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9/13/2016 12:29 pm  #1


An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

Some thoughts on a question which seems quite common, ending in what seems to me a plausible argument (though, the usual disclaimer, I don't study philosophy formally, so please do criticise and comment).

Background:
(1) That which moves is moved by another.
(2) It is impossible to go to infinity in a causal series of movers and things moved.
These two principles, along with the observation that some thing moves, are sufficient to prove the dependence of motion (understood broadly as the actualisation of some thing's potential) on an unmoved mover, as detailed in chapter 13 of Book 1 of the Summa Contra Gentiles. (Even if you happen to disagree with this, I am taking it as an assumption for the following argument. The question I'm interested tends to be asked by people who accept the basic argument for an unmoved mover.)

Foreground:
But why think of the unmoved mover as pure actuality, with no potentiality whatever? We want an argument that doesn't make the first way in any sense parasitic on any other of the five ways, and (just a personal preference) doesn't appeal to subsistent existence, as this seems outside the immediate themes of the first way. Below is one I find plausible.

(i) The unmoved mover, as such, is actual.
(ii) That which is actual, has it's actuality of another or of itself.
(iii) But the unmoved mover, as such, does not have its actuality of another.
(iv) Therefore the unmoved mover is actual of itself.
(v) To say that a thing is actual of itself is to say that it brings about (causes) it's own actuality or else that it is essentially actual.
(vi) But nothing causes its own actuality - nothing is a self-mover in the strong sense. (This is really just premise (1) given above.)
(vii) Therefore, the unmoved mover is essentially actual.
(viii) What is essentially actual can have no potentiality whatever.
(ix) Therefore, the unmoved mover has no potentiality whatever - put positively, the unmoved mover is pure actuality.

 

5/01/2017 4:24 pm  #2


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

Could one object that this only proves that the unmoved mover is only purely actual when it comes to causal efficacy? In other words, this unmoved mover who has purely actual causal efficacy (non-derivative power to actualize other members' potentials) could still have certain other potentials that have no bearing on its causal efficacy.

Here's an illustration:
Imagine a series of blocks holding each other up. At the very bottom there's one block that doesn't need to be held up by any others. It just exists, not held up by any block below it. One could imagine it's just sitting there in the air. This block's causal power to sustain the other blocks of the series above it is non-derivative, it doesn't derive its causal power from a block below it. Rather, it just has built-in causal power. The primary block actualizes the potentials of the other blocks' ability to sustain blocks above them. But the primary block doesn't need any potential to be actualized for it to hold up all the other blocks in the series. It therefore has the causal ability to hold up the entire series of blocks in a purely actual sense. That is, its causal power to sustain the block series is one that is pure act. But this doesn't mean, however, that it's devoid of any potentials. The block could be potentially two feet to the right, painted red, on fire, split in half. There are numerous other potentials that the block has. And even if these potentials are never actualized, it still has them. So, with respect to the block series, the primary block has purely actual power. But, in general, the block is not itself pure act. There are dozens of potentials it has. 

 

5/01/2017 8:50 pm  #3


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

I have doubts about premise (iii).  It seems to me that something could have its actuality of another without thereby being actualized at all.  For instance, in a Platonic schema (on one interpretation of the Allegory of the Sun), Being-and-Truth (τὸ εἶναί τε καὶ τὴν οὐσίαν, Rep 509b) would be ontologically grounded by the Good and thereby "have it's actuality of" the Good, but not be actualized because it is eternally, changelessly actual.  (All I'm really trying to say is that grounding is distinct from actualizing.)

 

5/03/2017 9:02 am  #4


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

@Proclus:
I'm not sure that really changes what I'm trying to say. If Being-and-Truth were grounded by the Good as you describe, it would still be relevantly "of itself merely potential", and need something else in order to be actual. I don't think any of the 5 ways rely on a temporal sequence of events, where something is at one point potential and later actualised - rather, we can say "though x is eternally actual, nevertheless it isn't actual of itself; while it isn't being changed, we need to account for its actuality in exactly the same way as we do with something that does change". (Admittedly this bleeds into the distinction between different necessary beings made in the 3rd way.) In this interpretation of the 1st way, change is not necessarily found in everything the argument is accounting for, but change is what brings our attention to the fact that many things are actualised by others, and this is what needs explaining whether or not such actualisation occurs temporally or eternally.

@RomanJoe
You're right, that does seem a weakness of the argument, or at least a point that needs to be put better. It is really my only dissatisfaction with the argument. My intuition was that here to say something is essentially actual, even (initially) just wrt causal efficacy, is to say more than that "what actuality it has stems from its essence" - that could just be a form of saying that it causes its own actuality, or that the actuality of the whole was caused by the actuality of a part (and so the whole was not the first mover at all). To say that the first mover has its actuality essentially, in this stronger sense, seems to me to entail that its essence is its actuality (i.e. its essence is actus purus), and if this is so then the first mover cannot be potential in any respect.

EDIT: To both of you, thanks for the feedback! I'm not a trained philosopher, so I appreciate the dialogue as a way of improving my own understanding as much as anything else.

Last edited by Alexander (5/03/2017 9:04 am)

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5/03/2017 9:12 am  #5


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

RomanJoe wrote:

Imagine a series of blocks holding each other up. At the very bottom there's one block that doesn't need to be held up by any others. It just exists, not held up by any block below it. One could imagine it's just sitting there in the air. This block's causal power to sustain the other blocks of the series above it is non-derivative, it doesn't derive its causal power from a block below it. Rather, it just has built-in causal power. The primary block actualizes the potentials of the other blocks' ability to sustain blocks above them. But the primary block doesn't need any potential to be actualized for it to hold up all the other blocks in the series.

It seems to me that the unclarity of this causal series is part of the reason why one would think this is so possible. Or, at least, I'm not getting the force of this illustration. If the series has nothing but blocks which is held up by a supreme block, then isn't the term 'block' is being used wrongly for the rest of the members?

 

5/03/2017 11:18 am  #6


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

Alexander wrote:

@Proclus:
I'm not sure that really changes what I'm trying to say. If Being-and-Truth were grounded by the Good as you describe, it would still be relevantly "of itself merely potential", and need something else in order to be actual. I don't think any of the 5 ways rely on a temporal sequence of events, where something is at one point potential and later actualised - rather, we can say "though x is eternally actual, nevertheless it isn't actual of itself; while it isn't being changed, we need to account for its actuality in exactly the same way as we do with something that does change". (Admittedly this bleeds into the distinction between different necessary beings made in the 3rd way.) In this interpretation of the 1st way, change is not necessarily found in everything the argument is accounting for, but change is what brings our attention to the fact that many things are actualised by others, and this is what needs explaining whether or not such actualisation occurs temporally or eternally.

I think you are right.  I'm still worried, though, since I have a nagging thought.  Perhaps someone here can show me the error, since I'm just trying this idea on for size rather than expressing something I'm really convinced of:

It seems to me that Being just is pure actuality, but nevertheless needs a further ground beyond Being.  When I say Being, I have in mind here the Parmenidian notion of "that which is and in no way is not," or "The One" from the first hypothesis in Plato's Parmenides.  When I claim that there must be a ground beyond this, I have in mind the Dionysian line of thought that holds that God, as infinite, must lie beyond Being because being implies form which implies limit.  I seem to remember reading something like this in Hans Urs von Balthasar's critique of the way Gilson (and others in that era) conflate God and Being.

 

5/03/2017 1:11 pm  #7


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

Dennis wrote:

RomanJoe wrote:

Imagine a series of blocks holding each other up. At the very bottom there's one block that doesn't need to be held up by any others. It just exists, not held up by any block below it. One could imagine it's just sitting there in the air. This block's causal power to sustain the other blocks of the series above it is non-derivative, it doesn't derive its causal power from a block below it. Rather, it just has built-in causal power. The primary block actualizes the potentials of the other blocks' ability to sustain blocks above them. But the primary block doesn't need any potential to be actualized for it to hold up all the other blocks in the series.

It seems to me that the unclarity of this causal series is part of the reason why one would think this is so possible. Or, at least, I'm not getting the force of this illustration. If the series has nothing but blocks which is held up by a supreme block, then isn't the term 'block' is being used wrongly for the rest of the members?

Can you explain this a little bit more? Why is the term being used wrongly?

 

5/03/2017 1:22 pm  #8


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

A contingent block which receives its 'block causal power' is distinct from a supreme-necessary 'block' where it doesn't receive its causal power from anything other than itself. The contingent and necessary block don't seem to be the same thing, they are simply two distinct class of things.


EDIT: I didn't mean to say necessary, I meant that if there was a supreme block which has a  distinct essential causal power from all the other regular blocks, then, it would be a different thing. 

Last edited by Dennis (5/03/2017 1:33 pm)

 

5/03/2017 3:30 pm  #9


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

Dennis wrote:

A contingent block which receives its 'block causal power' is distinct from a supreme-necessary 'block' where it doesn't receive its causal power from anything other than itself. The contingent and necessary block don't seem to be the same thing, they are simply two distinct class of things.


EDIT: I didn't mean to say necessary, I meant that if there was a supreme block which has a  distinct essential causal power from all the other regular blocks, then, it would be a different thing. 

That's a very good point. Yes, I think you're right, the Supreme Block would be essentially different from the contingent blocks. That still doesn't change, however, the thrust of my objection--that a being who has purely actual casual efficacy can still be potential in many other ways. Having purely actual causal efficacy doesn't entail that one is pure act. That's an issue I struggle with--how can we arrive at a an unmoved mover who is pure act, rather than an unmoved mover who just has purely actual causal power?

 

10/08/2017 10:23 pm  #10


Re: An argument for the pure actuality of the unmoved mover

I hate to resurrect an old thread but over the past few months I've come to realize how charmingly simple it may be to show that the unmoved mover must be pure act. Arguments like Aquinas' First Way are premised on the notion that any composite of act and potency requires something actual outside of it to explain why it is specifically actual in one respect and potential in others. This is based on the second Thomistic thesis which states that potency limits act. This is because a potential for something is always a potential for a specific actual state--that is, when a potential is actualized, it ties actuality down to existing in a specific way as opposed to other potential ways. So when we freeze water into an ice cube, we actualize its potential for a specific act of existence, namely that of being an ice cube. And because of this, it now has an array of new potentialities--e.g. being liquid, being gas, being smashed into bits of ice.

So the bottom line is that any actualized potential limits actual existence to a specific state of actuality. For instance, the cat's potential for being on the mat is actualized, thus tying it to the specific state of being on the mat, as opposed to potentially being on the counter, on the bookshelf, under the table, on the armchair. These additional potentials (being on the counter, bookshelf, etc.) indicate that the cat's specific act of existence (being on the mat) is an actualized potential. This is because these additional potentials show that the cat is limited to a specific state of existence (which is exactly what actualized potentialities do, tie actuality to a specific sate of existence, a specific state of actuality). 

So if it is suggested that the unmoved mover has potentials relative to its actuality, then this indicates that its current state of actuality is just a specific state, one among other states of actuality which it could potentially take on. What does this mean? This means that the unmoved mover would be limited to its current state of actuality, and, as already observed, the only thing that limits act is potency--specifically, an actualized potential. This would mean, then, that how the unmoved mover exists now--in its specific state of actuality--is due to an underlying actualized potential. And potentials can't actualize themselves, they can only be actualized by something else already in act (principle of causality). But then this would rob the unmoved mover of its status as the end of the causal chain, making it not truly the unmoved mover. Therefore, the unmoved mover must be pure act, because any hint of potentiality would indicate that its actual state of existence is limited, and it can only be limited by an underlying actualized potency (since a potential is always a potential for a specific act of existence, limiting a being to that act as opposed to others). 


 

Last edited by RomanJoe (10/09/2017 1:47 am)

 

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