Smith’s epistemological argument for hylomorphism

The following quote comes from Wolfgang Smith’s The Quantum Enigma:

As Aristotle pointed out long ago, the act of knowing consists in a certain union of the intellect with its object. But how can the intellect be joined to the external thing? Such a union, clearly, can only be conceived in terms of a third entity or common element, which object and subject can both possess, each in its own appropriate mode; and it just be this tertium quid, precisely, that renders the object knowable.

But only in part! For it is not, after all, the external object — lock, stock and barrel — that “passes into the subject”, but only what I have termed the tertium quid. This “third factor”, moreover, answers to the question “What?”: it is what we know. And yet it does not simply coincide with the object as such, for as just noted, the latter is perforce “more” than the tertium quid.

Now the tertium quid, to be sure, is none other than the Aristotelian morphe, the form or quiddity of the existing thing. But inasmuch as the thing does not coincide with its morphe, one needs to postulate a second principle — an X, if you will — that distinguishes the two, or makes up for the difference, so to speak. And this X — which is perforce unknowable and had no quiddity — is evidently tantamount to materia. One arrives this, by way of epistemological considerations of a rather simple kind, at the basic conceptions of the hylomorphic paradigm.

“Knowing” versus “knowing about”

We can all agree that there is more to knowing someone than merely knowing a collection of facts about them. The latter we might call knowing about them, whereas the former is simply knowing them. James Chastek has recently written a blog post in which he distinguishes two senses of experience: (i) experience as sensation, and (ii) experience as an ordering idea. I wonder if this knowing someone or something is not closely related to this second sense of experience? Perhaps to know someone just is to have an ordering idea about them.

Atheism is self-defeating

I was thinking about the short argument I gave here and was wondering if it could be turned into a positive argument for theism. I came up with this:

  1. If God doesn’t exist, then our cognitive faculties arose from non-purposive processes.
  2. No purposive system can arise from non-purposive processes.
  3. Therefore, if God doesn’t exist, then our cognitive faculties are non-purposive.
  4. Rationality is purposive.
  5. Therefore, if God doesn’t exist we aren’t rational.
  6. Therefore, atheism is self-defeating.

It seems promising. Although, I suspect I should read JP Moreland, Alvin Plantinga and Victor Reppert to get a better idea of the contemporary debate around this stuff. I think (4) is pretty solid (see the previous post for why), and I’m uncertain any atheist will disagree with (1), lest they open themselves up to Aquinas’ fifth way. So, presumably, (2) is the key premise. But this certainly does seem plausible.

Epistemological issues in the moral argument

I am a proponent of a moral argument, taken from William Lane Craig, given in the following form:

  1. If God doesn’t exist, then objective moral values and duties don’t exist
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist
  3. Therefore, God exists

I’ve had a number of previous posts here dealing with specific details of this argument’s defence. Here I wish to discuss a defence of the second premise that goes like this:

  1. In the absence of any defeaters, we are rationally compelled to trust the deliverances of our various faculties
  2. In our moral experience we perceive objective moral duties and values
  3. We have no defeater for these deliverances of our moral faculty
  4. Therefore, we are rationally compelled to believe in objective moral duties and values

Clearly, this argument falls in the realm of epistemology. Perhaps it will be helpful to clarify a few terms for those who aren’t familiar with them.


First, some examples of the various faculties we have are our five senses, inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, abductive reasoning[1], memory, and our moral sense. I suppose I should probably explain those three reasoning faculties a little more. Deductive reasoning uses principles of logic that seem to be objectively binding, like the principle of excluded middle (for any proposition A, A is either true or false), the principle of non-contradiction (for any proposition A, it is not possible for both A and not-A to be true at the same time), the validity of certain reasoning schemes (like, if A entails B, and A is true, then B is true), and so on. Our deductive reasoning faculty is that part of us that perceives that certain principles are true and others false, how to apply these general principles to specific examples, and so on. For example, I hope that everyone reading this will see that the examples I gave of logical principles are self-evidently true[2].

Read More »

Materialism is self-defeating

Consider the following argument against materialism (the thesis that only physical things exist):

  1. If materialism is true, then the deliverances of our cognitive faculties are caused by a purely physical system (eg. our brain)
  2. Purely physical systems are not purposive
  3. Rationality is purposive
  4. Therefore, if materialism is true, then we are incapable of being rational
  5. Therefore, if materialism is true, we cannot rationally assent to materialism
  6. Therefore, materialism is self-defeating

(1) seems plausible, since on materialism only physical systems exist. When I say something is “purposive” I mean that it seeks to achieve some goal, ie. there’s teleology. So (2) seems plausible, since physical systems are typically understood to behave based on previous conditions, not in an attempt to bring about an outcome. Why think (3) is true? Well, if someone comes to a conclusion, but they weren’t trying to be rational in their reasoning (ie. seeking the rational conclusion) or they weren’t seeking the truth, then can we really say they were being rational? I don’t think so.

Burden of Proof

It’s heard on the lips of of some atheists that they, unlike us theists, don’t bear the burden of proof in the question of God’s existence because they merely lack the belief in God. The theists bear the burden of proof, however, because they make the claim that God exists. I agree with this reasoning […]