This November, I will be presenting a paper at one of the main sessions of the annual meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. The ACPA’s theme this year is “Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life,” and the CFP asked Association members to address, among other things, the philosophical presuppositions of various Church teachings. My paper, entitled “Is Personal Dignity Possible Only If We Live in a Cosmos?” was accepted for presentation and publication. Its abstract is below. For those interested in a personal copy, please contact me.
A few months before, in mid-July, I will be presenting a paper—still in progress—on the implications of the least action principle at the IV Congreso Internacional de Filosofía Tomista in Santiago, Chile. The theme of the conference is the Thomistic principle of operari sequitur esse. My presentation is entitled “The Action and Power of the Universe: Operari Sequitur Esse and the Principle of Least Action,” and its abstract is also given below.
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Is Personal Dignity Possible Only If We Live in a Cosmos?
The Catholic Church has increasingly invoked the principle of human dignity as a way to communicate the message of the Gospel. Catholic philosophers must therefore defend this principle in service to Catholic theology. One aspect of this defense is how the human person relates to the universe. Is human dignity of a piece with the material universe in which we find ourselves? Or is the part’s dignity alien in kind to such a whole? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between? The metaphysics of creation properly locates the human being in the universe as a part, ordered to the universe’s common good of order and ultimately to God. Human dignity is possible only in a cosmos; that this is concordant with modern scientific cosmology is briefly defended in conclusion.
I wish to acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions provided by Christopher Blum and Daniel Lendman on earlier drafts of the essay.
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The Action and Power of the Universe:
Operari Sequitur Esse and the Principle of Least Action
Is form merely a cause of individuals in the universe or is form also a cause of the universe as such? Can a Thomistic account of formal causality explain global physical principles such as the principle of least action (PLA)? The usual lines of contemporary debate defend positions on the nature of physical laws, the nature of dispositions or powers, and their respective priority. This question of priority has also been raised in regard to the PLA: “Does the principle of least action guide physical systems such that action is extremized, or do the fundamental dispositions of objects have a modal character that determines the extremized quantities of action inherent to all physical systems?”* This paper argues that the Thomistic axiom operari sequitur esse is the philosophical key for answering this question. The paper first reviews the basic questions regarding natures and the Thomistic axiom, laws of nature, and the PLA. It then argues that the powers of an object are prior to and explanatory of laws of nature. Finally, the paper argues that formal causality grounds a relational structure in the motion of any object that can be coordinated holistically with systems on the scale of the universe. The key notion advanced in this regard is that forms belonging to objects are not merely intrinsic determinations of being but ground relations that look to the universe as a whole. The forms of individuals are formal parts of the cosmic whole. In this way, global behaviors such as the PLA flow from substances with natures that are coordinated within a whole of a certain order, namely, the universe as such. The being, power, and action of the universe is grounded upon form.
* Benjamin T. H. Smart and Karim P. Y. Thébault, “Dispositions and the Principle of Least Action Revisited,” Analysis 75, no. 3 (2015): 392.
Both the ACPA essay and the least action paper are a part of my postdoctoral research project, funded by a Chilean grant, CONICYT–FONDECYT, Postdoctoral Proj. Nº 3170446.
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