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Ideas of Robert Pasnau, by Text

[American, fl. 2011, Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.]

2011 Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671
02.5 p.29 A substrate may be 'prime matter', which endures through every change
     Full Idea: The 'conservation thesis' about substrates says that there is a single, most basic substrate that endures through every material change, something we call 'prime matter'.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 02.5)
02.5 p.29 There may be different types of substrate, or temporary substrates
     Full Idea: The substratum thesis says …perhaps there is a different subject for different kinds of changes, and perhaps what endures through one kind of change will be corrupted by another.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 02.5)
02.5 p.30 Scholastic authors agree that matter was created by God, out of nothing
     Full Idea: Authors from 1274 to 1671 unanimously endorse the Christian doctrine that matter was created by God, before which time there was no material world at all.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 02.5)
02.5 p.33 If a substrate gives causal support for change, quite a lot of the ingredients must endure
     Full Idea: When the substratum thesis is grounded on the idea that the ingredients must endure through the change, if they are to play a causal role, then it is natural to suppose that quite a lot of the ingredients must endure.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 02.5)
     A reaction: Aristotle sharply distinguishes alteration from substantial change, but as the substrate gets thinner, the boundary between those two would blur.
02.5 p.33 Weak ex nihilo says it all comes from something; strong version says the old must partly endure
     Full Idea: The weak ex nihilo principle says that everything comes from something, and the strong ex nihilo principle says that in everything new, something of the old must endure
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 02.5)
03.1 p.38 The commentaries of Averroes were the leading guide to Aristotle
     Full Idea: The commentaries of Averroes on virtually the whole Aristotelian corpus became by far the most important scholastic guide to the interpretation of Aristotle.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 03.1)
03.2 p.41 Atomism is the commonest version of corpuscularianism, but isn't required by it
     Full Idea: Atomism is the most common version of corpuscular prime matter, but it is not the only option. Indeed, atomism neither entails nor is entailed by the combination of corpuscularianism and the substratum thesis.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 03.2)
     A reaction: The point is that the corpuscles may be endlessly divisible (which Lewis called 'gunk').
03.3 p.49 A substratum can't be 'bare', because it has a job to do
     Full Idea: A completely bare substratum seems not just incoherent but also unable to carry out the function for which it is intended - to be a substratum.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 03.3)
04.3 p.63 Priority was a major topic of dispute for scholastics
     Full Idea: For a scholastic author, hardly anything was so likely to precipitate a lengthy disputatio as talk of priority, in its various kinds.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 04.3)
04.5 p.75 Corpuscularianism rejected not only form, but also the dependence of matter on form
     Full Idea: What marks the rise of the corpuscularian movement is not just the rejection of form, but the rejection of matter as dependent on form.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 04.5)
     A reaction: The point was that matter required form to have any kind of actual existence, but now matter can stand on its own.
04.5 p.76 In the 17th C matter became body, and was then studied by science
     Full Idea: In the seventeenth century, matter becomes body, and body becomes the object of natural science.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 04.5)
05.1 p.77 Philosophy consists of choosing between Plato, Aristotle and Democritus
     Full Idea: The history of philosophy consists in a series of choices between three primordial rivals: Plato, Aristotle and Democritus.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 05.1)
     A reaction: Pasnau's point is that the importance of Democritus is not usually appreciated. As far as I can see, Democritus may have been the greatest of all philosophers, but most of his works are lost. His fragments are the best fragments.
05.1 p.77 After c.1450 all of Plato was available. Before that, only the first half of 'Timaeus' was known
     Full Idea: From the mid-fifteenth century forward, for the first time, the whole Platonic corpus was available in Ficino's Latin translation. Before then, only the first half of the 'Timaeus' had widely circulated in Latin.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 05.1)
05.1 p.79 Original philosophers invariably seek inspiration from past thinkers
     Full Idea: Philosophers almost never strike out on wholly new ground, without the historical inspiration of some figure or other.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 05.1)
05.3 p.84 Renaissance Platonism is peripheral
     Full Idea: The fabled phenomenon of Renaissance Platonism is peripheral.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 05.3)
     A reaction: The point is that only a few Italians pursued the Platonic line. Pasnau suggests Cartesian dualism as a possible influence from Plato.
05.4 p.91 Atomists say causation is mechanical collisions, and all true qualities are microscopic
     Full Idea: The atomist view is that causation is limited to collisions among corpuscles (which is 'mechanism'), and the only bodily qualities are those found at the microcorpuscular level; sensible qualities are in fact sensations.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 05.4)
     A reaction: [Part of a full summary of atomism by Pasnau]
05.5 p.93 Philosophy could easily have died in 17th century, if it weren't for Descartes
     Full Idea: As scholasticism collapsed in the 17th century, it might easily have happened is that philosophy simply died. That this did not happen is due in large part to René Descartes. …It is remarkable that this brilliant man insisted on still doing philosophy.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 05.5)
     A reaction: The alternative view is, of course, that you just can't stop people from thinking philosophically (except by totalitarian education). Are there philosophers in North Korea, or among the Taliban?
06.1 p.101 Hylomorphism may not be a rival to science, but an abstract account of unity and endurance
     Full Idea: Hylomorphism admits of an alternative formulation, as an explanatory schema at a different level of analysis, not competing with corpuscular-mechanistic theory, but accounting for abstract features of the world - notably unity and endurance of substances.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 06.1)
     A reaction: Pasnau is clearly sympathetic. As a view of why normal objects have unity and persist over time it is almost the only decent theory around. Hawley, for example, struggles to explain how 'stages' of a thing are linked. Classical mereology is silly.
06.1 p.101 Hylomorphism declined because scholastics made it into a testable physical theory
     Full Idea: Scholastics lost their grip on hylomorphism as a metaphysical theory, conceiving of it as a concrete, physical hypothesis about causal forces. Once form and matter were made subject to empirical research, their days were inevitably numbered.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 06.1)
     A reaction: Pasnau seems to make a sharp distinction between science, and a separate realm he labels 'metaphysical'. You can't keep causation out of Aristotelian hylomorphism. The defence is that it is at a higher level of generality than science.
06.1 p.102 Scholastics use 'substantia' for thick concrete entities, and for thin metaphysical ones
     Full Idea: Scholastic texts are rife with different senses of 'substantia', using the term to refer, among other things, both to thick concrete entities and to thin metaphysical ones.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 06.1)
     A reaction: Pasnau introduces 'thin' and 'thick' substance for this reason. I may adopt this. Without distinctions between thin and thick concepts of things we can get very muddled. I like the word to label something which is an 'entity'.
06.2 p.105 Corpuscularian critics of scholasticism say only substances exist
     Full Idea: Corpuscularian critics of scholasticism tend to think that only substances exist.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 06.2)
     A reaction: Pasnau treats this as an extreme 17th C reaction which was hopelessly inadequate as metaphysics. We have been struggling with the nature of 'properties' ever since, while losing our grip on the concept of a unified 'substance'.
07.3 p.129 Corpuscularianism promised a decent account of substance
     Full Idea: One of the great attractions of corpuscularianism is that it promises to put our acquaintance with substances on a solid foundation.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 07.3)
     A reaction: This is why the seventeenth century did not abandon 'substance', even though they banished 'substantial form'.
1.1 p.1 Modernity begins in the late 12th century, with Averroes's commentaries on Aristotle
     Full Idea: I tend to think of modernity as coming in the late twelfth century, with Averroes's magisterial commentaries on Aristotle.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 1.1)
     A reaction: A rather quirky use of 'modernity', but this seems to be a huge landmark. Note that it comes from the Islamic Arab world, not from Europe.
10.3 p.185 Transubstantion says accidents of bread and wine don't inhere in the substance
     Full Idea: Transubstantiation maintains that the accidents of the bread and wine endure after consecration without inhering in the substance.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 10.3)
     A reaction: It's a big puzzle to outsiders why softness and nice taste should have theological significance. If it is the body and blood of Christ, presumably a miracle has occurred, so normal theories don't apply. It is the key difficulty for scholastic metaphysics.
11.2 p.208 Scholastics say there is a genuine thing if it is 'separable'
     Full Idea: Among the scholastics (after Duns Scotus) it would be come to be taken for granted that the crucial test for being a genuine thing - a 'res' - is separability.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 11.2)
     A reaction: The idea of separability is implicit in Aristotle. In borderline cases, it seems that they are tempted to claim that things like accidental properties are separable, simply because they want them to be genuine things. A criterion for separability?
12.1 p.222 Once accidents were seen as real, 'Categories' became the major text for ontology
     Full Idea: Originally you count substances for ontology. Once there is the doctrine of real accidents (in the 14th cent) the list of ten categories begins to look like an inventory of the kinds of things there are, and 'Categories' looks like the fundamental text.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 12.1)
     A reaction: Prior to this development, 'Categories' was treated as a mere beginner's text, once the major corpus of Aristotle had been rediscovered in the 13th century. The result of this development is sortal essentialism, which I don't like.
13.1 p.244 The biggest question for scholastics is whether properties are real, or modes of substances
     Full Idea: Among scholastics the primary agreement is that what primarily exist are substances. The primary disagreement concerns the nature of their changeable properties. Are they real accidents, or mere modes of substance?
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 13.1)
14.1 p.280 Scholastic Quantity either gives a body parts, or spreads them out in a unified way
     Full Idea: On one version of Quantity realism it is what makes a body have parts; on another version, it is what makes the body's parts be spread out in a continuous and unified way.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 14.1)
14.3 p.291 Anti-Razor: if you can't account for a truth, keep positing things until you can
     Full Idea: The Anti-Razor says 'whenever an affirmative proposition is truly stated, if one thing does not suffice to account for its truth, then one must posit things, and if two do not suffice then three, and so on to infinity'.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 14.3)
     A reaction: This is quoted from an anonymous logic text of 1325. Apparently Ockham himself articulated the idea more than once.
14.4 p.297 Scholastics thought Quantity could be the principle of individuation
     Full Idea: Quantity was a leading scholastic contender for the principle of individuation.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 14.4)
18.1 p.378 Typical successive things are time and motion
     Full Idea: The standard scholastic examples of 'entia successiva' are time and motion.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 18.1)
     A reaction: Aristotle's examples of a day and the Games seem clearer, as time and motion do not count so clearly as 'things'.
19.3 p.408 In 1347, the Church effectively stopped philosophy for the next 300 years
     Full Idea: The year 1347 is a great milestone in the history of philosophy, because then the route to modern philosophy was blocked by Church authorities, and effectively put on hold for almost 300 years.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 19.3)
     A reaction: It is interesting that it was 100 years after the Reformation before philosophy got going again, and then only thanks to one man. Islam stopped philosophy earlier.
20.2 p.442 Plato only made an impact locally in 15th century Italy
     Full Idea: In certain limited circles in Italy, Plato made an impact in the fifteenth century, but his influence never came close to challenging Aristotle's.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 20.2)
21.2 p.468 Scholastic causation is by changes in the primary qualities of hot, cold, wet, dry
     Full Idea: There is a scholastic theory of causation. Of Aristotle's Four Causes, the main one is the 'formal' cause, and that consists of changes in the primary, elemental qualities, which are hot, cold, wet and dry.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 21.2)
     A reaction: [my summary] It is probably right to call this 'scholastic' rather than 'Aristotelian', as I take Aristotelian essence to run deeper than this, and involve principles as well as qualities.
22.3 p.500 In mixtures, the four elements ceased to exist, replaced by a mixed body with a form
     Full Idea: The standard view was that in a mixture there is only the mixed body and its substantial form (gold). There are no further substantial forms of the elements, because the elements do not actually exist within the body.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 22.3)
     A reaction: This seems to me to be the key idea that was overthrown in the seventeenth century, so that corpuscular matter kept aspects of its ingredients, which science could then investigate. With the substantial form, investigation seemed impossible.
23.1 p.519 17th C qualities are either microphysical, or phenomenal, or powers
     Full Idea: The seventeenth century is often said to have bequeathed us three ways of thinking about sensible qualities: either in reductive microphysical terms, or as internal phenomenal states, or else as powers or dispositions.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 23.1)
     A reaction: Pasnau goes on to claim that no one in the 17th century believed the third one. I take it to be a very new, and totally wonderful and correct, view.
23.1 p.519 17th century authors only recognised categorical properties, never dispositions
     Full Idea: In the seventeenth century, my claim is that authors during the period recognise only categorical properties, and never dispositional properties.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 23.1)
23.5 p.535 Scholastics reject dispositions, because they are not actual, as forms require
     Full Idea: Scholastics reject anything like bare dispositions, on Aristotelian principles. Powers are forms, and forms actualise their subject, and are causally efficacious. Therefore no powers can be bare dispositions.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 23.5)
     A reaction: The point seems to be that a mere disposition is not actual, as a form is required to be. I would have thought that a power does not have to be operational to be actual. A live electric wire is a real phenomenon. It isn't waiting to be live.
23.5 p.538 Scholastics wanted to treat Aristotelianism as physics, rather than as metaphysics
     Full Idea: There is a broad scholastic tendency to understand Aristotelianism not in abstract, metaphysical terms, but as a concrete, physical theory of the world.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 23.5)
     A reaction: This seems to give a good explanation of why Aristotelianism plummeted to oblivion in the 17th C. Pasnau obviously wants to revive it, by drawing a sharp line between metaphysics and science. I doubt the line.
24.1 p.549 Scholastics made forms substantial, in a way unintended by Aristotle
     Full Idea: The conception of form as somehow substantial took on new life among scholastic Aristotelians, and was developed in ways that Aristotle himself never suggested.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 24.1)
     A reaction: This is music to we modern neo-Aristotelians, because scholasticism was rightly dumped in the 17th C, but we can go back and start again from what The Philosopher actually said.
24.1 p.550 Aquinas says a substance has one form; Scotists say it has many forms
     Full Idea: Aquinas subscribes to the unitarian doctrine that a single substance has just a single substantial form, but authors like Scotus subscribe to a plurality of substantial forms.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 24.1)
     A reaction: The Scotists seem to think that qualities themselve can have forms. I take it that Aristotle would have agreed with Aquinas.
24.1 p.551 Aristotelians deny that all necessary properties are essential
     Full Idea: For an Aristotelian not all necessary properties are essential; the essential properties are those that define a thing as what it is.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 24.1)
     A reaction: I take it as basic that whatever is essential is in some way important, whereas necessities can be trivial.
24.2 p.555 If there are just arrangements of corpuscles, where are the boundaries between substances?
     Full Idea: If all there are corpuscles of various shapes and sizes, variously arranged, it is not easy to see how we might draw the boundary lines, at any given moment, between one substance and another.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 24.2)
     A reaction: We still have precisely that problem, and it leads to the nihilism about ordinary objects found in Unger, Van Inwagen and Merricks. I have so far found modern defences of ordinary objects unpersuasive.
24.2 p.563 Scholastics began to see substantial form more as Aristotle's 'efficient' cause
     Full Idea: The whole scholastic conception of substantial form came to have more and more in common with an Aristotelian efficient cause.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 24.2)
     A reaction: Aristotle, of course, identified the form with the 'formal cause [aitia]', which is the shape of the statue, rather than the efficient cause, which is the sculptor.
24.4 p.564 Substantial forms were a step towards scientific essentialism
     Full Idea: Substantial forms might well be viewed as an early step in the development of scientific essentialism.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 24.4)
     A reaction: This is the scholastic view of substantial forms, which is much more physical and causal, rather than Aristotle's more abstract view. The rejection of substantial forms led to the 'Humean' view of laws of nature.
25.2 p.580 There is no centralised power, but we still need essence for a metaphysical understanding
     Full Idea: One could empirically reject a centralised power within a substance - and still think a genuine substance requires a form of some more abstract kind, not for a physical explanation, but for a full metaphysical understanding of how things are.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 25.2)
     A reaction: This divorce of the 'metaphysical' from the physical is a running theme in Pasnau, and he cites support from Leibniz. I'm not sure I understand 'metaphysical' understanding, if it is actually contrary to physics. I take it to be 'psychological'.
25.3 p.584 If clay survives destruction of the statue, the statue wasn't a substance, but a mere accident
     Full Idea: The unitarian view of substance says it cannot be divided. If the clay can survive the destruction of the statue, then that shows that the statue was not a substance at all, and that its shape (or whatever made it a statue) was merely a passing accident.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 25.3)
     A reaction: This seems to give the orthodox Aristotelian/Thomist reading, assuming that a substance only has one form, which unifies it. Since clay must have shape, and statues must have matter, I have never understood how there were two objects here.
26.1 p.606 For corpuscularians, a substance is just its integral parts
     Full Idea: According to strict corpuscularianism the only real constituents of a substance are its integral parts.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 26.1)
     A reaction: An understandable reaction to the emptiness of Aristotelian substantial forms in science. It seems to leave out the structural principles that distinguish one arrangement of parts from another. See Koslicki on this.
26.1 p.609 If crowds are things at all, they seem to be Substances, since they bear properties
     Full Idea: Crowds seem to be the bearers of properties, and if they are things at all, then there is no place for them other than in the category of Substance.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 26.1)
     A reaction: It is tempting to say, based on Aristotle, that a substance is whatever 1) bears properties, and 2) endures in spite of change, but a crowd is a nice problem case, because it looks too disunited to be a 'substance'.
26.6 p.632 The 17th century is a metaphysical train wreck
     Full Idea: The seventeenth century is a metaphysical train wreck.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 26.6)
     A reaction: This is, roughly, because the corpuscularian philosophy lacked the resources to answer all the problems dealt with by substantial forms.
27.5 p.648 Essences must explain, so we can infer them causally from the accidents
     Full Idea: Without the explanatory role of essence, the underlying epistemic picture would be jeopardised, because there would no longer be any causal route by which we might get from accidents to essence.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 27.5)
     A reaction: There is a slight whiff of circularity here. It could be that we are psychologically desperate for essences, and so we invent bogus causal routes from the accidents to get at them. Can we know there are essences awaiting us, on independent grounds?
27.6 p.654 If you reject essences, questions of individuation become extremely difficult
     Full Idea: Given the accepted linkage between a thing's essence and its identity, the rejection of essences makes a complete mess out of questions of individuation.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 27.6)
     A reaction: I note that he talks of a thing having 'identity', contra the view of identity as a two-place relation. I agree with this, but there is a chicken-egg problem. Do I perceive an identity and surmise an essence, or surmise an essence and deduce identity?
28.2 p.669 Instead of adding Aristotelian forms to physical stuff, one could add dispositions
     Full Idea: Someone who wants to enrich a strict corpuscularian account with other metaphysical entities has alternatives other than Aristotelian hylomorphism. One can, for instance, introduce dispositions.
     From: Robert Pasnau (Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 [2011], 28.2)
     A reaction: This slightly throws me, because I have been flirting with a dispositional account of hylomorphism. The implication is that the form is abstract and structural, where the disposition is real and physical. But dispositions can do the job of forms.