Quiddity Presupposes Currity

Apologists for theism often point out, correctly, that science cannot tell us why things happen, but only what happens and how. As what was once called natural history, what we have lately called science can provide, not explanations, strictly speaking, but rather only more or less precise and accurate descriptions (and their formalizations). Proper scientists would as natural historians presumably be the first to agree. Scientism, the metaphysical doctrine erected upon this lacuna of science, argues that it is due to there being no such thing in reality as a why; no purpose, no end or telos or reason to things. Devotees of scientism rarely notice that if there is no reason to things, there is then no possibility of explaining or understanding them; so that scientism, if true, is incomprehensible.

The devotees of scientism render themselves absurd, and we needn’t trouble ourselves further with their arguments against competing metaphysical theories.

This of course does not at all mean that we may disregard science or its findings; nor does it mean that there is any necessary correlation between being a scientist, or as a scientific layman crediting the discoveries of science, and being an absurd devotee of scientism. It is perfectly possible, in other words, to be a believer in science, its findings and methods, and to be rational and coherent.

But this is possible only for those who are ready to admit that there must be a purpose, a reason and therefore an explanation of things, even though science cannot tell us what it might be. Indeed, it is possible only for those who are ready to admit that science cannot even get started unless there be such reasons and purposes.

This because the what and how of a thing – which are subsumed under the venerable term “quiddity” (after the Latin quid, “what, how[?]“) –  are not intelligible except under a presupposition of their reasonableness – their sufficient reason, their purpose, telos, final end, &c. - which we might subsume under the neologism “currity” (after the Latin cur, “why, wherefore[?]“). Strictly speaking, we cannot give an adequate account of what a thing is, or how it works (the latter being an aspect of the former), without an account of why it does what it does and is what it is.

An account of how a thing works is part of any complete account of that thing’s quiddity. But the working of a thing is not fully intelligible without reference to its characteristic effects or products, its results or sequelae. Implicit in any connection we draw between such sequelae of a thing and the thing itself is the question, “what makes this thing do what it does?” Or, i.e., “why does this thing do what it does?” Indeed, the answer to this question just is the connection we draw between a thing and its sequelae. Without such an answer, there is no connection. And without that whole congeries of reasonable connections between things, there can be no such thing as a causal order, properly so-called; and, thus, no proper object of science, or objective of scientific work.

If science is to get started at all, then, it must presuppose the objective reality of such a network of reasonable connections between things. It must presuppose there is such a thing as a science of teleology.

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12 thoughts on “Quiddity Presupposes Currity

  1. Most scientisms would argue there is no “why” because it just is. This is typically a framework to avoid laying down the foundation for an causal order.

  2. “Most scientisms would argue there is no “why” because it just is.”

    Yes – this was certainly the way I used to think.

    In fact this is incoherent, as was realized by some of the ancient Greek metaphysical philosophers who developed a proof of God based on the fact that the universe (everything there is) could not have existed forever, but must have been created – indeed, I realized it myself at one point in my youth.

    Modern secularism had its way paved by the philosophical abandonment of metaphysics. Modern philosophy (I mean for the past several hundreds of years) just ignores the foundations of the subject, and fiddles around in corners; naturally science/ scientism does the same – and only a handful of (mostly Roman Catholic) philosophers exist to call them on their error.

    But these are not engaged-with.

    But the modern philosophers, scientist, and intellectuals-in-general are just plain wrong! – and this is not a matter of opinion. Incoherence is wrongness.

  3. In thinking about the two prior comments, we can turn to Aristotle who, for his part, viewed the world as existing from eternity. However, his analysis of motion led him to describe the logical necessity of an “unmoved mover.” This often misunderstood idea was refined within scholastic thinking (exemplified by Aquinas), who understood a distinction between ‘linear” causation (per accidens) and essential causation (per se), the latter being necessary and hierarchical, the former being what is now understood simply as efficient causation. A contemporary Catholic philosopher who has spent much time discussing this distinction within the context of scientism is Edward Feser, and both his blog essays and books are worth visiting/reading/thinking about.

    Another Catholic scholar, F.C. Copleston S.J., in his stand-alone book on Aquinas (that is, apart from his well known and extensive History of Philosophy), points to one major distinction between Aristotle and the Saint. The former was almost always concerned with the notion of becoming, whereas Aquinas was more interested in what we would now call ontology, or the idea of being. Perhaps a short quote could be in order:

    “[Aristotle] did not raise the problem of the existence of finite things; and this means, of course, that he did not see that there is any problem. And he did not see that there is any problem because he concentrated on what a thing is, on the ways in which something is or can be, and not on the act of existing itself. Aquinas, however, while retaining the Aristotelian analyses of substance and accident, form and matter, act and potency, placed the emphasis in his metaphysics, not on ‘essence,’ on WHAT a thing is, but on existence, considered as an act of existing.” [p. 83]

    It is the difference between explaining or accounting for the existence of things, over and above showing how they act in this or that situation. The former modern science cannot do, and to even ask of it the same is to ask the wrong question from the beginning.

    • Laceagate: Not having read too many devotees of scientism — after the first few, it can be pretty deadly dull stuff — I’m not sure I have enough familiarity with their schtick to be sure what scientism’s characteristic response would be to Paley’s watchmaker analogy. But those I have read could, I think, be fairly and accurately summarized by, “let any principle of selection operate long enough upon a sufficiently large population of events, and that population will eventually produce events that meet the design criteria implicit in the principle of selection.” They would argue that the principle of selection and the varying population suffice to generate any degree of complexity one might want to specify.

      But this just kicks the can down the road. It begs the question, “whence the principle of selection and the population so ordered as to be subject thereto?” Scientism presupposes that there are laws of nature and that there is a nature of which they are the laws. It does not tell us why there are such laws, or why nature obeys them; it does not tell us these things because under its own terms it cannot.

      Does this answer your question?

  4. Scientism presupposes that there are laws of nature and that there is a nature of which they are the laws. It does not tell us why there are such laws, or why nature obeys them; it does not tell us these things because under its own terms it cannot.

    If scientism cannot tell us why nature exists under such laws and the response is “because it just is,” how do they explain the origination of this order? Can anything “just be”? Does this go along with the first law of thermodynamics?

    • • How do they explain the origination of this order? They don’t.

      • Can anything “just be”? Yes. An uncaused being – i.e., a necessary, eternal being – can just be. No other sort of being can be without a cause, or a reason.

      • Does this go along with the first law of thermodynamics? Not sure what exactly you are asking here.

  5. I’m referring to the “matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred.” This line of logic presumes matter “just is,” and had no origination.

    • Laceagate, in light of Dave’s helpful clarification just below, can you give me any better idea what you are asking about scientism versus the first law of thermodynamics, or versus the conservation laws in general? Are you asking, “Can anything contingent – such as the universe, or Guth’s multiverse, ‘just be’?” If so, the answer is no; contingent events require a cause external to themselves. If there is a possibility that Guth’s multiverse might not have existed, or might not have existed in precisely the form in which it does exist, but in some other, however slightly different, then the multiverse must be caused by something not itself. It cannot therefore be eternal; the use of “eternal” to modify a noun denoting a being or event that is contingent is an error of diction.

  6. Lacegate wrote:

    I’m referring to the “matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred.” This line of logic presumes matter “just is,” and had no origination.

    Lacegate, I am a physicist (Ph.D. from Stanford). The statement you quote is not the first law of thermodynamics, and it is not in fact true.

    The First Law is conservation of energy. It happens that gravitational energy can be, and usually is, negative: this is not an exotic fact but is something you are supposed to learn in frosh physics. Within the errors of our measurements (rather large errors, to be sure), the total energy of the universe may well be zero — i.e., the negative gravitational energy may just balance off the positive energy in various forms. In that case, there is no problem of where the energy came from, since it would equal zero.

    As I said, astrophysicists are far from certain about this, simply because the measurements are so difficult.

    The currently favored theory among cosmologists is so-called inflationary cosmology (not to be confused with the present-day acceleration of the universe’s expansion, which is quite a different matter), originally developed by an old acquaintance of mine, Alan Guth, in which the Big Bang is merely a latecomer in an enormously larger and incredibly older universe: perhaps, that larger universe has lasted for all eternity. So, if that theory is true, there is no need for a moment of Creation.

    There is a bit of empirical evidence for this theory, though I myself think it is far from proven.

    Personally, I think religious believers are making a big mistake in trying to tie in their beliefs at all to such cosmological speculations, but, then, they are rarely inclined to follow my advice!

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • Did you know that the Five Ways do not rely on a point of Creation? The Christian understanding of Creation is not that of Deism or the Watchmaker; it is an ongoing, sustaining, continual thing. Genesis is an always story.

      Forget which Way it is, but the proof for God from per se causation is a good illustration of this.

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