Worst/Best Music Video Ever

June 24, 2008

Nope, no hyperbole in the title I promise

Seen and Heard #5

June 24, 2008

Two blind people, hand in hand, crossing the street.  Quite literally the blind leading the blind

Why a Cause and Effect Can Occur Simultaneously

June 24, 2008

This isn’t the most exciting piece of literature I’ve ever created but it’s fairly well done and provides good information about how Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle viewed the world.

Thomas Aquinas claimed that an efficient cause (a technical term that I will explain later) must be simultaneous with its effect. First I will outline Aquinas’ metaphysical views regarding causes and principles and then turn to the specifics of the efficient cause and why it is simultaneous with its effect.

Aquinas cites Aristotelian doctrine for many of his philosophical views so some of what I attribute to Aquinas, strictly speaking, should actually be credited to Aristotle. This paper is concerned with the argument not the author so I do not feel especially obligated to be precise on this point. That said, first I will explain the distinction between principles and causes. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but as Aquinas notes there are a few relevant distinctions between the two. To understand the distinctions we must first delve deeper into the subject of causes.

There are four causes: material, formal, efficient and final. The material and formal causes are intrinsic because they are inside of the thing, the efficient and final causes are extrinsic because they are outside of the thing. More on this later, but for our present purposes it is only necessary to understand there are two categories of causes – intrinsic and extrinsic – and the intrinsic causes are inside the causer while the extrinsic causes are outside the causer.

This distinction is important to understanding the difference between causes and principles because the intrinsic causes (material and formal) are both causes and principles but the extrinsic causes are only causes and not principles. A principle is “what is first” regardless if something follows from it. For example in the act of lighting a dark room, darkness is the principle of that movement because it is that from which the movement of dark to light begins. However, darkness clearly cannot be said to be the cause of the movement. Now consider the example of an artist forming a sculpture. The artist is the/a principle of the sculpture because the sculpture comes into being as a result of the artist’s actions. That is, to a certain extent the artist (like darkness) is that from which the sculpture came. But in the case of the artist and the sculpture the artist is also a cause of the sculpture because the sculpture comes into being because of the being of the artist. Thus, a cause “is that from the being of which another being follows.”

So I hope to have established the difference between a principle and a cause. A principle is that from which a movement begins and a cause is a principle that has being and creates another thing with being. However, this description makes it appear that every cause is a principle but not every principle is a cause. We know this isn’t true because, as I have noted above, Aquinas believes that only intrinsic causes are principles while extrinsic causes are not. Next I will investigate the nature of each of the four causes and show why only intrinsic causes are principles in Aquinas’ metaphysical view. I will introduce the material, efficient, formal, and final causes in that order.

The material cause is that out of which the thing is composed. For example, the material cause of a gold coin is gold, the material cause of an oak table is oak, and so on. Again, this is an intrinsic cause because it is inside the final thing – oak inside the oak table, gold in the gold coin, etc.

The efficient cause is a little more complicated. In short, it is the thing and the act which brings about the change. For example, the efficient cause of a house is the builder building the house, the efficient cause of a gourmet meal is the chef preparing/cooking the meal. However, it is important to understand that the efficient cause is not the home builder or gourmet chef in themselves. The efficient cause is the builder in the act of building, the chef in the act of cooking. On the surface then it seems like the efficient cause is really two separate causes – the thing doing the act which brings about change and the actual act itself that brings about the change. While this is not exactly incorrect, it is not the best way to view the efficient cause. Strictly speaking, when the builder is not building he is not a builder. If he is at home with his kids he is being a father, if he is playing a game of pickup basketball at the local gym, he is a basketball player. So in this view the thing doing the act (e.g. the builder, chef, minter, sculptor, etc.) cannot be separated from the act itself because the identity of the actor is dependent upon doing the act itself. In other words, it is impossible for a man to be a builder and not be building, for a person to be a chef and not cooking, and for a sculptor to be doing anything other than sculpting. This is the correct way to view the efficient cause and the reason why although it may appear at first glance to be a combination of two separate causes, it actually is only one.

The formal cause is the other intrinsic cause (along with the aforementioned material cause). Like the efficient cause, the formal cause can also be seen as having two parts. First, it is the form of the final being. For example, the formal cause for the builder is the form or structure of the house, for the artist the form or physical shape of the sculpture, and so on. Second, while the change is taking place – raw wood to a table, building materials to a house, gold to a coin – the formal cause is also the form of the thing the other causes are working to create, kind of like an idea or abstract notion. So the formal cause is both the form of the thing to which the actor (builder, minter, artist, etc.) is striving to bring into being as well as the actual form of the finished being. Again, like with the efficient cause I (as did Aquinas) believe it is right to view the formal cause as one cause with two aspects rather than two separate causes.

Lastly, the final cause (appropriately titled) is the purpose or end of the thing that comes into being. This is easier to see with immaterial things rather than the physical objects that I have been using as examples to this point. For instance, it is quite easy to see that the final cause of recreational running is good health, not to go from point A to point B (or perhaps point A back to point A). This is true because the individual doesn’t run because he or she wishes to achieve physical displacement (which could be achieved a number of other ways) but because he or she wants to maintain or gain a certain level of physical fitness. If the final cause of recreational running were not good health then treadmills would have no use. Now I was careful to say recreational running has a final cause of good health because it certainly is the case that running in other situations can have a number of other different final causes. An Olympic sprinter’s final cause for running may be to increase physical abilities or, possibly more to the point, winning a gold medal. A number of other instances of running can be imagined where the final cause could be getting rich, avoiding jail, seeing something beautiful, talking to someone, or winning a game. Now the final cause gets slightly more complicated when we deal with material objects because the final cause isn’t the thing itself (because this would be a combination of the material and formal cause) but thing’s purpose. The final cause of a pen is legible writing, of a house is shelter, of a gourmet meal something edible that pleases the senses.

Now I have described the four causes, we can now try to understand why only the intrinsic causes – material and formal – are also principles, while the extrinsic causes – efficient and formal – are only causes and not principles also. First, let’s examine Aquinas’ third principle, privation. Privation is the absence of a quality in something that is capable of having it. A privation of a piece of white paper is the possibility of being green or red, a privation of me is the possibility of having a six pack of abs, a privation of ice is the possibility of being a liquid. Privation is different from the other two principles and Aquinas recognizes this, calling privation an accidental principle. It is not necessary to spend further time on privation, it is sufficient for our purposes to simply understand what it is and that it is the third of Aquinas’/Aristotle’s principles.

Now the question is – what do privation, and the formal and material causes have in common that the efficient and final causes lack? They are all internal to the object. The material cause, formal cause, and privation all deal with aspects of the thing itself that is undergoing the change. They don’t rely or depend on anything external to the thing. In contrast, the efficient and final causes are both external to the thing undergoing the change (which is obviously why they are called external causes). This is significant when it comes to the distinction between principles and causes because again, a principle is “what is first.” The external causes are dependent upon the internal causes for their existence in a certain respect, and for obvious reasons they cannot be “what is first.” One may argue the chicken or the egg but not the egg or the omelet.

At this point I hope to have explained the differences between a cause and a principle, intrinsic and extrinsic causes, and the four kinds of causes all according to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas philosophy. The purpose of this paper is to discuss why, how, and if an efficient cause must be simultaneous with its effect and now we are in a position to do so.

First, I’ll outline Aquinas’ view and explain why he believes the efficient cause is simultaneous with its effect. Let’s begin by understanding that although it is not possible for an effect to precede its cause, it is possible (generally speaking) for an effect to occur at the same time as its cause. Consider the following situation – a train engine car is attached to a freight car with a piece of metal with 0% absorption, meaning every ounce of force exherted by the engine is automatically transferred by to the freight car. In the case of the freight car moving, the efficient cause is the train engine and the effect is the freight car moving. The exact moment the efficient cause begins to act on the freight car (when the train engine begins to move) the freight car moves, which is the effect. Thus, in this thought experiment the efficient cause and effect are simultaneous. Now we have established it is possible for a cause and effect to occur at the same time, let’s turn to the efficient cause specifically and discover if it too is the kind of cause which can occur at the same time as its effect.

Recall the efficient cause is an extrinsic cause and is both the thing and the act which brings about the change; the builder in the act of building, the chef in the act of cooking, the artist in the act of sculpting and so on. So that is what the efficient cause is, now let’s determine the effect of the efficient cause. In the case of the builder the effect is the construction of a house, in the case of the chef the effect is the preparation and creation of a scrumptious meal, and in the case of the artist the effect is the creation of a sculpture. Note that in each of these cases by effect I do not mean the final product (house, meal, statue) but simply a physical step in this process. For example, the first effect of the builder is breaking the ground, the first effect of the chef might be portioning the meat, the first effect of the artist might be depressing a squared corner of clay.

So now we know what the efficient cause is and what the effect of the efficient cause is. The final task is to determine whether these two occurrences happen simultaneously and the answer I believe is yes, in fact it is necessarily so. Recall what I said about the builder and the efficient cause when explaining why the efficient cause should be viewed as one cause and not two. The builder is only the builder when he is in the act of building. Thus, the efficient cause exists only when building is taking place. Similarly, the effect of the efficient cause occurs when building is taking place. For the builder, the very first moment of ground breaking is also the very first moment of both the efficient cause and the effect. Therefore the two are simultaneous.

Could it be any other way? Could the efficient cause precede the effect? No, because as I have established the efficient cause and its effect are inextricably linked, it is impossible to have one without the other. By definition, if the efficient cause is happening so to must its effect because without an effect no efficient cause is at work – without actual building taking place (the effect) it cannot be said that that an efficient cause is under way, and without an efficient cause no actual building can take place. This is simply a matter of definition from how Aquinas establishes the meaning of “efficient cause” and “effect.”

In conclusion I believe Aquinas is correct in maintaining that the efficient cause is simultaneous with its effect. To show support this view I established what causes are as opposed to principles according to Aquinas, explained the four causes (material, efficient, formal, final) and the difference between the intrinsic and extrinsic causes (and the consequence of this distinction), established that it is possible for an effect to occur at exactly the same time as it’s cause (recall the railroad car thought experiment), and finally that because of how the efficient cause and effect are defined it must necessarily be so that they happen simultaneously and it really can’t be any other way.

What a Buzzkill

June 20, 2008

Nothing like a small dose of reality to start your day off right

Seen and Heard #4

June 17, 2008

These were sold at this week’s Texas Republican Convention…

Update: Pesky Reality Getting in the Way of a Good Story

June 17, 2008

Last week I was very critical of an article titled “Lack of Facebook Access Makes You Want to Quit? Grow up Punks,” and even went so far as to send the author (Ms. Ann All) a personal email. You can read my post here.

Today I was referred to her follow-up story (thanks for the tip Damian), which I also disagree with and I let Ann know in the comments section. I didn’t pull many punches and didn’t feel the need to, after all it’s not like she answered my email – tongue firmly planted in cheek. However, after posting a comment (included below) I checked my Spam folder and found an email from Ms. All:


Allow me to direct you to the follow-up to the post you reference: http://www.itbusinessedge.com/blogs/tve/?p=343
Not sure if it’ll change your opinion, but I hope so.
– Ann

Granted this is a quasi automated message, but at least she took the time to do that. It can’t be easy to have an inbox full of dissenting emails and I commend Ann for taking this challenge head on. Now I feel a little bad about being so hard on the poor woman… but just a little 🙂

My comment:

I’m still struggling to find the point to either post. You jump from bandwidth/network performance issues to proposed business internet policies to predicting that certain attitudes will prove to be harmful in the work place to the tired web versus human interaction debate.

The amazing thing is you’re still wrong on many of these points, even after a barrage of emails and comments. If you’re worried about programs that slow office networks let’s talk about p2p programs (or even YouTube) not Facebook.

If the post was about policies businesses should adopt towards employee internet usage, how about being a little more specific than “My stance was… that companies need Internet usage policies, but largely to prevent the use of sites that pose obvious security and liability risks”? Care to elaborate on “largely”?

Finally if you’re trying to provide some noteworthy insight into the effect of Facebook or social networks as a whole, you fail. You readily admit that you don’t understand the service – “In particular, I don’t get “the Wall.” How are you supposed to use it?” – I’d suggest not attempting to speculate on its social impact.

As I said in my response to your first post, you clearly have a very poor understanding of Facebook, actually of social media on the whole. Either you don’t realize this deficiency or you went for a sensationalist headline, hoping by mentioning Facebook you’d get a few hits. I’m not sure which is worse.

This Makes Me Happy Part V

June 15, 2008

Fellow Minnesotan Mitch “King of the One-Liners” Hedberg doing some of his best work at the 2004 Just for Laughs Gala.  RIP Mitch

Pesky Reality Getting in the way of a Good Story

June 12, 2008

Ann AllAnn All, a blogger for a very mediocre tech site (I’m being generous here), wrote a post today titled “Lack of Facebook Access Makes You Want to Quit? Grow up Punks.” In it she cites a study which found 39% of 18-24 year olds ‘would consider leaving their jobs if a Facebook ban was imposed,’ and uses it as evidence that this younger generation is obviously lazy, spoiled, and too reliant on social media.

In a complete non sequitur delightfully devoid of logical thought, she even goes so far as to suggest that the new generation’s professed environmental responsibility (another study found 33% of young people would be willing to forego a portion of their salary to work for an environmentally conscious company) is disingenuous because “those who’d quit a job over Facebook just want to be able to do what they want, at any time.” Bravo Ann, very succinct argument.

I usually ignore things like this but extent of her ignorance was simply too much for me to bear, so I sent Ann an email:

Subject: Pesky Reality Getting in the way of a Good Story


I normally wouldn’t bother responding to your post, but the degree to which you miss the point coupled with the fact that you write for a technology blog that people actually read is very disturbing.

The issue has absolutely nothing to do with Facebook itself. Very few (if any) companies only block Facebook for the obvious reason that there are a number of viable alternatives to it. Furthermore, not many companies block any kind of social networks because they are smart enough to realize that there are plenty of other ways for people to waste time while at work. Just as there is a MySpace to Facebook, there are alternatives like text messaging and (gasp) even talking around the good old water cooler to online social networks.

Blocking Facebook accomplishes nothing except inconvenience productive employees and force unproductive employees to find other ways to waste time. A company who doesn’t realize this is horribly out of touch with reality and many members of younger generations are astute enough to realize that.

You’re either one of the ‘out of touch with reality’ bunch or a “journalist” looking for a sensational headline. I sincerely hope it’s the former

Joe Cure

Locke’s Philosophy on Material Rights = Common Sense

June 9, 2008

There is absolutely nothing profound in this paper, and unlike virtually any other philosophy paper I’ve ever written the trick was stretching it to 5 pages rather than limiting it to said length.

The CliffsNotes version: regarding material rights Locke “astonishingly” (insert sarcasm here) believes (1) If there is an unlimited amount of resources, a person has the right to take as much as he or she can use (2) If there is a limited amount of resources (which is almost always the case) a person has the right to take the smallest amount that he or she can make use of.

Granted there are exceptions and special circumstances but on the whole this is pretty basic stuff that’s already fairly well covered under the Golden Rule.

That said, if anyone has the fortitude to actually read this paper have at it. I apologize in advance to both of you.

Locke’s Provisio as Independent of Abundance

This paper will argue that Locke’s provisio given in section 27 of the Second Treatise does not depend on abundance. The provisio states: every man has a right to what he is or once was joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others. First I’ll explain exactly what this means and then turn to the issue at hand.

A bit about Locke and his philosophy regarding a person’s right to property. It seems self evident (or at least reasonable to believe) that every man has a right to the property of his own person. Locke ascribes to this position but to Locke “his own person” includes both the physical body and the labor of the body[1]. So the crops a farmer harvests are also personal property to which the farmer has a right to. Additionally, in Locke’s metaphysical view humans are privileged beings, superior to all except God, and “the earth and all inferior creatures”[2] are property common to all men. Thus, by saying every man has the right to his own person Locke actually means every man has a right to himself and all that he gathers.

But taken at face value this seems far too broad so Locke qualifies his position with a provisio – every man has a right to himself and all that he gathers at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others

We can see the consequences of adding the proviso by observing the form of Locke’s position with and without the provisio. His thesis with the provisio is a conditional – If x then y – in which x represents “where there is enough left for others” and y is “every man has a right to himself.” However, without the provisio Locke’s position is a categorical statement “y” which is significantly stronger. Thus, the provisio acts to weaken Locke’s strong categorical assertion that every man has a right to himself and all he gathers.

Now it should be clear (1) what Locke’s provisio is (2) the role this provisio plays in Locke’s philosophy. With these formalities addressed we can now investigate the issue of abundance.

Taken at face value, Locke’s provisio does depend on abundance. Simply put it states: if there is an unlimited amount of resources, a man has a right to all he can gather. However, it is never the case in our world that there is an unlimited amount of resources, so if the provisio is only given this very narrow reading it would be meaningless. Locke obviously knew this so what was he trying to accomplish with this passage? I believe the correct way to view the provisio is as something like a jumping off point for Locke’s position on the subject of man’s right to material possessions. It signals the beginning of his investigation, hardly the definitive conclusion. My point is, yes literally the provisio depends on abundance but it is clearly wrong to view it as a stand-alone part of Locke’s philosophy. It is the introduction to his theory on a man’s right to material possessions and that theory can be applied to all situations regardless of the abundance of resources, which is the real question at hand. Again, this is the correct interpretation because:

1. The provisio by itself is meaningless and does not apply to our world. Locke knew this, therefore he did not intend it to be taken or evaluated on its own.

2. This is further evidenced by “At least” as in “at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.” Adding “at least” makes it so certain criteria must be met before a man has a right to himself and what he gathers, and the following example (when there is enough left for others) is one instance in which a man has this right but there may be others or further qualifications.

3. Finally, after putting forth the provisio in Section 27 Locke continues on to develop his theory on material rights through (at least) Section 33.

In the above section I hope to have established (1) it is wrong to evalutate Locke’s provisio outside of his larger theory on material rights (2) why this is so. I will now provide support for an assertion I made in the previous paragraph – that Locke’s theory on material rights can be applied to all situations regardless of the abundance of resources. I will outline Locke’s theory and then explain why this is the case.

As I have said previously, the provisio is the beginning of Locke’s position, so we start with:

1. Every man has a right to his own body

2. God is supreme, men were created in his likeness and the earth and all its creatures were made for man

3. Thus, man has a right to his own body and the fruits of his body (what he gathers/creates) so long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of other men (aka Locke’s provisio – every man has a right to himself and all that he gathers at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others).

But even with the provisio this is still rather strong. What about waste? Even if there are enough, let’s say deer, for everyone is it right to kill more than one can use? Locke doesn’t think so.

4. “If gathering the fruits of the earth… makes a right to them then any one may ingross as much as he will. To which I answer, not so.” One can take “as much as any one can make use of… before it spoils”[3].

So Locke clearly isn’t holding to his provisio literally, for a few paragraphs later he begins refining it. He notes here that it’s not enough to simply avoid infringing on the rights of others when gathering material possessions, but one must also not be wasteful. This seems like a reasonable provision. But now we are back at the question of abundance. Locke’s theory is all well and good up to this point but it says nothing about how we should manage living in a reality of scarce resources. He finally gets to this point two paragraphs later in Section 33.

5. “He that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all”[4]. I understand this passage like – if there is enough X for 10 people then I have a right to take 1/10th of the total amount. If I take less than 1/10th it is of no use to me, and if I take more I am not leaving “enough and as good in common for others” (again, from the provisio). Obviously this isn’t an exact or perfect system and should be taken in the spirit intended rather than the literal words. It would be absurd to say to people, “before taking anything measure the total amount of resources and divide it by the number of people who want or need it”; and Locke isn’t suggesting this. His point is simply, when we recognize there is a limited amount of whatever we are taking, then we only have the right to take the smallest amount we can use. Yes there may be exceptions and special circumstances (Utilitarian philosophy comes first to mind) but on the whole this is a reasonable rule by which to live.

Thus, Locke’s position regarding material rights can be succinctly put as:

a. If there is an abundance of resources a man has the right to take as much as he can use

b. If there is a limited amount of resources a man has the right to take the smallest amount he can make use of.

So now I hope to have explained (1) what Locke’s provisio is and its significance (2) how the provisio should be properly viewed in relation to Locke’s theory of material rights on the whole (3) what Locke’s theory of material rights entails (4) why this theory is reasonable and does not depend on abundance.

[1] Second Treatise Sec. 27

[2] Second Treatise Sec. 27

[3] Second Treatise Sec. 31

[4] Second Treatise Sec. 33