1) Relations are that in virtue of which things are related.
(2) That in virtue of which things are related are properties or accidents shared by multiple subjects.
(3) There are no properties or accidents shared by multiple subjects in extramental reality.

You can see that the acceptance or rejection of single premises can lead to wildly different conclusions.

Further points of discussion:

1)   Relations correspond to relative terms, that is, terms that refer to properties as if these properties were shared by multiple subjects.
2)   Relations are that which relate things.
3)   Relations exist independent of the mind.
4)   Relations are irreducible to non-relational accidents.
5)   Relations are accidents that can be shared by multiple subjects.

Aquinas even puts forth deductive arguments against Platonic realism, showing that there are seemingly insurmountable contradictions that arise if one takes ultra/radical/extreme/hard realism seriously.

Coulombe's summary of ultra-realism's take on Original Sin ala Odo of Tournai is just as readily acceptable to moderate realists like Garrigou-Lagrange:

"The human race is of one specific substance. At first, this substance was found in only two persons. They sinned, and being the whole human substance, this entire substance was vitiated by their sin. Hence Original Sin is transmitted by natural necessity to all human individuals. New births are not productions of new substances, but are merely new properties of the already existing human substance. Individual men differ only accidentally."

I can't find the Copleston quotation, and since there is no context for it, why should we ascribe it to the issue of Original Sin and realisms?

These sorts of discussions that pit Plato vs. Aristotle, Aquinas vs. Augustine/Bonaventure, I find to be very misleading. They firstly require vast simplifications of very sophisticated viewpoints and complex history. They secondly imply a notion that the Church made huge mistakes in the medieval era, accretions of materialism, that threatened the foundations of her culture. This is a huge point that requires a lot of backing up. Can it be argued? What are the parameters of proof?

It evokes a similar argument from the liturgical reformers who suggested that medieval changes to the liturgy were corruptions of the earlier tradition. Why not see Aquinas and the Thomistic line of Scholasticism as an organic development of a philosophical tradition that runs back to the beginning? It has been argued both ways, and to suggest differently requires the burden of proof, a huge burden at that.

Anyway, just some points. It's a huge FAQ page that I'm slowly getting through...


Matthew 22:36-39: "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

Vox Clamantis

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Quote from: Post 2, from the same poster

Unfortunately, the author demonstrates either a very poor understanding of Aristotelianism classically (and in contemporary circles) conceived and/or a poor understanding of the problem of universals and its relation to the difference between Neoplatonism and Realism.

There is not a strict divide between Neoplatonism/Ultra-realism and Aristotelianism/Moderate realism. Hardly at all. It should be repeated: there is not a strict divide, hardly at all. To call the pre-Scholastic Neoplatonic philosophers ultra-realists is to make a sweeping claim because it hasn't even been specified *what* kind of ultra-realism we're talking about, nor what kind of Neoplatonism for that matter.

How convenient it is that all the stellar Saints of our tradition are not only Neoplatonists but also ultra-realists. What a coincidence! Even St. Thomas apparently! Or as I said, this is a gross anachronism that requires extensive proof.

I'm not saying that one needs to know these issues inside and out to have a valid opinion on the issue, but one should at least admit from the outset that the discussion is far more nuanced than popular discussion would have you believe.

Calling Aristotelianism materialistic is misleading at best.

The discussion about the will or intellect preceding the other is very off...

Saying that for Aristotelianism, universals are derived from the "sum total of their physical manifestations" is close to unintelligible.

To say that Aeterni Patris places St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure on equal footing is also misleading to say the least.

The Paris Condemnations as well as Bl. Duns Scotus's defense of the Immaculate Conception are red herrings. Scotus made a number of erroneous claims in this regard also, but these are usually omitted from the discussions.

His summary of various points of dispute in question 10 further demonstrate a caricature of the issues discussed. The last detail about angels misses the point of its discussion in metaphysical tracts altogether.

Each question is not so much a refutation of Aristotelianism as much as it is a simple dismissal of it based on straw men. If that's what Aristotelian-Thomism really was, who in their right mind would hold to it? Alas, it is not so obviously false.

I wouldn't at all share this page with others because of its gross errors and simplifications, or rather, if I were to share it, it would be as a textbook example in many fallacies but with good rhetorical writing to cleverly hide those fallacies!


Matthew 22:36-39: "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

Vox Clamantis

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Someone else then posted:

Quote

"Idealism, in its Platonic sense, is the positing of real existence to universals, as subsisting essences, outside of the individual substances themselves. In its modern usage, idealism denies the intelligibility of objective things existing outside the mind."

    True reality then exists in the mind. True reality then becomes more subjective and less objective. This can lead, especially in the regime of subjectivity we live in today, to a kind of Catholic agnosticism which is poisonous to the Faith. Objectively, a Catholic is a Catholic because he intellectually accepts with docility the Faith preached by the Church, receives the sacraments and worships God in the sacrifice of the mass, and is obedient to the hierarchical Catholic Church and personally submits to the authority of the Holy Father, the Pope.




I responded with this:

Quote from: Vox

For Christian Platonists, the Mind without which nothing exists is the Mind of God, so subjectivity isn't a problem.



 
The poster who made the first two original criticisms of your FAQ came back with this:

Quote from: Original poster

But this is an equivocal use of subjectivity. The sense that deprofundis is using the word has been clearly condemned not only by all the popes of the last 150 years but also every great theologian; it is a sense that exploded with Cartesian rationalism and found its most sophisticated development in Kant and Hegel, and from there Marx and the deconstructionists (so-called postmodernists). This use of subjectivity is a huge problem because as deprofundis was summarizing (with apt quotations from Br. Francis) it begins and ends in solipsism: "We just keep coming back to ourselves. When the entire objective order is destroyed, a person becomes his own god, so to speak; for, in the end, all that he finds in subjectivism is himself."

Subjectivity in another sense, in the sense of the need of a mind to know and assent to reality, is fine for all Thomists and Aristotelians.

Also, Aquinas would agree with St. Augustine and the Neoplatonists that without the mind of God, nothing would exist and nothing would have direction. However, this relationship between ideas in the mind of God as well as its concrete application in creation, providence, and governance can be explained perfectly fine in Aristotelian terms, especially teleological terms. This is the thrust of Aquinas's fourth and fifth ways in the Summa Theologica. These are in fact very forceful deductive arguments when one begins to understand the scope of the principle of finality.

The benefit of Aquinas is that he and Thomists doesn't need to resort to extremely problematic notions of Platonic forms in order to make this correspondence. In fact, Aquinas argues deductively that there is a simpler, better way to explain it. The resurgence of non-Aristotelian accounts of the existential status of immaterial entities, such as ideas and numbers and true statements, is a matter of huge debate today among contemporary philosophers, both Christian and not, precisely because they're going off of modern forms of idealism that are derived from Platonism!



So, care to respond?
 

Matthew 22:36-39: "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

Vox Clamantis

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Another response from the original thread, made just now and which I'm moving here:



From Magister Musicae:


Rich has hit the nail on the head with the problems with Mr Coulombe's article.

While there's a great deal one could take issue with, the oversimplification seems highly pronounced here:

Quote

    Plato's student Aristotle, however, was a materialist --- he believed that matter was self-existent, with neither beginning nor end, and that there is no personal God. For him, although the Universals are real in a sense, they derive their reality from the sum total of their physical manifestations. In other words, where Plato would teach that horses are horses because they reflect "Horse," Aristotle held that "Horse" is "Horse" because it reflects horses. The distinction (and the very ideas discussed!) may seem terribly abstract, but as we shall see, they have had frightfully concrete results.


The moderate realist, following Aristotle doesn't assert that a "Horse" is a "Horse" by reflecting horses, at all.

The moderate realist says that any particular horse participates in that nature "Horse". That is, each horse is matter united to the form of a horse, which itself then participates in the Horse nature which is the universal.

We do not know what constitutes "Horseness" (Adam probably did, since he names the animals, and names in Scriptural terminology means denoting the nature of a thing), we can see the accidents of the particulars which can give us insight into how to distinguish between a "horse" and a "donkey", for instance. Since we do not know the specific difference between the nature of "horse" and "donkey" we must distinguish by noting these accidental differences.

This oversimplication of Mr. Coulombe makes it seem as if moderate realism asserts a universal is not real but virtual (not real, but based on some distinction in reality). That is most assuredly false, and really is more descriptive of a type of Nominalism, not of Moderate Realism.

That mischaracterization sets up a straw man, and a great deal of his latter arguments are flawed because they argue against this straw man, not against Moderate Realism.
 
Matthew 22:36-39: "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

MagisterMusicae


Another response from the original thread, made just now and which I'm moving here:



From Magister Musicae:


Rich has hit the nail on the head with the problems with Mr Coulombe's article.

While there's a great deal one could take issue with, the oversimplification seems highly pronounced here:

Quote

    Plato's student Aristotle, however, was a materialist --- he believed that matter was self-existent, with neither beginning nor end, and that there is no personal God. For him, although the Universals are real in a sense, they derive their reality from the sum total of their physical manifestations. In other words, where Plato would teach that horses are horses because they reflect "Horse," Aristotle held that "Horse" is "Horse" because it reflects horses. The distinction (and the very ideas discussed!) may seem terribly abstract, but as we shall see, they have had frightfully concrete results.


The moderate realist, following Aristotle doesn't assert that a "Horse" is a "Horse" by reflecting horses, at all.

The moderate realist says that any particular horse participates in that nature "Horse". That is, each horse is matter united to the form of a horse, which itself then participates in the Horse nature which is the universal.

We do not know what constitutes "Horseness" (Adam probably did, since he names the animals, and names in Scriptural terminology means denoting the nature of a thing), we can see the accidents of the particulars which can give us insight into how to distinguish between a "horse" and a "donkey", for instance. Since we do not know the specific difference between the nature of "horse" and "donkey" we must distinguish by noting these accidental differences.

This oversimplication of Mr. Coulombe makes it seem as if moderate realism asserts a universal is not real but virtual (not real, but based on some distinction in reality). That is most assuredly false, and really is more descriptive of a type of Nominalism, not of Moderate Realism.

That mischaracterization sets up a straw man, and a great deal of his latter arguments are flawed because they argue against this straw man, not against Moderate Realism.

That was edited to include the following ... I pressed "Post" not Preview before I was done ...

---------------------------------

Also note his comments on the Fall of Man. He oversimplifies again, and when doing so his simplistic argument gains a fourth term. He starts talking of the "Fall" but then writes of the transmission of Original Sin. These are two separate concepts. Odo of Tournai tries to unite them, but the quote presents greater theological problems that Mr Columbe neglects to mention. If the Fall changes the "substance" of men from (Unfallen man) into a new substance (Fallen man), then the nature has changed. The only link between these natures is nominal. Adam before the fall is not Adam after the fall. This leads to Lutheranism -- that man's nature is entirely corrupted, not just wounded. Coulombe tries to explain Baptism by suggesting a similar transition, but that's even worse, and again there is now only a nominal link between the two, because then we have a problem explaining actual sin. Do actual sins remove a man from this "Redeemed man" nature to a "Damned man" state. If so how is this restored? Are we then suggesting that Sacraments cause substantial changes? This naturally leads to Calvinism, if taken to one of its logical ends.

The Thomistic doctrine on the Fall is complex, and there are some unsatistisfying explanations, but quoting one Jesuit who has difficulty as a condemnation of the Thomistic doctrine is hardly useful. There's a great divide between Thomistic Jesuits and Dominicans, for instance, and I too would say that the Jesuit notions that flow from some Suarezian and Molinist mistakes (possibly errors), do make these matters not "clear".

For the Thomist, the nature of man is not changed by the Fall, but the gifts given to that nature were removed. It is not in man's nature to have Sanctifying Grace, Immortality or Impassibility, so when those accidental additions were removed as a result of the Fall, man was back to only what his nature provided. The fall was an act against the order of that nature, so disturbed the nature, wounded it. It is still the same nature, but wounded, infirmed. It still functions, but not as properly as it should. The only problem comes in how it is passed from generation to generation, which St. Thomas will argue has something to do with the generative act. This is where the doctrine becomes very complicated and really hasn't been fleshed out, still, it's not incomprehensible, and the alternative that Mr Coulombe suggests is not easier or better, but leads to much worse.


Charles A. Coulombe

Well, well! As always, students of philosophy wax eloquent when their Masters are challenged - however poorly - and they are to be commended for their loyalty. But I must make some admissions here which shall A) allow them to claim the victory in the discussion, and B) show me up for the philisitine and mug I no doubt am.

Firstly, I must admit that I am no Philosopher. My interest in Philosophy arose urely as a result of my studies in the effect adoption of this or that philosophical school had upon historical events. As a result, my knowedge of the subject has primarily been gained by the textbooks on the history of Philosophy used by Seminaries before the Council - and these may indeed be simplistic.

But, alas, that is where my interest ie. I am no good at all in distinguishing between quidditas and quodditas; but I can tell you that the Thomists for the most part opposed the Immaculate Conception and the Scotists supported it. I am better able to tell you what Archbishops Templier and Peckham condemned in Thomism than their arguments for doing so. I can tell you that the adoption of Aristotelian views over Neo-Platonic was a mighty contributing factor to the decline of he Medieval State (which was more of a mutually imagined concept than a "State" in our sense) and the emrgence of the Modern State we all enjoy today. And I can tell you that rigid separation between Philosophy and Theology has cut the former off from ultimate Truth, and reduced the latter to unreality, as evidenced in the International Theological Commission's document on Limbo, wherein thelearned and reverend gentlemen inform us that in the Mid-20th century "theologians began to demand the right ti imagine new solutions" to the issue, as though the doctrines of the Church are mere literary constructs.

At the risk of being called reductionist and withdraw from any fray on purely Philosophical grounds; but I stand by my historical conclusions. To me, objective reality has always been more important than theory; in so saying I have no doubt that I shall justify for many my basic unsoundness. I will, however, leave my interlocutors with a question; granting for the moment that Thomism is a perfect system, netter than which nothing can be imagined, why has it been so completely eclipsed - please answer on philosophical rather than historical grounds.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2016, 11:27:pm by Vox Clamantis »

MagisterMusicae

I will, however, leave my interlocutors with a question; granting for the moment that Thomism is a perfect sustem, netter than which nothing can be imagined, why has it been so completely eclipsed - please answer on philosophical rather than historical grounds.

Mr Coulombe,

Thank you for stopping by to the discussion and showing interest here.

If I may, I do think any of us Thomists here would argue that Thomism is a perfect system. Philosophy, like so many sciences, is about providing a comprehensible model for explaining how the universe works in the domain of that proper science.

Then there's always the effort to "save the phenomenon" rather than modify the system.

As I suggested above, there are some unsatisfying answers that even St Thomas has given. This is especially when his commentary takes into account the natural sciences as understood in medieval times or late antiquity. So, no, it is not a perfect system. However, of the system used by Catholic philosophers and theologians the Aristo-Thomistic system seems to me a "best fit" modeling.

Perhaps, as unsatisfying as my reply might be, I could paraphrase Dr. John Senior's take on the neo-Thomistic revival's failures and shortsightedness: Thomism isn't dead and it didn't need reviving. It was that effort to "revive" it that killed it, because it tried to take a poorly-understood model and shoehorn it into a modern way of thought. Like a fat lady and tiny slipper, the result was anything but a pleasant experience.

Vox Clamantis

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(snip)

 I will, however, leave my interlocutors with a question; granting for the moment that Thomism is a perfect system, netter than which nothing can be imagined, why has it been so completely eclipsed - please answer on philosophical rather than historical grounds.

I'd love to read responses to this -- but to also know what happened on Historical grounds.

Me, I'm very obviously not trained in philosophy (aside from having done well in a Logic 101 sort of class), but find all of this very interesting and consider myself a philosophical type of person naturally. So I'd love to learn from everyone.

What I'm most concerned about re. Thomism and the various forms (ha) of Realism is the ability to philosophically support the medieval worldview with its divine hierarchy, its sense of the sacred suffused in all things, etc. And as an apologist of sorts, I'm very keen to support the following contention made in Mr. Coulombe's Ultra-Realism FAQ. I'll copy-paste from the list of questions I wrote for him:



Quote

I recently posted about your Ultra-Realism FAQ and had this to say about a point you made:

Quote from:  from: Vox

    For me, there are many, many reasons to prefer the Platonic approach to things, but one of the most important is this, from Coulombe:

   
Quote from: from: Ultra-Realism FAQ

        Quote from: Charles Coulombe's Ultra-Realism FAQ

            c. Divine Illumination

            Here we see the Christian acceptance that beyond a certain point, reason cannot go. Man can, by virtue of his reason, figure out that there is a Creator, that He ought to be worshipped, etc. But anything more complex requires direct illumination from God; indeed, without such illumination we can be sure of nothing of importance. Aristotle and St. Thomas denied this, holding that human reason unaided can go quite far, indeed.


    While the Faith needs apologists and needs to be defended, and while it can by defended by reason, the natural sciences, the social sciences, psychology, etc., I think it's absolutely true that it's grace, not intellectual achievement, that is the source of faith in the Holy Religion. And believing this is also helpful when dealing with those who are not -- or at least not yet -- Catholic. Belief in the divinity of Christ, the miracles He performed, the Resurrection, His conception by the Holy Ghost -- I don't think these things can be "known by" reason (though they're obviously not "unreasonable" and can be defended by reason). When dealing with bad-willed atheists, it's less frustrating to just give reasons for your belief and finish off with a, "Well, you haven't been illuminated, so of course you wouldn't understand" rather than bang your head against their walls. Plus, it sounds a lot more intriguing -- "What? Really? But - but I want to be 'illuminated,' too! How do I get 'illuminated'?!" -- and leads to their possibly actually praying rather than relying on their own malformed intellects.

Do you think, as I do, that the modern way of treating the Faith more as a mere philosophy rather than a gift of grace is one of the more serious problems we have when it comes to evangelizing (and to hanging on to the Faith when the going gets tough)? Me, I think that what you mention regarding divine illumination in that FAQ is supremely liberating for apologists and "spreaders of the word." It doesn't at all let us "off the hook" with regard to evangelizing and defending the Faith using reason, but it does free us up from thinking we can convince people using reason even before they've accepted the premises of the Faith -- premises which rest on the miraculous and which those inflicted with scientism will never get as long as they're stuck with their "if I can't put it in a Petri dish, it doesn't exist or matter" mind-set.

I think we can get people who have a scientism-tainted mind-set to God, and maybe even to a valuing of most Church teachings concerning morality, by reason alone, but think that the rest is up to the Holy Ghost. Anything anyone can teach me?
Matthew 22:36-39: "Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

frankini98

>Calling Aristotelianism materialistic is misleading at best.

I'd be very interested to hear any evidence that Aristotle believed in anything but a material world.  He seemed to think that the soul is nothing more than the possible actions of a living body. Could you enlighten me, or at least point me to a website, that would explain why it is "misleading to call Aristotle a materialist"?

richgr

>Calling Aristotelianism materialistic is misleading at best.

I'd be very interested to hear any evidence that Aristotle believed in anything but a material world.  He seemed to think that the soul is nothing more than the possible actions of a living body. Could you enlighten me, or at least point me to a website, that would explain why it is "misleading to call Aristotle a materialist"?

Because a foundational concept of Aristotelian philosophy is "hylemorphism," which states that all of physical reality must be understood in terms of three basic mechanisms: matter, form, and the privation of form. Form is precisely non-physical; perhaps we could call it the intelligible or spiritual aspect of physical reality that arranges matter to be what it is. Aristotle's idea of form is incoherent if its actually purely material; that's where Aristotle's notion of "matter" comes in. Aristotle's explanation for all living beings demands that the soul in its various forms, whether plant, animal, or human, be a spiritual dimension of some kind; his categories of accidents, especially quality and relation and all the relational accidents (time, location, posture, habit, action, passion), require a non-material dimension of reality to exist and to inform the physical at all times in order for physical reality to be anything at all, much less intelligible for us.

Aristotle would not say that the soul consists of "possible actions" of a living body at all but is rather the opposite in a certain sense. It is the soul that makes a body living at all and able to do anything at all; it's like the combustion process of an engine which enables the engine to then work in different possible ways. The soul is more like the combustion at the heart of the engine than the potential uses of the engine.

For some reading, consider this post: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/08/vallicella-on-hylemorphic-dualism.html

Hope that helps!


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