Do Actualities and Potentialities Actually Work?

So, in reading Feser I noted that obviously the Scholastics make a big deal out of actualities and potentialities.  The reason is that they use this to make causation work and escape the dual seeming absurdities of Parmenides who argued that there can be no such thing as change and Heraclitus who argued that everything was in constant change and there’s no permanence in the world at all.  The Scholastics adopt, with some minor changes, Aristotle’s solution to this that argues that objects have actualities and potentialities, and so what explains their permanence is that they are actualized into the object with the actualities it has, and what explains their ability to change and allows for causation is that something can actualize their potentialities and thus cause them to indeed change how they are actualized.  So this allows for causation and for us to be able to avoid the issues Parmenides and Heraclitus raised, with issues around how we could possibly avoid having to rely on something that doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist yet to explain how things can change.  Actualities and potentialities exist as part of the objects, and since those are the things that driving the change we have clearly existent things that we can use to trigger and explain all the changes we see in the world.

But I wonder if we need them, and also wonder if the concept has some issues.

One issue that came up in the original comment thread that sent me down this path is the fact that for every distinct interaction between two objects, the cause has to have an actuality to active the potentiality in the effect, and the effect has to have a potentiality that can be triggered by the cause in order for causation to happen.  I’m not going to go and find the comment, but essentially the comment from that person was that this would result in an infinite set of potentialities and/or actualities, and that seemed rather odd.  I noted that we can split some off, so it wouldn’t be actually infinite or rather problematically infinite, in that we’d be able to essentially give a list of them and be able to derive sets of what can and can’t happen.  It wouldn’t mean that it was open season and anything could happen.  Even if that list was technically infinite — but since we likely have a finite set of types of objects and these would work more by type than by specific object — it would be a distinct set that would identify only the things those specific objects can do.

But then I thought about an issue with this, which is that the object, then, has to contain potentialities and/or actualities that relate to objects or types of objects that it may never actually interact with, and it might even have to hold potentialities and/or actualities for types of objects that don’t even exist yet.  The reason is that if the two objects suddenly come into contact, it would defeat the entire purpose of the actuality/potentiality system that once a cause comes into contact with an object that it wants to make an effect out of that the potentiality is suddenly created and then activated by the cause.  We can escape some of this by clustering potentialities and noting that a variety of types of objects can activate the same potentialities, and even insisting that the potentialities describe what the object can do and so would never align with types of objects, but then again we’d still have to have in the object all potentialities that any type of object could do, again even if those objects didn’t exist yet.  As noted, if the objects don’t exist yet we couldn’t suddenly add those potentialities to the potential effects when they come into existence, but we would need to in order to make it work.  Again, we can escape much of this by arguing that the potentialities are effect-object-specific, but since some of them do seem to be reliant on the cause object’s properties that’s not a very clean solution.  Regardless, we need the cause-object and the effect-object to have as part of them an actual set of these things that they have to have over and above their actual properties (even if they are derived by them).

Which leads to the second issue I had:  which is primary in a cause and effect relationship:  the actualities in the cause-object or the potentialities in the effect-object?  Feser tends to give the cause-object precedence, but that’s because he — problematically in my opinion — tends to talk about causation as creating ex nihilo, and so it must be the case that the thing with precedence be the thing that actually exists.  But this sort of situation is extremely rare and arguably never actually happens in the world we have, as what we see is always something that already exists being transformed by its cause.  We may create a rubber ball that never existed before, but what we are actually doing is creating it out of some rubber, and so transforming the rubber into the ball.  And the same would apply to melting the ball.  So for the most part we pretty much always have an interaction between two objects that exist, and so this would raise the question of which object is the primary one in this situation.

It’s easy to say that it’s still the cause-object.  After all, the cause-object is the one that is actually doing the work, and the effect-object is the one being transformed.  So the cause-object is active, the effect-object is passive, and if the cause-object didn’t initiate the interaction nothing would happen, so the cause-object is primary.  Except under this model it doesn’t really matter what the cause-object does if the proper potentiality doesn’t exist, so it seems like all the cause-object is doing is essentially asking the effect-object to do something or change, and it couldn’t actually do that if the effect-object didn’t give permission (by analogy).  So then the effect-object is primary.

So we have arguments that argue for the primacy of each object, and it seems like we should be able to answer the question.  I believe most Scholastics would probably simply say that neither is primary or both of them are and so it doesn’t really matter, and I’m making an issue out of nothing.

So I think that in both cases the Scholastics aren’t going to worry too much about it, especially since they will argue that there really isn’t a better solution.  But I think I have one by focusing on the properties themselves and not inventing actualities and potentialities to make this work.

What I would agree with the Scholastics on is that everything that exists has a substance.  I would also agree that every existing object has properties, which are the aspects that make that thing what it is instead of something else.  But when we start talking about causation, what I want to talk about are interactions between the objects themselves and between the properties of each objects, not about set potentialities.  I even want to add some properties that are relational that can be formed when objects start to interact and trigger what happens when those objects relate to each other.  So causation, then, would happen when two objects relate to each other in a certain way, and how those relations are formed is based on their properties.

So let me look at one of Feser’s common examples, that of a brick hitting a glass window and breaking it.  Feser would need to describe it as the brick-object having an actuality to activate the glass-object’s potentiality to break when struck, which is awkward, to say the least.  By contrast, what I’d do is say that the brick is hard, glass is fragile, and when hard things hit fragile things the fragile things tend to break.  I can derive fragility and hardness from other properties and so can make those properties purely descriptive.  I can also apply the same properties to multiple objects and thus use the same rule to describe the same changes.  So I can use the same descriptive rule to talk about stones hitting windows and bricks hitting windows.  More importantly, the rules don’t exist in the objects at all, whereas Feser’s actualities and potentialities have to exist in the objects themselves.  And if the effect fails to happen I don’t have to go around and explain away why the potentiality wasn’t activated and go looking for an actuality or something that prevented it.  I can go look at the environment itself or in this case things like the angle it was struck and create more rules to cover those exceptions and situations (for example, using a general rule about force to cover it instead of the simplistic “hard/fragile” rule).  This aligns quite well with what science does, far better than what the Scholastics would suggest, and Feser is clear that he wants and needs to preserve science while arguing for his position.

So, at a very shallow level, it looks like my option allows for causation and even talks about things that exist — in this case, the objects as they are in their bare minimum of having properties that say what they are and what state they are in — without having to invent a new set of existent things.  We don’t even really need relational properties and they and laws could be entirely descriptive and so not really real.  Feser would likely reply that leaving things as properties runs into issues with how we assign properties to objects and so the need for a formal cause, but I’d challenge that as well since I attach properties directly to the substance of the object and so the properties that are part of that substance and the ones that follow from those properties are the ones that belong to that object.  So I don’t really need a formal cause either, or a form.  Feser obviously has objections to this idea, but I’ll get into them in a later post when I defend at least my notion of conceptualism from Feser’s attacks.

So, to sum up, as with final causes to me it doesn’t seem like we really need actualities and potentialities to make causation work, and the concept adds oddities and complexities.  So I am skeptical of the move given that it doesn’t seem to be necessary and isn’t a very clean way to solve the problems.  But, again, that’s a fairly shallow analysis. 

65 Responses to “Do Actualities and Potentialities Actually Work?”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Feser would need to describe it as the brick-object having an actuality to activate the glass-object’s potentiality to break when struck, which is awkward, to say the least. By contrast, what I’d do is say that the brick is hard, glass is fragile, and when hard things hit fragile things the fragile things tend to break.

    How is this not just a restatement of what Feser said except without using scholastic terminology?

    The brick being hard and the glass being fragile is just an explanation as to why the brick has the potential to actualize the breaking glass.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I can express it entirely in terms of the properties of hardness and fragility, and don’t have to assign any additional thing like actuality or potentiality to the object itself. Which means that I can simply grant the objects properties, which they need to have anyway.

      To put it another way, how is Feser’s scholastic terminology not just a restatement of what I’m saying? Like we saw with final causes, if actualities/potentialities don’t give us anything more than my simpler terminology of properties, then what do we need them for?

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        You need them in the sense that you’re pretty much admitting, right now, that you ARE using them. You’re just not calling them that, but it’s philosophical terminology. You don’t need to talk like that in every day life.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        But for Feser, actualities and potentialities are real things that really exist above and beyond the properties an object has. I’m saying get rid of those things and derive everything from the properties itself without having to have some real existent thing to categorize it. So that’s a pretty sharp difference between us (and Feser does argue against my property model in Scholastic Metaphysics).

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        But for Feser, actualities and potentialities are real things that really exist above and beyond the properties an object has.

        But you acknowledge exactly that when you talk about the *reasons things happen*. What does being fragile even mean except that something has the potential to be broken more easily than other things. What even is breaking something except actualizing something’s potential to be broken? You are offering up your position as an alternative but you just seem to be restating Feser’s position while avoiding scholastic terminology from my view.

        If Feser argues against your view, I imagine he is doing so for similar reasons that I am – that you aren’t even really objecting to him, just restating his position while trying to avoid the conclusions he draws from it with – I am sure unintentional – verbal sleight of hand.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        The big difference is this:

        So, at a very shallow level, it looks like my option allows for causation and even talks about things that exist — in this case, the objects as they are in their bare minimum of having properties that say what they are and what state they are in — without having to invent a new set of existent things. We don’t even really need relational properties and they and laws could be entirely descriptive and so not really real.

        Feser needs actualities and potentialities to be distinct existent things from properties. I can make my relational properties and things like hardness and fragility purely descriptive of how things work and so don’t need them as distinct existent things. If my view works, then it’s not the terminology that we lose, but instead lose the extra things that Feser needs to create and explain and that cause some issues that my system avoids. For example, take my first issue. I don’t need to ascribe potentialities and actualities to specific objects or specific object types at all, and so don’t have to say that each object or object type has potentialities and actualities that point to specific other objects and other object types, and so don’t risk having to add new potentialities or actualities if a new object or type of object comes into existence, or if it’s suddenly the case that two types of objects that could never interact before suddenly were made to interact. If Feser can fix up his view to avoid these issues, he still ends up only being able to do the things that my view can do, but has to invent completely new objects to do it. On what grounds, then, would the Scholastic view be the better theory?

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        I still don’t see that you’re doing that. You just keep restating the potentialities and actualities of the things in question, just without calling them that.

        You say this:

        can make my relational properties and things like hardness and fragility purely descriptive of how things work and so don’t need them as distinct existent things.

        But you’re not making them distinct. You’re just describing potentialities and actualities, without using scholastic terminology.

        If something is fragile, it has more potential to be broken than average. You can call it what you want – in your case, a description of the object and not a completely new object called s potentiality – but all you’re doing is describing an example of a potentiality.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        But you’re not making them distinct. You’re just describing potentialities and actualities, without using scholastic terminology.

        For the Scholastics, actualities and potentialities are, in fact, the distinct from properties existent things that drive causation. One of the reasons we need them according to Feser is to get around Parmenides’ challenge that change requires something to exist that doesn’t already. By adding potentialities to be actualities, we have an existent thing that can be triggered and so avoid that issue.

        I deny that we need anything more than existent substances that have properties to make that work, and so deny that that is a real problem. So I don’t need existent actualities or potentialities. So “hardness” and “fragile”, whatever they mean, can be merely descriptive and so not have any real existence, even as an abstract object. This means that under my view there are no existent actualities and potentialities. Thus, even if you argue that my view is FUNCTIONALLY equivalent to actualities and potentialities, I am leaving out existent things that Feser says we need. That leaves it as a pretty different view from his.

        This may become more clear when I defend conceptualism, because there I’ll be making a case that these things might well be mind-dependent in critical ways, which would be an even sharper description, but follows from them being merely descriptive.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        One of the reasons we need them according to Feser is to get around Parmenides’ challenge that change requires something to exist that doesn’t already. By adding potentialities to be actualities, we have an existent thing that can be triggered and so avoid that issue.

        I deny that we need anything more than existent substances that have properties to make that work

        I feel like we’re going around in circles, because this looks an awful lot to me like “I deny potentialities and actualities exist, only affirming potentialities and actualities, except I’m calling them something else.”

      • verbosestoic Says:

        It might help you to note that Feser believes that substances exist and are the things that all other existent things like actualities and potentialities exist in. On the other hand, the only thing that I hold that has to exist are substances.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        Sure, but it looks to me like you keep describing the potentialities and actualities in substances then ending it with “but we don’t need to call them actualities or potentialities”.

        Well, no. You don’t need to call them that. But it’s what they are.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Well, perhaps, but from my perspective I see it more as using a non-Scholastic metaphysics and being able to explain what needs to be explained, and so wondering what we need Scholastic metaphysics — which is what those terms represent — for. So what I’d really need here is something specific that I am relying on that is crucially Scholastic, and not merely that the functionalities work out the same. It’s POSSIBLE that I am redefining properties or sets of properties so that they are in essence actualities and potentialities, but I don’t see it that way myself.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        Let me put it like this. This – it seems to me, a non-philosopher – looks like what you’re doing:

        1) I don’t think actuality and potentiality exist

        2) I do think hardness and fragility exist

        3) They are not separate properties of an object, they describe the object

        4) Specifically, they describe how hard and how difficult it is for that object to be broken

        5) …Or in other words, they describe the potential for something to be broken and how difficult it is or isn’t to actualize that potential.

        It’s the same thing. You’re just calling it something different.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I think the issue here is that I don’t think that hardness and fragility exist in the same way as Feser claims actualities and potentialities exist. The most important one is that I think that hardness and fragility are causally inert, as it is the substances that do all the causal work and the properties — including ones like hardness — only describe what effect is actually produced. For Feser actualities and potentialities do the causal work. So your 5) ends up equivocating on potential there. We can talk about potentials without talking about potentialities. I can say that something has the potential to become a butterfly without accepting the metaphysical entity of potentialities and the necessity for them to facilitate that. In fact, that’s my entire point: I can drop the Scholastic metaphysics — not merely its terminology — and still make it work. So you’d need to show that I implicitly accept his metaphysics, not the functionality explained by his metaphysics, because of COURSE our views are functionally identical, as we’re trying to explain the same functions. It’s at the level of metaphysical commitments that we’re disagreeing.

      • John Says:

        Something being descriptive doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, you need something to exist in the first place in order to make descriptions of it.

        So if hardness and fragility are descriptive, this means they are describing something in reality which is real.

        Unless I’m mistaken in what your view is?

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Something being descriptive doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, you need something to exist in the first place in order to make descriptions of it.

        The descriptions themselves, however, can exist only in the minds of people. So I can make hardness and what impact it has on fragile things descriptive and mind dependent in a way that actualities and potentialities can’t be, meaning that they aren’t the same thing. And I see no reason to argue that they follow from actualities and potentialities either, as it seems to add no benefit as opposed to deriving them from the properties themselves. Again, I also have less existent things since I only need the substance to really and properly exist, which is not the case for actualities and potentialities.

      • John Says:

        You could say the descriptions necessarily have two elements – a mental element in the mind, and a real element derived from reality. Descriptions are always descriptions of something, even if they are in the mode of the subject.

        The whole idea of actuality and potentiality is that they are internal principles of things which can’t fail to apply – to get an idea as to why, if someone said a brick doesn’t have the actuality to break glass most people would take it to mean the brick can’t break the glass. So actuality is intrinsically related to property rather than being something separate from it.

        Actuality just is to possess something, or for some trait to be actual – it’s not at all separate from property.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        You could say the descriptions necessarily have two elements – a mental element in the mind, and a real element derived from reality. Descriptions are always descriptions of something, even if they are in the mode of the subject.

        I’ll get into this more when I talk about conceptualism vs realism, so I’ll hold off on this for now.

        The whole idea of actuality and potentiality is that they are internal principles of things which can’t fail to apply – to get an idea as to why, if someone said a brick doesn’t have the actuality to break glass most people would take it to mean the brick can’t break the glass.

        But most people aren’t Scholastics either and so wouldn’t be using the term in the same way. And Scholastics would be talking about it not having the ability to actualize the potentiality, which adds in that potentiality thing that’s problematic.

  2. The Goblin King Says:

    I’m not a philosopher, but I’ve been rereading Feser’s The Last Superstition so I think I can word this without getting something wrong.

    While it is true that every instance of change requires an actualizer, it doesn’t nessecitate an infinite regress if an initial actualizer is fully actual and does not require an actualizer of its own. Feser points out in the book that this is an inevitable conclusion given the existence of actuality and potentiality. What kind of characteristics a fully actualized actualizer would have is a subject I’m not qualified to comment on, but to Feser and other scholastics, it is what they would call God.

    As to your second problem, it should be clarified that potential is a type of actual, not something completely non-existent. Red paint does not have the power to create a red ball, it has the power to turn a blue ball into a red ball.

    There is some complexity with two objects simultaneously acting on one another, two pool balls knocking against each other and both being knocked back for instance. But I don’t think this shows any issue with actualities and potentiality, it just adds some nuance to it.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      So my first issue is not about an infinite regress, but is instead about an infinite set of actualities and potentialities having to point to at least every other type of object that that type of object could have a causal link to. The view IS safe from objects that we couldn’t delineate in principle what each object can and can’t do and so what causal relationships they can have, but they aren’t free from having to have these things for objects that don’t exist yet or that they might never interact with.

      The second problem is also not about not being able to transform, but is raised because Feser tends to focus on creation and not transformation. This leads him to not really consider the question of which object is primary in a causal relation. For the most part, outside of actualities and potentialities it isn’t an issue because we consider the cause primary — as the actor — and the effect secondary as it’s passive, but in the actuality and potentiality structure this isn’t as obvious, since we move away from talking about cause and “then” effect and more to an interaction between the two. The Scholastic can try to make the two of them equally primary and that might work, but it’s still a bit of an odd way to talk about it.

  3. John Says:

    I’d say that actualities and potentialities are actually implied by properties, so it’s not that they are competing models but complementary in describing different aspects of things.

    A property is actual and so is a form of actuality, and also implies certain potentialities by nature.

    As for having to add new actualities/potentialities into the world when a new object appears – that’s not anymore difficult than having to accommodate new relations among objects. Logically speaking, if you DO add a new thing into the world, then thinking that actualities and potentialities increase isn’t anymore difficult than that, especially if they are aspects of and/or flow from properties of objects.

    There’s no need to think of it as some sort of really difficult complication with reality that must be avoided because adding things is just wrong – it’s just a natural result of adding new things to reality.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      For Feser, actualities and potentialities are real, existent “things” that are separate from what we normally consider properties. So my view would say that we don’t need those separate and distinct things at all. And the actualities we’re talking about here are the specific ones that can actualize potentialities in another object, so at the very least they’d be a special type of property (even if most properties end up being able to do that).

      As for the latter point. actualities and potentialities belong to the objects — or at least types of objects — and so if a new type of object suddenly came into existence we would need to add actualities to the objects that could cause potentialities to actualize in that type of object and new potentialities in the objects that the new type of object could actualize, because at least by how I interpret Feser they aren’t that generic, but do point to specific types of objects, at least. It is possible, of course, to make them more generic, but then it really looks like we end up talking about how properties themselves interact, and so don’t seem to need ANY kind of specific and existent thing that attaches to each object individually. Again, if functionally actualities and potentialities work out to being the same thing as simply looking at the properties of the objects and noting how they interact, then it doesn’t seem like there’s a need for them at all. And since I’m dropping existent things and not merely arguing over terminology, that does leave an argument for me to say that those things aren’t necessary.

      • John Says:

        1) They are distinct from them, but aren’t separate from them – you could say the actualities flow from the properties, or maybe they are inclusive of the properties and the properties are determined by the actualities.

        I tried a quick search of Scholastic Metaphysics and couldn’t find Feser arguing that properties are completely separate from actualities & couldn’t account for things, so could you say which page or chapter you found the discussion about that?

        2) That doesn’t seem anymore complex than new relational terms also being added if something new came into existence – things would be a certain distance away from it, things would be able to impact it more or less, etc.

        I’d also say it’s not really that a new actuality comes into existence, but that an already existing actuality has more potential objects or gets modified.

        3) Well, if actualities really are the same thing as properties, then Feser agrees with you with only a difference in terminology.

        Actuality and potentiality as concepts can apply generally across the board because they are so metaphysically basic – if someone said that a brick doesn’t have the actuality to break glass, many people would think you’re denying that brick has the power to break glass. Even if distinct from the brick’s properties, actuality here seems to be something foundational to the brick that can’t be disregarded.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        1) They are distinct from them, but aren’t separate from them – you could say the actualities flow from the properties, or maybe they are inclusive of the properties and the properties are determined by the actualities.

        The issues are with actualities specifically aimed to activate potentialities in other objects and potentialities. There seems to be no need for them, as I can descriptively talk about how the properties of the objects in and of themselves can handle causation without appealing to them, and as noted Feser needs it to rebut, at least in his view, Parmenides’ challenge.

        I have read three books of his over the past while, and so don’t have precise pages. But it follows from two things: they must have existence to handle Parmenides’ challenge, and Feser argues that we need to have them over and above properties because of the loose association with properties. But if these things really are just properties, then again the terminology seems odd, especially since Feser does seem to allow for properties as well.

        2) That doesn’t seem anymore complex than new relational terms also being added if something new came into existence – things would be a certain distance away from it, things would be able to impact it more or less, etc.

        Those things only need to be descriptions of how those things might interact. They don’t have to be existent things attached to the object. More importantly, I see these things as being directed at at least specific types of objects, and so they aren’t a general rule like I make them. For example, the actuality in the brick is specifically one to actualize the potentiality of the glass to break when struck by a brick, as I interpret the examples, at least. That, then, requires them to be created when the new type of object is created, even if they are no where near each other and can’t be impacting each other.

        3) Well, if actualities really are the same thing as properties, then Feser agrees with you with only a difference in terminology.

        If I can drop Feser’s Scholastic terminology and work entirely in a non-Scholastic metaphysics, then that’s not good for his claim that we need to return to it. What would be happening is that I would be answering his charge that non-Scholastic metaphysics can’t take those things properly seriously by, in fact, building one that takes them properly seriously, and so his argument for us adopting the Scholastic metaphysics is weakened.

      • John Says:

        1) Regarding properties though, from an excerpt I read of Feser describing the various positions on powers and dispositions, it seems the likely position to take is that actualities are distinct from properties, but contain them (though another option is that properties imply actualities).

        Actuality is a broad concept that is easily applied to properties – and so a thing’s actualities determine its properties. And from this, actualities are needed because they are the precondition of properties and the properties flow from the specific actuality an object has.

        2) As for new actualities for new objects, another visible option could be that an object doesn’t gain new actualities but that it’s existing actuality is modified or even unchanging – if a new piece of glass popped into existence the actuality of the brick remains the same, it just has something more to apply to.

        3) I wouldn’t say it’s entirely non-Scholastic; in this scenario, you and Feser are describing the same reality with different names, so you’re really agreeing on the same thing, just saying it differently.

        It’s not a different metaphysics, just different terminology.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        The issue here is that you’re focusing on actualities, which being actual can at least look like they’re really properties or like properties. But the important part of that chain is the potentialities, as that’s what Feser needs to escape Parmenides’ charge that things that don’t exist yet can have no influence on things. And you never talk about fitting potentialities in, but for me I’ve pretty consistently talked about those things being the more problematic, since they have to exist and seem to have to be aimed at specific types of objects, and I don’t need anything like that to explain causation or potential in my view.

      • John Says:

        The potentialities follow from the particular actualities – given that the brick has the actuality to break a window, this also means it has the potential to break a window. Actualities imply potentialities.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Actually, in the sense of actualities/potentialities as opposed to something that has been actualized and its specific properties, it’s the other way around: the object having the potentiality to be broken implies that some object out that has the actuality to break it. No object can have an actuality to break a window if windows do not have the potentiality to be broken.

        I did actually address this in one of my posts — maybe even this one [grin] — by noting that actualities and potentialities have issues analyzing which of them is actually primary.

      • John Says:

        That just doesn’t seem to change the picture – a brick doesn’t have the actuality to break an iron wall because of the difference between their actualities. While a brick does have the ability to break a glass window because of the difference betweeen their actualities. And it’s those actualities which determine the potentialities of each object – a potentiality of being broken doesn’t necessarily imply there is somthing out there that can break it at the moment, just that there are certain conditions under which it can be broken.

        And those conditions follow from the glass window’s particular actuality of being a glass window.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        And it’s those actualities which determine the potentialities of each object – a potentiality of being broken doesn’t necessarily imply there is somthing out there that can break it at the moment, just that there are certain conditions under which it can be broken.

        I think this runs it right back to my initial complaint though, and how my view is better. If you need to generalize potentialities, then it’s no different from simply giving it a property of hardness, the other thing a property of fragility, and then using laws or relational properties to talk about how those things interact. But none of those things need to be actual metaphysical entities or perhaps more importantly different TYPES of metaphysical entities. As noted, mine can be entirely descriptive and have no actual causal power or impact whatsoever. Potentialities CANNOT be that, as they are the existent things that Feser needs to exist at least in the same way as a universal to avoid Parmenides’ problem with having to have something that doesn’t exist involved in causation. So not only are those things importantly existent, they also CANNOT be general and must be importantly part of the object itself. The same thing applies to the actualities that actualize those potentialities. They MUST be directed specifically towards those potentialities or else they aren’t doing their job.

        So if you make them do the exact same thing as general laws or relational properties, then I’m going to ask you why we can’t just have those things instead. And if you insist that those things and actualities and potentialities are really the same thing, I’d need you to demonstrate that with arguments beyond that they are functionally the same thing, and so would need arguments that they have identical philosophical and metaphysical implications.

      • John Says:

        To clarify a bit, the glass window has a specific actuality that makes it fragile such that it can withstand only so much force before it breaks. Bricks have the actuality needed to break the window by producing enough force to break the glass, so bricks can actualise the glass window’s potential of being broken.

        So saying that no object can have an actuality to break a window if windows did not have the potentiality to be broken depends on the window’s actuality – if you said this of an iron wall it would make perfect sense because the iron wall’s actuality doesn’t allow for the potentiality to be as easily broken as the glass window.

        It’s the actuality which determines the potentialities in any given object, so they are the primary principle here.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        It’s the actuality which determines the potentialities in any given object, so they are the primary principle here.

        The actuality/potentiality issue here is not inside the iron wall or window, but the actuality of the brick vs the potentialities of the iron wall or glass. In order for the glass to break, the brick must have the actuality to actualize the glass’ potentiality to break. Since the brick, because of that, is always the active agent, it seems like it has primacy. But, as you note, if the glass DIDN’T have the potentiality to be broken by a brick then the brick couldn’t break it, as seen in your iron wall that doesn’t have that potentiality, but DOES have the potentiality to be broken by a sledge hammer. Since without the potentiality the brick can’t do anything (to that object), it seems like the potentiality is the primary driver of the causal relationship leading to the question of which is actually primary. You can try to argue that they are equally primary, but that analysis seems weird given what they do. And the main reason for my bringing that up is that my view can answer that question in a set way, by appealing to activity and offloading the descriptive stuff to relational or general descriptive properties.

        And this analysis should show the main issue here: actualities to actualize potentialities and especially potentialities have to belong to the object itself and have to point specifically at other types of objects to work. That’s what causes all the issues for that view.

      • John Says:

        The reason why potentiality seems to be more primary in the iron wall vs brick case is precisely because it is dependent upon a prior greater actuality. The iron wall’s potentialities flow from its actualities, so to say it lacks the potentiality to be broken means it has an actuality that doesn’t allow that – the actuality is prior to the potentiality and sources it.

        In a sense, you could say the actuality of the iron wall in terms of hardness is greater than the brick’s, so the brick can’t break it.

        Again, a Scholastic would say that activities, properties and descriptions are actualities, or sourced in actualities. Actuality and property aren’t two unrelated things you can just easily separate – they are connected, and separating them would be incoherent.

        As for the issue of a new object coming into existence and an already existing object gaining more actualities related to that object – that is no more problematic than saying that a child will be born tomorrow and I will have the ability to interact with that child which I don’t have today.

        If this is me gaining a new ability, then this shouldn’t be anymore problematic when it comes to gaining actualities. If I don’t literally gain a new ability from scratch, then neither do I gain new actualities. The main issue is about the former and whether or not actualities are some sort of abstract stuff that is independent of and additional to properties and abilities that we can also then remove because it’s superfluous.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        The reason why potentiality seems to be more primary in the iron wall vs brick case is precisely because it is dependent upon a prior greater actuality.

        Actually, that’s not the reason, but because of the important part potentiality plays in refuting Parmenides’ challenge to change being possible, as that is the existent object that is actualized to cause change to happen. No potentiality, no change and no causation. So if that specific metaphysical object doesn’t exist in the way it does, that specific change cannot occur no matter WHAT the actualities of the cause are. So it seems to be the determining factor in all causal relationships, which means that it metaphysically is the primary component, no matter what the more active component is doing.

        The iron wall’s potentialities flow from its actualities, so to say it lacks the potentiality to be broken means it has an actuality that doesn’t allow that – the actuality is prior to the potentiality and sources it.

        No, it actually means that it lacks the potentiality to be broken by bricks. There are many ways that can happen, such as simple not having an actuality to be, say, fragile, which would allow that. It does not need to have a disallowing actuality.

        The problem here is that in a Scholastic system you simply cannot bury potentialities that way. Potentialities in and of themselves are too important to be subordinated to actualities, even as the follow from and interact with the actualities the object has … or, rather, more specifically the FORM of the object, which determines the actualities and potentialities of the entire object itself.

        As for the issue of a new object coming into existence and an already existing object gaining more actualities related to that object – that is no more problematic than saying that a child will be born tomorrow and I will have the ability to interact with that child which I don’t have today.

        If this is me gaining a new ability, then this shouldn’t be anymore problematic when it comes to gaining actualities.

        Well, avoiding issues like this is why I left it as adding a new type of object, not a new object. If adding any new member to an existing type requires adding actualities to anything that could interact with it, that does become even more ludicrous and so yes even more of a problem.

        And the problem is this: if the creation of an object that another object is not interacting with necessitates creating new metaphysical entities like actualities and potentialities in those objects regardless, then that’s a very odd and complicated procedure that raises doubts about that system. And I cannot see how to avoid that under Feser’s system without generalizing all of those things to things like universal laws or relational properties, but then those things don’t seem the sorts of things that Feser, at least, can use to make his view of causation work out, and so they’d functionally act like my view which differs wrt causation, which means we don’t seem to functionally need actualities and potentialities at all.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        Actually, that’s not the reason, but because of the important part potentiality plays in refuting Parmenides’ challenge to change being possible, as that is the existent object that is actualized to cause change to happen. No potentiality, no change and no causation. So if that specific metaphysical object doesn’t exist in the way it does, that specific change cannot occur no matter WHAT the actualities of the cause are. So it seems to be the determining factor in all causal relationships, which means that it metaphysically is the primary component, no matter what the more active component is doing.

        The conclusion here doesn’t follow. At most, you could say that actuality and potentiality are equally fundamental when analysing change, not that potentiality is more fundamental.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        The conclusion here doesn’t follow. At most, you could say that actuality and potentiality are equally fundamental when analysing change, not that potentiality is more fundamental.

        The argument here turns the discussion here into something like Kant’s antimonies:

        1) It seems reasonable to us that one of the actualities or the potentialities should be the fundamental factor in causal relations.

        2) But we can make seemingly valid and strong arguments that each of them should be fundamental and the other not.

        3) So how can we resolve this contradiction?

        In the absence of an argument that the actuality in the cause should be primary, the argument for the potentiality being primary would hold. But given that I can make a seemingly equally good argument for the actuality being primary that reduces the potentiality to secondary status, then we have a conflict. As you note and I noted in the post, I imagine that most Scholastics will reply that either both are fundamental and it’s the combination of the two that is the fundamental factor here, or that neither are primary and its some other factor that is fundamental. So it won’t bother them too much. It’s just another odd thing about actualities and potentialities that we don’t have with the more traditional cause and effect view (the cause is primary as it is active, and the effect is passive and so secondary).

      • John Says:

        1) If a thing lacks a potentiality for something, then that means there is something in the actuality which accounts for that. Potentialities flow from actualities – they are distinct from each other but not wholly separate. If a glass window cannot be broken by bricks then either it’s not actually a glass window, or there’s something else afoot (say it’s enforced by invisible carbon nanotubes, but in that case it’s the actuality of those nanotubes that accounts for why the window can’t be broken). You can’t have a glass window that can’t be broken by bricks that is also absolutely identical to all other glass windows – if something lacks a potentiality intrinsically, then it’s intrinsically different from those that have it. And so has different actualities from them.

        Potentiality IS an important component distinct from actuality, but it FLOWS FROM actuality. Actualities aren’t their own potentialities, but potentialities don’t make complete sense without the light of their actualities.

        2) About the iron wall, I think you misunderstood what I said (though I could have said it more clearly as well). It’s not that there is this vague sort of “disallowing actuality”, but that the actuality of the thing determins certain potentials, and those don’t include fragility. The actuality doesn’t allow for the potentials of fragility because it’s not that sort of actuality. Simple as that.

        3) As for new objects – again, the same can be said of abilities. A child will be born tomorrow and so I will have the ability to interact with that child which I don’t have today. Either this is an actual gain of new abilities consequent upon the existence of something new, or not. In both cases it’s not that problematic since abilities do exist.

        If it is a gain of new abilities, then the only reason why a gain of actualities would be problematic is because one wants to argue that actualities are a superfluous set of objects in the world and we should get rid of them in order not to have even more additions in the world than needed.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        If a thing lacks a potentiality for something, then that means there is something in the actuality which accounts for that. Potentialities flow from actualities – they are distinct from each other but not wholly separate.

        Well, my complaint is about how the actualities of the cause interact with the potentialities of the effect. Talking about the actualities of the effect therefore won’t really change things. Also, I think your comment is misleading because the primary agent here is the Form, not the actualities. Yes, what actualities the object has will determine in some sense the potentialities because those will be the potentialities that are not currently actualized, but it’s the Form that determines what an object is and what it potentially can be, so subordinating the potentialities to the actualities is still problematic. After all, I could just as easily derive the actualities from the potentialities by noting which potentialities as per the Form aren’t potentialities at the moment. There’s no reason to hold the actualities as being that much more important to the processes, especially when talking about cause and effect where the potentialities are indeed the ones that are doing all the work.

        The actuality doesn’t allow for the potentials of fragility because it’s not that sort of actuality.

        But in general fragility can flow from the Form itself, with something that is fragile by nature. Your argument only holds if the object has a potentiality for fragility that needs to itself be actualized before the object can be fragile, and there again there’s no reason to say that the actuality determined the potentiality.

        If it is a gain of new abilities, then the only reason why a gain of actualities would be problematic is because one wants to argue that actualities are a superfluous set of objects in the world and we should get rid of them in order not to have even more additions in the world than needed.

        The issue is this: without the right set of actualities and potentialities two objects cannot causally interact. So if a new object or type of object is created, before they can interact those actualities and potentialities need to be created. And yet if those two objects cannot yet interact, how does that happen? If you keep this creation in the normal causal chain, then you end up with an infinite regress. About the only way out is to argue that when this happens God creates the appropriate new actualities and potentialities, which would solve the problem but likely wouldn’t be very convincing to most people, who would be much more likely to simply say that such a problem is so odd that even if there is currently no solution to the problems these things were invented to solve there has to be a better one than that.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        Well, my complaint is about how the actualities of the cause interact with the potentialities of the effect.

        I think this is the root misunderstanding. Actual things interact with actual things, not with potential things. E.g., say I have a stick which, due to its sticky nature, has the potential to catch fire. I bring the stick into contact with heat, and this actualises the potential, causing the stick to catch fire. But the interaction was between the heat and the stick, *not* between the heat and the potential fire.

        Also, I think your comment is misleading because the primary agent here is the Form, not the actualities.

        Forms aren’t agents, which is why Aristotle distinguished formal from final causes.

        After all, I could just as easily derive the actualities from the potentialities by noting which potentialities as per the Form aren’t potentialities at the moment.

        Sure, if you knew a thing’s Form and knew which potentialities weren’t currently potential, you could work out what its actualities were. But that’s just a matter of you applying your powers of deduction, and doesn’t tell you anything about how things work in the real world.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I think this is the root misunderstanding. Actual things interact with actual things, not with potential things.

        I think from the rest of the comment this subthread is focusing on the issues of primacy and of new potentialities and actualities needing to be added when a new object or type of object is created. Yes, what we have is two things, in general, interacting, but it is the case that for causation the actualizing actuality in the cause MUST interact with the potentiality in other thing that it is actualizing. Otherwise, the view either could not overcome Parmenides’ objection that it needed to interact with something that existed and the new object/property that was being brought into existence doesn’t, or else if would reduce to my solution by saying that it’s just the properties of the actual objects that interact and we have no need for potentialities at all.

        Forms aren’t agents, which is why Aristotle distinguished formal from final causes.

        I misstated that a bit, but the point is that the Form is more responsible for the actualities and potentialities than the actualities are. This is me challenging John’s attempt to, it seems to me, reduce potentialities to the actualities of the object so he doesn’t really have to talk about them. I think they are too important to be reduced that way.

        Sure, if you knew a thing’s Form and knew which potentialities weren’t currently potential, you could work out what its actualities were. But that’s just a matter of you applying your powers of deduction, and doesn’t tell you anything about how things work in the real world.

        This was a direct response to John’s analysis that derives potentialities from actualities. I was noting that I could do a similar process to derive actualities from potentialities given the Form, so that analysis doesn’t really mean that potentialities are derived from actualities. And note that in both cases, we couldn’t do that sort of analysis without the Form. Otherwise, you’re right that we could do an empirical analysis as well, but empirical analysis can give us potentialities without giving us actualities related to that — seeing that something DOES change in a certain way, for example — so that wouldn’t support John’s analysis either.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        I think from the rest of the comment this subthread is focusing on the issues of primacy and of new potentialities and actualities needing to be added when a new object or type of object is created. Yes, what we have is two things, in general, interacting, but it is the case that for causation the actualizing actuality in the cause MUST interact with the potentiality in other thing that it is actualizing. Otherwise, the view either could not overcome Parmenides’ objection that it needed to interact with something that existed and the new object/property that was being brought into existence doesn’t, or else if would reduce to my solution by saying that it’s just the properties of the actual objects that interact and we have no need for potentialities at all.

        Properties don’t interact; objects do. If I apply a flame to a piece of wood and cause it to catch fire, the interaction is taking place between the flame and the wood, not between hotness and flammability.

        This was a direct response to John’s analysis that derives potentialities from actualities. I was noting that I could do a similar process to derive actualities from potentialities given the Form, so that analysis doesn’t really mean that potentialities are derived from actualities. And note that in both cases, we couldn’t do that sort of analysis without the Form. Otherwise, you’re right that we could do an empirical analysis as well, but empirical analysis can give us potentialities without giving us actualities related to that — seeing that something DOES change in a certain way, for example — so that wouldn’t support John’s analysis either.

        John’s claim was that potentialities flow from actualities, not that we need to know a thing’s actualities before we can know its potentialities, so your response is a non sequitur.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Properties don’t interact; objects do. If I apply a flame to a piece of wood and cause it to catch fire, the interaction is taking place between the flame and the wood, not between hotness and flammability.

        Which suggests that actualities and potentialities are not mere properties and don’t act like mere properties, since the actuality to actualize the potentiality and the potentiality are indeed the things that actually interact, or at least specifically interact, according to the Scholastics.

        John’s claim was that potentialities flow from actualities, not that we need to know a thing’s actualities before we can know its potentialities, so your response is a non sequitur.

        My counter was that I could make a similar argument and analysis to argue that the actualities flow from the potentialities, so his argument didn’t work, and he can’t even retreat to an empirical analysis to make his argument that potentialities flow from actualities.

      • John Says:

        1) Say a thing’s actualities and potentialities are determined by its form – then we would have the Form from which flow the actualities and from those actualities flow potentialities. Actualities don’t suddenly become irrelevant just because they aren’t the most primary metaphysical thing there is. And Form in often understood as being a type of actuality as well metaphysically, so it’s not as if it can be completely separated from actuality.

        2) Nothing is being reduced here – the claim is that potentialities are dependent on actualities and rooted in them, not that they don’t exist or are reduced to them. They are two distinct metaphysical principles, but one is more fundamental than another.

        3) Again – if something new came into existence, I would have the ability to interact with it which I didn’t have. So either I do gain new abilities at the same time, or my already existing abilities are only somewhat changed in that there is a new object that they can apply to.

        Either way, it’s not problematic because something does change about the world when something new comes into existence. So either God creates a new ability in me to interact with the newly existing object, or that’s not necessary. Same with actualities or potentialities – either God does create new ones in me or that’s not what necessarily happens. Either way, there’s no problem since the same applies to abilities.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        1) Say a thing’s actualities and potentialities are determined by its form – then we would have the Form from which flow the actualities and from those actualities flow potentialities.

        This is false under Scholasticism, because the Form defines more directly the potentialities, and an object cannot have an actuality that it does not have a potentiality for. The potentialities define what traits an object CAN have, so they must be more fundamental in the sense that they must come first or else you can’t have any kind of actuality whatsoever. What you’re doing here is looking at the UNFULFILLED potentialities by looking at what is actualized and noting what things could be actualized but aren’t yet and noting — correctly — that those are potentialities. But that does not justify insisting that actualities are more fundamental.

        This also doesn’t work to refute my claim, as the main reason that an iron wall cannot be broken by a brick is NOT because of how it is actualized, but because it completely lacks the potentiality to be broken in that way. While there are nitpicky ways to try to actualize an iron wall that could be broken by a brick, in general an iron wall is just not the sort of thing that can be broken by a brick, and so it just completely lacks the potentiality for that. There is NO WAY to actualize it so that that can happen, and so it is the Form that determines whether it has that potentiality or not, and lacking that potentiality means that it can’t happen. This also aligns with what potentialities do in causation for the Scholastics and how they use them to refute Parmenides. So your analysis here seems to be just plain wrong.

        And Form in often understood as being a type of actuality as well metaphysically, so it’s not as if it can be completely separated from actuality.

        I think you’re conflating “actuality” with “existence”. While there may be terminological ways to do that, that’s not relevant here when we’re talking about causation.

        3) Again – if something new came into existence, I would have the ability to interact with it which I didn’t have. So either I do gain new abilities at the same time, or my already existing abilities are only somewhat changed in that there is a new object that they can apply to.

        Under the Scholastic view, yes, this is true. But then it means that something must gain an ability when something comes into existence without them actually interacting (since these things are required before the things can interact). But under a property model, that doesn’t happen. All we need are substances to interact, and they interact according to the intermingling of their properties. So there’s no metaphysical object required for them to interact, and so when a new object or type of object is created no new metaphysical object needs to be created before they can interact. So under my property model, when a new baby is born I gain no new ability. I always had the ability to interact with other people and I maintain it, and that a new person is created doesn’t change me in any way. And the same thing applies to new types of objects, since my abilities are defined strictly by my properties and the properties of the object, all of which exist “all the time”. So you haven’t addressed the issue since the only reason that has to happen is BECAUSE of the Scholastic metaphysics, and is odd enough that, again, it can be used as a reason to look for a better metaphysics that doesn’t have that problem.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        This is false under Scholasticism, because the Form defines more directly the potentialities, and an object cannot have an actuality that it does not have a potentiality for. The potentialities define what traits an object CAN have, so they must be more fundamental in the sense that they must come first or else you can’t have any kind of actuality whatsoever.

        Not only does Scholasticism not say that, it rather famously says the complete opposite — God is Pure Act, with no potentiality whatsoever.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Not only does Scholasticism not say that, it rather famously says the complete opposite — God is Pure Act, with no potentiality whatsoever.

        That’s the exception that proves the rule, because it can only do that because it has its actualities as a necessity, and so arguably no accidental properties at all. Other things do not have ANY actualities as necessities; even the things that they would have to have as per their Form only happen because of the joining of Form to substance, and they could well have been given a different Form and so different actualities. It is, therefore, entirely true to say that any object that has an actuality had a potentiality for that actuality, that was set when the object came into existence, unless that actuality was a necessity, which most aren’t and aren’t the sorts of actualities we’re talking about.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        Which suggests that actualities and potentialities are not mere properties and don’t act like mere properties, since the actuality to actualize the potentiality and the potentiality are indeed the things that actually interact, or at least specifically interact, according to the Scholastics.

        I don’t know which Scholastics you’ve been talking to, because all the ones I’ve met have said that substances interact, not properties or potentialities.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I don’t know which Scholastics you’ve been talking to, because all the ones I’ve met have said that substances interact, not properties or potentialities.

        This is another example where being terse doesn’t help. Because yes, technically you’re correct because actualities and potentialities are part of substances (for material things, at least) in order for them to exist. But that only seems to be relevant here if you thought that I was proposing some kind of free-floating actualities and potentialities out there interacting. When it comes to the causal process, however, the actuality to actualize the potentiality and the potentiality are existing metaphysical objects and are the things that do the work. That actuality actualizes the potentiality, and then we see the effect which is that potentiality being actualized. Those things must both exist at metaphysical objects and have the function of creating the effect in causation or else the Scholastics cannot refute Parmenides’ argument that change cannot occur, as his argument was that it would rely on the effect which doesn’t exist yet and so can’t do anything. The solution was to have this existent potentiality to rely on and so have something that exists to do the work.

        If only substances are doing the work here, then my view of doing away with the metaphysical objects of potentialities seems to work because we wouldn’t need those specific objects if they don’t actually do anything.

      • John Says:

        1) I was just using that as a hypothetical to illustrate a metaphysical hierarchy. Say an object has potentialities which tell us what traits it even can have – which presupposes that an object IS actual in the first place. A glass can be colored green or be warm because it is glass, so it has the actualities proper to glass.

        The idea that actualities are more fundmanetal than potentialities is pretty simple – the very concept of potentiality depends upon actuality. They cannot be arbitrarily separated because they are inherently linked.

        2) The iron wall example lacks the potentiality to be broken, so it cannot be broken – but that’s just another way of saying the same thing. As you said yourself, an iron wall IS not the type of thing that can be broken by a brick – the iron wall’s proper actualities do not allow for it, so iron walls just ISN’T something that can be broken by bricks.

        3) Form and matter are often said to be analogous to act and potency because form actualises matter, and actuality and potentiality are broad enough concepts that they can apply to many different things. You’re not really avoiding actuality by appealing to form, since form is an actuality in some sense and actualises matter.

        4) Which is why I said the question is whether or not actualities and potentialities are an additional sort of stuff present in objects that is superfluous. If actuality and potentiality are metaphysical principles instead, underlying and being necessary concomitants of property as such, then this wouldn’t be the case.

        Again, I think the problem might be that you are overtechnicalising the two terms or viewing them as some sort of additional stuff separate and independent from properties as such.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Say an object has potentialities which tell us what traits it even can have – which presupposes that an object IS actual in the first place. A glass can be colored green or be warm because it is glass, so it has the actualities proper to glass.

        No, that’s what the Form does. An object can only exist in the Scholastic model once a Form is joined to a substance (for material objects). But the actualities that object has are only ones that the Form says it has a potentiality for, that are actualized by the actualizing actualities of the cause. So I don’t see any reason why the concept of potentiality depends on actuality unless you conflate actuality with any kind of existence, but that’s not what we’re talking about when we talk about cause and effect.

        As you said yourself, an iron wall IS not the type of thing that can be broken by a brick – the iron wall’s proper actualities do not allow for it, so iron walls just ISN’T something that can be broken by bricks.

        Again, it’s the iron wall’s FORM that doesn’t allow for it, by not allowing it to have that potentiality. The specific actualities of the iron wall don’t matter because as per the Form there is NO actuality for that thing to be broken in that way, which is actually the same thing as saying there is no potentiality for that. Again, though, that follows from the Form, not any specific actualities the iron wall has.

        You’re not really avoiding actuality by appealing to form, since form is an actuality in some sense and actualises matter.

        That sort of analogy does not work for specific causal analyses, though, because we are talking about actualities that are not the Form itself, and so are more akin to properties, not Forms.

        Which is why I said the question is whether or not actualities and potentialities are an additional sort of stuff present in objects that is superfluous.

        I do not argue that they are unnecessary for Scholastic metaphysics and so superfluous from that perspective. They are ABSOLUTELY required for that. I argue that they introduce philosophical problems that make them dubious, and if they go then so does Scholastic metaphysics.

        Again, I think the problem might be that you are overtechnicalising the two terms or viewing them as some sort of additional stuff separate and independent from properties as such.

        They are distinct metaphysical objects, or else the objection to Parmenides cannot get off the ground, and if they are just properties, then my analysis that we don’t need them and can simply talk about properties as I do would stand as well.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        This is another example where being terse doesn’t help.

        If the Scholastics all say X, and you say, “According to the Scholastics, Y,” I’m not sure how else to reply other than “No, the Scholastics actually say X”.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        If the Scholastics all say X, and you say, “According to the Scholastics, Y,” I’m not sure how else to reply other than “No, the Scholastics actually say X”.

        But since I obviously don’t think that’s the case, simply saying that is at best not going to be productive, unless you think I’m being dishonest.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        That’s the exception that proves the rule, because it can only do that because it has its actualities as a necessity, and so arguably no accidental properties at all. Other things do not have ANY actualities as necessities; even the things that they would have to have as per their Form only happen because of the joining of Form to substance, and they could well have been given a different Form and so different actualities. It is, therefore, entirely true to say that any object that has an actuality had a potentiality for that actuality, that was set when the object came into existence, unless that actuality was a necessity, which most aren’t and aren’t the sorts of actualities we’re talking about.

        Sure, God is unique, but when we’re arguing over whether act or potency is more fundamental, the fact that the first cause of everything is pure act seems like a pretty important consideration.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        Sure, God is unique, but when we’re arguing over whether act or potency is more fundamental, the fact that the first cause of everything is pure act seems like a pretty important consideration.

        Well, not really for causation itself, which is what we’re talking about. Outside of Pure Act — which is only that way to avoid logical contradiction and impossibilities — all causation is an act actualizing a potentiality, and since potentiality is the thing that must be there for the thing to happen at all, there is an argument to be made that in that relation it is the more fundamental.

        But as I noted, I think most Scholastics would simply deny that either is more fundamental than the other and go on their merry way.

      • theoriginalmrx Says:

        But since I obviously don’t think that’s the case, simply saying that is at best not going to be productive, unless you think I’m being dishonest.

        Actually I think that you’re just mistaken about what scholasticism says, because your knowledge of it mostly comes from reading a few books by Ed Feser.

        (Not that there’s anything wrong with Ed Feser, of course, but it’s often difficult to get a sense of what a philosophical school thinks by reading just one author.)

        Well, not really for causation itself, which is what we’re talking about.

        Yes really for causation itself, since God, who is after all the First Cause, causes other things.

        Outside of Pure Act — which is only that way to avoid logical contradiction and impossibilities — all causation is an act actualizing a potentiality, and since potentiality is the thing that must be there for the thing to happen at all, there is an argument to be made that in that relation it is the more fundamental.

        But those potentialities only exist to be actualised because God, who is Pure Act, causes them to. In other words, if you drill down to the deepest, most fundamental level of any causal chain, you find Pure Act. Therefore act is more fundamental than potency.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        At this point, we’re arguing about different meanings of “fundamental”, since I’m applying it to specific causal interactions and you are talking about it as fundamental to the entire metaphysics. I don’t necessarily disagree with your statements, then, but don’t think them all that useful in discussing what I was discussing, which was limited to simple efficient causation and where if the potentiality doesn’t exist, no causation can happen, which is one argument for it to be primary in those specific sorts of causal relations and explanations. As noted, I also made the argument for the actuality being primary, and noted that Scholastics would probably simply deny that in those relations one is more primary than the other. So I don’t really see where these comments are leading us with regard to that specific line of argumentation.

  4. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Sorry, for whatever reason I can’t reply on the long chains above. So here:

    I think the issue here is that I don’t think that hardness and fragility exist in the same way as Feser claims actualities and potentialities exist. The most important one is that I think that hardness and fragility are causally inert, as it is the substances that do all the causal work and the properties — including ones like hardness — only describe what effect is actually produced.

    But the effect produced IS the property. What distinction do you think he’s trying to make?

    For Feser actualities and potentialities do the causal work. So your 5) ends up equivocating on potential there. We can talk about potentials without talking about potentialities. I can say that something has the potential to become a butterfly without accepting the metaphysical entity of potentialities and the necessity for them to facilitate that.

    But by saying something has the potential to become a butterfly, you’ve just accepted the metaphysical entity the potentiality. That *is* what potentiality is. What do you think Feser is trying to say? That you can bottle actualities and potentialities separate from the objects they’re associated with? Of course not.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      But by saying something has the potential to become a butterfly, you’ve just accepted the metaphysical entity the potentiality. That *is* what potentiality is.

      Hmmm. I’m wondering if you think that I’m attacking potentialities from inside Scholasticism like I did with ethics. Because I’m not, and am actually using potentialities to criticize Scholasticism and argue that it isn’t the right metaphysics. As such, while it is certainly the case that saying that something has the potential to become a butterfly, that means that it possesses the potentiality to become a butterfly for Feser from inside Scholasticism, that’s not at all what I mean when _I_ say that. I haven’t broken out what I mean by that, but one thing to note is that definitely Feser thinks that a potentiality is attached to the object and SEEMS to think that it is directed to specific objects and object-types, my view goes the other way, making them more abstract and separated from specific objects. I don’t have to hold that hardness is a specific property of an object and that it is directed to other objects. I can make it a general, abstract concept that we use to talk about things that tend to have certain properties.

      So if I’m not taking on the Scholastic mindset here, you can’t get from potential to potentiality as you seem to be doing in these comments. That’s precisely what’s being debated here, whether having the potential to do or be something requires potentialities or if we can have another metaphysics that works without requiring something like them.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        Hmmm. I’m wondering if you think that I’m attacking potentialities from inside Scholasticism like I did with ethics. Because I’m not, and am actually using potentialities to criticize Scholasticism and argue that it isn’t the right metaphysics.

        I am saying that, whatever you think you are doing, it simply does not work as a criticism of scholastic metaphysics.

        I don’t have to hold that hardness is a specific property of an object and that it is directed to other objects. I can make it a general, abstract concept that we use to talk about things that tend to have certain properties.

        Once again, you’ve lost me here. So you DO admit that things have certain properties, and DO admit that hardness is a concept that applies to objects.

        You seem to be trying really, really hard to avoid saying the words potentiality and actuality and just tall circles around them while describing them anyway.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        You seem to be trying really, really hard to avoid saying the words potentiality and actuality and just tall circles around them while describing them anyway.

        And you seem to be looking for ways in which my words add up to “potential” and then insisting that potential and potentiality are the same thing (you did precisely that in the previous comment).

        Potentiality has metaphysical commitments that I think I can avoid with my alternative, as outlined in the post. So I’d need you to show that either my alternative doesn’t work without the specific metaphysical entities of potentialities, or that I’m smuggling them in anyway. But you need more than that I’m talking about properties and potential and Feser talks about that too and links that to potentialities to pull that off.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        And you seem to be looking for ways in which my words add up to “potential”

        Well, you keep using the word.

        and then insisting that potential and potentiality are the same thing (you did precisely that in the previous comment).

        I am saying that the way you are using them, they functionally are the same thing. I don’t see how you’re avoiding any of the metaphysical commitments here; just the language, then once you avoid the language you think that means you also avoid the metaphysical commitments. The trouble is your system can’t help but be functionally identical to the scholastic account.

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I am saying that the way you are using them, they functionally are the same thing.

        Well, as I noted before, since Feser and I are trying to explain the same phenomena, that the two positions are functionally equivalent is only to be expected. If they weren’t, we could refute one of the positions by pointing out the functionality that it doesn’t allow for that the other one does. So we need to go beyond that to the details and implications of the theory to settle them, but note my comment that even if they are identical functionally mine is simpler as it denies the existence of those metaphysical artifacts of actualities and potentialities that Feser relies on, and so at least arguably can be preferred on that basis.

        I don’t see how you’re avoiding any of the metaphysical commitments here; just the language, then once you avoid the language you think that means you also avoid the metaphysical commitments.

        But I HAVE gone over the metaphysical commitments of that view that I think don’t work, and raised some issues. As a reminder, the big one is that these things are specific existent entities attached to and inside the object for Feser and they aren’t for me, and one problem with that is that if a new type of object, at least, comes into existence all of the objects that could actualize a potentiality in that object suddenly gain a new “thing”, the actuality to actualize those potentialities, which I at least consider to be odd. The key thing here is that the actuality to break glass is NOT the same thing as the object being hard and so having the property of “hardness”. That it has that actuality may follow from it being hard, but that’s not what it means to have an actuality to break glass. What it means is that it has that specific thing that can directly activate the thing in the glass called a potentiality that causes the glass to change its state. Since these things MUST have at least some kind of existence — although not a substance, so perhaps an existence like that of a universal — that is nothing at all like my view which denies that there is a need for any kind of mind-independent existent thing doing the work at all. So there ARE significant differences in the metaphysical view here, and I really don’t see how you can deny that. So I’d need a MUCH fuller argument on that than I recall seeing so far.

  5. Hierarchical Causes and the Law of Existential Inertia | The Verbose Stoic Says:

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  6. theoriginalmrx Says:

    So, in reading Feser I noted that obviously the Scholastics make a big deal out of actualities and potentialities. The reason is that they use this to make causation work and escape the dual seeming absurdities of Parmenides who argued that there can be no such thing as change and Heraclitus who argued that everything was in constant change and there’s no permanence in the world at all. The Scholastics adopt, with some minor changes, Aristotle’s solution to this that argues that objects have actualities and potentialities, and so what explains their permanence is that they are actualized into the object with the actualities it has, and what explains their ability to change and allows for causation is that something can actualize their potentialities and thus cause them to indeed change how they are actualized. So this allows for causation and for us to be able to avoid the issues Parmenides and Heraclitus raised, with issues around how we could possibly avoid having to rely on something that doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist yet to explain how things can change. Actualities and potentialities exist as part of the objects, and since those are the things that driving the change we have clearly existent things that we can use to trigger and explain all the changes we see in the world.

    So out of interest, how does your view get around the Parmenidean problem?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      So out of interest, how does your view get around the Parmenidean problem?

      There are some things that are vague here as I’ve been too busy reading and commenting on the books than working it out, but in general it’s this:

      1) Things are substances and they exist.
      2) As substances, they have properties as that’s what makes them what they are.
      3) Substances can interact with each other.
      4) How substances interact with each other is determined by their properties.
      5) One of those interactions is cause-effect, where one substance creates a change in the other substance.

      I don’t need to say that the redness or whatever that doesn’t exist yet has to do something about it and determine what the cause produces redness in the effect, because what we have are two substances with properties, and we can derive explanations and laws from those to show why the effect was produced by the cause, and what effects can be produced by what causes. And, again, substances clearly exist, and have to have properties, so there isn’t anything missing.

      You may note that this doesn’t work quite as well for causes that create entirely new objects. I would argue that that sort of creation doesn’t really happen, and we always have some kind of substance that’s being transformed, and in any other case it would be the cause activating properties of itself that allow that. Which may not be a very satisfying explanation [grin]. But I do think that Feser and Parmenides focus too much on that creation ex nihilo instead of the transformational creates, which are much more common.

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