Every one of these paradoxes can be readily refuted. That would take time (I am a tweet-free zone), so I’ll only focus on one for now—the Ship of Theseus. It’s not a paradox. Rather, it’s a trap for the uninformed and those who think “Wow!” is a responsible and valid intellectual response to something they don’t understand.

In this particular case, the author is ignorant of the *per se* vs *per accidens* distinction as well as the distinction between natural things and artifacts.

An artifact, by definition, is something that can *only* come into existence by the action of a rational agent. The artifact can neither act on its own without the intervention of a rational agent nor does it have a *per se* (i.e., “by itself”) or essential nature. A natural thing acts is what it is based on the locus of actions unique to it.

In anticipation, please spare us some nonsense: clearly this is not the full explanation for the existence of something: it is merely one based on innate capacities for specific actions. One can come to understand beingness through the perspectives of nature, essence, form, substance... and then one needs the Four Causes to complete the story... but I digress.

Please also spare us the nonsense of believing brutes (i.e., non-rational animals) make artifacts—they do not precisely because they are not rational… and, no, thinking does not necessarily imply rationality: brute animals do think, but they do not reason. Rationality is the ability to think abstractly by reflecting back upon thinking about something. Orioles build nests, but they do not use reason to do so: it is an instinctual ability, not a rational one… which is why brute animals can (usually, but not always) be trained… but they cannot be taught in the proper sense of the word. Orioles don’t communicate with each other design improvements or aesthetic aspects of their nests… because they can’t: they’re instinctually driven to survive—not to debate design nuances.

A nature (or a natural thing) is a true substance: that which “stands under” the accidents—that which is “under—stood”. A substance exists by itself without being “propped up” by something else, nor does it care what I or anyone think it should be. It “has” innate capacities for acts unique to it. Much more needs to be said, but this should suffice for the task at hand.

Artifacts can be named (defined as) anything the maker of the artifact wants, but that definition can never be an *essential* definition. So, for example, I can design and construct a pencil... and use it as a pencil is normally/commonly used. But, what is to stop me from using the pencil as a bridge for hungry ants to cross from an empty table to one containing picnic goodies? Nothing. So be it: it’s a bridge. That is, there is nothing essential about a pencil writing any more than there is anything essential about a pencil “acting” as a bridge. It is accidental (*per accidens*) to the wood, graphite, rubber eraser, metal, and glue whether it’s used as a writing utensil or a bridge for ants. You can’t even do violence to an artifact (violence = acting against the nature of a thing) precisely for the reason is that it has no *per se* nature. Intentionally smashing an ancient Chinese vase does no violence to the vase (why should the clay and glaze care?), but it does do violence—even if not physical—to the designer and maker of the vase by devaluing their idea/design, their beautiful art(ifact), and their labor.

Can violence be committed against a nature (a natural thing)? Of course—unfortunately, all to easily. It is not in the nature of a human to be used as a bridge, so when a Nazi commander of a concentration camp forced Jews to lie in mud so that he could walk over them to not muddy his boots, he was acting viciously—not virtuously—that is, violently against the prisoners.

So, the Ship of Theseus is a non-starter “paradox”: it doesn’t matter how many times or with what material the original ship’s parts were fully replaced. It is still the Ship of Theseus because the designer and constructor want it to be—that was his or her intention. What if Theseus used a large inflatable raft that got the job done—would that not be the Ship of Theseus? You’d be a fool to suggest to Theseus that it’s not his ship.

The point is the following: the material substrate of an artifact do not define it. Period. Another example is useful. Let’s say I typed in 12-point New York Times, lower-case, black font the word “transfiguration” while a sky writer used his/her plane to write “TRANSFIGURATION” all-caps, Arial font, with 100-meter tall smoke-based letters in the sky. Which word would contain “more” information? Clearly, the sky-written word: it would take substantial computer memory to store property data on each and every particle making up those letters, while it takes very little to store my much smaller word. But, what if I asked, “which work contains more meaning?” Well, the meaning has *nothing* to do with the material substrate by which it is manifested: both words have exactly the same meaning. (I could write one of the words in Ukrainian for all anyone cares—the meaning would be the same.) Moreover, while the “written” words are clearly artifacts, they are also *signs*, i.e., things that don’t have a substantial reality in and of themselves but point to a reality beyond them.

Anticipating another response: could a hurricane, at least in principle and low probability notwithstanding, descend upon a large junkyard and assemble a 747? Nope—never… not even in principle. Let’s lower the stakes: could a hurricane, at least in principle, descend upon a large junkyard and assemble a single pencil? Nope—never… not even in principle. Why? Precisely because a hurricane is not a rational agent, and artifacts require rational agents bring them into existence. The same reasoning applies to a bunch of monkeys sitting at a bunch of computers: they will *never* produce the first line of Shakespeare’s 19th Sonnet. (Based on the nature of monkeys, far more likely they would pick up the keyboards and bang them against the computers, remove some of the keys and chew on them, and pee on the keyboards.) Even if the monkeys managed to produce something an English-speaker might recognize as the first line of the 19th Sonnet, it still would not be that line—it would be meaningless because no rational intent (which is the Final Cause) went into producing it.

Other examples abound. If I were carrying a large sack of Scrabble letters but the sack had a hole through which some dropped to the ground (me being totally oblivious), even if the letters spelled out the word TRANSFIGURATION, it would not be that word. Period. It would merely be the confluence of a number of independent lines of causality—otherwise known as a “chance event.” An English-speaking rational agent walking behind me might come upon this chance event and recognize its alleged meaning, but it’s still not the word: their recognition does not impart actual meaning.

Another excellent example: I plan and hold a party on Cape Cod at the shore behind some large sand dunes. Prior to the event, I communicate with everyone invited that there will be a sign pointing in the direction of the party from the parking lot (about 500 meters away). My buddy, John, parks his car and starts looking for a sign: he gets to the shore and sees three large sticks in the form of an arrow… and decides to follow the arrow thinking it’s the sign. When John arrives at the party, he thanks me for the invitation and compliments me for being “green conscience” on the use of driftwood for a sign. I go, “Huh?” Just then, Penny comes running up to inform me she’s fixed the large fluorescent-green sign that was blown away by the wind. John and I look at each other perplexed… and both of us ask for a beer. Was the driftwood a sign? Nope: ocean waves are not rational—a chance occurrence of a pattern in driftwood neither imposes meaning nor was the driftwood a rationally-constructed sign. In fact, it’s not even an artifact of natural forces—it’s just a pile of driftwood with no meaning apart from what it is.

There are no paradoxes in the real world. The world is ordered—something we should have learned about creation from Moses and the Jews). And, because the world is well-ordered, it is understandable by us rational animals. Unfortunately, there is also ignorance masquerading as profound knowledge, intellectual laziness, will-to-power over others, and the shallowness of entertainment value. 140-character tweets rule the day—not long and difficult commitments to hard work and reflection and changing one’s self before foisting “change” upon others. In other words, there is the human condition. Where is Socrates—a long-dead, white European male—when you need him? Socrates was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was prepared to admit his own ignorance rather than pretend to know something he did not. And, he was willing to die for this...




Catholic, Aristotelian-Thomist, Ukrainian, nuclear engineer, physicist, philosopher of nature, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, classical music, athletics

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Alexander Sich

Alexander Sich

Catholic, Aristotelian-Thomist, Ukrainian, nuclear engineer, physicist, philosopher of nature, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, classical music, athletics

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