Carving the World up: Universals and 2 Kinds of Particulars

In my book I mention 3 things that can be divided into essences and accidents.

First are universals. This is a coffee cup, and that is a wine glass. Both, however, are liquid containers. So, “liquid container” as a genus can be called an essence, and the type of liquid it is meant to contain or difference can be called each item’s individualizing accident. We can vary the accident without altering the essence.

Second are material particulars. I quote Thomas Reid:

All bodies, as they consist of innumerable parts that may be disjoined from them by a great variety of causes, are subject to continual changes of their substance, increasing, diminishing, changing insensibly.

When such alterations are gradual, because language could not afford a different name for every different state of such a changeable being, it retains the same name, and is considered the same thing.

Merely material particulars do not have accidents in themselves but may have them considered as for “convenience of speech.” For example, over time, the flowers painted on my coffee cup may have faded; but I still consider this vessel to be essentially “my coffee cup.” I don’t have to do it; but it’s convenient for all concerned. I could say “Could you wash my coffee cup?” to my cleaning lady and be understood both today and 2 years ago or hence.

(I might be able also to point to the painted flowers and say, “See, these are no accident! When I was shopping for a coffee cup, I specifically looked for one with purple flowers on it. It expresses my love for philosophy” (or something). In this case, as soon as the color has faded sufficiently, I will want to throw the cup away which would make it no longer “mine” and cause it to corrupt — lose its essence — thereby.)

Third are spiritual particulars, especially human beings. The difference is that a person’s accidents are not constructed by other people but are mind-independent.

Note two things in this connection: first, a person’s character and virtues and personal idiosyncrasies individualize him; yet all people have a character. One person is courageous, another is cowardly, so (1) both are humans and yet (2) both must definitely possess this cardinal virtue in some variable degree.

Second, as each coffee cup must have sides of some thickness, so each man must exhibit some courage. Yet if a cup becomes less thick from use, I am perfectly free to call it a different cup; yet a man who increases in courage maintains his personal identity whether I like it or not. What exactly personal identity consists in is a non-trivial question, but it clearly constitutes the difference between material and spiritual particulars.

Matter / Spirit; Real / Ideal Distinctions

My computer is a material and real thing.

My soul is (ultimately) immaterial and real, though the body is not the spirit’s superfluous costume but a fundamental part of our humanity. The mind specifically is a psychosomatic unity, though with a bias toward the spirit as master over matter, being served by it, and metaphysically one grade higher than it.

My perceptions, impressions, ideas, and thoughts are neither material nor immaterial but experiences of the soul and ideal things.

So, only real things can be divided into material and immaterial; it is meaningless to speak of such distinctions among ideal things.

I think Hume is confusing some of these (1.4.5).

Causation and Constant Conjunction

Constant conjunction is not sufficient for a causal relation.

For example, day follows night and night, day, but neither cause the other; men’s restrooms in stores are usually conjoined to women’s restrooms, yet there is no law that it be so; every morning people go to work, but mornings do not cause traffic, etc.

Nor is constant conjunction necessary for a causal relation.

When multiple causes act in one nexus at the same time, one cause may weaken or nullify another. The cause is active and is trying to produce its proper effect but is checked in so doing by another force. Thus, a cause may be operating with full efficacy without constant conjunction being observed. Only when this cause is isolated perhaps in a scientific experiment will the constant conjunction manifest itself.

In addition, isn’t relying so completely on constant conjunction to define causation just a giant post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy?

Soul Must Be Immaterial

Hume’s main objection against the idea that the soul is immaterial and causes thoughts is that we only deduce causal relations through constant conjunction of events, and anything can potentially be the cause of anything else: “as no real objects are contrary, … any thing may produce any thing,” and so we have no reason to suppose that matter cannot yield ideas.

As I have pointed out, ideas are ideal not real; moreover, thoughts in the mind are objective ideal, and feelings in the will are subjective ideal. The key property of ideal abstracta is their causal inefficacy. A possible world P being contemplated has zero power on its own to cause anything to begin to exist. So, P itself cannot be caused by anything ideal but must be caused by something real. The question is, by real material or real immaterial?

Mises uses a striking example to suggest that the intellect is immaterial. “For a doctrine asserting that thoughts are in the same relation to the brain in which gall is to the liver, it is not more permissible to distinguish between true and untrue ideas than between true and untrue gall.”

So, truth and falsity can be predicated of ideas but not of material things or of anything they do. (Though justice can be predicated of matter. Truth is correspondence of ideal to real; justice, of real to ideal. Thus, a statue is just to the extent that it resembles the man.) As a result, objective-ideal things cannot be some excretion or motion of matter.

Regarding feelings, the will is free, and insofar as it’s free, it weighs its options. Though each choice has a sufficient cause, the weighing cannot be dispensed with, as it is precisely the process by which the decision is determined. But a thing is material, if and only if it is subject to necessity in the process of operation; only if it cannot choose its course of action. A rock does not contemplate whether falling on the ground will be more or less pleasant for it than floating in mid-air. Therefore, since no will is ever unfree, the will is immaterial.

Christianity’s Mistake?

It should at least at the beginning of the modern world (i.e., the market economy) emphasized control and channeling of sexuality as a means to pursuit of happiness, rather than contempt for bodily pleasures, “monkish virtues,” as Hume put it, and religion as “a litany of prohibitions,” as Pope Francis put it (insisting that it is not that).

Virtuous Pride

Non-sinful pride seems to me to be this:

pleasure taken in a difficult and excellent act, be it an achievement or a work of human art or anything of that sort, that —

has come about through a merging of a potency that is from God and exercise of power that is from the self.

Paths of Ideas vs. Feelings

I interpret Hume as noting the following distinction: when the observe an effect, we become curious of its cause and so the intellect easily proceeds from the effect to the cause.

On the contrary, when we love the cause, we tend to love its effect, as well; so, the will proceeds smoothly from the cause to the effect.

Replace cause with “something superior” and effect with “inferior,” and the same tendency holds.

Thus, when we think of the son of a great man, our thoughts turn quickly to the father. In addition, if we love the father, we also tend to love the son.

The relations in the opposite directions are much weaker; thus, thinking of the father of a great man need not drive us to think of his son; nor is loving the son sufficient to create an affection for the father.

A theological distinction conforms to this understanding: we know God from creatures but love creatures for the sake of God.

Contra Hume, “Power” Is Perfectly Meaningful

In 2.2.3 of A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume once again expresses the opinion that “power, as distinguished from its exercise, has either no meaning at all, or is nothing but a possibility or probability of existence.” He mentions earlier similar sentiments about thoughts and feelings, as in: there is really no such thing as “intellect,” only thinking; nor “will,” only feeling.

Fortunately, we don’t have to look so far as human nature to show Hume to be mistaken. The idea of energy in physics suffices. The basic relevant dictionary definition of energy is “capacity for doing work.” Capacity or, indeed, power in common terms. (“Power” in physics has its own technical meaning, viz., energy consumed per second.) Of course, energy is a major physical concept. Physicists are obsessed with energy — kinetic, potential, and rest — always deriving it and measuring it and calculating it. They are staring at the energy, they are worrying about the energy, all the time!

As a result, the term power acquires an immensely rich meaning even in the physical world.

Hume on Free Will: Terms

By “liberty” Hume means randomness.

By “necessity” he means determination.

By denying that the will is free, he denies only, and correctly, that human actions are uncaused by any combination of, in my terms, a person’s trinity within (the state of his will, intellect, and bodily powers) and inputs to him sensed or reflected on.