This post is the seventh in the series trying to establish
agency, namely that a being can generate or originate thoughts or actions in
situations where they did not exist previously. In previous posts we demonstrated
agency in both God and man. Here we will clarify some points and respond to the
claims in Part 2 that claimed to disprove agency. By responding to claims in Part 2, I will
explain several other points of agency.
First, we said the definition of agency is to generate where
it did not exist previously. But we then said that God is pure act, and all
effects preexist in the cause. So the critic may ask which is it, generate
where it did not exist, or preexist? The answer is that “exist” here is used in
two senses, and is therefore not a contradiction. For example, a building
preexists in the carpenter’s mind, but does not actually exist until the
carpenter actualizes potency and builds a building. Thus the effect preexists
in the cause in the sense that the ability and power preexists in prior act,
but does not actually exist until potential is actualized by act. The ability
to move potency to act preexists in act. Act without potency is capable of
actualizing all possible things.
In Part 2, the critic claimed (numbers are from post 2):
1. “To say that an agent is the cause of his own
actions violates a basic law of causation, namely that no thing can come from
nothing.” While it is true that no things can come from nothing (i.e., exist
when nothing existed before), the case for agency does not violate the basic
law of causation, for it does not hold that something came from nothing.
Indeed, something came from something, namely act. We demonstrated in post 2
and 3 that act can actualize potency. That a being is in act is self-evident,
and true even in the circular model. Therefore
a being is capable of moving potency to act. Since the act pre-exists, it is
not generating something from nothing.
“Either actions are eternally mechanically
predetermined or, in the agency model, actions come from nowhere for no reason.”
First, this is an either/or fallacy, for it presents two options when, as we
have seen, there are others. Second, the claim for mechanical predetermination
is a simple assertion given without any proof or explanation. What is the detailed explanation of purely mechanical process? The process is simply asserted without any explanation or support. Fourth, as we have shown,
actions come from act, originating in pure act, God, who generates humans with
sufficient act to in turn actualize more potential. Fifth, saying this is for
no reason is another simple assertion given with no proof. Why is it so that an
agent would have no reason? In reality, this assertion is circular, assuming
the conclusion. Lastly, I wonder how this assertion would stand up to the
criticisms of David Hume, who made a formidable challenge to the knowability of
cause and effect. The circular model claims to know how causation happens,
which Hume challenges. Any claim to
purely mechanical cause and effect should deal with Hume.
“Agency is non-causal, having no
originating cause. That an agent can cause in a non-causal way is an absurdity.”
Again, we deny this, for we have
demonstrated that act must preexist for any effect to be generated, thus all
effects are caused by a being in act, and this is not absurd, but necessary.
What is absurd is the circular model, which we have shown to be false in part 6.
“Saying an agent originates action is
claiming the agent acts for no reason. For example, a gun cannot originate a
shot by itself; it requires an external action to cause it to shoot. Likewise,
persons must have a cause that acts on them.
Our decisions must be caused by stimuli external to the mechanisms that
did the deciding. To argue otherwise is to argue that something can be caused
by nothing, which is absurd.” This is the fallacy of equivocation by not making
the distinction between types of potential.
Act is limited by potency, and different beings have different
potentials. A gun is in act, but has not the potency to generate movement by
itself. An animal and a human are in act, and have the potential to move
themselves. This is not “for no reason” nor is it self-causing in the sense of
self-creation. A human agent can cause movement in arms and legs, for it has
sufficient act and potency to do so. The human is not creating its own
existence, which would be impossible, for it would have to exist in act before
it existed, which is impossible. But if a human exists in act and can generate
movement in its limbs, this is entirely possible. The criticism does not
distinguish between the act of a human coming to exist and the different act of
a mind telling a hand to pull a trigger. Neither is it distinguishing between
the act/potency in a gun and the act/potency in a human. In philosophy, this is described as self-caused being and self-caused becoming.
2. “Those holding to free will agency must explain
how agency works. Merely stating “that”
agents can cause does not explain how this is so. The only way we have of explaining actions is through purely mechanical causes.” Free will is a different question than
whether an agent has the ability to cause. In a separate series on this blog, I
am explaining Aquinas’ view of free will. For now it is sufficient to say that
God, as pure act, can move anything possible, including creating beings with
sufficient act/potency to make free will decisions. Movement in God is not proven
to be necessary, therefore the movement must be voluntary. At a minimum, there
is nothing contradictory in act being able to move or not, based on reasons
repeatedly given above. As for
explaining “how” we have done so to a sufficient extent; what the critic has
not explained is the cause or mechanism of a circular world.
Lastly, this criticism again appeals to “purely
mechanical causes” as a simple assertion, without exploring why other options
could not be the case, such as spiritual causes, mental causes, chemical, etc.
There are at least six major categories of cause: efficient, formal, final,
material, exemplar, and instrumental. Each of these categories must be
explained or the criticism is rather fuzzy at best. It is a weak, poorly
constructed argument that is simply asserting a mechanical cause without
showing how mechanical causes can impact form, or exemplar, or efficiency, or
even major types such as spiritual or mental. By contrast, with the act/potency model, the cause and effect are clearly delineated as being causing becoming, which is fully capable of explaining all six causes.
Since this post is too long already, we will
continue with the refutation of the criticisms of post 2 in the next