Saturday, May 24, 2014

This is philosophy?


This is Philosophy is a new introduction to the subject by Prof. Steven Hales.  A reader calls my attention to the book’s companion website, which contains links to some lecture slides keyed to topics covered in the book, a dictionary of terms, exercises, and so forth.

I’ve got a little exercise of my own for the reader, which has three steps.  Here’s how it goes:

 Step 1: Read this blurb from the website:

The text’s scholarship is as noteworthy as its hipness. Hales clearly explains important philosophical ideas with a minimum of jargon and without sacrificing depth of content and he consistently gives a fair and accurate presentation of both sides of central philosophical disputes.

Step 2: Read this set of lecture slides on the cosmological argument, holding before your mind the highlighted words from the blurb while doing so.

Step 3: Try not to laugh.

Ha!  Knew you couldn’t do it!  Me neither.

Yes, my friends, it’s the “Everything has a cause” Straw Man That Will Not Die.  And no, things don’t get any better in the book itself, which Amazon and Google books will let you read the relevant pages from.  Hales hits all his marks with aplomb:

1. He assures us that the argument rests on the premise that everything has a cause.

2. He says that the argument is concerned to trace the series of causes back through time to a first moment.

3. He attributes this argument to Aristotle and Aquinas.

4. Naturally, he thinks “What caused God?” is a devastating objection.

5. He also tells us that there is no reason to suppose that a first cause would be God.

6. He suggests that the Big Bang theory shows that there is no need to affirm a divine cause.

In short, it’s a complete travesty.  If you’re looking for a 1,234th pop philosophy regurgitation of all the tired caricatures of the cosmological argument rather than an account of what Aristotle, Aquinas, and Co. actually said, Hales really gives you your money’s worth.

If you’re someone to whom it isn’t already obvious how thoroughly Hales has ballsed things up, you might look at my post “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?”  If that piece is too polemical for you and you want something more politely academic, you might look at my Midwest Studies in Philosophy article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument” or at chapter 3 of my book Aquinas.  (More on the cosmological argument can also be found here.)

I note that Hales also devotes considerable space to refuting what he calls “The argument from scripture.”  This is an argument to the effect that God exists because the Bible says so -- the obvious circularity of which can be pointed out in a single short sentence, though for some reason Hales goes on for pages about the subject.  I suppose this would be well worth doing in a philosophy book, except for the fact that I can’t think of a single person who has ever actually given the argument Hales attacks.  Perhaps These are Straw Men would have been a better title for his book.

I also notice that in his “Annotated Bibliography” Hales recommends Dawkins’ The God Delusion as follow-up reading.  Wrap your mind around thatKids, when you get done with this introductory book and you want to pursue these matters at greater depth, try Dawkins!

But hey, Hales’ book does have “hipness.”  So there’s that.

123 comments:

Crude said...

Set of lecture slides link is dead.

Edward Feser said...

Weird. Here's the Google cache link for the lecture slides:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:LbwkbomQVTcJ:www.thisisphilosophy.com/PowerPoints11-20/Lecture%252013%2520cosmological%2520argument.pdf+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

And here's the Google cache link for the book's website:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Z52lI9im0VwJ:www.thisisphilosophy.com/+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Gil Sanders said...

It's no wonder the links died; the arguments are so badly misrepresented that it ripped a hole in the internet with its idiocy, only to get sucked into a black vortex. This is probably where you can legitimately say, "God did it". Unfortunately, Google, being the almighty saver that it is, has preserved what seems to be scribbles of a caveman. Very scholarly indeed.

Anonymous said...

I've never posted a comment here but this post was too good to not say something. I actually have yet to encounter a introductory book on philosophy that didn't present the cosmological argument in that caricatured way and I've probably read 5-10 of them. They always conclude that it is irrational to accept the cosmological argument because we can always then ask, "Who caused God?".

That's stunning that this philosopher who wrote the book you are discussing recommends THE GOD DELUSION. There's some of the most shoddy philosophical reasoning imaginable in that book! Not to mention, Dawkins believes philosophy to be a waste of time anyway!

BenYachov said...


In my weaker moments I look at this brain dead nonsense the Gnus vomit from those rotting wads of meat in their skulls that pass for brains and in a fit of extential despair ask "Why would a good & just God allow such epic mega-stupidity to exist?" or "Why would a beneficient God creates Gnus? Has He no pride at all?".

I then pick up something from Fr Brian Davies read it and promtly get over it & then I go play some video games with my Faith renewed.

Anonymous said...

Now here's a tough question: Which book has more merit philosophically: The God Delusion or God is NOT Great?

Daniel said...

Re Ed's article Richard Taylor defended the Cosmological Argument?

Re the other fellow's article I think these types ought to be force-fed the works of professional atheist philosophers of religion if only because it would be amusing to see how badly they misinterpret them.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"Richard Taylor defended the Cosmological Argument?"

See here.

Tom said...

From time to time, I wonder why more philosophers aren't at least philosophical theists. Then nonsense like "This is Philosophy" comes along and makes it depressingly clear.

Daniel said...

Re the Cosmological Argument: bonus points if some remark about ‘turtles all the way down’ appears.

@Scott, that was a pleasant surprise, many thanks.

Crude said...

Maybe a proper response would be to start 'refuting' popular atheist arguments that no respectable atheist philosopher ever made.

"God does not exist because the universe is too big."

"God does not exist because common descent."

Etc, etc.

Paul Amrhein said...

An atheist friend once told me that he usually gets silence after asking “Well then, what caused God?”
I said that my reply would be roughly as follows. It is logically impossible for a first cause to have been caused. For then it would not be first. That is, the question is nonsensical. No one is obliged to attempt to answer a nonsensical question. Note, I have assumed that your target is the God who is described as a first cause. If so, then see above. If not, then your critique misses that particular mark altogether.

grodrigues said...

@Paul Amrhein:

"I said that my reply would be roughly as follows."

My reply would be to roll on the floor laughing (literally) and then congratulate the atheist on his amazing comedy talents.

taylormweaver said...

Thanks a lot. I think part of my mind may have disappeared into some abyss after reading that horrid slide show.

dover_beach said...

I would have thought that Clarke's, "A Curious Blindspot in the Anglo-American Tradition of Antitheistic Argument", The Monist 54 (2), would have cured this disease at least among professional philosophers but, alas no, too much is at stake I fear.

Jim Cooper said...

Greetings all. Long time reader, first time commentator...

Thanks, professor Feser, for taking the trouble to highlight and respond, even to such drivel as dished up by Hales. It must pain you so, but your tenacity and lucidity is, as always, inspiring. I'm reminded of one of my favourite lines from the pen of Charles Dickens:

"But here again the sneering detractors who weave such miserable figments from their malicious brains, are stricken dumb by evidence" (Martin Chuzzlewit)

Well, if only :)

Out of curiosity, does anyone know of a good web (or other) resource that actually achieves what Hales has set out to provide, according to his blurb?

Robert Coble said...

Bertrand Russell was so "Bright"! He has provided several generations of philosophers(?) with the basis for this "bright" discourse on the "straw man" cosmological argument. [Or did the late great philosophical genius Russell crib the idea from some other "Bright" who preceded him? Philosophically inquiring minds (if there are such things as minds) want to know!]

Link:
http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/jksadegh/A%20Good%20Atheist%20Secularist%20Skeptical%20Book%20Collection/Why%20I%20am%20Not%20a%20Christian%20-%20Bertrand%20Russell.pdf

Reference:

Why I am Not a Christian
an Examination of the God-Idea and Christianity


Bertrand Russell
[March 6, 1927]

[The lecture that is here presented was delivered at the Battersea Town Hall under the auspices of the South London Branch of the National Secular Society, England.]

Here is Russell’s breezy dismissal of “The First Cause Argument,” excerpted from the source linked above.

The First Cause Argument

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God. That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, Who made God?" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.


I know I’m a neophyte dabbler in philosophical waters, especially regarding the Ox, but that passage struck me as being extremely stupid coming from someone with Russell’s reputation for genius. [Maybe I’m just not “Bright” enough to comprehend such “deep, nuanced thinking.”]

And, of course, it does contain the required reference to the turtle (tortoise).

rank sophist said...

Jim,

To my knowledge, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is one's best bet. It provides clearer, more complete summaries of theories and thinkers than I've encountered anywhere else. The only problem is that it's not a beginner's guide. I don't know of any "complete" introductions to philosophy, but Mortimer Adler's incredibly large number of introductory texts, when taken together, are close to being one. He's by no means an unbiased writer, but he's definitely no Hales.

Jim Cooper said...

Thanks Rank.

Yes, Adler is good value - his Aristotle for Everybody is getting close to the kind of thing I have in mind. There's also a massive archive of his material out there somewhere on the web too. I'd forgotten about it so thanks for the pointer!

The Stanford Encyclopedia is admittedly good, though hardly 'entry level', as you point out.

I've my eye on a forthcoming title from Peter Kreeft called Socrates' Children (100 greatest philosophers) or something like that. Kreeft has an easy, conversational (yet systematic, no nonsense) style that I admire.

My interest is not so much for my own benefit (although that too) as for some of the students I teach (freshmen, you'd say), plus friends and relatives with next to no philosophy experience.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Jim

Gottfried said...

Prof. Feser,

Have you seen D. B. Hart's piece in the latest First Things where he suggests that all animals "partake of rational spirit"? It would be a pleasure to hear your thoughts on it.

Thursday said...

I can’t think of a single person who has ever actually given the argument Hales attacks.

I've come across a fair number of preachers and other church people who have given precisely this scripture-says-it argument, but they were definitely not philosophers or academics of any kind.

dover_beach said...

Robert, if you check the reference I give above, Clarke demonstrates that Russell almost certainly inherited it from Hume through Mill, the three of which never directly quote or reference a philosopher presenting the cosmological argument.

Tony said...

I may say that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography...

Wow. Russell tries to convey that he "very seriously debated these questions" and did so "for a long time", but then he cuts his own legs off: "at the age of eighteen..." he stopped.

Because, after all, we all know that as teenagers we are capable of vast, comprehensive knowledge of both empirical science and mature thought about the reasons that lie behind science. Why, he probably spent 3 or 4 dozen hours on the topic, expended over, perhaps, 9 whole months! What more could one ask of a teenager?

Has he never read of scientists who spend 20 years on a project to accomplish a task? Kepler's fitting the known sightings of planets to theoretical elliptical orbits?

The Martian problem, which Kepler said he would solve in eight days, took nearly eight years.

(to say nothing of the other planets).

Or even, say, a detective solving a murder 5 years after the event?

What kind of immense egotistical hubris could allow one to declare such things as Russell has in this passage without shame?

Martin said...

dover_beach,

Do you have that paper handy? I can't seem to find it anywhere on the Internet.

msgrx said...

...And of course, if Russell thought that "What caused God" is actually a devastating rebuttal of the cosmological argument, one doubts how serious or conscientious his study was.

George LeSauvage said...

Don't be too hard on Russell. Yes, he could be a fathead on some subjects. (And who cannot?) He did write a number of very good things. Also, while he was an atheist, he was a better variant than the kind we get today. I noticed that, in Broadcast Minds, Knox was much more respectful to BR than to most of the others. (Mencken got most delightfully skewered.)

Greg said...

Well, as Keith Parsons pointed out in the recent exchange, Russell's remarks were not quite as off in his debate with Fr Copleston. So he either wisened up between writing "Why I am not a Christian" or was deliberately peddling a straw man.

The trouble with the first hypothesis is that he claims to have debated such questions "very seriously," when, on that interpretation, he had accepted the first cause argument without studying (or understanding) any of its major defenders.

dover_beach said...

Martin, here you go:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwXeYDOAuZDGclBDZlp1SG15VGs/edit?usp=sharing

Martin said...

dover_beach,

Nice! Thanks!

Looks interesting. Like the key to all this nonsense. I always thought it started with Russel...

Tom said...

@dover_beach, the link doesn't work for me.

Matthew Rodriguez said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Robert Coble said...

dover_beach:

Thanks for the link to the Norris Clarke analysis of the "straw man" cosmological (First Cause) argument. It certainly seems probable that Russell was not the originator, but merely put it into very succinct terms. IMHO, that still does not excuse his breezy dismissal and egregiously idiotic remarks, even given that he was "feeding" the "five thousand faithful" with rhetorical "red meat." (I can only assume that there were no leftovers from his "miracle" meal.)

One of the continuing issues (for me) is the apparent substitution of or switching of definitions in the middle of an argument, without any cautionary warning signs.

As the late Joseph Sobran is reputed to have opined, "They use our vocabulary but do not use our dictionary."

I have been studying Dr. Feser's TLS, Philosophy of Mind, Aquinas, and Scholastic Metaphysics and this blog religiously (pun intended). In Scholastic Metaphysics, I was very surprised to see a reversal of the notions of "objectivity" and "subjectivity" but give maximum props to Dr. Feser for carefully explaining the sense in which he used those terms. Too much of contemporary philosophical writing seems to assume that the reader already understands the terminology and context within which it is used, without making clear that the definitions used are not the generally accepted ones. That's (perhaps) somewhat difficult for professional philosophers, but a downright disaster for us amateurs.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Robert Colbe

Don’t overlook *Locke*. It contrasts Locke’s philosophy against that of the Scholastics from which he broke, side by side. In other words there’s plenty of helpful material in it about Scholasticism.

Robert Coble said...

@Paul Amrhein:

Thank you for the suggestion, but I haven't overlooked "Locke". I just haven't had time to read everything else completely (yet) and so I just haven't gotten a copy. I will be getting it as soon as I finish Scholastic Metaphysics. I've almost finished a first-time reading (not skimming). I'm sure it will take several readings to absorb it; there is so much to it!

Martin said...

Where are you people getting Scholastic Metaphysics from? I've been impatiently waiting for May 31st, and now it looks like Amazon doesn't even offer it for sale anymore, other than expensive overseas third-party sellers. Ugh. Is it out of print before it's even in print? I hate publishers like this. And they don't seem to understand modern technology, with all this "books made out of paper" nonsense.

Greg said...

@Martin

Pre-orders went out much earlier than May 31st, which is why so many people have it. Apparently Amazon has ordered another shipment which will be in soon, so don't bother with the third-party sellers.

Martin said...

Dammit! I could have had it by now if I hadn't waited!

No worries. I just ordered it from Barnes & Noble for less than Amazon was charging. Free shipping, too. :)

JS said...

Ordered Scholastic Metaphysics a month ago, still waiting. Hopefully I will receive it within the next week or two.

Robert Coble said...

I got my copy of Scholastic Metaphysics from Amazon - and I didn't pre-order it. It took about 3 weeks from the placement of the order. I guess I got "lucky" (or maybe I was predestined to get it, in a purely deterministic universe). Just kidding, y'all! I know that God loves ME!

Edward Feser said...

Guys,

I've been told that a new shipment arrived at the U.S. distributor's warehouse the other day, so I expect Amazon will reflect that pretty soon.

Scott said...

That's good news; thanks for the update. I got my own pre-ordered copy in April, but I've also ordered one for a friend of mine and that one hasn't shipped yet.

Obviously Amazon has not reckoned with the popularity of you and your blog.

Scott said...

In a related story, liquor stores are reporting a run on martini ingredients and online suppliers are having trouble meeting the recently increased demand for Steely Dan CDs.

George LeSauvage said...

One thing puzzles me about a Russell quote in the Clarke article, referring to the turtle(s). I've never gotten how this tells against the cosmological argument, rather than for it. After all, does anyone think that "turtles all the way down" is anything but absurd? But that is eminently a theory of an infinite series of per se causes, is it not? And isn't that where the absurdity lies?

Seamus said...

The "turtles all the way down" crack works against the caricature of the cosmological argument presented by Russell et al. But you're quite right that it should be of no use against the cosmological argument that actual theists make

Steven Hales said...

I am grateful for Professor Feser for calling attention to my book This is Philosophy. He is entirely correct that in my discussion of the Cosmological Argument that I review the common objections to the argument. Doing so is the mission of any good introductory text. I offer the primary criticisms of every philosophical position and argument discussed in the book, whether it is deontology, functionalism, libertarianism, or theism. Without doubt, I do not delve into the most advanced versions of any theory. To do so would be a pedagogical error—students need the basics before they can tackle the state of the art. While I am aware that partisans of this or that view might be disappointed that their favored arguments might not be discussed, it is important to recall the target audience. Passionate utilitarians might be unhappy that I do not discuss rule utilitarianism, but that is a sophisticated theory more suited for discussion in an Ethics course than it is in a general Introduction to Philosophy. But that does not make the version of utilitarianism presented a straw man. Likewise, it is a serious misunderstanding to accuse an assignment of translating from natural language into propositional logic of being a straw man on the grounds that propositional logic lacks the expressive capacity of quantified modal logic. One must walk before one can run. I do find it surprising that Professor Feser chooses to hang his hat on the Cosmological Argument of all things, an argument that the vast majority of contemporary philosophers consider risible, but I suppose that no interesting philosophical argument is ever truly dead. As regards the annotated bibliography, I tried to pick readings that were in some way interesting, popular, influential, accessible, or clever. The Dawkins book is there, as are books by Plantinga, Aquinas, Anselm, Pascal, and 15 others. Finally, nothing said in an introductory textbook that reviews the main pros and cons of many different views should be considered my own considered positions. If anyone is interested in my assessment of religious belief, I suggest looking at my book Relativism and the Foundations of Philosophy (MIT, 2006), where I address religious epistemology respectfully, seriously, and in depth.

Scott said...

@Steven Hales:

"He is entirely correct that in my discussion of the Cosmological Argument that I review the common objections to the argument."

No, you don't. You review common objections to a straw-man "argument" that, so far as anyone can tell, no one in the history of the world has ever offered, and that in any case is certainly not the Cosmological Argument—even a basic version of it.

Worse, you attribute that "argument" to Aristotle and Aquinas. At least when Robin Le Poidevin critiqued it in Arguing for Atheism, he correctly acknowledged that no one had ever offered it in quite that form.

You seem to think that you were presenting a basic version of the argument in your book and that you're being taken to task for not presenting a more sophisticated version. You are mistaken. You are being taken to task for not presenting it at all, even in its most basic form, and for committing a philosophical howler that is every bit as risible as you say the Cosmological Argument is.

I suggest you follow the link given earlier in the thread and get busy on a corrected second edition of your book.

Greg said...

One must walk before one can run. I do find it surprising that Professor Feser chooses to hang his hat on the Cosmological Argument of all things, an argument that the vast majority of contemporary philosophers consider risible, but I suppose that no interesting philosophical argument is ever truly dead.

But Professor Feser's complaint is not that you haven't surveyed his favorite version of the cosmological argument. It is that what you have presented as "the cosmological argument" in fact doesn't have serious philosophical defenders, and many of the objections you've given do not stick to the other versions.

No one is saying that you should treat David Braine's or Barry Miller's cosmological arguments in an introduction to philosophy text. But to give a version that no one has defended (ie. a version that has "everything has a cause" as a premise) and then to attribute it to Aristotle and Aquinas is a whole other story than merely avoiding too much depth in an introductory text.

Greg said...

It goes without saying that appeals to how "risible" philosophers find the cosmological argument become irrelevant if those philosophers have this caricature in mind...

BenYachov said...

Yeh Prof Hales,

Rather what you are writing about the Cosmological Argument in your book is pure bullshit. It is morally, academically and intellectually on the level of your average Young Earth Creationist polemicist claiming Evolution is invalid because “it is against the Second law of Thermal Dynamics”. The former is a “common objection” among Anti-Darwin types BTW and it is total bullshit. Much like your asinine claim that any historic version of the Cosmological Argument contained the words “everything has a cause” is also bullshit. Would you tolerate a Professor from Bob Jones University acknowledging the 2nd Law polemic against Darwin is crap but was making excuses for still using it based on the idea he needs to meet his students on their level?
I thought the purpose of education was to clear away ignorance not perpetuate it?
If you had any pride or decency you would acknowledge your errors & re-write that stupid book or defend them if you can.

BenYachov said...

In fact I once read a version of the CO somewhere that said “Some things have a cause, it is impossible for everything to have a cause etc…”.

Greg said...

In fact I once read a version of the CO somewhere that said “Some things have a cause, it is impossible for everything to have a cause etc…”.

I have thought about this... the "everything has a cause" version need not even be as bad as people make it out to be, because if an ungrounded per se series is impossible, then it would simple show that it's not the case that everything has a cause.

From there, though, it seems like you'd still have to go on to reformulate the causal principle to something like "everything that is moved is moved by another," if you are to have any basis for clarifying what need not (or cannot) have a cause.

Scott said...

@Greg:

"[T]he 'everything has a cause' version need not even be as bad as people make it out to be[.]"

That's true for another reason as well: it's possible to understand the term "self-caused" in a way that isn't incoherent. That's not my own preference, but it's at least possible to argue from the premise that "everything has a cause" to the conclusion that something (God) must be self-caused. In that case, the conclusion doesn't contradict the premise.

I don't like that approach because I think it stretches the meaning of "cause" pretty far out of shape, but it's at least not incoherent.

Robert Coble said...

No disrespect to Dr. Hales, but...

This is Philosophy, page 77:


Here is the argument in outline form.

1. Everything is caused by something prior in the causal chain.

2. It is absurd to think that the chain of causation can go back infinitely.

3. Thus there had to be some uncaused thing at the beginning that started the whole chain of causation.

4. This uncaused thing is God.




The excerpted argument above IS the “straw man” argument that Dr. Feser (and others; see below) have addressed so many times (apparently to no avail). That there is a good review in the book of various objections to that “straw man” version does not mitigate the fact that the argument as given is NOT the Cosmological Argument as argued by theistic philosophers, especially Aquinas.

Consider (please) W. Norris Clarke’s “A CURIOUS BLINDSPOT IN THE ANGLO-AMERICAN
TRADITION OF ANTITHEISTIC ARGUMENT
”. It is a fascinating historical search for the roots of this “straw man” Cosmological Argument.

Quoting Dr. Hales: I do find it surprising that Professor Feser chooses to hang his hat on the Cosmological Argument of all things, an argument that the vast majority of contemporary philosophers consider risible, but I suppose that no interesting philosophical argument is ever truly dead.

Leaving aside the argumentum ad populum, it is NOT surprising that Dr. Hales finds the Cosmological Argument (as he has given it) to be “risible” (synonyms: “laughable, ridiculous, absurd, comical, comic, amusing, funny, hilarious, humerous, droll, farcical, silly, ludicrous, hysterical, tickling, priceless”). Perhaps it would be of some small comfort for him to know that Dr. Feser (and every major philosopher who has ever argued the Cosmological Argument) also finds the argument (as given) to be “risible.” That’s what happens with a “straw man” argument.

There is a distinct difference between discussing a complete philosophical theory and a specific philosophical argument in a syllogistic form. No one expects (at least not in an introductory text) to find a complete and in-depth discussion of any complex theory. However, a student DOES have the right to an expectation that the expert in question (the author of the book) IS providing the actual argument rather than a “straw man” argument (that seems to be a recurring “meme” in academic philosophy).

The more serious question is this: why is it not considered good scholarship (even in an introductory textbook) to provide the actual argument (as promulgated by its staunchest advocates) so that students can be introduced to valid arguments for and against the actual argument, rather than to a “straw man” argument that is easily defeated?


Greg said...

@Scott

Right. That is how Descartes and Spinoza use "self-caused."

dover_beach said...

"I do find it surprising that Professor Feser chooses to hang his hat on the Cosmological Argument of all things, an argument that the vast majority of contemporary philosophers consider risible..."

Wow. Just wow. That might be because just about every introductory philosophy text presents them with a pseudo-cosmological argument which they forever confuse with an actual cosmological argument; a tradition which your text continues and you've ignored even when it's pointed out to you.

Anonymous said...

How about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDCQZj7_Tho

Scott said...

@Greg:

"Right. That is how Descartes and Spinoza use 'self-caused.'"

Indeed it is, and you've named the two major examples I had in mind.

Brandon said...

It takes a bit of cheek to criticize an argument for being considered risible by the vast majority of contemporary philosophers when one has built one's career on defending relativism, a position that has long been considered risible by the vast majority of contemporary philosophers, and is so little liked that it is likely to continue to be for quite some time.

In any case, all Hales's appeals to the fact of its being an introductory text, besides the points raised above, are irrelevant; introductory texts require that the presentation be held to higher standards, not lower. Nor is it actually very complicated, and I hold myself to it in teaching logic sections of Intro courses and the like: if you are using a toy-model version of an argument to make a point, you note that it is only a toy-model version of the argument, and if you are using a caricature version of the argument, you emphasize that it is a caricature version of it, so that students are not misled about the state of the question and do not get a false idea of how one handles logical analysis of arguments. Anything else is merely professional irresponsibility: the author publishing an introductory text is unavoidably putting himself forward as a model of philosophical practice, and there is no excuse for being a model of intellectually sloppy practice.

George LeSauvage said...

I suspect that Hales doesn't think there is a real difference between the CA as historically formulated, and the way he presents it. Rather, he thinks Ed's complaint is a quibble about how much historical detail an intro must go into.

I infer this from his post. After giving the "intro" defense, he then wonders why Ed accepts the CA. Nothing he says gives any hint that he sees that it is his version which is reject by so many, and not the classic version. Therefore, I just don't think he sees the difference.

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"I suspect that Hales doesn't think there is a real difference between the CA as historically formulated, and the way he presents it."

I suspect you're right. But in that case he's not really qualified to present an introductory account of the argument, is he?

Scott said...

And for the record, unlike Robert Coble, I do intend some disrespect toward Dr. Hales. He has it coming.

S.K. said...

Of course, it's entirely possible that Hales doesn't know how to respond to the CA proper.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott:

On reflection, I see we must be mistaken here. After all, the philosophy is settled.

(Ask an Bright.)

dover_beach said...

"Of course, it's entirely possible that Hales doesn't know how to respond to the CA proper."

Bingo!

BenYachov said...

If he is trying to arm the future generations of Atheists or religious skeptics all that he is doing is setting them up for a good pounding & not the fun kind. ;-)

Mr. Green said...

Scott: You review common objections to a straw-man "argument" that, so far as anyone can tell, no one in the history of the world has ever offered

Oh, I don't think that's fair. If you went around enough bus stops and asked enough people at random, I'm sure you'd eventually come across someone who had heard the name "cosmological argument" and presented that way. Well, I expect it's likely, anyhow. At least possible. Or not intrinsically impossible. I guess.


Steven Hales: Without doubt, I do not delve into the most advanced versions of any theory. To do so would be a pedagogical error—students need the basics before they can tackle the state of the art. [...] One must walk before one can run.

I feel I must defend Prof. Hales, however. (Well, except for walking before running, if one considers that infants learning to perambulate frequently engage in short running bursts of bipedal locomotion before mastering the art of walking upright, but this is philosophy, after all, so we mustn't let the facts get in the way.) Frankly, I'm following a similar rule in the introductory tome I am currently writing on the history of the world. For example, I indicate that Napoleon was the King of France from 1804-1873, and an amateur pastry chef. Sure, some small-minded pedants will claim that this is "short-changing readers" or "possibly misleading" or "pure unmitigated piffle", but this book is aimed at kids, and you know they aren't very smart. Indeed, that kind of hidebound nit-picking pettifoggery is precisely the kind of attitude that keeps our young people from seriously considering the study of history as a worthwhile future endeavour. I feel no qualms about advertising my book as not sacrificing depth because I believe that merely gettin' with the jive that young'uns expect u 2 use when yore talking to them these dayz is no handicap to staging a completely fair and accurate presentation of history. Or mathematics, or philosophy, or anything else, really. (It's all relative, after all.)

The Dawkins book is there, as are books by Plantinga, Aquinas, Anselm, Pascal, and 15 others.

And I'm sorry if any of you book-burners out there don't like it, but in the same vein, the fact that some people don't like Marx would hardly stop me from citing Das Kapital in my textbook for its important historical status — any more than I'd leave out The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Theogony, Huckleberry Finn, 1066 and All That, Mein Kampf, The Onion—Collected Issues—Volume VI: 1744-1801, Intermediate Granny-Square Knitting, my highschool diary — or any other influential historical work.

BenYachov said...

@Mr Green

I love you man!:-)

Of course having said that this rule still applies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8sS4RIn6Kw

Robert Coble said...

@Mr Green:

That was a most "risible" (synonyms: “laughable, ridiculous, absurd, comical, comic, amusing, funny, hilarious, humorous, droll, farcical, silly, ludicrous, hysterical, tickling, priceless”) post; ROTFLMAO!

Perhaps you've hit upon the Atheist Philosopher's Theory of Relativity: it's all relative, man.

As for that anonymous "expert" at the bus stop, presenting that "risible" Cosmological Argument: he's just repeating what he learned in his Introduction to Philosophy course. If you want to see references, he still has his textbook containing that same argument, so it must be true. A-N-D, as an absolute appeal to THE final authority, that reference book even cites Dr. Richard Dawkins, philosopher extraordinaire, world-renowned for pontificating on subjects about which he is manifestly ignorant.

Tom G said...

The most effective response would seem to be to post an accurate review on the book's amazon, and other sites' similar, page.

Greg said...

By Hales' admission (he calls it an objection), there is an inconsistency in the argument he presented. That is a formal defect in the argument, as he presented it.

Some versions of the cosmological argument do not contain that defect.

For how many other arguments in his book do you think that Hales presented them as being obviously inconsistent? It's like presenting an obviously invalid argument even though all proponents of it only defend invalid versions, and then critiquing it for being invalid.

Holding back details, specific versions, exegetical disputes, etc. for a introductory text is fine. But presenting an argument that has a formal defect that is easy to repair and has been repaired by all of its defenders?

Greg said...

invalid versions

Should be: valid versions

BenYachov said...

Dawkins has one and only one skill set. He can scientifically defend Evolution and no doubt take on & rebut the anti-evolution polemics of Young Earth Creationist fundamentalist types. Any anti-religous polemics more sophisticated then this the man is a joke even if there is for sake of argument no God.

That is it & I am being generous with him.

On a similar note I recall reading once on Voxday's blog that PZ Myers once debated a Canadian Young Earth Creationist & got his fat arse handed to him. Of course the YEC fellow was smart in that he refused to debate evolution but stuck to the philosophical arguments for the existence of God which, no surprise, PZ didn't have a clue how too answer.

Gnus are forever intellectually inferior.

S.K. said...

I feel I must defend Prof. Hales, however. ... Frankly, I'm following a similar rule in the introductory tome I am currently writing on the history of the world. For example, I indicate that Napoleon was the King of France from 1804-1873, and an amateur pastry chef.

Don't forget to mention that he had sweet dance moves, loved tater tots, and had a friend called Pedro.

This confusion between Napoleon Dynamite and Napoleon Bonaparte is, in relation to your example, more closely analogous to the relationship between the actual CA and the misrepresentation Hales refuted - the version offered by well intentioned but philosophically incompetent individuals.

That is, 'everything has a cause' was not version one of the CA, only later to be refined to 'everything that begins to exist has a cause'. To present the two as a kind of progression is as absurd as teaching children about Napoleon Dynamite as a preface to their learning about Napoleon Bonaparte.

For as you may know, Bonaparte's reason for invading Russia was a bit ridiculous: 'I don't even have any skills... like nunchuck skills, bo hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only like guys who have great skills.'

Glenn said...

Dear Mr. Green,

May I introduce myself?

I am the author of the soon-to-be Amazon bestseller, What Your Pet Rock Can Teach You About Philosophy.

As an author with some – blush -- modest experience in rendering his books less impalatable through the use of interesting, popular, influential, accessible, and clever readings, I would like to suggest the following:

You can jazz up your forthcoming history tome through the use of irony. For example, you might mention that Napoleon gave up his pastry career only to get creamed by Duke Ellington.

Insincerely yours,
Steven Hales Relativism

Arthur said...

Yawn, here we go again. Here's how it goes:

1 - Atheist presents 'Everything has a cause' version of the Cosmological Argument.

2 - Someone points out where they've gone wrong.

3 - Atheist comes up ways to defend their ignorance.

No wonder there's so little consensus on these issues when people don't even want to get it right.

If you don't want to understand something, you'll find a way, I promise you.

Mr. Green said...

BenYachov: I love you man!:-) Of course having said that this rule still applies.

Heh, thanks, BenYachov. And yes, that is always a very important rule.

Robert: Perhaps you've hit upon the Atheist Philosopher's Theory of Relativity: it's all relative, man.

Except for Relativity Relativity, which absolutely proves that there's no God, only a self-causing ineffable G-force, that describes a self-contained spatiotemporal continuum with no loose ends, like a snake (or rubberous dragon) eating its own tail. Like the molecular structure of benzene, and that's science, so it must be true!

S.K.: Don't forget to mention that he had sweet dance moves, loved tater tots, and had a friend called Pedro.

Those are excellent points. Of course, I don't want to overload my introductory text, so I think I'll save those for the accompanying website (using my computer hacking skills).

Glenn: For example, you might mention that Napoleon gave up his pastry career only to get creamed by Duke Ellington.

Ooh, that's definitely going on the accompanying website! Able was I, ere I heard Ella… Singing ᗅᗺᗷᗅ at the tube station. (Go ahead, call it cheesy, but I've always believed in putting the irony hand in a Velveeta glove.)

Faheem Zia said...

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Anonymous said...

Professor Dawkins is cool. You guys need to lay off him. He knows a lot about how the world works. You should all listen up when he speaks because he tells it like it is. He doesn't have time for your philosophical mumbo jumbo.

Edward (not Feser) said...

To be fair to Prof Hales, he's no doubt just repeating the common wisdom about the CA.

I read something similar today while browsing a bookshop. I had picked up another book allegedly proving there's no such thing as the self (which presumably means the author is lying when he puts his name on the book). Anyway, he had just repeated the usual mantra that hylemorphism was disproved by the 'scientific endevours' of Galileo, Descartes and the like. He offered no evidence or reasoning for this assertion, nor did he apologise for this. He was just repeating what he'd no doubt been told a hundred times before.

I suspect something similar is happening here.

Edward (not Feser) said...

(Interestingly, the book in question, even on the back cover, said it began its survey, and no doubt its 'argument', with Locke and Descartes.)

There's lots of work to do, my friends!

Greg said...

I came across a popular philosophy book (by that I mean "written for a popular audience") that said that the fundamental difference between Aristotle and Aquinas was that Aquinas thought the world began to exist.

Aquinas did hold that, but from the standpoint of philosophy it is not relevant. It's clear that the compilers of the book did not even have an Aquinas expert read the section on Aquinas.

Arthur said...

There's an argument here for looking directly at the original source, isn't there?

Don't let Dawkins, or Betrand Russell, or even a philosophy manual tell you what Aquinas said. Let Aquinas tell you.

Paul Amrhein said...

I think that just learning the form of the quotlibetal questions would be good for philosophy students, and for St Thomas’ reputation. But is seems to be part of his destiny to be considered a “dumb ox” by those who have never really encountered him.

Robert Coble said...

In the traditional martial arts, there is a saying:

"Don't study the old masters; instead, study what the old masters studied."

Good advice for those of us who are students of philosophy!

(It certainly helps to have a good instructor with intellectual integrity, like Dr Feser! Thank you, sir!)

Glenn said...

Mr. Green,

Able was I, ere I heard Ella… Singing ᗅᗺᗷᗅ at the tube station. (Go ahead, call it cheesy, but I've always believed in putting the irony hand in a Velveeta glove.)

I wouldn't call it cheesy, just a sign of a Krafty mind.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"Go ahead, call it cheesy[.]"

There's nothing wrong with Green cheese.

Glenn said...

That reminds me... If Able I was, then Sam I am.

Glenn said...

(Oh darn, I wasn't able (to do that right). Guess I'm not Sam after all.)

BenYachov said...

>Professor Dawkins is cool. You guys need to lay off him. He knows a lot about how the world works. You should all listen up when he speaks because he tells it like it is. He doesn't have time for your philosophical mumbo jumbo.

Dawkins says it! I believe it! And that is good enough for me!

(The scary thing is that this post might be serious?)

Greg said...

(The scary thing is that this post might be serious?)

I don't think so. Its tone is too civil.

Glenn said...

I'll save Scott the trouble...

@Glenn:

(Oh darn, I wasn't able (to do that right). Guess I'm not Sam after all.)

Had you said "Iff Able I was, then Sam I am", then that would be a very good guess. Given what you actually said, you still may be Sam.

;)

Glenn said...

Robert,

Years ago a friend asked me to read a book, and let him know what I thought of it. The book was Keith Stanovich's The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin. I handed it back to him a week later. "I didn't read the whole thing, sorry. I did make a sincere effort to read it all, but it kept giving me a headache." "Why was that?" he wanted to know.

I gave him three examples, one of which was that Stanovich, though using different terminology, ostensibly says that it is only since the publication of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene that it has become possible for man to competently strive to overcome the negative influences of his lower nature. I concluded with, "Didn't he ever hear of people like Plato and Aristotle?"

Sometime later the APA published a review of the book, in which the reviewer said that Stanovich's knowledge of history was about as deep as spilt water on a kitchen countertop.

Obviously, things which stick out like a sore thumb tend to get noticed -- at least by people who are paying attention.

So, yup, thank God for, amongst other things, attentiveness, integrity and articulateness all put to good use.

Anonymous said...

I'm still hearing too much hatin' on Professor Dawkins. Dawkins, Tyson, Krauss and others bring science to the people. You philosopher guys need to stop playing your word games and start earning your keep. Step down from those ivory towers and start mingling with the great unwashed. You may start to look at things differently. It may just blow your minds!

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous

That’s funny, I thought religionists were supposed to *be* the great unwashed. Now they’re the effete elite?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous

A science question for you. What is professor Krauss’ operational definition of “nothingness?”

ccmnxc said...

I still cannot tell if anonymous is serious.

...The Poe's war on humor continues.

S.K. said...

He's trolling. Who defends Dawkins, Tyson, Strauss, et al, by appealing to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton? Someone who's playing a game.

Anonymous said...

"Operational definition of nothingness"? See, now this is another example of philosophers making things more complicated than they have to be. You're always overthinking things. Nothing is nothing and I think physicists are the people to go to for such questions about the nature of reality.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous

Professor Krauss doesn’t say “nothing is nothing.” It’s really not fair to characterize his efforts that way. How about giving us his operational definition of empty space? That’s a pretty important idea in “A Universe from Nothing.”

Greg said...

Nothing is nothing

Common mistake. Nothing is actually something. Please see Chapter 9 of A Universe From Nothing for clarification of this daring hypothesis.

BenYachov said...

What is nothing?

Well take Everything and Subtract It from Itself......

Of course that's not Krauss' definition. What a chump.

Tony said...

Professor Krauss doesn’t say “nothing is nothing.” It’s really not fair to characterize his efforts that way. How about giving us his operational definition of empty space? That’s a pretty important idea in “A Universe from Nothing.”

As funny as Anonymous is in "defense" (if I can it that) of Prof. Hales, it really is fair for him to characterize Krauss as presenting his idea as "nothing is nothing." That is, after all, just about as close to the mark as Hales is. Actually, a bit closer.

Or, what goes around comes around. Hales definitely deserves to be "supported" by that sort of backhanded Kraussian nothingness. What is the sound of a snake clapping its hands?

Anon is also funny in saying "I think physicists are the people to go to for such questions about the nature of reality." If only they bothered to address themselves to the nature of the QUESTIONS about the nature of reality, first. They are like the ladies knitting brigade who brought knitting needles to a class on how to stitch a cell nucleus into a new cell.

Keep it up, Anon, and you'll have a role at Comedy Central.

Daniel Joachim said...

Oh, Ben Yachov and you others. Now you're just being dogmatic and fundamentalist.

Of course nothing cannot be nothing because there's no way to test whether nothing really is nothing. I've never sensed such a nothing, and neither have you. Just admit it!

Anyway, such a definition of nothing would really be a incoherent concept on my a priori scientistic metaphysical framework (which by the way gave you vaccines, aircrafts and computers - what can your method show to?), so there's really no use in thinking that nothing really isn't something, but in fact: Since something is a physical quantity to be experimented, then the negation of something has to be a physical quantity, in the same way that me playing the negation of Fifa 2014 has to be just as fun as playing the real McCoy. Obviously - nothing really have to be something!

And let me add once again: You philosophers and religionists are so dogmatic and useless. You only care about fanciful abstractions while me and Krauss are engaging the realities. Let my scientifically informed free thinking enlighten you!

Paul Amrhein said...

@Anonymous or Daniel J


My point in asking for professor Krauss’ operational definitions of the most important ideas in his book was to show that he doesn’t give any.
He doesn’t give any scientific definitions of these things, despite his demand that everything be defined by science. In other words he’s the one doing philosophy here. Also, the basic idea of an imbalance arising from a process of cancellation was given by Eddington many years ago.
What can the method of philosophy “show to”? How about the centuries of philosophical labor it took to develop vanishing point perspective whose significance for projective geometry, and therefore all of modern science, is well known?

Paul Amrhein said...

@ Anonymous

One claim Krauss does make, albeit through conversational implicature, is that empty space has always been taken as a proxy for nothingness in science. This is simply false. Newton’s “absolute space” was clearly not thought of as a proxy for nothingness. Nor was it thought of as such by the Greeks.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

You may wish to reconsider your grousing about others taking the time to point out and remark upon the philosophical errors of people like Dawkins and Krauss.

After all, it was Krauss -- he of that class of individuals known as "physicists", the members of which you believe have a view of the nature of reality which is unimpeachably correct – who (in a moment of seeming irony) said, "I think we need to respect people’s philosophical notions unless those notions are wrong."

o "A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering." – Albert Einstein (who was a physicist)

o "I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today - and even professional scientists - seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest." – Albert Einstein (who has not ceased to have been a physicist (at least no since the last time we checked in with him))

o "It finally turns out that one can, after all, not get along without metaphysics." – Albert Einstein (who, apparently either obsessed with some eccentric version of the so-called continuity principle or unavoidably stuck in a continuous field of (non) space-time, persists in remaining having been a physicst)

o "Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?" -- Edward Feser

Anonymous said...

I've gotta admit you guys aren't as stuffy as some people make you out to be. While I have your attention, why don't we use "natural philosophy" to answer some of these questions? Isn't that the philosophical equivalent of science? If natural philosophy is useless then how can we trust any branch of philosophy?

Daniel Joachim said...

@Anon
(Who's not bored-out Poe just-earlier-having-written-a-longer-piece-on-Krauss me.)

Why assume that natural philosophy needs to be a contender of natural empirical science, rather than being the mother of it?

I really recommend this excellent piece previously written by Ed:
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.no/2012/05/natural-theology-natural-science-and.html

"The philosophy of nature is a middle ground field of study, lying between metaphysics and empirical science. Unlike metaphysics, it is not concerned with being as such, but with changeable, empirical reality in particular. But neither is it concerned merely with the specific natures of the changeable, empirical things that happen to exist. It is rather concerned with what must be true of any world of changeable, empirical things of the sort we might have scientific knowledge of, whatever their specific natures and thus whatever turn out to be the specific laws in terms of which they operate. Nor is the philosophy of nature concerned merely with the quantitative aspects of material things, but with every aspect of their nature."

Edward Feser said...

Prof. Hales,

Thanks for your polite reply. I don't have much to add to what others have said in response, but I will reiterate the main points. The problem isn't that you were discussing the cosmological argument at an elementary level. The problem is that you were not discussing the cosmological argument at all. Not only has no philosopher ever actually defended the argument you presented, but defenders of the cosmological argument (such as Aristotle and Aquinas) in fact typically deny the key claims you attribute to them. (Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas thinks that everything has a cause; neither one is trying to argue that the universe had a beginning -- and Aristotle denies that it does; and Aquinas presents a great deal of argumentation in order to show that the first cause has the various divine attributes, while Aristotle offers some argumentation too.)

Discussing the argument the way you did (and the way too many other philosophers without expertise on this particular subject do) is like presenting "A monkey once gave birth to a human baby" as if it were a simplified version of what Darwinism says, and then raising objections against this silly caricature as if it were a worthwhile exercise in critical reasoning. Saying "I'm just introducing the issues here" would not be a serious defense of this procedure in a biology textbook, and treating the stock caricature of the cosmological argument as if it were merely a simplification of what Aristotle and Aquinas said (when it fact it contradicts what they actually said) is not serious either.

If most philosophers really do think the cosmological argument "risible" that is because what most of them know of it is the ridiculous straw man you discussed in your book. This says everything about what passes for the conventional wisdom in academic philosophy and nothing about the merits of the argument itself. It is because it merely reinforces this deeply erroneous conventional wisdom rather than fostering genuine understanding of and serious thinking about the argument that I was critical of what you had to say about the subject.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of your replies. None of the condescension I was expecting. There's hope for you guys yet. One last thing, take it easy on Prof. Dawkins and Prof. Krauss. I have a feeling many science and philosophy eggheads had their lunch money stolen as kids. They shouldn't have to go through anything like that again. Peace out.

BenYachov said...

I am a fundamentalist!

I am lots of fun and completely mental!!!!!

What can I say? When you spend as much time as moi staring into the Abyss the Abyss stares back at you.

Glenn said...

Ben,

When you spend as much time as moi staring into the Abyss the Abyss stares back at you.

Now that's something to think about. Hmm...

Step2 said...

When you spend as much time as moi staring into the Abyss the Abyss stares back at you.

I thought it was a really good movie. Because aliens.

Wey said...

You are all missing BR's point. Don't overlook this line:

"If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument."

If anything, call it God, can be uncaused, then metaphysically uncaused beings are possible. Under such condition one can then assume that uncaused beings do exist. So you cannot rule out that the world as a whole is metaphysically uncaused. When you place a first cause that is itself uncaused in a chain of regress in order to avoid infinite regress, it is simply ad hoc to place it at God. Since uncaused beings do exist, the uncaused being could be something immanent to the universe or the universe itself.

Some people argue that the Big Bang theory is an evidence that the universe is caused. But the Big Bang theory is still within the realms of physics, while the question of first cause or uncaused cause is a question of metaphysics. In order for the event of big bang to be plausible, physical laws must have existed before big bang happened. Who knows if physical laws are caused or uncaused, necessary or contingent?

Greg said...

Wey, that line begs the question, because the whole point of a cosmological argument is to give principled reasons for what sort of being an uncaused cause would have to be.

The reason there is a regress in the first place is because there are things that change, things that are composed of act and potency, things that are composed of essence and existence, etc. The impossibility of the per se causal series implies then that there must be an uncaused cause. It doesn't follow that any element in the regress can be uncaused, however, which is what you and Russell are suggesting. That which is uncaused would have to be precisely that which does not demand explanation, namely something that doesn't change, that isn't composed of act and potency, that isn't composed of essence and existence.

The universe does not satisfy those criteria.

What's more disappointing is that Russell shows a little more understanding in his later debates with Fr. Copleston. So then his account in Why I am not a Christian seems either to be based on ignorance or on a deliberate straw man. If the former, then he admits that he adopted and rejected the first cause argument without understanding any of its major historical formulations. The latter is of course not very charitable.

Wey said...

"That which is uncaused would have to be precisely that which does not demand explanation, namely something that doesn't change, that isn't composed of act and potency, that isn't composed of essence and existence."

How does a being that is not composed of act and potency cause anything, which is in fact an act? The act of causing something is ipso facto a change. How does a being that is not composed of essence and existence actually exist? A "being" without essence and existence, act and potency is a non-being. Or in other words, such a being cannot exist.

In order to avoid infintie regress, it is simpler to assume that the universe as a sum of all existence does not have an explanation. As we haven't observed energy-matter to be created or annihilated till now, we could speculate that it is eternal. Some things always existed rather than nothing. It just does not make sense that things pop out into existence from nothing.

Greg said...

How does a being that is not composed of essence and existence actually exist? A "being" without essence and existence, act and potency is a non-being. Or in other words, such a being cannot exist.

From "X is not composed of essence and existence (or act and potency)", it does not follow that "X is neither composed of essence nor composed of existence". The being cannot change because it does not have a potency to change. It is "pure act" with no potency at all. Consequently it is also "subsistent existence itself", and is identical with its existence (so that its essence is to exist, and its essence is identical to its existence).

How does a being that is not composed of act and potency cause anything, which is in fact an act? The act of causing something is ipso facto a change.

To cause is to act, correct. But as I pointed out above, not to be composed of act and potency is not to lack actuality but is rather to lack any potentiality.

As for the claim that causing something is to change--that is not demonstrate. In any instance of causation, surely there will be a change in the patient, but it is not essential that there is change in the agent (ie. if the agent has no potential to change).

(This is how the question of an uncaused cause has arisen in the argument. It is not possible that the series contain only caused causes, so there is an uncaused cause. But the uncaused cause cannot be merely any entity but must be pure act, then pure act exists. Pure act would cause others to change without itself changing, since it has no potential to change. Though that may strike you as counterintuitive, it is not contradictory. And by virtue of grounding the causal series, pure act stands in causal relations, so it seems that it can cause change without itself changing. But to discover that is obviously not to concede what is false, ie. that anything could cause change without itself changing.)

In order to avoid infintie regress, it is simpler to assume that the universe as a sum of all existence does not have an explanation.

I should clarify: When I say, "That which is uncaused would have to be precisely that which does not demand explanation...," I mean, "That which is uncaused would have to be precisely that which does not demand explanation outside of itself..." The uncaused cause is uncaused, but is not unexplained. Its absolute simplicity is a sufficient explanation in a way that some composite thing (ie. the universe) is not.

Now, to define the universe as "a sum of all existence" is non-threatening to the theist, for then the universe trivially contains God, who is self-explanatory, and "the universe" (ie. everything other than God), which has its explanation in God.

That is probably not what you had in mind. But "to assume that the universe...does not have an explanation" hardly "avoid[s the] infinite regress." The regress arose because if potencies are reduced to act only by that which is actual. To posit the universe--an act-potency composite--as uncaused does not solve the regress but denies the principle that potencies are reduced to act only by that which is actual. So we would have "solved" the question of how things change to pointing to how a bigger thing changes, leaving the latter fact unexplained.

I don't know if by "simpler" here you have parsimony in mind, but if so, then the proposed modification does not qualify in terms of parsimony because it is not even a genuine explanation.

Greg said...

Some things always existed rather than nothing. It just does not make sense that things pop out into existence from nothing.

I agree that it doesn't make sense for thing to pop into existence out of nothing. That is no what creation ex nihilo is, though, since creation ex nihilo requires God, who is not nothing. (That said, the argument I am defending is not attempting to prove a temporal creation ex nihilo. It is seeking to establish that pure act exists, and it could be conceded that the universe is past-eternal.)

Wey said...

Why can't the universe explained alone by its universal composition? In other words, why can't the universe explain itself?

A being that has the pure essence of existence must be existence itself. If it is so, then existence caused the universe, that is the sum of all existence, which is begging the question.

Any causation is a finite act. It is not eternal. So a priori and a posterori to the act of causation, there is the potency of causation. I can't imagine that a pure act being without potency exists, because any act is finite. Before the act started and after it ended, there is potency.

Greg said...

Why can't the universe explained alone by its universal composition? In other words, why can't the universe explain itself?

I am not sure what you mean by universal composition. So long as it is composed, it can't explain itself just like any other composite entity can't explain itself.

A being that has the pure essence of existence must be existence itself. If it is so, then existence caused the universe, that is the sum of all existence, which is begging the question.

Begging the question is circular reasoning. I don't see what part of what you said would be circular. (And in any case it is not an argument that I made. I don't assume that subsistent existence itself caused the universe before arguing that subsistent existence itself exists.)

You also seem to be equivocating on universe. If the universe is "all that exists," which includes subsistent existence, then it is not the case that subsistent existence causes the universe, since subsistent existence does not cause itself. It would be true that subsistent existence causes everything apart from itself. (This would require further argument, ie. the uniqueness of subsistent existence, but that can be done.)

Any causation is a finite act. It is not eternal. So a priori and a posterori to the act of causation, there is the potency of causation. I can't imagine that a pure act being without potency exists, because any act is finite. Before the act started and after it ended, there is potency.

Well, I'm not sure if I can help you if you can't "imagine" it. But subsistent existence is immaterial, so I guess that's no surprise.

More seriously, there are a lot of things that would have to be clarified in your response here. "A priori" and "a posteriori" are epistemic terms, so I take you to mean "prior and posterior to the act of causation, there is the potency of causation." You would have then to disambiguate the senses of "prior" and "posterior"; I take you to be using them temporally.

But in that case, for God there is no prior or posterior (temporally speaking) to the act of causation. God exists eternally, and his act is a single act. (His power is therefore wholly active power; God has no passive powers.)

This is relevant to your other claim that "any causation is a finite act." That I am inclined to agree with (at least on one reading), but the similar claim that you make, "any act is finite," I am inclined to disagree with. To me it seems non-demonstrable, and finitude does not seem to be contained in the concept of "acting." Regardless of what world God creates (ie. his act of creation), necessarily God wills his own goodness (though this is not a creative act). And God is "infinite," so this is an "infinite" act (at least in the only sense of "infinite" which could be applied to acts).

Any creation will be of finite beings (ie. beings composed of essence and existence), so in that sense, an act of creation could be finite. In another sense (perhaps the more relevant sense), though, an act of creation on the strict understanding of creating or sustaining an entity with no preexisting materials will (it could be argued) have subsistent existence as a necessary condition, so I'm not even that claim passes.

I should also note that the distinction between God's willing his own goodness and God's creating a particular world is a logical distinction; the 'two acts' are really a single eternal act, where God's willing of his own goodness occurs in all possible worlds, but God's creating is contingent. But this really would take us into much deeper waters.

Wey said...

priori and posteriori should not be understood in the temporal sense here, but as the logical sequential order.

If there is a begin of an universe (space-time, energy-matter), what is there before that begin? If something caused a begin to happen, something before what began must have existed. This would mean that the meaning of "begin" in this context is an obscure absurdity.

I say the act of creation is a finite act, because it is generally assumed that created beings began to exist, so at some point creation began to happen. So if creation were infinite act, there would be no begin of created beings and they would be past eternal. As this is not true, creation has a begin and is thus a finite act.

Most importantly, if creation began, then there must have been a change from what was before creation to what was after creation. A change from potency to action.

Furthermore, the common religious doctrin entails an eschatology, that the universe will end. What has an end is finite. This is another prove that creation is a finite act. To do such an act is to make a change, so the one who makes such a change cannot be what he was.

Greg said...

priori and posteriori should not be understood in the temporal sense here, but as the logical sequential order.

Then it is not the case that "before the act started and after it ended, there is potency"--there is no before and after the act.

Nor is there something in God logically prior (or posterior) to creation. In the actual world, God has a single, eternal creative act. This act is identical to his willing of his own goodness, which is necessary.

If there is a begin of an universe (space-time, energy-matter), what is there before that begin? If something caused a begin to happen, something before what began must have existed. This would mean that the meaning of "begin" in this context is an obscure absurdity.

What happened before the beginning of the universe timewise? Nothing; there was no time prior to the beginning of the universe. The meaning of "begin" in this context is not therefore "an obscure absurdity". It just means that the past is finite, and the universe was created from nothing (ie. just as a result of God's creative act, an act bringing about that the universe exists even though, without his act, nothing else would exist).

It isn't true that "if something caused a begin to happen, something before what began must have existed". God's causation is simultaneous. (Or at least, that is the conclusion of the classical arguments for his existence.) God does not need to act before the universe exists in order to bring about that exists. In fact he needs to be acting at every moment that it exists, from eternity, simultaneously with its existing.

I say the act of creation is a finite act, because it is generally assumed that created beings began to exist, so at some point creation began to happen. So if creation were infinite act, there would be no begin of created beings and they would be past eternal. As this is not true, creation has a begin and is thus a finite act.

You haven't given any reason for us to believe that "if creation were infinite act, there would be no begin of created beings and they would be past eternal." I dispute that the objects created must be infinite for the act of creation to be infinite. This is because the act of creation, though it varies from possible world to possible world, derives its identity conditions from God's willing of his own goodness (which is necessary, and infinite). So the act of creation will be infinite regardless of what is created. (I've thought about it and have decided not to concede that there is a sense in which the act of creation can be said to be finite.) But in that sense, God's creative act can be infinite even if God doesn't create (in which case it is not a creative act, strictly speaking, but it is the same willing of his own goodness that God does in every world). So it is false that creation must be past-infinite if God's act of creation is infinite.

(I actually would also dispute that a sempiternal creation, ie. a creation that exists through an infinite past and future, would be "infinite.")

Furthermore, the common religious doctrin entails an eschatology, that the universe will end. What has an end is finite. This is another prove that creation is a finite act. To do such an act is to make a change, so the one who makes such a change cannot be what he was.

I'm a bit confused about your point here, but I think my above remarks apply.

roundaboutte said...

The universe is a large Bose-Einstein Condensate.This explains what we observe but does not explain the observer.