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A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - theloveofwisdom - 10-29-2010

Okay- here goes:

All knowledge is brought into man by means of the senses. The first act of the intellect is simple apprehension of a trans-subjective object.

Let me, for the sake of review, enumerate the process by which this takes place.

The external senses (eyes, nose, etc) have a potency to perceive a trans-subjective (objective) object.
That potency is actualized by the presence of the object itself.
So for example, the senses go from "can see a tree" to "does see a tree" (from potency -> act).
The perceived object is a particular/singular object.
An impressed species (Image) of the object is reflected in the sensitive memory and imagination.
*****The "agent intellect" takes hold of this particular image, and strips from it the universal.****** (my objection is in this step)
The "possible intellect" receives the universal (form) and the act of simple apprehension is complete.

The problem I'm having is indicated by the ****** .
Here is my problem.

In the order of cognition, the universal is more understandable than the particular. It is greater than the particular in its rank of understandability. In fact, it is not possible for the particular per se to be intellectually known- it is sensibly known, and the intellect has access to the trans-subjective object only by means of the impressed image precisely because it cannot understand particulars.

Here is the crux of my problem-
Given the immutable and irrefutable principle of reason:
"the greater cannot come from the lesser" (provided they are greater and lesser in the same respect... in this case in the order of understandability)
How is is that the greater (the universal) comes from (is abstracted) the lesser (the partuclar/singular)???

This seems like a flat contradiction to me. Every time I study Thomas, I always feel satisfied with the way the logic flows, but this time- I just don't get it.

Averroes and Avicenna's explanations of this do not create the same dilemma. They stated that there is some intellect outside of us that infuses the universal into our intellects. Although this assumes the existence of something outside of us- it seems to be an adequate explanation that doesn't end in contradiction- but it makes an unnecessary assumption based on a mis-translation of Aristotle's work from Greek to Arabic. The source for this 'external intellect' was a mistranslation of the word  "separable" as "separated" - such that a sentence of Aristotle's work read "this intellect is separate from the body" instead of reading this intellect is separable from the body".

In any case- please chime in if you have something to contribute or if you can explain where I went wrong.

Thank you








Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Historian - 10-29-2010

I'm not satisfied with that approach either.  Plato's Forms make more sense, moving from the general to the specific.

But, I think your stumbling block is that the greater is not coming from the lesser, at least in a sense.

Take a grilled cheese sandwich cut in half.  OK, you see this thing and the brain separates out that there is a triangle which is more general than half a grilled cheese sandwich.  But it is also lesser in the sense that the only quality it has is the triangleness, not the gooey cheese and the tomato soup soaking into the crust or that particular slice of Velveeta between those two particular pieces of bread.

So, a triangle is more general and more simple than half a grilled cheese sandwich.  In these sense of particulars, the general is lesser and the particular greater.

However, I vote we go back to Plato and declare an archetype grilled cheese and move forward from that.  Because it only makes sense that perfect grilled cheeses are served in heaven and that's where our archetype is.  :eats:




Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Joseph11 - 10-30-2010

I don't think Plato's Theory of Forms considers something as materially specific as a sandwich (of any kind) as having a fundamental form in the Realm of the Forms.  In fact, for Plato, a sandwich is only an appearance that is made possible by certain Forms, such as shape, (perhaps) flavor, color, etc.

My problem with Plato's TF is that it cannot give an account of the connection between Forms and material appearances.

Aristotle's system makes more sense to me, I guess, because I am preferentially empirical.  So, then, I believe universals are abstracted by the mind.

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

I am going to try to restate the OP's difficulty and then offer a solution to it.

Here is the difficulty:

1. a greater cannot come from a lesser
2. universals are greater than particulars
Therefore universals cannot come from particulars

1. a thing that proceeds from another is lesser than that from which it proceeds
2. universals are abstracted from, and so can be thought to proceed from, particulars
Therefore, universals are lesser than particulars

The 2nd conclusion destroys the second premise of the first argument.

Here is a solution:

The qualities "greater" and "lesser" should not be applied to universals and particulars in the same way that, for example, they can and very correctly should be applied to mothers and children.  Particulars and universals are two types of what we may call human mental activity.  They should not be considered as having the same kind of existence that more actualized things like mothers and children have.

I think the example of a hand is roughly equivalent to what I'm trying to say here.  A hand is composed of different parts.  You could not, for example, say that a collection of individual fingers is a hand.  There's more to a hand than fingers, but without fingers there is no hand.  Similarly, as elements of human thinking, particulars and universals are necessarily related in that context.

I'm not expressing myself very well, I don't think.  I'm basically saying that your difficulty arises because of how you are defining particulars and universals.  They are thoughts, and they seem to occur on a continuum, sharing a necessary relation to one another.

Ask me questions.  I may be missing or misunderstanding something about your difficulty, or about how you are thinking of particulars and universals.


Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - theloveofwisdom - 11-01-2010

Zakhur,

Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your feedback. The way you have layed out the difficulty has helped me see it more clearly.
I hope you don't mind but I'd like to throw out some more ideas and see where they lead- let me know what you think.

If I had to question my understanding of any of the premises they would be the following, in order of greatest doubt to least doubt:

1.  "a thing that proceeds from another is lesser than that from which it proceeds"
2.  "universals are greater than particulars"

The reason I place the premises in this order is because to me, it seems more clear that, in the order of intellection, universals are indeed greater (more intellectual entities) than their particular counterparts. This is evidenced from a simple glance at a Porfyry tree. I found this post in a blog to help summarize what I am getting at:

http://robertlewisdabney.blogspot.com/2010/03/traditional-logic-comprehension-and.html

The final line of this post states the root of my dilemna:
"that the greater the comprehension of a concept, the less its extension; and the greater its extension, the less its comprehension."

Now a particlar tree, for instance, that  we perceive as a trans-subjective object has a greater extension than the universal concept of tree.
This is the rationale that keeps me from questioning the second premise as much as I do the first. It seems evident to me, that in the order of understanding (comprehension or intellection), the universal is indeed greater than the particular.

So my suspicion lies in the first premise. Perhaps it is not as specific as it needs to be or maybe I am confusing two different modes of greater or lesser.

Lets take the example  used in the above post. The offspring does indeed proceed from the parent, and the parent is indeed greater than the offspring- however, the nature of the parent and the offspring is one and the same. This is an operation of generation, not of corruption. So the sense in which the parent is greater than the offspring is not related to the nature of the offspring/parent as such - but to some other principle (age, development, experience, etc.) and in their relation to one another.

So in order for there to truly be a contradiction in my dilemna, I need to be sure that the sense in which the universal is 'greater' than the particular is the same sense in which the universal is abstracted from the particular.

In the Porfyry tree, there is an inverse relationship between 'extension' and 'comprehension' -between the particulars and their universals.
The more 'specific differences' and accidents are added to a thing, the more particular it is. So there really  IS a sense in which the particular is greater - in the order of extension.

However, there is also a sense in which the particular is less than the universal, in that the universal can represent any tree, but the particular only this one tree.

So the image impressed in the sensitive memory, if it is indeed the image of the particular, is an image reflection of the trans-subjective object which is greater in extension than it is in comprehension.

But how can:

that which has less comprehension (the image of the particular tree), generate that which has a higher comprehension  ( the universal concept of tree)?

Hmm.. perhaps if I write the same expression in terms of extension instead of comprehension:

That which has more extension (the particular) can generate that which has less extension (the universal).

Ahh!

I can make sense of the 'greater extension' 'less extension'.
The less can indeed proceed from the greater.

But the 'less comprehension' 'greater comprehension' is what gives me pause.
The greater cannot proceedfrom the less.

Perhaps this is possible as a result of some idea to the effect that "the sum of extension and comprehension" is always constant. I'm not sure how to state this, I know that I'm treating a qualitative property as if it were a quantity, but I cant seem to make sense of it otherwise.

So I guess that the 'agent intellect', by stripping the 'particular' of its particularities, is going from  'greater extension' 'less extension' and is thereby simultaniously ascending from 'less comprehension' 'more comprehension' by virtue of the inverse relationship that extension and comprehension have.

Hmmm... if this is true,  what is this quality that I am calling the "sum of the extension and the comprehension"?? Could it be that this sum is the "existence" of this particular (after all, there is a real tree which we are considering). Its very 'esse'.... its 'be' .

Hmmm what do you think?? Am I on to something here, or or does it seem like I'm muttling things up? I feel like I made a leap by stating that the sum of 'extension and and comprehension' is existence- but I cant really see what else it would be, if indeed it need be constant.

Anyone else is free to chime in of coarse!!


Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Historian - 11-01-2010

(10-30-2010, 12:24 AM)Zakhur Wrote: I don't think Plato's Theory of Forms considers something as materially specific as a sandwich (of any kind) as having a fundamental form in the Realm of the Forms.  In fact, for Plato, a sandwich is only an appearance that is made possible by certain Forms, such as shape, (perhaps) flavor, color, etc.

Well, I was exaggerating for the sake of humor.  I hope that was clear.  In the sandwich, what one recognizes is a triangle in the shape of the halves because one remembers that form.  In fact, remembering the form of shapes, for example, is what allows men to construct those shapes.  We're doing things as an approximation of what we remember.

Quote:My problem with Plato's TF is that it cannot give an account of the connection between Forms and material appearances.

The Neo-Platonists took up that question and tried to explain it, Plato not so much.  We have to look to them for an argument on that.




Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Joseph11 - 11-01-2010

(11-01-2010, 04:18 PM)QuisUtDeus Wrote:
(10-30-2010, 12:24 AM)Zakhur Wrote: I don't think Plato's Theory of Forms considers something as materially specific as a sandwich (of any kind) as having a fundamental form in the Realm of the Forms.  In fact, for Plato, a sandwich is only an appearance that is made possible by certain Forms, such as shape, (perhaps) flavor, color, etc.

Well, I was exaggerating for the sake of humor.  I hope that was clear.  In the sandwich, what one recognizes is a triangle in the shape of the halves because one remembers that form.  In fact, remembering the form of shapes, for example, is what allows men to construct those shapes.  We're doing things as an approximation of what we remember.

Sorry.  Sometimes I insist on remaining serious when someone tries to be funny, even when I'm aware that they're trying to be funny in the back of my mind.  Then I feel bad after realizing it.  I wasn't trying to dis you.

(11-01-2010, 04:18 PM)QuisUtDeus Wrote:
(10-30-2010, 12:24 AM)Zakhur Wrote: My problem with Plato's TF is that it cannot give an account of the connection between Forms and material appearances.

The Neo-Platonists took up that question and tried to explain it, Plato not so much.  We have to look to them for an argument on that.

Really?  I'm happy to hear that.  Do you know if Plotinus discusses it?  His is the only name of a neo-Platonist I know, but I have not read any of his work.


Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Historian - 11-01-2010

(11-01-2010, 10:14 PM)Zakhur Wrote: Really?  I'm happy to hear that.  Do you know if Plotinus discusses it?  His is the only name of a neo-Platonist I know, but I have not read any of his work.

Yeah, and Proclus. I know they discuss it but I can't admit to grasping it, especially the Enneads.

But you may want to start with Pseudo-Dionysius' The Celestial Hierarchy and work back from that.   He was a Catholic Neo-Platonist and Aquinas (among others) drew from him.

http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeII/CelestialHierarchy.html

ETA: the easiest way I can grasp it is along the lines of conversion from energy to matter, but in this case the spiritual to the material.  The farther down the hierarchy from God in Creation, the more material things are, and the soul reaches upwards to Him in contemplation.  Matter is because of emanations from the Mind of God, and the distance from Him, etc.  Or collapsing quantum waves if you like.  ;D

Plotinus makes my brain hurt, but Dionysius brushes upon it along the lines of this:

To further, then, the attainment of our due measure of deification, the loving Source of all mysteries, in showing to us the Celestial Hierarchies, and consecrating our hierarchy as fellowministers, according to our capacity, in the likeness of their divine ministry, depicted those supercelestial Intelligences in material images in the inspired writings of the sacred Word so that we might be guided through the sensible to the intelligible, and from sacred symbols to the Primal Source of the Celestial Hierarchies.



Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Joseph11 - 11-26-2010

(11-01-2010, 03:52 PM)theloveofwisdom Wrote: Zakhur,

Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your feedback. The way you have layed out the difficulty has helped me see it more clearly.
I hope you don't mind but I'd like to throw out some more ideas and see where they lead- let me know what you think.

If I had to question my understanding of any of the premises they would be the following, in order of greatest doubt to least doubt:

1.  "a thing that proceeds from another is lesser than that from which it proceeds"
2.  "universals are greater than particulars"

The reason I place the premises in this order is because to me, it seems more clear that, in the order of intellection, universals are indeed greater (more intellectual entities) than their particular counterparts. This is evidenced from a simple glance at a Porfyry tree. I found this post in a blog to help summarize what I am getting at:

http://robertlewisdabney.blogspot.com/2010/03/traditional-logic-comprehension-and.html

The final line of this post states the root of my dilemna:
"that the greater the comprehension of a concept, the less its extension; and the greater its extension, the less its comprehension."

Now a particlar tree, for instance, that  we perceive as a trans-subjective object has a greater extension than the universal concept of tree.
This is the rationale that keeps me from questioning the second premise as much as I do the first. It seems evident to me, that in the order of understanding (comprehension or intellection), the universal is indeed greater than the particular.

So my suspicion lies in the first premise. Perhaps it is not as specific as it needs to be or maybe I am confusing two different modes of greater or lesser.

Lets take the example  used in the above post. The offspring does indeed proceed from the parent, and the parent is indeed greater than the offspring- however, the nature of the parent and the offspring is one and the same. This is an operation of generation, not of corruption. So the sense in which the parent is greater than the offspring is not related to the nature of the offspring/parent as such - but to some other principle (age, development, experience, etc.) and in their relation to one another.

So in order for there to truly be a contradiction in my dilemna, I need to be sure that the sense in which the universal is 'greater' than the particular is the same sense in which the universal is abstracted from the particular.

In the Porfyry tree, there is an inverse relationship between 'extension' and 'comprehension' -between the particulars and their universals.
The more 'specific differences' and accidents are added to a thing, the more particular it is. So there really  IS a sense in which the particular is greater - in the order of extension.

However, there is also a sense in which the particular is less than the universal, in that the universal can represent any tree, but the particular only this one tree.

So the image impressed in the sensitive memory, if it is indeed the image of the particular, is an image reflection of the trans-subjective object which is greater in extension than it is in comprehension.

But how can:

that which has less comprehension (the image of the particular tree), generate that which has a higher comprehension  ( the universal concept of tree)?

Hmm.. perhaps if I write the same expression in terms of extension instead of comprehension:

That which has more extension (the particular) can generate that which has less extension (the universal).

Ahh!

I can make sense of the 'greater extension' 'less extension'.
The less can indeed proceed from the greater.

But the 'less comprehension' 'greater comprehension' is what gives me pause.
The greater cannot proceedfrom the less.

Perhaps this is possible as a result of some idea to the effect that "the sum of extension and comprehension" is always constant. I'm not sure how to state this, I know that I'm treating a qualitative property as if it were a quantity, but I cant seem to make sense of it otherwise.

So I guess that the 'agent intellect', by stripping the 'particular' of its particularities, is going from  'greater extension' 'less extension' and is thereby simultaniously ascending from 'less comprehension' 'more comprehension' by virtue of the inverse relationship that extension and comprehension have.

Hmmm... if this is true,  what is this quality that I am calling the "sum of the extension and the comprehension"?? Could it be that this sum is the "existence" of this particular (after all, there is a real tree which we are considering). Its very 'esse'.... its 'be' .

Hmmm what do you think?? Am I on to something here, or or does it seem like I'm muttling things up? I feel like I made a leap by stating that the sum of 'extension and and comprehension' is existence- but I cant really see what else it would be, if indeed it need be constant.

Anyone else is free to chime in of coarse!!

I am sorry it has taken me so long to answer your last post on this thread.  Here is my go at it.

I see why you feel like you made a leap in defining what Kant might have called "the thing in itself" as the "sum of the extension and the comprehension" of the thing.  There does not seem to be a good reason for saying that other than the facts that particulars have "extension" in the sense that they are found in variously describable ways throughout the world (all instances of tree for example) and that comprehension of all of that would seem to equal a "sum" of the "fuel" (so to speak) of the universal (of all instances of tree).  It seems you went that way because of the possibility that particulars do indeed produce universals in the mind.

I do not think, however, that the "sum of the extension and the comprehension" of a thing is a thing's "essence."  My feeling is that we get into ideas like that because (this is hard to express) we are confusing the process, or the (excuse this expression) the mechanics of human thinking, with substantial entities that have logically necessary relationships to one another, which in my opinion is a working definition of Platonic Forms.

I am emphatically with Aristotle on this.  Let me try to explain what I mean by that.

I recommend taking the first premise (in your listing above) exactly as it appears:  as a judgment regarding the degree to which a thing proceeding from its precedent can be said to be capable of producing its precedent.  The fact is, such a thing is logically impossible, in the strictest sense, if what we are talking about are ideas (key point).

As I pointed out, things in the world as opposed to ideas about them, are what ideas deal with.  A child cannot generate its own mother because that's not possible in the way the world is constructed.  But God could generate the mother of His human nature because that's a real possibility for Him.  Now a child can grow up and generate another human being that becomes a mother, and so on and so forth; in the world things work a certain way because the world just works a certain way.

What I'm getting at is that universals and particulars only make sense as cognitive steps.  They are emphatically NOT things in the world about which we have to worry about which one logically precedes or proceeds from the other because there is some great reality that can be understood by solving such problems.  They are cognitive steps by which we rationally deal with things in the world.

I don't know if I've made sense of the problem for you, or even of my own position about the problem you're describing.  I'm a strict empiricist, and I'm coming at the problem from that viewpoint. :)

I'm basically saying that we get into mental gymnastics like this:

(11-01-2010, 03:52 PM)theloveofwisdom Wrote: what is this quality that I am calling the "sum of the extension and the comprehension"?? Could it be that this sum is the "existence" of this particular (after all, there is a real tree which we are considering). Its very 'esse'.... its 'be' .

by treating the mechanics of our own mind as substantial entities in an extra-mental sense.  After all, you have seen for yourself that neither universalization nor particularization, as mental steps, are necessarily one or the other's predicate.  That's because the human mind is evidently a very fluid and dynamic "device."  Aristotle seems to have realized some of this because he located Plato's Forms in the mind.

But do you see my basic drift?  I'm not sure I've explained it with sufficient clarity.


Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - Thomist7735 - 12-28-2010

Theloveofwisdom:

Universals are less than particulars. You have one universal idea of what a "tree" is, but your senses see many trees in the world around you.


Re: A serious question 4 serious Thomists RE abstracting universals from particulars - St. Drogo - 01-25-2011

It's really not very difficult to make sense out of it. On the first page of Book I of the Metaphysics, Aristotle explains it succinctly:

By nature animals are born with the faculty of sensation, and from sensation memory is produced in some of them, though not in others. And therefore the former are more intelligent and apt at learning than those which cannot remember; those which are incapable of hearing sounds are intelligent though they cannot be taught, e.g. the bee, and any other race of animals that may be like it; and those which besides memory have this sense of hearing can be taught.

The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasonings. Now from memory experience is produced in men; for the several memories of the same thing produce finally the capacity for a single experience. And experience seems pretty much like science and art, but really science and art come to men through experience; for 'experience made art', as Polus says, 'but inexperience luck.' Now art arises when from many notions gained by experience one universal judgement about a class of objects is produced. For to have a judgement that when Callias was ill of this disease this did him good, and similarly in the case of Socrates and in many individual cases, is a matter of experience; but to judge that it has done good to all persons of a certain constitution, marked off in one class, when they were ill of this disease, e.g. to phlegmatic or bilious people when burning with fevers—this is a matter of art.

St. Thomas concurs.
EDIT: I really do not understand what you are asking. Form/Intelligible Expression doesn't come from matter; rather, it inheres in it. Whereas the proper object of the optical faculties is the phenomenon of light, the proper object of the intellective faculty is the universal itself. They are two separate operations In order to intelligently respond, you're going to have to post a passage of Aristotle or St. Thomas that you wish to be explicated.