Saturday, August 16, 2014

Carroll on Scholastic Metaphysics



Edward Feser’s latest book gives readers who are familiar with analytic philosophy an excellent overview of scholastic metaphysics in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas…

Feser argues that Thomistic philosophy can expand and enrich today’s metaphysical reflection. His book is an effective challenge to anyone who would dismiss scholastic metaphysics as irrelevant.

Those familiar with Feser’s many books and lively blog will recognize his characteristic vigor and his wide-ranging reading of contemporary and medieval sources. This book is particularly aimed at those trained in the Anglo-American analytical tradition, repeatedly referencing contemporary debates in this tradition…

The recovery of scholastic metaphysics depends on the recovery of that understanding of nature and substance that is central to the thought of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. That recovery begins, I think, by challenging the historical narrative that tells us that its loss was a necessary feature of the rise of modern science. In his new book, Edward Feser has taken a key step in this important endeavor.

End quote.  Bill also has some gently critical remarks about the book.  First, he says:

For readers not familiar with contemporary analytical philosophy, Feser’s book, despite its title, is not really an introduction…

That is more or less correct.  The book is not a “popular” work.  It is meant as an introduction to Scholastic metaphysics for those who already have some knowledge of philosophy, especially analytic philosophy.  It is also meant to introduce those who are already familiar with Scholastic philosophy to what is going on in contemporary analytic metaphysics.  It is not a book that would be very accessible to those who have no knowledge of philosophy.  I would think that most readers who have read Aquinas or The Last Superstition should be able to handle it, though.  It is, essentially, a much deeper, more systematic, book-length treatment of the metaphysical ideas and arguments sketched out in chapter 2 of Aquinas and chapter 2 of TLS.

With these aims of the book in mind, let me briefly respond to some of Bill’s other remarks.  Bill rightly notes that with many modern readers “there is an a priori disposition to dismiss scholastic metaphysics as a curiosity” based on the assumption that modern science somehow put paid to Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy once and for all.  Adequately to rebut this false assumption requires in Bill’s view that we “argue against it through a historical analysis of its origins,” and that is not the sort of thing I attempt in the book.

Now in fact I do say a little bit by way of historical analysis in the book, e.g. at pp. 47-53, where I discuss how historically contingent and challengeable are the assumptions underlying Humean approaches to causation.  But it is true that the book’s approach is more along the lines of the “ahistorical” weighing of ideas and arguments that is common in analytic philosophy.  And that is, I think, more appropriate to the specific aims of the book.  I show, many times throughout the book, how various specific purportedly science-based objections to Scholastic metaphysical claims hold no water.  And of course, I also present many positive arguments for these metaphysical claims.  If a critic of Scholasticism wants to refute those arguments, he needs to address them directly rather than toss out vague hand-waving references to science. 

Still, I think it is true that the appeal to what the founders of modern science purportedly showed vis-à-vis Aristotelian philosophy (as opposed to Aristotelian science) has a rhetorical force for many readers that is hard to counter even with the best “ahistorical” arguments.  So, a historical analysis of the sort Bill advocates is, I agree, essential.  I did a bit of that in The Last Superstition, and Bill Carroll’s own work on the history of science, theology, and philosophy is, needless to say, invaluable. 

Bill also says:

I also would emphasize the doctrine of creation more than Feser does. It is an important feature in scholastic metaphysics, but there is not even an entry for “creation” in the book’s index… Thomas [Aquinas] thinks that in the discipline of metaphysics one can demonstrate that all that exists has been created by God, and that without God’s ongoing causality, there would be nothing at all. 

Bill is right that I do not discuss creation in the book, nor -- contrary to the impression Bill gives in a reference he makes in the review to Aquinas’s unmoved mover argument -- do I say much about natural theology at all.  That was deliberate.  I wanted to focus in the book on Scholastic approaches to certain “nuts and bolts” issues in metaphysics -- causal powers, essence, substance, and so forth -- that underlie everything else in Scholastic philosophy and have been the subject of renewed attention in analytic philosophy.  And I wanted to make it clear that the key notions of Scholastic metaphysics are motivated and defensible entirely independently of their application to arguments in natural theology.  (I have, of course, addressed questions of natural theology in several books and articles, and will do so at even greater depth in forthcoming work.)

In any event, I highly recommend Bill’s own work on the subject of creation, including Aquinas on Creation, a translation by Bill and Steven Baldner of some key texts of Aquinas on the subject, together with a long and very useful introductory essay.

Finally, Bill says:

In the beginning of the book, Feser promises to write another book on the philosophy of nature. This will be a welcome addition to his publications. Indeed, a problem that lurks behind the confusion in contemporary philosophy’s encounter with scholastic metaphysics is the loss of the sense of nature that is a characteristic starting point for Aristotle and Thomas. Feser takes up this topic in his chapter on substance, but such a discussion really ought to be conducted first in the philosophy of nature, not in metaphysics. The loss of an understanding of substance, of form and matter, and of similarly foundational ideas are all part of the larger loss of what we mean by nature.

End quote.  I agree.  I deliberately avoided going in detail into questions about the nature of biological substances in particular, or even chemical substances in particular, precisely because those are topics properly treated in the philosophy of nature rather than metaphysics.  All the same, I did say something about these topics, and (as Bill indicates) I say a lot in the book about substance in general and about form and matter.  The reason is that these are very definitely metaphysical topics as “metaphysics” is understood in contemporary analytic philosophy.  And they needed to be treated at some length in a book aimed at an analytic audience; the book would have seemed oddly incomplete to many contemporary readers without such a treatment, given the other topics addressed.  For “philosophy of nature” as a distinct discipline has, unfortunately, virtually disappeared in contemporary philosophy (though there are hopeful signs of a comeback), and its subject matter has been absorbed into metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of chemistry, and so forth. 

Here I would urge Thomists and other Scholastics always to keep in mind that the typical contemporary academic philosopher simply does not carve up the conceptual territory the way they do.  What Scholastics think is covered by “metaphysics,” what they think constitutes a “science,” etc. does not correspond exactly to the way analytic philosophers think about these disciplines (though of course there is overlap).  So -- as I think Bill would agree -- for the contemporary Scholastic effectively to communicate with analytic philosophers, he needs to make some concession to contemporary usage and current interests in academic philosophy.  In the case of my book, that made an extended treatment of hylemorphism necessary, even though in older Scholastic works that would often have been done in the context of philosophy of nature rather than metaphysics.

Anyway, I thank Bill for his review -- and for his own work, from which I have profited much.

326 comments:

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Anonymous said...

It was Carroll who emphasized that Thomas accepted the possibility, even the necessity of an eternal creation on the philosophical assumption that the world was eternal. Unfortunately, he did not specifically apply this notion to his arguments for the existence of God, nor for his arguments on the nature of God ( at least as far as I can see, see S.C.G., Book 1, chapter 44 - the first argument is very confusing and needs competent analysis ).

And on the philosophy of nature, William A. Wallace has an online course ( free ) http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02000.htm . He also has two editiions of From A Realist Point of View which are worth reading.

Ed Reinhart

Anonymous said...

If you ever get a chance to reply to this "review" of your TLS, I would be very much interested in reading it! It seems there's an awful lot in it he gets totally wrong. Here it is: http://currentlogic.blogspot.com/2012/06/edward-feser-last-superstition.html

ccmnxc said...

If you ever get a chance to reply to this "review" of your TLS, I would be very much interested in reading it! It seems there's an awful lot in it he gets totally wrong. Here it is: http://currentlogic.blogspot.com/2012/06/edward-feser-last-superstition.html

Good grief, that was awful. I'll let Professor Feser deal with the accusations of dishonesty and quote-mining if he wishes, but aside from that, there is very little to respond to. It was a polemical diatrabe whining about Feser's use of polemics (profound lack of ability to detect irony? Check.)and Feser's audacity to bring his consrvative politics into the picture. There is virtually no critique of the actual ideas and arguments mentioned in the book, and, unless I missed it, didn't even address Feser's crystal clear reason for writing as scathingly as he did.

Just another gnu atheist. Same as all the other gnu atheists (the comments on the bottom seem to evidence this quite clearly).

Daniel said...

It occurs to me that Ed may have taken the polemical nature of TLS to a whole new level by titling 'Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction' as 'Scholastic Metaphysics: An Introduction for my Contemporaries'.

All joking aside I think SMGI is by and large far more accessible than most works touching on Analytical ontology - for one thing he does not presuppose any knowledge of Symbolic Logic. Too many otherwise good books of this type (Stump's Aquinas for instance) end up giving the probably correct impression that they are introducing classical philosophers to individuals already schooled in contemporary philosophy. If I have one gripe it’s that the section on the various anti-essentialist agreements could do with expanding and perhaps putting in context a little e.g. explaining the difference between de dicto and de re statements.

I hope Ed will eventually do something akin to the original Neo-Scholastics (Coffey and co) and write an Ontology (check), A Philosophy of Nature (in the works), a Psychology and/or Theory of Knowledge and a Logic (fulfill Oderberg's plan for popularizing Fred Sommers?).

Random side note: Introduction to Philosophy of Mind was pretty much my introduction to post-Wittgensteinian Analytical philosophy.

Anonymous said...

All this Thomistic nonsense is pure sophistry. Proofs of God are garbage. Here is my clear argument why:

PREMISES 1-6
1. The human brain enables us with the help of our senses to perceive what is around us.
2. The human brain enables us to think cognitively.
3. The human brain is the product of an evolutionary process.
4. This process has taken place solely within the domain of 'OUR' universe.
5. The human brain has developed a competence for the demands of THIS domain (i.e. 'our' universe) and for no other.

CONCLUSIONS 1-2
1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand, imagine or deduce anything not within this domain, i.e. not within 'our' universe.

2) Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the laws OF nature and logic, or even time and space,that apply in 'our' universe must necessarily apply 'anywhere' other than within our own universe.

Also, I'll now show you how to refute an argument, namely, the First Way of the Angelic Doctor. Since I can't translate from the original myself, I've taken this translation from Wiki which I presume is correct. I've removed the waffle but kept the essence of the argument. Aquinas says:

"The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in our world some things are in motion."

Note, that Aquinas is speaking of our world.

"Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another ... If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover ... Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other ..."

Note that everything Aquinas says applies, as he said, to our world. There are no grounds for assuming that what he says must necessarily apply to anything not in our world. Anything, for example, that took place prior to the existence of our world when/where the act of 'first moving' (assumed by Aquinas) took place. - In other words, his entire argument is irrelevant to what he would desperately like to prove.

The second mistake is his conclusion:

"... and this everyone understands to be God." (!)

a) Not everyone understands it to be God. - That is simply false. And
b) why "God"? Where did he suddenly appear from?

Out of Aquinas' head, of course Aquinas assumed God existed before writing his "proofs". - Assuming (for the sake of argument) that his reasoning were correct (I've shown that it isn't!), then his "first mover" might not be a god at all but something totally beyond our imagination or compehension (which is the point I have argued and you have been unable to refute.)

Therefore Aquinas' "proof" of God is, as all intelligent people know, and most admit, complete nonsense. (And so are his other five "ways".) - That is how to argue logically.

Mr. Green said...

“Anonymous” said: 1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand

Well, by this point you had me ready to agree that it’s certainly groundless to assume that some human brains have the capacity to understand; but by the time I reached the end of the post, I recognised it as a parody.

Of course, I appreciate such satire for the cheap laugh — the problem is that the targets are so devoid of substance that the spoofs likewise needs must be weak. Still, I rank this one as a good example of “so daft it could almost be real”.

Unknown said...

According to Occam's Razor the simplest hypothesis fitting all the circumstances is the best. So if we do not know for certain whether the laws of logic apply outside our experience the simpler hypothesis is that they do i.e. we postulate one set of logical laws rather than two. If there were no evidence either way (which I don't believe: I think the laws of logic are intuitively evident while there is no evidence in favour of an alternative logical system) the burden of proof would therefore be on the one who said a second set of logical laws outside the universe was possible.

How does one define "possibility" anyhow without appealing to the known laws of logic?The laws of logic specify minimum standards of coherence. The idea of anything outside our universe not conforming to laws of logic is something which violates the laws of coherence. Anything violating the laws of minimal coherence is not coherent and therefore not worthy of serious consideration.

STTJOHMC

rank sophist said...

And I wanted to make it clear that the key notions of Scholastic metaphysics are motivated and defensible entirely independently of their application to arguments in natural theology.

The question, though, is how much sense classical metaphysics makes when it's arbitrarily carved up like that. Aquinas and the scholastics of his time certainly didn't see their creation-based metaphysics as a monolith independent from their theology. It would have seemed bizarre to them if someone excised natural theology from metaphysics, as though the chain of being was not an analogical gradation (i.e. a smooth climb from lowest to highest) but a series of self-contained, disconnected links that were intelligible in themselves. That applies also to the pagan thinkers who first formulated the metaphysics behind scholasticism. And, while you might be able to argue that those pagans weren't motivated by theological arguments, the same doesn't apply to the great scholastics or the Church Fathers. Their concerns were the unpacking of revelation and the conversion of souls. Greek metaphysics were adopted because pagans--a massive portion of the Christian "demographic"--understood that language. Like Paul, Christian intellectuals used concepts and terms from non-Christian metaphysics because they were expedient. The "key notions of Scholastic metaphysics" Prof. Feser intends to suggest--act/potency, substance and the like--were, for scholastics, clear and concise ways to make points about theology (natural and otherwise) via reason. They definitely weren't motivated by some form of neutral and rationalistic inquiry, as was (perhaps) attempted by the Greeks and (definitely) by Enlightenment Europeans.

bitvast said...

The second part of the "review" is just as awful.

http://currentlogic.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/universals-and-argument-for-existence.html

bitvast said...


Feser argues for the existence of abstract objects, universals, that exist independently of their instantiations. Feser presents a set of arguments for Platonism, ignores the arguments for the other side, and fails to distinguish different attitudes towards universals which, if noted, would undermine his conclusions.


Daniel Joachim said...

@Mr. Green

I'm not so sure. After all, Anon taught us ignoramuses about what Thomas actually said, and brought up the brand new and refreshing objection:

"'... and this everyone understands to be God.' (!)

a) Not everyone understands it to be God. - That is simply false. And
b) why "God"? Where did he suddenly appear from?"

So isn't he right? A reality that's already been proven (Anon wouldn't quote the Summa out of context after all) to be Pure Act, eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Subsistent Being, Pure Existence and Goodness Itself.

Why would anyone just arbitrarily assume that this is somewhat related to God, instead of, say...a swimming macaroni monster? Except for...oh yeah, that's right.

Could anon be Jerry Coyne?

Georgy Mancz said...

My impression is that Anon was being serious, though I sympathise with Mr.Green's charitable presumption. What is pointing to Anon being joking is, I think, the way he immediately exposes himself to the argument from reason by making logic so utterly contingent, I find that suspicious (not to mention him missing the point so manifestly, though that doesn't entail he's joking). Inventing the "worlds distinction" - that I expect us all to be familiar with, common as it is among the atheists (thinking about "worlds" not covered by the idea of being is a dubious sport, I reckon). But this...
His insistence on employing folk-psychological terms like "us", "think" etc. is not a very good pointer, as it is indeterminate.

I suppose upon reflection I have to remain undecided.

BTW, can anyone at least hint at what "thinking cognitively" is supposed to mean, exactly?

Georgy Mancz said...

P.S.

A quick google search causes me to think the term is meant to refer to the way humans think specifically. But to a materialist it would seem that there is just human thinking, so the term's still odd. Using it to differentiate between, say, human and angelic thought (that involves no abstraction from reality grasped by the senses) doesn't help, for isn't it still "thinking thinking", making the term very unfortunate?

Gottfried said...

LOL! What does it say about the New Atheist movement when it's impossible to determine whether something is a genuine sample of their thinking or brutal satire? I've heard people make that claim about their intellectual opponents before, but they are usually being hyperbolic.

Tom said...

Does anybody know where a treatment of the Scholastic position on transcendentals can be found? I was disappointed to see it wouldn't be covered in Scholastic Metaphysics.

Greg said...

I think this is an important quote in that review:

But, again, given the excessive insults, it cannot be intended to reach the atheists themselves, or anyone sympathetic to the atheist position, and it is unlikely to appeal to anyone in the broad middle of American political or religious thought...

There are atheists who can read The Last Superstition without having their feelings hurt. Some probably feel wounded because they ignore or skip the qualifications about the target of the book in the introductory chapter. But by and large I think the difference has to do with the fact that some atheists can emotionally detach from the political implications of disputes about religion and others can't.

New atheists make sweeping and controversial (and philosophically tendentious) moral claims that are supposed to be consequences of their materialism (ie. Harris's claim that human stem cell research is morally unproblematic because millions of "potential" humans die every time you scratch your nose). I really can't take seriously someone who could cheer on the new atheists but not read The Last Superstition dispassionately (as, for example, Lowder can).

Sil Rayman said...

Hey Dr Feser (and anyone who is interested),

I found this great article which examines how conservatives and liberals differ psychologically, and just wanted to share it since I know it's an interest of yours.

http://www.volokh.com/2014/01/17/jonathan-haidt-psychology-politics/

And if you're interested, you can check out my blog as well where I cover the social sciences:

http://silssociology.blogspot.com/

Daniel said...

On the subject of TLS and reviews a friend of mine whom I greatly respect gave a review of that volume on Goodreads recently:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/991103595

His criticisms of the book focus on certain aspects of the polemical side and in particular the ethics section (in effect he asks why on earth anyone should think the question of gay marriage comparable to that of nihilism). To an extent I agree with some of the points he raises – bluntly I think Natural Law is not so much as radically insufficient (I have fairly transparent Personalist sympathies). There is also a tension as to whether the book is intended for the ordinary reader i.e. to explain classical metaphysics and modern misconceptions or as a provocative calcification to the pop-atheist and pop-theist alike.

James said...

On the subject of The Last Superstition, I’ve written it before in these comments and I suppose I’ll write it again. Reviews of TLS — positive and negative — would give the impression that it’s a vicious work, pulling no punches, unafraid to give insult.

Really … it’s actually pretty tame. I mean, Feser bluntly says things that might raise eyebrows, but his criticism of particular individuals tends to border on the playful. A bit sardonic, sometimes, but not at all the raving meanness I would’ve expected.

Needless to say I can’t understand reviews like the one linked above.

Greg said...

@ shrill Anon

1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand, imagine or deduce anything not within this domain, i.e. not within 'our' universe.

2) Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the laws OF nature and logic, or even time and space,that apply in 'our' universe must necessarily apply 'anywhere' other than within our own universe.


Well, it's hard to make sense of the claim that logic does not apply outside of the universe. (Does it apply and not apply? Or can we rule that out?)

We will leave aside the issue that some of your premises beg the question against other arguments, for example in philosophy of mind, that Aquinas and Feser have made. Nevertheless your conclusions are stronger than your premises warrant. (This shouldn't come as any surprise since you didn't attempt to derive your conclusions.)

Classical theistic arguments do not assume that there is any determinate meaning to "outside" of the universe prior to philosophical reflection. They don't need to make such an assumption. Rather they begin with premises (as you note) about the world. They then go on to claim that those premises imply that the observable universe does not sufficiently explain itself, so something must exist that is purely actual. (And "outside of the universe" simply acquires its meaning by contrast with the universe. The universe of changeable things is not sufficient, so there is something that does not change, is not spatial or temporal, etc.--here I go a bit beyond Aquinas's Five Ways into his arguments for the divine attributes.

The arguments do not assume that causality or logic or whatever hold "outside" of the universe, for we do not have a preanalytic notion of "outside" of the universe. Rather they claim to show that if causality or logic or whatever hold inside the universe (ie. among changeable things), then they must also hold outside of the universe. It's a conclusion, not an assumption.

Greg said...

@ Mr. Green

but by the time I reached the end of the post, I recognised it as a parody.

I'm actually a bit worried now that I responded to satire. Or are you kidding? It's Poe's law.

Bobcat said...

I have a question about Carroll's reivew: Ed, you say that you weren't trying to write a historically situated account of Scholastic metaphysics, but rather a "just-the-arguments-please" style approach, which is perfectly fine.

That said, given that you think that the Scholastics had good responses to the Humeans (and, presumably the Cartesians, Leibnizians, and occasionalists) about causation, why do you think the Scholastics lost so much ground? Is your answer found in TLS (which I read five years ago, and so don't remember too clearly), or do you think there's another book that gives a good explanation for why?

Incidentally, I'd love to hear what you think about the tomes of Jonathan Israel. He thinks there was an Enlightenment (the mainstream view, supported by the Cartesians), a Counter-Enlightenment (the formerly dominant view, espoused by the Aristotelian/Thomists) and the Radical Enlightenment (represented by Spinoza). Israel himself sides with the Radical Enlightenment, but I think there's no question that the work is highly stimulating and informative.

Crude said...

James,

Really … it’s actually pretty tame. I mean, Feser bluntly says things that might raise eyebrows, but his criticism of particular individuals tends to border on the playful. A bit sardonic, sometimes, but not at all the raving meanness I would’ve expected.

I think at this point there may be an echo effect going on, where the horrible polemical nature of TLS is referred to just because others have said as much about it.

It IS rather tame, and the polemical targets are all people who are guilty of as much (and generally far worse) as Ed is on the polemical front. The problem may well be that the particular polemical targets (largely Gnus, and to a lesser degree, the socially liberal) also tends to have large populations who shriek, and shriek loudly, whenever they're on the receiving end of insult.

I say this as someone who at first was worried about Ed's tone, until I realized that I was worried largely because I was pretty well conditioned to expect the gentlest and most painful over-niceness from any self-identified Christian/Catholic author. Eventually I decided my conditioning was the problem, rather than the book, and withdrew my criticisms with a mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

I see no one has refuted me.

"According to Occam's Razor the simplest hypothesis fitting all the circumstances is the best. So if we do not know for certain whether the laws of logic apply outside our experience the simpler hypothesis is that they do i.e. we postulate one set of logical laws rather than two."

"Anonymous" completely misses the point. No one is postulating two sets of logical laws! - I postulate simply that our logical laws may not apply beyond the bounds of our universe. Which is quite different.

"Anonymous" continues: "If there were no evidence either way (which I don't believe: I think the laws of logic are intuitively evident while there is no evidence in favour of an alternative logical system) the burden of proof would therefore be on the one who said a second set of logical laws outside the universe was possible."

"Anonymous" again misses the point. I have said nothing about what is possible "outside the universe".

"Anonymous" adds: "How does one define "possibility" anyhow without appealing to the known laws of logic? The laws of logic specify minimum standards of coherence. The idea of anything OUTSIDE OUR UNIVERSE (my capitals) not conforming to laws of logic is something which violates the laws of coherence. Anything violating the laws of minimal coherence is not coherent and therefore not worthy of serious consideration."

More woolly thinking from "Anonymous": The laws of logic and "minimal coherence" may apply IN OUR UNIVERSE, but there are no grounds for assuming they inluence anything "outside our universe".

This shows that "Anonymous" either misunderstands my arguments because he has not read them carefully enough, or he deliberately twists my words in order to knock down something I have never said. - Next criticism, please ,,,

Greg said...

@ shrill Anon

I see no one has refuted me.

Well, you are welcome to respond to my refutation above.

But before that, perhaps you should worry about making your argument valid? How do your two conclusions follow from your premises? Since you concluded your post by saying "This is how to argue logically," you'd think you would have produced at least a valid argument.

It occurs to me that perhaps your argument is valid, if only because premise 5 begs the question; the conclusions are essentially rephrasings of premise 5.

Then there is the problem that Feser has argued against at least premise 2, if it's taken to mean that a brain or any physical process is sufficient for cognition, in a number of places (his book on philosophy of mind would be a start), whereas you gave no argument for any of your premises.

Another issue, as I pointed out before, is of a preanalytic notion of what is "outside" the universe. (You rely on such a preanalytic notion; as I've pointed out, Aquinas doesn't.)

You are also subject to parallel argument: Our brain evolved in a very specific environment: not "our universe" but "our planet." (You can't expand the "domain" beyond that of our actual evolutionary environment without being open to the charge of blatant special pleading. You would also have to find some principled basis for giving determinate content to "our universe" that is consonant with the limitation of our cognitive abilities to that "domain.") If your argument is good against Aquinas, then why isn't it good against contemporary cosmology? Surely the "domain" in which our brain evolved is that of earth after a certain time in natural history, not of the far reaches of the universe prior to the existence of life on earth. Therefore all studies of (for example) the early universe are actually "pure sophistry" and "garbage."

(I link to Wikipedia only because you don't seem to be familiar with formal logic. You argument appears to be a list of sentences kind of related to boiler plate naturalism that ran through your head and which you feel relate to your desired conclusions. There was no attempt to show that your conclusions follow from those "premises.")

Daniel Joachim said...

@Anon

You also don't see biologists spending much time refuting fundamentalists that think they have proven evolution false by displaying astounding arrogance while giving the argument that none has ever actually seen an ape giving birth to a human being.

They rather use it as an amusing example among themselves, speculating on whether the fundamentalist is really a biologist poe, waiting for the fundamentalist to read himself up to a bare minimum on the subject he's actually addressing, while they continue to discuss something other. Something...substantial?

What I see is you tryin' for some messed up version of Plantinga's EAAN, while showing a most fundamental misunderstanding - that God is something outside/other than the universe, instead of Subsistent Being. Not to mention you blatantly assume that Aquinas assumes stuff, rather than giving a posterior proofs through thousands of pages. Among others. Why read Aquinas himself when you've got excellent secondary sources as Dawkins or a shoddy introductory book to Philosophy? Well - wonder why none is taking this serious?

Since I'm fairly new to this forum, I guess that'll be my dirty job, while the veterans dedicate themselves to something useful.

"Therefore Aquinas' "proof" of God is, as all intelligent people know, and most admit, complete nonsense. (And so are his other five "ways".) - That is how to argue logically."

I wonder why those "intelligent people" seems to grow stupider these days?

Daniel Joachim said...

@Tom

The book "Aquinas" dedicate a sub-chapter to the transcendentals. The excellent "Elements of Philosophy" by William Wallace, has a good, but short discussion of them. Daniel J. Sullivan's "An Introduction to Philosophy" has a more thorough one, with one fifth of the book dedicated to the universe of being.

Do you have any questions in particular? :)

Unknown said...

The assertion that "the laws of logic may not apply outside the boundaries of the physical universe" even if it doesn't require the possibility of a second set of logical laws still seems to require the postulation of a possible state of affairs to which they do apply and a possible state of affairs to which they don't. This is more complicated than the idea that there are only possibilities to which the laws of logic do apply, and therefore Occam's Razor entitles us to presume against it.

STTJOHMC

Unknown said...

If Anonymous meant that "questions about possibilities or impossibilities inside the universe are governed by the laws of logic and questions about possibilities or impossibilities outside the universe are not" this would imply that there were two kinds of questions about possibility, to which logic did and possibly did not apply respectively. This is more complicated than the theory that there is only one kind of question about possibility, the kind to which the laws of logic apply. So Occam's Razor entitles us to assume that there is only one kind of question about possibility - the kind to which logic applies - until there is contrary evidence. Thus all enquiries about what is possible or impossible inside or outside the universe are to be presumed judgeable by the laws of logic and the burden of proof is on one who claims otherwise.

STTJOHMC

Mr. Green said...

Greg: I'm actually a bit worried now that I responded to satire.

Well, it is hard to tell. An idiot tends to satirise his own position — ’tis the nature of satire, after all. In this case, all the points made by our anonymous teaser are pretty typical fare for a philosophically illiterate troll (though as Georgy points out, the pre-emptive forsaking of logic is a bit over-the-top). And the arrogant attitude is not unusual either, but the explicit uses of the first person are, I think, a subtle rhetorical clue that the post is deliberately hyperbolic.

Unknown: So Occam's Razor entitles us to assume that there is only one kind of question about possibility - the kind to which logic applies - until there is contrary evidence.

Well, that’s one approach. Or we could just observe that denying logic is %*@$ crazy.


And frankly, that’s about all we should say. By definition, there is no point trying to reason with someone who doesn’t understand or accept logic. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether a poster is an actual troll or just a virtual troll — the effect is the same, viz. to clog up the thread with endless posts that go nowhere, slowly. There really is no point to replying to most such comments, because the poster is unwilling or unable to learn. Occasionally it may be worth addressing some point or other for the sake of lurkers who may legitimately wonder about the same point, but anyone who is serious about understanding philosophy is not going to need it spelled out why “maybe logic only applies when it produces answers that I like” is a stupid claim.

Of course, the natural human instinct to respond to inanity is hard to resist — I’m quite susceptible to it myself — but I do think that it’s better for the sake of our little community overall to ignore the dross as much as possible.

grodrigues said...

@Mr. Green:

"Well, that’s one approach. Or we could just observe that denying logic is %*@$ crazy."

That is one approach. Another is: take P to be the proposition "The laws of logic apply outside the universe." If P is true, then we are done. Assume P is false. It is still is the case that P is true. For one could only deny its truth by appealing to the LNC, but such an appeal is what the Anonymous Troll has forfeited. So we are done.

note: any other possibilities one could care to think of would hit against the same wall, e.g. P has no truth value. But then Q = "P has no truth value" is true, etc. and etc.

Daniel said...

@Crude and James,

I agree about the personal quips in TLS being fairly light and usually in good taste (the remarks on Hume and the imagined Churchland conversation were highly amusing - having said that I have a disturbing sense that may have been from a quote and not satire). There was also an ample supply of deserving targets who escaped fire e.g. PZ Meyeys and the 'it's all about Evolution school' or Richard Rorty and the 'atheism/materialism is a (supposed) requisite of the right kind of society and thus true’ school.

I think what might be the real issue with part of the polemical tone is that it goes into the whole Conservative politics issue. A disturbing number of people seem to think the ultimate ontological foundation of the world is the cosmic struggle between the Republicans and the Democrats*, a trend which is of itself utterly deserving of scorn and satire, and the alleged connection between Theism and politics unintentionally enforces it.

*I suppose this is an unconscious variation on the Rorty school albeit sometimes taken in a Theist sense (the connection between Leo Strauss and Rorty may not have been a coincidence). I remember some fellow bumbled onto this blog with comments to the effect that Nominalism was true because ‘Feser used Realism to licence tyranny’ apparently unaware that he was doing exactly the same as the pastor who claims ‘Christianity must be true because if not life wouldn’t be worth living’. There are those who have a political motive for despising reason; appeals to pietistic secularism are no less common than religious pietistism.

Interestingly the same friend made similar comments about a book by Jonathan Haidt

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1009987438

Daniel said...

(Addendum: I know people will say that the 'it's all about Evolution school' was gone into in enough depth with Dawkins, which in terms of actual metaphysical content may well be true - the spread of intellectual vagueness and pop cultural inanity it has spawned is quite another though sadly. I leave aside all talk of the more far-out instances like ‘The cosmos is too big’ or the ‘Yahweh’ equivocation fallacy)

Anonymous said...

I see someone has at last made a serious attempt to address my arguments (and let me say once again that I welcome criticism because my argument may be wrong, and if so I'd like to know why).

The 'arguer' says my conclusions are "essentially rephrasings of premise 5". I disagree. Premise 5 explains why my two conclusion must follow.

Next argument: "Feser has argued against ... a brain or any physical process (being) sufficient for cognition". - Perhaps. But I suggest that just as our lungs enable us to breathe air, our brain enables us to think. Proof: Without the brain we cannot think. And that is all I claim.

Next argument: "Another issue, ...is of a preanalytic notion of what is "outside" the universe." - I have said nothing about what is outside the universe. I have always (I hope) said 'IF there is anything outside it'. My point is that we cannot know it, but if there is an 'outside' there is no reason to assume that it has the same laws (or laws at all) as ours.

Next argument: "Our brain evolved in a very specific environment: not "our universe" but "our planet." - But our planet is in our universe, (not outside it!). End of that argument!

But thank you for at least trying. - Next criticism please.

a third critic's argument can be disposed of in one line. He writes:

"If Anonymous meant that "questions about possibilities or impossibilities inside the universe are governed by the laws of logic and questions about possibilities or impossibilities outside the universe ARE NOT ..." - (my capitals)

No, I didn't say that. End of "argument".

Greg said...

Incidentally the atheist we were talking to in the "Logorrhea in the cell" combox also countenanced abandoning laws of logic...

The readiness on the part of new atheists to do so is a bit worrying.

I think the reason is that they don't care about philosophy and don't mind if their philosophical commitments are insane. If accepting the laws of logic gives theism has a better shot at getting off of the ground, then by all means, deny the laws of logic. Never mind that it makes reasoning impossible.

The question is, if someone believes the proposition "God exists and God does not exist", is he a theist or an atheist?

Greg said...

The 'arguer' says my conclusions are "essentially rephrasings of premise 5". I disagree. Premise 5 explains why my two conclusion must follow.

Well, just take a look:

5. The human brain has developed a competence for the demands of THIS domain (i.e. 'our' universe) and for no other.

CONCLUSIONS 1-2
1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand, imagine or deduce anything not within this domain, i.e. not within 'our' universe.

2) Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the laws OF nature and logic, or even time and space,that apply in 'our' universe must necessarily apply 'anywhere' other than within our own universe.


The human brain is competent in this domain and "no other". Therefore, (conclusion 1:) we can't assume that the human brain can understand anything outside of this domain.

So yes. You've added a few words ("understand," "imagine," "deduce") but there is no new content in conclusion 1 that is not in premise 5. Therefore premise 5 begs the question.

Conclusion 2 seems to just be an instantiation of conclusion 1.

So again, there is no point in anyone critiquing your argument when it commits blatant fallacies.

Next argument: "Feser has argued against ... a brain or any physical process (being) sufficient for cognition". - Perhaps. But I suggest that just as our lungs enable us to breathe air, our brain enables us to think. Proof: Without the brain we cannot think. And that is all I claim.

"Without the brain we cannot think" means that the brain is necessary for cognition, not sufficient. That much Feser, Aquinas, and I agree with... the problem is that if some other factor is, jointly with the brain/body, necessary and sufficient (as Feser has argued the human soul is), then premise 4 becomes vague: is "this process" supposed to be a) the process that brought about the brain, ie. evolution or b) the process that brought about the sufficient conditions of our cognitive faculties? Since Feser argues that God must participate directly in human ensoulment, a) does not wholly account for our cognitive faculties, while b) is not sufficiently accounted for by evolution.

You of course would dispute much of this, but since Feser has made these arguments and you have not, you are again begging the question.

Anonymous said...

"... it's hard to make sense of the claim(!) that logic does not apply outside of the universe. (Does it apply and not apply? Or can we rule that out?)"

Go ahead and rule it out if you wish!! Because I never claimed that. I said there were no grounds for 'assuming' it. (Why can't people would read carefully?) --- Whoever it is arguing then says:

"Classical theistic arguments do not assume that there is any determinate meaning to "outside" of the universe prior to philosophical reflection ..."

Really? Theistic logic? - That's a contradiction in terms! Here's a taste of it:

"'outside of the universe' simply acquires its meaning by contrast with the universe. The universe of changeable things is not sufficient, so there is something that does not change ..." - Enough of that nonsense, I think.

Finally the arguer says that Aquinas' arguments "claim to show that if causality or logic or whatever hold inside the universe (ie. among changeable things), then they must(!) also hold outside of the universe. It's a conclusion, not an assumption." ---- Well, I'm sorry, but it is a false conclusion for reasons that I have given, i.e. that we can know nothing about "outside of the universe". We don't even know that there is anything outside it!

Greg said...

@ shrill Anon

I almost don't want to bother with these last two lines of critique because I'm almost certain you will not understand them.

Next argument: "Another issue, ...is of a preanalytic notion of what is "outside" the universe." - I have said nothing about what is outside the universe. I have always (I hope) said 'IF there is anything outside it'. My point is that we cannot know it, but if there is an 'outside' there is no reason to assume that it has the same laws (or laws at all) as ours.

I'm just going to paste what I said before, because you didn't respond to it:

Classical theistic arguments do not assume that there is any determinate meaning to "outside" of the universe prior to philosophical reflection. They don't need to make such an assumption. Rather they begin with premises (as you note) about the world. They then go on to claim that those premises imply that the observable universe does not sufficiently explain itself, so something must exist that is purely actual. (And "outside of the universe" simply acquires its meaning by contrast with the universe. The universe of changeable things is not sufficient, so there is something that does not change, is not spatial or temporal, etc.--here I go a bit beyond Aquinas's Five Ways into his arguments for the divine attributes.

The arguments do not assume that causality or logic or whatever hold "outside" of the universe, for we do not have a preanalytic notion of "outside" of the universe. Rather they claim to show that if causality or logic or whatever hold inside the universe (ie. among changeable things), then they must also hold outside of the universe. It's a conclusion, not an assumption.

Next argument: "Our brain evolved in a very specific environment: not "our universe" but "our planet." - But our planet is in our universe, (not outside it!). End of that argument!

Here is the qualifier to that quoted sentence that you did not attempt to address:

(You can't expand the "domain" beyond that of our actual evolutionary environment without being open to the charge of blatant special pleading. You would also have to find some principled basis for giving determinate content to "our universe" that is consonant with the limitation of our cognitive abilities to that "domain.")

What in the process of evolution attunes our brain to our entire universe rather than just our part of it? Over time and across space, conditions in the universe vary. To say our planet is in the universe does not address the problem: if we evolved for a subset of our universe, why do we seem to have an ability to understand all of it?* (Not that we can understand all of it--but our ability to understand the universe obviously extends temporally and spatially beyond our evolutionary neighborhood.)

*The other issue is the looseness in the concept "universe." I could define the universe as the set of all changing things. Then it excludes God. I could alternatively just define it as the set of all existent things, in which case if God exists, then God is "in" the universe. So the scale of the domain in "we evolved in this domain" is quite important; I can just interpret "this domain" broadly enough to include everything that exists. But if you would like to disallow that, then you need a principled reason why "this domain" can be interpreted as broadly as the entire universe.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"…the imagined Churchland conversation…"

If you're thinking of the conversation I think you're thinking of ("Paul, don't speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit rock bottom…"), it wasn't imaginary at all.

Greg said...

@ shrill Anon

Go ahead and rule it out if you wish!! Because I never claimed that. I said there were no grounds for 'assuming' it. (Why can't people would read carefully?)

It doesn't matter if you never claimed it. What is relevant is whether or not you think we can rule it out. (That's why it was a question...) If we can't assume that the laws of logic apply outside the universe, but can rule out that they both apply and don't apply because that is absurd and you'd hate to have that view imputed to you, then we have concluded that they do apply...

Really? Theistic logic? - That's a contradiction in terms!
[...]
Enough of that nonsense, I think.


You'll hopefully forgive me for finding these responses less than convincing... given that you have given me no reason to think that anything I've said is wrong.

Finally the arguer says that Aquinas' arguments "claim to show that if causality or logic or whatever hold inside the universe (ie. among changeable things), then they must(!) also hold outside of the universe. It's a conclusion, not an assumption." ---- Well, I'm sorry, but it is a false conclusion for reasons that I have given, i.e. that we can know nothing about "outside of the universe". We don't even know that there is anything outside it!

Perhaps you should read the post again, because you've misunderstood it.

Aquinas argues that what occurs within the universe does not sufficiently account for itself. A consequence of that is that there must be something outside of the universe that does sufficiently account for the universe. If there were not, then it would be a problem even within the universe. We infer the existence and nature of what does not change from the insufficiency of what does.

I'm not worried about whether or not this contradicts your conclusion because your argument begs several questions and isn't logically valid anyway... There is literally nothing to argue against. (We can adapt Pauli's remark: "It's not even an argument.")

Bobcat said...

Hey guys,

I'm not shrill anon, but I wonder what you think of dialetheism? As I understand it (I admit, I don't understand it well), it's a response to the liar paradox. And the way dialetheism rules out having all contradictions be true (which is called "explosion") is that it has a rule according to which you're not allowed to add "or q" to any true sentence "q". So, they think there are some true contradictions (e.g., sentences that reference that own truth value), but they have a way of avoiding the consequence of having all true contradictions just because you have some.

Does anyone know how a Thomist would respond to, "This sentence is false"? Personally, I think the sentence doesn't have a truthmaker, so it can't count as true that it's false, but I realize that a lot of people reject truthmaker theory (though I can't say I know why).

Brandon said...

Just a small technical quibble -- we have to distinguish between paraconsistency and dialetheism. Paraconsistency is when contradiction explosion is false; dialetheism is the position that (some) contradictions can be true. Adding this assumption to a classical logic makes it useless; so the most common way to handle that is to make it paraconsistent. But there are lots of other reasons why one might have paraconsistency, and paraconsistency doesn't imply dialetheism. Aristotle's logic, for instance, is paraconsistent, although Aristotle is very vehemently non-dialetheist.

I doubt that there is any one Thomist solution; Aquinas's own work on logic is solid but on most matters fairly basic. I've always been partial to Buridan's solution: 'This sentence is false' strictly implies a contradiction, and anything that strictly implies a contradiction is by definition not just false but necessarily false. (And it's noteworthy that in a classical logic, with explosion, every necessarily false statement implies its own truth, so "This sentence is false" wouldn't be unique.) In general my view is that if liar paradoxes are not coming out as false, we are doing something wrong. But there are other possible solutions that are at least interesting, like Englebretsen's propositional depth solution, which I think is the best one if we were to hold that liar paradoxes are not false but meaningless.

Glenn said...

Also, I'll now show you how to refute an argument, namely, the First Way of the Angelic Doctor. [This, that and the other thing.] Therefore Aquinas' "proof" of God is [X]. (And so are his other five "ways".) - That is how to argue logically.

If that is how to argue 'logically', then this must be how to think 'mathematically':

"I have two fruits, an apple and an orange. Which do you want?"

"I'll have the apple. (And you can have the other two fruits.)"

Bobcat said...

Thanks for correcting me, Brandon. In all honesty, I've never known the difference between paraconsistency and dialetheism. I still don't quite get it (I don't quite know what it means to say that "contradiction explosion is false". Does it mean that you can't add "v q" to "p" if "p" is true? Or does it mean simply that one contradiction's being true does not imply that every contradiction is true? Or something else? Of course, I can probably look this up on SEP). Do you have the cite to Englebretsen?

Scott said...

@Bobcat:

"Or does it mean simply that one contradiction's being true does not imply that every contradiction is true?"

Yes. A paraconsistent logic is one in which the principle of inference From a contradiction, any proposition follows does not generally hold.

It has, that is, to do with inference, whereas dialetheism is the view that some contradictions are true (that is, it has to do with truth rather than inference). Paraconsistency thus doesn't imply dialetheism, although (non-trivial) dialetheism does require paraconsistency (because a defender of dialetheism doesn't want just any old proposition to follow from an allegedly true contradiction).

Brandon said...

Hi, Bobcat,

Scott's exactly right. Paraconsistency means that contradiction explosion isn't an inference rule in the system; that would have been a more accurate way to say it.

There are several different ways you can get paraconsistency, and it greatly depends on exactly what logical system we're using. If we are talking about standard propositional logic, one way is the one you're thinking of, in which we eliminate the rule of Addition (p, therefore p or q). That's a popular approach for computer scientists working with databases. It's the one that I think makes the most sense -- again, if we're talking about propositional logic. The most common approach for philosophers interested in paraconsistency is actually to eliminate disjunctive syllogism (as far as I can tell, this is entirely a matter of historical accident, since I can see no advantages whatsoever to taking this way rather than the one that eliminates Addition).

Probably the handiest place for looking at Englebretsen's propositional depth response to the liar paradox is his book, Bare Facts and Naked Truths.

Bobcat said...

Thanks Scott and Brandon,

Question for Brandon: you said that Aristotle accepts paraconsistency but denies dialetheism. In other words, he takes the position:

One contradiction's being true does not imply that every contradiction is true. Also, no contradictions are true.

Is that correct? If so, why did he even bother to endorse paraconsistency given that he denied dialetheism? (Here I'm just exploiting your superior knowledge of the history of logic.)

George LeSauvage said...

@Daniel:

Could you expand on this comment "(the connection between Leo Strauss and Rorty may not have been a coincidence)"? I'm interested in what you see here. I confess I have no great acquaintance with either; Strauss lost me when he started positing "esoteric" doctrines; Rorty when he switched to some PM BS. (Plus, I left UVa before he got there.)

Brandon said...

Hi, Bobcat,

As far as I can see, it just never occurred to Aristotle to have an explosion rule for contradictions. Since he was more or less discovering it all from scratch, nothing ended up in his account of logic unless he had reason to need it. The idea that one even should have contradiction explosion is much, much later (late medieval, if I'm not mistaken, although I don't know the exact history of it).

But there are advantages to paraconsistency on its own; for instance, paraconsistency without dialetheism allows you to have coherent per impossibile reasoning, i.e., reasoning of the kind, "If we supposed such-and-such impossibility were in fact possible and true, then this would follow," which is a kind of reasoning people do engage in, and actually is very handy for dealing with logical questions, which is how Aristotle himself occasionally uses it. A classical logic (i.e., a logic with contradiction explosion) has no place for this kind of reasoning. The reason computer scientists studying databases use paraconsistent logics is that a paraconsistent logic is a natural way to handle cases where one has information from conflicting sources -- e.g., instead of getting instant explosion, each side of the conflict can be explored independently and the best one taken.

Bobcat said...

Thanks, Brandon! Very clear and helpful.

Anonymous said...

Another attempt at criticism. This time the critic spends the largest part of his time calling me an idiot or a philosophically illiterat troll etc. etc. ad hominem, ad nauseam. -- No arguments there.

But he does then say: "take P to be the proposition "The laws of logic apply outside the universe." If P is true, then we are done. Assume P is false. It is still is the case that P is true. For one could only deny its truth by appealing to the LNC, but such an appeal is what the Anonymous Troll has forfeited. So we are done."

Nonsense! He fails to understand that I am arguing logically from 'inside our universe' where logic does apply. And the logical conclusion I reach is that our brain is not competent to grasp anything not in our universe. Whether logic applies 'there' or not is totally irrelevant to my argument. --- So I have not abandoned logic, and there is no contradiction in my argument either.

I've certainly put the cat amongst the conservative Catholic pigeons on Feser, haven't I.

Anonymous said...

So far I've effortlessly disposed of what little criticism of my arguments has been forthcoming. There's been no lack of ad hominem comment though (a substitute perhaps for a lack of counter-arguments?).

When will someone actually refute (any of) my premises or conclusions? The conservative Catholic blog-experts have failed dismally so far. Perhaps it's time for the professor himself to join in the fray!?

If he does, it'll no doubt be reams and reams of theological sophistry, with no direct refutation of my premises or conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Ed, have you read William M Briggs's posts on Aquinas?? "Summary against modern thought"??
Do you think he does a good job??

Greg said...

@ shrill Anon

When will someone actually refute (any of) my premises or conclusions?

Can you spell out the intermediate inferences that get you from your premises to your conclusions? (Do you know what this request means?) If you are unable to do that, then there is literally nothing to refute. By offering an argument the conclusions of which don't follow from the premises, you have refuted yourself. Until you repair your argument, every post you make is a greater indictment of your philosophical ability than any of us could muster.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: Why can't people would read carefully?

I dunno, maybe they’re the same people who can’t would write carefully?!?


GRodrigues: For one could only deny its truth by appealing to the LNC, but such an appeal is what the Anonymous Troll has forfeited. So we are done.

Exactly. We could likewise point out that our anonymous fiend’s argument is wrong because he is crazy. Should he be boorish enough to accuse us of arguing ad hominem (or even ad asinum, as the case may be), well, sure — but that would be a problem only if logic applied, so he can’t complain. (Actually, he could, but we would then be entitled to call him a hypocrite as well, thus piling up the ad homines — in fact, the more he moans, the stronger our refutation becomes!)


Greg: I think the reason is that they don't care about philosophy and don't mind if their philosophical commitments are insane.

Yes. I’m not really sure why they bother coming here or to similar fora; my best guess is that it’s some sort of rationalisation — if they make some pretence of confronting the arguments without really doing so, perhaps it’s easier to convince themselves that they’re not being intellectually dishonest?

The question is, if someone believes the proposition "God exists and God does not exist", is he a theist or an atheist?

Heh.


Anonymous again: This time the critic spends the largest part of his time calling me an idiot or a philosophically illiterat [sic—or perhaps by “illite rat” he means some sort of sedimentary rodent, which kinda fits, come to think of it…] troll etc. etc. ad hominem, ad nauseam.

Hey, right on schedule! You rest my case.

(Incidentally, AA obviously missed that the argument in question was posed from outside the universe, and thus works as given. He may have been misled by GR’s seemingly intra-universal situation, since after all, it is only logical that one who is outside the universe cannot be in it… but since logic is not relevant outside the universe, that logic is precisely what does not apply, and it clearly follows that anyone can be outside the universe only if he is also inside it at the same time. Frankly, I’m surprised that such a master of irrationality failed to grasp that point.)

BB said...

OK, our stubborn little anonymous, I will have a quick little try.

For the sake of argument, I will accept your premises 1-3. Premise 4 is where I will start.

4. This process has taken place solely within the domain of 'OUR' universe.

The problem here is that you have not defined what is meant by `universe'. Different people mean different things when they use this term. Whether your conclusions are valid depends on what you mean by this. You have to spell it out in detail. I will respond on the assumption that you mean the universe of observable matter, energy and form, and interactions between them.

5. The human brain has developed a competence for the demands of THIS domain (i.e. 'our' universe) and for no other.

The problem here is with the phrase and for no other. You haven't shown that. All you have done is presented an argument for why we can be confident that our brain is adapted for 'our' universe. About other universes, you have nothing to say about the competence of our brain on the basis of this argument alone. You cannot say and no other unless you can show that any other argument that our brain has competences beyond the domain of our universe based on principles other than evolutionary grounds must necessarily be false. This premise we dispute, because we claim that we can understand (a little) with competence beyond our universe (if by our universe you mean to exclude e.g. God). Our argument is simple: given that it has been done, the unsubstantiated premise that it can't be done is obviously false.


CONCLUSIONS 1-2
1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand, imagine or deduce anything not within this domain, i.e. not within 'our' universe.


Equally, you have given us no grounds for assuming that we can't (which I think you are aware of). No grounds for assuming is a much stronger statement than is allowed by your premises. You have not proved that it is impossible for there to be such grounds, because you have not given all the available evidence in your premises, and your conclusion would only be valid if you examined all the possible evidence. You conclusion should read, `If the premises are the only evidence we have, then there are no grounds ...'. But obviously that this is the only evidence we have is somewhat controversial, and people above have provided counterexamples which show it to be false. As others have said, Aquinas doesn't assume that our brain has competence outside our universe; he proves it by doing.

2) Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the laws OF nature and logic, or even time and space,that apply in 'our' universe must necessarily apply 'anywhere' other than within our own universe.

Here I think that you must make the additional assumption that the laws of nature, logic, time and space etc. are dependent on our brains. You basically assume some exceptionally strong form of conceptualism: a rather controversial position, and most of us realists have good reasons to reject it.

BB said...

(cont)

The most basic law of logic is that of non-contradiction. Something can't both be and not be in the same circumstances. Let us divide `outside our universe' into two areas: that part which can influence (either directly or indirectly) our universe, and that part which can't. Now, we can't really say anything about those things outside our universe which can't influence our universe; here if the law of non-contradiction could break down, we would never know about it anyway. But that is not what we are interested in studying. But of those things outside our universe which can influence it (if any exist), if they can both be and not be in a certain respect in the same circumstances -- this respect being capable of influencing our universe so it being and not being would influence our universe in different ways -- then they would both influence and not influence our universe in a particular way in the same circumstances, and the law of non-contradiction would not apply in our universe. But it does apply. Therefore it must also apply to everything outside our universe which can influence us. Therefore, at least some of the laws of logic apply to at least the most interesting things which lie outside our universe. Therefore your conclusion (2) is false.

Anonymous said...

"Next argument: "Incidentally the atheist we were talking to in the "Logorrhea in the cell" combox also countenanced abandoning laws of logic... The readiness on the part of new atheists to do so is a bit worrying."

- Sorry, but the worrying thing is that with that nonsense you are really hitting rock-bottom. I am not countenancing abandoning logic in this unviverse where logic applies and where I am arguing. --- I have merely "countenanced" the 'possible' existence of a domain beyond our universe in which 'possibly' our laws of logic etc. etc. do not exist. --- Please do try to get it right and don't twist my words.

And hey, all you conservative Catholic logic experts, how about refuting my premises and conclusions instead of all the empty rhetoric and personal abuse. Where's the meat (as I believe 'they' say!).

bitvast said...


of course Aquinas assumed God existed before writing his "proofs". - Assuming (for the sake of argument) that his reasoning were correct (I've shown that it isn't!), then his "first mover" might not be a god at all but something totally beyond our imagination or compehension


Funny, I thought that Classical Theism's conception of God is just that - something totally beyond our imagination or comprehension. What do you imagine God to be, an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud?

It seems incoherent to even assert that there is 'our' Universe as opposed to some other Universe. The Universe (as defined by Wikipedia) is:


The Universe is all of spacetime and everything that exists therein, including all planets, stars, galaxies, the contents of intergalactic space, the smallest subatomic particles, and all matter and energy.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Similar terms include the cosmos, the world, reality, and nature.


What about Multiverse theory? The article adds:


Generally, science would consider a multiverse theory that posits neither a common point of causation, nor the possibility of interaction between universes, to be an idle speculation.


Anonymous said...

"there must be something outside of the universe that does sufficiently account for the universe". -

- No, there must not. You may wish it, so you can postulate a deity, but the remarkable claim that something MUST "sufficiently account for he unviverse" is devoid of any logic. The universe exists, and we can try to find an explanation in a continuing search for further knowledge, but I doubt one will ever be found.

"'I'm not worried about whether or not this contradicts your conclusion because your argument begs several questions and isn't logically valid anyway... There is literally nothing to argue against."

bitvast said...


Note that everything Aquinas says applies, as he said, to our world. There are no grounds for assuming that what he says must necessarily apply to anything not in our world. Anything, for example, that took place prior to the existence of our world when/where the act of 'first moving' (assumed by Aquinas) took place. - In other words, his entire argument is irrelevant to what he would desperately like to prove.


Anon,

The import of Aquinas' proof isn't so much "what started it", as "what keeps it going". So whether the Universe is eternal or had a beginning is irrelevant, as are your conclusions. Even if the universe had no beginning in time, it would still need an unmoved mover to keep it going here and now.

I suggest you buy a copy of Prof. Feser's book "The Last Superstition". Study it, and actually try to understand the arguments.

Then by all means return here and attempt to refute them.



Alan Fox said...

Anonymous wrote:

Greg said...
Incidentally the atheist we were talking to in the "Logorrhea in the cell" combox also countenanced abandoning laws of logic...

The readiness on the part of new atheists to do so is a bit worrying.


Whether it is worrying or not is a moot point. Assuming that the commenter, Greg, is referring to me, he is incorrect.

I was merely pointing out that logic cannot rescue a faulty premise. Assume for the sake of argument that Aquinas' logic is watertight. It is still based on false premises.

Greg said...

@ Alan Fox

Actually I am referring to your willingness to abandon things like negation or the law of excluded middle because of vagueness (though however vagueness is a problem, negation and excluded middle don't add to it). You were doing so in order to maintain your desired asymmetry between provisional truth and demonstrable falsity.

Greg said...

@ shrill Anon

- Sorry, but the worrying thing is that with that nonsense you are really hitting rock-bottom. I am not countenancing abandoning logic in this unviverse where logic applies and where I am arguing. --- I have merely "countenanced" the 'possible' existence of a domain beyond our universe in which 'possibly' our laws of logic etc. etc. do not exist. --- Please do try to get it right and don't twist my words.

I didn't say you countenanced abandoning them in this universe. I said you countenanced abandoning them. Which is true.

The problems with abandoning them "in this universe" (ie. contradiction explosion) appear to be the same as abandoning them "anywhere". To be sure, you have given us no reason to think otherwise. Nor have you told us what you mean by "universe" and why you can expand our domain of cognitive ability beyond our evolutionary environment.

Anonymous said...

 Just look at this! Here's a classical example of either woolly thinking or deliberate (religious?) sophistry - and a good laugh to boot:


"The most basic law of logic is that of non-contradiction. Something can't both be and not be in the same circumstances. LET US DIVIDE 'OUTSIDE OUR UNIVERSE' INTO TWO AREAS: that part which can influence (either directly or indirectly) our universe, and that part which can't. Now, we can't really say anything about those things outside our universe which can't influence our universe; here if the law of non-contradiction could break down, we would never know about it anyway. But that is not what we are interested in studying. But of those things outside our universe which can influence it (IF ANY EXIST), if they can both be and not be in a certain respect in the same circumstances -- this respect being capable of influencing our universe so it being and not being would influence our universe in different ways -- then they would both influence and not influence our universe in a particular way in the same circumstances, and the law of non-contradiction would not apply in our universe. But it does apply. Therefore it must also apply to everything outside our universe which can influence us. Therefore, at least some of the laws of logic apply to at least the most interesting things which lie outside our universe. Therefore your conclusion (2) is false." ---- (my capitals)

What absolute nonsense and gibberish! His whole 'argument' rests (and falls!) on the totally unfounded assumption that

a) there IS an "outside our universe" (if there isn't: end of argument!), and 
b) it can be divided up into two parts (!), and
c) one part influences our universe (!), and 
d) the other part doesn't.(!)

And since my argument contains no contradiction, non-contradiction has nothing to do with it anyway. So he needn't have bothered.

I rather think that this conservative Catholic critic of my "conclusion (2)" has, if you'll excuse the expression, got his knickers in a terribly illogical twist. ---- Next criticism, please.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous Troll:

"Another attempt at criticism. This time the critic spends the largest part of his time calling me an idiot or a philosophically illiterat troll etc. etc. ad hominem, ad nauseam. -- No arguments there.

But he does then say: "take P to be the proposition "The laws of logic apply outside the universe." If P is true, then we are done. Assume P is false. It is still is the case that P is true. For one could only deny its truth by appealing to the LNC, but such an appeal is what the Anonymous Troll has forfeited. So we are done.""

So you are responding to my comment. Nowhere did I called you an idiot or a philosophically illiterate troll (though I did call you an "Anonymous Troll"), neither did I spent "the largest part of his [my] time" doing so; in other words, you are lying. But allow me to fix that: you are a moron. Proof as follows:

"Nonsense! He fails to understand that I am arguing logically from 'inside our universe' where logic does apply."

You are certainly 'inside our universe'; but whether you are inside or outside it is irrelevant for *my* argument, for what I wrote was 'Another is: take P to be the proposition "The laws of logic apply outside the universe."' It is about whether logic applies or not outside the universe, a fact of the matter, quite independently of whether you are inside the universe or not, of whether you are "arguing logically from 'inside our universe'" or not (whatever that means; people are "inside the universe" and can reason either logically or ilogically, that is, being "inside the universe" is quite irrelevant to the matter), of even whether you exist or not.

And for the record, the reason why the laws of logic apply outside the universe is not some "Catholic assumption" or what have you, but because laws of logic are formulations of laws of being, and thus apply to every existent thing, whether it is "inside the universe" or not.

"And the logical conclusion I reach is that our brain is not competent to grasp anything not in our universe."

Logical conclusion? If it is indeed true what you are saying, it is contingently true, so it is a matter of empirical investigation whether it is in fact true. It certainly is true of you, but for the rather trivial reason that you are a moron and cannot argue your way out of a paper bag. But really what is the argument, the evidence, to substantiate such a claim about the rest of mankind that is not logically challenged like you are?

"Whether logic applies 'there' or not is totally irrelevant to my argument. --- So I have not abandoned logic, and there is no contradiction in my argument either."

I did not point out any contradiction in your argument. The reason is simple: you did not make any argument for me to point out any contradiction. You do not know what an argument is. You are a moron. Tell me: when you have an itch to scratch your head, is it disappointment you feel when you realize there is nothing to scratch? How does it feel when the wind rattles your skull and finds just the place empty and dead?

I responded for the shits and giggles, but dealing with morons gets tiresome fast and sours the otherwise generally wholesome atmosphere of the blog.

Greg said...

@ grodriguez

But really what is the argument, the evidence, to substantiate such a claim about the rest of mankind that is not logically challenged like you are?

I think you must have missed this gem:

Proofs of God are garbage. Here is my clear argument why:

PREMISES 1-6
1. The human brain enables us with the help of our senses to perceive what is around us.
2. The human brain enables us to think cognitively.
3. The human brain is the product of an evolutionary process.
4. This process has taken place solely within the domain of 'OUR' universe.
5. The human brain has developed a competence for the demands of THIS domain (i.e. 'our' universe) and for no other.

CONCLUSIONS 1-2
1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand, imagine or deduce anything not within this domain, i.e. not within 'our' universe.

2) Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the laws OF nature and logic, or even time and space,that apply in 'our' universe must necessarily apply 'anywhere' other than within our own universe.


I bet now you're ready to eat your words!

Martin said...

Y'all don't need to argue that the universe as a whole has a cause. You know that right? That the First Way can be used with the bowl of cereal sitting in front of me right now?

bitvast said...


What absolute nonsense and gibberish! His whole 'argument' rests (and falls!) on the totally unfounded assumption that

a) there IS an "outside our universe" (if there isn't: end of argument!), and
b) it can be divided up into two parts (!), and
c) one part influences our universe (!), and
d) the other part doesn't.(!)


And you've totally misunderstood BB's argument. While you're buying a copy of TLS, pick up "Logic For Dummies".

Scott said...

I haven't looked at the weather forecast, but it feels a little getting trolled out today.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

I can sympathize with your position, which is one that I held a few years ago, until discussions with commenters here disabused me of the ridiculousness of the position that the laws of logic might not apply outside our spatio-temporal universe. The reason I once took that idea seriously was because it seemed to me to cripple theism in a single blow. After all, if the laws of logic do not apply outside the universe, then anything outside the universe is beyond our reasoning abilities and understanding, and at best, we should be agnostic about anything outside the universe at all, which undermined the religious certainty of theists. That is because if rational arguments, such as a cosmological argument, show that the universe itself depends upon something outside the universe, then such a conclusion is only illusory, because the logic of the argument itself remains within the universe, and thus cannot reach outside the universe at all, including to an ultimate ground of the universe itself.

However, there is a problem with the position that the laws of logic only apply within the universe. Say that there is an outside the universe O, and let’s focus upon the law of non-contradiction LNC. If the LNC does not apply to O, because the LNC is a logical principle, and thus can only apply to not-O, then O can have contradictory properties P and not-P. For example, O can be totally outside the universe (i.e. P) and totally inside the universe (i.e. not-P). So, O must totally exist within the universe, if the LNC does not apply outside the universe. But that means that we have a logical contradiction within the universe, because what is outside the universe is inside the universe, i.e. O is P and not-P, which is incoherent according to the logical principles that are operative within the universe. So, avoiding the LNC outside the universe necessarily has an impact within the universe, which would undermine logic within the universe itself.

Now, you could respond by saying that this argument just shows that O is impossible, and thus cannot possibly exist. The problem with that position is that you are applying a logical principle, i.e. if X is impossible, then X cannot possibly exist, to something outside the universe, which is precisely where such principles cannot operate. So, the only way for you to argue, i.e. using logic, that O is impossible is if the laws of logic are operative upon O, which completely undermines your original position.

The bottom line is that if you are taking any position about O at all necessarily implies that the laws of logic are operative upon O. Otherwise, you are left with utter incoherence, which was the main reason why I ended up, oddly enough by the force of logic, to reject the position that you now espouse.

Anonymous said...

dguller, that was beautiful.

I used to hold a different but related position. I thought that we are not justified in abstracting logical propositions away from direct experience; that is to say, "legitimate" philosophy is the linguistic description of the findings of science (and perhaps normative subjective mental experiences), and "illegitimate" philosophy is any speculation logically derived from that description.

I abandoned this position on scientific grounds. The realm of experience has grown exponentially with the advances of the empirical sciences, and to date there has not been a single empirical finding which has entailed a contradiction. In other words, it is consistent with all of the "legitimate" evidence that LNC is universally valid and applicable. It has not been falsified, but on the contrary, its strength only grows with each new scientific discovery.

Alan Fox said...

Say that there is an outside the universe O

But that is precisely what we cannot say!

dguller said...

Alan:

Why can't we talk about what it outside the universe? Sure, our conception of it will be saturated by our experience of the universe, but we can still refer to what it outside the universe in a basic fashion with several negations thrown into the mix to distinguish it from the universe itself.

Prince Randoms said...

It's easy to spot an insane person, just look at the punctuation usage.

Anonymous said...

Alan,

Aristotle establishes that there must be an O (i.e., according to logical reasoning *inside the universe*, that the universe cannot be self-sufficient). What we're discussing now is whether the laws of logic obtain in O.

You are changing the subject.

Scott said...

"What we're discussing now is whether the laws of logic obtain in O."

Yep. And there's not much that needs to be said on that subject beyond the fundamental point already made by grodrigues: that the laws of logic are laws of being, so that the entire inside/outside controversy is a red herring.

Of course those who are trolling sometimes use red herring as bait…

Alan Fox said...

Why can't we talk about what it outside the universe?

We can talk about what we imagine might be beyond the limits of the past and future light-cone of the Earth. Whether that is more of the same, more of something completely different or nothing at all, we can't say.

Alan Fox said...

Aristotle establishes that there must be an O (i.e., according to logical reasoning *inside the universe*, that the universe cannot be self-sufficient). What we're discussing now is whether the laws of logic obtain in O.

Seems that you can imagine what you like about the "elsewhere". What neither you nor Aristotle can do is establish it by logic or any other option.

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"What neither you nor Aristotle can do is establish it by logic or any other option."

Unfortunately I seem to have missed not only your critique of the argument but even any evidence that you understand it.

Fred said...

Mr. Green, Your comments have had me in stiches since yesterday. But maybe you guys should take it a bit easy on shrill anon. He is obviously very young (intellectually and emotionally if not chronologically). I realize his arrogance and apparent idiocy make it hard to care, but I bet he's a bright kid who has read a couple of gnu atheist blog entries and maybe even a book or two and now feels ready to go forth and slay the dragons of ignorance and superstition. He is at least interested in philosophy, if woefully uninformed about it, and argumentation, if woefully incompetent at it. Honestly, he sounds a bit like I did at his age (which I take to be 15 to 20), although I was less extreme. Give him time. Maybe he'll grow up. When he does, maybe he'll even come to see the rationality of theism.

Matt Sheean said...

What do shrill anon and Alan think "outside the universe" means?

I ask because I would apply that generally to unchanging things, like logic. What anon and Alan are saying wouldn't just apply to the universe and "O". It would apply to now and later. If the laws of logic were materially grounded then there would be nothing to prevent them from not holding later, let alone outside the universe. But if they are the same now as they will be later, then they are already, in effect "outside" the universe.

Timotheos said...

Somehow This seems appropriate...

Anonymous said...

I honestly must thank BB (I hope it is BB) on the Feser-blog for making a first, cogent and polite attempt at refuting my arguments. Perhaps he has. His arguments are much too long to reproduce here, but he criticises my premises numbers 4 and 5 and my two conclusions. Here are my replies:

4: By universe I simply mean what astrophysicist mean by it, everything that, as far as we know, exists. The expanding universe full of galaxies existing in space-time. --- (It might make my argument clearer if we speak of 'domain', because if anything exists 'outside' our universe there are no grounds to assume it must be another universe!)

5: I say THIS universe "and no other" because it is in this universe and in no other that our brain has evolved and has consequently adapted itself (for want of a better word) solely to the categories of time/space/logic existing in THIS universe. That is, I think, indisputable.

I may be quite wrong, but if in a possible 'other universe' or domain) different categories exist than those for which our brain has acquired competence, than I think it is logical to claim that there are no grounds for assuming that our brain will have the capacity to enable us to grasp them.

I don't think it is correct to say that "the laws of nature, logic, time and space etc. are dependent on our brains". Our brain enables us to (try to) understand them. That is all.

You say I have "not given all the available evidence in (my) premises" and I think you are probably right. I must add the above arguments to them. ---- (I jotted down my premises and conclusions in the space of a few minutes, so I need perhaps to reformulate then more precisely and comprehensively. )

Thank you, BB, for an intersting contribution.

Another contributor is so upset at my comments that he calls me an "anonymous troll", a "moron" and a "liar". Well, it's nice to be appreciated! - But look! He then comes up with this 'logical' gem:

"... the reason why the laws of logic apply outside the universe is not some "Catholic assumption" or what have you, but because laws of logic are formulations of laws of being, and thus apply to every existent thing, whether it is "inside the universe" or not."
Well, that's settled that then. We can forget the idea that if, repeat: if, there is a domain beyond our own universe it is worthy of consideration that the categories of time, space, logic etc. that we are familiar with in OUR universe might perhaps not exist there. And that there are no grounds for assuming that they do. - Which is all I claim!

I hope that's clear even to this critic of mine now.

Black Luster said...

"By universe I simply mean what astrophysicist mean by it, everything that, as far as we know, exists."

This is an unfounded assumption. Why can we only accept the astrophysicists' definition?

Do note that scientism is self refuting.

Greg said...

@ Anon

I honestly must thank BB (I hope it is BB) on the Feser-blog for making a first, cogent and polite attempt at refuting my arguments.

I've pointed out that your argument begs the question. You denied this, saying, "The 'arguer' says my conclusions are "essentially rephrasings of premise 5". I disagree. Premise 5 explains why my two conclusion must follow." This of course doesn't solve the difficulty, as I pointed out, quoting you:

5. The human brain has developed a competence for the demands of THIS domain (i.e. 'our' universe) and for no other.

CONCLUSIONS 1-2
1. Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the human brain has the capacity to understand, imagine or deduce anything not within this domain, i.e. not within 'our' universe.

2) Consequently we have no grounds for assuming that the laws OF nature and logic, or even time and space,that apply in 'our' universe must necessarily apply 'anywhere' other than within our own universe.


The human brain is competent in this domain and "no other". Therefore, (conclusion 1:) we can't assume that the human brain can understand anything outside of this domain.

So yes. You've added a few words ("understand," "imagine," "deduce") but there is no new content in conclusion 1 that is not in premise 5. Therefore premise 5 begs the question.

Conclusion 2 seems to just be an instantiation of conclusion 1.

I won't quibble about whether or not I was "polite," though if you reread the posts in which I made this point, I think there is relatively little grounds for complaint.

The broader problem is that this is a "cogent" refutation. You assume your conclusion.

Perhaps what you intended was that premise 5 be a conclusion rather than a premise, which leads us to my next cogent refutation: if you were to amend your argument in that way, it is patently invalid. Since you have not attempted to demonstrate the validity of your argument (ie. showing how to arrive at the conclusions from the premises by only valid rules of inference), the refutation currently stands.

(You can tell that I am correct in the charge of question begging because you could claim that the conclusions follow from premise 5 without appealing to premises 1-4. Everything in the conclusions is essentially contained in premise 5, albeit not very clearly.)

By universe I simply mean what astrophysicist mean by it, everything that, as far as we know, exists.

Well, I don't think that's exactly what astrophysicists mean. They might countenance a multiverse, for example, so that there are universes other than our own, things which exist that are not in the universe.

The other issue is that "everything that, as far as we know, exists" is doubly ambiguous, and neither sense will help you.

What we know to exist changes, so if you mean that the universe is what we know to exist, then clearly we can know about things outside of the universe because we can come to know about new things.

If the universe is not defined in terms of our knowledge (as is most plausible but not suggested by what you've just said), but is just everything that exists, then it might as well include God, if God exists.

Greg said...

And that there are no grounds for assuming that they do. - Which is all I claim!

You repeatedly act as though this is some sort of modest claim that absolves you from criticism. But people have provided arguments that given such modesty, we can still show that if there is such a thing as "outside" of the universe, then the laws of logic apply there. dguller has done so, for example. I have also pointed out that the Five Ways don't have to assume that the laws of logic apply "outside" the universe; they can be made to show that the soundness of the laws of logic (and causality etc.) in the universe requires something that is not in the universe. To phrase it alternatively: if there is nothing outside of the universe, then the laws of logic and causality don't hold in the universe. (Modus tollens: But they do hold in the universe; therefore...)

dguller said...

Anonymous:

The expanding universe full of galaxies existing in space-time.

That is fine, but an essential feature of this universe is that it is changing and transient. That necessarily implies a transition from potency to act, which is an essential feature of all change. If the cosmological argument is correct, and I think that it is, then it would necessarily follow that in order for the essential series of transitions from potency to act to exist at all, there must be a being that is pure act and utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever. Such a being could not possibly exist within the universe, because only transient and changeable entities exist within the universe, and thus it would have to exist outside the universe.

I may be quite wrong, but if in a possible 'other universe' or domain) different categories exist than those for which our brain has acquired competence, than I think it is logical to claim that there are no grounds for assuming that our brain will have the capacity to enable us to grasp them.

I think that you are correct that other realities outside our universe, if they exist, do not necessarily have to share all features of our universe, and thus may involve different categories in some regards. However, the issue here is not whether some physical variables may be different, but whether the laws of logic must operate in any reality. It is incoherent to say that a reality outside the universe can violate the laws of logic, as grodrigues and others have demonstrated. To even say that a reality outside the universe can violate the laws of logic is to presuppose logic itself, particular the LNC. That is one consequence of the indirect proof for the LNC that Aristotle offers in the Metaphysics.

if, there is a domain beyond our own universe it is worthy of consideration that the categories of time, space, logic etc. that we are familiar with in OUR universe might perhaps not exist there.

Again, some of what you say is perfectly true. That which exists outside of the universe of space-time will not be characterized by spatial and temporal properties, and thus those categories will certainly not be applicable to it. However, the issue is whether logic is applicable to this being beyond space-time. It seems pretty clear to be that denying that the laws of logic are operative in such a being is reduced to utter incoherence.

Black Luster said...

Also,

"I don't think it is correct to say that "the laws of nature, logic, time and space etc. are dependent on our brains". Our brain enables us to (try to) understand them. That is all."

and

"laws of logic are formulations of laws of being, and thus apply to every existent thing, whether it is "inside the universe" or not."

are not mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

Anyone here read Kreefts Summa of the Summa?
Is it on par with Fesers work?

ccmnxc said...

Anyone here read Kreefts Summa of the Summa?
Is it on par with Fesers work?


With respect to Peter Kreeft, I don't think he is even on the same level as Prof. Feser. That is not to deny the benefit of Kreefts work (I greatly appreciated his Socratic Logic text, and Summa of the Summa, from what I have seen, provides a decent introduction for the layman. However, I think there are few if any works that rival Feser's Aquinas at least when it comes to his philosophy.

I'm not saying don't buy Kreeft's book, but if you had to choose between the two, I would recommend Dr. Feser's work.


Now, turning to our Anon visitor, I think this is something that has been touched on before, but maybe a rephrasing couldn't hurt:
Let's grant that the laws of logic do not apply (or at least remain consistent) outside the universe (whatever that might mean). Since things like the LNC are called into question, I don't see why one cannot say this realm outside of the universe is both outside the universe and inside the universe. But if it is inside the universe, the laws of logic apply. This is a contradiction, so we cannot grant such an assumption.
Formalized:

1. There exists a realm outside the universe to which our laws of logic don't apply. (Assumption)

2. One of our laws of logic is the Law of Non-contradiction. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the LNC does not apply to this realm outside the universe (From 1 and 2).

4. If the LNC does not apply to this realm, it can be both outside an inside our universe. (Premise)

5. Therefore, this realm can be both inside and outside our universe. (From 4 and 5)

[At this point, I would consider it a successful reductio, but allow me to press further].

6. If this realm is inside our universe, our laws of logic apply to it. (Premise)

7. Therefore, our laws of logic apply to this realm. (From 5 and 6)

8. But 7 contradicts 1, so 1 is false. (From 1 and 7)

ccmnxc said...

4. If the LNC does not apply to this realm, it can be both outside an inside our universe. (Premise)

Should read: ...both inside and outside...

Alan Fox said...

What do[es]...Alan think "outside the universe" means?

Alan does not know how to find anything out about what might lie beyond the physical limit set by the speed of light.

I can make an unwarranted assumption that there is no "outside" and it just goes on with more of the same.

"How do you know that?" I hope someone asks.

I don't.

"How do you know that?" is a question I suggest can be applied to many other unwarranted assumptions spattered over this blog .

E.Seigner said...

Alan Fox: I can make an unwarranted assumption that there is no "outside" and it just goes on with more of the same.

"How do you know that?" I hope someone asks.

I don't.


Since you don't know, you are doomed to trust those who know better. As long as you don't know how knowledge works, you will have to rely on others who know.

To make the process of learning easier for yourself, stop disputing and denying things at every step. After all, you self-admittedly don't know, so it should make sense for you to refrain from telling others how things supposedly are. Observe and learn. The people here have much to teach to you, because, as you said, you don't know, and as you can see, they do. If you turn around and deny it now, you won't be helping your case at all.

Anonymous said...

dguller' I'm deeply indebted to him for a thoroughly clear and coherent response to my argument. My thanks to him for that, and for taking me seriously - instead of the silly rhetoric that others on the blog have directed against me. I shall read and inwardly digest what 'dguller' has written, and see whether I think he is correct and has refuted my argument.

Anonymous said...

I might be wrong, but as he seems to have been trying to refute Aquinas' First Way, the shrill Anon was talking more of the principle of causality than the laws of logic. His poor reasoning skills and a lack of clarity in his posts seems to have shifted the discussion to the laws of logic.

Anonymous said...

And didn't Alan Fox admit he didn't have a basic knowledge of logic or argumentation a week or so ago? Now he is back making confident assertions on another philosophical topic.

Mike D said...

Wow...Alan Fox, you should be very embarrassed for the hinge you linked at your blog on your profile.

I read your post about some college student named ERV as well as the link to her (??) blog post about Dembski.

It's just a nastiest of nasty hit pieces. It's the level of mean spirited posts that go on youtube comments. And that's the people you support and associate with?? Wow. I mean WOW.

I'm no supporter of ID. But that level of angst directed at it is freaky.

I've seen you posting on here and that's the extent of my familiarity with you. But this is pretty eye opening.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Someone mentioned Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic . Does anyone know if the opinions he expresses about classical versus symbolic logic in that work are correct? Is it true that, although modern or symbolic logic represents a progress of knowledge, its utility is largely restricted to mathematics, science, and computers and that traditional logic is still overwhelming more useful in most philosophical discussion?

Also, I have a grasp of fundamental logic, that topics covered in Socratic Logic and other introductory logic texts, but I'd like to learn more intermediate and advanced logic. Does anyone have any recommendations? Works that cover modern developments (as well as more advanced pre-modern logic) but are sympathetic to an Aristotelian or Platonic perspective would be especially welcome, if any actually exist.

Mike d said...

Alan, you'll have to pardon. I had to look around and didn't have to even search hard.
But you're all over this ERV/Abbie smiths blog.

Even contributing to her combox. And what I've read from her amounts to little more than incredibly rude and disgusting insults. "Saying IDers offer blowjobs for 6.99"

http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2008/07/01/green-buttocks/comment-page-1/

Alan Fox said...

And didn't Alan Fox admit he didn't have a basic knowledge of logic or argumentation a week or so ago?

Nope. The words were "formal logic".

Now he is back making confident assertions on another philosophical topic.

Nope, I am questioning a factual claim; that there is something outside the universe. I say we have no way of knowing, so any logical argument based on this claim is not sound.

Alan Fox said...

Alan Fox, you should be very embarrassed for the hinge you linked at your blog on your profile.

I should have pointed out earlier that The Skeptical Zone is not my blog. It was set up and is funded by Dr Elizabeth Liddle, a neuroscientist, partly to allow dialogue between differing viewpoints. I agree with the ideal, help with the housekeeping and have spent some time there.

What's a hinge in the context of a blog?

Alan Fox said...

Alan, you'll have to pardon. I had to look around and didn't have to even search hard.
But you're all over this ERV/Abbie smiths blog.


Interesting approach to the ad hominem :)

While one duplicated comment in 2008 seems a bit of a stretch to "all over Abbie Smith's blog", I can understand you might choose to smear me by association with an articulate, feisty female. There does seem to be a lack of a woman's voice in this pit of misogyny.

bitvast said...

@ Jeremy Taylor,

You might like to try Sommers & Englebretsen's "Something To Reckon With: The Logic of Terms". Fred Sommers developed a system which generalized Aristotle's Dictum de Omni et Nullo for use with relational terms and multiple quantification. Compared to the modern predicate calculus, it's a cinch to learn and use, and sacrifices no logical power.

It never really caught on though. There was another book called "An Invitation to Formal Reasoning" by the same authors, but sadly now seems to be out of print.

I believe that David Oderberg put together a collection of articles by various authors on Sommers' work; can't remember the name of it though.

Anonymous said...

Who's Abbie Smith?
Damn you all. Now I'm interested in seeing who this beastie that Alan Fox associates with.

Where are you reading this information?

Alan Fox said...

Abbie Smith

She's not a philosopher, merely a scientist. One of the worst kind - a research scientist.

Alan Fox said...

Her blog appears to focus on her work on HIV and retroviruses.

Not much to interest lofty theologians.

E.Seigner said...

Alan Fox: Nope, I am questioning a factual claim; that there is something outside the universe. I say we have no way of knowing, so any logical argument based on this claim is not sound.

Before we get to formal logic, it is worth while to pay attention what exactly is being claimed. it's not "something outside the universe" as in any old thing. It's about laws of logic. When you figure out in what sense laws of logic exist, then you can infer *where* they exist.

For example, when one supposes that logic is non-spatial and immaterial the way mathematical objects and universals are, then it follows that, from our point of view, laws of logic are omnipresent, i.e. equally effective both within and beyond our horizon of spatial perception.

You may have some other understanding how laws of logic exist, but this would require you to have an actual grasp of formal logic. When you get it, it will be possible to continue the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Again, although he confused matters no end by mentioning logic, if you read the shri Anons original comments it is clear he was primarily talking about causality, as he was attacking the First Way and even mentions motion/moving.

Alan Fox said...

Before we get to formal logic, it is worth while to pay attention what exactly is being claimed. it's not "something outside the universe" as in any old thing. It's about laws of logic. When you figure out in what sense laws of logic exist, then you can infer *where* they exist.

I'm happy to concede for the sake of argument that logic can work if the premises are valid. And if you want to have logical arguments that have conclusions that have no entailments built from premises that have no entailments, then - whatever rocks your boat.

But, if you are basing a claim on a premise about the universe, whether it is or is not infinite, whether it or is not bounded, whether it exists in the same or in some different form beyond the limits of the past and future light-cone, then the argument is not sound. It is not sound because nobody knows. Human knowledge is limited. Human imagination not so much. (Though the inevitable anthropomorphic slant in human invention and story telling does suggest human imagination is not limitless, either.)

bitvast said...

Just remembered that I have a PDF of "An Invitation to Formal Reasoning: The Logic of Terms". By Sommers & Englebretsen. I could upload it to a file repository and post the link here if anyone's interested (assuming that's ok with Prof. Feser). As I said, the book is now OUP.

Gottfried said...

Shrill anon,

As has been pointed out repeatedly, the premises of your "argument" are question begging. And even if they were not, your conclusion would not follow. You can bluff and bluster all you want, but you aren't fooling anyone other than yourself. And perhaps Alan Fox, in which case congratulations.

P.S. If this is all a joke it stopped being funny some time ago.

E.Seigner said...

Anonymous: Again, although he confused matters no end by mentioning logic, if you read the shri Anons original comments it is clear he was primarily talking about causality,...

Boils down to the same thing: Figure out in what way causality exists and then you'll see how the universe relates to it.

Today I saw a bizarre term: Contra-causal free will. It's probably supposed to mean free will in the sense that deniers of free will and "compatibilists" would reject it. However, basic definitions aside, isn't will obviously causal? Doesn't our will have causal powers over the environment? It obviously does. So where does "contra-causal free will" come from? What is apparently meant is anti-deterministic or contra-mechanistic.

Bottom line: The dispute is really about the *definition* of causality. There are people who totally hate the existence of subjective motivation and final causes as part of the definition of causality.

Alan Fox: Human knowledge is limited. Human imagination not so much.

And which one of these is the domain of logic? Is logic knowledge or imagination?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Bitvast,

If that's okay, it would be great. Thanks.

Greg said...

@ Alan

"How do you know that?" is a question I suggest can be applied to many other unwarranted assumptions spattered over this blog

As usual, book-length treatments to the contrary notwithstanding.

Alan Fox said...

Is logic knowledge or imagination?

In the sense of knowing how to make and use a tool, logic is knowledge. Not sure that it prevents anyone from using logic in an argument based on imaginary premises.

bitvast said...

Here you go:

http://www.filedropper.com/tfl

Regarding other "advanced" logic texts, you might take a look at Jewish Philosopher Avi Sion's site: www.thelogician.net

His "Future Logic" and "The Logic of Causation" are the most relevant. Another philosopher scathing of modern logic - there's a quite entertaining critique in chapter 64 of Future Logic.

Any problems with the download let me know.

E.Seigner said...

Alan Fox: In the sense of knowing how to make and use a tool, logic is knowledge. Not sure that it prevents anyone from using logic in an argument based on imaginary premises.

And what you are saying here, is it logic, knowledge or imagination? How do you know?

dguller said...

Alan:

But, if you are basing a claim on a premise about the universe, whether it is or is not infinite, whether it or is not bounded, whether it exists in the same or in some different form beyond the limits of the past and future light-cone, then the argument is not sound. It is not sound because nobody knows. Human knowledge is limited. Human imagination not so much.

You are claiming that it is impossible to argue from within the universe towards what is beyond the universe. And yet, that is precisely what arguments, such as the cosmological argument, purport to do. In order to demonstrate their unsoundness, you would have to demonstrate the falsity of their premises, which you have not yet done. The premises are basically that (1) there are things that are changing within the universe, (2) all change is a transition from potency to act, (3) the transition from potency to act can only be caused by something else in act, and (4) an actual infinite per se causal series is impossible. From (1) to (4), one can conclude that a being that is pure act must exist in order for change to occur at all in the universe. And since pure act cannot exist in the universe, because it is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever, it must exist beyond or outside the universe. So, from various facts about the universe, logic and reason can deduce the reality of something beyond the universe.

Now, you are certainly correct that what we can know about what is beyond the universe is very limited. Most of our knowledge of it is essentially the negation of different characteristics of the universe, e.g. it is immutable, infinite, immaterial, etc… But we also have some limited positive knowledge of it, e.g. it is pure act, the universe is causally dependent upon it, it is causally independent of the universe, etc… The problem is how to understand this positive knowledge of what is beyond the universe, and the classical solution is to postulate some kind of similarity or resemblance between the universe and what is beyond the universe, which grounds our predication of what is beyond the universe on the basis of a kind of analogical predication with what is within the universe. This avoids both extreme agnosticism (i.e. equivocal predication) and extreme anthropomorphism (i.e. univocal predication). But even analogical predication contains an inherent instability and tension requiring both affirmation and negation that repeat one another in an infinite series that never ends in a stable cognitive and linguistic construct that adequately captures what is beyond the universe. But that’s a whole other matter!

ccmnxc said...

Someone mentioned Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic . Does anyone know if the opinions he expresses about classical versus symbolic logic in that work are correct? Is it true that, although modern or symbolic logic represents a progress of knowledge, its utility is largely restricted to mathematics, science, and computers and that traditional logic is still overwhelming more useful in most philosophical discussion?

It's difficult to say as someone not well-versed in philosophical logic and the like. However, Kreeft and Trent Dougherty attacked truth-functional forms of symbolic logic. I think it might depend on what axioms one's brand of mathematical logic revolve around (cause from what I know, not all are the same), and so I would be tentative about any conclusions drawn from Kreeft's book as being absolute.

bitvast said...


Does anyone know if the opinions he expresses about classical versus symbolic logic in that work are correct?

IMO, Kreeft is making a mountain out of a molehill. He makes a big deal out of material implication - the fact that if p, then q is only invalid in the case where p is true and q is false - but in actuality, the symbolic logician can't make a valid inference either from the denial of p or from the affirmation of q.

I agree with him regarding existential import though. The modern interpretation holds that universals don't assume the existence of their subjects, only particulars do. But the Scholastic view is that it isn't Logic's place say whether anything exists. A proposition asserts of a subject what it is, not that it is.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Thanks for that Bitvast.

When it comes to Kreeft, I was more talking about his basic contention that, although modern or symbolic logic represents a genuine increase in knowledge, it has little utility for most philosophical discussion, as opposed to mathematics, computers, and science.

Mr. Green said...

Gottfried: If this is all a joke it stopped being funny some time ago.

Yes… I’ve had to downgrade my assessment from parodist to troll. I still think there’s a certain rhetorical quality, particularly in the first-person perspective, that indicates deliberate provocation. But as I said, actual troll or virtual — the effect is the same.


Fred: Mr. Green, Your comments have had me in stiches since yesterday. [But] He is at least interested in philosophy, if woefully uninformed about it, and argumentation, if woefully incompetent at it.

Thanks; if we have to suffer this verbal vandalism, I at least like to try to get a chuckle out of it. I’m not so sure there is any true interest in philosophy, though. I have no problem with someone disagreeing, even incompetently or determinedly so. But genuine interest is exactly what I don’t see in the blatherings of posters like Anonymous or Fox. They make it abundantly clear that they have no clue what they’re talking about, and that they have utterly no inclination or openness to learning anything new. In fact, DGuller is unreasonably generous in comparing himself to Anon. — his desire to understand things was clear, regardless of whether he happened to agree or not.

Even Scott, possibly the most equanimous commenter we have here, was moved to call a spade a spade. Although I see he’s now removed his post. Pity; I thought it was spot on and entirely deserved.

Bob said...

dguller

The concept of Act and Potency, as you are using it in your argument, seems arbitrary unless one also supposes final causality. This, in that there seems to never be a point where A is not actually A, nor does there ever seem to be a point where actual A is, in all respects, identical to actual A at some other point.

The problem with premise 3 might be the fact that every action will have an equal but opposite reaction. B pushing A is equal but opposite to A pushing B. Thus it might not imply what you seem to need it to imply in your conclusion. (Can Pure Act, if it can even actually exist, change anything at all)?

Premise 4 seems to ignore the possibility of an accidental -> per se type of series and seems to be based on a false dichotomy of either accident or per se.

I am not sure where you get "being" from in your conclusion, unless as I said earlier, you are presupposing final causality; even more so, you seem to be presupposing conscious intent. Perhaps a hidden premise?

Finally, even if the argument is sound, I am still not sure why the universe itself wouldn't be the more parsimonious conclusion for "pure act", since we have, as Alan rightly points out, absolutely no knowledge of an "outside the universe".

Anonymous said...

You do know dguller's argument is the First Way of Aquinas right?

The Irish Thomist said...

Anonymous has proven themselves a Troll already - Do Not Feed. Ignore the cliams 'but nobody has refuted my argument' - just a way to get you wrestle with a pig again (and get dirty in the process). They are getting way too much attention and they are making you look silly by interacting with the non-arguments. They are giving a good parody of ignorance and arrogance mind you.

Anonymous said...

Finally, even if the argument is sound, I am still not sure why the universe itself wouldn't be the more parsimonious conclusion for "pure act", since we have, as Alan rightly points out, absolutely no knowledge of an "outside the universe".

Alan doesn't rightly point that out, because it's not right. We have good reasons to believe we have knowledge of 'outside the universe', and we've seen some of that on display in this thread.

Also, even the attempt to substitute "the universe" into this argument is hopeless if the desire is to avoid a non-materialist or even theistic conclusion. To have "the universe" satisfy the premises would be to re-imagine "the universe" radically away from what atheists/materialists mean when they try to offer it up.

Bob said...

Alan doesn't rightly point that out, because it's not right. We have good reasons to believe we have knowledge of 'outside the universe', and we've seen some of that on display in this thread.


At most, we have seen some postulates that, if true, may point to an "outside the universe". However, none of this can be considered knowledge, at least as far as how I would define the word.



Also, even the attempt to substitute "the universe" into this argument is hopeless if the desire is to avoid a non-materialist or even theistic conclusion. To have "the universe" satisfy the premises would be to re-imagine "the universe" radically away from what atheists/materialists mean when they try to offer it up.


I am not clear on what you are trying to communicate.

Anonymous said...

At most, we have seen some postulates that, if true, may point to an "outside the universe". However, none of this can be considered knowledge, at least as far as how I would define the word.

How would you define the word? It pretty clearly seems to be knowledge in a usual and casual sense of the term.

I am not clear on what you are trying to communicate.

That trying to use 'the universe' to satisfy the argument(s) will necessarily require a radical rethink and redescription of what most critics of these arguments mean when they typically say "the universe". It would be definition shuffling that wouldn't achieve anything substantial, since it isn't as if you'd change any of what are really the worrisome particularities for the skeptic/atheist.

Think of it this way. What if someone responded to the cartesian dualist that there did in fact exist some non-extended, mental substance that satisfied all of the requirements Descartes outlined for said substance to have, but said "but this is just another, exotic material"? Okay, you're now using a definition of material that includes both of the two components of Descartes' dualism, and thus in a way you can say Descartes' arguments, even his whole position, was no threat to materialism. But you'd be achieving that by changing what "materialism" in a radical way.

In fact, I think Ed already alluded to this in the past when he talked about pantheism as one option for dealing with these cosmological speculations. Not "isn't the universe neat" materialism-with-warm-fuzzies pantheism, but full-on religious theistic pantheism.

Bob said...

How would you define the word? It pretty clearly seems to be knowledge in a usual and casual sense of the term.

Justified belief. In this case and due to the nature of the proposition, the justification would be provided by empirical evidence.

Regarding the rest, I still am not following your point. Are you confusing the map for the territory here?

Greg said...

@ Bob

Justified belief.

So knowledge is not necessarily true? Or is truth supposed to be entailed by the justification component. (Knowledge has historically been defined as justified true belief but there are well-known counterexamples.)

In this case and due to the nature of the proposition, the justification would be provided by empirical evidence.

What is the "nature" of this proposition?

Suppose a proposition is shown to follow from certain other propositions. If someone knows the other propositions, then does one know the conclusion? Presumably when you refer to the "nature" of the proposition, you mean to imply that by reading a proposition we can tell what sort of justification is necessary for our knowing it to be knowledge. But that would imply that other propositions (in a network of beliefs, for example) are not relevant to whether a belief could be knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Justified belief. In this case and due to the nature of the proposition, the justification would be provided by empirical evidence.

I don't see it, or at the least, the determination seems arbitrary. You are asking for empirical evidence of that which is beyond the universe? And "in this case and due to the nature of the proposition"?

Logic, argument and reason seems to work just fine here. But how about this: tell me what "empirical evidence" for this proposition would even look like.

Regarding the rest, I still am not following your point. Are you confusing the map for the territory here?

Not at all. I'm saying what must be true about the territory in question if you're claiming the map is pointing at it.

Alan Fox said...

First thanks to dguller for taking my comments at face-value. Much appreciated

I see that commenter "Bob" has also questioned the validity of a premise that might involve elsewhere than the knowable universe.

Might I suggest we could first agree whether the properties of the universe and whether it is possible to coherently discuss anything beyond it has any bearing on the premises that Ed Feser claims is his misunderstood argument for God.

If not, we could save a lot of time by establishing what Feser's premises are rather than arguing over something that is not such a premise.

Bob said...

I left off 'true' in order to avoid derailing the discussion. Instead, I supplied what I believe, in the case of "outside the universe", would be sufficient to justify such a belief.

There either is an "outside the universe", or there is not. It is a binary question, basically true or false. This does not mean that we would need to directly observationally verify an "outside the universe", but does mean that we would at least need to indirectly observationally verify its existence. To my understanding, we do not currently have any such indirect observational evidence.

Scott said...

Mr. Green wrote:

"Even Scott, possibly the most equanimous commenter we have here, was moved to call a spade a spade. Although I see he’s now removed his post. Pity; I thought it was spot on and entirely deserved."

Thanks, Mr. Green. For the record, here's what I'd posted as nearly as I can recall it (which is pretty close to word-for-word):

@Alan Fox:

"Not sure that it prevents anyone from using logic in an argument based on imaginary premises."

Alan old bean, I think it's long past time for you to put up or shut up. If you expect to be taken seriously on this subject, then let's see you summarize any version of the cosmological argument that you think you understand, and tell us which of its premises you reject and why.

I don't think you can do it. If you think you can prove me wrong, now's the time.


I deleted it because I realized that it was partly redundant with a slightly earlier post of dguller's, in which dguller had also already summarized for Alan the main premises of the cosmological argument (specifically the First Way).

But there it is, and Alan can respond if he wants to.

Anonymous said...

Bob,

There either is an "outside the universe", or there is not. It is a binary question, basically true or false. This does not mean that we would need to directly observationally verify an "outside the universe", but does mean that we would at least need to indirectly observationally verify its existence. To my understanding, we do not currently have any such indirect observational evidence.

Okay. What would that be? Because the argument has been made that what we observe (motion, change, etc) is sufficient here, and - coupled with the arguments and logic and reason - does the job you ask. It's also empirical.

Also, you say "verify", but you can't mean "be absolutely certain of with no possibility of being wrong". Either way - what would this evidence even look like according to you, indirect or not?

Greg said...

@ Bob

There either is an "outside the universe", or there is not. It is a binary question, basically true or false. This does not mean that we would need to directly observationally verify an "outside the universe", but does mean that we would at least need to indirectly observationally verify its existence. To my understanding, we do not currently have any such indirect observational evidence.

But the point of the First Way (in part) is to offer such an argument. If causation is such and such in the universe*, then there exists a being that is such and such (which entails that it is not "in the universe"). That there is an outside of the universe is not contained in the assumptions.

*One might ask whether causation behaves as claimed in parts of the universe where we haven't observed (or perhaps can't observe). We would need to see an argument that this is claim is relevantly distinct from other skeptical claims about what we cannot observe.

For example, Feser has made arguments for his premises about causation. Do we have reason to believe that they would be undermined because we haven't observed some corner of the Congo?

Another case would be about what is within our observational limits, or seems to be. For example, radiation appears to reach us from distant stars, from which we can judge their compositions, distances, etc. Or can we? This would assume that elements behave the same way far away from us as they do where we have closely studied them, on earth. If we are skeptical about things outside of our light-cone, why is not this skepticism warranted?

Alan Fox said...

Scott writes:

Alan old bean, I think it's long past time for you to put up or shut up. If you expect to be taken seriously on this subject, then let's see you summarize any version of the cosmological argument that you think you understand, and tell us which of its premises you reject and why.

Taking this as a Khrushchev telegram, responding to the substantive element, I parse this as indicating that whether the universe is infinite or not, bounded or not, is surrounded by "elsewhere" or not, is a premise in Ed Feser's cosmological argument for God.

Is this correct?

Anonymous said...

Taking this as a Khrushchev telegram, responding to the substantive element, I parse this as indicating that whether the universe is infinite or not, bounded or not, is surrounded by "elsewhere" or not, is a premise in Ed Feser's cosmological argument for God.

You parse a request for you to summarize a version of the cosmological argument you reject, in your own words, and explain which premises you reject and why... as a claim about an (unspoken?) premise in Feser's cosmological argument?

I think you should instead parse it as a request to summarize a version of the cosmological argument in your own words, and explain which premises you reject and why.

Alan Fox said...

An anonymous commenter wrote:

We have good reasons to believe we have knowledge of 'outside the universe', and we've seen some of that on display in this thread.

Does "anonymous" suffer from dissociative identity disorder?

This may be moot, if Feser's premises don't include the assumption that there is elsewhere other than the observable universe. But what reasons (I would prefer evidence to "justified belief") that there is a place "outside" the universe?

Anonymous said...

Does "anonymous" suffer from dissociative identity disorder?

There can be more than one anonymous. You know that, right?

This may be moot, if Feser's premises don't include the assumption that there is elsewhere other than the observable universe. But what reasons (I would prefer evidence to "justified belief") that there is a place "outside" the universe?

To be clear: you believe that when something outside of the universe is talked about, that people are talking about a place?

I also ask the same question of you that I asked of Bob: what would qualify as "evidence" for something outside the universe? Bob has said it wouldn't need to be direct evidence: indirect would do. Arguments, reason, and like evidence has been rejected: empirical evidence was demanded, at least by Bob, even if it's indirect. But indirect evidence has been supplied, along with those arguments and reason as to what given empirical evidence points indirectly at what is requested.

Let's assume none of that satisfies you. That just leads me to ask: tell us what evidence you want. What would it look like? What would it, hypothetically, be?

Alan Fox said...

Anonymous (but which one? writes:

I think you should instead parse it as a request to summarize a version of the cosmological argument in your own words, and explain which premises you reject and why.

Baby steps.

Is whether the universe finite etc a premise. If it is we have a problem as a sound argument cannot follow from invalid premises.

If it is not, we can move on quite quickly, as I have no objection in principle to the logic.

There is the conclusion, however. We haven't got to that at all yet.

PS if Dguller's comment summarises the TCA adequately, that's fine with me and we are back at "Whether the universe etc".

Anonymous said...

Baby steps.

Is whether the universe finite etc a premise. If it is we have a problem as a sound argument cannot follow from invalid premises.


I think "summarizing the argument, and point out the premises with which you disagree" is, in fact, a baby step. Why not take it?

Or are you saying that you actually don't know whether or not you accept the cosmological argument or not yet?

Maybe you're saying you just don't understand what the premises even are, really, and thus you can't do what's being asked of you and need assistance. In which case, that's fine. Ask as much, and people will be glad to help if they haven't already.

Bob said...

Okay. What would that be? Because the argument has been made that what we observe (motion, change, etc) is sufficient here, and - coupled with the arguments and logic and reason - does the job you ask. It's also empirical.


If the argument is sound, then it at best describes causality within the universe. I am not sure how it is even possible in principle to get beyond that based on our current knowledge.


Also, you say "verify", but you can't mean "be absolutely certain of with no possibility of being wrong". Either way - what would this evidence even look like according to you, indirect or not?



I do not mean absolute certainty, nor do I know what such evidence would look like, maybe something to ask a cosmologist.

@Greg

I do not believe that a metaphysical argument can actually answer the factual question at hand, or better, I do not see how it could do possibly do so.

bitvast said...

At the risk of asking the bleedin' obvious, supposing there is somewhere "outside" the universe; how would we know if we'd found it?

grodrigues said...

@Bob:

Our necessary lack of empirical knowledge of whatever is outside the Universe would be a (possibly) cogent response, if in the argument any premise about whatever is outside the Universe were used. Since it is not, it is a mere waste of time and a betrayal of ignorance of the arguments.

It is likewise baffling your suggestion that "even if the argument is sound, I am still not sure why the universe itself wouldn't be the more parsimonious conclusion". If the argument is sound, the conclusion is true and that is it. Period. The argument is, or purports to be, a rigorous metaphysical demonstration, not a quasi-scientific hypothesis positing the existence of exotic "stuff" to explain this or that natural phenomena, for which appeals to Ockham's razor do make sense. It is doubly baffling because, as anyone conversant with the arguments can tell you, the Universe *cannot* be Pure Act.

The suggestion that the "Universe did it" is lacking in yet another sense. The Universe is but the mereological sum of everything physical possibly with spacetime, if the latter is an item of your inventory of existing things (and if you do think the Universe is something above and beyond a mereological sum than by all means enlighten us). But mereological sums are not substances with causal powers. If I have a bleeding wound, it is ridiculous to suggest that the mereological sum of me and the bullet is somehow a "better" or "more parsimonious" explanation, or even an explanation in any relevant sense, than the actions of the assailant.

Anonymous said...

Bob,

This gets to the heart of things, I think.

I do not mean absolute certainty, nor do I know what such evidence would look like, maybe something to ask a cosmologist.

Why not a philosopher?

Are you saying, then, that it's possible we have the very (indirect) evidence, coupled to reason and explanation, that you think we should have - and that you just aren't aware of it?

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters writes:

But indirect evidence has been supplied, along with those arguments and reason as to what given empirical evidence points indirectly at what is requested.

Disagree but please expand if you wish.

Regarding evidence, are you familiar with Susan Haack (another feisty female) and foundherentism? Her "crossword" analogy gels well with M-theory where partial theories may cover different aspects of reality but are not in disagreement where they overlap. I suspect a theory of everything is as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Alan Fox said...

Well, ther you go!

grodruiges announces unambiguously:

Our necessary lack of empirical knowledge of whatever is outside the Universe would be a (possibly) cogent response, if in the argument any premise about whatever is outside the Universe were used. Since it is not, it is a mere waste of time and a betrayal of ignorance of the arguments.

All moot!

Yes?

Anonymous said...

Disagree but please expand if you wish.

Feel free to expand on where you disagree. I keep asking what the empirical evidence that we're supposed to have but currently lack would look like. Bob has said he doesn't know.

Do you know?

Greg said...

@ Alan

Is whether the universe finite etc a premise. If it is we have a problem as a sound argument cannot follow from invalid premises.
[...]
PS if Dguller's comment summarises the TCA adequately, that's fine with me and we are back at "Whether the universe etc".


There isn't a premise about whether the universe is finite or not in dgullar's formulation. And I agree that one isn't needed. (Certainly not present in Aquinas's or Feser's statements of the First Way.)

@ Bob

I do not believe that a metaphysical argument can actually answer the factual question at hand, or better, I do not see how it could do possibly do so.

I am not sure what you mean. A philosopher defends a few premises and shows that they imply some conclusion.

Where does your problem come in? Do you think that it is never possible to believe "metaphysical" premises? (What about the negations of metaphysical premises?) One might opt for something like a positivist theory of meaning to support such a position. Or do you mean that even if the premises of a valid "metaphysical" argument were granted, we would not be able to say whether the conclusion holds?

Alan Fox said...

An anonymous commenter asks:

I keep asking what the empirical evidence that we're supposed to have but currently lack would look like.

Whatever might lie beyond the past and future light-cone of the Earth is inaccessible to us due to the inability of anything with rest mass to accelerate near the speed of light. It is an un-breachable barrier.

There is no way of knowing what might be beyond that limit. So your question does not make sense, if addressed to me.

Anonymous said...

Whatever might lie beyond the past and future light-cone of the Earth is inaccessible to us due to the inability of anything with rest mass to accelerate near the speed of light. It is an un-breachable barrier.

So, you verify that when people are talking about 'outside the universe' regarding the cosmological argument, you think they mean "beyond the past and future light-cone of the Earth is inaccessible to us due to the inability of anything with rest mass to accelerate near the speed of light." As in, some material place.

Alright. You realize that's not what's being discussed, yes?

By the same token, you realize that M-theory does deal with (in part) that which that which is beyond the light cone, etc, and is a material place?

dguller said...

Bob:

The concept of Act and Potency, as you are using it in your argument, seems arbitrary unless one also supposes final causality.

I am presupposing Thomist metaphysical apparatus in my terminology.

The problem with premise 3 might be the fact that every action will have an equal but opposite reaction.

That is true of some physical actions, but not universally true of all actions. For example, what is the equal and opposite reaction to the act of thinking?

Can Pure Act, if it can even actually exist, change anything at all?

Since some activity does not presuppose change in the agent, the answer would be “yes”.

Premise 4 seems to ignore the possibility of an accidental -> per se type of series and seems to be based on a false dichotomy of either accident or per se.

That is a great objection. So, you agree that an actually infinite per se series is impossible, and must terminate in an origin. However, you disagree that such an origin must necessarily be a first cause, because it could also be a cause that is derived from a previous per accidens cause. In other words, extrinsic (or instrumental) causality must be reduced to intrinsic causality, but not all intrinsic causality is independent of antecedent causes and conditions, which is true. In order to meet this objection, there would have to be an independent argument that demonstrated that an actually infinite series of intrinsic causes is impossible, which is a conclusion that Aquinas himself rejected (see ST 1.46.2: “it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes”). Perhaps one of the more sophisticated commenters has a response to this objection?

Finally, even if the argument is sound, I am still not sure why the universe itself wouldn't be the more parsimonious conclusion for "pure act", since we have, as Alan rightly points out, absolutely no knowledge of an "outside the universe".

But the universe cannot be pure act, because the universe undergoes change in the form of various transitions from potency to act. And if you want to say that the universe as a whole as observed from the outside, would be a static block of unchanging space-time, then you have just shown the reality of an outside the universe after all, from which such a perspective could occur.

If the argument is sound, then it at best describes causality within the universe. I am not sure how it is even possible in principle to get beyond that based on our current knowledge.

Its conclusion purports to demonstrate that the universe itself is causally dependent upon something beyond the universe, i.e. that the universe is not self-explanatory and requires something other than the universe to adequately explain it. Certainly, causes within the universe would not be identical to causes that transcend the universe, but if there is sufficient similarity between them, then the argument maintains its soundness.

Alan Fox said...

@ Greg

You state that dguller does not refer to the limits of the universe in a premise but

dguller wrote;

The premises are basically that

(1) there are things that are changing within the universe,

(2) all change is a transition from potency to act,

(3) the transition from potency to act can only be caused by something else in act, and

(4) an actual infinite per se causal series is impossible.

From (1) to (4), one can conclude that a being that is pure act must exist in order for change to occur at all in the universe.

And since pure act cannot exist in the universe, because it is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever, it must exist beyond or outside the universe. So, from various facts about the universe, logic and reason can deduce the reality of something beyond the universe.


But

And since pure act cannot exist in the universe, because it is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever, it must exist beyond or outside the universe.

the bolded part from "because" appears to be a premise.

Alan Fox said...

dguller:

And if you want to say that the universe as a whole as observed from the outside, would be a static block of unchanging space-time, then you have just shown the reality of an outside the universe after all, from which such a perspective could occur.

Don't know about bob, but I don't want to say any such thing. My whole point has always been that we can say no such thing because we have no way of knowing. We are free to imagine what we want but without valid premises, you are building castles in the air.

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters wrote:

You realize that's not what's being discussed, yes?

I think what is being discussed rather depends on who is doing the discussing. I have been responding to questions and offering opinions as seems appropriate while biding time until a consensus emerges as to whether the universe and its limits have a bearing on the TCA. It doesn't seem a difficult question to me.

By the same token, you realize that M-theory does deal with (in part) that which that which is beyond the light cone, etc, and is a material place?

The fact that M-theories have unfalsifiable entailments doesn't give cause to reject them out of hand, especially if the verifiable entailments fit observation.

Anonymous said...

dguller,

So, you agree that an actually infinite per se series is impossible, and must terminate in an origin. However, you disagree that such an origin must necessarily be a first cause, because it could also be a cause that is derived from a previous per accidens cause. In other words, extrinsic (or instrumental) causality must be reduced to intrinsic causality, but not all intrinsic causality is independent of antecedent causes and conditions, which is true. In order to meet this objection, there would have to be an independent argument that demonstrated that an actually infinite series of intrinsic causes is impossible, which is a conclusion that Aquinas himself rejected (see ST 1.46.2: “it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes”). Perhaps one of the more sophisticated commenters has a response to this objection?

Wouldn't this still lead to an actually infinite per se series, just mediated by other causes? And what would a per accidens cause from which all other things derive look like?

Anonymous said...

Alan,

I think what is being discussed rather depends on who is doing the discussing.

No, not at all in this case. No defender of the cosmological argument here has presented "outside the universe" as a material place. That's been clear from the start.

The fact that M-theories have unfalsifiable entailments doesn't give cause to reject them out of hand, especially if the verifiable entailments fit observation.

So, the fact that a given argument entails that which is empirically unfalsifiable is acceptable so long as other aspects of the argument line up with argument and experience?

Interesting.

Matt Sheean said...

"In order to meet this objection, there would have to be an independent argument that demonstrated that an actually infinite series of intrinsic causes is impossible, which is a conclusion that Aquinas himself rejected (see ST 1.46.2: “it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes”). Perhaps one of the more sophisticated commenters has a response to this objection?"

I'm not a more sophisticated commenter than dguller, but I was not long ago reading Scotus' arguments regarding this very issue, and thought, given the fairly recent hubbub about him I might, although not very subtly, slip him in:

3.12 What we intend to show from this is that an infinity of essentially ordered causes is impossible, and that an infinity of accidentally ordered causes is also impossible unless we admit a terminus in an essentially ordered series. Therefore there is no way in which an infinity in essentially ordered causes is possible. And even if we deny the existence of an essential order, an infinity of causes is still impossible. Consequently in any case there is something able to produce an effect which is simply first. Here three propositions are assumed. For the sake of brevity, call the first A, the second B and the third C.

...

3.14 Proof of B: If we assume an infinity of accidentally ordered causes, it is clear that these are not concurrent, but one succeeds another so that the second, though it is in some way from the preceding, does not depend upon it for the exercise of its causality. For it is equally effective whether the preceding cause exists or not. A son in turn may beget a child just as well whether his father be dead or alive. But an infinite succession of such causes is impossible unless it exists in virtue of some nature of infinite duration from which the whole succession and every part thereof depends. For no change of form is perpetuated save in virtue of something permanent which is not a part of that succession, since everything of this succession which is in flux is of the same nature. Something essentially prior to the series, then, exists, for everything that is part of the succession depends upon it, and this dependence is of a different order from that by which it depends upon the immediately preceding cause where the latter is a part of the succession. Therefore B is evident.

dguller said...

Alan:

Don't know about bob, but I don't want to say any such thing. My whole point has always been that we can say no such thing because we have no way of knowing. We are free to imagine what we want but without valid premises, you are building castles in the air.

The issue is whether features of the universe itself can point to something other than the universe as necessary to account for the universe itself. Other than the fact that we could not know that which transcends the universe by empirical and scientific means, you haven’t provided a reason why one could not use philosophical and metaphysical reasoning to come to some limited conclusions about that which transcends the universe. We have already established that, if something exists beyond the universe, then the laws of logic and reasoning must be applicable to it, on pain of incoherence, and so other than scientism, which is self-undermining, I don’t really see any other objection from you on this issue.

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters remarks:

So, the fact that a given argument entails that which is empirically unfalsifiable is acceptable so long as other aspects of the argument line up with argument and experience?

You've elided from theory and entailments to arguments based on assumptions which you call premises.

Greg said...

@ Alan

But

And since pure act cannot exist in the universe, because it is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever, it must exist beyond or outside the universe.

the bolded part from "because" appears to be a premise.


That doesn't assume that there is such a thing as beyond the universe. It is tracing the entailments of pure act if pure act exists.

I would say that that follows from the Thomist's understanding of what the universe is (the sum of changeable things, ie. things with potency). Something that cannot change would lack potency (and therefore is not a matter-form composite, though that is a weaker claim than saying that something lacks potency) and so is not included in the sum of things with potency.

One might not agree that this understanding of "the universe" (the sum of all things with any potency) is exactly coextensive with the physical understanding of the universe as all things in (and including) space-time. I think there are plausible reasons for regarding them as coextensive, but I don't think they are relevant, since the Thomist's main interest in saying that God is outside of the universe is in saying that God is not "located" among changeable things because he lacks all potencies.

Anonymous said...

You've elided from theory and entailments to arguments based on assumptions which you call premises.

Will you finally be listing those premises you see in the cosmological argument and therefore reject, then?

What we're doing is reasoning, in part based on experience, and largely on logic, and coming to limited conclusions based on as much. You object strongly to such, but other than the emotional feel of the objection, what do you have?

The law of non-contradiction is, according to you, an "assumption" I'd suppose. Reject it if you like.

Alan Fox said...

dguller writes:

We have already established that, if something exists beyond the universe, then the laws of logic and reasoning must be applicable to it, on pain of incoherence, and so other than scientism, which is self-undermining, I don’t really see any other objection from you on this issue.

I think I said quite early on (it may have been in the logorrhea thread comments) that I'll accept the logic of the TCA for the moment and concentrate on the premises. I'm still not clear what the consensus is on whether the premise that universe is all there is or there is an outside is involved in Feser's TCA. You seem convinced. (groruigez is not) I'm happy to roll with that if I don't misunderstand you.

Greg said...

@ Alan

You've elided from theory and entailments to arguments based on assumptions which you call premises.

There is really no formal distinction or relevance in calling something an assumption rather than a premise.

This argument has two premises:

(1) If cats exist, then the sky is green.
(2) The sky is not green.
(3) Therefore, cats don't exist.

The fact that we would agree that its premises are false (and left unargued for) doesn't mean that they are assumptions rather than premises.

As I pointed out in our previous discussion, it appears that people call their opponents' premises "assumptions" because they take it to be more disparaging. (I think it's similar to the impulse of many to refer to formally valid arguments as "illogical." Maybe there's an idea that the opposition's error has to be explained and chalked up to some cognitive error.)

But, as I've also pointed out many times in discussion with you, Feser does give arguments for his premises. You haven't familiarized yourself with, much less argued against, those arguments, so you really have no business declaring that they are "assumptions" if that's intended (as it is here) in any pejorative sense.

Greg said...

The fact that we would agree that its premises are false

My bad. One of its premises is false.

Generally it would be appropriate to call something an assumption if it is unargued for (sometimes admittedly) or if it makes a tacit but contestable distinction. For example, someone might complain that another philosopher "assumes" that we have to choose between consequentialism and Kantian deontology; someone might contest that that disjunction is incomplete.

Generally it is bad philosophical practice to call premises the arguments for which you have not sought out or addressed "assumptions."

dguller said...

@Anonymous:

Wouldn't this still lead to an actually infinite per se series, just mediated by other causes?

I don’t see why.

And what would a per accidens cause from which all other things derive look like?

Perhaps an infinite series of immaterial beings, each of which uses other beings in an instrumental fashion?

@Matt:

Thanks for the Scotus quote, but I’m having a hard time understanding the argument, which is not surprising, given that he is the Subtle Doctor. Say that there is a per accidens series: A  B  C  D. Scotus claims that the entire series (i.e. A  B  C  D), as well as its parts (i.e. A, B, C and D) depend upon “some nature of infinite duration”. Why? Because “no change of form is perpetuated save in virtue of something permanent which is not a part of that succession, since everything of this succession which is in flux is of the same nature”. I think he’s arguing that because A, B, C and D are all “of the same nature”, it follows that if there is a “change of form”, then it must be due to “something permanent which is not a part of” A  B  C  D. First, I don’t understand why that is the case, and second, there is no change of form in the per accidens series, because A, B, C and D, each have the same nature. So, unless Scotus can show that there is a change of form somewhere in the per accidens series, then by his own premises, there is no need for “some nature of infinite duration”.

@Alan:

I'm still not clear what the consensus is on whether the premise that universe is all there is or there is an outside is involved in Feser's TCA. You seem convinced. (groruigez is not) I'm happy to roll with that if I don't misunderstand you.

The CA does not assume that the universe is all that there is, especially given the fact that the conclusion contradicts that very assumption, and would invalidate the argument itself. At best, the CA assumes that there might be something outside the universe, i.e. it is a genuine possibility. The CA then proceeds to demonstrate that there is, in fact, something outside the universe, turning a possibility into a reality.

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters asks:

Will you finally be listing those premises you see in the cosmological argument and therefore reject, then?

We already have dguller's summary. We also have one objector, grodruigez. Is the summary I reposted OK with you?

Anonymous said...

dguller,

Perhaps an infinite series of immaterial beings, each of which uses other beings in an instrumental fashion?

How does that differ from an infinite per se series?

Alan Fox said...

Greg wries:

As I pointed out in our previous discussion, it appears that people call their opponents' premises "assumptions" because they take it to be more disparaging. (I think it's similar to the impulse of many to refer to formally valid arguments as "illogical." Maybe there's an idea that the opposition's error has to be explained and chalked up to some cognitive error.)

I'll accept the admonition that "assumption" has a pejorative ring, but I was making the distinction between a premise as a well supported fact (let's call that a premise) and a premise as an unsupported assumption (lets call that an assumption). Does that clarify?

But, as I've also pointed out many times in discussion with you, Feser does give arguments for his premises. You haven't familiarized yourself with, much less argued against, those arguments, so you really have no business declaring that they are "assumptions" if that's intended (as it is here) in any pejorative sense.

Well, that's because I am not interested in an argument that is unsound. If the premises are not well supported in fact, by evidence, then the argument cannot be sound. I've said, in principle, argument - no problem. The issues are what are we starting with as premises and what are we concluding.

Anonymous said...

We already have dguller's summary. We also have one objector, grodruigez. Is the summary I reposted OK with you?

Insofar as it's not a list of the premises and which ones you object to in an argument, it's not so much 'not OK' as 'not what's being asked for'.

If the premises are not well supported in fact, by evidence, then the argument cannot be sound.

So which of the premises do you reject again?

Alan Fox said...

dguller:

The CA does not assume that the universe is all that there is, especially given the fact that the conclusion contradicts that very assumption, and would invalidate the argument itself. At best, the CA assumes that there might be something outside the universe, i.e. it is a genuine possibility. The CA then proceeds to demonstrate that there is, in fact, something outside the universe, turning a possibility into a reality.

That sounds awfully like assuming one's conclusion. Look I have no issue with someone saying the universe is not all there is. But the TCA makes a stronger claim than that, does it not?

dguller said...

@Anonymous:

How does that differ from an infinite per se series?

Because each immaterial being has intrinsic causal power that is not dependent upon the causal power of other immaterial beings.

@Alan:

That sounds awfully like assuming one's conclusion. Look I have no issue with someone saying the universe is not all there is. But the TCA makes a stronger claim than that, does it not?

It doesn’t assume one’s conclusion. The premise is that it is possible that there is something outside the universe, and the conclusion is that it is actual that there is something outside the universe.

Alan Fox said...

One of several anonymous commenters asks:

So which of the premises do you reject again?

We haven't got that far yet. I still have no consensus on whether the extent and limits of the known universe have any bearing on any of the premises.

dguller has said:

...pure act cannot exist in the universe, because it is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever, it must exist beyond or outside the universe.

Is this correct?

Alan Fox said...

dguller states:

The premise is that it is possible that there is something outside the universe, and the conclusion is that it is actual that there is something outside the universe.

So we use the assumption that something is possible to prove that something is true. Doesn't seem right to me.

grodrigues said...

@Alone Fix:

"We also have one objector, grodruigez."

We have?

Greg said...

@ Alan

I'll accept the admonition that "assumption" has a pejorative ring, but I was making the distinction between a premise as a well supported fact (let's call that a premise) and a premise as an unsupported assumption (lets call that an assumption). Does that clarify?

Let's stick with the conventional usage. The term "premise" does not connote "well supported fact." If you think that a premise is false or that it would be an unacceptable breach of epistemic propriety to accept it, simply give reasons for those claims. There is no need to abandon philosophical usage.

Well, that's because I am not interested in an argument that is unsound. If the premises are not well supported in fact, by evidence, then the argument cannot be sound. I've said, in principle, argument - no problem. The issues are what are we starting with as premises and what are we concluding.

I don't mean there that you shouldn't call premises "assumptions" if you are unfamiliar with the statement of the cosmological argument (though familiarizing yourself with that wouldn't be a terrible idea). To repeat, I mean that Feser argues for his premises, ie. he argues that they are such that a rational person ought to accept them. (He does so at greatest length in Scholastic Metaphysics, where he doesn't even defend the cosmological argument.) For that reason it is inappropriate to call them "assumptions" following the usage you outlined above; they aren't unsupported assumptions.

To check whether or not an argument is sound, one evaluates why it is said that one should accept the premises. As I've said before, it's not like Feser lists his arguments and says, "There! I've proved God!"

Anonymous said...

dguller,

Because each immaterial being has intrinsic causal power that is not dependent upon the causal power of other immaterial beings.

Sorry if I'm focusing on this, but I find this claim interesting. My understanding is that you have an infinity of per accidens series, being sustained by per se beings, which generate other per se beings through the per accidens series.

You yourself mentioned an infinity of immaterial beings, each of which is using the other in an instrumental fashion. But doesn't such an infinity simply bring you to an infinite per se series? There's the infinity, each using each other instrumentally.

Matt Sheean said...

dguller,

I find it difficult to understand myself, and I may have appeared to be presenting it as an answer but I was not. I would like to understand it better. It was pertinent and I hope a little more interesting a problem than the one known as Alan Fox.

I think that sections 3.12-3.15, found in the link in my previous comment, are all important to the argument, and my piecemeal quoting might misrepresented it. That said, I won't be able to comment for a bit due to some business, but I will spend some more time with the argument. And I hope, as you did before, that one of the sophisticated dudes around here will offer some aid in unsubtling the subtle doctor.

dguller said...

@Alan:

We haven't got that far yet. I still have no consensus on whether the extent and limits of the known universe have any bearing on any of the premises.

I don’t understand what the stumbling block is. You earlier mentioned my statement that “since pure act cannot exist in the universe, because it is utterly devoid of any potency whatsoever, it must exist beyond or outside the universe” involves an additional premise:

(5) all that exists in the universe involves potency of some kind

I would say that (5) is implicit in the premises already listed. Change is the transition from potency to act, and the universe is constantly changing, which means that everything in the universe is transitioning from potency to act, which means that everything in the universe has a potency of some kind. It follows that something that lacks potency of any kind is necessary not in the universe, and thus exists outside or beyond the universe.

Fair enough?

So we use the assumption that something is possible to prove that something is true. Doesn't seem right to me.

No, the premise is either something does exist beyond the universe or something does not exist beyond the universe. In other words, at the level of the premise itself, both propositions of the disjunction are possible, and the argument purports to show which is actually true.

Scott said...

I don't think you can do it. If you think you can prove me wrong, now's the time.

I'm glad I didn't hold my breath.

Alan Fox: "We haven't got that far yet. I still have no consensus on whether the extent and limits of the known universe have any bearing on any of the premises."

You've never had anything but consensus, no matter what conflicts your own inability to distinguish between a premise and a conclusion has led you to imagine. (It's beyond me, for example, why you suppose grodrigues "objects" to something or other dguller has said.)

Nor do you need any such consensus in order to summarize any version of the cosmological argument that you think you do understand and tell us which of its premises you reject.

…unless you can't, and you're just playing for time.

dguller said...

@Anonymous:

Sorry if I'm focusing on this, but I find this claim interesting. My understanding is that you have an infinity of per accidens series, being sustained by per se beings, which generate other per se beings through the per accidens series.

There seems to me to be a distinction between X sustains Y in existence and any causal power that Y has is derived from its use as an instrument by the intrinsic causal power of X. The CA does not seem to be about sustaining as much as efficient causation, which is a broader category, at least to me. In other words, sustaining is one kind of efficient causality, whereas the CA is about a different kind of efficient causality, i.e. per se efficient causality.

You yourself mentioned an infinity of immaterial beings, each of which is using the other in an instrumental fashion. But doesn't such an infinity simply bring you to an infinite per se series? There's the infinity, each using each other instrumentally.

No, no. Each immaterial being does not use the other in an instrumental fashion. It is the precise opposite.

Alan Fox said...

Scott opines:

You've never had anything but consensus...

On whether the universe is finite, infinite, bounded, unbounded etc? has anything to do with the TCA?

And that consensus is?

Alan Fox said...

grorodriugez wrote:

@Alone Fix:

"We also have one objector, grodruigez."

We have?

This:

Our necessary lack of empirical knowledge of whatever is outside the Universe would be a (possibly) cogent response, if in the argument any premise about whatever is outside the Universe were used. Since it is not, it is a mere waste of time and a betrayal of ignorance of the arguments.

Anonymous said...

I think poor Alan is doing a fine job of building a consensus about whether Alan comprehends the cosmological argument, commenters in this thread, or really, much of anything relevant.

But do we have a consensus yet on whether he refuses to list and object to the premises of the cosmological argument because he's incapable of doing so competently, or he's afraid of having to defend his objections? Any votes?

dguller said...

@Alan:

On whether the universe is finite, infinite, bounded, unbounded etc? has anything to do with the TCA?

And that consensus is?


Which premise(s) of the CA do those issues affect?

Our necessary lack of empirical knowledge of whatever is outside the Universe would be a (possibly) cogent response, if in the argument any premise about whatever is outside the Universe were used. Since it is not, it is a mere waste of time and a betrayal of ignorance of the arguments.

I think that what grodrigues meant was that the conclusion of the CA is simply that a being that is pure act must exist. The conclusion that such a being must be beyond the universe requires arguments that build upon the conclusion of the CA, but are not specifically a part of the CA itself.

grodrigues said...

@Align Fax:

The original was:

"We already have dguller's summary. We also have one objector, grodruigez. Is the summary I reposted OK with you?"

Then upon my question:

"This:

Our necessary lack of empirical knowledge of whatever is outside the Universe would be a (possibly) cogent response, if in the argument any premise about whatever is outside the Universe were used. Since it is not, it is a mere waste of time and a betrayal of ignorance of the arguments."

How is the quoted portion an objection to dguller's summary, to any of the premises of the argument, or anything dguller has said?

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"And that consensus is?"

That the cosmological argument does not rely on any premise stating that the "universe" has an "outside" or is not "all there is."

Care to show your busted flush now? Or do you prefer to carry on pretending that your bluff hasn't been called?

Alan Fox said...

dguller:

Quoting grodrigues thus;

Our necessary lack of empirical knowledge of whatever is outside the Universe would be a (possibly) cogent response, if in the argument any premise about whatever is outside the Universe were used. Since it is not, it is a mere waste of time and a betrayal of ignorance of the arguments.

I think that what grodrigues meant was that the conclusion of the CA is simply that a being that is pure act must exist. The conclusion that such a being must be beyond the universe requires arguments that build upon the conclusion of the CA, but are not specifically a part of the CA itself.

Right. So grodrigues is not saying that whether the universe (there is a semantic distinction between the universe and this universe, but I don't think it matters regarding infinite or bounded; only whether there is an "outside") is all there is matters to the argument but just that it is a conclusion, not a premise. Right?

Scott said...

@dguller:

"I think that what grodrigues meant was that the conclusion of the CA is simply that a being that is pure act must exist."

Actually grodrigues was specifically speaking of the premises of the argument, although what you say about the conclusion is also true.

Alan Fox said...

So the state of the universe is not assumed; it is argued.

Mea culpa!

Alan Fox said...

That was like pulling teeth!

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"So the state of the universe is not assumed; it is argued."

And not as part of any standard version of the cosmological argument—all of which anyone familiar with the argument would have known (and as anyone claiming familiarity with it should have known) even without being told repeatedly, as you have been.

"That was like pulling teeth!"

Yes, but probably not in the way you mean.

But hey, now we get to hear your summary of the cosmological argument, right? And you're going to tell us which of its premises you reject and why, right? Because you were waiting only for consensus on that irrelevant issue, right?

Go ahead. Take as many "baby steps" as you need.

Scott said...

"[D]o we have a consensus yet on whether he refuses to list and object to the premises of the cosmological argument because he's incapable of doing so competently, or he's afraid of having to defend his objections? Any votes?"

I'm still going with the first option; I've seen not the slightest reason to change my mind. But in case it becomes relevant, I'll note that the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Alan Fox said...

Scott opines:

[quotes]AF"So the state of the universe is not assumed; it is argued."

And not as part of any standard version of the cosmological argument—all of which anyone familiar with the argument would have known (and as anyone claiming familiarity with it should have known) even without being told repeatedly, as you have been.


There's a standard version? Who knew? Can I find the standard version without having to buy someone's book? There are plenty of video's of Craig and Plantinga on line. Sean Carroll does a good job of eviscerating Craig and Plantinga, though a charming man, lets his faith convince himself too easily. think you over-estimate the appeal of cosmological arguments. Neither Craig nor Plantinga convince other than those already convinced of (some) God's existence.

But hey, now we get to hear your summary of the cosmological argument, right? And you're going to tell us which of its premises you reject and why, right? Because you were waiting only for consensus on that irrelevant issue, right?

I guess I'll never know what the TCA amounts to unless I buy at least one of Feser's books. Show me where I said I was "going to tell us which of its premises you reject and why" and I'll buy it.

Greg said...

For the record, my first post about the cosmological argument in this combox:

Classical theistic arguments do not assume that there is any determinate meaning to "outside" of the universe prior to philosophical reflection. They don't need to make such an assumption. Rather they begin with premises (as you note) about the world. They then go on to claim that those premises imply that the observable universe does not sufficiently explain itself, so something must exist that is purely actual. (And "outside of the universe" simply acquires its meaning by contrast with the universe. The universe of changeable things is not sufficient, so there is something that does not change, is not spatial or temporal, etc.--here I go a bit beyond Aquinas's Five Ways into his arguments for the divine attributes.)

Scott said...

@Alan Fox:

"There's a standard version?"

That is of course not what I said, as I think (even) you know. I clearly allowed that there's more than one "standard" version.

"Show me where I said I was 'going to tell us which of its premises you reject and why' and I'll buy it."

I don't care what books you do or don't buy; I challenged you, you yourself, Alan Fox personally, to prove that you're not just blowing smoke when you airily wave your hands about the "imaginary" premises of the cosmological argument(s), if you expect to be taken seriously on that subject.

I think we've pretty much crossed that bridge; you've blown it every bit as badly as I expected you to, and then some. You've made it patently obvious that you had not a clue what the various cosmological arguments said when you made those comments, and that when you claimed that you accepted one such argument as valid but disputed its premises, you didn't really have any specific premises in mind.

But I am happy at last to see your confession that you don't, after all, "know what the TCA amounts to." On that, I think you have consensus—and, indeed, had it before your confession.

Gary Black said...

Alan, thank you for your comment at 10:57 AM. When you thought it likely an error to think something possible before proving it true - my guffaw startled my coworkers.

Greg said...

@ Alan

There's a standard version? Who knew? Can I find the standard version without having to buy someone's book? There are plenty of video's of Craig and Plantinga on line. Sean Carroll does a good job of eviscerating Craig and Plantinga, though a charming man, lets his faith convince himself too easily. think you over-estimate the appeal of cosmological arguments. Neither Craig nor Plantinga convince other than those already convinced of (some) God's existence.

Scott said "any standard version." I assume he just means a version defended by a major philosopher. (So the kalam argument is a standard version, as are all three+ of Aquinas's cosmological arguments, as is Plato's cosmological argument... etc.)

You can find summaries of the argument online. (I posted the argument from one of Feser's argument in the previous combox, granting that since you are unfamiliar with Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, you would probably not understand the premises.) You could also find a lot of info on Thomistic metaphysics online (ie. in Feser's sidebar).

But buying a book probably wouldn't kill you. When I posted the argument for you before, you copied the premises and pasted them on your other website to see which one you could reject. Inevitably this means that you will not address arguments made for the premises in book-length treatments, arguments which are in book because there are several of them and they take up space. If you're not interested, that's fine, but that is not a weakness on the part of the argument.

Regarding Craig, I would agree that people generally do not decide to be Christians, or theists for that matter, on the basis of deductive arguments, but nor do people decide to be atheists for that reason. Craig's debates are pretty influential, though. People report that he plays a role in their consideration of Christianity. Some remain atheists but say that they have come to appreciate Christianity; others might convert as a result of a number of factors.

Craig and Plantinga do argue that their belief in God is warranted independently of any arguments. I don't hold reformed epistemology, but I do think that they are also able to retort in a way that atheists cannot, ie. because their belief does not depend on any particular argument, they can evaluate the arguments more dispassionately, whereas a demonstration of God's existence would require that someone abandon strict atheism.

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