The point I'm trying to make is not the following:
"Aquinas' "First Way", IMO, is just vacuous scholastic twaddle without justifying this anachronistic Aristotlean assumption." (opinion from the internet)
There may be a grain of truth in this opinion if one also considers the following quote:
"What at first seemed to be a simple proof is in fact a world view in miniature, an image of the world projected onto half a page. Is it a proof of God's existence which, taken by itself, compels assent, quite independent of what we may think of Thomas' metaphysics or the remainder of his System? Definitely not." (Walter Kaufmann - Critique of Religion and Philosophy)
However, my criticism of the proof of God consists, at least in part, in allowing certain Aristotelian views to hold and yet declaring the proof invalid.
So here is a summary of the alleged proof:
"In Chapter 3 Feser discusses three of St. Thomas's magnificent five ways, describing the first way with customary clarity and succinctness. Noting that "no potential can make itself actual" (p. 91), Feser points to St. Thomas's well known example of a man pushing a stone with a stick. The stone's potency to move is actualized by the stick, whose potency to move is actualized by the hand, whose potency to move is in turn actualized by the firing of certain motor neurons, and so forth. In this, an essentially subordinated series, each actualized potency is simultaneously actualized by a superior. Feser notes that such a series "of its nature, must have a first member" because "it is only the first member which is in the strictest sense really doing or actualizing anything" (p. 95). Without a first Pure Act free from all admixture of potency, there are no other actualities, nor can there be, since all others "exist at all only insofar as yet earlier ones do" (p. 95)." (an official review of Edward Feser's Last Superstition by Michael O'Halloran)
By "and so forth" Feser means the existence of molecules, atoms and quarks and whatever else may be smaller. Aquinas would add:
"[T]his cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover." (Aquinas)
And he concludes:
"Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God." (Aquinas)
However, one does not arrive at an in every respect actual unmoved mover:
"Assuming that Aquinas can block a regress in the case of movers and things moved, why must the primary mover be not just unmoved, but unmovable? Aquinas thinks that if the mover of some moved thing is not itself moved, it is an unmovable mover [...]. What justification does he have for supposing that an unmoved mover is unmovable? The sort of causal series he has in mind in the proof from motion has as a member something, M, that is being moved. M’s going from being in potentiality with respect to some state S to being in actuality with respect to S needs to be explained by some primary mover, P. All that is required of P is that it be in actuality with respect to S; P’s being in actuality with respect to S is what makes P the primary mover in this causal series ordered per se. So in order to count as a primary mover, as the stopping point in a causal series ordered per se, P must be unmoved (because it is in actuality) in the relevant respect. But it does not follow from this that P must be unmoved (and hence in actuality) in all respects. If P were in actuality in all respects, P would be absolutely unmoved and unmovable, but the fact that P is unmoved with respect to some state S does not entail that P is unmovable. Given that Aquinas’s argument so far has shown only that there must be some primary mover that is in actuality in the respect relevant to the particular case of motion at hand, it seems likely that there will be very many relatively uninteresting primary movers. The fire in our paradigm case seems to be a suitable primary mover, animals (or their souls) might be unmoved movers, and some of Aquinas’s own examples of causal series ordered per se apparently have human beings filling the role of primary mover, at least as Aquinas describes them. We might call fire, animals, human beings, and other natural unmoved movers (if there are any) mundane primary movers. The problem, then, is that the proof from motion gives us no reason to suppose there are any primary movers other than mundane primary movers." (Scott Macdonald - Aquinas’s Parasitic Cosmological Argument)
Mundane primary movers may result from accidentally ordered series (non-instrumental, non-simultaneous):
"An alternative strategy is to argue that every essentially ordered causal series has a first member, where a causal series is essentially ordered if no effects within the series can exist without their causes also existing (e.g., the movement of a stone depending upon the pressure of a stick). The thought is that even if some causal series can be infinite, no essentially ordered can be. A proponent of this strategy faces the challenge of explaining why a first cause in an essentially ordered series could not have been caused by things within a non-essentially ordered causal series." (Joshua Rasmussen - Cosmological Arguments from Contingency)
Aristotle himself gives an example for an accidentally (non-essentially) ordered causal series:
"As, when something has caused motion in water or air, this moves another and, though the cause has ceased to operate, such motion propagates itself to a certain point, though there the prime mover is not present[.] [464a1] " (ARISTOTLE - ON DIVINATION IN SLEEP)
Here is an alternative translation:
"When something has moved a portion of water or air, and this in turn has moved another, then even when the initial impulse has ceased, it results in a similar sort of movement continuing up to a certain point, although the original mover is not present." (Filip Radovic - Aristotle on Prevision through Dreams)
In such an order, not all members need to coexist (e.g. the father and his begotten son).
Feser's example of the proof of God originally comes from Aristotle:
"The example [Aristotle] most often gives—a man using his hands to push a spade to turn a stone—suggests a series of simultaneous movers and moved. We may agree that there must be a first term of any such series if motion is ever to take place: but it is hard to see why this should lead us to a single cosmic unmoved mover, rather than to a multitude of human shakers and movers. […] Aristotle himself at one point seems to agree with this objection, and to treat a human digger as a self-mover (256a8)[:]" (Anthony Kenny – A New History of Western Philosophy)
"e.g. the stick moves the stone and is moved by the hand, which again is moved by the man; in the man, however, we have reached a mover that is not so in virtue of being moved by something else." (Aristotle – Physics)
Elsewhere Aristotle wants to rule out self-movers:
"The basic principle of Aristotle’s argument is that everything that is in motion is moved by something else. At the beginning of book 7 of the Physics he presents a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of self-movement. A selfmoving object must (a) have parts, in order to be in motion at all; (b) be in motion as a whole, and not just in one of its parts; and (c) originate its own motion. But this is impossible. From (b) it follows that if any part of the body is at rest, the whole of it is at rest. But if the whole body’s being at rest depends upon a part’s being at rest, then the motion of the whole body depends upon the motion of the part; and thus it does not originate its own motion. So that which was supposed to be moved by itself is not moved by itself [...]. This argument contains two fallacies." (Anthony Kenny – A New History of Western Philosophy)
These are the fallacies:
"First, it equivocates between logical and causal dependence, as Sir David Ross points out in his commentary on Physics 242a 38: ‘the motion of the whole logically implies the motion of the part, but is not necessarily causally dependent on it’. (Ross, p. 669). Secondly, it equivocates between being a necessary condition and being a sufficient condition. The part’s being at rest is a sufficient condition for the whole’s being at rest; from this it follows only that the motion of the part is a necessary condition for the motion of the whole, and not that it is a sufficient condition for it. Hence the argument in no way proves that something else, namely the motion of the part, is a causally sufficient condition for the motion of the alleged self-mover. So the reductio ad absurdum fails: it has not been shown that there cannot be a body which can initiate its own movement without external causal concurrence." (Kenny, Anthony - Five Ways)
Self-motion could be explained in the following way:
"In fact, the First Way cannot deny that there are non-processes that are active, because it argues to one. But in point of fact, both Aristotle and St. Thomas held that there are acts that seem to be processes and are not, and yet are not the First Mover. These are transitions of a sort, but not transitions from potency to act. The most common example they give of such a transition is that of not seeing to seeing. […] This type of pseudo-process, then, is a transition from act to act, and the being does not acquire something that it does not already have. Another example would be actively thinking about some fact that one already knows, but was not thinking of before. One is no greater for thinking about it, because one already knows it. One could say that there is a change in some sense going on here, but it is a peculiar one, one that could be called, in modern terms, a change of phase rather than a change of state. Now such transitions are most obvious in the operations of living things, but are not confined to them. […] And this leads us back to the First Way in the light of St. Thomas’ own philosophy. Since he admits, as was said earlier, that there are transitions that are not processes, then all the First Way really argues to in Thomism is to a living being, which is defined as one which can set up its own process. (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, c. 20.) Of course, the living being does not "move itself" (movere se) in the respect in which it is in process, but processes like growth or movement of the limbs are initiated from the soul, or the “first act” within the being, and so have as their cause one of those transitions from act to act." (George A. Blair – Another Look at St. Thomas' "First Way")
Here, as an example, is a consideration where the mind moves the body:
"The [mind] is an entity and yet not a “res . . . ,” because it is the complete dynamism of [a] substrate-less absolute change [keyword: stream of consciousness as inner motion].“ […] As an entity of time [the mind or subject] would then be precisely the form of motion of a body. For as the subject in a form of one, namely, its own body, the subject would be exactly that which through itself as that completely special type of constant motion would place its body in motion or at rest: already as a cognizing, and thus first and truly as an acting subject." (Gerold Prauss - The Problem of Time in Kant)
The mind would appear on the basis of a highly complex organized body. One would also have to say that it would emerge from the body in an entirely natural way.
Natural motions, according to current theoretical physics, generally do not require continuous causation:
"Most important for our purposes, the whole structure of Aristotle’s argument for an unmoved mover rests on his idea that motions require causes. Once we know about conservation of momentum, that idea loses its steam. [...] There is conservation of momentum: the universe doesn’t need a mover; constant motion is natural and expected. [...] The universe doesn’t need a push; it can just keep going." (Carroll, Sean - The big picture)
There are philosophical explanations for this:
"Some Thomists claim that the crucial fact which the First Way seeks to explain is not the tendency which a heavy body has to fall — this, they admit, is something which was given to the heavy body by whatever it was in the past which made it heavy — but rather the current exercise of that tendency in actual motion. Every such potentiality of a creature, they say, needs to be actualized by the immediate action of the Creator. This seems to be a piece of nonsense. To say that something has a tendency to move is precisely to say that unless something interferes, it will move; if it moves therefore, when interference is removed, no further explanation of its motion is called for apart from the tendency and the removal of the interference." (Kenny, Anthony - Five Ways)
"But it seems that at least things in perpetual motion could be self-movers. It seems, in Aquinas’s Aristotelian terms, that they could be at every moment things actually in motion and potentially in motion in the immediate future, their changing potentialities being continuously actualized by the action of their immediately antecedent actualities." (Jordan Howard Sobel - Logic and Theism Arguments: For and Against Beliefs in God)
The effect of gravity ends with large masses, which themselves would be nothing but mundane primary movers:
"Einstein had the brilliant observation that gravitational attraction was actually an illusion. Objects moved not because they are pulled by gravity or the centrifugal force but because they are pushed by the curvature of space around it. That’s worth repeating: gravity does not pull; space pushes. […] For example, you might be sitting in a chair right now, reading this book. Normally, you would say that gravity is pulling you down into your chair, and that is why you don’t fly off into space. But Einstein would say that you are sitting in your chair because the Earth’s mass warps the space above your head, and this warping pushes you into your chair." (Kaku, Michio - The God Equation)
Thus, large masses move (curve) the space and the space moves smaller masses in the direction of the larger masses.
One could identify two kinds of potential in Aristotle:
"My proposed interpretation will be based upon introducing [a] double feature of potentiality as a basic tenet of Aristotle's physics. I'll argue that there are two distinct kinds of potentials, the one consisting of potentials that are marked by their being logically entailed by the given existence of the actual, and the other, of potentials that are merely suggested by similarity or inductive considerations. The ontological difference between them is that whereas the entailed potential is fully effectual [...], the analogical or inductive potential is merely a necessary condition and thus necessarily ineffectual. [...] I'll use the terms "genuine" and "nongenuine" respectively to refer to these two modes of potentiality." (Zev Bechler - Aristotle's Theory of Actuality)
"are nonreal things." (Zev Bechler)
Genuine potentials, on the other hand,
"can be movers[.]" (Bechler)
This follows from all:
"[T]he proof of the necessity of a first unmoved mover is destroyed: No such mover is needed, nor de facto exists in the natural motion of the elements, where only the genuine potential is the mover. Hence the cosmic chain of mover-moved breaks down at each case of continuous natural motion, that is, of both living things and the five elements." (Bechler)
In the face of all these counterarguments, Feser turns the First Way into a composition argument as a way to save it. However, Feser is not the first to do so:
"In an attempt to vindicate the celebrated "Five Ways," John Lamont tries to show that Aquinas's arguments for an uncaused cause are successful provided they are understood as resting on an argument from composition.' Lamont further seeks to show that an uncaused cause must be immaterial and unique. In this paper, however, I shall argue that even if we accept the translation of Thomas's various proofs into an argument from composition, such an argument need in no way be thought of as implying the existence of an uncaused cause. Further, I shall show that Lamont's argument for the immateriality of the uncaused cause is problematic and his argument for its uniqueness unconvincing. [...] To sum up: Lamont, following Peter Geach, tries to show that Aquinas's proofs for the existence of God can be construed as a valid composition argument. I have argued that insofar as we can reduce the Five Ways to a composition argument, such an argument in no way yields the desired conclusion. The failure of Lamont's attempt is explained by the fact that he makes the proof of God's existence into a deductively valid composition argument only by begging the question with respect to the fundamental issue, namely, that the sum of all effects is really a group in need of a singular cause different from the causes of any of the effects of which it is the aggregate. Finally, inspection of Lamont's reasons for arguing in favor of God's immateriality and uniqueness reveals that such attributes could be seen to be validly predicated of God only by excluding alternative hypotheses which Lamont does not even envisage." (ANTOINE COTE - THE FIVE WAYS AND THE ARGUMENT FROM COMPOSITION)
The big problem is that Feser basically does not believe in the ontologically prior efficacy of parts at all:
"For example, if a stone is a true substance, then while the innumerable atoms that make it up are real, they exist within it virtually or potentially rather than actually. What actually exists is just the one thing, the stone itself." (Edward Feser – Aristotle's Revenge)
To this must be added the following:
"[S]ince (per one of Feser’s premises) only actual things can actualize something’s potential for existence, it follows that the parts Feser adduces cannot causally actualize the existence of the substances they compose." (Joseph C. Schmid - Existential inertia and the Aristotelian proof)
Hence, Feser thinks holistically, and that amounts to:
"According to holism, the table in front of you does not derive its existence from the sub-atomic particles that compose it; rather, those sub-atomic particles derive their existence from the table." (Philip Goff - Is the Universe a conscious mind?; the example of the table is probably meant only illustratively, because artifacts are usually real reductionist composites)
This means that parts cannot cause the whole, which is contrary to the point the composition argument is trying to make.
It is true that every chemical substance is divisible. But the substance does not consist of parts before a division, it is not an aggregate of parts, because the parts become actual only in the division itself. When the parts thus obtained are brought together under very specific conditions, the original whole in which the parts are "dissolved" is again created. An illustrative example would be a larger drop of water floating in a space station. One can divide the drop into two partial drops and put these parts together again into a single drop without being able to say of this one that it is now composed of two parts, which is obviously nonsensical. It has no parts, holistically speaking, only aspects and properties. Water can also be split chemically into oxygen and hydrogen. But both were only potentially in the water. And through the process of electrolysis or water splitting, they are actualized. Conversely, water can be made from oxygen and hydrogen (in a risky and expensive way). The holism is in these cases in no way harmed.
Here, the holism of an animal is presented taking a leopard as an example:
"A leopard is self-moving because the action of one part of it, the brain, which is an action of the leopard, moves another part of it, the legs, which is a movement of the leopard. […] I mean we think of the leopard as the natural unit of which the legs and brain are essentially parts; being a part-of-the-leopard is what it is for the leg to be what it is; it has its existence as what it now is by being a part of the leopard. The whole leopard, so to say, comes first. The parts are secondary. If the leg ceases to be part of the leopard it will turn into something completely different, as mutton is something completely different from a sheep. So a leopard is alive because it has organs which exist as what they are precisely by being organs, being functioning parts of a prior whole." (Herbert McCabe - On Aquinas)
Here is a summary of Aristotelian holism, which says that substances, i.e. substantial wholes, are (ontologically) prior to their "parts," since, according to Aristotelians, the parts of a substance get their identity and existence from their functions within the substance:
"[...] [A] natural object (e.g., a piece of the element earth, or water, or a plant, or a living organism) is absolutely whole, absolutely a unity. Not even what we would normally call the parts of such a natural substance (e.g., the legs of the cow) are actual parts. They are merely potential parts (i.e., the cow is not composed of them), and the moment they become actual parts they stop being really the same things. A separate leg is no leg at all, Aristotle would say." (Zev Bechler - Aristotle's Theory of Actuality)
Intuitively, one rightly assumes that once holistic things begin to exist, they will persist for some time:
"I say that [a] chair’s existence at t + ε is fully explained by the actualization of the potential, possessed by the chair at t, to continue to exist through t + ε, and the absence of anything that intervenes to prevent the realization of this potential." (GRAHAM OPPY - On stage one of Feser’s ‘Aristotelian proof’)
One can add that
"most things naturally tend to remain in existence." (Anthony Kenny - Medieval Philosophy)
Feser is at least a reductionist in his God-proof reconstruction and therefore must assume simples that God generates and moves so that they can move everything else in the world. If the transcendent God is the first member of the causal series, then something physically indivisible must stand in the second place (but in the first place within the immanence), because otherwise it would not be at exactly that second position. Doesn't God then seem completely superfluous and can't we save ourselves the incredible leap to the transcendent?
"[j]ump from a first immanent cause to a first transcendent cause appears [it doesn't only appear so] to be one of the most questionable moves in the Thomistic program." (Edward N. Martin – Infinite Causal Regress and the Secunda Via)
Yet even more baffling, Feser
"offers us the explanation that God is the first transcendent cause, which, given God’s eternality and immutability, is prima facie [but not only prima facie] very hard to accept." (Edward N. Martin)
Immanent (fundamental or elementary) particles would thus suffice to account for everything under the plausible assumption of naturalism. If one sees a barely surmountable difficulty regarding the hard problem of consciousness, then naturalistic panpsychism (Philip Goff) or naturalistic dualism (David Chalmers) could be helpful additional presuppositions.
A further remark shall be made here to the particles which would be indivisible atoms of matter without further substructure (all of a piece), having absolute cohesion of their homogeneous minimum extension, which could only be misunderstood by mathematical minds as a sum of discrete parts:
"[E]ven though [the particles] have spatial extent, the question of their composition is without any content." (Brian Greene - The Elegant Universe; Greene has spoken here of strings as fundamental particles)
Aquinas also seems to agree with this in some way:
"For example, in his commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Aquinas writes of natural minima that, “although a body, considered mathematically, is divisible to infinity, the natural body is not divisible to infinity.”"
One can also grant the Thomists a certain version of a hylemorphism, if it absolutely must be.
It would be a concrete, naturalistic hylemorphism. Form and matter of a particle would not be like two heterogeneous, abstract things, which would have to be put together awkwardly by a god. There would be a natural duality of two aspects, form and matter, within the absolute unity of the particle. The aspects would be similar in nature in a certain sense (both forms of energy), whereby the matter would be something like dammed up, potential energy of a rest mass and the form would be something like an electromagnetic field energy, which arises from the matter, constantly originates and passes away and therefore can "move" the matter smoothly and continuously and produce complex stuff.
"The form, or nature, or essence, is some definite component sitting inside the matter but distinct from it in a simple, physical sense, like the balloon from the helium it contains. [...] Aristotle's forms are not parts or components within the object because, being aspects, they are not the kind of thing that can compose their object." (Zev Bechler - Aristotle's Theory of Actuality)
Form and matter would necessarily always go hand in hand, and they would have always existed and will always exist, at all times constituting the indissoluble unity of a particle, all without loss of energy. Nothing supernatural at play. And perhaps only in our mind, that is, only conceptually, the particle has a dual aspect nature, but extramentally, that is, in reality, it is probably one in a strict sense.
A physical field is, in principle, a modern equivalent of the Aristotelian form. The fields can move matter, i.e. account for the motion of particles in a certain direction.
"[Fields] can be regarded as the fifth state of matter (solid, liquid, gas, and plasma are the other four states of matter)." (Marc Lange - An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics)
Physical fields could also help to understand the mind:
"Standard neuroscience investigates how neuronal processing works. But it has problems explaining the mind’s qualia, unity, privacy, and causality this way. For example, it isn’t clear about why colours and other qualia are processed so similarly yet experienced so differently, how colour and shape information unite in visual processing, and how abstract information, concrete brain activities, and private experiences are causally and ontologically related given their radical differences.
Field theories of mind try to avoid such problems by turning from neurons to their fields. Here minds typically get their unity from the continuous nature of the fields generated by discrete neurons, while different qualia arise from different structures in the fields. These qualia are private (not publicly accessible) either because they’re non-physical or because they’re the underlying nature of fields (hidden behind what instruments and reflected light show). Mind–brain causality is (in the simplest field theories) just field–brain causality. Field theories offer new ontological approaches to dualism’s problematic causality and reductionism’s explanatory gap. Field theories face their own problems, but they’re progressively improving upon each other (see Table 1). These theories can’t be easily dismissed, for they’re based on considerable evidence and they offer powerful ways of dealing with standard neuroscience’s deepest problems." (Mostyn W. Jones – Electromagnetic-Field Theories of Mind)
Back to the particles. A subject would distinguish them purely spatially, making the spatial properties less attached to the particles than to the observing or conscious subject. Kant gives a good example of mere extrinsic distinctiveness:
"Take two drops of water, and set aside any intrinsic differences (of quality and quantity) between them; the mere fact that they have been intuited simultaneously in different locations justifies us in holding that they are numerically different, i.e. that they really are two drops. (Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason up to the end of the Analytic)"
I have described extended particles, but there are also point-like particles in physics which have similarities with Leibnizian monads:
"A point particle (ideal particle or point-like particle, often spelled pointlike particle) is an idealization of particles heavily used in physics. Its defining feature is that it lacks spatial extension; being dimensionless, it does not take up space." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_particle)
"In summary, extended particles have a fixed size, although they may have a fuzzy edge; point-like particles are mathematical abstractions with zero size. But even zero-size particles have an extended effect, due to the effect of the field surrounding them." (https://www.fnal.gov/pub/today/archive/archive_2013/today13-02-15_NutshellReadMore.html)
The attempt to save Aquinas' proof by making it a composition argument fails. The supposed saviors want to say: parts compose (move) the whole and these parts are composed by further parts and this cannot go to infinity and must end with God. I say that this is refuted by holistic wholes or fundamental particles or even point-like particles. Feser's reconstruction of the First Way to God is therefore not convincing.
If he would say that it is not only about the local movement (locomotion), when the Thomists speak about motion, then this would strike me as problematic. After all, Feser wants to talk to non-Thomists and convince them. Therefore, for a successful discussion, he should assume only two kinds of movement, locomotion and mental inner change (stream of consciousness in terms of successive thoughts, feelings and moods), which the non-Thomist has no problem to accept. As far as the locomotion is concerned, which Feser himself has given as an example, he has not succeeded, as I hope to have shown, in giving a proof of God.
Finally, it should be noted that the Thomists, when they talk about wholes and parts, in a very one-sided and narrow-minded way, know only complete independence of a thing (God) or only complete dependence (creation) on a thing (God). There is nothing in between. But it is not difficult to envisage a semi-independence of the things of the world. And to think of the stuff of the world (or some of it) as being independent, perhaps only dependent on quantum stuff, doesn't seem too hard either.
The quantum stuff would be the most fundamental building block or component of all things:
"It's beginning to look as if everything is made of one substance-call it "quantumstuff"-which combines particle and wave at once in a peculiar quantum style all its own. By dissolving the matter/field distinction, quantum physicists realized a dream of the ancient Greeks who speculated that beneath its varied appearances the world was ultimately composed of a single substance. Some philosophers said it was All Fire; some All Water. We now believe the world to be All Quantumstuff. The world is one substance." (Nick Herbert - Quantum Reality: BEYOND THE NEW PHYSICS)
Why Feser's ethical natural law (regarding sexual activity) does not work:
"[It] is hard to see […] why facts about the natural functions of the reproductive organs are even morally relevant, let alone morally decisive. To suppose they are morally decisive is to suppose that there can be cases in which the intentions of agents are irrelevant to the moral worth of an act. It is to repose the moral worth of those acts in their physical properties." (Weithman, Paul J. - Natural Law, Morality, and Sexual Complementarity)
"John Montgomery Cooper [a Catholic moral philosopher] was himself not wholly persuaded by the natural law argument, at least as a proof that contraception was mortally sinful. "Just precisely how are we going to formulate such a definition of the natural function of the reproductive faculty as will permit relations in pregnancy and sterility and yet bar contraceptive practices?" he wanted to know. "And after we have succeeded – if we succeed – in so formulating this function, just precisely what concrete objective evidence are we going to muster to show that our formulation, and no other, represents the true function?" (Leslie Woodcock Tentler - From Catholics and Contraception An American History)
"Cooper targeted the deductive “perverted faculty” argument by saying that Catholic authorities have offered “facile assumptions” in place of “objective evidence” as to “what precisely is the natural function of the faculty (sex) under consideration?”" (Alexander Pavuk - Catholic Birth Control?)
"Even if it is conceded that procreation is the obvious function of sexuality, it is far from clear that it should be the only, or the indispensable, function of human sexuality." (Robin Gill - A Textbook of Christian Ethics)
"For instance is the purpose of a mouth for eating or for kissing or for both? Who is to decide? If kissing is part of the function of mouths, then kissing would become a good rather than, arguably, an evil. The need to make assumptions which may be challenged is, therefore, implicit in Aquinas’ whole approach and weakens its effectiveness." (Vardy, Peter. The Puzzle of Ethics)
Feser's version of Thomistic natural law operates with the terms "in contrary to" and "other than". For systematic reasons, the term "in accordance with" should still be added. That is, to act contrary to the nature of any of my parts is morally evil, to act in accordance with it is morally good, and, to act other than it is morally neutral.
If I eat breakfast and take a wash in the morning, that is already morally good, because I am acting in accordance with my nature. Natural law does not make it difficult for me to be good in this case. If, among other things, the mouth and tongue are naturally there for kissing, then moral pluses can also be obtained quite easily during this sensual activity.
On the other hand, it would be morally evil, as it would be contrary to nature, if a man had to give a sperm sample for cancer diagnosis and the sample was obtained by means of masturbation. Equally morally evil would be the spermiogram, which provides a reliable indication of sperm quality in cases of suspected infertility, if the semen sample was again obtained by masturbation.
Chewing gum would be a case of moral neutrality. Because my system of food intake is only used differently (other than) compared to the normal eating and digestion process. Although chewing a nutrientless gum cheats my stomach, which is expecting real food; although my chewing motion runs into emptiness (goes nowhere and proves futile) and thus unnecessarily strains my masticatory muscles; although something that cannot be chewed up into small pieces and digested would have to be spat out immediately and should not be kept in the mouth knowingly; although I might have the provocative attitude and intention to demonstratively pervert my food intake system while chewing, gum chewing is said to be in itself morally neutral.
However, nobody has yet really figured out Feser's distinction between "in contrary to" and "other than". In both cases the natural goal is consciously not aimed at, and yet only in the case of "in contrary to" somehow something evil comes along.
Even an intellectual companion of Feser, who follows the same moral line, i.e. argues very similarly, can not make anything of Feser's distinction:
"Feser relies upon an unclear account of contrary use and other than use, which is either ad hoc or cannot grant him the conclusion he desires." (John Skalko - Disordered Actions)
If the distinction is untenable, Feser's version of natural law fails miserably. For then either trivial actions like chewing gum, walking on one's hands, supporting a broken table with one's legs would be morally bad or all actions that were previously classified as evil would be morally neutral.
"Natural moral law theorists confuse talking about what is the case with talking about what ought to be the case. They confuse dejure statements with de facto statements. A statement about what people or what normal people seek, strive for or desire is a factual, non-normative statement. From this statement or from any conjunction of such statements alone no normative (de jure) conclusions can be validly deduced except in such trivial cases as from "He wears black shoes" one can deduce "He wears black shoes or he ought to be a priest." But this simply follows from the conventions governing the disjunction "or." Moreover, because it is a disjunction it is not actually actionguiding; it is not actually normative. To discover what our natural inclinations are is simply to discover a fact about ourselves; to discover what purposes we have is simply to discover another fact about ourselves, but that we ought to have these inclinations or purposes or that it is desirable that we have them does not follow from statements asserting that people have such and such inclinations or purposes. These statements can very well be true but no moral or normative conclusions follow from them." (Kai Nielsen - Atheism and Philosophy)
You can derive an ought only from a will, to put it more precisely, from another will, a will different from one's own. The foreign will is to be understood as a (potential) request, claim, requirement, demand or command, all of which only another (rational) person can do. Since I am German, my reasoning comes from the logic and semantics of the German verb "sollen", which translates to ought or should (shall) in English. Almost all grammars of German explain "sollen" by saying that there must be another personal agent who wants something from you (who insists that you do something). So, if A ought to do X, this implies that someone wants A to do X. For example: I go to the doctor and he tells me to take two pills twice a day. Then I later tell my wife I ought to take two pills twice a day.
The ethical question that now arises is, how can I distinguish a morally binding ought from a morally non-binding ought? Because not everything that people ask me to do is really binding.
However, natural law does not get as far as this question. It already fails at the preconditions of the ought. For one thing, the organs, faculties, capabilities, powers of my body (when they are activated or in actual use) are not something, not even potentially something, that I can understand as a foreign (external and separate) personal and knowing will that wants or expects me to do something specific.
If one now says that God most personally demands certain actions from me via the way of my nature, then this form of addressing and being addressed is highly questionable. I can only say that I do not notice anything at all of God demanding something from me by means of my nature, and this is not consistent with His perfection. Surely, when it comes to actions of great moral significance, assuming God existed and decreed natural law, He would not hide.
Especially if one is a convinced philosophical skeptic, perhaps a Humean, who thinks the following, then God must do a better job of making his natural law will known to all mankind:
"The so-called 'laws' of the natural sciences originate in man's preference for order, but not from nature itself. There is nothing corresponding to them in nature. The same criticism applies to the concept of 'aim' in nature, which M[authner] takes, with Spinoza, to be only an analogy to human intention." (Gershon Weiler - On Fritz Mauthner's Critique of Language)
But in fact, the ought in natural law is merely the personal (conservative) will of the natural lawyers:
"As I’ve said, natural laws and natural rights are inventions intended to advance the interests of the inventors (whom I shall call “natural legislators”). What is often involved is an attempt to manipulate other people into behaving as desired by a natural legislator, by duping them into accepting the values of the natural legislator as the values of nature. Thus, the personal, subjective preferences of a natural legislator are passed off as the impersonal, objective requirements of nature. For example, Frederick D. Wilhelmsen writes that, “Natural law insists that pornography … is bad and that it is bad not just for me, but for everybody, and it equally insists that not only must I not invade my neighbor’s property but that he must not invade mine or anybody else’s.” In other words, Frederick Wilhelmsen insists that pornography is bad for everybody, and he equally insists that no one must invade anybody else’s property. But in order to give his personal preferences greater authority, Wilhelmsen pretends that it is nature who is doing all the insisting." (L.A. Rollins – The Myth of Natural Rights)
I have come to the conclusion, and there is no doubt in my mind, that Thomistic natural law is not only dependent on a belief in God or believing in the validity of a proof of the same, but above all that it is dependent on a belief in the Catholic Church and its teachings and in the fact that these teachings have been "dictated", so to speak, by the Holy Spirit. Without such belief, natural law hangs in the air as an indeterminate, indefinable theoretical something. For the speechless, silent and dumb nature I can interpret in many ways; and that it addresses to me a moral ought, is something the church has to tell me. Natural law is thus not only theologically but also denominationally bound. Therefore, it is not convincing in purely philosophical terms.
The gay Aquinas expert Mark D. Jordan confirms my thesis:
"[...] Thomas knew as well as any medieval theologian that human societies disagree sharply about how human beings ought to act. He himself mentions cases in which whole societies teach their members to do things that he thinks contrary to natural law. Given the diversity of societies, the contradictions in the history of moral conventions, is there any kernel of natural law that every human being shares? Perhaps there is, but that kernel will not be enough to direct us individually or to make us agree collectively. In practical matters, agreement about principles and about the shape of moral reasoning is no guarantee of agreement about practical conclusions. Indeed, the more particular the case, the more difficult it is to arrive at a conclusion on which all will agree. Alternately, the more specific a norm or precept proposed in ethics or law, the more liable it is to justified exception. In many particular cases, the right course of action cannot be regularly agreed, even among virtuous people.
This insufficiency of natural law becomes the starting point for Thomas's arguments in the Summa on the need for divine law, that is, for an explicit teaching about human conduct revealed by God. Because natural law participates in God's eternal plan only "according to the proportion of the capacity of human nature," God generously teaches a more articulate law, the divine law that is eminently contained in the Old and New Testaments. We are able to "fulfill" the natural law only after God's revelation. The content of natural law only becomes clear with the handing down of the Old Law, the law of Moses. The content of natural law only becomes practicable with the gift of grace in the New Law - whether we are talking about justice or about "unnatural" sex.
Many of the "natural law" arguments we hear today do not rise to the level of misreadings of Aquinas. They are rather loud assertions pretending to be common sense or, what is worse, natural science. But even in more serious efforts to make "natural law" arguments against certain sexual acts, we can hear how easily Christian theology can slip from rich conceptions of law as divine self-disclosure to poor conceptions of law as imposed ideology or criminal code.
The difficulty we now feel in speaking convincing arguments about "unnatural" sex cannot be blamed on just the growth of modern medicine or the spread of liberal notions about self-fulfillment. We understand it better as a loss of the grand Christian rhetorics within which sin-identities made sense of acts by organizing them. When we try to pull the acts away from the identities, we find that they don't make much sense. Of course they don't. They never did without identities.
This loss of coherence in specifying "unnatural" acts is closely connected to the loss of conviction produced by appeals to natural law. Christian condemnations of unnatural acts were not meant to work without Christian sin-identities; arguments from natural law were not meant to work outside of an ideal pedagogy of virtuous family, just city, and luminous divine revelation. Natural law arguments about sex are not detachable from the Christian narrative of a progressive divine teaching through history." (Mark D. Jordan - The Ethics of Sex)
If the theory of evolution is correct, then at least in the organic world there are no metaphysically fixed Aristotelian forms with respect to supra-individual animal or plant species. A squirrel, for example, with all its abilities and qualities, would be a product of mercilessly brutal natural selection. And each generation of squirrels might undergo a minor or major change over time, which in turn would affect the succeeding generation. Change would be an integral part of the generational transition, and thus of squirrels themselves. Finally, man has evolved evolutionarily (and this evolution has not exactly covered itself with moral glory), so that we can no longer speak of a metaphysical species of man, but only of a biological one in a rather loose sense. We thus lose the general form of man (which supposedly includes only heterosexuality) as a supra-temporal ethical template. When it comes to morality, one can ask either way how nature (of man) in its organic (also mental) constitution can be a fixed and credible standard for moral action at all (Feser assumes this, after all), if it is demonstrably subject to a constant amoral evolutionary process? The rigid, fixed nature in natural law and the fluid nature in evolutionary theory (no matter how slow nature may be), that simply does not fit together. In the world of evolution, there are only individual living beings ("egoistic" genes with their survival machines), between all of which there are only degrees of (blood) relationship in the tree of life. Evolution does not only concern the outer shape of a living being (only this Feser seems to have in mind in terms of natural law, whereby he also only sees what he wants to see), but also its behaviors and inner dispositions or inclinations (in the case of humans, evolutionary psychology deals with this subject), all of which, if one plays along with the game of a certain natural law (that of Feser), must be included in the assessment of the biological functionalities.
Here are also once more remarks to natural law with regard to biological evolution:
"First, it is no part of a modern notion of functionality that a function is unique. Some organ may well be involved in different uses, each of which gives, or has given, its possessor an evolutionary advantage. In particular, then, the mere fact that the genitals are involved in conception does not mean that they do not have other important functions. It is not incredible to suppose that the giving and receiving of pleasure is one of these. [...] Second, and relatedly, behaviour patterns traditionally reckoned as perverse are hardly modern ones. They are long-standing and widely spread th[r]ough sections of the population. [...] This suggests (though, of course, it by no means proves) that at least some of them may well have been selected for evolutionarily. If such a behaviour pattern is genetically based, this is, presumably, the case. Notoriously, for example, some sociobiologists have argued that homosexuality is a genetic disposition, and that homosexuality makes perfectly good sense as a strategy for facilitating certain gene transmissions. I certainly do not want to endorse the sociobiological account of homosexuality. I mention it simply to demonstrate that in the light of modern science, it makes perfectly good sense for things counted traditionally as perversions to be functional. Third, and again relatedly, according to both accounts that we looked at, a functional trait may cease to give an evolutionary advantage if the environmental context changes: witness the dinosaurs. (According to the dispositional account, the trait in question then ceases to be a function.) Now, one of the most salient features of the current human environment is the imminent threat of over-population and the consequent environmental disaster. Such an event would doubtless have consequences for the human gene pool - possibly even destroying it. Hence, assuming that it is unrealistic for most people to become celibate, increasing non-procreational sexual activity may well be an evolutionarily sensible strategy in the present context." (Graham Priest - Sexual perversion)
"[T]here is nothing wrong per se with using something for other than its Darwinian biological function. For example, whether one gives an aetiological or a dispositional account of function, body hair may plausibly be supposed to have various functions (protection from the sun, holding body-secretions close to the skin). Yet there is nothing wrong with shaving one's head or armpits and using the hair for something else. Similarly, a function of certain body secretions is to form an infection-protective coating for the skin; but there is nothing wrong with washing frequently (and using the secretion-infused result to water the flowers)." (Graham Priest - Sexual perversion)
An important component for natural law was the ancient valuation of male semen, which had long been recognized as wrong:
"Aquinas is often invoked in contemporary discussions of the morality of contraception and abortion. In fact, he had very little to say on either topic. Contraception is discussed, along with masturbation, in a question in the Summa contra Gentiles concerning ‘the disordered emission of semen’. Aquinas maintains that this is a crime against humanity, second only to homicide. This claim rests on the belief that only the male provides the active element in conception, so that the sperm has an individual history continuous with the embryo, the fetus, and the infant. In fact, of course, male and female gametes contribute equally to the genetic constitution of the eventual human being. An embryo, unlike the father’s sperm or semen, is the same individual organism as an infant at birth. For Aquinas, the emission of semen in circumstances unsuitable for conception was the same kind of thing, on a minor scale of course, as the exposure or starvation of an individual infant. That is why he thought masturbation a poor man’s version of homicide." (Anthony Kenny – Medieval Philosophy)
"For Thomas, every sexual act has to be a marital act, and every marital act has to be an act of procreation. A violation of the sexual commandments is a violation of life itself. For the semen already contains the potential for the whole person (or, more precisely, the whole man, for women come into being only when something goes awry in the process of development; De malo 15 a. 2). The unregulated ejaculation runs counter to the well-being of nature, which lies in the preservation of the species. Therefore, after the sin of murder, through which human nature, which already exists in reality, is destroyed, the sin of preventing the generation of human nature comes in second place" (Summa Contra Gentiles III, 122). Contraception is thus not the same thing as murder, but is very close to it. Along with Aristotle, Thomas calls semen "something divine" (De malo 15, 2)." (Uta Ranke-Heinemann - Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church)
To this we can add:
"[I]t cannot be a moral duty to ensure the continuation of the species, as is so frequently argued. This excuse is such an obviously barefaced lie that I hesitate to make a fool of myself by asking whether any human being has ever performed sexual intercourse with the thought of having to avert the great danger of the demise of humankind, […] and nobody who asks himself sincerely will feel it to be his duty to ensure the continuing existence of the human species. But what is not felt to be a duty is not a duty." (Otto Weininger - Sex And Character An Investigation Of Fundamental Principles)
For me personally, the strongest argument against natural law in sexual terms is this:
"It may also be argued that Aquinas’ approach is not holistic – it fails to consider the human being as a psycho-physical unit. To separate, for instance, genitalia out as having a particular purpose on their own without considering the whole complexity of a person’s relationship to his or her body, psychology, sexuality in general, the ability of human beings as embodied persons to express and receive love and to come to their full humanity may be a diminution of human beings as people. We are not an accumulation of ‘bits’ – we are whole human persons and all moral judgements must take our complexity as human persons into account." (Vardy, Peter - The Puzzle of Ethics)
Even if, like Feser, one is a proponent of the Old Natural Law, one need not necessarily classify homosexual acts as immoral. For there is much to support the view that human homosexuality, like that which occurs in many animal species, is natural and is felt by the majority of those practicing homosexuality to be healthy:
"[I]t is still worth remarking that sexually inverted people can otherwise be perfectly healthy and, apart from accessorial social factors, do not feel worse than all the other healthy people. If one asks them whether they have any wish to be different in this respect, one quite often receives a negative answer." (Otto Weininger - Sex and Character: An Investigation of Fundamental Principles)
"I think that perversions, if there are any such things, are either sexual manifestations of various aspects of bad moral character or states that are psychologically inextricable from bad moral character. I am myself unsure whether there are any sexual perversions. [...], I am very confident that the psychological generalisations that have underwritten the claim that homosexuality is a perversion are false." (Dirk Baltzly - PERIPATETIC PERVERSIONS: A NEO-ARISTOTELIAN ACCOUNT OF THE NATURE OF SEXUAL PERVERSION)
"Whether a sexual activity is natural or perverted does not depend [...] on what organs are used or where they are put, but only on the character of the psychology of the sexual encounter." (Alan Soble - Philosophy of Sexuality)
Homosexuals then simply belong in a "subcategory":
"Many prominent proponents of Old and New Natural Law morally condemn sexual acts between people of the same sex because those acts are incapable of reproduction; they each offer a distinct set of supporting reasons. While some New Natural Law philosophers have begun to distance themselves from this moral condemnation, there are not many similarly ameliorative efforts within Old Natural Law. I argue for the bold conclusion that Old Natural Law philosophers can accept the basic premises of Old Natural Law without also being committed to morally condemning sexual activity between people of the same sex. I develop an argument from analogy that shows how we can draw metaphysically distinct subcategories based on someone’s capacity to experience the unitive goods of sex. This unitive capacity constitutes the sub-category and provides a distinct principle for evaluating how members of that sub-category (X) act as members of that sub-category, rather than as acting as defective members of another category (Y). Even though my argument is ‘internal’ to Old Natural Law, I conclude by showing how these conclusions can also address some of the objections to same-sex sex in New Natural Law." (KURT BLANKSCHAEN - Rethinking Same-Sex: Sex in Natural Law Theory)
The knowledge of what natural law is changes over time, without having to be completely overturned if one wants to be a Catholic and to accept natural law as a guide to action at all:
"When Catholics embrace the essentially eschatological and therefore unfinished character of the process of natural law knowledge, they realize that the reliability of the tradition is neither destroyed nor diminished by its errors. In this way, the discovery of the humanity of homosexuality does not overturn the authority of the man who once condemned it. Heterosexual Catholics need no longer fear the ecclesial inclusion of lesbians and gays while lesbian and gay Catholics need no longer fear the Thomistic texts that have been so expertly used against them. Misrepresented as an author who underwrites magisterial terror, Aquinas reveals himself to be a source of lesbian and gay Catholic empowerment." (Katie Grimes - BUTLER INTERPRETS AQUINAS: How to Speak Thomistically About Sex)
Here is a summary account of Catholic historicity regarding the condemnation of contraception (after all, the rhythm method as a contraceptive is allowed, which apparently was not always the case):
"The recorded statements of Christian doctrine on contraception did not have to be read in a way requiring an absolute prohibition. The doctrine had been molded by the teaching of the Gospels on the sanctity of marriage; the Pauline condemnation of unnatural sexual behavior; the Old Testament emphasis on fertility; the desire to justify marriage while extolling virginity; the need to assign rational purpose and limit to sexual behavior. The doctrine was formed in a society where slavery, slave concubinage, and the inferiority of women were important elements of the environment affecting sexual relations. The education of children was neither universal nor expensive. Underpopulation was a main governmental concern. The doctrine condemning contraception was formulated against the Gnostics, reasserted against the Manichees, and established in canon law at the climax of the campaign against the Cathars. Reaction to these movements hostile to all procreation was not the sole reason for the doctrine, but the emphases, sweep, and place of the doctrine issued from these mortal combats. The environmental changes requiring a reconsideration of the rule accumulated only after 1850. These changes brought about a profound development of doctrine on marriage and marital intercourse: love became established as a meaning and end of the coital act. Before women were emancipated and marriages in the West came to be based on personal decision, writing like that of Von Hildebrand, Doms, Haring, Suenens, Fuchs, Ford, and Kelly would have seemed chimerical. Their work responded to the change in conditions. Their teaching on marriage was in many ways different from that of older theologians. Huguccio would have marveled at the teaching of Ford and Kelly, Jerome would have been astounded at Haring. Suppose the test of orthodoxy were, Would Augustine or Thomas be surprised if he were to return and see what Catholic theologians are teaching today? By this criterion, the entire development on the purposes of marital intercourse would have been unorthodox. But it is a perennial mistake to confuse repetition of old formulas with the living law of the Church. The Church, on its pilgrim's path, has grown in grace and wisdom. That intercourse must be only for a procreative purpose, that intercourse in menstruation is mortal sin, that intercourse in pregnancy is forbidden, that intercourse has a natural position - all these were once common opinions of the theologians and are so no more. Was the commitment to an absolute prohibition of contraception more conscious, more universal, more complete, than to these now obsolete rules? These opinions, now superseded, could be regarded as attempts to preserve basic values in the light of the biological data then available and in the context of the challenges then made to the Christian view of man. At the core of the existing commitment might be found values other than the absolute, sacral value of coitus. Through a variety of formulas, five propositions had been asserted by the Church. Procreation is good. Procreation of offspring reaches its completion only in their education. Innocent life is sacred. The personal dignity of a spouse is to be respected. Marital love is holy. In these propositions the values of procreation, education, life, personality, and love were set forth. About these values a wall had been built; the wall could be removed when it became a prison rather than a bulwark." (John T. Noonan, Jr. - Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists)