Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why is Pure Actuality Intelligent?

Many of the arguments for the existence of the classical concept of God conclude, not with God per se, but with "pure actuality", or "pure existence." You can find these arguments all over this blog. Then it is argued that pure actuality must have the typical divine attributes. In this article I will lay out the most contentious attribute that pure actuality is argued to have, and arguably the biggest dividing line between theists and atheists: intelligence. Many atheists will cautiously accept the existence of pure actuality, but then deny that it is intelligent. So this seems to be the key feature that separates theism from atheism.

I. Immateriality of the Intellect

First we need to distinguish between internalism of the mind, and externalism of the mind. Philosophy of mind is a HUGE topic that cannot be done justice in an article of this size, so I invite the reader to check out this Oxford course, which shows why dualism and materialism fail, and ends with a suggestion of externalism as the solution. If you are impatient, just read this PDF on externalism vs internalism. This argument presupposes externalism as the correct account of the mind.

Now, when we think about something abstractly (such as elephants), we are thinking about their form. But when matter is conjoined with form, it literally becomes that object. So matter plus the form of elephant equals an actual elephant. But when we think about the form of elephants, our minds do not literally become the object we are thinking of, which is what would happen if our minds were material. Intellect, in other words, depends upon being free from matter (and for a different argument, see this article). The more immaterial an object is, the more intellectual activity it can have. Pure actuality is completely immaterial, and therefore is complete in knowledge.

II. First Movers are Intelligent

Pure actuality actualizes things the way a hand moves a stick that moves a rock. That is to say, in a concurrent chain. The intermediate members are sort of "instruments" of the first mover, as the stick is an instrument of the hand. We see intelligent beings using sticks to move rocks, but never rocks using sticks to move intelligent beings. So intelligence is a property of things that act as first movers, and as the very first mover of everything, pure actuality must be intelligent.

III. "Ignorance" is a Lack of Something

Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. Ignorance is not a positive reality of its own."Pure actuality" does not lack anything, and does not have any potentials. So if pure actuality is ignorant, that would translate to: the thing with no potentials has a potential. This is a logical contradiction. So it is logically impossible for pure actuality to be ignorant.

IV. Effect Must be in Cause

A cause can only give to an effect what it has to give. As pure actuality is the cause of intelligent beings such as ourselves, then pure actuality must have intelligence.

V. Intelligence as a Perfection

"Intelligence" is a perfection, as it means being able to take on the form of many different things rather than just one thing. E.g., a rock can only have the form of rock, but a human can in a sense take on the form of elephant by thinking about elephants, then the form of quarks by thinking about quarks, and so on. As pure actuality does not lack anything, it is perfect, and as perfection includes intelligence, pure actuality must be intelligent.

VI. The Setting of Goals and Ends Implies Intelligence

Consider matter bopping around, clumping into other matter, moving this way and that, at the whims of the laws of physics. Something cannot move towards an end unless it is either A) intelligent, as when a human moves his body with purpose to build a building, or B) directed by intelligence, as when (unintelligent) concrete and steel is directed with the goal of becoming a building. But unintelligent matter does have goals in the form of dispositions. See here for a full explanation of dispositions.

Being the cause of the existence of everything else, the first mover sets goals and ends for everything that exists, and is therefore intelligent.

VII. Plato's Cosmological Argument

We can look to Plato's original argument for an unmoved mover as to why self-movers must be intelligent. Matter is a passive recipient of motion, so if it is to move, something else must bump it, push it, or attract it. Matter is not a self-mover. Only intelligent beings, such as humans, are capable of self motion.

VIII. Location of Abstract Objects

Since pure actuality is the source or foundation of all reality, it is also the source or foundation for abstract objects, such as mathematical truths, sets, categories, and universals. But abstract objects are not "made" of anything; they can only exist in a mind. Therefore, pure actuality must be intelligent.

5 comments:

  1. Having read the article on Externalism I am disappointed that the first example relies on an equivocation fallacy with respect to the meaning of the word "water", and the second appears to be a non-sequitor that appeals to emotion rather than reason. Don't philosophers study logic anymore?

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  2. "But when we think about the form of elephants, our minds do not literally become the object we are thinking of, which is what would happen if our minds were material."

    A human being's concept of an elephant is represented in the brain by a set of neural connections and firing patterns. You've confused the map for the place. You might as readily argue that a CD of classical music must contain a full orchestra.

    I'm starting to think that in addition to logic, philosophers should be required to study physics and perhaps computing.

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  3. >represented

    Right, so that would be internalism, then. Which is rejected by followers of Aristotle. You're begging the question.

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  4. I. Immateriality of the Intellect
    Our brains are material. All the scientific evidence points to our intellect being a product of that material brain. Where is your evidence that intellect can exist without being a product of a physical brain or other physical object?

    II. First Movers are Intelligent
    Really? You can’t think of a single example where a non-intelligent thing causes an intelligent thing to move? What about the wind blowing over a tree which then knocks over a person? Or an avalanche? Or a volcano?

    III. "Ignorance" is a Lack of Something
    Yep, ignorance is a lack of something. However, even if we accept your (unsupported) statement that “"Pure actuality" does not lack anything, and does not have any potentials”, you have still missed something vital here.
    You are drawing a dichotomy between knowledge and lack of knowledge (ignorance), but there is a third option – being completely outside the sphere of knowledge. Would you say that a rock has knowledge? I assume the answer to this is no. So then, does this mean that the rock is ignorant? I argue that it is not ignorant either. It does not have capacity for knowledge or ignorance. Neither word is applicable to a rock.

    IV. Effect Must be in Cause
    Firstly, you are yet to convince me that pure actuality is the cause of humans (or anything else for that matter). You start off this post by saying that many atheists will accept the existence of pure actuality, but dispute that it is intelligent. For the sake of argument let’s assume that I accept this atheist position. No-where in the introduction did you say that atheists accept that pure actuality is able to “cause” anything, so I am assuming that this has not been agreed upfront by your hypothetical atheist. You have not provided evidence that pure actuality is able to cause anything in any your arguments. Therefore, you are adding an unsubstantiated and unwarranted assumption in order to make this argument. Where is your evidence that pure actuality is the cause of intelligent beings?
    Secondly, don’t you think this argument oversimplifies things just a teeny tiny bit, therefore leading to absurd conclusions? For example, the sun “gives” energy to plants in the form of light. This energy causes chemical reactions in the plant, with the end effect of growth of leaves, flowers, fruit etc. As the sun is the cause, therefore the sun must contain the effect – i.e. the sun must contain leaves, flowers and fruit. Does this make any sense at all?

    V. Intelligence as a Perfection
    Since when does intelligence mean “being able to take on the form of many different things rather than just one thing”? Your dictionary is clearly not the same as any that I have access to.
    Regardless of this issue with your definition of intelligence, this example is absurd. A human cannot take the form of an elephant or the form of a quark. Thinking about these objects is merely conceptualising them and in no sense leads to the person taking on these forms.


    VI. The Setting of Goals and Ends Implies Intelligence

    You said ”Being the cause of the existence of everything else, the first mover sets goals and ends for everything that exists, and is therefore intelligent.”
    Where did you prove that there are in fact goals and ends for everything that exists? Also, where did you prove that the fist mover set these goals and ends that you have asserted?

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  5. VII. Plato's Cosmological Argument

    1. When did you prove that there was a self-mover? As with my comments for IV above, any assumptions not included in the introduction must be proven.
    2. If something has always existed (whether it is the universe as we know it or something different), then it is arguable that at all times there have been forces acting on those “things” that exist and that it is not necessary (and maybe not possible) for there to have ever been an unmoved mover. If you argue instead that there was a point when absolutely nothing existed, then you come to the issue of how did the first mover come into existence? How can something that doesn’t exist cause itself to exist?
    3. I find it funny that anyone would argue that only intelligent beings are capable of self motion. Depending on how you define self motion, you could argue that all living things (plants, animals, bacteria etc) are capable of self motion. It is pretty clear for all animals – they eat, breathe, walk/swim/fly etc. Plants move when they grow, turn to face the sun, climb across surfaces, send roots down into the earth etc. Even single cell organisms move when they reproduce. Even if I accepted your argument that pure actuality must be intelligent because it is a self-mover, this would only prove that it is as intelligent as the simplest single-celled organism.
    If you are attempting to argue that a first mover must be one that moves due to a conscious decision, then you would be getting much closer to defining an intelligent being (though I would argue that this definition would still include many animals). However, this comes with additional assumptions that you then need to prove. Also, this argument seems quite silly given that the vast majority of human movement is not done through conscious decision, and we have no evidence that it is possible for an intelligent being to exist that does not have automated functions like humans do.
    4. I also find this argument funny as it overlooks the fact that humans are made of matter, and that the movement of humans is directly attributable to forces acting on matter. If I make a decision to move my arm, my arm doesn’t just suddenly move. It is caused to move by signals that travel from my brain to the impacted muscles. Even before I make the decision to move my arm, this decision is a direct consequence of the forces and matter within my (physical) brain.


    VIII. Location of Abstract Objects

    Firstly, when did you prove that “pure actuality is the source or foundation of all reality”? As with my comments above, any assumptions not included in the introduction must be proven.
    Secondly, even if we assume that “pure actuality is the source or foundation of all reality”, this doesn’t prove that pure actuality is intelligent or has a mind within which abstract objects exist. For an abstract concept to exist this only requires a mind to exist. A single human mind would be more than sufficient. Pure actuality does not need to have a mind or for that abstract concept to exist within that mind. All that is required is for pure actuality to somehow set in motion events that will lead to the evolution of intelligent beings who can then conceive of abstract concepts.

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