Aristotle, Aquinas & Emergence

I was asked to write an article relating the teaching of Aquinas to contemporary science for the journal Scientia et Fides. I decided to use and further develop the material contained in my doctoral dissertation. I expanded my reinterpretation of the classical notion of emergence, with its emphasis on the role of downward causation, in terms of the fourfold notion of causation in Aristotle and Aquinas, and the theory of divine action offered by the latter. The PDF version of the article is available HERE.

Abstract of the article:

One of the main challenges of the nonreductionist approach to complex structures and phenomena in philosophy of biology is its defense of the plausibility of the theory of emergence and downward causation. The tension between remaining faithful to the rules of physicalism and physical causal closure, while defending the novelty and distinctiveness of emergents from their basal constituents, makes the argumentation of many proponents of emergentism lacking in coherency and precision. In this article I aim at answering the suggestion of several thinkers to redefine emergence and downward causation in terms of the broader Aristotelian view of causation. In addition, I further develop this interdisciplinary conversation to include theological implications of emergentism, analyzed in reference to Aquinas’ understanding of divine action in terms of the same fourfold division of causes—bringing thus natural science, philosophy, and theology into creative and fruitful dialogue.

Keywords: emergence; downward causation; hylomorphism; teleology; Aristotle; Aquinas.

 

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CTNS Conference 2016

Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences organizes a conference on this Saturday:

The Annual Russell Family Research Conference
Saturday, April 16, 2016

Steps to a Metaphysics of Incompleteness

It is dedicated to the work of Terrence Deacon from the UC Berkeley whose theory of emergence is one of the main topics of my doctoral dissertation. Deacon will present the paper he wrote together with Tyrone Cashman. Then there will be four scholars responding to the paper. I am one of them. Go to the website to get more details:

The Annual Russell Family Research Conference
Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dr. MariOP :)

It has been several months since I published the last entry to my blog. Final months of hard work on my dissertation were crowned with the successful defense of the project on the Last Monday (March 14th). It’s high time to share the good news here. I’m a doctor MariOP now. 🙂

At the defense of my dissertation we had an intriguing conversation with all 4 members of my committee: Fr. Michael Dodds, O.P., Terrence Deacon, Robert Russell, and Marga Vega. I hope to publish my dissertation as a book. This was also the suggestion of all the members of the committee.

Please see THE ABSTRACT, TABLE of CONTENT, and THE INTRODUCTION to my dissertation if you are interested in its topic.

In the meantime I got responses from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, and from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which are decisive about my nearest future.

First, my paper proposal was accepted for the workshop on the Classical theism organized by the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, which will take place toward the end of July.

Later on, I’m moving for a year to Notre Dame, IN. I was awarded a year-long fellowship in the Institute for Advanced Studies. Here is the description of my project for the upcoming year.

I’m excited about all those things and opportunities working out so well for me. It’s all amazing. 🙂

Innsbruck – Paper

The conference in Innsbruck was very successful. But I must acknowledge that presenting my stuff in front of the audience trained mainly in analytic metaphysics, theoretical physics, and philosophy of physics, is a tough thing to do. The Q&A session was a challenge. I’ve established some good relations with the people form the theological faculty at the university of Innsbruck. I have just uploaded the full version of my paper online. You can find it HERE.

Metaphysics of Downward Causation

I have just finished writing my presentation for the conference on Agency and Quantum Physics in Innsbruck. I’m excited about it. This is the first time that I’m invited to give an hour long talk at the major session of an international conference. The conference begins on March 30th and ends on April 2nd. Here is the abstract of my paper:

Metaphysics of Downward Causation:
Nonreductionist Physicalism versus New Aristotelianism

Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P.

Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA

Abstract

Many proponents of methodological nonreductionism in contemporary science find the notion of downward causation (DC) a sine qua non of the strong (ontological) version of emergence (EM), which strives to give an account of the irreducible character of the complex levels of the organization of matter. But what for many is the essence of nonreductionist physicalism, carries with it quite a bevy of problematic issues, and becomes a stumbling block and an obstacle for those, who acknowledge the metaphysical and logical inconsistencies of the emergent theory based on the idea of DC. For how can physicalism be non-reductionist? How can DC be reconciled with the causal closure of physics? What do “higher” and “lower” levels refer to? What is causal in DC? What is being caused (acted upon)? What is the very nature of DC?

I will argue that the defense of DC requires from us a broader notion of causation, which goes beyond the efficient causes accepted and described in modern science. I want to argue in favor of the retrieval of formal causation in particular. Its acceptance not only makes EM and DC plausible, but also helps to overcome and replace Humean causation of events with the causation of living and non-living beings, explained in terms of their causal powers and dispositions. I hope to show, in the course of my presentation, that true non-reductionism needs to be philosophically grounded. Yet it can still remain compatible with science provided it values and is open to the reflection offered by philosophy of nature. My position follows new Aristotelianism developed within the analytic tradition, although an explicit reintroduction of formal cause goes beyond it to the original thought of Aristotle.

Dissertation Proposal

Emergence and Divine Action:
Exploring the Dispositional View of Causation
as a New Philosophical Foundation

My dissertation proposal was accepted at the GTU systematic and philosophical theology area meeting on Oct 15. All I have to do is to have it approved by the GTU doctoral council (sometime in November) and then write it. 🙂 Few words of explanation concerning my current research that I wrote in an email sent to a scholar that I am corresponding with online, will serve as a good introduction to the topic of my work.

The reason I got interested in the dispositional metaphysics is its rejection of Humean view of causation and re-connecting with Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of causation. But there is not an easy connection that one can establish between the two I’m afraid. Although some thinkers like Brian Ellis argue in favor of essentialism (see his Scientific Essentialism), they are not ready, nor willing to accept hylomorphism. The other problem is teleology. Molnar speaks about the natural “physical intentionality” of powers to manifest themselves, but hardcore Aristotelians are not satisfied. For them Aristotle’s distinction between active and passive potencies is crucial. They emphasize the character of the active potencies which are causal grounds of certain effects but without being determined to those effects by nature or without requiring any stimulus condition to obtain. (See for instance the paper by Errin Clark, which will be published soon in proceedings of the ACPA conference that took place a week ago in D.C and was dedicated to dispositional metaphysics) But this whole argumentation sounds like another criticism of conditional view of causation which is criticized by several dispositionalists – so they can defend themselves here. But the question remains: how Aristotelian is dispositional metaphysics???

Complex systems approach, emergence and systems theory are fascinating in terms of their re-discovery of complex structures and their holistic approach to reality. But they are stuck with the Humean view of causation which is based on his atomistic ontology of events and his dismissal of the ontology of objects. But one ontology cannot do without the other. Objects have properties (smell, age, physical construction) which cannot be ascribed to events. But acknowledging this requires from us a step beyond efficient causation which is the only one accepted in modern science. But scientists are very suspicious about making this move and buying into formal and final causes. They want to eat the cake and have it. That is, they argue in favor of irreducible complexity in systems theory, while saying – at the same time – that after all everything is explainable at the level of physical particles. They call themselves “non-reductionist physicalists” which I think brings a logical contradiction. If they are willing to buy into formal and final causes they claim – as Deacon does – that they emerge on the way of the growing complexity of the organization of matter, whereas for Aristotle these causes are simply out there all the time and ground all structures and processes not only bottom-up or top-down, but – as my advisor Michael Dodds OP says – inside-out.

My project would be to try to propose dispositional metaphysics as a philosophical base and ontology for Deacon’s emergentism and suggest that accepting a sort of essentialism (not necessarily hylomorphic essentialism) does not contradict science but opens it to philosophy of nature which can help to overcome the causal closure imposed by modern philosophy and science. In the second part of my dissertation I will work on the theory of divine action based on emergentism. I will show that dispositional metaphysics opens the way back to the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of causation and divine action, and God/world relation, which I want to propose as an alternative to the panentheistic theology of divine action based on emergence developed by Arthur Peacocke, Philip Clayton, and Niels Gregersen.