Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

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Simon Adams
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Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by Simon Adams »

Hi All

Welcome to the new forum. Please shout if you have any problems ... I think it’s all working and will be more flexible than Google Groups, but apologies up front if there are any teething problems! I’m here in the background to support Dana with any issues.

I’m testing submitting a post via my phone, and thought I may as well paste something I’ve been reading, which has idealism and realism far closer than they seem to be in modern philosophy (to me anyway);
Aristotle’s exposition of generation brings together the concept of potential with his metaphysical realism. As discussed above, in Aristotelian realism, formal properties are within the object: Sphericality is in the sphere.
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As for how spheri-cality comes to be in the sphere, Aristotle answers using the concept of potential, and here we discover his explanation of generation. Matter, Aristotle argues, is not atoms or particles but pure potential.
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Generation occurs when form manifests in matter, moving material potential from non-being (or not-yet-something) into be-ing (something).
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We might think of the form-matter relationship like the rela-tionship between fabric and a solid object. Fabric is amorphous, capable of taking on any number of shapes. Were we to wrap fabric around a ball, the fabric would become spherical. But spherically would not belong to the fabric per se; it would belong to the ball that communicates sphericality to the fabric. In the same way, matter, as potential or non-being, is without properties of its own, but it takes on properties when form enters it. The entrance of form into matter causes matter to become a concrete something—a rock, a plant, a dog, a human—and the stages through which matter moves as it becomes something is what we call generation
.
.....
Neither Basil nor Gregory argue that matter does not exist; their case is that matter, as a substratum of potential, has no properties of its own. It is
some-thing only because form is in it. To remove every property is to be left with nothing but the potential to be a thing. What sits in the crosshairs is not matter, but pre-existent matter (i.e., matter that exists prior to receiving form). The case against pre-existent matter reveals a Cappadocian commitment to hy-lomorphic metaphysics of the kind we find in Athanasius. Unlike some brands of Platonism, which grant to both matter and form independence existence, the Cap-padocians see matter and form as bilaterally dependent. And lest anyone suspect the dependence is unilateral—matter upon form, not vice versa—Gregory is clear that forms are just thoughts (logoi ) or concepts (noē mata ) in God’s mind apart from material instantiation.
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Likewise, Basil describes the generation of divine concepts as God’s first act toward creating,
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but he is also clear that these divine concepts have no concrete existence apart from matter. It is the combining of form and mat-ter that produces a being.


https://www.academia.edu/41586437/The_M ... =swp_share
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by Soul_of_Shu »

Thanks Simon for 'christening' this new ship of seekers on its journey into evermore metaphysical speculations and serendipitous mysteries. Great topic, which I'll peruse in more detail, once I get over my current screen-time overdose hangover. :)
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we who crave deep secrets and mysteries,
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by ScottRoberts »

My mumorphism shtick (including the reason for the word) arose from the concept of (and word) hylomorphism, so you might find it of interest. Here is the relevant portion:
Hylomorphism is the Aristotelian idea that all physical things are composites of matter (hyle) and form (morphe). An example is a butter knife, whose matter is stainless steel, which has been given the appropriate form to allow one to cut a slab of butter and spread it. From this one gets Aristotle's four causes of a thing: the formal cause (the right shape), the material cause (stainless steel), the final cause (wanting something that spreads butter), and the efficient cause (the actual making of the knife).

The problem with hylomorphism comes when one notes that stainless steel, or at least its constituent molecules, are also form/matter composites. Hence one calls it "proximate matter". Now the question is, as one burrows down into these proximate matters, from iron atoms to protons, neutrons, and electrons, is there some fundamental stuff? Whatever physicists might identify as fundamental particles, or resonances, or what have you, is going to have form. Thus, the Aristotelian says one bottoms out with prime matter (a term not used by Aristotle, and as I understand it, there is debate over whether the concept would have been acceptable to him, but that is not our concern). So what is prime matter? The Aristotelian calls it "pure potential", which brings up the more basic Aristotelian idea of actual and potential existence. Suffice it to say that form is understood to actuate the potential of matter, both proximate and prime. That is, the steel has the potential to be a knife, and prime matter has the potential to be anything physical. In itself, though, it is inert and formless, though it never is "in itself" -- that is, it never occurs in the absence of form.

Well, this makes some sort of sense, but I find it unsatisfactory. Prime matter is undetectable, and so the question is, must one infer its reality? I shall argue that, no, one can do without it. And I shall do so by accepting another Scholastic idea, namely that of Divine Simplicity.

One should insert here a lot of Thomist argument (including his Five Ways on the existence of God), but I shall just give the conclusion, which is that God is perfectly "simple", that is, has no parts, is not in any way a composite, and so on. In short, God is formless. But there are many words that one can apply to God, like Being, Love, Intellect, Will, and so on (the capital letters are needed to remind us that such words apply to God differently than they apply to humans). But since God is perfectly simple, God's Being is the same as God's Love, and so on. Oh yes, another such word is Act: God is Pure Act, which is to say is at the opposite pole from the Pure Potential of prime matter.

So far, so good. Basically, I accept all of that, but wish to note one additional thing about God according to Thomists (and other classical theists), which is that God sustains everything in existence at all times. Call this God's Sustenance. But as God is simple, one must add this to to the list: God's Will is God's Intellect, is God's Sustenance. This is what keeps every physical thing in existence. So what if we just eliminate prime matter from our metaphysics and replace it with God's Sustenance? In themselves they are both formless, and I have to wonder about having two formlessnesses hanging about.

Of course, this means a bigger change for the Aristotelian/Thomist, for God is Pure Act, while prime matter is Pure Potential, in itself completely inactive. The change to mumorphism will also add the characteristic of Pure Potential to God.

It seems to me that one can also reduce Aristotle's four causes to two, now that matter has been eliminated. Thus the material cause of something becomes an elaboration of the formal cause -- a plastic knife differs from a steel knife by having different molecular subforms. In addition, a final cause, like any idea, is a form. (This does not mean that the concept of final cause isn't useful -- just recognizes that it is an additional formal cause.) And so, one can say that an object has a (variously complex) formal cause and an efficient cause. If one examines the efficient cause, it reduces ultimately to the application of energy. Which is ultimately formless. Thus the existence of anything is ultimately the result of the interplay of form and formlessness, or mumorphism.

A minor point: in replacing hylomorphism with mumorphism one also removes any fundamental difference between physical and non-physical objects. They are both mumorphic, while only physical objects are hylomorphic.

A major point. While hylomorphism can be said to be a composite of matter and form, one cannot say of mumorphism that it is a composite of form and formlessness. This is because form is not other than formlessness. What word should one use, then? Well, that is the reason for coining the word 'mumorphism' -- there is no previously existing word for this relation.
Also, I just wanted to check out how to make a hyperlink and see how the quote function looks :) .
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by ScottRoberts »

P.S. Thanks for getting this site up and running. So far, so good.
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by Simon Adams »

Interesting thanks Scott.

I’m still getting my head around Aristotle & Thomism. Your argument for the simplification of the metaphysics does make sense, although I personally can’t go as far as prime matter being the same as god (if I understand you correctly). Nonetheless, short of having something like Plato’s “world soul” as the universe, I’m not yet able to justify in a rational way why I seem to be ‘pushing god back’ from a more direct role (short of being itself). I could go into why I feel I need to do that, but that’s maybe not appropriate for here.

I know it gets messy mixing the different metaphysics, but there does seem to be a sense in which Aristotle’s prime matter, Kant’s “thing in itself”, and right through to Bernardo’s “mind at large”, are all describing the same ‘thing’ from different perspectives. At a basic level, there is the stuff of which matter is the representation, and the content that shapes and defines it.

On the subject of different perspectives, I was watching a recent interview with John Horgan and George Musser, where Musser made a statement that he thought the different Quantum interpretations were each telling us something valid about the nature of reality. This struck me because I’ve always thought that Many Worlds is ridiculous as a theory. However if you ‘turn it upside down’, then the many worlds are like the ‘pure potential’. The way thought happens it seems to me, is that it starts off fairly vague (many possibilities), and then becomes more defined and solid (especially when you need to speak it). I’m sure the physicists would baulk at this, but maybe there are pieces of the puzzle in different quantum interpretations, and in different philosophies...
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
ScottRoberts
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by ScottRoberts »

Simon Adams wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:05 pm
I’m still getting my head around Aristotle & Thomism. Your argument for the simplification of the metaphysics does make sense, although I personally can’t go as far as prime matter being the same as god (if I understand you correctly).
No, my view is that God, as Pure Act, replaces prime matter. In doing so this also reverses Aristotle's view that form actualizes pure potential. In my view, analogically speaking, form is potential, like a deflated balloon that God inflates, making it actual. (To get past the analogy would take a while.) So the concept of prime matter just goes away.
I know it gets messy mixing the different metaphysics, but there does seem to be a sense in which Aristotle’s prime matter, Kant’s “thing in itself”, and right through to Bernardo’s “mind at large”, are all describing the same ‘thing’ from different perspectives. At a basic level, there is the stuff of which matter is the representation, and the content that shapes and defines it.
Well, the whole point of mumorphism is to view these two as one, but again explaining that takes a while (which I do in the Tetralemmic Polarity essay).
On the subject of different perspectives, I was watching a recent interview with John Horgan and George Musser, where Musser made a statement that he thought the different Quantum interpretations were each telling us something valid about the nature of reality. This struck me because I’ve always thought that Many Worlds is ridiculous as a theory. However if you ‘turn it upside down’, then the many worlds are like the ‘pure potential’. The way thought happens it seems to me, is that it starts off fairly vague (many possibilities), and then becomes more defined and solid (especially when you need to speak it). I’m sure the physicists would baulk at this, but maybe there are pieces of the puzzle in different quantum interpretations, and in different philosophies...
This could be interesting, though I think there will never be a meeting in minds between those who think consciousness plays a role and those who don't.
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

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Simon Adams wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:05 pm On the subject of different perspectives, I was watching a recent interview with John Horgan and George Musser, where Musser made a statement that he thought the different Quantum interpretations were each telling us something valid about the nature of reality. This struck me because I’ve always thought that Many Worlds is ridiculous as a theory. However if you ‘turn it upside down’, then the many worlds are like the ‘pure potential’. The way thought happens it seems to me, is that it starts off fairly vague (many possibilities), and then becomes more defined and solid (especially when you need to speak it). I’m sure the physicists would baulk at this, but maybe there are pieces of the puzzle in different quantum interpretations, and in different philosophies...
I also think there is something here. And that conceptualization seems to be right in line with Jungian depth psychology, which is somewhat more explicitly idealist. To quote Whitmont's summary from The Symbolic Quest:

“The first elementary form of conscious perception occurs through the merging of sense perceptions into comprehensive images. As we see most clearly in the mental processes of children, unconscious psychic functioning first reaches a conscious state in terms of the images of external forms with which we have experience. The external world gives us our vocabulary and our only means of approaching the transcendental reality of the things in themselves. What these things in themselves are we cannot know, for we are limited to our typical human modes of experiencing. Indeed, the concept of the “thing in itself” is itself an expression of abstraction and rational thought, arranged in a cause-effect order and determined by the questions: where from? how? where to?

The structuring of our minds makes us experience existence in the dualistic form of a world of “external” objects which we are able to organize, and a world of “internal” impulses which we find hard to master. But in both dimensions we perceive by way of images. The same images which present themselves to us as representatives of the external world are used by the psyche to express the internal world.

The realization of the existence of one’s inner world as an entity of its own comes to consciousness relatively late. When this begins to occur, consciousness has already established itself in terms of abstract conceptualizations based upon, but also separated from, the original outer images. These images of outer objects are the first units of psychic functioning, and the only points at which the conscious mind touches or reaches back to the source of its being, the unconscious psyche. The unconscious itself, since it is unconscious, is image-less, concept-less. We cannot comprehend the thing in itself; images are the basic units by which we apprehend it. We can at best speculate about it in terms of energy currents, dynamisms, etc., but even these are abstract concepts gained from observed external images."
...
Whenever the psyche attempts to present us with an awareness of an inner dimension which we have no previous experience of (since we have so far only learned to orient ourselves to external things), this can occur only through linking this new and unknown territory with the image of some outer object; unexplored inner territory is mapped by the higher intelligence of the psyche, which expresses this territory in terms of the image of some outer object. In the case of the dream or fantasy image of water, we are really being confronted with an outer image which now means inner water: “water of life”, “fountain of youth” are interpretations much closer to the kinds of meaning expressed in the inner dimension. When interpreted as representations of external objects, images in the context of dream or fantasy are meaningless and seemingly irrational.

We begin to see that the way in which the mind experiences the external world is made to serve a different purpose in the internal realm of adaptation.”
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by Simon Adams »

ScottRoberts wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:12 am No, my view is that God, as Pure Act, replaces prime matter. In doing so this also reverses Aristotle's view that form actualizes pure potential. In my view, analogically speaking, form is potential, like a deflated balloon that God inflates, making it actual. (To get past the analogy would take a while.) So the concept of prime matter just goes away.
How would you put that into an idealist analogy? Is it closer to all being phenomenal consciousness, or more like gods dream where there is no tangible difference between the dream and the dreamer?
This could be interesting, though I think there will never be a meeting in minds between those who think consciousness plays a role and those who don't.
I think things are changing slowly, although there will always be the die hards. With theories like IIT growing in popularity and espousing Panpsychism, and on the other side Qbism with its "agents', the remaining islands for materialists are things like many worlds and super determinism which I can't imagine will remain popular for long....
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by ScottRoberts »

Simon Adams wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 7:05 pm
How would you put that into an idealist analogy? Is it closer to all being phenomenal consciousness, or more like gods dream where there is no tangible difference between the dream and the dreamer?
I don't know which it is more like, perhaps the latter. I see it as just a statement of idealism: that all that exists is being thought into existence.
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Re: Idealism of the Eastern Fathers

Post by Simon Adams »

ScottRoberts wrote: Sat Jan 16, 2021 12:20 am I don't know which it is more like, perhaps the latter. I see it as just a statement of idealism: that all that exists is being thought into existence.
Maybe I’ll ask the question a different way, what do you see as the difference between the unicorn I’m thinking of, and the cat I’m looking at? From a thomist perspective, there is this correspondence to truth which he calls “being”. Is this what you call “inflated by god”?

I’m still not quite sure how Bernardo addresses this. I guess he is not a realist in one sense, and yet I feel he would accept that the cat is significantly different to the unicorn. If only phenomenal experience is ultimately real, and there is nothing more primitive (such as being), then that seems to have oversimplified.
Ideas are certain original forms of things, their archetypes, permanent and incommunicable, which are contained in the Divine intelligence. And though they neither begin to be nor cease, yet upon them are patterned the manifold things of the world that come into being and pass away.
St Augustine
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