Saturday, July 5, 2014

Carroll on laws and causation


People have been asking me to comment on the remarks about causation made by atheist physicist Sean Carroll during his recent debate with William Lane Craig on the topic of “God and Cosmology.”  (You’ll find Craig’s own post-debate remarks here.)  It’s only fair to acknowledge at the outset that Carroll cannot justly be accused of the anti-philosophical philistinism one finds in recent remarks by physicists Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Indeed, Carroll has recently criticized these fellow physicists pretty harshly, and made some useful remarks about the role of philosophy vis-à-vis physics in the course of doing so.
   
It is also only fair to note that, while I have enormous respect for Craig, I don’t myself think that it is a good idea to approach arguments for a First Cause by way of scientific cosmology.  I think that muddies the waters by inadvertently reinforcing scientism, blurring the distinction between primary (divine) causality and secondary (natural) causality, and perpetuating the false assumption that arguments for a divine First Cause are essentially arguments for a “god of the gaps.”  As I have argued many times, what are in my view the chief arguments of natural theology (i.e. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic and other Scholastic arguments) rest on premises derived from metaphysics rather than natural science, and in particular on metaphysical premises that any possible natural science must presuppose.  For that reason, they are more certain than anything science itself could in principle ever either support or refute.  Arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways, when properly understood (as, these days, they usually are not), no more stand or fall with the current state of play in scientific cosmology than they stand or fall with current gastroenterology or polymer research.  (See chapter 3 of Aquinas, my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” my Midwest Studies in Philosophy article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument,” and many other articles and blog posts.  Or, since we’re linking to YouTube, see my lectures “An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God” and “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science.” )

Carroll’s remarks are largely directed at the question of whether scientific cosmologists should regard theism as a good explanation for the sorts of phenomena they are interested in, given the standard criteria by which models in physics are judged.  Since I don’t find that a terribly interesting or important question, I have nothing to say about his criticisms of Craig on that score.

Having said all that, Carroll’s remarks, where they touch on philosophical matters, are pretty shallow, and he does clearly think that what he has to say somehow poses a serious challenge to theism in general, not just theistic arguments grounded in scientific cosmology.  So those remarks are worth a response.  The key passage concerns Carroll’s criticism of Craig’s claim that “If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.”  Carroll says:

The real problem is that these are not the right vocabulary words to be using when we discuss fundamental physics and cosmology. This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics. That’s what the word “metaphysics” means. And in modern physics, you open a quantum field theory textbook or a general relativity textbook, you will not find the words “transcendent cause” anywhere. What you find are differential equations. This reflects the fact that the way physics is known to work these days is in terms of patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature. Given the world at one point in time we will tell you what happens next. There is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage, like transcendent causes, on top of that. It’s precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works.  The question you should be asking is, “What is the best model of the universe that science can come up with?” By a model I mean a formal mathematical system that purports to match on to what we observe. So if you want to know whether something is possible in cosmology or physics you ask, “Can I build a model?”

End quote.  Now, it would take a book to explain everything that’s wrong with this.  And as it happens, I’ve written such a book; it’s called Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  Since I’ve already said so much about these issues both in that book and elsewhere, I’m not going to repeat myself at length.  Let me just call attention to the key begged questions, missed points, and non sequiturs in Carroll’s remarks.

Carroll tells us that explanation in physics proceeds by way of building a “model” that describes a “mathematical system” reflecting “patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature.”  Fine and dandy; I’ve pointed this out many times myself.  If Carroll’s point were merely that, to the extent that theism can’t be formulated in such mathematical terms, it just isn’t the sort of thing the physicist will find a useful explanation for the specific sorts of phenomena he’s interested in, then I wouldn’t necessarily have any problem with that.  That’s not what classical theism, properly understood, is all about in the first place.

But Carroll goes beyond that.  When he says that once you’ve hit upon the best mathematical model, whatever it turns out to be, “there is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage… on top of that,” he evidently means not just that you don’t need anything more for the purposes of physics, specifically, but that you don’t need anything more than that, period.  For he says that asking for more is “precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works” and that “our metaphysics must follow our physics.”  The idea seems to be that once you’ve answered all the questions in physics, you’ve answered all the questions that can be answered, including all the metaphysical questions.  There’s nothing more to be done, not just nothing more for the physicist to do.

Now, why should anyone believe that claim (which is essentially just a version of scientism)?  Carroll gives no argument for it at all; he just asserts it with confidence.  This is a step down from Alex Rosenberg, who in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality did give an argument for a similar claim -- an argument which, as we saw, is extremely bad, but is at least still an argument. 

Nor could there be a good argument for Carroll’s scientism, because scientism is demonstrably false.  For one thing, “scientism” is more poorly defined than Carroll claims theism is.  However we tighten up our definition of notions like “science,” “physics,” and the like, the resulting scientism is going to be either self-refuting (since it will turn out that scientism cannot itself be established via the methods of physics or any other natural science), or completely trivial (since, to avoid the self-refutation charge, “science,” “physics,” etc. will have to be defined so broadly that even the metaphysical notions Carroll wants to dismiss will count as “scientific”). 

For another thing, to suppose that since physics confines itself to mathematical models, it follows that there is nothing more to reality than is captured by such models, is fallaciously to draw a metaphysical conclusion from a mere methodological stipulation.  The problem is not just that, if there are features of reality which cannot be captured in terms of a mathematical model, then the methods of physics are guaranteed not to capture them (though that is bad enough).  It is that there must in fact be more to reality than is captured by those methods, in part because (as Bertrand Russell noted) physics gives us only structure, and structure presupposes something which has the structure and which a purely structural description will of necessity fail to capture. 

I develop these points in detail in Chapter 0 of Scholastic Metaphysics.  I also show, in that chapter and throughout the book, that the appeal to “laws of nature” so routinely and glibly made by naturalists like Carroll, simply does not and cannot do the work they suppose it does, and papers over a mountain of begged metaphysical questions.  In fact the very notion is fraught with philosophical difficulty, as writers like Nancy Cartwright and Stephen Mumford have shown.  As I have noted many times, the notion of a “law of nature” was originally (in thinkers like Descartes and Newton) explicitly theological, connoting the decree of a divine lawmaker.  Later scientists would regard this as a metaphor, but a metaphor for what?  Most contemporary scientists who pontificate about philosophical matters not only do not have an answer but have forgotten the question.

One contemporary scientist who does see the problem is physicist Paul Davies, who, in his essay “Universe from Bit” (in Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, eds. Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics), writes:

The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties.  The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe, and were imprinted on it at the moment of its birth from “outside,” like a maker’s mark, and have remained unchanging ever since… In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe… It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws.  And the asymmetry between immutable laws and contingent states mirrors the asymmetry between God and nature: the universe depends utterly on God for its existence, whereas God’s existence does not depend on the universe…

Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology.  It is remarkable that this view has remained largely unchallenged after 300 years of secular science.  Indeed, the “theological model” of the laws of physics is so ingrained in scientific thinking that it is taken for granted.  The hidden assumptions behind the concept of physical laws, and their theological provenance, are simply ignored by almost all except historians of science and theologians.  From the scientific standpoint, however, this uncritical acceptance of the theological model of laws leaves a lot to be desired… (pp. 70-1)

Now the naïve atheist reading this blog for the first time may suppose that at this point I am going to exclaim triumphantly that there cannot be law without a lawgiver and proclaim victory for theism.  But in fact, like Davies I don’t accept the theological account of laws.  I think it is bad metaphysics and bad theology (insofar as it tends toward occasionalism).  I want rather to make the following two points.  First, when scientists like Carroll confidently proclaim that we can explain such-and-such in terms of the laws of physics rather than God, what they are saying, without realizing it, is: “The explanation isn’t God, it’s rather the laws of physics, where ‘law of physics’ originally meant ‘a decree of God’ and where I don’t have any worked-out alternative account of what it means.”  Hence the “alternative” explanation, when unpacked, is really either a tacit appeal to God or a non-explanation.  In short, either it isn’t alternative, or it’s not an explanation.  The utter cluelessness of this stock naturalistic “alternative explanation” would make of it an object of ridicule if it were not so routinely and confidently put forward by otherwise highly intelligent, educated, and widely esteemed people.

Second, the original, explicitly theological Cartesian-Newtonian notion of “laws of nature” was intended precisely as a replacement for the Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysics of nature.  The Scholastics held that the regularities in the behavior of natural phenomena derived from their immanent essences or substantial forms, and the directedness-toward-an-end or immanent teleology that followed upon their having those forms.  In other words, regularities reflected the formal and final causes of things.  The early moderns wanted to get rid of formal and final causes as immanent features of nature, and thus replaced them with the notion of “laws of nature” conceived of as externally imposed divine decrees.  To keep talk of “laws of nature” while throwing out God is thus not to offer an alternative to the Aristotelian-Scholastic view at all, but merely to peddle an uncashed metaphor.  So, whereas Carroll glibly asserts that “now we know better” than the Aristotelians did, what is in fact that case is that Carroll and other contemporary naturalists have not only chucked out Aristotelian metaphysics but have also chucked out the early moderns’ initial proposed replacement for Aristotelian metaphysics, and have offered nothing new in its place.  This is hardly a problem for the Aristotelian; on the contrary, it is a problem for anyone who wants to dismiss Aristotelian metaphysics.

Like other contemporary Aristotelians, I would say that the right way to interpret a “law of nature” is as a shorthand description of the way a thing tends to operate given its nature or substantial form.  That is to say, “laws of nature” actually presuppose, and thus cannot replace, an Aristotelian metaphysics of nature.  (Again see the discussion of the metaphysics of laws of nature in Scholastic Metaphysics.)  There are other accounts of laws, such as Platonic accounts and Humean accounts, but these are seriously problematic.  Platonic accounts, which treat laws of nature as abstract entities in a Platonic heaven, push the problem back a stage.  To appeal to such-and-such Platonic laws as an explanation of what happens in the world only raises the further problems of explaining why it is those laws rather than some others that govern the world, and what makes it the case that any laws at all come to be instantiated.  Humean accounts, meanwhile, interpret a law as a statement that such-and-such a regularity holds, or would have held under the right conditions.  But in that case an appeal to laws doesn’t really explain anything, but only re-describes it in a different jargon. 

Consider, in light of these points, what Carroll says about causation later on in the debate:

Why should we expect that there are causes or explanations or a reason why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world inside of which we’re embedded has two important features. There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics -- things don’t just happen, they obey the laws -- and there is an arrow of time stretching from the past to the future. The entropy was lower in the past and increases towards the future. Therefore, when you find some event or state of affairs B today, we can very often trace it back in time to one or a couple of possible predecessor events that we therefore call the cause of that, which leads to B according to the laws of physics.  But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole.  We don’t think that our universe is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Even if it’s part of the multiverse, the multiverse is not part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Therefore, nothing gives us the right to demand some kind of external cause.

End quote.  Now in fact it is Carroll who has said absolutely nothing to establish his right to dismiss the demand for a cause as confidently as he does.  For he has simply begged all the important questions and completely missed the point of the main traditional classical theistic arguments (whether or not he has missed Craig’s point -- again, I’m not addressing that here).  One problem here is that, like so many physicists, Carroll has taken what is really just one species of causation (the sort which involves a causal relation between temporally separated events) and identified it with causation as such.  But in fact, the Aristotelian argues, event causation is not only not the only kind of causation but is parasitic on substance causation.

But put that aside, because the deeper problem is that Carroll supposes that causation is to be explained in terms of laws of nature, whereas the Aristotelian view is that this has things precisely backwards.  Since a “law of nature” is just a shorthand description of the ways a thing will operate -- that is to say, what sorts of effects it will tend to have -- given its nature or substantial form, in fact the notion of “laws of nature” metaphysically presupposes causation. 

Furthermore, what “allows us to speak the language of causes and effects” has nothing essentially to do with tracing series of events backwards in time.  Here again Carroll is just begging the question.  On the Aristotelian-Scholastic analysis, questions about causation are raised wherever we have potentialities that need actualization, or a thing’s being metaphysically composite and thus in need of a principle that accounts for the composition of its parts, or there being a distinction in a thing between its essence or nature on the one and its existence on the other, or a thing’s being contingent.  The universe, however physics and scientific cosmology end up describing it -- even if it turned out to be a universe without a temporal beginning, even if it is a four-dimensional block universe, even if Hawking’s closed universe model turned out to be correct, even if we should really think in terms of a multiverse rather than a single universe -- will, the Aristotelian argues, necessarily exhibit just these features (potentialities needing actualization, composition, contingency, etc.).  And thus it will, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, require a cause outside it.  And only that which is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, only what is utterly simple or non-composite, only something whose essence or nature just is existence itself, only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary -- only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation, whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be. 

Carroll has not only not answered these sorts of arguments (which, again, I’ve only alluded to here -- see the various sources cited above for detailed defense).  He doesn’t even seem to be aware that this is where the issues really lie, and that they have nothing essentially to do with scientific cosmology.  But that’s not entirely his fault.  As I have indicated, in my view too many people (and not just Craig) put way too much emphasis on scientific cosmology where the debate between theism and atheism is concerned.  That just opens the door to objections like Carroll’s, since it makes it sound (wrongly, but understandably) like theism as such is essentially in competition with the sorts of models Carroll pits against Craig.

That is not, by the way, to knock the kalām cosmological argument.  For (as Craig himself has emphasized) that argument need not appeal to scientific cosmology, but can be defended instead by way of appeal to more fundamental metaphysical premises.  (I have not had much to say about that argument myself because it is in my view less fundamental than the arguments I have focused on -- such as the Five Ways -- and there are, in any case, already many people writing about it.  If you’re looking for a Thomist’s defense of the kalām argument, you can’t do better than the relevant articles on the subject by David Oderberg.)

192 comments:

ccmnxc said...

Excellent article Dr. Feser. It's a pity that Craig doesn't have more of a Scholastic inclination, as it would have been interesting to see such a response to Carroll. Though then again, maybe they wouldn't have been having that debate in the first place if Craig was a Neo-Scholastic.

Crude said...

I've been waiting for this. Glad to see it.

Matthew Kennel said...

Thanks so much for this post, Dr. Feser.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Feser adequately answered the last quote by Carroll. Carroll is saying that the concepts utilized in metaphysics and science are derived within an empirical framework. Concepts like causality are abstracted from within the universe, and it seems incoherent to apply them to the universe.

Take causality, which seems to require time, hence the reduction of a potential to actuality seems incoherent if not conceived in time. But this means that such a concept cannot be predicated of the universe, because the universe is not in time.

Take this quote from Feser: And thus [the universe] will [...] require a cause outside it. The key word here is outside. The term "outside" is a spatial term which only applies in a spatial context. And since spatiality is only a context within the universe, it is incoherent to predicate such a concept where there is no spatiality.

Again, Carroll seems to be asserting that concepts derived within the universe cannot be applied beyond that context, because they become meaningless--as demonstrated by Fesers answer since there is no "outside" the universe.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Feser,

In p. 144 of Scholastic Metaphysics, you write:

"... if the PSR is false, we could have no reason for thinking that any of this (our cognitive faculties tracking truth and standards of rational argumentation) is really the case. For all we know, what moves or causes us to assent to a claim might have absolutely nothing to do with the deliverances of our cognitive faculties..."

Couldn't the PSR-critic issue a tu quoque objection here? For it seems that even if the PSR is true, for all we know, what causes us to assent to a claim might be a Cartesian demon (or something of the sort).

In other words, wheter the PSR is true or false, it is epistemically possible that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. If this mere epistemic possibility leads to skepticism if the PSR is false, then by parity of reasoning, it also does so if the PSR is true.

So the PSR-proponent and PSR-critic are in the same boat.

What do you think of this objection?

ccmnxc said...

Anon,

Take causality, which seems to require time, hence the reduction of a potential to actuality seems incoherent if not conceived in time. But this means that such a concept cannot be predicated of the universe, because the universe is not in time.

I see no reason why God cannot will the actualization of the universe from eternity. It isn't like God was doing nothing and then did something. Of course, causation from eternity is not like anything we have seen before in our empirical framework, but somehow, it can still be inferred, and, I think, without much difficulty. Now, I'm not entirely sure about Craig's views on this (which is what Carroll was resopnding to), but I don't see the problem with the whole timeless issue.

Take this quote from Feser: And thus [the universe] will [...] require a cause outside it. The key word here is outside. The term "outside" is a spatial term which only applies in a spatial context. And since spatiality is only a context within the universe, it is incoherent to predicate such a concept where there is no spatiality.

This can be easily remedied by simply saying that the universe needs some cause that isn't already included in or part of the universe - a thing that can exist sans the universe. Of course, without disputing the whole "outside" criticism, which admittedly doesn't sit all that well with me, I think this can be an example of Feser using a word more for illustrative purposes than super-rigorous formulation.

Again, Carroll seems to be asserting that concepts derived within the universe cannot be applied beyond that context, because they become meaningless--as demonstrated by Fesers answer since there is no "outside" the universe.

I hope this was meant as a blanket statement as far as metaphysics goes but rather simply used causation and relation as examples. Both critques you provided, I think, fail. However, perhaps one might suggest that despite those failures, we have no reason to assume such metaphysical principles hold outside the universe. I'd be tempted to ask what is so relevant about being in the universe as opposed to being outside (using the word illustratively, of course) that one must question these metaphysical principles, and I can, off the top of my head, only come up with two likely objections:

1. Things are different outside the universe.
2. We cannot see them being true/enacted.

The first simply falls back upon the fact that things would be the laws of nature (whether it be their absence, or whatever), since time and space have already been dealt with above. Feser, however, addressed that, saying the laws of nature presuppose such metaphysics, and thus differences in the laws of nature are not a good reason for thinking the metaphysics doesn't hold. The second is just a crude empiricism-cum-scientism that breaks down into incoherence when analyzed.

Now, there are objections I may have probably missed, and you are free to point them out, but I don't think Carroll's critique holds terribly well.

ccmnxc said...

What do you think of this objection?

It's late, so I might not be understand correctly, but is the PSR skeptic who is offering this objection indicting their own cognitive faculties, so to speak, when they issue such an objection, cause if they are, the parity of reasoning falls apart. They are calling into question their own cognitive faculties with their objection while the PSR defender is not, so far as I can tell.

If that is not accurate, my apologies. Perhaps you could set me straight, then.

Anonymous said...

"... is the PSR skeptic who is offering this objection indicting their own cognitive faculties...?"

Not necessarily. The point of the PSR skeptic is that, whether the PSR is true or not, it is for all we now possible that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. If this mere possibility leads to skepticism, then skepticism is true. But skepticism isn't true, so that mere possibility doesn't lead to skepticism, and so Feser's objection doesn't succeed.

Matthew Rodriguez said...

Many scientists claim that there is no cause for the behavior of quantum particles in the double-slit experiment and others like this--furthermore, they claim that there is, in principle, no cause--not just that we don't know it (or at leas that's what I've heard). Now, I know this is just the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM; however, many scientists think that this is the best interpretation of QM because the other ones don't work as well.

How would the Thomist respond to all of this? Any thoughts would be appreciated!

James said...

To the extent that Carroll relies on a structuralist analysis of physical reality, he seems to me to come very close indeed to invoking the notion of formal causation. You get this quite a lot these days. Worries about the hybrid modal status of physical necessity are generally resolved in two ways: either you bite the necessitarian bullet or the contingentist one. Either way, you flout one of two powerful but conflicting intuitions about laws: first, they *constrain* stuff; but second, they might so easily *not* have done. If you're in the Armstrong/Tooley camp, you go with the first and hope you can excise the theological baggage; if you're Lewis, you excise every bit of modal strength from laws but keep professing you believe in them as - wait for it - axioms in the best systematic, omnitemporal description of natural history, a description which, 'if nature is kind' (Lewis), will deliver the axioms we currently take to be laws. Naturalistic conceptions of laws are in a state of total disarray, and in my view Ed's diagnosis that theological presumptions are coded into the notion explains that fact rather neatly.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

Clearly, Dr. Feser is assuming our cognitive faculties are reliable, hence the PSR sceptic can in fact make his argument.

You two different arguments in your in your posts. In one you seem to be saying that if PSR is true it would undermine the reliability of our cognitive faculties, but in your latest reply you talk only that it might undermine them. I think that the first argument is the more accurate one: if are cognitive faculties are unreliable then, even if they do lead us the truth, we have no reason to put trust in them. But we should put trust in them, therefore the PSR sceptic is incorrect. This would be the best interpretation of the argument you are trying to recreate, and I think your objection to it, thereby, doesn't succeed. I do not see how other arguments for the unreliability of our reason would support the PSR sceptic.

Anonymous said...

"You two different arguments in your in your posts. In one you seem to be saying that if PSR is true it would undermine the reliability of our cognitive faculties, but in your latest reply you talk only that it might undermine them."

I didn't give that argument, please reread the posts carefully :)

Edward Isaacs said...

Is this a repost or a substantial copy/paste from a previous post? I recognize a lot of these turns of phrase.

I'm not knocking the post for that—why duplicate labor if what you've already written can do the job?—but it's just bugging me that I can't place the source.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant you seemed to be saying this would be the outcome if PSR scepticism was correct.

Edward Isaacs said...

Sorry, should have googled.

It was here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/05/schools-out-forever.html

Greg said...

@ Anon

Concepts like causality are abstracted from within the universe, and it seems incoherent to apply them to the universe.

I have never found this sort of objection very cogent. Arguments from natural theology proceed by arguing that the sort of causation which exists in the universe is not sufficiently accounted for by other causation in the universe. If we begin agnostic on the question of extra-universal causation, then we are still forced to accept it because the causation in the universe, which we can analyze, is not sufficient.

Also, this sort of objection seems to rely on an inversion of the epistemic order. That the First Cause is outside of the universe is a corollary of the arguments for the existence of the First Cause. But I don't have to suppose beforehand that extra-universal causation is coherent; I show, rather, that for the causation in the world to make sense, there must be a purely actual First Cause. That purely actual First Cause is causally efficacious and unchanging; for that reason, defining "the universe" as the collection of changeable substances, the First Cause must exist "outside" of it. This is not to suppose that extra-universal causation is possible or coherent, but rather to prove that it must be.

TheOFloinn said...

Many scientists claim that there is no cause for the behavior of quantum particles

What they really mean is that they can't predict when the cause-effect will happen. But "predictable" is not the same thing as "caused." Otherwise, we would have to say that gunfire cannot kill anyone. You cannot predict which bullet will hit which person at what time. Neither can Newton predict when and where an apple will fall.

Greg said...

The term "outside" is a spatial term which only applies in a spatial context.

Also--this is false. The term "outside" has a number of senses which stem by analogy from the spatial use. (For example, if someone commands, "Don't hire anyone from outside the family.") But it can simply denote non-membership in a set. To say God is not a member of "the universe" does not commit to something spatially "outside" the universe.

Tom G said...

The Scholastics held that the regularities in the behavior of natural phenomena derived from their immanent essences or substantial forms, and the directedness-toward-an-end or immanent teleology that followed upon their having those forms. In other words, regularities reflected the formal and final causes of things. The early moderns wanted to get rid of formal and final causes as immanent features of nature, and thus replaced them with the notion of “laws of nature” conceived of as externally imposed divine decrees. To keep talk of “laws of nature” while throwing out God is thus not to offer an alternative to the Aristotelian-Scholastic view at all, but merely to peddle an uncashed metaphor.

Can someone please help me understand how asserting that a thing acts the way it does because it has a certain form and directed toward a final cauase, without reference to an ultimate explanation, i.e. God, is more explanatorily powerful than asserting that something acts the way it does due to the laws of nature, also without referencing God. The seem like parallel statements substituting law of nature for formal (form) and final causes. What am I missing?

Brandon said...

Tom G,

There are a number of different ways of assessing explanatory power; which do you have in mind?

Tom G said...

There are a number of different ways of assessing explanatory power; which do you have in mind?

Perhaps explanatory power is too precise of a term for what I have in mind. I'm simply looking to understand why stating things in terms of formal and final causes is superior, as Dr. Feser seemingly repeatedly states, to positioning things to natural laws.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

This is an excellent article. I would, however, like to make a few points on Carroll's behalf (I'm playing devil's advocate here).

1. You argue that talk of laws of nature presupposes the Aristotelian notion of a substantial form. However, Carroll could argue that this notion actually hampered the course of science. See here:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/descarte/#SH2a

I'm sure you have a handy reply, Ed, but my point is that the modern view that substantial forms don't explain much is, at first sight, highly plausible. (If it wasn't, Descartes' philosophical enterprise would never have got off the ground in the first place.)

2. The best written defense of Carroll's views can be found in his essay, "Does the Universe need God?" at http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/

Carroll writes:

"States of affairs only require an explanation if we have some contrary expectation, some reason to be surprised that they hold. Is there any reason to be surprised that the universe exists, continues to exist, or exhibits regularities? When it comes to the universe, we don't have any broader context in which to develop expectations. As far as we know, it may simply exist and evolve according to the laws of physics. If we knew that it was one element of a large ensemble of universes, we might have reason to think otherwise, but we don't. (I'm using 'universe' here to mean the totality of existence, so what would be called the 'multiverse' if that's what we lived in.)"

This, I think, gets to the nub of Carroll's philosophical disagreement with you. You write:

"The universe, however physics and scientific cosmology end up describing it ... will, the Aristotelian argues, necessarily exhibit just these features (potentialities needing actualization, composition, contingency, etc.). And thus it will, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, require a cause outside it. And only that which is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, only what is utterly simple or non-composite, only something whose essence or nature just is existence itself, only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary -- only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation, whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be."

If I were in Carroll's shoes, I would make the following response:

(a) Your argument assumes that anything which is composite requires a cause. But how do you know that? Is your knowledge of this proposition a posteriori or a priori? If it's a posteriori, what fact of experience confirms it? (At the very best, you might claim inductive support for the proposition, but that's hardly a basis for iron-clad certitude - which is what you want. Even if everything we saw had a reason, that wouldn't prove that everything must have a reason. Carroll's contention is that there doesn't have to be an explanation, reason or cause for every physical state of affairs; and if philosophers and theologians wish to maintain otherwise, the onus is on them to show why there has to be.)

But if our knowledge of the fact that anything which is composite requires a cause is a priori, then you must either claim that the proposition is analytic (i.e. that its denial entails a contradiction - which doesn't seem to be the case) or that it's synthetic - in which case you're committed to the Kantian view that there are some a priori truths about the world which we "just know." Aside form being obscurantist, such a view flies in the face of the Scholastic view that all knowledge comes from the senses.

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

(Continued...)
(b) You write that "only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary -- only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation." But I put it to you that something which is utterly necessary could not, in principle explain the existence of any state of affairs which is radically contingent, as you claim the universe is. To get from a necessary Being to a contingent cosmos, you have to conceive of that Being making a choice, which is itself contingent. Your answer to the question "Why does the universe exist?" is thus, "Because a necessary Being made an arbitrary choice to make this universe and not some other one." Tell me: why is this a better explanation of reality than mine, which is: "That's just the way it is"? Why not just accept a few brute facts about the world, and leave it at that?

As I said, I'm playing devil's advocate here. But I'd be interested to hear how you would reply.

By the way, my three-part reply to Carroll begins at
http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/is-god-a-good-theory-a-response-to-sean-carroll-part-one/ (to get the other parts, replace the "one" in the HTML address with "two" and "three"), and I've also written an earlier piece at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/does-scientific-knowledge-presuppose-god-a-reply-to-carroll-coyne-dawkins-and-loftus/ .

Crude said...

Carroll's contention is that there doesn't have to be an explanation, reason or cause for every physical state of affairs; and if philosophers and theologians wish to maintain otherwise, the onus is on them to show why there has to be.

Whoever makes a claim, has a burden.

Ismael said...

Prof. Fesere you really should debate Carroll, that would be very interesting.

Also, I think most Christian debaters and apologists on the scene have ideas very similar to Craig's... which does not always help.

We should have more Classical Theists on the debate scene!

As far as I know the only debater who has a decent knowledge of Thomism is Trent Horn...

Anonymous said...

@Vincent

[I]Why not just accept a few brute facts about the world, and leave it at that?[/I]

Because there are no such things as brute facts. A brute fact is a cop-out and only suppressed head of the self-evident (which regardless has cause(s)) resurfacing in the epistemological vaccum the early moderns left us with. That is, we need some starting point of reasoning and knowledge and because something exists, and nothing can come from nothing, necessarily there is some starting point also of all things that is or can be a cause that can cause everything we actually see happening and know to be potentially possible also.

If the universe were anything actually like a brute fact we could not even begin to hope to understand it let alone explain it. Cosmology for one is a science that knows that there broad causes (material and efficient at least and necessarily) necessarily operative; for a material cause cannot give rise to an efficient one nor an efficient one to a material one. Rocks and the like do not launch themselves here or there; if they appear to change without some obvious external agent acting upon them, it is because its own interior causes (e.g. the activity of the forces in its atomic construction) that is causing it to change (decay, say). But why not just be a smart aleck and claim rather that rocks just change as a "brute fact"? Because that of course would be the death of all science.

Furthermore, everything composed necessarily requires a composer. If the universe is a composition of matter and energy or material and efficient causes we have every right to demand how these things came to be together. In a Newtonian universe, for instance, no material thing is going to get moving unless some other strikes or moves it; but what is the source, cause and reason for that initial activity? Where did the particle come from; why is it where it happens to be, and was the cause of whatever moved and by its movement got our particle itself moving by imparting motion to it? That the consequence of something imparting motion to our particle will be a certain result is not strictly a brute fact. We can still reasonably inquire about reasons and causes for that being so or what brought that about.

Brandon said...

Tom G,

I'm not sure what particular benefits Ed generally has in mind, but the usual argument in favor of causal as opposed to nomological explanation is that causes can in principle explain anomalies and why they are possible; laws of nature by definition can't (which is why it used to be the case that explanation with laws of nature was always said to require the assumption of 'Uniformity of Nature' -- i.e., the principle that no anomalous events occur). This is because causal explanations are set up to deal with singular cases as well as patterns, whereas it isn't clear what a law of nature for a single event would be.

But I suspect that what Ed usually has in mind is not this but simply that 'law of nature' is a potentially misleading figurative phrase and that there are in fact several very different and mutually exclusive accounts of what a 'law of nature' is.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Anonymous,

You write that there are no such things as brute facts. All right: I'll rephrase my objection. Couldn't Sean Carroll argue that God's arbitrary decision to create this universe rather than that one is just as much of a brute fact as the fundamental laws and parameters that describe our universe?

You add that if some things appear to change without an external cause, they still have an internal cause. But if you want to argue for God's existence, that's not good enough: you need to show that an external cause is required.

Finally, you claim that "everything composed necessarily requires a composer." Now, if you were using the word "composed" to refer to a work of art (such as Beethoven's Fifth) then I would of course agree - but then you would need to show that the universe is just such an artistic composition. But you appear to define "composed" as "made up of two or more parts," for you go on to say that when we see an entity composed of parts, "we have every right to demand how these things came to be together." However, Carroll could plausibly maintain that a composite need not have a beginning: at least some composites could be eternal, for all we know. For these composites, Carroll might argue that they hold themselves together: each part has a built-in tendency to attract the other part(s). In other words, they have an internal cause but no external cause.

I should stress that I'm not endorsing Carroll's argument. I'm just saying that it requires a more extensive refutation.

Anonymous said...

Hello to you too Vincent.

You write,

"Couldn't Sean Carroll argue that God's arbitrary decision to create this universe rather than that one is just as much of a brute fact as the fundamental laws and parameters that describe our universe?"

Firstly the decision is in no sense arbitrary as this would involve an imperfection. It is contrary to the nature of rational beings to behave arbitrarily.

Secondly, you are begging the question. I went to length to demonstrate that there are no such things as brute facts yet you supposed them again even after they had been disproven for being real in the physical realm.

Now every proposition has necessary logical consequences. This fact alone gives away the bruteness (as it were) to so-called brute facts.

"There are brute facts," Carrol says. Fine. Let us grant it. If, then, there are brute facts another fact necessarily follows; namely, whatever is not is not a brute fact; for brute facts are. So even from this supposed brute fact other facts would necessarily follow; and this, surely, is just as necessary as any proffered brute fact is. This is the principle of non-contradiction at work, which is necessary for even brute facts to be stipulated (for otherwise brute facts would both exist and not exist, which makes proffering them explanatorily mute).

So let Carroll et al proffer away as many brutish facts as they please: each time they do they bear witness to a fact much more basic and explanatorily necessary than their brutish physical facts. But this they cannot explain as it is outside the scope of their science. Therefore from physics we learn necessarily indeed that a metaphysic follows unexplainable by the physical phenomena themselves as our knowing of those phenomena is only possible because of the necessary truths of logic and therefore contingent upon them.

And from this simple principle of logic (the principle of non-contradiction) others of equal necessity follow and are discovered. But these too again and inexplicable by physical phenomenon for once again the understanding of the latter is contingent upon the reality and truth of the former. But physics cannot explain this. Therefore there is some knowledge of some truths of greater necessity than the truths discovered by assuming and applying them to the physical world. But Carroll says just the opposite; namely, that the more basic and necessary science is physics and all else must conform to it. But this proposition (as we have seen) is clearly false; and the science that knows this is more fundamental than physics but not studied under physics. That science than is the more truly necessary, basic and important science; for without it we could discover and understand no physical truths whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant, "That science then". There are also many other typos and omissions in what I wrote above that I trust the fair reader can forgive.

Crude said...

I'll add something to anon's comments. This goes far afield of Ed's discussion, but hey.

If someone wishes to grant the existence of brute facts, they're faced with a problem: there is no principled way to 'place' a brute fact. It's not as if there's a system in place that determine which of an assortment of possible brute facts will actualize (rather defeats the purpose of a brute fact.) For all Carroll knows, the universe is a brute fact, or there's an explanation of the universe which is a brute fact, or there's some tremendous number of brute facts that each explain only part of our universe or, etc.

And during all of that, brutely existing gods and the like are possible members of the chain. So diving for brute facts to counter theism is counterproductive.

(Someone can try to appeal to simplicity or Ockham's razor here, but there's no reason to think brute facts adhere to that heuristic anyway.)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Anonymous and Crude,

Even if brute facts presuppose other, more basic, necessary facts which are beyond the scope of science, that needn't faze Carroll. He could argue that logical and mathematical facts are indeed beyond the scope of science. However, these facts don't imply the truth of theism.

As for the number of facts: I would agree that there's no ontological reason whatsoever for thinking that brute facts are few and simple, but on an epistemological level, it makes sense to try to explain the universe in terms of as few basic facts as possible. Thus science may not describe reality as it actually is, but it will at least describe reality as it is best understood.

Finally, I'd like to return to my original question: how do we know the truth of the metaphysical proposition that every composite requires an external cause of its existence? Is it a posteriori or a priori, and is it analytic or synthetic?

Anonymous said...

And just as an addendum, after replying to Vincent I went ahead and picked-up reading the link Dr. Feser kindly gave us to Dr. Craig's responses to [Dr.?] Carroll's objections. To my surprise Dr. Craig asserts,

"I think the key to Carroll’s thinking lies in his little sentence: “Our metaphysics must follow our physics.” This is an expression of epistemological naturalism. Physics leads metaphysics by the nose, and metaphysics cannot postulate entities beyond what physics requires. It goes without saying that I reject epistemological naturalism—see my debate with Alex Rosenberg for reasons why.3 Metaphysics goes beyond physics—that’s what “metaphysics” means!

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/some-reflections-on-the-sean-carroll-debate#ixzz36iqljet6"

In that it appears the good Doctor and I happened to concur.

Crude said...

Vincent,

Even if brute facts presuppose other, more basic, necessary facts which are beyond the scope of science, that needn't faze Carroll.

I disagree. More below.

He could argue that logical and mathematical facts are indeed beyond the scope of science. However, these facts don't imply the truth of theism.

Nor do they imply the negation. And that concession alone would seem to wreak havoc on popular positions for modern atheists.

As for the number of facts: I would agree that there's no ontological reason whatsoever for thinking that brute facts are few and simple, but on an epistemological level, it makes sense to try to explain the universe in terms of as few basic facts as possible. Thus science may not describe reality as it actually is, but it will at least describe reality as it is best understood.

But Carroll's not concerned with pragmatism in this exchange - he is concerned with truth. If he wants to take the position that, okay, by embracing brute facts he makes science utterly incapable of determining the existence or non-existence of God (and in fact brute facts raise the possibility of many, many gods existing, as do certain forms of the multiverse), he's welcome to. He can fall back to 'Well maybe it doesn't!', but by that point he done for anyway, given what he was aiming for going into this discussion.

Carroll can't say that science indicates the universe is a brute fact, and even philosophy isn't going to get him there, because brute facts don't follow some kind of rationale such that they only pop up where our science ends.

how do we know the truth of the metaphysical proposition that every composite requires an external cause of its existence?

Know in the sense of 'prove that brute facts don't exist'? I don't think anyone here, Ed included, is going to argue that axioms are dispensed with, or that the possibility of being wrong is ruled out.

Tom G said...

ven if brute facts presuppose other, more basic, necessary facts which are beyond the scope of science, that needn't faze Carroll.

I would disagree with this assertion because if there are brute facts that are beyond the scope of science it closes the door on whole scientism world view. Once the door has been flung open to allow an exception scientism there is no rational ground to resist other exceptions.

Anonymous said...

@Vincent,

Hello again Vincent.

I fear you are missing the consequences of my proofs above.

The point was made and proven that Dr. Carroll falsely claims that physics exhausts reality and establishes the scientific parameters in and under which all other sciences must operate and be governed. That is demonstrably false. Even making the claim begs the question against metaphysics and the principles of being that are necessary and prerequisite for any proffered physic let alone special claims to fame by brute physical facts.

TheOFloinn said...

Carroll: "States of affairs only require an explanation if we have some contrary expectation, some reason to be surprised that they hold. Is there any reason to be surprised that the universe exists, continues to exist, or exhibits regularities?"

Einstein: "You find it surprising that I think of the comprehensibility of the world... as a miracle or an eternal mystery. But surely, a priori, one should expect the world to be chaotic, not to be grasped by thought in any way. One might (indeed one should) expect that the world evidenced itself as lawful only so far as we grasp it in an orderly fashion. This would be a sort of order like the alphabetical order of words. On the other hand, the kind of order created, for example, by Newton’s gravitational theory is of a very different character. Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by man, the success of such a procedure supposes in the objective world a high degree of order, which we are in no way entitled to expect a priori. Therein lies the miracle which becomes more and more evident as our knowledge develops."
-- Letter to M. Solovine

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vincent,

Dr. Feser recently has spent a lot of time discussing the problems for science of brute fact explanations, both here and in Scholastic Metaphysics. I'd read up on what he has had to say.

Tom said...

@TheOFloinn: With respect to quantum indeterminacy and your examples of gunfire & Newton's apples, isn't it supposed to be possible in principle to predict when those things will happen, but not to predict what will happen on a subatomic scale?

Obsidian said...

Great post!
I didn't see a link to the transcript , so I'll post it here.
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-cosmology-the-existence-of-god-in-light-of-contemporary-cosmology

As to the reinforcing scientism claim, a lot of laypeople tend to look on metaphysical claims with a bit of skepticism (especially when those claims aren't widely accepted in the philosophical community). So I think an argument with some set of scientific empirical premises can be more rhethorically effective than one based on abstract ,metaphysical concepts , especially in the context of debate.

TheOFloinn said...

@Tom: I'm not sure how even in principle you can scientifically forecast that a particular bullet will be fired at a particular time and place at a particular target. But the point is that predictability is not the same thing as causation; so even if a quantum event is in principle unpredictable that does not entail that it is uncaused -- by say a superposition of fields.

ccmnxc said...

TheOFloinn,
A commenter over at Vox Day's blog made the following comment that might be similar to what Matthew has encountered. This was specifically in reply to what you said in your most recent post, which VD linked to. Comments appreciated:
"Flynn, as usual, is wrong.

(random == unpredictable) {by definition of random} ⋀ (random == uncaused), in the quantum sense. That is, there is nothing in the past light cone of a particle that has any bearing on what value a quantum observable will take when measured, given the premises of Conway's Free Will Theorem. ∴ unpredictable == uncaused. QED.

Of course, one way to get around Conway's theorem is to deny the free-will of experimenters.

Pick your poison."

Glenn said...

A commenter over at Vox Day's blog made blog made the following comment...

The commenter is wrf3. 'nough said.

bitvast said...

random == unpredictable

Which raises the question, unpredictable to who?
The concept of randomness as objectively "out there" is incoherent. Probability is in the mind, data is in the world.

bitvast said...

E.T. Jaynes: "Probability: The Logic of Science"

See chapter 10 - "The Physics of Random Experiments" (page 1011 - "But what about Quantum Theory?")

http://omega.albany.edu:8008/JaynesBook.html

Brandon said...

As Glenn said, the fact that it's wrf3 is as good as a warning that it will be bad; the argument involves a straightforward logical fallacy, since in its premises it involves a qualification ("in the quantum sense", as he calls it, i.e., in terms of histories given light cones) and in the conclusion drops the qualification; as, indeed, he must, since otherwise it is not 'QED', having concluded to something other than what was to be proven.

Anonymous said...

Randomness certainly does not mean uncaused or without reason. Certainly neither does unpredictable have to either.

Sudden, spontaneous or instantaneous generation is not impossible per se (i.e. generation without a lapse of time); but anything generated remains an effect and always have a cause notwithstanding.

Also, In a video linked to by Dr. Feser in the above article he (Dr. Feser) points out how silly Hume's argument from imagination is as when Hume claims that because he can imagine something just popping into existence without a cause that, therefore, it is in principle possible. Dr. Carroll seems to borrow the same "argument" from Hume in his debate with Dr. Craig about the universe also just popping into existence without a cause.

George R. said...

Ed writes:

The Scholastics held that the regularities in the behavior of natural phenomena derived from their immanent essences or substantial forms, and the directedness-toward-an-end or immanent teleology that followed upon their having those forms.

That's problematic. If teleology follows upon form, how can it be said, as the Scholastics claimed, that teleology is the cause of causes? It should rather have been called the effect of causes. Obviously, the Scholastics actually considered that teleology comes first, and that form follows upon teleology... and not the other way around, as it is found in Ed Feser's naturalistic, non-intelligence-based version of teleology.

The Irish Thomist said...

Dr Feser can I make one observation to see what you think since I noticed you didn't mention it here and understandably focused on several other key points (and yes I know Carroll knows a little Philosophy).

What I see among many atheistically minded scientists today is a lack of understanding of how their very science is not self contained. It works within a philosophical framework and at every turn science is permeated and justified philosophically. I mean do they even know who Karl Popper is?? Do they get the fact that falsifiability is philosophical? This is just one example.

The 'physicist' or whatever area a given scientist is specialized in doesn't know that to claim that philosophy (or more specifically metaphysics) is redundant is to justify it by the very act of arguing against it.

A relevant article I stumbled across that conveys this point quite well concerning Stephen Hawking as an example (the website itself may well be bunk as far as I'm concerned).
Stephen Hawking*

By the way, good work on the article.

*[Feel free anyone to offer better academic articles]

The Irish Thomist said...

ccmnxc,
Note Anonymous did not seem to understand how Feser (or a Thomist) uses the word 'causation' as he seemed to think it relates only to a series of events in time (do correct me if I am wrong).

Also note God is not a thing among things so the 'outside/inside' use of words can become a little moot since it is reductionistic in relation to the metaphysics without further clarification. This can confuse people who do not understand an A-T conception of God, since they don't know there is much more to the point being made.

Anonymous said...

“Obviously, the Scholastics actually considered that teleology comes first, and that form follows upon teleology...”
But this too seems problematic. Where there is no form at all there can be no teleology. Teleology does seem grounded necessarily in form. I would certainly say that in creation everything created had a formal and final cause and that the forms may have been ordered in view of some final cause (that was ultimately God). All created things were created in view of man; whereas man was created for his own sake with, I guess, a destiny and vocation in God and the beatific vision. All created things are effects and as such will have some final cause. It seems especially only in the case of causality, motions and products, etc., that final causes become necessary and operative (in that this is for that; and that is for this, etc.).

The Irish Thomist said...

Matthew Rodriguez said...

Many scientists claim that there is no cause for the behavior of quantum particles in the double-slit experiment and others like this--furthermore, they claim that there is, in principle, no cause--not just that we don't know it (or at leas that's what I've heard). Now, I know this is just the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM; however, many scientists think that this is the best interpretation of QM because the other ones don't work as well.

How would the Thomist respond to all of this? Any thoughts would be appreciated!


Well I often find it frustrating when people try to use QM and the heisenberg uncertainty principle etc. to make ludicrous claims such as to break the logical rule of non-contradiction without understanding the philosophy of the whole thing.

They may also be using a limited definition of the word 'cause' and conflating how there are a different type of series of 'causes' etc.
Infinite Causal Series

Teleology is the answer to this objection - things act according to their nature to act.

At the macroscopic level this may be false;
A man turns right as he turns left is logically incoherent so cannot be true.

At the quantum level however if a particle spins 'a' and a particle spins 'b' this may well be true according to its nature to act (we do not yet know if this is true).

You still have to account for the particle having a nature or nature to act a certain way at all. The particle also needs explained; why something, not nothing - since matter is not self necessary. There is no reason why it is rather than isn't - it doesn't explain itself.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I'm having trouble following your proof that there are facts about reality which are more basic than the truths of physics. You write (I've made a couple of minor spelling and punctuation corrections):

"'There are brute facts,' Carroll says. Fine; let us grant it. If, then, there are brute facts, another fact necessarily follows: namely, whatever is not, is not a brute fact; for brute facts are. So even from this supposed brute fact, other facts would necessarily follow; and these facts, surely, are just as necessary as any proffered brute fact is. This is the principle of non-contradiction at work, which is necessary [in order] for brute facts to be stipulated (for otherwise brute facts would both exist and not exist, which makes proffering them explanatorily moot)."

Because of my background in philosophy and in computing, I always try to break down any argument I read into bite-sized logical steps. You seem to be arguing as follows:

1. Suppose there are brute facts.
2. If there are brute facts, then brute facts exist.
3. Hence, necessarily, if something [call it x] does not exist, it is not a brute fact.
4. Proposition 3 is itself a brute fact, just as basic as any brute fact.
5. Proposition 3 is not a truth of physics.
6. Hence there are some brute facts which are not truths of physics.
7. Hence there must be some basic facts about the world which fall outside the truths of physics.
8. Hence physics cannot offer a complete account of reality.

You then comment:

"So let Carroll et al proffer away as many brute facts as they please: each time they do, they bear witness to a fact much more basic and explanatorily necessary than their brutish physical facts. But this they cannot explain, as it is outside the scope of their science."

If I were Carroll, I would not be terribly perturbed by this chain of argumentation which you put forward. The key premise in your argument is proposition 4. However, 4 does not follow logically from the preceding premises. The fact that "if something does not exist, it is not a brute fact" may be true and logically necessary; but that does not make it a brute fact. "Brute fact," as Carroll uses the term, is just a fact about reality which is not grounded in any other fact. The fact that "if something does not exist, it is not a brute fact" is a derivative truth, even if it is a necessary one (for it presupposes propositions 1 and 2 in the argument); hence it is not a brute fact.

In my next post, I'll add a few brief remarks about Ed's post on brute facts.

DNW said...

For Gaia's sake, isn't there some way to convince the the anonymous commentators that their anonymity will not be lost by making up a name by which they can be recognized at least here?

Is that small concession so effen frightening, or taxing?

That said, I'll get to my point.

There were several casual yet analytic passages in this post which are of exceptional clarity and force, even granting the fact that Feser has of necessity already restated - and thus had occasion to conceptually refine - some of these themes repeatedly.

The two paragraphs following the Davies' quote are of just that sort.

They remind me of certain passages out of those college texts that were reissued and revised repeatedly; Copi's logic or the McConnell Economics.

The Irish Thomist said...

WLC is very thorough in his interaction with scholars discussing his work and even people sending in their questions. I wonder if this has went under his radar - which would be a pity. I really do think an interaction with Thomism and Thomists would be interesting on his part. Will he respond to Dr. Feser and his observations?

If you don't believe me about his thorough interactions here ;

Q&A

The Irish Thomist said...

Also note God is not a thing among things so the 'outside/inside' use of words can become a little moot since it is reductionistic in relation to the metaphysics without further clarification. This can confuse people who do not understand an A-T conception of God, since they don't know there is much more to the point being made.

Maybe I should have said instead it can become problematic using terms like 'inside' and 'outside' the universe.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Crude, Jeremy and Anonymous,

I've been taking a look at Ed's post on brute facts, at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2014/03/can-you-explain-something-by-appealing.html and I'd like to offer a few brief thoughts.

1. Ed does not claim to have proved that there are no brute facts. Ed makes a distinction between epistemological brute facts (for which we have not yet discovered an explanation) and metaphysical brute facts (for which we cannot): he accepts the former but not the latter.

Ed's argument against metaphysical brute facts is that:

(i) we cannot imagine them holding (for imagining an event's occurring without a visible efficient cause does not imply that the event actually has no cause whatsoever);

(ii) according to Scholastic metaphysics, in order for one thing [call it X] to actualize another thing [call it Y], X must itself be actualized, where it was not previously, which means that X presupposes the existence of something else [call it W], which means that X is not a brute fact after all;

(iii) if someone wants to reject this account, then it is incumbent on them to put forward an alternative metaphysics of Nature;

(iv) no-one has yet provided an example of a fact A where it is evident both (a) that A genuinely explains B, and yet (b) that A has no formal, material, efficient, or final cause of its own.

In reply:

(i) is a valid point, but it merely shows that if there are brute facts, then we cannot simply imagine them. We may, however, be able to intellectually conceive of them;

(ii) works as an argument only if we suppose that the brute fact in question relates to something's currently being actualized, when it is sometimes capable of not being actualized. Obviously that kind of fact could not be brute; but then, who ever claimed that brute facts have to be (a) true within time or (b) capable of not being actualized? All the argument shows is that if there are any brute facts, they must relate to timeless and essential properties of things, rather than to time-bound and/or non-essential properties - but I'm sure Carroll would agree with that. He would probably argue that the laws and fundamental constants of Nature describe the essential properties of things, and that these facts are not (in any meaningful sense) capable of not holding, since there is nothing which is capable of making them cease to hold. (I can't change the laws and constants of physics, and neither can you or anyone else.) Hence (Carroll would say), these brute facts do not presuppose any additional fact W in order for them to hold, and no paradox arises;

regarding (iii), I would say that Feser's critical assumption is the existence of prime matter, or pure passive potency. Once we grant this assumption, then it does indeed follow that there could not no brute facts of the kind described in my comments above, for we could still ask why the prime matter of the universe has the forms it does, and what is responsible for actualizing them in this way. However, the picture emerging from physics appears to be that fields are the ultimate reality. These fields are both actual and perduring features of the natural world: configurations of these fields continually change, but the fields themselves do not. Hence we cannot strip things back to the level of pure passive potency; some substantial forms (the forms of fields) appear to be bedrock features of reality;

regarding (iv), saying that something has not been done is different from saying that it cannot be done.

For these reasons, I think that the arguments put forward against brute facts are not demonstrative. My two cents.

Mr. Green said...

George R.: If teleology follows upon form, how can it be said, as the Scholastics claimed, that teleology is the cause of causes?

Uh, maybe because things don't cause themselves?

Matt Sheean said...

"However, the picture emerging from physics appears to be that fields are the ultimate reality. These fields are both actual and perduring features of the natural world: configurations of these fields continually change, but the fields themselves do not. Hence we cannot strip things back to the level of pure passive potency; some substantial forms (the forms of fields) appear to be bedrock features of reality;"

This might be the wrong line of questioning, but here goes. Would this mean, say, that I am less real than the fields (though my existence is dependent on the fields being just the way they are, given the initial conditions of the universe, etc)?

Also, saying "the forms of fields" seems to me like something that needs to be cashed out, or else it's just a bit of bad poetry. What are the fields continually changing to and from? Is there such thing as a changeless field? If a field changes, why does it do that? What is a field doing when it is not changing? Alas, I'm not being terribly clear, but this whole field thing strikes me as a bit wrongheaded.

Anonymous said...

Hello Vincent,

One thing to observe from my quote that you opened your post with is that because “brute facts are” therefore “what is not is not a brute fact” is that this is not a physical conclusion or one derived from or by doing physics (how could physics prove that what is not is not a brute fact? By observing or doing physical experiments on what is not?). Rather, the conclusion was derived by logical necessity (from the principles of being specifically) and not from physics (again, it would be impossible for physics to demonstrate such a truth though it is (or would be, granting brute facts) necessarily true).

Now logical conclusions are not “brute facts.”, as you say in your post. To think so is false because brute facts are not supposed to have causes; whereas, the cause of the necessary logical conclusion (i.e “what is not is not a brute fact”) was the premise/proposition (i.e. “there are brute facts”) and it was derived by denying the consequent:

If [P] brute facts [implies Q] are, then
What is not [not Q] is not a brute fact [not P].

So your argument collapses at that point because it assumed a logical conclusion or fact was the same as a so-called brute fact, which it is not. Perhaps I should have made that clearer when making my proofs. Logical conclusions are undeniable facts that are not brute facts and are not discovered by physics; physics, however, is subject to them and their truth; and hence I used the supposed physical truth of the existence of brute facts to demonstrate it. Physics is subject to the principles of being (otherwise there would both be and not be brute facts in physics, which is absurd – and you don’t need to be a physicist to know this and no physicist could possibly claim it to be so or the case); the principles of being, however, are by no means and in no way subject to physics; otherwise, nonsense would ensure and brute facts would both be and not be; physics would be true and not true; the physical would exist and not exist, etc., and it is obvious that if that were true or the case then there could be no science of physics at all.

There is, therefore, a science of being that –contrary to what Dr. Carroll says – is more primary than physics and, indeed, again contrary to Carroll is a science rather that physics must follow and follow from and not the converse; otherwise, physics itself would cease to be a science, as was proven above.

ccmnxc said...

Hi Irish Thomist,

Note Anonymous did not seem to understand how Feser (or a Thomist) uses the word 'causation' as he seemed to think it relates only to a series of events in time (do correct me if I am wrong).

I'm not even sure it is a Thomist thing, though. Guys like Craig argue for simultaneous causation and the like, so I think even in the broader philosophical community, causation being seen as strictly in time is a bit odd, if not a fringe position. Or at least, if one believes causation to be something that can only occur in a temporal sequence, they ought to be aware of positions and arguments to the contrary.

Also note God is not a thing among things so the 'outside/inside' use of words can become a little moot since it is reductionistic in relation to the metaphysics without further clarification. This can confuse people who do not understand an A-T conception of God, since they don't know there is much more to the point being made.

I would tend to agree, though I would defend Feser's right to use it (and that is, from what I can tell, what was being objected to) since he tends to have a more informed audience. Assuming no prior knowledge in posts like these wouldn't allow him to get across the point as quickly and easily. Not that you disagree, or anything, but I think words like "outside/inside" can be used with the right audience, and I think Feser is justified in assuming that he posts will reach the right audience. But again, not that you disagree with any of this.

George R. said...

Uh, maybe because things don't cause themselves?

That doesn't make much sense, Mr. Green. Maybe you would like to try again.

damntull said...

Does anyone know what the deal is with wrf3? I keep coming across him at Vox Day's blog and I have to say, he is one question-begging SOB. Did he comment here at some point?

Glenn said...

George R.,

Non-immanent teleology precedes form, sure.

But how might immanent teleology -- i.e., teleology inhering in a form -- precede the form in which it inheres? And wasn't Dr. Feser talking about immanent teleology rather than teleology that isn't immanent?

A person doesn't need a home to be a person. But he does need a domicile to be a domiciled person. And saying that something said about a domiciled person makes no sense because it wouldn't apply if the domiciled were treated as an undomiciled person itself makes no sense.

Glenn said...

damntull,

Does anyone know what the deal is with wrf3?

Apparently, some secret ingredient is: a) missing; b) inactive; or, c) malfunctioning. (For example, he has claimed to have obtained a degree in applied symbol manipulation -- er, applied mathematics -- without having learned that there is anything more to mathematics than symbol manipulation.)

Did he comment here at some point?

He did. (Have you an adequate supply of Tylenol near at hand? If so, then here you go.)

Crude said...

Vincent,

For these reasons, I think that the arguments put forward against brute facts are not demonstrative.

Can you show where, at any point, a demonstrative argument against brute facts is offered by Ed? Seriously, it looks to me like you're looking for some argument which rules out the logical possibility of brute facts in the broadest sense, period, with no other axioms in play.

As near as I can tell, you're raising the standards of argument here to a point not only no one could meet, but no one is trying to meet. If that's the standard, then again, Carroll is dead in the water anyway - since it's not as if Carroll has ruled out his opposition's views to that degree besides.

Brute facts are magic. Appealing to them is to give up on science, give up on reason, and just say 'it is, no explanation, alakazam!' And hey, it's logically possible that magic is possible. But it is what it is at the end of the day.

Crude said...

I'd also add,

All the argument shows is that if there are any brute facts, they must relate to timeless and essential properties of things, rather than to time-bound and/or non-essential properties - but I'm sure Carroll would agree with that.

This isn't the case. Brute facts are brute facts - it's not as if they come with limits. So no, it's not that 'if there are brute facts, they must be of this type'. Rather the opposite - if we accept brute facts, they can be of any type.

Anonymous said...


Hi Ed, an eliminative materialist has written a response to your critique of his position, which doesn't happen often!! Just wanted to inform you and your readers:

http://abstractminutiae.tumblr.com/post/91051740800/edward-feser-wrote-a-blog-piece-entitled-eliminativism

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't that response little more than one large exercise in begging the question? The author seems to rely almost entirely (with a few additional criticisms) on the premise that the mental can be reduced to the material.

The Irish Thomist said...

ccmnxc,
I agree Feser can use such terminology with an informed audience. I was making a more general point; not getting at 'his' use in this instance.

I wouldn't have grounds for nitpicking since I'm all too human in some of the poorly formulated wording and arguments I put together when I rush. I try to learn from the mistakes.

The Irish Thomist said...

Could I just put this point out there (it already has been made and is a friendly suggestion). Could the many many 'Anonymous' commentators use the 'Name/URL' instead to create an alias so we know who is who (if you don't have a website what you do is simply type a name). You remain Anonymous but we can differentiate that way.

Brandon said...

Brute facts are brute facts - it's not as if they come with limits.

Exactly: brute facts have to be such that nothing about them could serve to explain why they are facts. If they fell into well defined categories, their ability to have the properties that define those categories would be an at least partial explanation of why they are facts, and they would no longer be brute, just (at the most) underdetermined. That's exactly what makes ordinary facts non-brute.

Tony said...

Vincent, re: epistemic vs metaphysical brute facts.

Is there a danger of missing a third category that stands with one foot in each camp here? Halfway between the problem of not having found an explanation for THIS (possibly) brute fact, and the problem of there even being brute facts whether we know them or not.

What I am thinking of is this: in order for a fact to be known to us, it has to have effects. For without having effects (such as to impinge on our senses) we cannot possibly know it is there to begin with (this applies also to "extra-sensory forces" which, for us to grant their existence, have effects on things which we do sense). So far, then, the reality of the thing only bears on us epistemically insofar as it has an effect.

But the other leg comes from what science and "accounting for" require: there is no way we can ever actually prove that some possibly brute fact (either sensed or causing things sensed) is, in fact, unexplained by another reality. We might guess it, surmise it as probable, even very probable, but could not even in principle prove it. Because the metaphysics is against us: there is no theoretical way to "account for" the lack of a cause, and so even in principle all we can ever say is "we have not _yet_ found an explanation." So, even if we come across a brute fact that we are convinced is probably brute, we can never assert it scientifically, i.e. demonstratively - which means that for purposes of science we have to remain uncommitted to the stance that it is brute.

But (using the standard other scientists use on unprovable theses), if a claim is unprovable even in theory, it is effectively either meaningless or pointless even to make it. Like, for example, a mis-made question (how high is 'green'?). Just as it is irresponsible in argument to simply assert the existence of a thing that has no possible epistemic claim on us ("gee, I think there are 'snorpundles' which are non-physical and non-spiritual beings which only sit there observing us" is a nonsense claim even though it is not grammatically a nonsense sentence), so also it is irresponsible in science to posit the brute-ness of a fact where the bruteness cannot possibly be established and therefore cannot possibly bear any of the weight of scientific reasoning. It is, effectively, the 'anti-God of the gaps' - there is no reason to assert its bruteness OTHER than to get out of having to explain it, to shift the burden of proof. But you cannot shift the burden of proof to the universe at large, she just laughs that off.

Admittedly this problem has more to do with the difficulty of knowing a brute fact than with there being one, but the difficulty isn't about knowing this or that brute fact but about all of them and in principle.

Richard said...

Perhaps the question of how Platonic law is made manifest is answered here: https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/butler-damascius-procession-paginated.pdf

machinephilosophy said...

"... rest on premises derived from metaphysics rather than natural science, and in particular on metaphysical premises that any possible natural science must presuppose. For that reason, they are more certain than anything science itself could in principle ever either support or refute."

That is precisely why Kalam and related causal arguments have been so ineffective and unpersuasive, and why Saint Thomas' Second Way argument from simultaneous causation should upstage Kalam and similar temporal sequence arguments, if it's developed out point for point vis-a-vis contemporary skeptical objections.

Timocrates said...

Hello machinephilosophy,

The kalam argument as argued by Dr. Craig does rest on a metaphysical premise; namely, that every effect has a cause. This is why it opens with the major premise that everything that begins to exist has a cause and places the universe as one such thing. From there is proceeds. And this is why Dr. Carroll is in the rather desperate situation of trying to deny that everything that begins to exist necessarily has a cause - arguably he engages in special pleading and has to try to provide reasons why the universe should be excepted such that it becomes not true that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

FYI - because so many have politely asked, I am formerly anonymous above who was debating with Vincent about the distinction between metaphysics and physics via the first principles of being.

Victor said...

So an Artistotelian wouldn't say that there is like a matrix of laws that matter happens to obey....
but that things in the universe (like a baseball) have a formal and final cause that lends it to behave one way as opposed to another?
And it's from those formal and final causes of things that we, in a short hand manner, come to the notion of "laws of nature"?

is this right?


It's very interesting if I'm understanding it correctly.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

Thanks for your responses. I've just noticed a typo in my last comment, in the paragraph that begins with the words "regarding (iii)." The sentence that begins with the words, "Once we grant this assumption, then it does indeed follow that there could not no brute facts of the kind described in my comments above..." should read "Once we grant this assumption, then it does indeed follow that there could not be brute facts of the kind described in my comments above..." Sorry about that.

I'd like to return to an earlier comment of Crude's: "Carroll's not concerned with pragmatism in this exchange - he is concerned with truth... Carroll can't say that science indicates the universe is a brute fact, and even philosophy isn't going to get him there, because brute facts don't follow some kind of rationale such that they only pop up where our science ends."

I'd like to suggest that readers take a look at a post Carroll wrote on Uncommon Descent three years ago, in response to questions I put to him about the laws of Nature. Here's the address: http://www.uncommondescent.com/religion/no-god-needed-caltech-physicist-responds-to-uncommon-descents-questions/

Here's what Carroll wrote:

"A law is simply a pattern we observe in nature... Science wants to know how we can boil the behavior of nature down to the simplest possible rules. You might want more than that; but then you’re not doing science... Imagining that the same basic laws will continue to hold provides a simpler fit to the data we have than imagining (for no good reason) that they will change. If you are personally unsatisfied with that attitude, that’s fine; but your dissatisfaction is not a scientific matter."

The way I read Carroll, he's an anti-realist. For him, the task of science is not to describe the way the world is but to describe the simplest way in which it can be understood by us.

Regarding brute facts, Carroll goes on:

"Science has a complicated relationship with “Why?” questions. Sometimes it provides direct answers: Why do all electrons have the same charge? Because they are all excitations of a single underlying quantum field. But sometimes it does not: Why is there a quantum field with the properties of electrons? Well, that’s just the way it is... Science looks for the simplest possible description of the world. It might be that we will eventually understand the inner workings of nature so well that we will be able to answer every conceivable "Why?" question — we will ultimately see that things simply could not have been any other way. But it is also perfectly possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper explanation. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the conventional progress of science, not by a priori demands that the universe must explain itself to anyone’s individual satisfaction."

Finally, regarding the believer's invocation of God as an explanation, he writes:

"There is a very strong tension between what scientists look for in a theory — clear and unambiguous connections between premises and predictions — and the way that religious believers typically conceive of God, as a conscious being that is irreducibly free to make choices. Does anyone really want to reduce God to a simple set of rules that can be manipulated by anyone to make clear predictions, like we can in theories of modern physics? If not, God will always remain as a theoretical option of last resort — something to be invoked only after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see."

These quotes pretty much sum up Carroll's thinking, so I think I'll stop here.

George R. said...

Glenn writes:
But how might immanent teleology -- i.e., teleology inhering in a form -- precede the form in which it inheres? And wasn't Dr. Feser talking about immanent teleology rather than teleology that isn't immanent?

Of course, insofar as it's immanent, teleology is not prior to the form. (That's a mere tautology.) But insofar as it's teleology, or final causality, it is most certainly prior. And if it were not so, it could not be immanent; for the reason we say that final causality is immanent and not merely extrinsic is because in the former case, the final cause is the cause of the substance being what it is, but in the latter case, it's only the cause of the substance being employed in a certain way. Therefore, it's really only in the case of extrinsic final causality that "teleology follows upon form," because the use to which a thing is put to depends on what kind of thing the thing is. However, in the case of immanent teleology, it's form that follows upon teleology, because what a thing is depends on that for the sake of which is to be what it is.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I'd now like to respond to a comment of Tony's. He writes:

"So, even if we come across a brute fact that we are convinced is probably brute, we can never assert it scientifically, i.e. demonstratively - which means that for purposes of science we have to remain uncommitted to the stance that it is brute. But (using the standard other scientists use on unprovable theses), if a claim is unprovable even in theory, it is effectively either meaningless or pointless even to make it."

Judging from the quotes by Carroll which I posted above, I think he would reply that science can never dogmatically assert that a fact is brute, but only provisionally. That, however, does not make the assertion meaningless - it just means that science is a perpetual work-in-progress, on Carroll's view.

Crude questioned my argument that "if there are any brute facts, they must relate to timeless and essential properties of things, rather than to time-bound and/or non-essential properties." The reason why I made that claim can be explained using the illustration of a ball. It makes perfect sense to ask: "Why is this ball the size it is?" because balls can be of any size: size is a non-essential feature of a ball. But it makes no sense to ask, "Why is this ball round?" because if it wasn't round, it wouldn't be a ball. (One might ask, "Why is this lump of matter in the shape of a ball?" but that's another question.)

Turning to the universe (which the science of cosmology studies as if it were a single object), we can look at the laws of Nature and ask whether they are defining features of the universe (like roundness is to a ball) or non-essential properties that it need not possess. Only in the latter case does it make sense to ask why the universe has the laws it does. If, on the other hand, the laws of Nature are defining features of the universe, then they are essential properties and can therefore be treated as brute facts.

The same logic applies to the constants of Nature. Only if we can meaningfully suppose that the universe might have had other constants can we meaningfully ask why it has these ones.

Now, let's return to my other question that we can ask about the ball, namely: "Why is this lump of matter in the shape of a ball?" If you think that there is some underlying ultimate "stuff" of the universe (Aristotelian prime matter) which is devoid of any positive properties and which can assume any form, then it makes perfect sense to ask why this "stuff" is structured in the way we observe the cosmos to be, with its laws and constants. But if you don't believe in prime matter, then that question makes no sense.

The point I was making earlier on with my remarks about fields (see also Carroll's comments) is that to modern science, these are what is fundamental, not prime matter. Fields perdure; they reconfigure, but do not successively assume forms. Hence there is no need to ask what lies under them. Furthermore, fields have well-defined, quantifiable properties, so they cannot be identified with prime matter; rather, they are forms of some sort.

What I'm suggesting is that modern science lends itself to a Platonic view of the cosmos as some sort of geometrical structure - and there may be other ones, or even a super-structure encompassing them all. If we accept this picture, scientists can argue that "Why?" questions are out of place: we do not ask why there are circles, for instance. Thus the ultimate laws and constants of Nature - whatever they turn out to be - would be brute facts. Scientists may come to revise their list of brute facts, but only to discard it in favor of a better one.

To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

Back again. How can this argument we refuted? I think we have to take one further step back and ask: "Why are there any laws at all?", as opposed to the question, "Why does the universe have the laws it has?" But to do that, we have to be clear about what a law of Nature is.

For me, the ultimate question is whether laws are descriptive or prescriptive. If they are descriptive, then scientists have no warrant for relying on them to hold in the future (the old problem of induction), as the number of possible ways in which they could fail to hold vastly exceeds the number of ways they could continue to hold. But if they are prescriptive statements of the way in which things should behave, then I would argue that they require a Prescriber. The notion of how a thing "should" behave arguably makes sense for organisms (e.g. plants should get sunlight), but not for inanimate objects and certainly not for the cosmos as a whole (unless you're an animist).

Science presupposes the existence of laws of Nature as normative statements about the way in which the world ought to behave. It is in this sense that I would say that science presupposes a Prescriber, God. Carroll's scientific program fails to address the problem of induction. That's why it's metaphysically deficient.

Vincent Torley said...

The second sentence in my last post should read: "How can this argument be refuted?" not "How can this argument we refuted?" Sorry!

Matt Sheean said...

Vincent,

aren't you rather conveniently conflating essential properties and brute facts, e.g. that a ball is round is a brute fact? The relations between things and their properties isn't the sort of thing that 'brute fact' is meant to refer to. That something is just such and such a way as a matter of definition is a matter of definition, not of some fact without further explanation (that it is definitionally true of the thing is the explanation).

Let's say I went to the fridge just now, and you ask me why I did that. I say, "well, because I wanted some orange juice." You ask me why I wanted orange juice and I say, 'geez man, I just wanted some." Well, that there is not a brute fact, it's simply, as far as you know, the end of the explanatory chain* concerning why I got up to go to the fridge.

*an explanation desired relative to my agency, rather than say, the biological reasons for my wanting orange juice

Matt Sheean said...

Vincent, I should add that I am specifically addressing this quote of yours,

"If, on the other hand, the laws of Nature are defining features of the universe, then they are essential properties and can therefore be treated as brute facts."

Timocrates said...

@Vincent,

Hello Vincent. I will be frank. Carroll's arguments have been proven false. His doctrine is simply shown to be incredible and spends a lot of time just begging to question.

If, for instance, Carroll actually believes that it is the business of science first and foremost to find the simplest rules possible that govern nature, then the First Principles of Being is what he is looking for. By his own definition they are the truest, best and highest science. However he contradicts them as when he denies that an effect necessarily has to have a cause.

Carroll wrongly assumes (probably because he is a physicist) that the only causes are natural or physical causes. This is plainly false as I already proved above. The very fact that if brute facts exist then what is not is not a brute fact is a truth caused by the principles of being that are not merely physical or natural causes. Carroll doesn't need and can't have a physical experiment or proof that can prove that what is not is not a brute fact; however, he knows this and agrees to it necessarily when he asserts there to be brute facts. He thus affirms that there are other causes than merely physical or natural ones.

Carroll wants to believe that something can come from nothing, which is impossible. Physics can't possibly prove that it is impossible anymore than it can prove that it is somehow possible.

Frankly, Carroll like some many modern specialized scientists doesn't realize when he's crossed the boundaries of his expertise into a different expertise; in his case, he's confused physics for metaphysics and even made the absurd suggestion that metaphysics somehow depends on physics.

Physics must be logical. Mathematics must be and normally is logical; notwithstanding, neither physics nor mathematics is logic, which is the correct application of the necessary first truths of being (i.e., metaphysics).

Carroll is not a Metaphysician and exactly because he's not he gets metaphysical truths all wrong and confused.

Timocrates said...

Oh look a worthless piece of filth has crawled onto the internet to show everyone how brave and intelligent it is.

machinephilosophy said...

"The kalam argument as argued by Dr. Craig does rest on a metaphysical premise; namely, that every effect has a cause. This is why it opens with the major premise that everything that begins to exist has a cause and places the universe as one such thing. From there i[t] proceeds. And this is why Dr. Carroll is in the rather desperate situation of trying to deny that everything that begins to exist necessarily has a cause"

Well it sure spends a lot of its time saying science says so, but I don't think the philosophical case for a beginning is very well developed. Not that it won't be sometime in the next decade, but it still ain't ready for prime time in relation to the lingering questions, even in the minds of people who believe it's valid or want it to be. (Take your pick---believers are full of doubt these days.)

But I don't really think it's as important as it's made out to be. And the 2nd Way just bypasses it for a much more elegant yet in-one's-face causal dependency here and now and at every moment---timelessly, time and time again. Simultaneity is fascinating and dynamic. And sure enough, the causal series issue in Tom2 smacks of rhetoric used in quantum theory.

"Kalam is sooo like, time-bound dude. It's all so instantaneous now that I'm plugged into Tom2, man."

It's understandable that unique rules apply to totalities of objects and not to their respective elements. Totalities are different from their elements in some important sense, which is why we think about totalities separately as a type of object unto themselves.

So at first glance anyway, I don't see the problem with balking at requiring an additional cause for all the types of causes as a whole, the whole grand causal totality. The trend of the cause tracing in science is all within that universal total, after all, even though generality has increased along with pick and shovel causal methods.

Did I mention that Saint Thomas's Second Way, Tom2, is also fast and sleek? I strongly suspect it's valid. That's half of theism right there, with only the nature of this bizarre causal end-of-the-road oddity remaining.

And it has no problem with staying in the universal inferential-causal lanes, even when inference is doing the truth-functional causal-logical metaphysical dirty work about causation itself.

Can Tom2 blow away its competitors?

Well, can I place a bet for when natural language processors start routinely fallacy mining? Maybe we'll see at some future Ultimate Inference Warz: SToid Way 2: Causal Droids video game.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vincent,

I think Dr. Feser was arguing, in his posts on brute facts and the PSR, that if you accept some kind of PSR, then there are not brute facts: reality is intelligible all the way down (or up). This means that he disagrees with your claims that whatever are the basic constants of reality, they are brute facts. He makes the case that these constants (in other words God or God's essence, of course) are ultimately intelligible, even if they explain themselves (so to speak).

Now, I'm not in a position to defend Dr. Feser's argument, so you'll have to read his posts or ask him or others here about it, but I think that was his argument.

I do have my own vague speculation to add on this subject. It is only an intuition, and I don't know if there is any worth in it, but I can't help thinking there is a problem with combining the claim of man to knowledge and the existence of brute facts. After all, a brute fact is surely something we cannot know in entirety. It is an in principle barrier or limit to our knowledge. But how could we ever know or apprehend a limit to our knowledge? It is like a cliff edge with absolutely nothing the other side of it. And if we cannot apprehend or understand a barrier to our knowledge, then that limit could be anywhere, and no knowledge be safely known.

Crude said...

Vincent,

I'll reply more fully later, but I do want to say this before I go out the door:

If, on the other hand, the laws of Nature are defining features of the universe, then they are essential properties and can therefore be treated as brute facts.

As near as I can tell, your use of 'brute facts' is completely off-base here.

Bob said...

@Vincent

Maybe the "Laws of Nature" are metaphysical facts.

Instead of whatever is moved is moved by another, we now have whatever is in motion stays in motion..., etc.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Timocrates,

I'd like to respond to your comments.

1. "Carroll wrongly assumes (probably because he is a physicist) that the only causes are natural or physical causes. This is plainly false as I already proved above."

I haven't seen a proper deductive argument that there are no brute facts in your posts. I tried to reconstruct your argument, but you didn't seem to like it.

2. "The very fact that if brute facts exist then what is not is not a brute fact is a truth caused by the principles of being that are not merely physical or natural causes."

Your syntax is unclear. I shall assume that when you say that "what is not is not a brute fact," what you actually mean is: "that which does not exist, is not a brute fact."

So your argument is that if brute facts exist, then that which does not exist is not a brute fact. Yes, and by the same reasoning, if noodles exist, then that which does not exist is not a noodle. So?

You write that this is "a truth caused by the principles of being that are not merely physical or natural causes." Pardon me, but I always thought of causation as a relationship between beings (or in some accounts, events), not between truths or principles. It is simply incorrect to speak of a truth as being caused. It may be entailed or implied, but not caused.

All you have shown is that logical entailment and physical causation are not the same thing. I'm sure Carroll would agree with that.

3. You write that "we need some starting point of reasoning and knowledge and because something exists, and nothing can come from nothing, necessarily there is some starting point also of all things that is or can be a cause that can cause everything we actually see happening and know to be potentially possible also."

Once again your syntax is confusing, and I'm not at all sure what you mean. When you write that "necessarily there is some starting point also of all things that is or can be a cause that can cause everything we actually see happening" do you mean (a) "necessarily there is some starting point S of all things, which is capable of causing everything we actually see happening" or (b) "necessarily there is some starting point of all things that are capable of acting as causes"?

Carroll would not dispute that we need some starting point in our chain of reasoning. What he would say is that we should start with the smallest set of facts about the world that are capable of explaining all the other facts.

4. You write: "If the universe were anything actually like a brute fact we could not even begin to hope to understand it let alone explain it."

Carroll does not claim that the universe is a brute fact, but that the laws and fundamental constants of Nature are brute facts. We cannot understand these primitive facts, but we can understand all the other facts which they explain.

5. You write: "But why not just be a smart aleck and claim rather that rocks just change as a 'brute fact'? Because that of course would be the death of all science."

The reason why changes in rocks aren't a brute fact is that Carroll defines brute facts as the smallest set of facts about the world that are capable of explaining all the other facts. As it happens, we can explain changes in rocks in terms of a simpler and more general set of facts: the laws of mechanics. Would it be "the death of science" to treat these laws as brute facts? I hardly think so.

As I've said, I'm not agreeing with Carroll's position; I'm just saying that it's internally consistent. That doesn't make it true, but it does mean that you need to do a better job of refuting it.

Finally, regarding your claim that "everything composed necessarily requires a composer": how do you know this? Is it an analytic truth, or is it known on the basis of some "rational intuition"? Thomists really need to address this question.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Jeremy,

I've just been having a look at Dr. Feser's arguments against brute facts (and for PSR) in another post of his: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2014/03/an-exchange-with-keith-parsons-part-iv.html

Dr. Feser writes: "In short, either everything has an explanation or we can have no justification for thinking that anything does." The trouble I have with this view is that since the world is radically contingent, it cannot be simply explained in terms of God's necessary Being, or else it would be necessary, too. The world therefore has to be explained in terms of God's free and contingent choices. But what explains those? Perhaps God's decision to create a certain kind of world. But what explains that? It seems we have to come back to some fundamental choice made by God, for which no further explanation can be given.

At least some contingent facts, then, are incapable of being explained any further.

Timocrates said...

Hi Vincent,

You wrote,
“I haven't seen a proper deductive argument that there are no brute facts in your posts”

That is because I never made one. That is why you haven’t seen one from me (it doesn’t (yet) exist to be “seen” by you or anyone else).

My arguments if you recall actually granted for the sake of argument that brute facts exit (“are”) and proved notwithstanding that they rest and depend on metaphysical facts necessarily. That part of my argument aimed only to show that Dr. Carroll’s claim to the contrary is false (i.e. that metaphysic rests or depends on physics).

The other argument I made again had nothing to do with brute physical facts but rather rested on the premise that from nothing comes nothing and that the universe is not nothing and, therefore, if it came to be it necessarily come to be from something. To my knowledge Dr. Carroll isn’t reifying brute physical facts and endowing them with some sort of strange Platonic substantial existence such that they become the “something” the universe emerged out of or from.

Now, if on the other hand I were to argue against brute facts generally proffered it would be on the basis of why we are inclined to call them “brute.” I think the reason is because they violate another necessary and first principle; namely, the principle of sufficient reason. Brute facts are brutal because they tyrannically try to halt the natural process of inquiry whereas the mind does not see them as sufficient reasons for the universe’s existence. But that is an argument for another day and beside the point.

Glenn said...

George R.,

Though immanent teleology itself is not subsequent to form, surely immanent teleology in form is subsequent to immanent teleology prior to form, just as 'cause in the effect' is subsequent to 'cause prior to the effect'.

And since the cause, which is prior to the effect, is in the effect, it seems likely that, when mentioned was made of "the...immanent teleology that followed upon their having those forms", the relevant subsequent had had to do with 'cause in the effect' (which, of course, does indeed follow 'cause prior to the effect').

That it was 'cause in the effect' which seems likely to be what the relevant subsequent had had to do with, seems to be confirmed by the statement which immediately followed -- which statement was not, nonsensically, "In other words, regularities reflected the formal and final causes which stem from things," but, sensically, "In other words, regularities reflected the formal and final causes of things."

Timocrates said...

Hello again Vincent,

You wrote further,
“[2.] So your argument is that if brute facts exist, then that which does not exist is not a brute fact.[…]

You write that this is "a truth caused by the principles of being that are not merely physical or natural causes." Pardon me, but I always thought of causation as a relationship between beings (or in some accounts, events), not between
truths or principles. It is simply incorrect to speak of a truth as being caused. It may be entailed or implied, but not caused.”

The causes of logical conclusions derive from the very nature of being itself. It is because nature is such-and-such that such-and-such follows or is necessary. The First Principles describe the nature of being (any and all being). It is because being has this nature that certain things necessarily follow. Of course beings are beings.

Moreover, it is absurd to say that a truth isn’t caused. What truth isn’t true because of something? If this apple is red, then is it because of something other than the redness of the apple or the apple itself? Or are you seriously saying we ought to rather say that this apple only properly "entails" or "implies" its redness, even granting that it is red? But things get worse on this account because we would actually have to go further and say that the truth that this thing is an apple is because [whoops!] this things is actually an apple. But strictly on your account there is no cause of this being true but merely this thing “implies” or “entails” “apple”;- and certainly not [according to your version of logic] simply because it is, in fact, an apple.

Gary C. Moore said...

"Truth" is caused by a set of First Principles establishing the structure of grammar and logic. The 'truth' of the First Principles, though, is not 'caused' by other First Principles or grammar or logic but by a consistent result in experience as "basic knowledge" but which is not "truth" or "true" because experience does not communicate with you. Rather, "experience" is the touchstone against which First Principle are tested. And that "test" merely covers what the humanly created First Principles is CAPABLE of encompassing, and never the 'whole truth' of the experience whatever that could have been.
Gary C. Moore

Timocrates said...

Hello Gary,

I would say you are quite close. I would have to object, however, to your assertion that the first principles of being are "humanly created". They are not. If anything, they are rather discovered by human reason.

Further, if we were to order the first principles against logic and grammar, I think the sequence would be that grammar follows from logic and logic follows from the first principles, as logic is just the application of the first principles. Hence everything (including grammar) must be logical (that is, in accordance with logic).

Moreover, we call things logical fallacies not because there is something actually logical about them but exactly because they are illogical (i.e., contrary to or not according to logic). But if someone were to debate the legitimacy of logic or logical necessity, then at that point we are debating the First Principles as such.

The First Principles of Being apply to all being as such (that is, being without any further qualification). God is, in a sense at least, simply unqualified Being. That is why the Scholastics, I think, would claim that not even God would, for example, create a square circle. In fact I think they would go so far as to even say it would be impossible even for God to do so. The underlying reason here is that contradictions are absurd and God is not and does nothing that is absurd; and, insofar as a square circle is understood by definition to be a contradiction, then such a contradiction would be a contradiction of being as such and thus God would contradict himself, which is impossible.

DeusPrimusEst said...

Hi all,

Truth isn't what it is commonly supposed to be. See:

http://tofspot.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/struth.html

Pax Christo.

Crude said...

Vincent,

As I've said, I'm not agreeing with Carroll's position; I'm just saying that it's internally consistent. That doesn't make it true, but it does mean that you need to do a better job of refuting it.

Not really, since on this score Carroll's position comes down to an appeal to magic - which is what brute facts ultimately are. More than that, the conclusion he reaches isn't a scientific conclusion, nor is his decision to assign the brute facts where he particularly places them backed up by reason. In fact, it pretty well by definition can't be - that's one of the problems with brute facts. They aren't facts 'because' this or that or anything else.

Now, you can argue that pointing this out isn't a refutation, at least in the sense of 'You haven't shown that this is not possibly the case'. But I think it's enough to show what's entailed by Carroll's position, and what underwrites it. As I've said before, if you're looking of a refutation on the score of 'I've proven there is no possible way it's even possible in the broadest sense', then I don't see anyone who has intended to offer that. Not Feser, not Craig.

You're an ID proponent, last I heard, so I think you can appreciate that. ID, at its intellectually strongest, never rules out non-design. Irreducibly complexity never proves (at least according to its major proponents) the absolute impossibility of a non-intelligent cause. True, but does that fact alone save the ID critic?

Anonymous said...

@Vincent

Why can't a necessary fact explain a contingent fact? The following scenario seems plausible:

It is a necessary fact that God appreciated the reasons for creating some possible world and chose what to create. This fact explains the contingent fact that God created this world.

Timocrates said...

My roommate said,

"Dude! There are snails in my fishbowl!"

Me: "What? How did they get there?"

Roommate: "I dunno."

According to the New Atheists -who are so lame even the people paying them think they are stupid - those snails showed up in my roommate's fish tank because atheist scientist said that snails pop up in people's snails always spontaneously show up in fish tanks.

If you think snails do not appear in people's fish tanks, then you are not a moron and, therefore, you are not a sell out. Poo on you!

Daniel said...

It amuses me how some people seem to think that the Principle of Economy is compatible with Brute Facts when the latter are by definition refusals to give an explanation: no matter how economically promiscuous a postulate may be e.g. the cosmos’ being created by a transfinite set of beings (the god which created the god which created the god et cetra) it still satisfies the Principle because it is an explanation.

Other instances:

Appeals to Brute Facts are considered intellectually respectable. In time a new disease is discovered which on first sight baffles contemporary pathology. Rather than going on seeking to find out the course of this new aliment medical scientists can justly say: ‘this disease has no course. Its occurrence is simply a Brute Fact’.

Better yet, when challenged to prove the existence of God a theist can just answer ‘Well, since the Cosmos is a Brute Fact, and by definition Brute Facts defy explanation, it just so happens that God is a Brute Fact too’. This holds equally with ‘beings coming into existence without a cause’ type objections. In fact they both end up with the conclusion that given enough time any possible being is an actual being.

Daniel said...

P.S. Read 'course' as 'cause' there

Aaron said...

Irrelevant side-note: my copy of Scholastic Metaphysics finally shipped from amazon.ca!

Greg said...

@ Daniel

It amuses me how some people seem to think that the Principle of Economy is compatible with Brute Facts when the latter are by definition refusals to give an explanation.

To postulate a brute fact forgoes all parsimony.

I think the illusion of explanation comes in because it feels as though we've said something when we say that we have a brute fact, as though "p is a brute fact" explains "p". But of course it doesn't.

Bob said...

Why does mass bend spacetime?

Is this a brute fact?

Why or why not?

Skywatcher said...

Both 'Spacetime' and its supposedly being 'bent' are unproven hypotheses, not facts.

Glenn said...

Sean Carroll writes about quantum cats, Miss Kitty, wave functions and their collapse here. [3]

[SILLY] (This is a mock HTML tag, and is meant to indicate that what follows -- up to the matching mock tag -- is intentionally silly.)

We are gathered here today to ponder a grave question: where will Miss Kitty be when the collapse occurs? The answer to this question will depend upon what we observe.

If, on the one hand, we were to observe the remarks on a web page of one Mr. Carroll, then it must be asserted that, despite the fact that "In quantum mechanics, there is no such thing as "...location..." (see 3rd para here (!)), Miss Kitty will be either on the sofa or under the table when the collapse occurs.

If, on the other hand, we were to observe the content in a script [1] written by one Mr. Meson [2], then, despite what was said above, it must be asserted that Miss Kitty will be neither on the sofa nor under the table, but next to (the) Matt when the collapse occurs.

So, where will Miss Kitty be when the collapse occurs? It is somewhat difficult to tell for sure. But we will observe in parting that one rumor has it that Miss Kitty was able to drink some of the patrons of her saloon under the table.
[/SILLY]

- - - - -

[1] See pp. 4-6. Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty are riding on horses, and a rattlesnake spooks Miss Kitty's horse. She falls off, and her head hits a rock. Matt rides over to where she is, gets off his horse, and puts a hand under her head. After saying, "I'm scared, Matt...," Miss Kitty passes out.

[2] "Meson" is a misspelling, and the correct spelling is "Meston" (see 1st page of script).

[3] As already indicated, the mock SILLY tag is off, so the puzzlement expressed here is serious:

Under the heading of Quantum Mechanics Made Easy, Carroll says that, "A typical wave function oscillates through space and time".

The heading is meant to be a sensationalistic attention-grabber. Fine.

Still, if a wave function is a mathematical object (and, since a wave function is an equation, it seems to qualify as such), and to oscillate is to move back and forth, then Carroll is saying, in effect, that a (special kind of) mathematical object typically can move back and forth through space and time.

Never mind that I don't get how a mathematical object of any kind can move through space and time (though it might make for interesting news were the equation y=mx+b to be found moving up and down the side of a mountain), the special kind of mathematical object alleged to be able to move back and forth through space and time has to do with that according to which, says Carroll, there is no such thing as "where".

But how is the conjunction of assertions W and M supposed to help make matters less difficult to grasp, when assertion W is "there is no such thing as ‘where'", assertion M is "a (special kind of) mathematical object can move back and forth through space and time", and movement through space and time implies a "where" vis-à-vis the thing which is moving?

I'm sure I'll never 'get' quantum mechanics. But I'm not sure why explanations of quantum mechanics alleged to be simplifying seem nearly as hard to 'get'.

Just one of the things for which my mind is not suited, I guess.

Prince Randoms said...

Off topic but I need a link combating this recent trend of internet atheist trend of conflating agnosticism and atheism to shift their own epistemic responsibility. IE " Babies are atheist" trope.

Skywatcher said...

@ Glenn.

Quibble: A 'wave function' is a 'function'. A 'function' is not an 'equation'.

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 1: July 10, 2014 CST
TIMOCRATES: “I would have to object, however, to your assertion that the first principles of being are "humanly created". They are not. If anything, they are rather discovered by human reason.”
-x-
GCM: Discovered how? Like Columbus or Leif Erikson ‘discovered’ America? Or the car of your dreams in the sales lot? Then all you have to say is, “See? There it is!” But even in saying that, there is a vast historical and factual context that allows you to do so. You “discovery”, it seems, is already anticipated in the conceptual structure of the world. You have just pin-pointed an already known blank-spot on the map or that you are looking for a car. However, a First Principle is derived from a human “need” for an explanation of some problem in language, logic, or the material world, that is, “Why is it so?” If you can find an answer to that in the already known context of facts, as above, there is no need for a First Principle. But if the answer is not already anticipated in what you know, then you have to speculate about it, a hypothesis is formed for a “First Principle” in essence working back from the facts at hand, and then it is continuously tested forever since its “factuality” ONLY consists of either passing or failing the tests over the entirety of time. A “First Principle” is not discovered like a new comet is, though a First Principle must be involved with discovering the comet. But a First Principle is NOT “discovered” exactly as a comet is. There may be numerous First Principles involved in discovering a comet and numerous observations about the comet that need testing. But there is no question (in most people’s minds) that the comet is “There!”, that it can be pointed at, photographs taken, etc. On the other hand, a “First Principle” exists only if and as it works THIS TIME causing you to anticipate success the next time. But the “next time” does not even exist except in the imagination until it seems to become “this time” right now. Ergo, it is not only “humanly created”, it very existence depends only upon THIS MOMENT’S SUCCESS. A “First Principle”, then, is always incomplete existentially (actuality) whereas the geological conditions of Iceland “potentially” establish the possibility of an unassailable FACT of the creation of a new island off its coast. Once that “has happened”, it is “There!” to see, whereas a First Principle has to be explained – and then applied to demonstrate itself each and every time – unless, of course, you just brush that aside as inconvenient and hold it as a FACT by faith alone. Pragmatically, most of what we assume we know is merely habitual and justified by “faith” that, for the moment, has passed all its tests. We could not survive otherwise. But this is a matter of distinguishing George Lakoff’s categories of “loosely speaking”, “strictly speaking” and “technically speaking” where ‘certainty’ only applies to the first, a judge’s decision for whatever reason for the second, and inexhaustible rational inquiry for the third.
-x-

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 2: July 10, 2014 CST
TIMOCRATES: “Further, if we were to order the first principles against logic and grammar, I think the sequence would be that grammar follows from logic and logic follows from the first principles, as logic is just the application of the first principles. Hence everything (including grammar) must be logical (that is, in accordance with logic).”
-x-
GCM: If you were not taught grammar as a child, you could certainly not learn logic. If you did not learn logic, then you could not construct First Principles.

Skywatcher said...

@Glenn.

And yes, the notion of a 'function' oscillating through space is a bit bizarre, and not at all helpful in explaining the reality of the situation (whatever that might be). The wave function is supposed to be 'associated with' an 'event'. It's important to realize that the wave function is a complex number(i.e., it has an 'imaginary' component). How a complex number can describe a real event has never been clear to me. And what the exact nature of the 'association' is has never been specified, so far as I know. But what physicists can do, once they have a wave function, is to multiply the (complex) wave function by its 'complex conjugate', a mathematical procedure that produces the purely real square of the wave function (the imaginary part drops out), which in turn is a measure of the probability of the event.


Vincent Torley said...

Hi Crude,

You make an excellent point in your last post, when you argue that even if we cannot absolutely rule out Carroll's view as logically impossible, it is still an unreasonable view. However, I'd just like to point out that Feser himself, when writing about the Five Ways, has repeatedly claimed that (unlike Intelligent Design arguments) they are not merely certain beyond all reasonable doubt, but certain beyond all possible doubt. In fact, Feser objects to ID for precisely that reason: he thinks Intelligent Design arguments aren't rigorous enough.

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Professor Feser insists that the Fifth Way was intended to be a knockdown demonstration of the existence of God, rather than a merely suasive account:

"[W]hile Paley and his contemporary successors claim only that the existence of a designer is probable, Aquinas takes the Fifth Way conclusively to establish the truth of its conclusion. Related to this, whereas the design argument is typically presented as a kind of quasi-scientific empirical hypothesis, Aquinas' argument is intended as a metaphysical demonstration. His claim is not that the existence of God is one possible explanation among others (albeit the best) of the order that exists in the universe (which is how "God of the gaps" arguments proceed) but rather that it can be seen on analysis to be the only possible explanation even in principle." (2009, pp. 111-112)

Feser makes the same point in a recent article, when discussing what differentiates Aquinas' Fifth Way from other teleological arguments:

"Aquinas ... regards teleology as immanent to the natural order, as manifest even in the simplest causal processes rather than only in complex phenomena, and as something that leads us conclusively to the existence of a supreme intellect rather than merely as a matter of probability."
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 251.)

You argue that Carroll's conclusion that there are brute facts isn't a scientific conclusion. But I believe this misconstrues Carroll's methodology. Imagine him as being guided, not by a fact, but by an exhortation: "Scientists should try to explain the universe and make predictions about it using as few facts as possible." Then by default, the minimal set of facts in Carroll's set will be brute facts. Exhortations aren't true or false, so they aren't facts.

As I said, there's nothing obviously wrong with that way of doing science.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Daniel,

You wrote:

"It amuses me how some people seem to think that the Principle of Economy is compatible with Brute Facts when the latter are by definition refusals to give an explanation: no matter how economically promiscuous a postulate may be e.g. the cosmos’ being created by a transfinite set of beings (the god which created the god which created the god et cetera) it still satisfies the Principle because it is an explanation."

I don't think Carroll would accept an appeal to any set of creators as a legitimate scientific explanation, because in his view, a good scientific explanation is one which enables us to make predictions, and the God-hypothesis doesn't make scientific predictions about what the cosmos will look like. That's Carroll's view, anyway - although I would argue that the God-hypothesis does enable us to make scientific predictions about the cosmos, if we assume that a Creator would (a) want to make intelligent beings and (b) make His existence knowable to those beings.

Vincent Torley said...

Timocrates,

Got to go in a minute, as I'm off to work, but very briefly:

(1) The statement "A is true because of B" doesn't mean that B causes A in an efficient-causal sense;

(2) "Metaphysical facts" doesn't mean "all facts which are outside physics." Logical facts aren't metaphysical facts, and your argument only demonstrates that Carroll is relying on logic as well as physics.

Back later.

Gary C. Moore said...

ON THE RHETORIC OF SCIENCE
Quote from FROM THE TREE TO THE LABYRINTH: HISTORICAL STUDIES ON THE SIGN AND INTERPRETATION by Umberto Eco, pages 418-9
“The Tomás and Joaquim Carreras y Artau brothers (“Historia de la filosophia Española: Filosofos christianos de los siglos XII al XV. 2 vols. Madrid: Real Academia de sciencias exactas, Fiscias y Naturales, 1939: 220-1) observe that in this way Agrippa’s art is inferior to Llull’s because it is not based on a theology. But, at least from our point of view and that of the future development of combinatory systems, this constitutes a strong point rather than a weakness. With Agrippa, Llullism is liberated from theology.¶
-x- [page 419]
Rather, IF WE MUST SPEAK OF A LIMIT, it is clear that, for Agrippa [Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535)] too, the point is NOT to lay the foundations for a logic of discovery, but instead for a wide ranging rhetoric, at most to complicate the list of disciplines configured by his encyclopedia, but always in such a way as to provide – as is the case with a mnemonic technique – notions that can be manipulated by the proficient orator.”
Gary C. Moore

Timocrates said...

@GCM

I think we are confusing things. Grammar is impossible if it is not logical. Writing and speech follow thought; however, contradictions are literally inconceivable. You can't actually thing a contradiction. I believe the first principles are more of an affirmation of what we have been doing and are doing when we thing (let alone speak, write, etc). Regardless, as these rules (so to speak) are about being as such they are not created by human beings any more than the physical (king of being) as such is "created" by human beings. Most physicists would say that we discover the laws of nature - not invent them.

Timocrates said...

Sorry, I meant "you can't actually think a contradiction"

Glenn said...

Skywatcher,

Your comments, along with their lucidity, are appreciated. Thank you.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Vincent,

I'm no expert, but it seems rather strange to me to call anything with a cause a brute fact. If God created the universe, then it seems strange to call that creation a brute fact.

Tony said...

Imagine him as being guided, not by a fact, but by an exhortation: "Scientists should try to explain the universe and make predictions about it using as few facts as possible."

Vincent, would a response be that the only reason this exhortation impinges, that it bears any weight or causes anyone to feel like obeying it, is an implicit CLAIM of a truth: models with few extra facts as possible are better models. If that weren't implicit, nobody would care about the exhortation.

Tony said...

Hey, I gotta say that I had the funniest thing happen. I ride a commuter train to and from work sometimes. Today, as I was getting off the train, I passed a man sitting in the train reading a book, and it looked fairly scholarly, like a university-type something, so I peered a bit closer, and read the title:

Scholastic Metaphysics

Naw, I couldn't believe it, so I peered just a bit closer (I hoped the guy wouldn't notice me being obnoxious, but he might have). Sure enough, it was indeed by Edward Feser. Go figure!

But the train was about to leave the station, so I didn't have time to introduce myself or ask a question or two.

Isn't the definitive measuring stick for "making it" as an author is to run across "just some guy" reading your book on the train?

Paul Amrhein said...

“First Principle, a principle not from a principle; one which does not proceed from a prior principle in its own series. An absolutely first principle has no prior principle in any series to which it belongs; as God is the absolutely first principle of being.” Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy under “principle”

Are first principles invented or discovered? Was God invented or discovered? Neither? Is revelation more like invention or discovery? Discovery. So, better to say “discovered.” Apparently some first principles are discovered rather than invented. No, when I said God was “discovered” I was using “discovered” analogically. We do not discover God as we discover other things, say, prime numbers. Does what applies to God as a first principle apply to other first principles? What other first principles? Can we list some other first principles, to give us something solid to chew on?

Paul Amrhein said...

Is God a brute fact? If His is necessary being is He not self-sufficient in every way, even rationally (i.e. Self-explanatory)? Is a self-explaining thing a brute fact?

Tom said...

@Tony: Well, I was reading Aquinas on the train this morning, fell asleep, and dreamed about reading it. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing. But I did finish Aquinas & will be ordering Scholastic Metaphysics on the morrow, which is definitely good.

Matt Sheean said...

I believe, Paul, that the notion of a brute fact is (in the minds of some) something that would render the PSR less than sure. Not everything must have a reason, it is supposed, some thing(s) might simply be a brute fact. I am confused myself, since my only familiarity with the term in any philosophical literature is in Anscombe's essay on morality. In that case, she does not use it, as I understand, to mean something with no further explanation, and she refers to such facts as she treats of as "brute relative" to a particular context.

At any rate, I'd be inclined to believe that Carroll has in mind the anti-PSR notion of brute facts, in which case God would not properly be called a brute fact, since we have, more or less, an explanation of his being the way He is when we say, for instance, that He is pure act or that essence and existence are identical in Him. Carroll wants to avoid the Prime Mover so he would instead suppose that the PSR doesn't hold and that the utmost, ultimate fact about the world is one that is material and has no particular reason for being the way it is. The last fact needed in an otherwise satisfactory system, where satisfactory is understood as (if I understand correctly) accurately predicting future states of the universe.

Bob said...

@Skywatcher

Both 'Spacetime' and its supposedly being 'bent' are unproven hypotheses, not facts.

Well, no.

That mass bends spacetime is an observed fact, gravitational lensing has been observed.

The "unproven hypotheses" you refer to is usually called the General Theory of Relativity, which predicted the observed fact that mass bends spacetime.

However, if you don't like my original question, how about this one.

Why is the speed of light 186K mps in a vacuum?

Is the speed of light in a vacuum a brute fact? Why or why not?

Gary C. Moore said...

PART 1
TIMOCRATES: “Grammar is impossible if it is not logical.”
GCM: That is absolutely true and I never asserted otherwise. However, historically, factually, existentially grammar ALWAYS COME FIRST IN TIME no matter what to the state of “being logical” though the child in the meantime may have learned about physical consequences from physical experience which has an ontological tie of its own to learning language.
-x-
TIMOCRATES: “Contradictions are literally inconceivable.”
GCM: The parts of any contradictory expression like a “hippogriff” or a mistaken mathematical formula are perfectly conceivable, and the concept of a “contradiction” is rational or you could not recognize one. Ergo you can you speak of a “contradiction” without conceiving what it is - or, better, coming to that judgment by going through the literal process of attempting to “comprehend” it, i.e., putting it together to make a whole, which is what it must “presence” itself as, to be simply called a “contradiction” and THEREFORE in experience itself, the FIRST LINE OF KNOWLEDGE, presenting a conceivable “whole” of some sort in order to be recognized as purportedly “inconceivable”, a judgment you could be mistaken about in the first place. John P. Doyle wrote some excellent articles on the study of a number of 16th century Jesuits and Calvinist theologians on this general area.

Gary C. Moore said...

PART 2
TIMOCRATES: “I believe the first principles are more of an affirmation of what we have been doing and are doing when we think (let alone speak, write, etc). Regardless, as these rules (so to speak) are about being as such they are not created by human beings any more than the physical (king of being) as such is "created" by human beings. Most physicists would say that we discover the laws of nature - not invent them.”
GCM: If that is so, then physicists absolutely could never be wrong when they ‘discover’ a purported ‘law of nature’ right? Is that not the direct consequence of what you are literally saying? “…, as these rules (so to speak) are about being as such [therefore] they are not created by human beings” Who says “being” as a concept is not created by human beings? How else could you possibly analyze it logically? “Being” as a FACT, however, is absolutely incomprehensible. From human point of view it is pure accident and only graspable – marginally – by the total periphery of accidents we are (the totality of [human] thought). From our experience of absolutely everything we know, we know that absolutely nothing whatsoever has to be. Simply, therefore, that absolutely everything and anything whatsoever is caused, that is, is an “accident”, necessarily IMPLIES some kind of ‘other’ cause, but this is not at all knowledge, merely the imposed, judgmental declaration of the end of a series, which is something we humanly “have to” do because we are “bare forked animals”, ludicrous “featherless bipeds”, more defined by the ability to laugh than the ability to, supposedly, reason – a highly suspect process in psycologism, i.e., you think you are rational because you are FORCED to think you are rational – but I don’t like that very much. That is, we cannot ‘think’ INFINITY though we can – sort of – meaningfully talk about it like we would a “hippogriff”. Therefore absolutely everything I understand whatsoever has been “created” by human beings, most especially the laws of nature. Did you know that Thomas Kuhn said that Ptolemaic astronomy “works” (and is still a great boon to serious astrologists) – it just does not work as efficiently as the Kopernican system, or that there are other explanations for ‘gravity’, it is just that Newton’s definition and equations are by far the most comprehensible, that is, practical. Is merely “practical” your definition of “conceivable”? There is absolutely nothing practical, though, about the mere FACT of existence, though it is all you have to work with after all. Plotinus emphasized that the “One”, important for numeration in Duns Scotus, was absolutely in any possible way totally incomprehensible, and yet it is logically necessary to establish the logical hierarchy both Plato and Aristotle said was necessary for any rational understanding – which means even the name “One” belongs to your “contradictions are literally inconceivable”. But then can the beginning have a beginning?
Truly,
Gary C. Moore

Gary C. Moore said...

PAUL AMRHEIN: “? Was God invented or discovered? Neither? Is revelation more like invention or discovery?”
GCM: Every human “discovery” is an “invention” in the sense that “brute action” (C. S. Peirce) made something ‘seem’ specifically “to happen” and therefore is called “direct experience” except that, since brute matter does not talk to you are say, “Hi! I’m a rock! Gary More threw me at you!”, then, TO IDENTIFY IT, that is, TO GIVE IT IDENTITY, involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together “always already” known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not. The exact same thing happens with “divine inspiration” which the Catholic Church has always strictly set in opposition to “infernal inspiration” in accordance with previously accepted communal definitions called “doctrina”. Therefore there is a “devil’s advocate” necessary in the process of canonization of Karol Józef Wojtyła. Mystics who say they have direct experience from “God” therefore can either be “doctors of the church” like Hildegard of Bingen or burned at the stake like Joan of Arc or Marguerite Porete. When we do ‘discover’ “God” it truly is like discovering prime numbers – a good example – because “God” is utterly beyond human words even in the nearest human conception we can rationally, that is, analogically, that is, metaphorically like poetry, make of a concept we cannot explicitly conceive and yet find absolutely necessary in conceiving any logical hierarchy of genus and species. Making “God” a brute FACT as in identifying “him” with the unquestionable accidental FACT of existence merely eludes the question. “Ce principe posé, la première question qu’on a droit de faire sera : pourquoi il y a plutôt quelque chose que rien? Car le rien est plus simple et plus facile que quelque chose” that wily, back-stabbing diplomat Leibnitz said. A “brute fact”, therefore, for any of these reasons, be a self-EXPLAINING fact.
Always truly,
Gary C. Moore

Gary C. Moore said...

AAAAAH!!!!! "---"A “brute fact”, therefore, for any of these reasons, CANNOT be a self-EXPLAINING fact.

Gary C. Moore said...

Garden path sentence
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A garden path sentence is a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a way that a reader's most likely interpretation will be incorrect; the reader is lured into a parse that turns out to be a dead end. Garden path sentences are used in psycholinguistics to illustrate the fact that when human beings read, they process language one word at a time. "Garden path" refers to the saying "to be led down the garden path", meaning "to be misled".

According to one current psycholinguistic theory, as a person reads a garden path sentence, the reader builds up a structure of meaning one word at a time. At some point, it becomes clear to the reader that the next word or phrase cannot be incorporated into the structure built up thus far; it is inconsistent with the path down which they have been led. Garden path sentences are less common in spoken communication because the prosodic qualities of speech (such as the stress and the tone of voice) often serve to resolve ambiguities in the written text. This phenomenon is discussed at length by Stanley Fish in his book Surprised by Sin. He argues that incremental parsing of sentences needs to be addressed by literary theorists. He also covers this topic in several essays from his book Is there a text in this Class?.

Paul Amrhein said...

A small effort to put invention and discovery on a Scholastic footing. Imagine a scale of actuality. At the top is God, maximal (greatest without equal) actuality. At the bottom is prime matter, minimal actuality. Both invention and discovery are always mixtures of actuality and potentiality. But in the process of invention man is more agent than patient, in discovery more patient than agent. How does this help us? The debate thus far seems to have presupposed that invention and discovery are opposed or mutually exclusive. Perhaps the Scholastic would say that they are interdependent.

Charles said...

On a completely unrelated topic, I just got my copy of Scholastic Metaphysics that I pre-ordered on Feb 4. Canadian Amazon takes longer I suppose.

Timocrates said...

Hello Gary,

I would continue to insist that contradictions are inconceivable. The definition of existence is such that we cannot conceive of something both existing and not existing simultaneously – let alone imagine it. You can’t imagine a light being simultaneously both on and off; and exactly what are you thinking of when you think of a light that is both on and off? It is not merely that no such things exists (presumably neither did unicorns ever exist either – but we can think of and indeed even imagine them). Rather, it is because such a thing is strictly impossible. As Aristotle I think would say, when we are thinking of contradictions as such we are at best thinking about words.

I can’t think of a cat that is a dog. I can think of a cat that happens to look or act like a dog and vice-versa. But at some point I am just thinking about a cat or about a dog or something besides a cat or a dog; e.g., some cat-dog creature that is (only) part cat and (only) part dog. I can’t think of a cat that is actually a dog and a cat any more than I can think of a cat that is both a cat and not a cat. At best I am thinking of some third, hypothetical thing. Now animals may be the worst example to illustrate this because defining species strictly is a notoriously difficult enterprise; however, a better example would be a square circle. If you are thinking of a square circle you are at best thinking about squares and circles or some third thing that is neither a square nor a circle but has features of both.

Finally, brute facts tend to be effects without a cause or uncaused causes but are specifically brute because they seem to violate the principle of sufficient reason. God, for example, is an uncaused cause but he does not violate PSR.

Timotheos said...

"Perhaps the Scholastic would say that they are interdependent."

By the senses of the terms that you are using, I would say that discovery is a formal cause being applied from the world onto the mind, and that invention is applying a formal cause from the mind onto the world.

Definitely a neat idea!

Paul Amrhein said...

Our scale of actuality also has something to do with change or rates of change. Change is movement from potentiality to actuality. That which is fully actual (God) cannot change. That which is minimally actual (prime matter) cannot resist change. Everything that is not prime matter is more actual or less changeable than prime matter. (The more actuality, the less changeability. The more potentiality, the more changeability.) So what? I don’t know. Just seemed worth mentioning.

The speed of light in a vacuum. Is that a brute fact? Hmm. I don’t think so. I don’t have an explanation. But I think one is possible. Wouldn’t one have to show that such an explanation is metaphysically impossible to show that light’s speed is a brute fact?

Gary C. Moore said...

PART 1
PAUL AMRHEIN: “Imagine a scale of actuality. At the top is God, maximal (greatest without equal) actuality. At the bottom is prime matter, minimal actuality. Both invention and discovery are always mixtures of actuality and potentiality. But in the process of invention man is more agent than patient, in discovery more patient than agent. How does this help us? The debate thus far seems to have presupposed that invention and discovery are opposed or mutually exclusive. Perhaps the Scholastic would say that they are interdependent.”
GCM: “Imagine” – this is necessary. “At the top” and “at the bottom” are absolute unknowns detectible only by human need to set limits to any proposition to make it humanly comprehensible. “ad infinitas propositiones et media invenienda” (“and means must be found to end sentences”), Giordano Bruno, “De lampade combinatorial Lulliana” (Wittenburg: Zacharias Cratius, 1587).
-x-
PAUL AMRHEIN: “. But in the process of invention man is more agent than patient, in discovery more patient than agent.”
GCM: To repeat, I said, “Every human “discovery” is an “invention” in the sense that “brute action” (C. S. Peirce) made something ‘seem’ specifically “to happen” and therefore is called “direct experience” except that, since brute matter does not talk to you are say, “Hi! I’m a rock! Gary More threw me at you!”, then, TO IDENTIFY IT, that is, TO GIVE IT IDENTITY, involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together “always already” known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not.” This goes together with Thomas Aquinas use of language, that is, what is discovered is in sensation, what we SAY is discovered is invented: (quote follows)

Gary C. Moore said...

PART 2
from the tree to the labyrinth by Umberto Eco, pp.
<< “9.6. Thomas Aquinas
In his commentary on the DE INTERPRETATIONE, Thomas Aquinas, who remains faithful to Aristotle’s positions, after distinguishing the FIRST OPERATION OF THE INTELLECT (PERCEPTION) from the second (“scilicet de enunciatione affirmativa et negativa” :: “the enunciation of the negative and positive”), defines “interpretatio” as “vox significativa quae per se aliud significat, sive complexa sive incomplexa” (“significant vocal sound – whether complex or incomplex – which signifies something by itself”; “quem auctor intendit”) (Proemium 2). But immediately afterward he makes it clear that nouns and verbs are MERELY “principles” of interpretation, which is to be identified exclusively with the “oratio” (“address or statement”), that is, with all those propositions “in qua verum et falsum inveniuntur” (“in which truth and error are found”).¶
-x-
At this point he uses “significare” for the nouns and verbs (I, ii, 14), as well as well as for those “voces” that signify naturally, such as the moaning of the sick and the noises made by animals (cf. “latratus canis”); but, as far as human voices are concerned they DO NOT IMMEDIATELY signify the things themselves BUT THEIR GENERAL CONCEPTS. And ONLY “eis mediantibus” (through them) do they refer to “singularia” (individuals or details) (I, 2, 15).¶
-x- 
Aquinas later states that the name signifies its definition (I, ii, 20). True, when Thomas speaks of composition and division, that is, of affirmation or negation, he says the former “significat . . . coniunctionem” (“signifies union or a connection”), while the later “significat . . . rerum separationem” (“signifies separation of things”) (I, iii, 26), but it is clear that even here (where language refers to what is or is not the case) what is signified is an operation of the intellect. It is only the intellect, whose operations are signified, that may be defined as true or false with respect to the actual state of things: “intellectus dicitur verum secundum quod conformatur rei” (“the understanding said to be true so far as it conformed to the thing”) (I, iii, 28). An expression can be neither true nor false, it is merely the sign that “significat” a true or false operation of the intellect. [footnote 5: Unde haec vox, “homo est asinus”, est vere vox et vere signum; sed quia est signum falsi, ideo dicitur falsa (“Thus the vocal sound as "a man is an ass", it is truly the voice and truly a sign; but because it is a sign of what is false, it is therefore said to be false”) (I, iii, 31). Nomina significat aliquid, scilicet quosdam conceptus simplices, licet reum compositarum . . . (“The names denote something, namely, certain simple concepts, even though called composite”) (I, iii, 34)]¶

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 3
-x-
The verb “denotare”, in all of its various forms, occurs 105 times in the Thomistic lexicon (to which we may add two occurrences of the noun “denotatio”), but it appears Thomas never used it in the strong extensional sense, in other words, he never used it to say that a given proposition denotes a state of affairs, or THAT A GIVEN TERM DENOTES A GIVEN THING. [footnote 6: The preposition “per” “denotes the instrumental clause” (IV SENTENCES 1, 1, 4). Elsewhere he affirms that “praedicatio per causam . . . exponi per propositionem denotantem habitudinem causae” (“giving its cause. . . characterized by the proposition to explain a causal relationship”) Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 30 q. 1 a. 1 arg. 3. Si dicatur quod est praedicatio per causam; contra. Ubicumque est praedicatio per causam, potest resolvi praedicatio talis, et exponi per propositionem denotantem habitudinem causae; ut si dicatur, quod Deus est spes nostra potest exponi quod spes nostra est a Deo. Sed non potest dici quod creator sit a Deo. (“If it be said that the predication is one reason for it. On the contrary, wherever there is a predication through the cause, can be resolved predication of such a predication, and it is explained by means of a proposition denoting the relation of causality; as though we said our hope is that God is our hope could be explained that it is from God. But it cannot be said that He is the Creator from God.”) (I SENTENCES [Scriptum super Sententiis] 30, 1, 1). Or “dicitur Christus sine additione, ad denotandum quod invisibili untus est . . .” (“is called Christ without the addition, to denote that they are is an invisible” * Super Mt. [rep. Petri de Andria], cap. 1 l. 4. [...]-105 Nota. Simpliciter dicitur Christus sine additione, ad denotandum quod oleo invisibili unctus est, non materiali, sicut reges, vel prophetae in lege. Ps. XLIV, 8: unxit te Deus, Deus tuus oleo laetitiae prae consortibus tuis. [...]-204 (“Simply is called Christ without the addition, to denote that he was anointed with the oil of an invisible, not material, as the kings of, or the prophet in the law. Ps. 44, 8: hath anointed thee, O God, thy God, with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”) In all of these and in similar cases the term “denotatio” is always used in the weaker sense.]¶
-x-
It is occasionally used with the sense of “to signify metaphorically or symbolically that . . . “ See, for instance, the commentary IN JOB 10, where it is stated that the roaring of the lion stands for Job (“in denotatione Job rugitus leonis”). There is an ambiguous passage in III SENTENCES 7, 3, 2, which says: [page 366] “Similiter est falsa: ‘Filius Dei est praedestinatus’, cum non ponatur aliquid respectu cujus possit antecessor denotari” { Super Sent., lib. 3 d. 7 q. 3 a. 2 qc. 3 co. Ad tertiam quaestionem dicendum, quod haec similiter est falsa: filius Dei est praedestinatus, cum non ponatur aliquid respectu cujus possit antecessio denotari; sed haec: filius Dei est praedestinatus inquantum est homo, est vera: quia potest importari antecessio respectu hominis quantum ad naturam.} (“To the third question it must be said, that these things are in like manner where it is false to say that the Son of God was predestinated, since it does not imply anything to be able to do, with respect to whose antecedence is denoted. But when it is said this way: “the Son of God He was predestinated as man”, it is true because it can conveyed that antecedence is with regard to man with reference to his nature.”). But it could be argued that what Thomas is talking about in this case is the mental operation that leads to the understanding of a temporal sequence.¶”

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 4
GCM: So discovery in Aquinas is “What?...” And then, following “What?...” you use nouns and verbs CREATIVELY to identify ‘it’. And THEN you hypothesize the truth of falsity of the matter by testing it. The use of nouns and verbs MUST be creative because, UNTIL YOU TEST YOUR DEFINITION, you do not know if your identification IS TRUE OR FALSE. This is very far, then, from the REALITY of discovery as “What?...” that cannot have any identity at all until you put it within the context of your language.
Gary C. Moore

Paul Amrhein said...

@Gary (GCM)

Are you saying “Often what we call discovery is really invention.” or something more radical?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Gary (GCM)

Or are you saying “Always what we call discovery is really invention.”?

Wouldn’t this mean that we decide what things are *in themselves* as well as what they are *for us*? Wouldn’t this mean that things don’t have independent identities or essences? Or have I missed your point entirely?

Glenn said...

I had thought Belbo was (cough, cough) a Fictional Person. Who knew?

Step2 said...

Glenn,
You were led down a garden path and into a maze with a rosy name.

Glenn said...

Gary C. Moore,

PAUL AMRHEIN: “? Was God invented or discovered? Neither? Is revelation more like invention or discovery?”

GCM: Every human “discovery” is an “invention” in the sense that “brute action” (C. S. Peirce) made something ‘seem’ specifically “to happen” and therefore is called “direct experience” except that, since brute matter does not talk to you are say, “Hi! I’m a rock! Gary More threw me at you!”, then, TO IDENTIFY IT, that is, TO GIVE IT IDENTITY, involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together “always already” known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not.


But, you see...

1. To say that the "discovery" is an "invention" in the sense mentioned is to conflate a "thing" with a conceptual or linguistic construct meant to serve as a pointer to that "thing".

A "thing", and a conceptual or linguistic construct meant to serve as a pointer to that "thing", are two quite different and distinct things (even if the "thing" should itself happen to be a conceptual or linguistic construct).

2. And viewing the conceptual or linguistic construct, meant to serve as a point to that "thing", as an "invention" seems not to be called for -- even if the assembly of the construct is after the fact of the discovery. For as Eco writes (p. 37),

"To the contemplating intellect, the edifice of the universe manifests itself as a labyrinth, with a maze of ambiguous routes, of deceptive appearances of things and signs, of winding and complicating nodes and spirals[.] In this labyrinth... the Latin verb invenire (=to find or discover) no longer means to find something one already knew existed, sitting in its proper place, ready to be used for the purposes of argument, but truly to discover some new thing, or the relationship between two or more things, that one was previously unaware of[.]"

This is to say that "pulling together 'always already' known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not" is itself a process of discovery rather than an act of invention.

3. IOW, when one tries different combinations of things to see if they "click" in some relevant and serviceable way, then one is involved in a process of discovery -- i.e., one is involved in an endeavor to find or discover something which is relevantly serviceable for the purpose at hand.

Glenn said...

Glenn,
You were led down a garden path and into a maze with a rosy name.


Good one.

- - - - -

An Anecdote From My Experiences In The Rosy Named Maze: In Three Acts

ACT I
I knew not how soon I might find my way out of the maze, so I stopped to ponder the matter: Will my perambulations about the maze constitute a major tour, or a minor tour?

ACT II
As I chewed on this, I peeled a banana and chewed on that.

ACT III
But my attention was soon diverted, and I was reminded by the diversion of a well-known garden path sentence: Time flies an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

Glenn said...

(Messed it up. s/b "Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.")

Glenn said...

Gary C. Moore,

TIMOCRATES: "I would have to object, however, to your assertion that the first principles of being are "humanly created". They are not. If anything, they are rather discovered by human reason."

GCM: Discovered how? Like Columbus or Leif Erikson 'discovered' America? Or the car of your dreams in the sales lot? Then all you have to say is, "See? There it is!" But even in saying that, there is a vast historical and factual context that allows you to do so. You "discovery", it seems, is already anticipated in the conceptual structure of the world.


Of course it is (already anticipated).

And it could be said that that likely is one reason why (or that it may serve as one reason why) St. Thomas said such things -- there are so many to choose from -- as...

o It is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparisons with material things. For God provides for everything according to the capacity of its nature. Now it is natural to man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Writ, spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things. This is what Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i): "We cannot be enlightened by the divine rays except they be hidden within the covering of many sacred veils." It is also befitting Holy Writ, which is proposed to all without distinction of persons — "To the wise and to the unwise I am a debtor" (Romans 1:14) — that spiritual truths be expounded by means of figures taken from corporeal things, in order that thereby even the simple who are unable by themselves to grasp intellectual things may be able to understand it. ST I q 1 a 9

...as well as...

o Any word may be used in two ways--that is to say, either in its original application or in its more extended meaning. This is clearly shown in the word "sight," originally applied to the act of the sense, and then, as sight is the noblest and most trustworthy of the senses, extended in common speech to all knowledge obtained through the other senses. Thus we say, "Seeing how it tastes," or "smells," or "burns. "Further, sight is applied to knowledge obtained through the intellect, as in those words: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). And thus it is with the word light. In its primary meaning it signifies that which makes manifest to the sense of sight; afterwards it was extended to that which makes manifest to cognition of any kind. If, then, the word is taken in its strict and primary meaning, it is to be understood metaphorically when applied to spiritual things, as Ambrose says (De Fide ii). But if taken in its common and extended use, as applied to manifestation of every kind, it may properly be applied to spiritual things. ST I q 67 a 1

Skywatcher said...

@ Bob

The General Theory of Relativity is exactly what its title claims -- it's a theory, a hypothesis. Gravitational lensing is a fact, but in no way does it confirm GR. Spacetime is a hypothesis, not a fact. What gravitational lensing tells us is that light waves bend in the presence of gravity, as we would expect. There is no need to multiply beings by positing a fictitious spacetime. The world has three dimensions, not four.

The speed of light is what it is (and by the way, there seems to be evidence that it is decreasing over time) because that's the way God made the world. The speed of light is a measurable datum, a fact, if you will.

Is it a 'brute' fact? I have no idea. How does a 'brute' fact differ from a 'fact'? Is anything gained by the terminology?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Gary (GCM)

“GCM: Every human “discovery” is an “invention” in the sense that “brute action” (C. S. Peirce) made something ‘seem’ specifically “to happen” and therefore is called “direct experience” except that, since brute matter does not talk to you are say, “Hi! I’m a rock! Gary More threw me at you!”, then, TO IDENTIFY IT, that is, TO GIVE IT IDENTITY, involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together “always already” known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not.”

You’ve repeated this several times. So you must think it important or pithy. Can you unpack it for me some? E.g. I don’t know what Pierce meant by “brute action.” I feel a little like we’re speaking different languages.

Gary C. Moore said...

PAUL AMRHEIN: Are you saying “Often what we call discovery is really invention.” or something more radical? Or are you saying “Always what we call discovery is really invention.”? Wouldn’t this mean that we decide what things are *in themselves* as well as what they are *for us*? Wouldn’t this mean that things don’t have independent identities or essences? Or have I missed your point entirely?
GCM: You are circumscribing it very well. Aquinas says you have “experience” (“ens ut primum cognitum”), and then you differentiate (“ens reale”, “this” excluding context) the anomalous experience through “ens rationis” by defining it with words, concepts, that then still need testing both as to their consistent application to the anomalous experience and self-consistency of the definition. The “anomalous experience” is something that happens to you ” (“ens ut primum cognitum”), ergo there is no “ding-an-sich” EXCEPT as the “anomalous experience” as “ens ut primum cognitum” that becomes, in at least logical hierarchy, before “ens reale” (though the two may seem to be the same seemingly instantaneously), and therefore is NOT something you invent but neither does it specify itself in some sort of communication “as . . .” Identity follows “brute action”, external “force”, “FACT” that is initially not already pre-explained by ἀνάμνησις as part of experience but as language itself we always have on hand before experience. You decide WHAT it is, and you decide to a contingent extent THAT ‘it’ is, but you cannot decide THAT IT HAPPENED (What?...). “THAT IT HAPPENED” in your experience always has the potentially of being defined by you in its place, its time, its impact, etc., extremely contingent specifications which gives the definition substance (which is just as contingent), not vice versa.¶
PAUL AMRHEIN: “GCM: Every human “discovery” is an “invention” in the sense that “brute action” (C. S. Peirce) made something ‘seem’ specifically “to happen” and therefore is called “direct experience” except that, since brute matter does not talk to you are say, “Hi! I’m a rock! Gary More threw me at you!”, then, TO IDENTIFY IT, that is, TO GIVE IT IDENTITY, involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together “always already” known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not.” You’ve repeated this several times. So you must think it important or pithy. Can you unpack it for me some? E.g. I don’t know what Pierce meant by “brute action.” I feel a little like we’re speaking different languages.
GCM: It is not “different languages” but that “brute action” indicates ‘something’ not language at all, “ens ut primum cognitum”.

Gary C. Moore said...

ANONYMOUS GLENN Part 1
: 1. To say that the "discovery" is an "invention" in the sense mentioned is to conflate a "thing" with a conceptual or linguistic construct meant to serve as a pointer to that "thing". A "thing", and a conceptual or linguistic construct meant to serve as a pointer to that "thing", are two quite different and distinct things (even if the "thing" should itself happen to be a conceptual or linguistic construct).
GCM: “To point” is to indicate, to separate “this” from “that” which makes it a “sign” in a semiotic context. Ergo when you point, you have “always already” semiotically confused “two quite different and distinct things even if the "thing" should itself happen to be a conceptual or linguistic construct”. Animals might supposedly be excluded from this semiosis specifically as language in that they supposedly merely distinguish whether ‘something’ is harmful, beneficial, or indifferent that John N. Deely calls “Umwelt”. I, however, see it as the first step in a mutual semiosis on which language is necessarily based.¶

ANONYMOUS GLENN: 2. And viewing the conceptual or linguistic construct, meant to serve as a point to that "thing", as an "invention" seems not to be called for -- even if the assembly of the construct is after the fact of the discovery. For as Eco writes (p. 37), "To the contemplating intellect, the edifice of the universe manifests itself as a labyrinth, with a maze of ambiguous routes, of deceptive appearances of things and signs, of winding and complicating nodes and spirals[.] In this labyrinth... the Latin verb invenire (=to find or discover) no longer means to find something one already knew existed, sitting in its proper place, ready to be used for the purposes of argument, but truly to discover some new thing, or the relationship between two or more things, that one was previously unaware of[.]" This is to say that "pulling together 'always already' known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not" is itself a process of discovery rather than an act of invention.
GCM: Words are words, signs are signs. I do not see any difference in this context and that is Eco’s semiotic point. When you say you “know” a “thing”, you can only say it in words, not make your literal experience someone else’s literal experience (and if you actually could, how would you possibly know that?). ¶

ANONYMOUS GLENN: 3.When one tries different combinations of things to see if they "click" in some relevant and serviceable way, then one is involved in a process of discovery -- i.e., one is involved in an endeavor to find or discover something which is relevantly serviceable for the purpose at hand.
GCM: But it is not “discovery” as “brute fact” experience is, but is merely a new combination of words you already knew.¶
-x-

Gary C. Moore said...

ANONYMOUS GLENN Part 2
ANONYMOUS GLENN: o It is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparisons with material things. For God provides for everything according to the capacity of its nature. Now it is natural to man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Writ, spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things. This is what Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i): "We cannot be enlightened by the divine rays except they be hidden within the covering of many sacred veils." It is also befitting Holy Writ, which is proposed to all without distinction of persons — "To the wise and to the unwise I am a debtor" (Romans 1:14) — that spiritual truths be expounded by means of figures taken from corporeal things, in order that thereby even the simple who are unable by themselves to grasp intellectual things may be able to understand it. ST I q 1 a 9
...as well as...
o Any word may be used in two ways--that is to say, either in its original application or in its more extended meaning. This is clearly shown in the word "sight," originally applied to the act of the sense, and then, as sight is the noblest and most trustworthy of the senses, extended in common speech to all knowledge obtained through the other senses. Thus we say, "Seeing how it tastes," or "smells," or "burns. "Further, sight is applied to knowledge obtained through the intellect, as in those words: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). And thus it is with the word light. In its primary meaning it signifies that which makes manifest to the sense of sight; afterwards it was extended to that which makes manifest to cognition of any kind. If, then, the word is taken in its strict and primary meaning, it is to be understood metaphorically when applied to spiritual things, as Ambrose says (De Fide ii). But if taken in its common and extended use, as applied to manifestation of every kind, it may properly be applied to spiritual things. ST I q 67 a 1
GCM: Excellent quotes! But what he does not say (though I do not know him as well as you do) here but I think says elsewhere is that the “common” use does NOT get us in touch with the thing itself, and therefore, in essence, is just as metaphorical as words applied to the sacred:
<< “Directly and immediately our intellect cannot know the singular in material things. The reason is that the principle of singularity in material things is individual matter, and our intellect - as have said above (Question 85, Article 1) - understands by abstracting the intelligible species from this sort of matter. But what is abstracted from individual matter is universal. Therefore our intellect knows directly the universal only. Indirectly, and as it were by a kind of reflection, on the other hand, the intellect can know the singular, because, as we have said above (Question 85, Article 7), even after it has abstracted the intelligible species, it cannot actually understand by means of them except by a return to sense images in which it understands the species, as is said De Anima iii, 7. Therefore, in this sense, it understands the universal directly through the intelligible species, and singulars only indirectly represented by the phantasm. And thus it forms the proposition "Socrates is a man." ) (SUMMA THEOLOGIAE I, 86, 1 co). Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 59 n. 13.

Gary C. Moore said...

ANONYMOUS GLENN Part 3
“But the intellect in potentiality and the intelligible in potentiality are not one, any more than the sense in potentiality and the sensible in potentiality. Hence, the species of a thing, as present in phantasms, is not actually intelligible, since in this state it is not one with the intellect in act, but is one with it according as the species is abstracted from the phantasms. just so, the species of color is not actually perceived as it exists in the stone, but only as it exists in the pupil. Now, according to the [Averroistic] doctrine stated above, the intelligible species is in contact with us only in respect of its existence in the phantasms; it is not, then, in contact with us according as it is one with the possible intellect as its form.” (SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES II, 59, [13])]¶
ECO: Thomas was not unaware of the existence of such sign-images capable of standing in a vaguely ambiguous position vis-à-vis the “signatum”, but he saw them being the kind of visions that appear to prophets, announcing the fact, that there will be seven years of plenty by showing seven full ears of corn. This would be a purely poetic proceeding, and here again Thomas implies that it is inferior; so much so that he considers more valid and reliable those prophecies in which instead of images, we have words, far less equivocal signs, and more desirable in a circumstance as delicate as that of the reception of the divine message. AQUINAS: “Secondly the degrees of this prophecy are differentiated according to the expressiveness of the imaginary signs whereby the intelligible truth is conveyed. And since words are the most expressive signs of intelligible truth, it would seem to be a higher degree of prophecy when the prophet . . . hears words expressive of an intelligible truth . . . In such like signs prophecy would seem to be the more excellent, according as the signs are more expressive”. SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, Dominican Fathers, IOI-II, 174,3.]¶
-x-

Gary C. Moore said...

ANONYMOUS SKYWATCHER @ Bob: The speed of light is a measurable datum, a fact, if you will. Is it a 'brute' fact? I have no idea. How does a 'brute' fact differ from a 'fact'? Is anything gained by the terminology?
GCM: You produced the proper definitions yourself: “a measurable datum [is just] a fact” whereas the “brute fact” prods you to make that measure after the FACT. ¶

Gary C. Moore said...

a relevant quote from DUNS SCOTUS THEORY OF CATEGORIES AND MEANING by Martin Heidegger:
-x-
"Only by means of demonstration [Aufweisens] can knowledge be gained of the “domains” of reality [Wirklichkeitsbereiche]. The number of “domains”, or, the completeness of what has been demonstrated [Aufgezeigten], cannot be decided beforehand. It is indifferent in principle which area is the first to be characterized in a demonstration. In practice, however, the tendency is to seize upon the data which are already [Robbins 28] “most familiar” [zunächst]. The “most familiar” [Zunächstliegende] is empirical reality [Wirklichkeit], in which we move every day [täglich], which abides [Gegebene] in time and space -- the PHYSICAL REALITY OF NATURE. True, there is the view that, strictly speaking, it is the PSYCHIC that is immediately given [gegeben](“ens ut primum cognitum”). Apart from the fact that most people usually do not know the phychic initially as a proper world at all, or come to know this only after a lengthy reflection, this view point is too heavily laden with presuppositions which really cannot be easily cleared up. For example, to the extent that it is said that the psychic is the closest to the perceiving (logical) subject, it IS, indeed, the subject itself. This may be true in a CERTAIN sense. But, METHODOLOGICALLY, the sensible world is the first immediately given -- the world-about-us [Das mag in einem GEWISSEN Sinne zutreffen, methodisch ist das zuerst und unmittelbar Gegebene die sinnliche Welt, die „Umwelt‟].¶"

Gary C. Moore said...

Ego defraudem ergo sum.

Gary C. Moore said...

Primum objectum est ens ut commune omnibus. - John Duns Scotus

Glenn said...

Gary C. Moore,

Let's start over.

GCM: Every human "discovery" is an "invention" in the sense that "brute action" (C. S. Peirce) made something 'seem' specifically "to happen" and therefore is called "direct experience" except that, since brute matter does not talk to you are say, "Hi! I'm a rock! Gary More threw me at you!", then, TO IDENTIFY IT, that is, TO GIVE IT IDENTITY, involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together "always already" known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not.

An experience is of something, and involves both one who experiences and that which is experienced. If there is mediation between the one who experiences and that which is experienced, then the experience is one which can be said to be indirect. But if there is, to the extent that such may be possible, no mediation between the one who experiences and that which is experienced, then the experience is one which can be said to be direct.

Okay, fine.

But you have said that every human "discovery" is an "invention" in the sense that identifying that which is directly experienced "involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together 'always already' known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not." (Does the same thing apply if the discovery involves an indirect experience?)

We are not in agreement as to whether the "speculative and imaginary process" ("of pulling together 'always already' known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not") is more a process of discovery (my position), or more an inventive act (your position). But we need not hash this out, as there is another question which is more pertinent. And to make it easier for you to respond to the more pertinent question, I'll grant arguendo that the "speculative and imaginary process..." is more an inventive act.

The more pertinent question is this:

Given that 'to discover' is to come upon or find something which existed prior to the act of discovery, and given that 'to invent' is to create something which did not exist prior to the act of invention, how does the inventive act of identifying that something which has been discovered, change the inception of the existence of that something from prior to the discovery to after (or concomitant with) the discovery, which change necessarily must occur if the discovery is to be, as you say it is, an invention?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Gary (GCM)

I just noticed all your messages. It'll take me some time to digest them.

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

ANONYMOUS SKYWATCHER @ Bob: The speed of light is a measurable datum, a fact, if you will. Is it a 'brute' fact? I have no idea. How does a 'brute' fact differ from a 'fact'? Is anything gained by the terminology?

In the context of this post, it would seem to be an important point.

Gary C. Moore said...

GLENN: Okay, fine. But you have said that every human "discovery" is an "invention" in the sense that identifying that which is directly experienced "involves the speculative and imaginary process of pulling together 'always already' known concepts to see if experimentally they fit the situation or not." (Does the same thing apply if the discovery involves an indirect experience?)
GCM: Interesting point! Either 1] “indirect” already interprets the experience or 2] “experience” is in itself, per se, “indirect”.
GLENN: Given that 'to discover' is to come upon or find something which existed prior to the act of discovery, and given that 'to invent' is to create something which did not exist prior to the act of invention, how does the inventive act of identifying that something which has been discovered, change the inception of the existence of that something from prior to the discovery to after (or concomitant with) the discovery, which change necessarily must occur if the discovery is to be, as you say it is, an invention?
GCM: To say “something” at all is to distinguish and thus interpret the experience as if the experience communicated “something” specific to you, just as when some unknown person behind you slams you in the shoulder with his fist your first reaction is a pure “What . . . ?” THEN you start identifying “somethings” within an investigated context.

Gary C. Moore said...

Bob said...@Gary C. Moore
ANONYMOUS SKYWATCHER @ Bob: The speed of light is a measurable datum, a fact, if you will. Is it a 'brute' fact? I have no idea. How does a 'brute' fact differ from a 'fact'? Is anything gained by the terminology? In the context of this post, it would seem to be an important point. July 14, 2014 at 1:01 AM
GCM: This is certainly NOT what “I” said, and, yes, it was an “important point” as I commented upon it SINCE “a measurable datum” NECESSARY means it is an INTERPRETED datum, not simply an unidentified experience that initially gets one’s attention.

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 53: Duns Scotus Theory of the Categories and Meaning by Martin Heidegger, German trans. Harold J. Robbins **14 July 2014 6:10 am CST REVISE
-----------------------------------------------CHAPTER ONE-----------------------------------------
The UNUM, Mathematical, Natural, and Metaphysical Reality [German 156, Robbins 29]
-x-
Every DOMAIN of objects [Gegenstandsgebiet] is a domain of OBJECTS [Gegenstandsgebiet]. Even if we know nothing at all more exact about the “domains of reality” [Wirklichkeitsbereiche] here in question, a ‘something’ is thrown in our way, an object [Gegenstand]. Each and everything is already an object [!] [Gegenstand] because we are talking about them as PROBLEMATIC [“als in jeder Hinsicht problematischen sprechen”] in every respect [“steht uns ein Etwas gtegenüber, ein Gegenstand”]. “Primum objectum est ens ut commune omnibus” [first object is being common to all]. This “ens” is given in EVERY object of knowledge to the extent that precisely the object of knowledge IS an object. JUST AS the objects of the sense of sight, be this object black or white, are objects of COLOR, SO IS every object IN GENERAL, no matter what content it may present, an “ens”.¶
-x-
We find a remark of Duns Scotus that sounds almost modern. We often have the experience that we have something objective in our way without knowing if it is substance or accident. In other words, the objective has no MORE proximate categorical determination. When we have something objective in our minds, there can be doubt of the category to which it belongs, or whether it exists in itself or another. Its type of reality is not yet determined and yet something is given. “Aliquid indifferens concipimus” [Something we conceive indifferently]: we grasp something which lies PRIOR to every categorical formation. Thus “ens” means the total sense of the objective sphere IN GENERAL, the permanent moment of the objective, the category of [Robbins 30] categories. [footnote 1: … primum objectum intellectus est ens, ut commune omnibus. Ques. sup. Meta. lib. IV, qu. I, 148a.[]: [the first object of the intellect is the real as common to all.] QUESTIONS ON THE METAPHYSICS OF ARISTOTLE, Scotus, trans. Etzkorn &Wolter, Franciscan Institute, 1997, volume I, page 261, 34 “Similarly, just as accidents are sensed per se, so primarily what is most general about them [i.e. that they are all accidents] could be understood. [!] But what is simply first is only one [i.e. the common concept “accident”]; therefore, “accident” cannot be some particular genus, since there can occur primarily another genus that is not substance. 35 Also, one potency has but one first object, for a potency is moved by the object according to its form, and unless the object has one form it will not move, and if the intellect does not understand that one thing, it understands nothing, according to Metaphysics IV. 36 [E & W footnote 36: Metaphysics IV, ch. 4, 1006b 10-11.] But the first object of the intellect is being as common to all. – Proof: that is the first object of a cognitive potency under whose aspect all other things are known by that potency, as is clear of the object of vision; but neither the notion of substance nor of accident is found in all intelligibles.” Ques. sup. Meta. lib. IV, qu. I, 148a. + , , ,
-<>-

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

I am not sure I understand your response, forgive me.

Are you saying that you agree that the speed of light in a vacuum is probably a brute fact, in that it terminates an explanatory chain?

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 53: Duns Scotus Theory of the Categories and Meaning 27 July 2013 4.56 am
[German 158, Robbins, 31]
^
[footnote 3: Transcendens, quodcumque nullum habet genus sub quo contineatur: sed quod ipsum sit commune ad multa inferior, hoc accidit. Non opportet ergo transcendens dici de quocumque ente, nisi sit convertibile cum prius transcendente, scil. cum ente. ORDINATIO, Opus Oxoniense, I, dist. VIII, qu. III, n. 19.<^ COMPLETE: Quando , quia non habet supraveniens genus, est generalissimum, licet paucas habeat species aut nullas, ita transcendens quodcumque nullum habet genus sub quo contineatur. Unde de ratione transcendentis est non habere praedicatum supraveniens nisi ens. Sed quod ipsum sit commune ad multa inferiora, hoc accidit. = = Non oportet autem transcendens ut transcendens dici de quocumque ente, nisi sit convertibile cum primo transcendente, scilicet ente. ^ “Hence, NOT to have any predicate above it except ‘being’ pertains to the very notion of a transcendental. That it is common to many inferior notions, however, is purely incidental. It is not necessary, then, that a transcendental as transcendental is to be predicated of every being, unless it is coextensive with the first of the transcedentals, namely ‘being’.” (trans. Allan Wolter, O. F. M., DUNS SCOTUS: PHILOSOPHICAL WRITINGS, Hackett, 1987, page 3, referred to by THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO DUNS SCOTIS, ed. Thomas Williams, page xv, 2003) > [[Google1: Transcendence has no genus under which it is contained, but it itself is common to many things inferior to it. It is not correct, therefore, to say of whatever we call ‘being’ that it is “transcendental” unless it transcends the “convertible” since it has previously with "being". see LATIN SCOTUS]]<>] ^ Heidegger: Among the elements that constitute the object [gegenstandskonstituierenden], “convertibility” circumscribes [umschreibt] that ultimate “domain” standing supreme in the logical order [logischen Rangordnung] (Google: It circumscribes the last and, in the logical hierarchy, the highest rank within the object-constituting elements).¶
-x-
The other transcedentals such as “unum”, “verum”, “bonum”, etc., seem to function as QUASI-PROPERTIES [“Quasi-Eigenschaften”] of “ens”. Hence they are not primordial in the same sense that is ens as “objectiveness in general”. There is no established order of rank among them so that one is more primordial than the other respecting its character as constitutive of the object. No one of the transcedentals can be explicated (“manifestari” not “demonstrari”) WITHOUT a circular argument. As often and as long as it is attempted to discover something about these ultimate factors as something ultimate, that is, as [long as] they are thought as ‘objects’ [German 159], all of the constitutive elements are given with them as with any other object.¶
[German 159, Robbins, 32]
The ‘transcendentals as such’ cannot be the ‘object’ of a particular science. This impedes their essence. They are to be encountered in any science whatsoever that has to deal with objects. If it were desired to attempt to research the manifold, singular objects up to the point of their ultimate theoretical structural elements, frequent and useless REPETITIONS of the transcendentals would have to be made. ^↓

Gary C. Moore said...

BOB: Are you saying that you agree that the speed of light in a vacuum is probably a brute fact, in that it terminates an explanatory chain?
GCM: No, rather I say to “identify” a datum is “measurable” is “always already” to identify it. You cannot know the applicability of the predicate of “measure” of a pure “brute action fact”.

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

GCM: No, rather I say to “identify” a datum is “measurable” is “always already” to identify it. You cannot know the applicability of the predicate of “measure” of a pure “brute action fact”.

I do not understand what you are trying to communicate.

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

Try it this way.

What explains the speed of light in a vacuum?

Gary C. Moore said...

BOB: I do not understand what you are trying to communicate.

GCM: There are datum you know something about and identify as "measurable" and there are datum you know nothing about except "something happened" and therefore CANNOT SAY it is "measurable".

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

Do you disagree that an effect can, in principle, be measured without having knowledge of it's cause?

Gary C. Moore said...

BOB: Try it this way. What EXPLAINS the speed of light in a vacuum?

GCM: The identifying process of measurement.

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

If I understand your position correctly, your position is that the speed of light is caused by the measurement of the speed of light.

Is this a correct understanding of your meaning?

Gary C. Moore said...

BOB: Do you disagree that an effect can, in principle, be measured without having knowledge of it's cause?

gcm: An effect cannot be measured without identification which would bring with it some part of identification of cause as inherent in any explanation.

Bob said...

@Gary C. Moore

gcm: An effect cannot be measured without identification which would bring with it some part of identification of cause as inherent in any explanation.

The speed of light (the particular effect on our measuring apparatus) is identified. Why the speed of light has that particular effect on our measuring apparatus, is not, but is the question at hand.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Gary (GCM)

Stray thoughts in response.

You seem to be describing the process of learning - initial confusion, trying to make sense in terms of what one already knows, reality testing. It reminds me also of Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis. If learning involves the recombination or activation of what is already known then what? Then invention and discovery overlap in the process of learning. But how were the elements we recombine acquired? Is that where revelation of a kind comes in, with Intellection?

Or am I missing your point about pointer and target when I use the word “revelation”? But what is the source of *this* distinction, between pointer and target?

If there is no thing-in-itself then the object is no longer essentially alien to the mind.

You may get something out of G Spenser Brown’s *Laws Of Form*. It’s about what happens when one draws a distinction. I still find it quite arcane. But it seems like it might be a bit of old news to you.

Gary C. Moore said...

BOB: If I understand your position correctly, your position is that the speed of light is caused by the measurement of the speed of light. Is this a correct understanding of your meaning?
GCM: No, in my stupidity I thought we were talking about what a “brute fact” was

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 1
PAUL AMRHEIN: You seem to be describing the process of learning - initial confusion, trying to make sense in terms of what one already knows, reality testing.
GCM: This is part of it, yes.
PAUL AMRHEIN: It reminds me also of Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis. If learning involves the recombination or activation of what is already known then what? Then invention and discovery overlap in the process of learning. But how were the elements we recombine acquired? Is that where revelation of a kind comes in, with Intellection? Or am I missing your point about pointer and target when I use the word “revelation”? But what is the source of *this* distinction, between pointer and target?
GCM: There are 2 schemes of logic especially explicit in Aristotle but also present in Plato. They both have the starting point of the compass point of perception of “you” or “me” but never both as the center of experience itself. The hierarchic scheme of logic starts from the “here and now” when “you” ask “Why is such-and-such so?” Here “explanation” and “cause” are shown to be the same thing, at least in this logical scheme, of finding a “genus” for a “species”, that is, going from the specific to its class OR hierarchically going from the specific observation by “you” as a unique accident to a greater explanatory concept (“genus”) of the context of “you” and the “such-and-such” (as words, “species”; as material entities, a unique “this” and unique “that). You rise up this ladder of explanation through more and more inclusive explanatory concepts till you reach “Soul”, “Intellect”, “being”, and “One”. Each lower step on the hierarchy is explained by the next higher step until you which “One” which is there in the human mind only to start the descending ladder of emanation or “the Great Chain of Being” of Western intellectual history. The “One”, being both the “highest” and the top “end term” of the logical hierarchy, is beyond, outside, all explanation simply because it explains everything else and itself cannot be explained by what itself explains, that is, the genus is not its own species. It can be described as Bertrand Russell’s “propositional function” where the ultimate Function produces propositions but cannot itself, in FACT, be a proposition – despite the fact we must express it as a “proposition” simply to talk about it. That is a pragmatic compromise which then actually reflect on the whole descending nature of “the Great Chain of Being” as ‘compromised’ in human expression. This is, of course, the same way human beings talk about “God”, the ultimate explanatory principle. To explain the “why” of things we must presuppose a starting point. But then this “starting point” or “First Principle”, as in Duns Scotus, cannot itself be explained by the same explanations generated from it.
-x-
Aristotle, though, is the master of the second scheme of logic basically expressed in the question “How should I act?” We start from “you” (or “me), again, as the primal FACT at hand. Aristotle first assumes social (political) experience wherein you learn you need “to learn” ‘how to speak’ convincingly to those around you as equal citizens of the state gathered in the agora (RHETORIC). You need to learn the political constitution everyone is bound to obey (POLITICS). Gaining experience in that,” you” (as primal FACT, then ask “Why am I involved in all this? What is my overall goal before I die? What is the purpose of my self?”

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 2
Plato in ALCIBIADES I expresses this stance toward politics, the ultimate concern for a citizen of the state, that is yet motivated FUNDAMENTALLY by one’s most selfish desires, as “the care of the self”, or “How you can be your most perfect self”. This is also expressed in another way by Martin Heidegger in his quote from Kant’s lectures on logic: “In the field of Philosophy, in this context of world citizenship, allows for the following questions to be thought: 1] What can I know? 2] What should I do? 3] What may I hope? 4] What is the human being?” Aristotle’s approach I have elucidated here is mainly portrayed as “horizontal” or “serial” or “sequencial”. But he also sees the necessity of Plato’s hierarchical scale of being. And this is seen in Kant’s schema both ways at the same time where the primal FACT of “you” is taken through the ontological sequence to the “end-point” of “your” action (species) and the “highest point” of your action (genus) in the terrifying question “What is a human being?”
-x-
This all can also be expressed in a more generous exposition of Ayn Rand’s First Principle, fully in accord with both hierarchical and horizontal schemas, of “existence exists”. THAT “existence exists” is, in one sense, foolish to question. But, once again, it generates explanations sort of like, “Since I am already here and have nowhere else to go, I see that . . . “ 1] “I” (“you”) am surrounded by facts, many of which impel me to find an explanation for, or cause for, or explanation of why they are kicking the crap out of me; 2] All of these facts inter-relate to each other and to “me” (“you”).; 3] and then you immediately proceed into Kant’s four questions.
-x-
As you are your own FACT at hand, you “always already” have language when you start asking, already know what the words mean that you use, already know (sort of) how to use them, and therefore have at-hand all the pre-existent knowledge (elements) you need to get started. You learn new things by the recombination of what you already know that guides you to more and more things you want to learn. That “one exists” or “existence exists” comes as a banal, boring, even inglorious “revelation” to most people all of the time and to everyone at some time or another. But none the less you are an inexplicable primal FACT whether it bores you or terrifies you or both. Heidegger in neat about that. That “existence exists” is the most vacuous and humdrum of statements. And yet, what if “existence” did not “exist” which, even though you could not ‘know’ that situation, nonetheless, since absolutely everything you really know is just an accident, you also know “existence does not exist” is at its very edge extremely possible. And worse still, since “nothing is simpler than something”, “nothing” seems far more ‘likely’ than “being”. At the edge of absolute boredom, then, lies utter terror maybe?
PAUL AMRHEIN: If there is no thing-in-itself then the object is no longer essentially alien to the mind.
GCM: The “object” (identity) is a product of the mind, but bare naked experience (“wonder” Aristotle called it) is not.

Glenn said...

Gary C. Moore,

PAUL AMRHEIN: If there is no thing-in-itself then the object is no longer essentially alien to the mind.
GCM: The “object” (identity) is a product of the mind, but bare naked experience (“wonder” Aristotle called it) is not.


"The irrational, on which the wonderful depends for its chief effects, has wider scope in Epic poetry [than in Tragedy]." -- Aristotle (Poetics, XXIV)

Since the irrational is a precursor to the wonderful, the fulfillment of an inordinate desire for the wonderful apparently requires an inordinate consorting with the irrational.

But an inordinate consorting with the irrational may lead to tragedy, and it is little wonder that the rational may forestall such a tragedy.

What say ye?

Paul Amrhein said...

@Gary (GCM)

Briefly.

The Hebrew word for prophet "navi" is also means "madness."

Then there is the kabalistic story of the four who went into the garden, the PaRDeS, one of whom went mad, and only one of whom went and returned (came and went as he pleased).

Paul Amrhein said...

Oops that last comment should have been addressed to Glenn.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Glenn

I’ve found that the rational is indispensable for bringing back (into daily life) whatever insights I may find in a peak experience. As a teenager I experienced lucid dreaming for about two years. My first instinct was to check with Freud as to how to make sense of the experience. I felt cheated, and terribly alone. That, I think, is the most dangerous part, having an experience that you can’t make sense of, that no one you know can make sense of. Eventually I found help through the Vedanta, through Judaism, through Western philosophy, and through the Perrennialists, and of course through having been raised Catholic. The main method of rational philosophy, dialectic, forces one to bring inchoate insights down to earth, requires one to face the humbling prospect of possibly being found wrong in ways big and small.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Glenn

I should add, therefore dialectic is a profound way of "testing the spirits" of, as you say, forestalling tragedy.

Paul Amrhein said...

@Glenn and Gary

Apologies guys. I didn't mean to interrupt your conversation. I was apparently even more tired yesterday than I thought, first thinking Gary was addressing me, then Glenn, then finally realizing Gllenn was talking to Gary. Peace out.

Glenn said...

Paul,

I chimed in with a response to Gary's response to you, so shame on me were I to see anything untoward about your chiming in with a response to my response. I didn't respond because I hadn't anything further to say, and didn't want to run the risk of detracting from your response by way of idle remarks from me.

Although, I will say now that I hadn't been aware of the PaRDeS story, and am glad you mentioned it, and have since found that some interesting lessons are drawn from it here.

UTubeKEYGEN said...

The Kalam is circular.

Why should we assume that causality indeed does transcend the physical universe? Could it be because such transcendence is necessary for the Kalam to be true? Is there a shred of evidence that causality can transcend the physical universe or is it purely speculative? It's certainly not a well established empirical fact about the nature of causality.

One cannot use a speculative assumption as a premise in a logical proof.
The only reason to make such an assumption is to justify the conclusion of the Kalam!

Furthermore, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause", can be rewritten as "Everything except God has a cause". If ‪God‬ is hidden in the premise but is also in the eventual conclusion "Therefore, the cause is God" how do you avoid the whole argument being circular?

Lastly, In quantum mechanics, things happen that are not caused, such as radioactive decay, or when an atom in an excited energy level loses a photon. No cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus. Craig has said that quantum events are still "caused" just in a non-predetermined manner — what he calls "probabilistic causality." Craig is thereby admitting that the "cause" in his first premise could be an accidental one, something spontaneous and not predetermined. He therefore destroys his own case for a predetermined creation. Even if the KCA was sound, why would the cause itself not be natural?

Jeremy Taylor said...

"Everything that begins to exist has a cause", can be rewritten as "Everything except God has a cause".

This is confused. Clearly, the second proposition is not just a rewriting of the first. Rather, the second proposition is a genuine inference based on the first.

I do not know in what kind of causation the Kalam argument uses. However, causation does not just mean temporal cause and effect. The argument that causation transcends the universe would be based in deductions from nature causation - that is something transcends the universe it must have x sort of relationship to the universe. You would have to critique Craig's actual argument for why the relevant kind of causation does transcend the universe. It certainly is legitimate to use such deduction as part of a deductive argument.

E.Seigner said...

Jeremy Taylor: "I do not know in what kind of causation the Kalam argument uses."

Aristotelian. The first premise sets temporal causation apart by stating "Everything that begins to exist..." and the conclusion says God is the cause of the universe. Since God did not begin to exist, God is a non-temporal cause. Therefore cause is ultimately understood in a broader than merely temporal sense.

Anonymous said...

So Mr Feser, when might we see you in debates?