Saturday, May 15, 2010

Students and the First Way II

Last term I posted summaries of some answers I had received to a question on a history of philosophy take-home quiz, namely, "In Thomas Aquinas's First Way, what do you think is the weakest premise (the one that would require the most work to defend), and why?" Because the result had been so interesting last time, I had, with some slight verbal differences, the same question on the quiz this term. Any answer was accepted, as long as it (1) showed acquaintance with the First Way and (2) did not attribute something to the argument that obviously wasn't there. Like last time the students had had only one class on the argument, chiefly geared to explaining scholastic method. One can see some sign of variation in teaching. This time I'm pretty sure I failed to do as well as I did last time explaining the overall context of the argument, and I think it shows. There are fewer insightful answers (although some are more audacious) and a couple of themes keep coming up with dreary repetition. But it's still an interesting look at how people react to first exposure to the argument. As with last time, I will paraphrase somewhat to make them similar in structure to each other, and also occasionally clean them up and abridge them; also, I am setting aside some answers I could make neither head nor tails of, and one or two where the student was clearly just confused as to what the question said.

* "Whatever is moved is moved by another." He'd have to explain in several steps why it is true for everything. He must also explain how the first mover is God; if the person doesn't believe there is a God, this brings it into another argument.

* "Whatever is moved is moved by another." I find this hard to believe in every case because atoms move by themselves, and neurons in our head move by themselves. Our bodies may move because of the neurons, but the neurons move themselves.

* "It is impossible that a thing should be both mover and moved," saying something can't move itself. Without knowing a lot about physics, I would say the earth moves itself. One might also say that we move ourselves.

* He says the first mover must be God. It's hard to prove this point.

* The last premise is weakest; Thomas Aquinas doesn't consider that the first mover could have been a natural phenomenon and not a divine hand.

* Nothing can move by itself. Atoms move by themselves. Also, animals move by themselves and we don't use an impulse from anything else to move.

* He said the first mover was God. There was no proof that the first mover was God; that's just a guess. The only thing the five ways prove is that there was something first.

* "Whatever is moved is moved by another." This premise would conflict with the notion of God since he is almighty and can do anything he wants, e.g., move or be unmoved.

* "Whatever is moved is moved by another." There are things that are moved for no reason, like wind and water. There is no reason why these things move; they just happen.

* "Whatever is moved is moved by another" Newton's First Law states that a particle would tend to stay at rest or move in a constant velocity if no external force is applied to it. So it is as natural for a body to move (in a constant velociy) as it is for a body to be at rest. With Newton's First Law, there is no need for a Prime Mover.

* "Each thing in motion is moved by something else." How can you prove that a pencil that rolls on a table is being rolled by another object or thing when the air is absolutely still & is not being tampered with by any person or thing?

* People would have the hardest time accepting the premise "nothing can move itself" because people believe they move/control themselves and their actions. His other premises have plenty of examples, but this one relies on opinion.

* That a series of causes cannot be infinite. It's possible that causes are indeed infinite, or we would expect it eventually to just...end.

* "It is impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved. I think about times I am sitting and tapping my foot, and although I believe in God, I find it hard to believe that he is telling my foot to move. There should be more to the explanation than simply saying that I am being moved because God is my mover.

* "Nothing can be moved from a state of potentiality to actuality except by something in a state of actuality." Who is to say what is actual and what has the potential to be actual? We don't know if anything truly exists.

* The final premise about the first mover being God. If you don't believe in God, I think you can accept all premises about things being moved until you get ot the final or first mover being God. There would be no way to convince an atheist of your point.

* The last premise is the weakest, because there is no hard proof that God exists. If people don't believe in him then there is no explanation for moving objects with no cause. Every other premise is solid, but when you get into this one you start getting into religious beliefs and individual opinions, which are tricky.

* The last one where he claims that everyone understands the first mover to be God. His other premises can be sufficiently proven, but the existence of God lacks evidence and is debated.

* That the chain of causation cannot extend to infinity. People rarely apply the concept of infinity to anything which exists because people have no direct experience of anything infinite. Everything we come in contact with begins and ends at some point. But if you can imagine that this is not the case with say, God, then you can see it may not be the case with other things, like time and causation.

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