Reductionism, Analogy, and the Priority of Being

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Reductionism is the habit of mind that reduces the whole to the mathematical sum of its parts (i.e., man is nothing other than his chemistry, which in turn is nothing other than…). It is first and foremost a methodology, but for many it continues to be a way to explain the ultimate nature of things, which in turn carries with it significant moral and even political implications.

I believe the definitive way to expose the fallacy of reductionism is to focus attention on what we know naturally, but not always explicitly - with respect to the priority of being. What I mean to say is that being is first. If anything is prior to being, then it "is", and being is still first. Moreover, being cannot be second or subsequent, for that would mean "non-being" (or nothing) is prior to being, which would immediately establish being, once again, as absolutely first.

Before we know anything in detail about an object of knowledge before us, we know that "it is". Thus, being is necessarily first in our knowing. The "what" that exists (i.e., you, or a dog, or a carbon atom, etc) follows upon being and is a "that which is". The fundamental way that beings exist in the world is, generally speaking, as a "that which is". In other words, beings exist primarily as "things" or "entities" possessing a certain "whatness", a distinct intelligible configuration, as well as a kind of independence (in other words, a thing exists 'in itself', not 'in another'). That is why we know immediately, self-evidently, without reasoning to the conclusion, that each being is what it is (the principle of identity).

The most fundamental question that arises in the face of the objects of our knowledge is: "What is it?" In other words, "what is 'that which is'?" Our question reveals that we want to know more fully the basic intelligible configuration (what it is essentially) of that single being that exists in itself (whatever that might be).

Furthermore, the "thing" (or 'that which is') is prior to quantity (parts outside of parts), which corresponds to the question: "How much of 'that which is' is there?" For example, how much does the cat weigh, or how large or extensive is it? Quantity is not a 'that which is'; rather, quantity only 'exists in' a 'that which is', which exists in itself. For example, I cannot show you fifty pounds, only a fifty pound 'thing'. The question "What is that?" is fundamentally different than "How much of it is there?" The former is "qualitative"; it bears upon the fundamental way beings exist, that is, as a certain kind of thing. The fundamental or primary mode of being is "entity" or "substance", not quantity (parts outside of parts).

To sum up, before I know anything specific about the object of my knowledge, I know at least that it 'is'. If it 'is', it is one and 'in itself'. I then move to know "what" that being is more specifically. And so although essence (what a thing is) and existence are not two separate principles, existence is prior to essence, not in the order of time, but in the order of dependence (there is no essence to know unless it first exists).

Univocal versus Analogical Thinking

The difficulty that some students encounter in trying to rise above the reductionist habit of thinking often stems from their habitual tendency to think univocally; students with good minds for science and math are disposed to think univocally, because scientific and mathematical terms are for the most part univocal. But the only way we grasp the first principles of material being - principles that cannot be perceived or imagined, but only understood - is to think by way of analogy. Allow me to explain.

We speak of terms that are equivocal, univocal, and analogical. Equivocation involves using the same term with an entirely different meaning. For example, we speak of a river bank as well as a piggy bank. "Bank" means something completely different in each usage.

Univocal usage involves terms that are used each time with exactly the same meaning. For example: "All men are intelligent; John is a man; therefore, John is intelligent". The term "intelligent" is used with exactly the same meaning in the major premise as it has in the conclusion.

Univocal usage has its limits, however. Consider the following example from a former professor of mine, Dr. F.F. Centore: "All exceptional people are in mental hospitals; all philosophy students are exceptional people, therefore ..."

The term "exceptional" does not have exactly the same meaning within the syllogism, which is why the reasoning is invalid. The problem with those who draw philosophical conclusions from scientific premises is that they inadvertently treat analogical terms univocally.

Analogous usage involves the use of terms having a meaning that is partially the same and partially different in different contexts. For example, we speak of a good day, a good husband, and a good meal, or a true diamond, a true friend, and true love. The good and the true are used here analogically, not univocally; they do not have exactly the same meaning in each context.

An exclusively univocal mode of thinking does not permit us to understand "goodness" and "truth"; these are only understood by analogy. A good meal, for example, makes us feel good. To an exclusively univocal thinker, a good person would be one who "makes us feel good".

However, when we understand that "good" is an analogical term, not a univocal one, we are able to see that "good person" means much more than "a person who makes us feel good". He is, rather, a person of moral integrity or perfection, and perfection is what all things desire first and foremost. A good meal is good because it is "desirable"; for the good is the object of desire. Thus, the "good" is partially the same and partially different in the two contexts of a good meal and a good person. They are the same in that they have to do with desire; they are different in that the one has to do with the desire to satisfy a sense appetite (good meal), the other with a desire for "perfection".

Causality and Analogy

Causality is also an analogical term, not a univocal one. A cause is a principle from which anything proceeds with dependence (that on which a thing depends in being or in coming to be). As such, a cause need not involve motion, collision, or time. The middle term of a syllogism, for example, is the cause of the conclusion, it is that on which the conclusion depends. For example: All even numbers are divisible by 2; Numbers 10, 2240, and 1 million are even numbers; Therefore, numbers 10, 2240, and 1 million are divisible by 2. "Even numbers" is the middle term, and it is the cause of the conclusion. In other words, there is no understanding of the conclusion without understanding the cause; for the effect (conclusion) depends upon the cause. The cause in this case is not a moving cause, for numbers do not move.

Now a univocal thinker who has a good mind for physics, for example, often has difficulty with this, because he tends to limit causality to the "mechanical", i.e., one moving thing pushing another thing so that it moves. The latter is genuine causality insofar as the resulting motion depends upon a principle that accounts for it, namely the initial thing that was moving. But causality is broader than that, just as being is broader than motion - causality is as broad as being. But some physicists will deny universal scope to the principle of causality because what occurs on the quantum level cannot be accounted for in terms of the laws of classical Newtonian physics. The non-sequitur here is rooted in the fact that although all mechanical causality is genuine causality, not all causality is mechanical; just as all tasty meals are good, not all that is good is tasty (i.e., a good medicine). Furthermore, without causality - I don't mean "mechanical" causality -, our ability to reason to a conclusion in order to possess "science" becomes impossible - insofar as the middle term of a syllogism is the cause of the conclusion.

It is univocal thinking that is responsible for both the fallacy of reductionism and the difficulty in coming to understand the first causes of material being. Reductionism is good scientific methodology, but as a philosophy (i.e., a way to explain the ultimate nature of things), it is simply the logical fallacy of part and whole (attributing to the whole what belongs only to the part, or vice versa). Reductionism as a "philosophy" consists in using scientific knowledge as first principles and drawing philosophical conclusions on the basis of those scientific principles (i.e., DNA determines the organism to be what it is; reality is ultimately indeterminate, etc.), as if science is able to uncover the first causes of mobile being. Let's pursue these causes further.

Matter, Form, and End

"Matter" is a first cause. It is a principle from which coming-to-be proceeds with dependence. But matter is an analogical term, not a univocal term (analogical as well are: "form", "being", "true", "good", "beautiful", "potency", "act", "subject", etc.). "Matter", as the term is commonly employed in the world of science (that which has mass and extension) is partially the same and partially different than the "matter" that is one of the first principles of a material nature (which is the object of philosophy).

"Matter" as the term is employed in the world of science and what we in the world of philosophy call "first matter" are partially the same insofar as they are both subjects of contraries, that is, matter always possesses a determination of some kind and an openness to a contrary determination. For example, the sheet of iron is in the form of a square but open to being shaped into a passenger door. First matter, on the other hand, is the first or ultimate subject of a material thing's intelligible structure or form (whatness), and that very subject is a thing's openness to or potentiality for another intelligible structure or form. They are partially different in that the first matter of a material being is not extended, cannot be manipulated nor apprehended through sense perception, as the extended matter of the physical sciences can be. Whatever can be manipulated, sensed, or measured, is an already constituted thing or entity with extension and a host of sense qualities and other properties.

"Form" or intelligible structure is a first cause as well - not a mechanical cause. It is partially the same as "form" in the sense of a figure, insofar as figure determines or shapes extended matter, which is the subject determined by that shape (i.e., iron shaped into the body of a car). But the ultimate form or intelligible structure of a single material being (form possessed by first matter) is partially different than a visible figure; the latter we can perceive with the senses, the former we only know through the intellect (although I can picture a rectangular door, I cannot picture 'humanness').

One cannot come to understand the first causes that constitute an existing material nature (first matter and first form) with the help of the imagination, because these principles are not extended, they are not parts, and so they have no sense qualities. They are only known through the intellect by way of analogy.

A material being is an existing nature, it is a "what" that has existence, an actual being of a certain intelligible configuration (i.e., it is a dog, not a cat; it is oxygen, not carbon). And the most obvious fact about material beings is that they are mutable, that is, a material being can become something else entirely, a fundamentally different kind of thing (a different form). Any material being is actually something, but potentially something else. That potentiality and actuality of the whole is the first matter and first form of the single material thing that is the object of our knowledge. And just as extended matter (i.e., a piece of iron) cannot be without some 'shape' or other, first matter is never without some intelligible form or configuration.

Another cause upon which all science depends is final causality. But once again, this type of causality is not "mechanical" agent causality. Nevertheless, it is the cause of every other cause, and so it is primary. For example, without a purpose (end), a carpenter will not be motivated to build (act); but if one needs something on which to rest things (end), that end determines what he will make (table) and the matter out of which he will make it (wood).

But final causality is involved in the acts of every existing thing, rendering things intelligible; for we only know the nature of a thing through its activity, and we only understand an activity through its end.

A Latin word for law is regula, which means rule or standard. To act according to a law is to act according to a rule. Lawful acts are regular, or standard. In other words, an agent (whatever it is) that acts according to a law, acts for an end. This means that an agent is not indifferent to the end for the sake of which it acts. Water is not indifferent to what properties it will exhibit, nor is a fertilized oocyte indifferent to the end of its development. The boiling point of water is not 100 Celsius one minute and some other temperature the next. Iron is not malleable one instant, but brittle the next, etc. A fertilized egg does not at times become a chicken, at other times a cow, at other times a child, etc. If you are playing snooker and you aim the white ball towards the red ball at a particular angle, the red ball is not indifferent to the end to be realized; it will move in a defined direction. If not, winning at snooker would merely be a matter of luck. The resulting motion is not indeterminate, but regular and intelligible (lawful). If agents were indifferent to the ends to be realized, their acts would be irregular, unknowable, unintelligible, and utterly unpredictable.

The reason science depends on final causality is that a motion is intelligible through its end (definable; fin; end). The reason is that the final cause and the formal cause coincide. The formal cause of a change is that for the sake of which there is coming-to-be (change). What this means is that all change is a transformation of one kind or another. But the end of the process is achieved precisely when the form has been realized in the subject (matter) that is undergoing change, or when the subject is "made through" (perfected) - the form of table is possessed by the wood. The final cause (the end of the generation or change) is thus that for the sake of which there is coming-to-be. That is why we only possess an idea of a motion (what it is) through its end. For example, we know that cooling is occurring when water begins to freeze, or that heating is occurring when water begins to boil.

But final cause also includes the end of the generated, which is the ultimate purpose (end) of the change or coming-into-being. Once the organ of the eye or the kidney or the lungs has fully developed, we can ask: "What is its purpose?" It is precisely their motions (directed towards an end) that will reveal it.

Now, what is it that moves? It is a being, or part of a being, that moves, so it is the end that reveals just what that being is; i.e., the relatively full grown apple tree reveals what that seed is, namely an apple seed. A being moves towards an end repeatedly (regularly) because it is a determinate kind of thing. In other words, its acts "terminate" or come to an end (fin), and they do so regularly, disclosing just what that being is. Acts that do not terminate or come to an end would be indistinguishable from any other act, and the being that acts indeterminately would be indeterminate, indistinguishable from any other being. Such a being would not be "what it is". As such, it would have no identity; hence, it would be indefinable (without fin' or end); nothing about it could be an object of scientific inquiry.

The Priority of Being

When considering material things, we must not lose sight of the fact that being is first. Nothing acts unless it first is. Now it is not the essence of a thing that makes that thing to be, for the essence is "that which has a 'to be'" and answers the question "what is it?" I can know what a thing is without thereby knowing whether or not it is. I am a human kind of thing, but I am not my existence. Rather, I possess existence, that is, I have an act of existing. The act of being is the act of all acts, including the act of matter (which is the substantial quality or form, imparting to matter its actual "whatness") as well as all other modes of being that exist in material things, such as quantity, when, activity, passivity, etc.

A contingent being (as opposed to a necessary being) is an existing nature; it is a "that which has an act of existing". Hence, a contingent being is capable of not existing; for if it possesses an act of being, it can also be dispossessed of its act of existing. My cat exists, but it did not always exist, nor will it always exist.

Now, our quest for understanding reveals something fundamental about things. What our questions reveal is that everything which exists, to the extent to which it exists, possesses a sufficient reason for its being so that it is capable of explaining itself to the intellect. In other words, whatever is, has that whereby it is. This is the principle of sufficient reason.

Whatever exists has "that whereby it is" either in itself or in another. If it has "that whereby it is" within itself, then it is that whereby it is. If it has "that whereby it is" through another, then it depends upon that whereby it is. For example, if we chance upon a broken window, we naturally wonder what it is that caused the window to break; we look for the sufficient reason for the broken window. The sufficient reason (that whereby it is broken) is either in the broken window itself, or outside of it, in another. If the sufficient reason is in the broken window itself, we would not inquire of the reason. Since we ask: "How did this happen?" it is clear that the sufficient reason for the broken window is to be found outside of it, in another (i.e., the kids were playing baseball and Billy hit the ball out of the park and into the window).

Returning to the question of existence, a contingent being (an existing nature) possesses an act of being, and it can also be dispossessed of its act of being (my grandmother's cat no longer exists). So what is the sufficient reason for the act of existing of a contingent being? The sufficient reason, or "that whereby it is", is either in itself, or in another. No contingent being (one that may or may not be, i.e., the cat) contains within itself the sufficient reason for its act of existing; for if it did, it would be "subsistent being itself"; its "whatness" (essence) would be to exist. It would not possess existence; it would be its own act of existing.

Now whatever belongs to the nature of a thing belongs to it necessarily. For example, a human person is necessarily rational, an animal is necessarily sentient, a living thing is necessarily self-moving, etc. A being whose nature is to be would necessarily be, and could not not exist. Moreover, this being whose nature is to be (subsistent being itself) would necessarily be one, not many. To understand this, suppose there are two beings that are "subsistent being itself". The only thing that could distinguish "being itself" from "being itself" is that which is outside of "being itself". But outside of being is non-being, or nothing. Hence, nothing distinguishes them, so they are one. Hence, there is only one necessary being, not two. And it is this non-contingent being (God, or Being Itself) that is the sufficient reason for the act of being of all contingent beings.

What does God impart to beings? The answer is their unique acts of existing, really distinct from their natures. God cannot bring into existence a being whose nature is to be; for there can only be one necessary and non-contingent being, not two, and it is a contradiction to suggest that a necessary being has a received existence. It follows that a contingent being is a being of a certain "whatness" (kind or nature), a determinate kind of thing, distinct from its act of existing. Being is first, "whatness" (essence) follows - not in terms of time, but in terms of dependence; "whatness" depends on the act of being, and the act of being depends upon "subsistent being itself", or God.

Now, if what is brought into being is an existing material nature, it is a "what" that is mutable, or moveable (a hydrogen atom, or a horse, or a man, etc). It is a particular existing mutable being with certain modes of being inhering in it, such as quantity (having parts outside of parts), sensible qualities, dispositions, where, when, relation, etc. These latter exist only in and through the being's act of existing. Quantity, for example, does not have independent existence.

Now, existential causality is not something that occurs at a first point in time, only to withdraw itself so that what exists may continue to exist on its own. That is how many people, thinking univocally, tend to conceive of creation (such as the creation of the universe). But that kind of causality is "horizontal" and is proper to secondary causes that are not "existential", but efficient causes of particular motions, like the cause of the movement of a billiard ball, or the fertilization of an oocyte. Existential causality - and God is the first and only existential cause - is "vertical", so to speak. That is to say, it is perpetual and continuous. It does not occur in time, because time is a mode of being dependent upon and inhering in material beings that move. Time exists only in and through the act of existence of mobile beings. In other words, time is not prior to being, rather, being is prior to time, for time depends on material beings in order to exist, and material existing natures exist by virtue of a received act of being, which in turn depends on the first existential cause that is subsistent being itself, or God. In other words, there is no absolute time, followed by the creation of material beings in time, followed by the actual movement of material things. On the contrary, there is the bringing into being of an existing material nature, and this existing material nature is preserved in being by its first cause so that it is able to act; it moves in certain ways (i.e., locomotion, or growth, or qualitative changes, etc.), and time follows upon that movement as its number according to a before and an after.

No thing can bring itself into being, and for the same reason no contingent being can preserve itself in being - for I can do all sorts of things to preserve my life, such as drink water, take medicine, eat, etc., but I cannot perform these acts unless I am first made to be and my act of being is perpetuated or preserved. A being only acts according to the limited potentialities of its nature, and existence is outside my nature, for I have an act of existing; I am not my act of existing. That, of course, is true of all contingent beings whose natures are distinct from their acts of being, which is every other being besides God, whether we understand their natures or not. Hence, God is the first and perpetual (preservative) cause of the act of being of contingent beings, including material contingent beings.

Now, "one" is a property of being. Whatever is, is one. Two beings are not one, but two. It is always a single whole that exists primarily, a whole being of a certain "whatness" or intelligible configuration. A material whole has parts outside of parts. Those parts are many. But a being cannot be both one and many at the same time and in the same respect (that is contradictory); rather, a being is one and many at the same time, but in different respects.

A material being's extension is continuous either homogeneously (i.e., a gold brick ) or heterogeneously (i.e., bones, nerves, muscle, etc). The parts of a whole are ordered to the whole because they are its parts. That ordering is an intelligible ordering, because the whole is intelligible. In other words, we can make sense out of the parts of the human anatomy (or the parts of a cell, or an atom, etc.,) because the whole human being is an existing nature, a being with intelligible content. The parts of a being exist in the one being, and they exist through the act of existing of that being in which they inhere. They have no separate existence - otherwise they are not parts of that being. But it is a nature that exists (having a determinate intelligible 'whatness'), so the parts that exist in and through the one being are parts of a nature. Hence, they receive their essential configuration (their intelligibility) from that nature, for they are its parts. That is why every part of the human body is human; but not every part is every other part (this part is not that part, etc).

If there is multiplicity in a being, as there is in material beings with quantity, that multiplicity is reduced to a unity through a single unifying principle by which the whole is intelligible. Now, there is a twofold intelligibility to an existing material nature. I know that it is (existence), and I also know what it is (essence) - albeit incompletely. That unifying principle by which a multiplicity is reduced to existing parts of one being is the act of existing, and the unifying principle by which that multiplicity is configured to a single "what" (i.e., my eyes are human, my bones are human, and my nerve cells are human, etc.) is the first or substantial form of the thing that is possessed by its first matter. The principle by which a being of a certain nature is multiplied into an indefinite number of individual instances having the same nature is matter having determinate dimensions (dimensive quantity). A being's mutability is rooted in its ultimate subject, which is the potentiality of the whole being (first matter) to possess some other substantial quality or form, and thus be some other determinate thing; and that potentiality or matter is real (it is not extended, nor colored, etc); it is the real subject of a material being's intelligible configuration (to be 'matter' is to be a subject of form).

The principle of potentiality and actuality of the whole material being are not parts, for parts exist in the category of quantity. Moreover, there are no pre-existing parts as one would find at a hardware store. Rather, parts or particles are parts of wholes. If what we will later on designate as a part now exists by itself (or in itself), then it is no longer an actual part, but a whole unto itself; it is only potentially a part of a whole.

What this means is that an existing material nature is not a result of particles behaving lawfully. Being (one and determinate) does not result from the activity of a multiplicity of contingent beings, no matter what they are; contingent beings cannot impart being, they can give only what is in their nature to give, not what is outside of it, and the act of existing is outside (not 'outside' as in the category of place) the nature of a contingent being that possesses it. That is why a multiplicity of existing natures cannot impart existential unity, for they cannot impart being. If they become incorporated into an existing material nature (whatever that might be, i.e., an atom, a salt crystal, an animal, a plant, etc.), they cease to be what they are - if they did not, we could not speak of a single thing, such as a single atom, or a single dog, or single plant. To cease to be what they are in this case means that they (wholes unto themselves, i.e., a hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen atom) have become a part of a larger whole (i.e., a living organism). A whole exists on its own, with its own act of being; a part, however, does not exist on its own; it exists through the being of which it is a part.

To deny this is merely to shift the level of discussion to another level. Whatever level that turns out to be, one will have to account for what one eventually comes to regard as the fundamental mode of real being and the "what" of those beings, their movements and principles, without begging the question. But no matter what that level is on which we choose to carry on a discussion that attempts to explain the ultimate constitution of material being, we always give evidence in our language that we understand, consciously or pre-consciously, something of the first principles of mobile being. Our language reveals what we know, that there is always a single subject with two contraries (possession and privation). Whether we speak of not knowing the position and velocity of an electron at the same time (an electron possesses position and velocity), or a particle possessing wave properties, etc., there is always a pre-scientific knowledge that exercises a kind of dominion over the entire scientific process. When a person refers to the indeterminacy principle as the uncertainty principle, for example, he reveals his understanding that formal and final cause coincide, for what is indeterminate is unknowable, for we cannot 'terminate' our understanding of a thing's momentum, thus we cannot grasp the end (term) towards which it moves.

The Novel: An Analogy

In order to better grasp the relationship between "part and whole", the following analogy may prove helpful. A book is made up of parts, the parts are made up of chapters, the chapters are made up of paragraphs, the paragraphs are made up of sentences, the sentences are made up of phrases and words, and the words are made up of letters. When a novelist writes the book, he begins by writing a letter, such as the letter "t". When we read the book, we begin with the first letter of the first word. The novel comes to be at the end of the writing process, and our understanding of it is relatively complete at the end of the reading process.

But it is the whole that comes first absolutely (the whole is prior not in terms of time, but in the order of dependence). A letter of the alphabet, i.e., "c", is more open to determination (has more potentiality, or less actual meaning) than is a word, i.e., "cool", and a word is more open to determination than a phrase, such as "cool glass of water", but a phrase is more open, has more potentiality, than the full sentence: "After a jog on a hot day, you should be sure to replenish yourself with a cool glass of water". A full sentence, however, is more open to determination than is a paragraph. We do not think one letter at a time, nor do we think one word at a time. We think of an entire idea, and then we think of the best way to express that idea, searching as we do for the proper matter (the right words).

To be less open to determination is to have more meaning. A letter is very poor in property and has far less intelligibility (meaning) than a word. The letter "e" means much less than the word "love" or "truth". When the letter "e" becomes part of the word "love", it becomes part of a larger whole, with far more meaning than the letters "e" "l" "v" "o" taken separately. We can do a lot more with the letter "e" than we can do with the word "love", precisely because "e" has greater indeterminacy, that is, less intelligibility and thus less meaning. "Love" has greater intelligibility, that is, more definition than the letter "e".

If I were to ask a group of students to write any meaningful word using the letter "e", they'd have no difficulty. Ask them to write anything using the word "love", and they would have to think a little harder. Ask them to write something that incorporates the phrase "love is blind", and they'd have to think even harder, but they could do it. But ask them to write an entire paragraph that incorporates the sentence: "A certain kind of love is blind, for it is passion that has a tendency to blind the intellect, and so the kind of love that blinds is an emotion, not an act of the will", and they'd spend much more time thinking about how to incorporate it into a larger idea. They'd need to think of a much larger meaning (idea), one that exceeds the limited intelligibility of the part; for the meaning of that sentence exceeds that meaning contained in the phrase "love is blind". "Love is blind" is open to further determination, but it does not and cannot determine itself to that larger end, an end that gives full expression to the idea contained in the full sentence above. Rather, it must be determined by something that possesses that larger meaning. The simple phrase does not possess it, just as the word "love" does not possess the idea contained in "love is blind". Considered in itself, the part does not possess the meaning of the whole; otherwise it would be the whole. The part is made to serve the whole through the whole, by existing as part of the whole.

Shakespeare conceives the whole before writing, and it is the intelligible whole that determines and shapes every part of the play, i.e., the letters, the words, the phrases, the sentences, the paragraphs, the scenes, the acts, etc. The intelligible whole that Shakespeare conceives is not in the book, but remains within him - it is part of his interior. But existing natures (beings) have their own interior; they have their own nature (only an intelligent creature, man, is intelligently conscious of that interior).

Now, as we move towards the subatomic level, we are moving towards a level that is real, but not as rich in property. The realities we discover at this level have a greater openness to determination (potentiality). For example, the electron is more open to determination (more potential) than the atom, the atom more open to further determination than the molecule, and larger more complex molecules have more potential than a flower, etc. In other words, the atom has less potentiality (more definition) than the electron (the electron is a part of it; if it is not a part of it, it is potentially a part of it, but actually a whole unto itself, but poorer in property than an atom). A protein molecule has less potentiality than a carbon atom, and a horse has less potentiality (more meaning) than a protein molecule.

Now just as the idea of the entire novel determines the configuration of each part, not vice versa, so too does the substantial form of a material being communicate its own intelligible configuration to every part of that being. The parts do not determine the whole, and the whole is not an effect of the parts, for that would suggest the parts are prior to the whole, which means they would be wholes unto themselves. But they can only be parts if they cease to be wholes. If four beings resisted the pressure to relinquish their existence to become parts of a greater whole, but combined with one another, the result would be four beings, not one.

Now, once a novel or play has been read, we finally come to understand it; for we only understand something when we know it as a whole. All the parts of the novel serve the whole, the single idea that exists in the mind of Shakespeare. But after a time, the reader forgets the details. Nevertheless, he knows the novel or play as a whole: "I know that book, I've read it before", he says. "So I'd like to read something I don't know. Let me look for another book." After a few years, he might decide to re-read the novel. His initial knowledge of the whole begins to acquire a greater precision, perhaps one he once had, but lost over time.

It is the knowledge of the whole that is always the condition for the possibility of knowing its parts. At the beginning, it is knowledge of a relative whole (i.e., the sentence in relation to the words, the paragraph in relation to the sentences, or the chapter in relation to the paragraphs) that is the condition for the possibility of understanding the parts we are reading. Unless I understand each word within the order of the whole sentence, I do not understand what I am reading. The words have meaning, that is, a direction or movement forward towards an end. Each move forward brings me closer to the whole idea (either of the sentence, or of the paragraph, or of the chapter, or of the whole novel). Each whole enables me to understand each part of it completely.

The entire meaning contained in "love is blind" allows me to grasp the particular nuance given to the word "love"; it enables me to understand something about love, in particular, something the author wishes to convey to me about it. By itself, the word "love" does not convey that larger meaning. But consider our previous example: "A certain kind of love is blind, for it is passion that has a tendency to blind the intellect, and so the kind of love that blinds is an emotion, not an act of the will". My understanding of "love is blind" is much more complete, it is far more nuanced and somewhat richer, in light of the whole for the sake of which it was phrased. If, as a result of a loss of memory, I cannot retain the words in order to discern the movement or direction in the writing, I end up knowing each part in isolation from the whole. Hence, I cannot grasp the whole.

But the whole idea determined each part, which is why each part together moves forward to convey the overall meaning. If my memory works, I remember the whole word, the whole two words, the whole three words, the whole four words, and the meaning, which always exceeds them individually, gradually comes to light. The words only exist in view of the whole, and the whole determines the sequence of the words, providing them with their moving power, that is, their ability to carry the reader along.

Now, the greater the potentiality or openness to determination a thing has, the greater is its poverty, and the greater a thing's poverty, the less causal power it enjoys. In other words, the greater the indeterminacy of a thing, such as the letter 'a' in comparison to the meaning of a complete novel, the less it has to impart. It has, rather, a greater openness to receive a richer determination.

As reality moves towards the quantum level, it moves towards a level of greater poverty or indeterminacy - which is consistent with the popular designation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle as the 'indeterminacy' principle. To deny causality on this level is not entirely irrational, for in light of the principles we've been discussing, perhaps it is to be expected. But the quantum level is no more the cause of what takes place on the ordinary macroscopic level than the letters of the alphabet are the cause of the novel.

It is the idea of the novel (the story) that is the final and formal cause of the novel; the words and sentences are determined by it and are ordered to serve it, that they may communicate it. In other words, the story is not an emergent property; rather, it is the parts that express the entire idea that emerge as an effect of a prior cause.

This order that the analogy of the novel uncovers is an order that exists with respect to every "whole", every being, every substance on the periodic table as well as every living entity. An empiriometric understanding of the physical universe at any level is genuine and real, but it is not and cannot be an ultimate explanation, that is, an explanation in terms of first causes. The empiriometric sciences are an intelligible account of secondary causes (i.e., the heart really pumps blood, DNA really brings about certain traits in an organism, etc.) that presuppose the existence of intelligible natures in the first place.