Friday, December 1, 2017

Feser vs. Ahmed on Unbelievable?


Recently, on the UK radio program Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, I debated atheist philosopher Arif Ahmed on the subject of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  You can now listen to the debate online.

Other recent interviews about the book include those on The Ben Shapiro Show, The Andrew Klavan Show, The Dennis Prager Show, The Michael Medved Show, The Patrick Coffin Show, Pints with Aquinas with Matt Fradd, and many others.  Further media appearances forthcoming.  Stay tuned.

268 comments:

  1. What an utter demolishing. You really took him to school, Prof. Feser!

    Ahmed is simply not up to the challenge. I remember watching his debates with WLC and, while the latter certainly came out on top (it was funny watching Ahmed’s arrogance and rhetorical appeal to emotions getting turned against him by Craig’s unparalleled skill), I can indeed see how the former’s objections may have some strength against those arguments.

    The same is not true when the topic at stake is classical theism, though. Oh no, buddy, the Humes of this world ain’t gonna help you there... Really, discussions like this one couldn’t make any more clear the typical modern philosopher’s sheer lack of familiarity with Classical and Scholastic thought.

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    1. Yeah, those philosophers up at Cambridge don't know anything about these philosophical arguments!

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    2. Well, Second Anon, what you say is complete nonsense. Remember Cambridge is home to some of the most important contemporary philosophers working in the classical traditions (Anscombe and Geach, anyone?). On the other hand however, and like pretty much every other university in the world these days, it’s also infested with countless people like this Ahmed dude, who, like First Anon said and Ed so eloquently showed, are absolutely helpless when it comes to discussing the traditional arguments for theism.

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    3. Remember Cambridge is home to some of the most important contemporary philosophers working in the classical traditions (Anscombe and Geach, anyone?)

      Indeed...

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    4. Sorry, I forgot to add the sarcasm label at the end of my reply. I was replying to the poster who said Ahmed (as if he's some nobody) does't know anything about these arguments.

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    5. And First Anon is absolutely right about that: he clearly doesn’t. Not that it’s surprising, anyway, seeing as how that’s actually the case with the vast majority of academic philosophers nowadays.

      I take it you’re new around here. It’s common knowledge that philosophers in general (as in those not specializing in the philosophy of religion) know next to nothing regarding the subject. Their acquaintance with the field seldom goes beyond the ridiculous caricature of theistic argumentation that’s nearly ubiquitous among introductory undergraduate philosophy courses; and even when it doesn’t it just tends to stop at David Hume, as if the Scotsman were the “be all, end all”, the last nail in the coffin of theistic belief. Which he of course wasn’t... not even close: the truth is he doesn’t even scratch classical theism, and that easily shows in the silly objections commonly raised against natural theology by his followers.

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    6. Most philosophers of religion (me included) aren't convinced by Feser's type of arguments, which includes most theists. And, we DO understand them.

      By the way, if we really didn't understand the arguments, then the arguments need to go under immediate scrutiny in the literature. Afterall, Feser says that we aren't infallible when reasoning about metaphysical issues (like the metaphysics involved in his arguments)

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    7. *in his terrible objections.

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    8. (Not sure why my comment is not showing... Here it is again.)


      Your claims are bogus. If Feser’s arguments really were so unconvincing, how would theism have survived for several millennia then? Keep in mind some of them were even independently arrived at in Greece, India and China before being incorporated into monotheistic religions, especially into the Abrahamic ones. Which of course means that not only are these kinds of arguments perfectly natural but also that most theistic thinkers have historically subscribed to them, not to the neo-theistic ones developed in the Protestant English-speaking world this past half century.

      Besides, you’ve given enough proofs of not even having understood what the other posters have said. How are we supposed to believe you understand the classical arguments then?

      But I digress. The main point at stake here is that Arif himself is not a philosopher of religion. And that shows in his terrible objections.

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    9. Argh.

      Gentlemen, may I respectfully ask a favor? Don't just be "Anonymous." Take a few moments and pick an obscure, anonymizing monicker.

      It is frustrating trying to follow which of the two (three?) of you is saying what.

      I myself believe that most (not all; I'm sure exceptions exist) of the non-specializing philosophers haven't given enough time to A-T categories of thought to understand what is being said in Feser's (and other A-T) arguments. My confidence about that isn't arbitrary but derives from how often their objections are addressed to common misunderstandings of the argument rather than the real argument.

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    10. "Yeah, those philosophers up at Cambridge don't know anything about these philosophical arguments!"
      I studied at one the very top philosophy programmes in the UK, and I guarantee someone could get a PhD without having read any classical theistic philosophy whatsoever: so yes, it is quite possible.

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  2. Alas, Arif hasn't read the book and this is a terrible format for this work.

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    1. Also I didn't know anyone took "ordinary language" sophistry and mere proclamations of the nature of Common Sense for the sake of halting an argumentseriously any longer.

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    2. Denouncing the primeval tradition of philosophising done in English?!

      How dare you?! :)

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  3. Well done, Dr Feser!

    Ahmed's points were very poor. He complains about the analysis of causation as the actualization of potentiality; he assumes that providing a scientific explanation somehow eliminates the fact it describes the actualization of potentiality.

    It was excellent when you pointed out the special pleading used by the atheist when denying the reality of causation. And your response to his objection to the PSR - great that you directly called him out for begging the question. And like most critics, Ahmed was/is unaware of what the point of the anti-regress argument is. He failed to see the arguments don't concern temporal series of causes.

    When Ahmed has no real response, he just asks why we should care. That's not clever.

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  4. i am not sure what was the point of raising scientific explanation in the act-potency part, it is not that scientific explanation is different in essential manner in terms of "actualizing" it is more particular instance of "making things actual" , or "going through change", which instance of such experience were given.

    also not sure what was the point of the "technical usage" being wholly foreign part. technical usage is derivative and this whole mask of preciseness seems more of a mere rhetoric with such usage rather than keen interest in understanding the other side.

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  5. I love how Arif thinks we can have a principle of sufficient reason that is good enough for us to do science but not good enough to support a theistic argument.

    That's right, Arif. Just help yourself to a completely arbitrary set of principles that you selected precisely in order to believe in science without having to believe in God.

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    1. And I just realized that Arif's principle of "very very nearly but not quite sufficient reason" which lets him believe in science but not in God requires a great deal of fine-tuning. One part in a gazillion more and you have proof of God, one part less and you don't have science.

      So it's no wonder he is intrigued by fine-tuning arguments.

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    2. I think Feser should have put more pressure on him there. Why should we limit the PSR to science and ordinary life? What kind of arbitrary bs is this? I'm all for the epistemological argument Feser employed, but he could've pointed out how just stopping with PSR at science or ordinary life is arbitrary and convoluted. The everyday applicability of PSR makes a powerful argument for its being a metaphysical principle, that and the fact that elephants and clouds are not popping up everywhere without any explanation. The best explanation for all of that is that the PSR is true as a metaphysical principle; Arif's limitation to science is ad hoc and unscientific, as far as we can tell everything points to PSR being true, and so PSR is better supported than Arif's ad hoc and bizarre view that "things have explanations most of the time" or "lots of stuff have explaantions"

      Feser could also have used Della Rocca's argument. I think it is a very powerful argument, especially in dialectical context. Arif accepts explanations for everything, and prefers explicability and intelligibility to non-intelligibility wherever he sees, but as soon as we ask an explanation for why things exist -- which commits us to the PSR --, he backs down and denies it. But lest he is to beg the question by introducing brute facts (the existence of which is precisely what is at stake here), he would have to either deny all explicability arguments, which would be crazy, or give us a principled line on which to reject an explicability argument for why things exist or why all true propositions hold. But how could he do that without begging the question? Hence why we can't have "a little bruteness" in the world; if we accept explicability, we accept PSR.

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    3. @Miguel,

      "The everyday applicability of PSR makes a powerful argument for its being a metaphysical principle, that and the fact that elephants and clouds are not popping up everywhere without any explanation."


      I think you just hit the nail on head, hard.


      In fact, I think an argument could be made from this to show that brute facts are a logical impossibility, since brute facts imply something coming from non-being, and since non-being doesn't have any attributes or powers whatsoever, it is absolutely incoherent to describe it in any context as bringing something about or anchoring something at all.



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  6. Anthony StringfellowDecember 1, 2017 at 10:41 PM

    You can tell Arif didn't read the book.

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  7. That's been a waste of time. An atheist's / agnostic's refutation of theism should be philosophical, not scientific. The major opponent of theism is Kant, not Hume. Theism should be able to explain two things:

    1. On what grounds we assume that all our notions and logic itself continue to work beyond our experience and minds (which Kant denies)? It's senseless to argue if opponents reason in two radically different frameworks.

    2. Even assuming (for the sake of argument) that five proofs are true, what is the next step leading from the highly abstract notion of Aristotelian God to Jesus Christ? Why not Zeus, Allah, Osiris?

    An obvious answer is fideism in both cases, isn't it?

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    1. How is it an obvious answer if fideism is considered a heresy by the Catholic Church and it has had no place in the philosophically most fruitful religion?

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    2. I mean fideism in epistemological not theological sense. The position of the Catholic Church is understandable — fideism undermines classical theism.

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    3. Dear Michael, I won't offer an argument myself but I can point you in what I believe is the right direction.

      1) An answer to Kant would lie in Realism, either of an Aristotelian or Platonic variety, as well as perhaps a reductio ad absurdem of Kant's conceptialist metaphysics.

      2) The next step would be arguments on historical grounds for the Resurrection of Jesus. Now this is inevitably going to be a 'best explanation' argument which could (in theory) be overthrown by new historical discoveries. Likewise I agree with Plantaga that my experience of God is a properly basic belief, and that I am justified in holding to said belief in the absence of intrinsic defeaters. William Lane Craig and NT Wright are probably the best contemporary authors in this area.

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    4. Kant could still accept Realism about universals (Russell and the Idealist phenomenologists certainly did) and still claim that all material concrete objects were determined by consciousnesses. This would suffice for the attack on causation. The main problem with Kantianism is that the notion of the thing-in-itself is dangerously close to being empty – it’s easier just to drop it, in which case one ends in Idealism, not Classical Theism itself yet, but a position most of these ScienceTM naturalists would be very uncomfortable with. Of course these still leaves open other theistic arguments like the PSR Cosmological as applied to mental contexts or the Modal Ontological Argument.

      (Or would it? If there is something out there which determines our minds to apply these categories to that event as opposed to others – if that something has an influence on our ego that sounds suspiciously like causation to me)

      The Kantian has to give us some reason to think that there position is true however e.g. Hume’s Fork showing that all realist theories of causation fail. If they merely assert that the mind cannot know reality and demand their opponents prove otherwise then it’s just question-begging (as is the case with sceptics).

      Hume for all the annoying persistence of some of his criticisms did make an attempt to engage the theist mainly on the terms of their own arguments in his Dialogues (without appeal to his phenomenalism for instance). Kant tried the same in his Transcendental Critique but aside from one his criticisms have died far faster than the Scotsman’s.

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    5. 1) That's my first point — in order to believe in the God of classical theism you are to believe in our logic and our notions first (and that is sine qua non of Realism and Leibniz's Rationalism). Kant says that there may be the other ones for the other sentient creatures, let alone for God himself. Kant's metaphysics is transcendental and is hard to be refuted since it coincides with our mundane logic the domain of its relevance being the world as it is given to us, not as the world is by itself.
      2) Isn't "my experience of God is a properly basic belief, and that I am justified in holding to said belief in the absence of intrinsic defeaters" just a longer name for fideism and relevant reasoning based on our human logic and notions?

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    6. @OA Police

      Just replace the thing-in-itself with Noumenon—and we'll end up in even harder position than Kant's original one. The subsequent critique of this issue misses the point: we can't think about it otherwise strictly because of the impossibility of leaving the domain of our logic and our notions. That's not Idealism - we do know that our notion of causality may have nothing to do with Noumenon, but we just can't think and speak of it otherwise lacking the logic and notions of Noumenon itself (if there are ones).

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    7. @OA Police,


      About the PSR Cosmological argument:

      Couldn't we modify the argument and base it on a question of "how" rather than "why" ?


      Because it seems to me that, when we consider the things Feser and others point out about how contingent things cannot persist in existence by themselves due to having an essence distinct from existence or due to the fact they can in fact fail to exist, the argument is in fact also based on asking oneself HOW any contingent thing can exist at all at any given moment.


      The question being asked does not seem to be as much of a "Why does any contingent thing exist right now?", but rather a "How does any contingent thing exist right now?".

      If taken in this way, then I think a case could be made that it is logically impossible that anything could be a brute fact.

      For the question of "how" is essentially a question about whether or not there is a way something could be.

      If there is no way that something could be, then that is essentially admitting that a certain thing is impossible and cannot be.


      If there is a way something can be, then this means there is an answer to the "how" question.


      When applied to the question of the existence of contingent things, it turns out that 1) they cannot exist of themselves because they are contingent and 2) the only other way they could exist if there were something outside of the realm of contingent things that keeps them in being.


      Such a thing would be necessary and upon further inspection would have the same attributes as the God of theism.

      To attempt to argue that the existence of things is a brute fact on this view would end up admitting that there is no answer to the "how" question; but this would be a denial of the very possibility that something could in any way be, and thus would end up with the result that there is no way a contingent thing can exist, which is false.

      The only other answer would be to claim that a certain thing could happen without there being any way for it to happen at all, which is a contradiction, or to argue that something can happen by nothing / non-being, which is the same as arguing that something can come from nothing / non-being, which upon further analysis turns out to be also logically impossible because non-being has no attributes whatsoever and thus cannot avoid the ultimate conclusion.


      What do you think?

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    8. Kant would need to show that there are other notions that other species have. He alone has that burden of proof. "What if others have different logic and notions" isn't an argument. And an assertion that they could is just question-begging.

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    9. @Drew
      It's impossible to show, but we can think about it (only negatively) and we have some proofs that that might be the case: 1) there is a bunch of alternative logics developed in mathematics (intuitionistic logic or constructive logic) 2) there are certain problems with classical logic in quantum mechanics which resulted in famous "Shut up and calculate" motto. And those are still within our domain of reasoning!

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    10. Okay, that is an argument albeit not one for Kantianism specifically as much as for Anti-Realism in general.

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    11. Michael L: since no one else has replied to your 2nd point, I guess I will. You have conflated two different types of theism: classical monotheism and polytheism. Neither Zeus nor Osiris meets the criteria of the classical proofs, they are not unmoved movers or fundamental explanations. Allah, on the other hand, is (at least on some accounts, eg, Averroes) such a deity. Which is why many Catholics argue that he is, in fact, the same God we worship.

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    12. Further to what George said, if the second point is that Feser doesn't show the Unmoved Mover, etc., has the attributes of the God of classical theism, this is just wrong. So he does show the Unmoved mover isn't Zeus or Osiris (as usually understood). But it is true he doesn't show the truth of Christianity in this work. That is a different ad more complicated issue.

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    13. 2 has nothing to do with the issue at hand. These are arguments for theism, not for any specific religion. As long as the arguments establish the existence of God, they are sound. That being said, there are independent arguments for Christianity: historical arguments for the Resurrection; different miracles in history; arguments from religious experience; the fact that something like the Christian story coheres well with a perfectly good God, etc.

      As far as 1 goes; why would we limit our notions to our own minds? We know with absolute certainty that the principle of non-contradiction is true (not just for "our minds" which need not even enter in the picture) and that anyone who denies it is a confused moron who may or may not enjoy eating poop (perhaps both, at the same time and in the same aspect).

      Besides, it seems to me that, right off the bat, the limitation of such principles to our minds is ad hoc. The best and simplest explanation for our experiences lie in the truth of such inferences as universally valid metaphysical principles, not as bizarrely limited and finite principles.

      I would also suggest Norris Clarke's refutation of Kant in "Interpersonal dialogue as a key to realism"

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    14. @Michael

      Modern logics and higher mathematics are both strictly formal systems. They are games with objects, rules for manipulating those objects, and starting positions. All of these are stipulated, and have no connection whatsoever to reality. The fact that one can construct a logic of dialetheism, where something can be both true and false, is no evidence that reality itself could possibly be configured in such a way. Stipulated logics and probability algorithms do not even have any intrinsic meaning.

      If we define truth in its classical sense as correspondence with reality, it's clear that philosophy's first principles are rationally undeniable. You cannot meaningfully deny the truth of the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, or the law of the excluded middle. Any statement against them must presuppose their truth (correspondence with reality) in order to be meaningful, which makes any denial of these 3 principles self-refuting.

      Since these principles are undeniable, one then has to explain how it is we have this deep metaphysical knowledge of reality which is essential to knowing anything at all. Theism is a pretty good candidate for being able explain that. Atheist philosophers have not been anywhere near as successful.

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    15. @Drew
      "Since these principles are undeniable, one then has to explain how it is we have this deep metaphysical knowledge of reality, which is essential to knowing anything at all. Theism is a pretty good candidate for being able to explain that."

      Of course, they are - but only for the world as it is given to us, not as it is by itself, which is Noumenon. We can't jump off the cage of our logic and our notions. But that doesn't entails that there might not be the other forms of those. We can't stand on the God's point of view, see the world from God's perspective. But that's exactly what theism tries to achieve—to reason about the world from some absolute standpoint. Alas, we can do that only from our human one, inherently limited by our logic and our notions. To think otherwise would mean naive, moderate or strong Realism, which is too simple, too human to be true. The world just can't be so primitive. Not to mention that such a view implies that the aforementioned "principles" are somehow mandatory for God himself, that He must obey the Law of noncontradiction, that 2+2=4 and so forth. But this is a pure blasphemy in my opinion.

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    16. Michael, you are not making any sense. To say God is not bound by the law of non-contradiction is to suggest God could fail to be God, to say God could be and not be God at the same time and in the same respect. THAT's blasphemy, and it's also nonsense, and it's sad how you're falling into PNC denial, which is a type of madness not even worth debating. God is logic, because God is being, and God cannot deny Himself, and anyone giving credence to even a shred of a possibility of being being non-being is mad or confused.

      I urge you to read Norris Clarke's refutation of Kantism through interpersonal communication; we know for a fact we already have access to formal structures that are already formal, and not that we have to impose form upon everything we get to see. We know for a fact that Kant's view is false, and you disprove it every time you read my words and immediately grasp a formal structure that is given to you, which you could only grasp because you yourself could learn a preexisting formal structure you had nothing to do with -- when you learned language.

      Moreover, we could even employ the argument I gave and show how the limitation of principles of thought to our minds would be ad hoc. The best explanation is in their character as simple metaphysical principles.

      There is literally no reason to accept Kantian epistemology as such, and it leads to absolute nonsense.


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    17. I've read it. It's sheer facepalm.jpg. Sorry, I can't waste my time on such ignorance. Just remember: "Immanuel Kant is the central figure in modern philosophy" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). He would not have been if you or Norris Clarke were right. Read "Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason" by Sebastian Gardner and maybe you'll understand why he is. You do believe in a very simple anthropomorphic God. He is infinitely more than just that.

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    18. Kantianism is incoherent. We are part of the world as it is. To say that we cannot understand noumenon is to say that noumenon exist (there have to be noumenon not to understand) and that they are the sort of thing to which we do not have access. That is a claim to know something about noumenon. Therefore, any claim that we cannot know noumenon is self-refuting.

      There cannot be any such thing as reason without some absolute standpoint. The fact that we have limitations and different perspectives is no argument against the fact that we can derive objective facts from subjective experience. Because again, a denial of objectivity is a statement about the objective world, which is self-refuting.

      Theism gives a nice account for how we can have such objective knowledge. Stuart Hackett believed that we do have categories through which we see the world. The only explanation as to why we can gain objective knowledge through them is if they are structured according to the way the world actually is. If God created us and the world, it is easy to see why the two match. Atheism cannot give such an account, which is why atheism is self-refuting.

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    19. By the way, all that could be said about God was said in the second part of Plato's dialogue "Parmenides" which describes the One (and which was a major inspiration for Neo-Platonism). The whole of it is based on the systematic denial of PNC - God has got and hasn't got every thinkable attribute simultaneously. He exists so that for us he might seem existing and non-existing at the same time because his existence is beyond the grasp of our logic and notions.

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    20. @Drew

      1. How do you know WHAT the world is AS IT IS? Grasping it by your reason, which is based on your logic and notions?

      2. There is only one Noumemon (and even that is just our notion), there is no correspondence between things of our world and "noumenons". The Noumenon exists (that's our notion, we haven't got anything else for such a thing); that's all we can say about it.

      3. Our objectivity is OUR objectivity, there is nothing absolute in it, nor is it compulsory for the other possible sentient subjects, let alone God himself.

      4. The colour-blind person sees grey where you see red. What colour is there objectively? And in your own words—do you deny for God ability to create the other creatures with a completely different set of logic and notions? Whose objectivity would be the best—ours or theirs?

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    21. Michael,

      Saying "facepalm" or telling me Kant is a central figure in modern philosophy does not answer any of my points. I have yet to see how you can account for the acquisition of language and meaningful interpersonal communication if we cannot grasp formal structures as they are given to us. I also have yet to see you explain why we ought to limit the principles of knowledge to our own minds and nothing more, in such an ad hoc limitation in comparison to the simple and best explanation that we have the experiences we have because the principles in question are metaphysical principles, true beyond our minds. I want to see how you can plausibly defend the limitation, which to me seems like concluding "every raven observed between t0 and t1 is black" instead of "every raven is black" when we observe ravens.

      I also would like to see you explain how God could be God if the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of identity need not apply to Him. What could even be the case in saying that God could fail to be God? Or that God could make a square circle? And how are you not saying complete nonsense and rubbish, since denial of PNC implies PRECISELY that what you are saying is that it is possible for God to be and not-be, you are accepti an incoherence and given that you AT LEAST accept PNC for your own thought, it follows you should reject the proposition that PNC could be invalid beyond your mind. Your position is completely incoherent, and I have yet to see you defend it instead of hand waving.

      My view of God is not anthropomorphic; my view of God is that of the biblical God who is "I AM", and not "I AM AND AM NOT". My view of God is the God that just is Being, Logic. God is the Logos, God is truth, and truth is not falsity. It implies a sharp break between being and non-being, truth and falsity, exactly as PNC dictates.

      If, per impossible, I were wrong about God and PNC, it would still be the only sensible position to stand with Saint Augustine, Saint Athanasius, Saint Anselm, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bernard, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Bellarmine, and all the rest -- all who firmly hold to the God you call "anthropomorphic" as the correct view of the faith of Isaac and Jacob, and the revelation given to us by Christ. These virtuous and wise doctors, with a far greater understanding of God and Christianity than you and I could even hope to achieve, all would disagree with Kant. Yet in the face of it, you choose to instead to stand with a philosopher from Königsberg as if he had actually discovered the truth about God with far more acuity than the virtuous Saints who preceded him. That, to me, is insane.

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  8. Just replace the thing-in-itself with Noumenon—and we'll end up in even harder position than Kant's original one. The subsequent critique of this issue misses the point: we can't think about it otherwise strictly because of the impossibility of leaving the domain of our logic and our notions. That's not Idealism - we do know that our notion of causality may have nothing to do with Noumenon, but we just can't think and speak of it otherwise lacking the logic and notions of Noumenon itself (if there are ones).

    That begs the question on the entire issue though, by taking the thing-in-itself as something we cannot in principle apply certain concepts to, which is exactly what is being questioned. Kant wants to claim that the categories of experience (substance, causation et cetera)only apply to 'phenomenal' beings and at the same time hold that the Noumenon gives rise/contributes something to these beings. The critic is claiming that the two are in tension (e.g. that Kant either needs to drop their beings an extra-mental source of content for experience or embrace a kind of indirect realism, wherein we are never directly acquainted with the objects which cause our experience).

    I don’t know if its correct to talk about logic in general as opposed to categories either. If we cannot talk of the thing-in-itself as ‘a bare X’, presumably following the laws of purely formal logic, then we run the risk of not being able to talk off it at all. If so philosophers can hardly be expected to worry about the ‘idea’ of something void of cognitive content. The only reason Kant has to persuade us to take up his account in the first place is his claim that experience can never furnish us with certain ideas (that the Ego or transcendental unity of consciousness cannot provide the material as well as formal content of experience is determined almost solely to avoid Idealism).

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    1. @OA Police
      "The critic is claiming that the two are in tension" - exactly so! And that's wrong because we can't see this connection otherwise then being causal, but that doesn't mean that said notion is applicable on the Noumenon side.

      "we run the risk of not being able to talk off it at all" - exactly so! We can think (properly) about Noumenon only negatively. All the other efforts will be just metaphors based on our logic and notions borrowed from our domain.

      I'm quite aware of all the problems with Kant. But his position is at least worth mentioning in order to avoid a naive realism, which is often the basis for theist speculations.

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    2. I can't be engaged in serious discussions about Kant—there are libraries written on that topic. My point is that you can't catch God in the snare of logic, he is beyond that. "2+2=4" has no compelling force to God. As Pascal put it: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars." In order to save time I just recommend "Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy" by Lev Shestov. It would be nice if we could draw on our logic and notions reasoning about God, but alas, — sola fide.

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    3. So, in fact, you are just begging the question. Feser's proofs are based on trying to understand aspects of contingent being in so far as they are aspects of being. The Kantian needs to give some actual argument for his epistemology, for why this can't be done in other words, not just assert it. Feser actually responds to the Kantian position and points out just this. Kant is no more worrisome to the classical theist than Hume until this is done.

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    4. All that is highly debatable, look at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-metaphysics/
      Recommended: "Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason" by Sebastian Gardner, especially the chapter 2 "The possibility of objects". Neither the classical theism, nor Feser (?) doesn't explain why anything at all is given to us.

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    5. You need to actually argue for a Kantian epistemology, not allude vaguely to the contents of an article. It is not clear why anyone who isn't a Kantian would be swayed by this objection.

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    6. That is a starting point - the problem of reality, why anything at all is given to us. The classical theism doesn't even notice that problem. The rest is just consequence of the answer to that question.

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    7. I think the following is helpful. As Norris Clarke explained, because the intellect "is ordered to being as its proper object, it is open to the entire horizon of being without restriction."

      "The whole key to realist epistemology like that of St Thomas's is the "self revelation of being," that it reveals a being as this kind of actor on me, which is equivalent to saying it really exists and has this kind of nature = an abiding center of acting and being acted on". (The One and Many by W. Norris Clarke)

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    8. @Jason
      Are you kidding? We are unknown "things-in-themselves" even to OURSELVES, we do NOT know ourselves in full. What to say about the world around us? First we knew atoms, then subatomic particles, then quarks, now dark matter... It's not unthinkable that there is something we'll never know about it as long as we are as we are. That's "without restriction"?

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    9. We need not know all the details of the world in order to be sure that we do know something absolutely true about the world. We do know being. We do know this center of acting and being acted on, we do know we are acted on by being.

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    10. Certainly there are questions of the foundation of knowledge that all philosophical systems need to answer. That's not an argument for the Kantian solution though. You're not arguing so much as making a few vague allusions and stamping your feet.

      And, by the way, have you read Etienne Gilson's works on knowledge, if we're just going to suggest things to read?

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    11. @Michael Login

      We're talking about being. I invite you to step back and reflect on that for a while and consider what that means.

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  9. I'm not an expert on Kant so I can't really respond in detail to his transcendentalism, only that I have read critiques by the likes of Peter Kreeft a LONG time ago.

    As for my second point, holding to a properly basic belief isn't fidesim, it is the claim that my experience of God is a justifiable reason for holding to my beliefs in the ABSENCE of an intrinsic defeater of those beliefs. For example WLC once used the example of a Christian he met in the early 1990's just after the fall of the USSR, this believer couldn't know the philosophical arguments since the authorities had long burnt all the books which he could have consulted and only allowed the Bible to be printed in order to 'educate' political officers in how to recognised 'dangerous religious material '. The man's family on the other hand had kept the faith over the preceding 80 years, and his direct experience of God was the only basis on which he had to base his belief.

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    1. What do you mean by "intrinsic defeater"?

      Because it seems to me that, since one's own experience of God is as basic as belief in other minds, it would have to be so vastly unlikely as not to merit any consideration.

      One's assurance of the correctness of the belief would be a matter on the level of common-sense, or somewhere close.

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    2. You (and Craig) have obviously not kept up the literature. The justification of religious belief has moved beyond Plantinga to "Phenomenal Conservatism". There have been so many plausible objections to what Plantinga argues that I can't possibly list them all here. And, like I said, phenomenal conservatism has taken more importance, because it's more plausible than what Plantinga argues.

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    3. Well I can't speak for Professor Craig, but I can say with hand on heart that I'm not familiar with any updates in the last 5 years.

      In addition a few friendly pointers

      a) saying that someone has 'obviously not kept up with the literature' comes along as being a bit of a jerk.

      b) Saying that they're are so many objections to a position that you can't list them ..... and then not listing any, doesn't endear confidence.

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    4. I'm not sure what difference Anonymous's comment was supposed to make, anyway; PC is usually considered a much less restrictive account than the properly basic belief account, so one would at least normally expect that any kind of believing that would have justification under the latter would have justification under the former.

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  10. Very Impressive performance by Both.

    There is one serious problem with Rationalist proof that I would wish to be addressed. (in the debate they discuss infinite regressed and something close to this problem but not this particular problem) .

    So It faces an objection that in an infinite series of contingent things , anything we pick out is explained by some other contingent thing so we don't need to bring in anything necessary to do explaining because nothing is left unexplained here.

    In Five Proofs , Feser responds to this by bringing in geometry book example from leibniz He points out that in an infinite series of geometry book ,we would have immediate explanation of every book but we would not have explained everything there is to it. like we would not have explained why these books have specific content it has rather than some other content, why are all of them on geometry rather than some other subject, why this series rather than another one? etc. By the same token even if we accept that series of contingent things extends to infinity we would not have explained everything.

    But as Philosopher Stephen Maitzen points out in his papers "Questioning the Question" and "Stop asking why is there anything" (If you guys haven't already read those , consider yourself liable to as they are that interesting and engaging.) This response is mistaken. As it relies on the following principle which he calls (KI) for kind-instantiation

    This is how he states it:
    "(KI) Where K is any substantial kind—i.e., any kind of individual substance—you can’t explain why there are any Ks at all by invoking only Ks, even if your explanation goes on forever".

    Now what he points out is that there is a crucial difference between geometry books,dogs,humans,penguins etc and contingent things. that is the former denotes substantial kinds but the latter doesn't. So while it is legitimate to say that you can't explain geometry book in an infinite series of geometry books by only invoking geometry books , it isn't right to say that you can't explain contingent things by only other contingent things.

    He gives several arguments for why contingent things is not a substantial-kind ( You can't non-arbitrarily count them, there is no non-arbitrary criteria of persistence for them, proper parts of substantial kinds do not belong to same kind , etc) see those papers for details.

    I have several lines of response in my mind but none seems quite satisfactory, What do you guys think?

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    1. Seems like sophistry to me.

      Clearly, a geometry book is a contingent thing. What then could stop us from asking "why are there contingent substantial-kinds at all?" If the author grants that KI is valid and there are substance-kinds, then we can ask why contingent substance-kinds exist, and that would lead us to a PSR for substance-kinds and also a cosmological argument of sorts for substance-kinds, unless I am missing something.

      Moreover, I fail to see how we can explain the existence of contingent things simply by invoking an infinity of contingent things. Why? How? *It simply doesn't answer the question at hand and is a denial of PSR*. Our intuition tells us that what we are looking for is an explanation for contigency, and not that we only ask questions because we are seeing "substance kinds". Being told that there exists an infinity of contingent things doesn't explain shit to me, in fact it only enlarges the need for an explanation; why is there an infinity of contingent things? They could all fail to exist, they could all have been different, why on earth should we not be allowed to inquire about why these contingent things exist (as we in fact do)?

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    2. That's because the proponent of the contingency argument is asking us to first buy this so-called paradigm of necessary and contingent things. Otherwise, the argument doesn't get off the ground. I don't buy into the notion of "metaphysically necessary beings", so of course I'm not convinced by the argument from contingency. For one, there's an ongoing debate in philosophy about whether metaphysical necessity collapses into logical necessity (if it does, the contingency argument doesn't go through). If you want to talk about factual necessity, an eternal cosmos is factually necessary.

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    3. Any such debate hinges on whether PSR is true or not. There is nothing incoherent about a necessary being, and pretending to deny the modal difference doesn't deal away that things we see could have been different or failed to exist.

      The "cosmos is factually necessary" is a very weak response I've seen being touted around in some places.

      1) PSR rules out any such "factually necessary being";

      2) To say the cosmos is "factually necessary" begs the question in favor of atheism. How would it be "factually necessary" or, better speaking, independent of anything for its existence? Everything we know points to the contrary; things we see are not independent in this manner and there is an even bigger debate on the universe's origins, which is far more pressing than any discussion of logical necessity, but if the universe had a beginning then it is not factually necessary. Not to mention how even quarks seem subject to decay. To say the cosmos is factually necessary makes no sense and is just a desperate evasion from some leibnizian arguments.

      But anyway, PSR is true, so there is no such thing as a factually necessary being, and it follows that there is a Supreme Being.

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    4. And Aquinas's third way rules out "factual necessity" of this sort, in his discussion of contingency (which is not the same contingency employed in leibnizian arguments)

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    5. Miguel,

      Clearly, a geometry book is a contingent thing. What then could stop us from asking "why are there contingent substantial-kinds at all?" If the author grants that KI is valid and there are substance-kinds, then we can ask why contingent substance-kinds exist, and that would lead us to a PSR for substance-kinds and also a cosmological argument of sorts for substance-kinds, unless I am missing something.

      The Problem here again is that contingent substance-kinds isn't itself a further Substantial kind because just like the contingent things this isn't a genuine sortal term either i.e it supplies no criteria of identification and re-identification through which we can pick out something specific.

      Moreover, I fail to see how we can explain the existence of contingent things simply by invoking an infinity of contingent things. Why? How?..

      ... Being told that there exists an infinity of contingent things doesn't explain shit to me, in fact it only enlarges the need for an explanation; why is there an infinity of contingent things? They could all fail to exist, they could all have been different, why on earth should we not be allowed to inquire about why these contingent things exist (as we in fact do)?


      But wouldn't all that only follow if the criticism he is trying to raise is already unsound? Again he isn't denying that things have explanations but he is saying that we can't explain things as things we need to pick a specif Substantial Kind for that and contingent things isn't that.

      *It simply doesn't answer the question at hand and is a denial of PSR*

      Actually He doesn't apparently deny PSR, he expresses dissatisfaction with both the brute facts and indeterministic interprettion of QM, He thinks PSR is true but we don't need to bring in necessary first causes to explain.

      Again let me try to state further the kind of criticism he is trying to raise , He is saying that terms which aren't "genuine sortals" are crucially different from those that are, so the questions asked in the former's case fail to admit of any answer, He is charging the defender of argument which uses that geometry book argument for treating a "Dummy Sortal" as it were a genuine sortal.

      its more clear in case of counting things , suppose I ask How many things are there? such question is ill-posed and therefore in principle unanswerable, to see why think of these examples,

      Suppose I have a pen in my hand, should we say I have one thing in my hand? What about the detachable pen cap, or the ink reservoir, or an arbitrary undetached part of the pen, or different temporal parts of the pen( if there are any)? We can't answer this question even in principle because we have no idea what counts as a thing here, to ask a meaningful question we would need to be more specific like how many pen are there?

      Similarly, suppose if there is a Red Table in a room, Then if I instead ask how many Red things are there in the room, such question again would be meaningless because we don't have any way of identifying what really counts a red things again , does the Table Top count as red thing , The Legs of the table , sum of all these things, all the atoms of the table? ..

      By the same token asking Why are there things is a meaningless question according to this criticism. so we don't need to apply PSR to Things it would only apply on genuine sortal terms like Books, Pens, Cats etc , we can ask about them why these books and not something else and so on, but not why these contingent things .

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    6. And I would recommend reading those papers, you can find them online, they explain better than me.

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    7. @Miguel,


      Just an interesting question:


      If PSR is true, then what do we say about things that do NOT exist?


      We can ask the question of "Why do unicorns not exist?" , so if PSR is true, we would also have to answer questions about why things do not exist.


      Any thoughts?

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    8. Red,

      I really don't understand how the first point would undermine what I said. You said "contingent substance kinds" would not be a substance kind because it supplies no criteria of identification and re-identification.

      1- Whether or not it is a "substance kind", the point is simply that we can clearly tell that there are contingent things, and we can clearly tell that many things you are calling "substance kinds" are also what we would call contingent things -- we understand they could've failed to exist, they undergo chage, they undergo decay and corruption, etc etc. What's stopping me from realizing this? And then, tha being said, what could stop me from asking why are there substance kinds in that set of contingent substance kinds, or in the category CSK? Nothing, it seems to me. We clearly know there are contingent things, or contingent substance kinds, and as I said, being told that there is an infinity of CSK doesn't alleviate the mystery of their existence in any way. What's stopping me from realizing that there are SKs that would fall into what we'd call "contingent SKs" when we can clearly tell some SKs undergo change, decay, could have failed to exist, etc etc and then inquiring about the existence of these contingent SKs as a whole?

      2- That's why I said his position denies PSR. I realize he doesn't want to deny it, but that's what it ultimately does, because it would imply in unexplained contingent facts: "there exists an infinity of contingent beings that could have all failed to exist" is clearly a contingent fact, and my point precisely is that being told there is an infinity of contingent things, or contingent SKs, doesn't at all explain why there are any contingent SKs in the first place, as it doesn't explain the existence of the infinite series of geometry books. The real troubling feature is contingency, because contingency implies something that for whatever (or no) reason exists but could've failed to exist. He doesn't explain how the existence of contingent things in the first place, or contingent SKs, is explained or becomes intelligible merely by positing an infinity of contingent SKs. If anything it sounds more bizarre and only strengthens the need for an explanation. And since the fact of the existence of contingent SKs would itself be contingent, PSR demands an explanation for it. But an explanation of such a contingent fact can only be found in a necessary being, not in a restatement of the fact -- this is not a self-explanatory contingent fact, as should be obvious. Moreover, Pruss's CP for causal chains, which follows from PSR, would also plausibly destroy the whole thing.

      I'm just not convinced, it seems like sophistry that is muddying the waters of something perfectly intelligible, a mystery pretty much everyone recognizes.

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    9. JoeD,
      I'd say the reason unicorns don't exist is 1) the beings that could start a causal chain to bring a unicorn into existence (e.g. all the potencies involved in biological species, natural selection, etc) have failed to do so; 2) any other beings that could cause a unicorn to exist (e.g. God) choose not to do so; and 3) PSR is true and therefore unicorns can't pop up into existence or suddenly be caused without any explanation.

      It is important to notice, especially with regards to 1, that an explanans need not necessitate the explanandum in order to explain it. PSR doesn't need to suppose determinating sufficient reasons, just explanations for why contingent facts obtain.

      Some would also limit PSR to positive states of affairs, which would answer your question, but I don't think it's necessary at all; I find the question intelligible and perfectly answered and explained by the facts I pointed out.

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    10. Interesting.


      Do you think another potential answer why unicorns don't exist would be "Because there is nothing that keeps them in being." ?


      If so, then I think we could make an argument for PSR on the basis of that if we could deduce that brute facts, because they say something exists for no reason, also essentially amount to the claim that a certain thing exists with nothing that is keeping it in being.


      Because unicorns don't exist precisely because there is nothing that keeps them in being, it would make the claim that existing things exist with nothing keeping them in being (brute facts imply this basically) is false, and thus we would demonstrate that there must be something that keeps existing things in being.


      To deny this would be to say being is the same as non-being, or brings about the same results, thus leading to a contradiction.

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    11. I really don't understand how the first point would undermine what I said.

      Because if the criticism is right and Contingent Sk isn't itself a further SK, then following would be false :

      what could stop me from asking why are there substance kinds in that set of contingent substance kinds, or in the category CSK? Nothing

      What's stopping me from realizing that there are SKs that would fall into what we'd call "contingent SKs" when we can clearly tell some SKs undergo change, decay, could have failed to exist, etc etc and then inquiring about the existence of these contingent SKs as a whole?


      Thats the whole point contingent SKs itself isn't any SK under which something can be said to fall into , in the cases I describe above just replace, things with Sks and you will see that asking how many SKs are there? run into same meaninglessness .

      2- That's why I said his position denies PSR. I realize he doesn't want to deny it, but that's what it ultimately does, because it would imply in unexplained contingent facts: "there exists an infinity of contingent beings that could have all failed to exist" is clearly a contingent fact, and my point precisely is that being told there is an infinity of contingent things, or contingent SKs, doesn't at all explain why there are any contingent SKs in the first place, as it doesn't explain the existence of the infinite series of geometry books.............But an explanation of such a contingent fact can only be found in a necessary being, not in a restatement of the fact -- this is not a self-explanatory contingent fact, as should be obvious.

      once again , that would only follow if his claims are unsound already, He is not denying that contingent things need explanation, what he is denying is the inference from saying that geometry books can't be explained by only invoking geometry books themselves ad infinitum to Contingent things can't be explained by only invoking contingent things ad infinitum. So if he is right then this doesn't violate PSR, because pick any member from infinite series of contingent things and it would be explained in terms of some other.

      Moreover, Pruss's CP for causal chains, which follows from PSR, would also plausibly destroy the whole thing.

      Thats a fairly lengthy article , don't have lot of it in mind, can you point to more precise part?

      I'm just not convinced, it seems like sophistry that is muddying the waters of something perfectly intelligible, a mystery pretty much everyone recognizes.

      No. that doesn't seem sophistry to me, I think it only seems to you because perhaps I am not making stating his arguments, adequately and forcefully enough . You should try to look it into more.

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    12. Again, I don't really see how it would be anything more than sophistry. I'll try going after the articles in question when I have more time, but on the face of it I just don't see any real problem.

      I would insist again that coming up with an infinity of contingent beings does absolutely nothing to explain why any contingent beings exist at all rather than nothing, and this was Leibniz's main point, the geometry books being a mere illustration. We shouldn't get too fixated on an illustrative example and forget what it is actually showing us; the problem is that contingency in this case is not explained at all, there remains the unexplained contingent fact of why there is any contingent causal chain at all, why there is any contingent being at all, and a distinction with SKs does nothing to undermine Leibniz's point and does nothing to change the fact that we'd have a brute contingent fact here. A violation of PSR.

      It seems to me as if he's taking that "since we can explain each contingent thing by positing another contingent thing to explain it, we can keep doing that ad infinitum", but this would be some restatement of the Hume-Edwards-Campbell principle, which Pruss refutes in his article in section 4.1.1.4, which I recommend you to read. And I don't see how it does anything at all against either 1) the BCCF, which would require an explanation per PSR, obviously in terms of something external to itself, or 2) the contingent fact of the existence of contingent things, which cannot be explained by appeal to contingent causes, or 3) the infinite causal chain in question. Pruss's remarks on causal principles for causal chains can be found in Section 3 of his Blackwell article. The section is "From local CPs to non-local CPs".

      To me, 1 2 and 3 are all perfectly adequate responses and show how, SK or not, we cannot explain the existence of contingent beings by positing an infinite regress of contingent beings. The point is just what Leibniz illustrated, and the distinction of SKs doesn't change 1 2 and 3

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    13. Red: By the same token asking Why are there things is a meaningless question according to this criticism. [...] we can ask about them why these books and not something else and so on, but not why these contingent things .

      Except the token is not the same at all. Asking "how many things are there?" calls for a single answer, so obviously we must agree on what counts as a single "thing". That is utterly different from "Why are there things?" Maitzen can give one answer, a million, whatever — the whole problem is that by rejecting a per se cause from the series, he can't give any answer at all. Besides, who was asking about "things" anyway? I thought the question was about this one very specific single infinitely-old geometry book? (It doesn't even matter whether there are other contingent things or not; like most of these arguments, a single instance is enough to get us to Pure Act.)

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    14. Miguel,

      Again, I don't really see how it would be anything more than sophistry. I'll try going after the articles in question when I have more time, but on the face of it I just don't see any real problem.

      Yes, I would highly recommend you do so. It seems You aren't really grasping it through my exposition of it in combox, even if you disagree on this point I would still recommend it.

      I would insist again that coming up with an infinity of contingent beings does absolutely nothing to explain why any contingent beings exist at all rather than nothing, and this was Leibniz's main point, the geometry books being a mere illustration. We shouldn't get too fixated on an illustrative example and forget what it is actually showing us; the problem is that contingency in this case is not explained at all, there remains the unexplained contingent fact of why there is any contingent causal chain at all,

      But this once again simply begs the question against above, What do you think is left unexplained here? Pick any one of those infinity of things and its explained as Hume-Edwards claim. What does it even mean to say that why there is any contingent causal chain at all? as if that chain is some further object over and above its constituents(which is supposed to be left unexplained) , but thats not true , the chain is simply a heap, pick any part of that chain and its explained by some other part what is left? If now some defender appeals to the principle that you can't explain any substantial kind by only appealing to same kind ad infinitum ,then it can be pointed out that this simply misfires , because contingent things or facts is not a substantial kind, its what Philosophers call a dummy sortal and its meaningless to ask such questions concerning dummy sortals, again see above examples involving their numbers So there is No brute contingent fact left here, nothing violated PSR.


      It seems to me as if he's taking that "since we can explain each contingent thing by positing another contingent thing to explain it, we can keep doing that ad infinitum", but this would be some restatement of the Hume-Edwards-Campbell principle

      Yes, thats right his thesis can be taken to be a sophisticated defense of HECP.

      which Pruss refutes in his article in section 4.1.1.4

      The problem is that his cannon ball argument runs into same difficulty as the geometry book argument, it seems legitimate to say that flight of cannon ball at some time can't be explained in terms of its flight at another time even if explanation go on to forever , but the same won't apply when we are talking about some dummy sortal like contingent things

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    15. And I don't see how it does anything at all against either 1) the BCCF, which would require an explanation per PSR, obviously in terms of something external to itself, or 2) the contingent fact of the existence of contingent things, which cannot be explained by appeal to contingent causes,

      This would only follow if HECP is false and Maitzen's thesis is false.

      or 3) the infinite causal chain in question. Pruss's remarks on causal principles for causal chains can be found in Section 3 of his Blackwell article. The section is "From local CPs to non-local CPs".

      Similarly here Pruss's strategy was to argue that there is no valid and non-ad hoc reason to restrict the CP. He offers replies to some reasons to think there are. but If Maitzen is right then that would simply constitute a further reason.

      Moreover, CP is distingued from PSR, the former relies on notion of "cause" while latter does on "explanation" , in the paper he dismisses the notion of causation as helpful for LCA , much in the same way Arif does, he says that its so poorly understood that defender of the argument is required to first explicate it.

      To me, 1 2 and 3 are all perfectly adequate responses and show how, SK or not, we cannot explain the existence of contingent beings by positing an infinite regress of contingent beings. The point is just what Leibniz illustrated, and the distinction of SKs doesn't change 1 2 and 3

      As I explain above it does affect them.

      @Mr.Green.

      Except the token is not the same at all. Asking "how many things are there?" calls for a single answer

      But that is being denied above in the first place. That it is meaningful to ask "how many things are there?" Such a question can't even have an answer in principle not just in practice so there can be 1 million cats or table or pens etc but it isn't strictly meaningful to say that there are 1 million things.

      Besides, who was asking about "things" anyway? I thought the question was about this one very specific single infinitely-old geometry book? (It doesn't even matter whether there are other contingent things or not; like most of these arguments, a single instance is enough to get us to Pure Act.)

      The infinitely-old geometry book or series of books can be given an external explanation in terms some other contingent being ad infinitum. the above would create problems for the defender if he responds that this leaves something out.

      And Of course, this criticism only applies to this Leibnizian-rationalist cosmological argument, not to other proofs like five ways or four other proofs by Feser (atleast right now I can't think of anyway it might affect them). so If notion of per se and per accident causal series is correct and those proofs go through then this won't affect that but this does undermine LCA , and its use of explanations.

      Bill Vallicella discusses Maitzen's earlier paper on his blogs, Maitzen also comments on those post so highly recommended reads. Also Maybe Vallicella's statement of the argument if better.


      http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/05/must-we-stop-asking-why-theres-anything.html

      http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/06/the-how-many-and-the-why-any-questions-and-their-connection.html

      http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/06/the-modified-leibniz-question-maitzens-ceritique-and-my-repsonse.html.

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    16. I would still insist on what I said about how it doesn't really explain the contingent fact of the existence of contingent beings, and I don't think the SK distinction changes anything or refutes Pruss's refutation of the HEC principle. But I'll try reading the papers themselves later on before I tackle the issues again.

      By the way, have you tried asking Pruss about that? Maybe through his blog or via email. If you get an answer, let us know. I would be interested to see how Pruss would respond.

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    17. The semantic thesis that Maitzen uses doesn't work.

      http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2012/06/the-modified-leibniz-question-the-debate-so-far.html

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    18. Miguel,

      I would still insist on what I said about how it doesn't really explain the contingent fact of the existence of contingent beings, and I don't think the SK distinction changes anything or refutes Pruss's refutation of the HEC principle.

      Don't know what can be done in face of such insistence right now so I would probably repeat here whats already said.
      :)

      Anon,

      Thanks, I didn't read that post before.
      Now when I actually saw the link I noticed in his later paper Maitzen makes some remarks on the post in a footnote.

      Anyway, reading it now.

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    19. I don't think that solves that problem, I'll post about that later.

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  11. I hate to sound like a wet blanket, but I think Ahmed was the technical winner of the debate. Here's why.

    With the Aristotelian argument, Ahmed made three strong points: (i) the Aristotelian notion of a potential is obscure; (ii) scientists don't need to invoke such a notion, when accounting for events that take place in the world; and (iii) explaining the notion of a cause in terms of the actualization of a potential sheds no additional light on the notion.

    For my part, I think (i) was a telling point because Ed himself admits in Scholastic Metaphysics (2014, p. 38) that a thing's potencies are grounded in its actualities: a ball is able to melt at low temperatures because it is actually made of rubber and not granite. In that case, we don't need to invoke potentialities to account for change; what we need is lower-level actualities. And we don't need to explain causation as the actualization of a potential; we can simply appeal to the notion of an underlying actuality (say, a substance) taking on one of a range of permitted values, for some specific attribute.

    Re the Rationalist proof, Ed needed to show that (i) the notion of something coming into existence without an explanation is absurd; (ii) science cannot work without the Principle of Sufficient Reason; and (iii) an infinite regress of explanations is impossible.

    With regard to (i), Ed did a good job of rebutting Hume's positive arguments for why something's coming into being without a cause is perfectly conceivable, but I don't think he managed to demonstrate that such a scenario was inconceivable or logically absurd.

    With regard to (ii): the mere fact that it's possible a priori that the world be a buzzing blooming mess if PSR is false doesn't show that we can't have good a posteriori grounds for believing that the world in which we live isn'tinstrumental explanation. Talk of instruments only makes sense within the context of agent causality, as opposed to event causality - and we haven't established the existence of the agent yet. So I'd say Ed mounted a vigorous defense but didn't manage to land any knock-out blows. My two cents.

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    1. I hate to sound like a wet blanket.

      I won't believe it!

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    2. Vincent, I think the answer to your first point ("(i) the Aristotelian notion of a potential is obscure") is simply that to engage that deeply you'd get sidetracked from the argument in question into background questions about essences and final causes.

      On your other argument labeled (i)* I partly agree. I was surprised Ed didn't use the chiliagon example, for instance. But again, this would take the discussion into the matter of Hume's particular kind of phenomenalism, another sidetrack.

      *Confusing. I'd recommend (1a and 1b, etc).

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    3. Point 2) is a bad one. Potency is meant to make philosophical sense of causality, which science assumes. It isn't a scientific issue, so it is irrelevant that science makes no use of it. 3) is nonsense. As Lloyd Gerson puts it in his work Plotinus, potency is necessary to explain why we recognise things tend to have a range of natural ways in which they can change, and cause and effect are therefore not entirely unpredictable. In other words, it helps to explain why the rubber ball will tend to bounce when thrown or melt when heated, and not disappear or turn into a bunch of flowers. The one who rejects some understanding of potency needs to give us an alternative account of causation that can explain the largely predictable nature of cause and effect.

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  12. Sorry, something happened with my last paragraph. It should read:

    With regard to (ii): the mere fact that it's possible a priori that the world be a buzzing blooming mess if PSR is false doesn't show that we can't have good a posteriori grounds for believing that the world in which we live isn't a buzzing blooming mess. The coherence and consistency of the scientific worldview is one such ground. Ed made a stronger point when arguing that an unexplained brute fact (e.g. an ultimate law) would explain nothing, but some people have different metaphysical intuitions on this point.

    Finally, Ed's argument against an infinite regress of explanations is that an infinite regress of instrumental causes make no sense, but (a) that move works only if the notion of "cause" is more basic than that of "explanation," and (b) it's question-begging to argue that a derivative explanation (which presupposes a more fundamental one) is an instrumental explanation. Talk of instruments only makes sense within the context of agent causality, as opposed to event causality - and we haven't established the existence of the agent yet. So I'd say Ed mounted a vigorous defense but didn't manage to land any knock-out blows. My two cents.

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  13. These typea of debates should always be a primer to written exchanges (like Ed's with K. Parsons) where the debate can be explained with more depth and scope. Both had to explain, respond and then move on before each break so it may be part and parcel of this format that we'll always be asking for more. Having said that;

    I really would have liked more time spent on the issue of science presupposing the PSR. I guess Ed was appealing to his retorsion argument but my always have used his instrumental explanatory chain as well, I can't remember. I certainly think the first should have had more time. Especially when Arif made the quite natural response that Ed's retorsion argument appeals to how things *possibly* are as opposed to *probably* are. IIRC, this was when Arif said something along the lines of 'sure, someone could be that skeptical. But why argue with them?'. I think this seems to be along the same lines as K. Parsons reply to Ed's retorsion argument to the effect that we could have epistemological justification in the absence of defeater or reason to believe our faculties to be *probably* unreliable as opposed to *possibly*.

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    1. @Callum,

      As for science presupposing the PSR, I think Proclus's theistic proof establishes just that.

      His argument is basically that science, by it's very internal logic and order, presupposes explanation when it tries to explain things.

      This points to the necessity of a being like God from the very possibility that the universe can be stuided at all. It's similar to an argument from intelligibility itself.


      As for Ed arguing for PSR on the basis of retorsion, I think it's because he wants to show how a rejection of PSR is not just a rejection of a principle on the basis of mere questioning, but rather has consequences for reasoning because it destroys any probabilistic inferences one could make about anything, as well as implies certain other things about being that, when spelled out properly, show how utterly impossible brute facts are.

      And as for why the debate was in the format that it was in, I think it's because a radio interview offers a much more plentiful opportunity of commercialising one's writing than mere online written debates would give, rather than it being the best medium in which to discuss one's views.


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    2. Always good talking with you Joe,

      Ive been under the impression that the retorsion argument aims to make it incoherent for the PSR denyer to even attempt to argue against it. The idea seems to be that reasoning presupposes PSR. Well, it certainly presupposes something *like* the PSR. I think Arif was correct to point out that we can accept the explanatory resources needed for reasoning without being committed to the explanatory resources where everything has an explanation.

      Again, possibly unintelligible doesnt mean probably unintelligible

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    3. "I think Arif was correct to point out that we can accept the explanatory resources needed for reasoning without being committed to the explanatory resources where everything has an explanation.

      Again, possibly unintelligible doesnt mean probably unintelligible"


      I think this is where an argument to the effect that the very nature of being requires a PSR would be fitting.


      One thing that I've been thinking about is how the nature of being in one aspect is self-intelligible when it comes to the laws of logic, yet a rejection of PSR would require us to say that one other aspect of being is unintelligible, namely the whys and hows of existence.


      Looking at it superficially even, it makes a rejection of PSR look awkward. But I think that this makes for an interesting inductive argument for PSR; namely, since being is already self-explanatory when it comes to why and how the laws of logic are true (the why of it is in the very nature of the laws of logic themselves, as is the how since, again, the reason for why the laws of logic are true flow from their very nature), to now claim that being is unintelligible when it comes to the why and how of contingent existence is just irrational.

      It is like claiming that a contingent thing could partially be explained by God, and yet another part of it is a brute fact.


      And another thing I've been thinking about is how the question of why things exist is not the only question one can ask of contingency, but also HOW a contingent thing can exist, or rather, what way is there for it to exist at all?

      Feser's arguments clearly demonstrate that, for a variety of reasons, contingent things cannot exist of themselves.

      Since they cannot exist of themselves, there must be another WAY for them to exist, an answer to the HOW question. And that can only be found outside of the realm of contingent things.

      And it turns out that it could only be God, properly understood.

      To now claim the existence of things is a brute fact is a rejection of the HOW question.

      But a how question is meant to show in what WAY things exist a swell, and to deny there is an answer to the HOW question is also to deny that there is any WAY for things to exist as well.


      And THAT would be to claim that contingent things cannot exist at all, which is self-evidently false.


      In other words, to reject the PSR one would have to say that there is no way for a thing to exist, which is a contradiction.





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    4. Interesting thoughts.

      Would you agree that Feser's retorsion arguments seems to be lacking then in pushing the skeptic into a difficult position? Why can't the skeptic simply bite the bullet. My rationally faculties are possibly unintelligible and are brute facts, but they probably arent?

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    5. Well, I wouldn't say it is completely lacking, as it illustrates the point that brute facts destroy any probabilistic reasoning, including any one could have for judging that, say, intelligible facts are in fact unintelligible and only masquerading as intelligible ones.

      One may try to say that is unlikely, and even offer reasons for thinking this, and while that may work for contexts where such a thing is on the table, a rejection of PSR is of such a different species that it destroys any such reasoning completely, and it also, as you mentioned, destroys the foundation of reasoning as a whole since reasoning presupposes something like it.

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    6. Arif himself said that there is no point in arguing with the full-bore skeptic. The point is, isn't it, that Arif has no real grounds for drawing a distinction between his view, and the skeptics. Or am I missing something?

      (IIRC, Scruton once wrote that if someone is arguing for skepticism, he's telling you not to believer him. So don't.)

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  14. I also wonder Ed thinks that second argument for the PSR (where he uses the analogy of the book resting on the shelf) only works for laws construed on a humean account. In reply to Oerter, he also defended the Aristotelian account of laws entailing the PSR, are those the only two accounts of are the more?

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    1. This second argument seems to me to be ascribing something like essential properites to the shelf. Namely, the property of one element in this per se chain is carried over to another.

      Actually, upon further reflection, Ed seems to be saying that, since a per se chain such as the one he describes leaves no member of the chain independent on what the first member does, I think his claim that the book's stability is also left unexplained also makes sense.


      So no, I don't think that Ed gives that argument above only on a Humean account, but rather wants to make the claim that, since a per se series is constantly relevant for the other members down the line, that this means that unexplained bruteness also affects the other members in such a way as to make even them ultimately unexplained.


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    2. The problem I have is that Ed's analogy with the book and the shelf is that it seems to be a great analogy for a specifically nomological regress of laws. I think it works. I'm not sure this works for all accounts of laws. Perhaps some don't have an element of instrumentality? Tbh I'm appealing to my ignorance on tye literature on laws of nature!

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    3. Before, Ed has broadly categorised the accounts of the laws of nature as; humean, platonic, Aristotelian or Galilean/Cartesian (in other words explicitly theistic account of laws). I do wonder whether Feser can form a dilemma for the atheist? If you accept the humean account of the laws of nature, you must address his argument that a nomological regress of laws is a hierarchical series. Replies like Arif's arent not on the table where some explanations are available but not all the way down. The theistic option is clearly off the table. So that leaves the Aristotelian and Platonic. If its platonic, perhaps you could resist the PSR but the platonic account seems to cry out that it can't be the last link in the chain (Feser has gone over this a few times, especially on his post concerning Carrol). If the atheist takes a platonic account of laws, they won't be the terminus of explanation. That leaves the Aristotelian account. Ed could then give his reply to Oerter.

      This probably isn't water tight as I doubt every account of laws is as simple as 'Aristotelian' or 'platonic' rather than a pragmatic label for them, but its something ive been thinking about for a while. I think the atheist may have to go with a broadly Aristotelian account as his best bet to evade the issue.

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    4. I don't think those are all exhaustive accounts of laws. There are others too. Like what is labeled "Dretske-Tooley-Armstrong" Theory, and those of Tim Maudlin and Marc Lange etc..

      I don't fully understand them so I don't fully know how they would affect this debate. But they must have some effect here.

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    5. Right I think those four categories Feser uses are quite broad. A convenient and organised way to look at the conceptual territory.

      I don't know specifically about those two, but when I see Armstrong I seem to remember him being in the broadly Aristotelian camp?

      In Nancy Cartwright's paper "No God, No Laws" I think she categorises the accounts of laws into around 4 camps as well. I wonder if Maudlin's view is broadly humean?

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    6. Don't know how broad is broadly Aristotelian camp all sorts of views might diverge between it.

      What I gather about Maudlin's view is that Laws of Nature are simply Unanalyzable, Irreducible and Fundamental Features of the world. That doesn't sound much Humean to me.

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    7. I take the Aristotelian camp to see laws as descriptions of the way substances interact, with specific focus on the power a substance has to bring about certain effects.

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    8. I mean like it could be that one can be broadly Aristotelian without accepting Aristotelian view of laws.

      There are some hybrid kind of accounts too which accept different theories for different laws,

      check SEP article on Laws of nature.

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  15. Hi Vincent,

    How does "taking on one of a range of permitted values, for some specific attribute" substantially (pun intended) differ from the classical scholastic notion of a potency (built-in as it were) within the actuality (reality) of a substance? This strikes me as mere semantics, as if the modern natural scientist has escaped the need to posit scholastic potencies simply by relabeling the underlying ontological situation for which potency was originally invoked as "permitted values". The scholastic philosopher is just going to say that the enumeration of particular "permitted values" discovered by the natural sciences is a descriptive, clarifying the specific potencies of a given substance. This is precisely what any scholastic understands the role of the experimental sciences to be. He claims, however, that the more general account of substance developed in natural philosophy remains unseated by this further description, and in some ways exercises an epistemological priority over the more particularized description.

    Secondly, while I do not have time to develop it here, I think that a scholastic philosopher is indeed going to argue that causation is more fundamental than explanation, even as ontology is prior to epistemology for the scholastic. The real drives the known, not the reverse. Moreover, from a purely historical point of view, Aristotle seems to argue that general human wonder, as well as the first attempts at philosophy, were largely driven by questions about nature, its composition and relations, and most especially causal relations. In other words, upon analysis, one might indeed be able to show that the human drive to produce communicable and intelligible “explanations” does, in fact, piggy-back in a fundamental way upon the experience of both being and becoming, existence and change. And both of these seem, of their very nature, to raise paradigmatically causal questions, the answers to which we generally regard as “explanations”. Anyhow, what I took away from the debate is what I often take away from any number of interchanges between contemporary philosophers of science and those who have a deep grasp of the fundamental experiences and reasoning which underwrite what Aristotle so meticulously developed in his natural philosophy; namely, that Aristotle has paid more careful attention to the ontological and epistemological fundaments of natural science than have most modern philosophers of science.

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    1. I don't know that that works for Aristotelians, whose notion of "causes" is often better understood as "explanations" (or "reasons"). After all, formal and final causes don't fit our usual use of "cause" nowadays. For that matter, the kinds of things investigated by detectives and historians aren't really good examples of "causes" in the way scientists use the term.

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    2. Hi monk68,

      I'd just like to focus on your contention that "a scholastic philosopher is indeed going to argue that causation is more fundamental than explanation, even as ontology is prior to epistemology for the scholastic."

      The problem I have with this view is one going back to the early 1980s. I recall arguing for a First Cause with certain skeptics, and inevitably the question would come up: "What do you mean by 'cause'?" That always stopped me in my tracks. The skeptic usually came from a scientific background, and for that reason, would have defined the notion of "cause" in a way which would make it impossible to argue for a Transcendent First Cause.

      The only way I could find out of this impasse was to define "cause" in terms of "explanation," because "explanation" is an open-ended notion. It's not clear that "cause" is such a notion. I could then appeal to a rationality norm such as the one adopted by Germain Grisez in Beyond the New Theism (University of Notre Dame Press, 1975): for any state of affairs which can be conceived of as ceasing to obtain, it is reasonable to demand and explanation for the fact that it obtains. Following that norm, one arrives at a state of affairs whose only condition for obtaining is the fact that it obtains. This is the necessary being, God.

      You argue that for the scholastic, ontology is prior to epistemology. But what kind of priority are we talking about here? Metaphysical priority? Yes, to be sure. But epistemic priority? That's a different kettle of fish entirely. Proofs for God's existence are epistemic: they lead us from what we know (the empirical world) to a Transcendental Reality which hitherto we may not have known about.

      In any case, I'm not sure I'd agree with you that "explanation" is a purely epistemic notion. It seems to me that explanation is a relation which can hold either between two facts or between two states of affairs. A (per se) cause can then be defined as an explanation of the latter kind.

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    3. Hi Vincent,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You wrote:

      “I recall arguing for a First Cause with certain skeptics, and inevitably the question would come up: "What do you mean by 'cause'?" That always stopped me in my tracks. The skeptic usually came from a scientific background, and for that reason, would have defined the notion of "cause" in a way which would make it impossible to argue for a Transcendent First Cause.”

      I have experienced this move as well when discussing natural theology. I just happen to think that the scholastic tradition, especially as articulated by Thomists whose work has focused on the interface between natural philosophy and the modern sciences (such as DeKoninck, Wallace, other River Forest types), has the resources to point out the deficiencies in, and offer a more compelling alternative to, empiricist/Humean (and various other derivative) conceptions of causation which often populate the cognitive landscape of our contemporaries. I’m thinking here of seminal works such as William Wallace’s two volumes on “Causality and Scientific Explanation”. So, speaking for myself, I think there is some worthwhile shovel work to be done in defense of a scholastic account of causation, before transitioning to the category of explanation as the exclusive or predominate mode of articulating natural theology (though I certainly don’t deny that an articulation in terms of explanation can be effective).

      You also wrote:

      “In any case, I'm not sure I'd agree with you that "explanation" is a purely epistemic notion. It seems to me that explanation is a relation which can hold either between two facts or between two states of affairs.”

      I would be interested in understanding how you reach the conclusion that an explanation is a relation which can hold between facts or states-of-affairs. Possibly, we are working with different notions, so I don’t want to talk past one another. I certainly understand explanation as a relation, but not *properly speaking* as a relation between facts or states. Explanation is *about* facts or states of affairs, but it is not a relation between them. Rather, explanation is inherently intentional and noetic, always involving a relation to mind or intelligence. I say “let me explain”, or I ask “how do you explain such and such?”. In doing so I am attempting to provide or obtain additional knowledge. Explanation seems fundamentally to involve some increase in knowledge. What was not known, or known only vaguely, becomes known in fact, or more clearly; so that properly speaking, “explanation” is always a relation between some facts or states-of-affairs and a knower. This is why I say explanation *properly speaking* is essentially epistemic.

      If there were no knowers in the world there would be (again properly speaking) no actual explanations. There would certainly remain an objective intelligible order, but explanations as such would remain only in potency. The potential for the production of an explanation would remain unrealized until some knower with imperfect knowledge, who is in search of more perfect knowledge, encountered that intelligible order. So I acknowledge that cause and explanation are very closely related, and that one might even speak loosely of there being explanations “out there”, as if one could go find explanations hiding among the myriad of extra-mental things, relations, etc. that we encounter in the world. But I do think that upon careful analysis it turns out that explanation, properly speaking, always involves some mind providing or grasping the “explanation”, so that explanation is inescapably epistemic in that way.

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    4. George LeSauvage: After all, formal and final causes don't fit our usual use of "cause" nowadays.

      Sometimes — but if you think about it, despite the stereotype, both scientists and laymen refer to other kinds of cause every day. When you ask "why" the vase is lying smashed on the ground, you probably want the efficient cause (the cat knocked it over, the kids were playing baseball in the house again, etc.). But when you ask the children why they were playing ball in the house, you want a final cause. Scientists are very often looking for the efficient cause of something — but when the scientist asks why the vase smashed, the efficient cause is the one thing he's not looking for. (He knows what effected the smashing — he pushed it off the shelf himself, to see whether it would go thud like the bowling ball did when he pushed that off the shelf.) The cause the scientist is looking for is a material cause — the reason the vase smashed and the bowling ball didn't is because of what the vase is made of. Or when he says that the curvature of spacetime caused light to take a certain path, that is obviously a formal cause.

      So it turns out that all of us, up to and including scientists, are entirely comfortable with all the good old varieties of cause. Perhaps it's more that our "default" idea of causation, the kind we assume absent a given context, tends to be efficient causality. And since most of us are unfamiliar with the environment of Scholastic thought, when we read one of their unfamiliar arguments, we tend to go in assuming the "causes" must be efficient.

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    5. Hi monk68,

      I'd like to begin by addressing your remarks on explanations. I'd like to begin by asking: do physical theories explain anything? Surely they do. The atomic theory purports to explain everything about matter, for instance. Whether it does or not is debatable, but nobody would deny that it explains a lot.

      We can also ask: do mathematical theorems explain their corollaries? Surely they do. (For example, the theorem that the angles opposite two congruent sides of a triangle are also congruent explains the corollary, that an equilateral triangle is also equiangular.)

      The concept of explanation, then, is just as valid in the real world as it is in logic and mathematics. The common thread running through both is that the explanations appealed to invoke properties, which may or may not be instantiated. I would suggest that the notion of a cause, which features in so many scientific explanations, is simply that of an explanans whose properties are instantiated. With purely mathematical explanations, on the other hand, we are not concerned with whether the properties are instantiated or not.

      You argue that if there were no knowers, then there would be no explanations. Actually, I think you're right: I'm a fan of what Feser calls the Augustinian argument for the existence of God. But the real question is: does the notion of an explanation explicitly invoke the existence of a mind? My answer to this question would be "No." (For instance, the explanatory relation between the mathematical theorem I mentioned above and its corollary doesn't invoke any mind.) My claim is that when arguing with an atheist, one can adopt a "neutral" concept of explanation, which appeals to properties which can be described in propositions. I see no other way to fix the notion of a "cause," when arguing with an atheist.

      You argue that the scholastic analysis of causation can "offer a more compelling alternative to, empiricist/Humean (and various other derivative) conceptions of causation." But even if that is the case, it doesn't exhaust the alternatives: maybe neither account is correct. And in order to get the discussion started when arguing with an atheist for a First Cause, we still need a definition of "cause," which both parties can agree to. What's yours?

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  16. Ed, if you can arrange for this debate to be continued on Skype (you don't even need a host, I like the back and forth without the host making irrelevant points) that would be great. You can then upload it to youtube. You can just focus on the arguments with no breaks or moderator interruptions. Arif sounds like a good person to debate further.

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  17. Good debate. I think Ed won, though Arif had some decent points. I believe his strongest was his criticism of Ed's argument for the PSR, i.e. denying PSR entails an inability to trust our rational faculties.

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  18. One question has been puzzling me about the Aristotelian argument (and the first and 2nd ways, for that matter). Ed's explanation of motion - like most others - does tend to treat moving as very close to efficient causation. But is that the case? Are not final causes also movers? Certainly they seem so for conscious agents (not merely us, but at least the higher animals, too.)

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    1. I agree that this is a puzzle. In Compendium of Theology pt I.3, Aquinas says that the first mover uses other movers as instruments in a series, so the FM there seems not to be only a final cause. At SCG I.20.24, Aq says that motion is a certain outflow from a mover into a mobile thing.

      But I get the picture that overall, the Unmoved Mover moves in Aquinas on the lines of the UM in Aristotle's Metaphysics Lambda, i.e. as desired, so as a final cause. Cf. SCG I.20.23, I.37, II.70.3 the unmoved mover of the heaven moves "as being desirable by/unto intellectual desire." In commenting on the Physics, Aquinas says that the final cause is “the cause of causes. It is clear that the agent acts for the sake of the end.” Form is ordered to use as to an end, matter is ordered to form as to an end, so the end is called the cause of causes (In Phys. II.5.186).

      There's dispute among Aristotle specialists over whether the UM in Meta Lambda is also an efficient cause, alongside of its status as final cause expounded there.

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  19. Arif made some good points. AT metaphysics seems to re-describe a problem rather than propose a solution and its solutions lack explanatory force or are often superfluous. And surely any argument for the existence of God is bound to be philosophically controversial and this must place limits on their apologetic value.

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    1. Care to be more specific about these problems and the explanatory force of its solutions. I hope you aren't confusing scientific and philosophical explanations....

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    2. But that’s precisely the whole point of Aristotle’s analysis of causality: to describe what it actually is and what it entails and to figure out which concepts are involved in the process; NOT to provide us with the scientific details for each specific kind of change.

      And if that seems almost trivial, that’s because it indeed IS and was always meant to be so. The reason why Aristotle had to develop the entire topic in the first place was because some Ancient Greek philosophers thought that change simply does not exist and others that stasis does not exist. Both of those views are clearly absurd and the only other remaining option then is the account of change described by (to use Aristotle’s terms) act and potency, with all other possible sound explanations being ultimately equivalent to the latter. (In particular, science itself presupposes it, meaning that raising objections of the sort “science says such and such, why is that not good enough?” is to miss the point completely. Metaphysics is not there to compete with physics, but instead to give it a ground on which to stand.)

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  20. I fear some are missing the point.

    The actuality and potentiality distinction is not an attempt to offer an intricate description of how this or that thing is actual or potential. It's rather that, whatever something is, that is its actuality, and what it can be but is not yet, is its potentiality (whatever that specific thing may be).

    To say that because scientists don't use these terms that we don't need these terms misses the entire point and shows an implicit commitment to scientism.

    This distinction precedes science; it is metaphysics, and it provides us the underlying principle of things. So much so that it leads us directly to that which is Pure Actuality.

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  21. Arif seems to me having problem with terms like Cause etc. He is not trained enough in Philosophy.

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  22. Arif destroyed Feser. Given the burden of proof Feser has to make the case for God, which requires PSR. Feser's only real argument was denying PSR implies we can't trust our rational faculties.

    Arif rightly pointed out this is a terrible argument, as PSR can be false (i.e. there can be something without an explanation) without implying our rational faculties have no explanation.

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    1. Yup, that’s called special pleading. Go away, troll.

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    2. Sure, it's just that the grounds for establishing whether or not our rational faculties are "governed" by brute facts or not are immediately undercut since you have to assume that there is an explanation sufficient enough to maintain their truth-preserving nature.

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    3. After listening to the debate I have the following points to make:

      1) this wasn't Dr Feser's finest hour, mainly given the format and the fact that you need to go through dense metaphysics before you can appreciate how the Proof from motion works.

      2) Ahmed's main advantage is how he sounds, its queen's english with just a hint of the middle east. Very beguiling. I noticed that in his debate with WLC several years ago.

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    4. I don't see how anyone can say Ahmed won with a straight face. Pretty much the only things he did were begging the question and resorting to brute facts (which is akin to copping-out).

      And David Hume? Seriously? Does anybody minimally involved in the philosophy of religion these days, whether theist or not, still waste their time with any of what the guy wrote? I though that proto-positivist self-defeating ship had sailed a long time ago.

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  23. Well, no, they're not undercut, since, in your words, they can remain truth preserving even if something else is a brute fact. As Arif pointed out, PSR being false just means it is possible our rational faculties are brute and therefore unreliable. But it doesn't by any means imply it's significantly likely, so there's really nothing to be worried about with this argument.

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    1. it doesn't by any means imply it's significantly likely

      As ccmnxc explicitly pointed out, for it to be established as likely that a faculty is reliable, there has to be sufficient reason for its being likely; otherwise, one has no ground for saying that it is. You are simply assuming you can get a conclusion you have not justified.

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    2. I suggest you pay more attention to the argument. Feser (and Pruss, for that matter) explain that we can't even say it is improbable that we are not being deceived in such a situation. With brute facts being possible, there is no way to ground probability in the patterns and dispositions of things, anything could be brute and we can't in any meaningful sense say that it is improbable we are being deceived.

      Of course it all sounds horrible and absurd, but it's supposed to. That's the consequence of denying PSR and accepting the possibility of facts that obtain without any explanation or reason whatsoever.

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    3. @ Brandon

      Why do we have to establish it's likely? How could we possibly establish that it's likely our faculties are reliable without begging the question?

      @ Miguel

      But if so then you can't say PSR being false means it's unlikely our faculties are reliable either. All you've shown is the probability is unknowable, and I see no reason to think that commits us to skepticism.

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    4. Why do we have to establish it's likely? How could we possibly establish that it's likely our faculties are reliable without begging the question?

      If you can't establish it's likely that your faculties are reliable without begging the question, it follows that you could, without begging the question, establish that it's likely that your faculties are reliable in the absence of the universal applicability of PSR, and you have simply conceded the point that your claim that "there's really nothing to be worried about" because our faculties could still be reliable is based entirely on an assumption that you can't justify. So why didn't you simply say that to begin with, instead of pretending that you had a reasoned objection?

      All you've shown is the probability is unknowable, and I see no reason to think that commits us to skepticism.

      If it's impossible to determine whether something is probable or improbable, that is by definition one of the things everyone calls skepticism.

      (Having some difficulty commenting on this machine; apologies if anything comes out weird.)

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    5. Sorry, that should be 'could not, without begging the question'.

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    6. Here’s the thing with the PSR: of course, you can always say, “MAYBE the PSR doesn’t apply here.” No matter what claim I make, about anything, you always can say, “Well, MAYBE you’re wrong.” OK, so what? That obviously is not an argument — it doesn’t even have enough imagination to qualify as name-calling. Who cares?

      Well, human nature being what it is (fallen!), we do in fact often react that way to claims we don’t like. We just shrug and decide not to accept them. Of course, if you are at least attempting to be rational, then you will try to come up with actual reasons why I might ACTUALLY be wrong. So can’t the PSR-denier do exactly that (or at least try)?

      No. He can’t. How would such an argument go? (1) Blah blah blah. (2) Blah blah blah some more. Ergo (3) the PSR does/does not apply to some X. But wait! What about premise (0), the requirement for any argument that is so obvious we never bother to spell it out? Well, let’s spell it out: (0) If certain premises entail a conclusion, then that conclusion is valid. Oh, wait. That’s the PSR version of (0). If you deny the PSR, then the best you’ve got is: (0’) if certain premises entail a conclusion, then MAYBE that conclusion is valid. Or, you know, maybe not!

      In other words, without the PSR, you don’t actually have an argument after all. All you have is a “MAYBE the PSR does/does not apply to X.” Well, yeah, whatever. “Maybe” is not an argument. For your attempted argument to get anywhere, you first need something like: (00) If my premises entail my conclusion, then I have a valid argument — or to put it more simply, my set of claims is sufficiently rational to qualify as an argument; or just: my claims are sufficiently reasonable. But that is just another way of saying, “The PSR does apply to some X (my so-called argument).” Well — to coin a phrase — MAYBE. First you need to demonstrate that. So you’ll need a (000). But first you need to show that that addition is one of the things where the PSR does apply. So you’ll need a (0000). Etc., etc., unto infinite regress, amen.

      So, yes, you can of course SAY “maybe” to anything. But frankly — nobody cares.
      (Hey, if only there were away to get out uncomfortable infinite regressions! What if MAYBE we cut the Gordian Knot by denying the principle of sufficient — aw, crap, never mind.)

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    7. @ Mr.Green,


      Wait, so you're saying that PSR applies to deductive demonstrations, and that a rejection of PSR undermines our very foundation of rational deduction, such that we can no longer be sure in the validity of a certain demonstration and must instead qualify it with a maybe?


      Yet we know deductive demonstrations are absolutely valid with logical certainty, so the PSR must in fact be true with logical certainty.


      Is that what you're implying? If so, then this has got to be the best argument for PSR I've ever seen!

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    8. JoeD: a rejection of PSR undermines our very foundation of rational deduction, such that we can no longer be sure in the validity of a certain demonstration and must instead qualify it with a maybe?

      Exactly. I suppose someone stubborn enough could simply insist that we don't know that any deductions are valid, and give up on reason entirely — though I don't think deep down he could really mean it, at least not without being literally insane.

      If so, then this has got to be the best argument for PSR I've ever seen!

      Thank you — though of course, it's basically the same thing that Feser and Brandon and others have been saying. (And, especially in Brandon's case, more rigorously. For example, someone could quibble that (0) isn't really a premise, of course, but an axiom. I was trying to be a bit more rhetorical, to give the "feel" of the argument, and I do believe that the sense of my post is the correct sense one should get from a more careful presentation of the argument.)

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    9. And the premise that we know some demonstrations are certain is true, so the argument goes through.

      This seems to be one of the few ways to argue for PSR directly.

      The only other way to directly prove PSR would be to ask the question of what keeps a certain thing in being, have the response be "nothing" because brute facts imply that literally nothing is keeping a thing in being, and from there ask why something (e.g. unicorns) doesn't exist. The answer to that will obviously be because nothing is keeping it in being, so we would be forced to make two identical propositions about things which are on the opposite ends of the logical spectrum. In other words, we would end up generating a contradiction if we assume a brute fact that nothing is keeping an existing thing in being.

      I don't know whether or not this approach is any good, though.

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    10. @ Brandon

      o why didn't you simply say that to begin with, instead of pretending that you had a reasoned objection?

      My point was I see no reason to think we need some kind of argument to be justified in trusting our faculties, precisely because any such argument would just assume what is at issue.

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    11. In other words, as I noted, immediately after you explicitly said that denial of PSR "doesn't by any means imply it's significantly likely, so there's really nothing to be worried about with this argument", you then went on to claim that there is no way establish what you just claimed, showing that you were simply making up an assumption rather than presenting a reasoned objection as you had been pretending.

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    12. . . . you then went on to claim that there is no way establish what you just claimed, showing that you were simply making up an assumption rather than presenting a reasoned objection as you had been pretending.

      I'm not sure where you got this idea from, since I never said anything like it explicitly nor does it follow from anything I said.

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    13. In fact it does directly, by fairly elementary logic. You claimed:

      (1) Denial of PSR doesn't by any means imply it's significantly likely that our faculties are unreliable.
      : This was your reason for claiming that the retorsion argument for PSR was not a worry, was demolished, etc.

      You then also claimed:

      (2) Any argument that our faculties are reliable would just assume what is at issue.

      From (2), however, it necessarily follows that:

      (3) Any account of the reliability of our faculties cannot be established (without begging the question).

      But from (3) it follows, simply by restriction of domain:

      (4) Any account of what the denial of PSR implies about the reliability of our faculties cannot be established (without begging the question).

      Since (2) is universal -- the claim is that it is impossible to establish it without begging the question -- it necessarily affects anything that can only be defined by reference to it.

      Likewise, just as probabilities cannot be interpreted if one does not know, at least in principle, what would count as 1 and 0, and just as one can't judge how thorough a partial explanation is except without reference to what a complete explanation would be, so whether something establishes that X is "significantly likely" or not depends entirely on what, in principle would properly establish it -- in this case, nothing, without begging the question.

      None of this requires any elaborate logical maneuvering; it is the straightforward implication of what you said: You made a claim, as a supposedly decisive refutation of an argument, that your later claim makes impossible to establish.

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    14. My point was I see no reason to think we need some kind of argument to be justified in trusting our faculties, precisely because any such argument would just assume what is at issue.

      There is a difference between trying to make a positive argument for the reliability of our faculties (which I agree seems pretty difficult on its face) and defending rationality against skeptical difficulties raised by holding some position or other (such as PSR denial). If we are justified in dismissing Ed's argument simply because we have to trust our rational faculties no matter what anyways, then any arguments that show various positions lead to serious foundational epistemological difficulties immediately go out the window. It isn't just Ed's that would be affected.

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  24. Whoops that last reply was to ccmnxc @ 6:51

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  25. The kind of atheist who attempts to deny the PSR without any reason why one should (or, worse, because of the quantum) is really not worth debating.

    Here is an obvious slightly better variation:

    1. The PSR is true

    2. The PSR under discussion would entail that God exists.

    3. We have independent reason to hold that God does not exist e.g. because of the incoherence or incompossibility of a Divine Attribute or because #WhatAboutBambisMother

    4. The PSR entails an impossible conclusion therefore we have reason to think it false even if we cannot detect where our reasoning went wrong.

    This is how Oppy attacks weak formulations of the PSR. The theist can reply of course that equally the PSR’s being true should give us reason to doubt our reasoning behind point 3. This brings it to an epistemic stalemate until both parties decide and agree on whether 1 or 3. are based on more fundamental ontological commitments.

    (Personally I think the atheist ought to be attaching 2 and not 1. That they do not suggest the damage dealt by the Humean pathogen was nearly mortal)

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    1. If I may ask, what do you think would the PSR entail when it comes to non-existent beings, like unicorns?

      We could always ask questions such as "Why do unicorns NOT exist?", so this means the PSR must also be applied to that question as well.


      On the other hand, considering that unicorns don't exist because there is nothing to keep them in being, and since brute facts also entail that a thing can exist for no reason which entails it exists by nothing, it seems that brute fact worldviews also entail the proposition that existent things also have nothing to keep them in being, which is false and a contradiction because it implies being is non-being.

      What do you think?

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    2. By your suggestion that the atheist should rather attack 2 than 1, would you say the Hume-Edwards-principle or Leftows naturalists cosmological argument would fall into that category? What is your, or any thomists (I suspect you are a thomist?), view on those? I have not read Fesers book yet, but my take on the H-E-principle would be that it doesnt add up to a satisfaction of the PSR, as it still does not deliver an explanation as to why this certain infinite regression of contingent beings exists instead of another one, but just how it does so, so to say.
      Thoughts?

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    3. The Hume-Edwards Principle would satisfy 2 though I didn't have that in mind. I agree with your assessment of it - as an objection even a lot of atheist don't rely on it (both Gale and Rowe tear it to shreds).

      Re Naturalist Cosmological Arguments, yes if they take something else such as the universe to be the necessary being the existence of which is established by the PSR.

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    4. @OA Police,


      Doesn't the PSR also apply as to why contingent things exist right now?

      If so, then I don't think an appeal to an infinite regression of contingent things as made in the Hume-Edwards principle would explain anything, it would be as point-missing as the objection that the universe always existed would be to the Aristotelian or Thomistic argument.


      Of course, the atheist could just say that the explanation of simultaneous existence right now also stretches to infinity in an essential series, but Aquinas's points about how per se / essential series cannot in principle be infinite would quickly destroy such an approach.



      And as for naturalist cosmological arguments which try to make the universe the necessary being, wouldn't this be just another type of pantheism then, rather than atheism?

      It seems so at least.



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    5. OA Police,

      Personally I think the atheist ought to be attacking 2 and not 1.

      I agree. It's frustrating to see skeptics wasting their time attacking PSR, a principle which everyone accepts in real life. The real question is: where does PSR take us? And behind that looms another, deeper question: what exactly do we mean by contingency, and what do we mean by necessity?

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    6. I'm not sure whether the PSR entails God, because some theists don't conceive of God as a necessary being (in the relevant sense). If we think of God as contingent, I don't find the argument to be any good at all; however, one could try to argue like Swinburne does.

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  26. Dr. Feser, or other Thomists here on the blog, may I ask what is your opinion on Anthony Kenny? He was a jesuit and ordained priest I believe, later on becoming an agnostic philosopher of the analytic tradition, as he thinks any and all arguments for the existence of God fail in one way or the other, including of course the Thomistic ones on which he is/seems very knowledgable. He also wrote a book on it.

    What do you think about him?

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    1. IIRC, Kenny's criticisms focus on the outdated Aristotelian physics, claiming that the Five Ways are dependent on it. Of course, mainstream Thomists, Dr. Feser included, deny this.

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    2. Oh. If that is the case, then I understand why he is not often discussed on the topic. Alright, thanks

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    3. Kenny has also criticized the doctrine of analogical predication of names/attributes of God, e.g. in The Unknown God, 37-45, 81-85.

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    4. Personally, I like and am grateful to Kenny. Not that I agree with him, but some of his writings moved me (no doubt contrary to his intent) to Aristotle.

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  27. I don't see how anyone can say Ahmed won with a straight face. Pretty much the only things he did were begging the question and resorting to brute facts (which is akin to copping-out).

    And David Hume? Seriously? Does anybody minimally involved in the philosophy of religion, whether theist or not, still wastes their time with any of what the guy wrote? I though that proto-positivist self-defeating ship had sailed a long time ago.

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    1. I'm guessing his fans must be flocking over here just to troll.

      Either that or SP in disguise.

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  28. Wow! The series has got new episodes!
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/tag/edward-feser/

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  29. Considering the how massive the burden of proof is on Ed in this debate, I really can't say he lived up to the challenge.

    It's interested how people on this blog claim Hume is outdated and overrated yet go on and on about St. Thomas.

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    1. Nobody in here says Hume is outdated. That's not the issue at all. Either a claim is true or it's not, and said truth value does not change with time.

      The trouble with Hume, hence his being overrated, is that his arguments are ultimately self-defeating or circular, being clear ancestors to logical positivism and to modern day question-begging naturalism. That's why no one subscribes to the former any longer and the latter does not possess any coherent defense either, with philosophers simply abiding by it as the fashionable default position (on the contrary, several prominent naturalist philosophers are starting to realize its intrinsic problems).

      St. Thomas' philosophy, on the other hand, doesn't suffer from these kinds of weaknesses.

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  30. I wish these sort of debates were conducted more Socratically. By that I mean, define the start of the conversation and then let it go where it develops organically. Given some of the comments by the host at the start, I had hopes it might go this way.

    Instead, it went the way these things usually go: Most of the time is spent defining terms and introducing concepts for the uninitiated. Finally there is an actual engagement between the philosophers, which is soon cut short by the host in favor of going on to the next topic. In this case, Feser and Ahmed had just really started to engage on the cosmological argument when the conversation was terminated in favor of going on to Leibniz's argument. What follows is another round of introductions and definitions, a brief engagement, and then the end of the show.

    The idea seems to be that it's better to engage two arguments at a relatively superficial level than one argument in some depth. I think this does philosophy no favors...

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    1. I wholeheartedly agree

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  31. I'd like to make Ed's point that even the possibility of brute facts is destructive of explanation in different way.

    What is a brute fact? A fact that is unintelligible by its nature. We cannot say anything more about the fact other than that it is because there is nothing more to say.

    How does one identify a brute fact as distinct from a fact that is intelligible? This is where there is a problem. Because, by hypothesis, we can't say anything more about a brute fact than that it is. We can't say anything about what it might look like, or how it might be distinguished from intelligible facts, because the only way to do so would be to impute some intelligibility to the brute fact as a basis for distinction.

    For instance, suppose I say that I burned my hand by touching it to a hot stove - the hot stove caused my hand to be burned. How do I know it's not just a brute fact that my hand became burned when it touched the stove? I submit that any answer to this question will assume, implicitly or otherwise, something like the PSR.

    I might say, for instance, that in repeated experiments my hand only becomes burned when it touches the stove, so it is legitimate to infer a causal relationship between the hot stove and my hand being burned. Implicit in this is the assumption that brute facts would not exhibit this sort of regularity. But this imputes some intelligibility to our allegedly brute facts - we know more than that they just are, we know that they don't behave in a regular manner that would appear to imply a causal relationship.

    The hot stove explains the burned hand only if the burned hand is something that stands in need of explanation. And that is a metaphysical decision. If we allow the possibility of brute facts, then any fact might be brute, including our burned hand, and any purported explanation of it is a mere "saving of appearances" rather than a true explanation.

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    1. This is along the lines of things I have been roughly thinking, as well. To say that a thing is a brute fact in the sense that is inconsistent with PSR is to say that its being the fact it is cannot be accounted for in terms of (a) extrinsic causes; (b) constituents; or (c) relations to other things. From (b) the fact itself would have to be simple and not further analyzable, so you can't understand what it is from its constituents; from (c) it could not have any constitutive relations to other things, only purely extrinsic ones, and therefore its relations cannot shed light on what it is. And, of course, (a) indicates that we cannot understand what it is in terms of what other things make it to be. So it seems that every way of understanding what something is, is eliminated.

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    2. @David T,


      So what you are saying is that by definition a brute fact is something for which we can only ascribe being and any other addition to the definition would either beg the question or end up destroying the bruteness because of introduced intelligibility which contradicts the definition?


      While I accept that argument, isn't it at least prima facie possible that someone could define brute facts as occuring without regularity, with that fact about brute facts being brute as well?


      Or perhaps define brute facts as only applying to the category of existence, which is a category completely different from other categories of knowledge and causation, such that attributing to it certain properties that other things don't have would be possible, so the bruteness of it wouldn't be able to "spill over" so to speak on other realms of knowledge.


      To give an analogy, it would be like the difference between asking why a certain chess position was instantiated, and asking why there is a chess board there at all.

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    3. David T.: How do I know it's not just a brute fact that my hand became burned when it touched the stove?

      I recall making a point like that in a previous thread about the PSR. It's not merely that maybe that hot stove was not a sufficient cause and your hand got burned for no reason; the hot stove could be entirely capable of causing the burn, but maybe this time "for no reason" it didn't and you were burned anyway. Or maybe the hot stove did cause your hand to get burned AND it was a brute fact. (I don't know how the burning can be caused and uncaused at the same time, but hey, that's just my inner PSR talking, isn't it?!)

      Implicit in this is the assumption that brute facts would not exhibit this sort of regularity. But this imputes some intelligibility to our allegedly brute facts

      Yes — any kind of limitation or classification of "brute" facts assumes that there is something that makes them to be "this" way instead of that, to apply "here" instead of there. In other words, that the brutal facts are caused to be the way they are.

      This makes me think of another twist on the theme: there's no principled way to argue for brutal facts (or say anything about them — all we can ever do is throw up our hands and say, "maybe!"). Because when we call an argument principled or not, we mean in accordance with the principles of reason. But a reason-principle-based argument against principled reason is impossible.

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    4. David T,

      "The hot stove explains the burned hand only if the burned hand is something that stands in need of explanation. And that is a metaphysical decision. If we allow the possibility of brute facts, then any fact might be brute, including our burned hand, and any purported explanation of it is a mere 'saving of appearances' rather than a true explanation."

      It's not a metaphysical decision. It's not intellectual at all. It's instinctual. It's a matter of health and survival. A dog makes the same sort of connections. You burn it with a poker, that's the fact. The dog doesn't need metaphysics to know to stay clear of the thing. Facts are just things that are. Reasons do not make facts, and have nothing to do with whether they are facts or not.

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    5. I believe they're referring to the decision to explain the burned hand, not the action of recoiling from pain.

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  32. @JoeD, the first option would seem purely ad hoc, wouldn't it? Another point would be that we can't say whether a particular brute fact is regular or not, i.e. the second time my hand is burned on the stove may not be a second instance of the same brute fact, but could be an entirely new brute fact. We have no way of describing a brute fact or any set of brute facts as regular or not.

    I'm not sure the second option gets us out of the problem. Every instance of change is in some measure an instance of coming and going out of existence, insofar as a potentiality is actualized. Perhaps not as much in your chess example, but certainly in the case of something like an acorn growing into an oak tree. I'm not sure how we would define the boundary in anything other than a purely ad hoc manner.

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    1. @David T,


      "Every instance of change is in some measure an instance of coming and going out of existence, insofar as a potentiality is actualized."


      One might view it that way, but at the same time, the act / potency distinction WAS brought up as a way to counter Parmenides' objection that something can't come from nothing and therefore no change can occur if change is defined as something coming in and out of existence.


      One way to answer the second option though, would be to point out how existence is above other things in the hierarchy, and since it is above other things in the hierarchy, the existence of other things below can easily be affected.


      Because if the existence of things is a brute fact, something which is very high up in the realm of facts, then it seems quite easy to see how such bruteness could actually spill over to other layers of reality; you really could burn your hand for no reason because such an event must have being to happen, and if being can be brute, then this applies to other cases as well.


      Think of it as a per se chain; if the main member can dance around, then this can easily affect the others who may be affected by that action.


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    2. I guess I'm still not seeing how the introduction of unintelligibility can be constrained. I think we have to be very careful of not inadvertently attributing some bit of intelligibility to that which we claim is brute. Of course, the temptation is well nigh irresistible because being under the aspect of intelligibility is the object of our intellect - so we can only talk about something insofar as it is intelligible.

      What I am saying is that I think we have to stick to a strictly "via negative" with respect to brute facts or we will inadvertently contradict the alleged bruteness. I think this might be going on when you speak of "easy to see how such bruteness could actually spill over to other layers of reality." But we can't see anything at all about bruteness other than that it is, right? Any attempt to circumscribe bruteness can only be done on the basis of imputed intelligibility - but now I am repeating myself. We can't analogize bruteness with a causal chain, per se or otherwise, because to do is so is to deny it's bruteness.

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  33. For all those who comment as “anonymous,” it would be helpful if you logged in with ANY name just so we can keep track of comments.

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  34. Since most people seem to be commenting on PSR, here are my two cents. It seemed interesting that Dr. Feser suggested that Hume would be the last person to expect a bowling ball to come out of nothing. Ahmed seemed to concede that this is an unlikely scenario. In addition to the points Dr. Feser made, it seems silly to arbitrarily ascribe probability (an explanatory principle) to a brute fact. Furthermore, as people have mentioned above, not only do we need to attribute the "coming into being" as being brute, but we must consider the entire duration of being as being a brute fact. Therefore, even if probability could be logically used to talk about brute facts (which it cannot) it would seem that the probability would decrease to an absurdly small value after a short amount of time. That it to say, if one were to explain away laws of nature coming into being as brute facts, they would have to explain their continuation as being brute as well. Trying to do so with a straight face seems difficult to me.

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    1. I think this is an excellent post, and I completely agree. I had been surprised nobody was raising a point like this, and consequently feeling some self-doubt about my grasp of all this; and then you said it better than I would have. Thank you.

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    2. This is actually quite similar to another objection that occured to me; namely, if the existence of things can be a brute fact, so can it's ceasing to exist as well. The universe could stop existing in the next 5 minutes for no reason, which means brute facts introduce a fundamental uncertainty into the world as well.

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    3. Exactly. I think brute facts basically bring back Hume-like skepticism with very razor-sharp teeth.

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    4. Actually, I think things are even more arbitrary than that.


      The atheist could say that everything that exists has it's existence from nothing and is thus a brute fact.


      But why EVERYTHING?


      It is just as possible that only SOME things that exist do so for no reason, while some things exist because God keeps them in being.

      It is possible that the cup on my desk exists for no reason right now, but the table just so happens to not be a brute fact and as such God is the one who keeps it in being.


      In other words, why should we take seriously the idea that the existence of EVERY object and thing is a brute fact?

      It could just as well be true that the existence of some things is NOT a brute fact, which would be sufficient to prove God.


      That the atheist wants every single existing thing to be brute is completely arbitrary.


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    5. But that would require the theist to argue that some things right on top of causal chains are not brute facts. I don't see how this can be done. If there are brute facts, you can't make a PSR based cosmological argument for God. It would be too hard.

      EXCEPT, to my mind, the soul. That would not be a cosmological argument tho. But the way I see it, since souls are constantly coming into existence in an orderly fashion, it id EXTREMELY implausible to hold that they just come to be as a brute fact. Even if PSR were false, surely there must be an explanation for why humans' immaterial rational souls are always created/formed when new humans are conceived. It would be an immense coincidence that it would be like this, but then it would require an explanation, and the only explanation for the soul's existence is a being that can create them ex nihilo - ergo, God.

      The problem is that this argument requires one to argue for the soul, of course, which the naturalist would deny. But to my mind, the existence of the soul is very obvious and follows very strongly from args from reason.

      Perhaps one could also make a similar argument for the continuous existence of things; maybe there could be a brute fact for why they were caused or whatever, but for why they continue to exist every second without fail, that would be weird. But this all threads very closely to arguments for PSR from the fact that stuff doesn't pop up into existence all the time, etc.

      I was thinking of writing about this stuff, especially the soul, but those are the thoughts anyway.

      Oh, and of course, even if PSR is not true, there are best explanation cosmological arguments. That is, even IF brute facts were possible, they should be seen only as a last resort. The fact atheists are so quick to admit brute facts into their system is embarrassing. If there is a possible explanation available, it should be preferred instead of a brute fact.

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    6. @Miguel,


      "If there are brute facts, you can't make a PSR based cosmological argument for God. It would be too hard."


      Maybe. But it would make the atheist's claim that all existing things exist for no reason completely arbitrary because it is at least prima facie possible that the existence of some things could in fact be intelligible and thus would require the existence of God.


      "Even if PSR were false, surely there must be an explanation for why humans' immaterial rational souls are always created/formed when new humans are conceived. "


      "Oh, and of course, even if PSR is not true, there are best explanation cosmological arguments. That is, even IF brute facts were possible,"



      You've just implicitly hit on a topic that is quite ineresting - namely, arguments for the existence of God that do not depend on a principle of sufficent reason or even causality.


      What arguments do we have that could prove the existence of God even given that the universe is a brute fact or without a principle of causality though?


      I can only think of two, namely the Augustinian argument, and an argument from logical possibilities to the existence of an omnipotent being that can actualise them in principle.


      But the first would require specifically Scholastic realism about universals, and the other would require a principle to the effect that all possibilities are by definition grounded in a higher reality that could in principle actualise them.

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    7. If we take the most 'rational' rejection of the PSR which posits one brute fact as the terminus of explanation then;

      1. Augustinian proof
      2. Third way I think is consistent with a brute fact at the terminus of explanation. Third way shows that the universe needs an explanation as a composite of matter/form. It rules out an arbitrary toss up between God and the universe as the ultimate brute fact
      3. Fifth way doesn't seem to rest on the PSR
      4. Arguments from the immateriality of the soul at least push the atheists to a weird naturalism
      5. Fourth Way seems to depend on the transcendentals. Its not immediately obvious to me that it rests on the PSR

      Weaker arguments;
      Argument from desire?

      Again, if the PSR skeptic wants to posit loads of brute facts I'd think many of these would be in trouble. But that's his problem.

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    8. I think arguments from the immateriality of the soul are very strong, and that they are actually a thomistic "sixth way", because Aquinas actually argues that the human soul must be created ex nihilo, and also argues that only God can create anything ex nihilo. Therefore, if there are souls, and they didn't always exist (which seems pretty obvious from our own experience, and also if we take the soul to be the form of a body), then there must be a cause of our souls, which is God.

      Some particular advantages of this argument:

      1- It doesn't depend on PSR. If PSR is true, then it follows through, but it only requires a causal principle to the effect that "whatever begins to exist has a cause", as souls began to exist.
      2- Can also be used as a very strong best explanation argument, since as I said souls don't just randomly pop up, they consistently come to exist with human beings, which is very remarkable.
      3- I think it's of tremendous help for showing bridging the "gap problem" and showing how God is analogous to some kind of person. What else could create rational souls like ours? Only a being that is at least analogously personal as well. Moreover, it shows that God is constantly interested in His creation, He is constantly creating human souls, and therefore has a special interest in human beings. I think it really deals away with any type of pantheism or impersonal deism. Also coheres well with what religion teaches about the soul, immortality, etc.

      One can argue for the soul through multiple arguments from reason, such as Aquinas's, Ross's, etc. It seems also that "arguments from the soul" can be very flexible as well. I presented one in deductive form that follows from Aquinas's conception of the soul. But there are different arguments from the soul, some inductive and abductive ones that can be argued in all sorts of way, for example, Swinburne's, Moreland's argument from consciousness, etc.

      I think the bankruptcy of materialism in the philosophy of mind is a *very* big problem for atheism. As big as cosmological and teleological issues, at least.

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    9. 1) If the atheist posits that all existing things exist for no reason, would this affect the Augustinian arugment, or would it remain unscathed?

      2) Here it seems the atheist could posit that there is no reason for why the universe is a composite of matter and form, or am I reading you wrong?


      3) Interesting. I think that the fifth way, because it argues that finality is only consistent with intelligence, might evade the brute fact response. Though it might be possible for the PSR skeptic to interject by claming that all final causality happens for no reason and is thus a brute fact.

      4) Agreed. Though the only way one can avoid the soul argument is by rejecting the principle of causality and maintaining that things can pop out of nothing


      5) Fourth Way, out of all the ways, seems to me to be the most likely to be independent from PSR. The transcendentals and the argument about how there must be a standard of them doesn't seem to rely on the PSR at least superficially.


      6) The argument from desire might just evade the brute fact response, mostly because it is deeply personal and as such can give assurance of it's rationality due to it belonging to our own being properly.



      But what I'm really wondering about though, is the argument from logical possibility.


      The main reason why an atheist can even posit a rejection of PSR or the PC is because there is no visible logical contradiction in such.

      But the argument from logical possibility, or arguments from the laws of logic and the logos more generally, uses as it's basis that very logic, and only adds the principle that possibilities by definition can only exist if there is a higher reality out there to ground them.


      What this means is that even IF a potentiality could actualise itself (a rejection of PC), it could only do so if it were a potentiality rather than an actuality, so we must ask ourselves what grounds all possibilities and potentialities as such.

      A brute fact response would be absolutely useless here, since to say that a possibility is ungrounded would be identical to saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE, which would immediatly exclude it.


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    10. Also, as I said, pretty much any cosmological argument can be defended as best explanation arguments, which do not require PSR or PC.

      I think Swinburne's whole inductive case (existence of the universe; order and teleology in the universe instead of chaos; fine-tuning argument; consciousness/soul; religious experience) is actually very strong.

      I also think arguments from religious experience are interesting and deserve more attention than what's given to them. Naturalists must explain away the fact that millions of people in recorded history and today have experienced profoundly life-changing religious experiences. And when that is combined with other arguments, it becomes even stronger, and is also relevant for the "gap problem".

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    11. JoeD, I agree about possibility. Some time ago I had started writing an article about possibility and grounding, although not explicitly as an argument for God's existence, but I agree with your remarks

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    12. @Miguel,


      Is the Augustinian argument independent from the PSR and PC?

      Because it's not an argument to the best explanation, but deductive, and in addition one could made additional inductive arguments ala Craig's mathematical structure argument that argues to God as the best explanation of why mathematics is rational and why the universe is structured in a mathematical way.

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    13. @Scott Lynch

      "That it to say, if one were to explain away laws of nature coming into being as brute facts, they would have to explain their continuation as being brute as well. Trying to do so with a straight face seems difficult to me."

      I cannot speak for Ahmed, but I don't think atheists are commmitted to the claim that the coming into existence of something is a brute fact. Rather, I think the (eternal) existence of something is what is seen as a brute fact.
      Personally I do not think something can pop into existence from nothing, that is, that there has ever been a "state of affairs" in which nothing existed followed by another "brute" state of affairs in which something existed/exists.
      Something coming from nothing sounds completely absurd to me, but that also entails that something popping out of existence is also absurd. And, to be honest, something created from nothing is, to me, equally absurd.

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    14. @Miguel,


      So the argument from logical possibility really is independent from PSR and PC?

      That's great to hear, especially from another opinion that is quite knowledgable in natural theology!


      Though I do still have one question:


      Do you think the argument is an argument to the best explanation, or is it a deductive demonstration?

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    15. I think the Augustinian proof is independent from PSR and PC. I think any argument from eternal truths is independent like that, although they (like any argument) to an extent depend on some notion of intelligibility, to say for instance that it is nonsense for truths to exist out there outside of any mind, but it's a very basic notion of intelligibility. It just would seem like nonsense to hold that true propositions exist "on their own" instead of intentionally, so to speak.

      There is Alexander Pruss's book "Actuality, Possibility and Worlds", too. He tackles the issue of alethic modality there and defends a mixture of leibnizian and aristotelian views which end up with an argument for God's existence from eternal truths.

      And while we're on the subject of different arguments like that, I think it's important to mention again Duns Scotus's argument and the Gale-Pruss argument. Sure, the Gale-Pruss argument can be taken to imply that PSR really is true, but it pushes the atheist to the even worse position of having to deny the Weak-PSR, that is, of having to deny that for every contingent fact it *possibly* has an explanation. The atheist has to hold not only that there is in fact no explanation for contingent beings, the universe of anything, but that it is in principle *impossible* for there to be any explanation, that there could not be any explanation whatsoever. It's more than a brute fact, it's a brute fact that could never even in principle have an explanation.

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    16. I think it would be deductive in the same way Augustine's proof is. Though of course it would have to be scrutinized more closely, eventually.

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    17. There's also the argument that Pruss believes in God, therefore it must be true that God exists

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    18. @Miguel,


      1) So the Augustinian argument and others like it depend on a very basic notion of intelligibility that would be absolutely ridiculous to reject.


      2)Is Pruss defending an argument from eternal truths strictly from their intentional standpoint, or is he also considering an argument from possibility as well?


      From what I've read of the article before, it looked like Pruss was defending a possibility argument with the addendum of proving that the ultimate ground must be rational because of the possible worlds aspect of modality.


      3)Are you talking about the Triarchic Argument? I didn't know that was independent of PSR and PC!


      4)The Gale-Pruss argument sounds like it was inspired partly by Proclus.


      Because Proclus once made a thestic proof on the basis that it is not logically necessary that the universe must be without explanation, but such a state of affairs would be accidental and contingent as a matter of fact.

      In fact, James Chastek wrote a blog post a few years back about this and stated that it implies that the universe could be both a brute fact and a caused by God.


      The reason for this bases itself on the logical order of all science which seeks an extrinsic explanation of things.


      This implies that the very possibility of finding out explanations and/or actually finding them leads to God.








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    19. Miguel, you've mirrored my thoughts on the soul. It's critical in my view in addressing what Pruss calls the gap problem. The one issue I had was in TLS where Ed describes appealing to God to explain the existence of the soul is a kind of deus ex machina. I find that really interesting. That you need independent reason to think God exists before you appeal to Him as an explanation. I'm unconvinced either way.

      However, the immateriality does a lot for me in natural theology. I appreciated Feser's post on Pre-Christian Apologetics. It's been quote important for me remaining a Christian. Not only does the action of God rule out impersonal deism, it's focus on humans (and the fact that the nature of a rational soul is concerned with knowing truth) makes the idea of a religion so plausible (as well as coupled with the final cause of humans). It really does a job for laying the foundations before you even begin to look at the evidence of Christianity.

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    20. @Joe,

      Regarding the Third Way, if everything physical is a composite of matter and form it cannot in principle exist. Matter is pure potentiality, form is abstract until instantiated. Vicious circle until you appeal to something neccessary. It aims to show that the material world must be dependent on something else.

      Again, this is if the PSR skeptic is correct in that you can have a intelligible world that rests on a brute fact as the terminus of explanation.

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  35. I think feser won the part about the argument from motion but lost the part about the rationalist argument, however the latter is a much weaker argument.

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  36. This is a mostly-related question. I agree with those who see it as a significant victory when one's opponent is reduced to claiming brute facts.
    But in a scholastic framework, is it a brute fact that God chose to create this, instead of some other, world? It seems it cannot be traced to any property of God (or there is no Divine freedom in the matter), but also it can't be traced to anything in the world (which didn't exist till he chose it). Insight would be appreciated!

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    1. Check over at the classical theism forum for a discussion on it. Also, this is relevant (but I don't think it accepts Divine Simplicity); https://thirdmillennialtemplar.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/the-psr-and-libertarian-freedom-contrastive-questions-and-causal-stories/

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  37. I long ago had the naïve impression that the atheistic worldview was one in which everything had a rational explanation, in contrast to the magic and fairy dust of religion.
    I still find it strange how much modern atheism seems to depend on the belief that, contrary to experience, the universe is ultimately unintelligible. Ed's debate with Ahmed, and the earlier debate between Luke Barnes and Sean Carroll, on the same program, provide some nice examples of this.

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    1. Well actually, the PSR requires that all things have SOME SORT of explanation, even if it were an "irrational" one (i.e. ghosts, pixies, time travel).

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    2. Time travel isn't irrational.

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  38. So much for the hosts initial comments that he will largely get out of the way and let you have at it. Right when it gets interesting he want to move to something else. So frustrating.

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  39. Some comments after listening to the large majority of this exchange:

    (1) I thought Ahmed's assertion that we don't need the act-potency distinction to explain the bounciness of a rubber ball when there is a perfectly respectable scientific alternative that makes reference to such a ball's "elasticity" was beside the point. The purpose of the act-potency distinction is to provide a metaphysical account of what change is and how it is possible (contra Parmenides) and not to provide a detailed account of the mechanics underlying any given instance of change. So this attempt to argue that modern science has rendered Aristotle's distinction unnecessary didn't work for me.

    (2) Ahmed didn't seem to appreciate the fact that the PSR is no less a first principle of metaphysics than the principle of non-contradiction. We know that an accurate description of the world will be logically consistent for the same reason that we know that events in world require some sort of explanation. That is to say, we know these things about the world because that's how we perceive it to be; our sciences, for example, look for explanations to various phenomena because we expect them to exist in some form or other. Of course, there's more that can be said in favor of a first principle like the PSR (e.g. that to deny it would be self-defeating in various ways), but at bottom the primary justification comes from our perceptive faculties.

    Now, Ahmed either shares this perception concerning the metaphysical structure of the world or he doesn't. However, since Ahmed seemed to admit that events will have an explanation of some kind in most cases, then he needed to provide us with some principled reason for thinking that it's not applicable in the case of explaining the existence of contingent entities (as in Leibnizian arguments for God's existence). Ahmed's halfway house positions concerning the PSR should strike us as no less odd than thinking that while the principle of non-contradiction might be true in most cases there could be situations in which it fails to hold. The proper response to such a bizarre view would be to inquire as to how it can be coherently maintained in a principled manner.

    Ben

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    1. right on Ben

      I'd also say that (and unfortunately this didn't get aired) that hylemorphism is just as important to the 1st way as the act / potentcy distinction. The fact that the matter's potential properties don't exist yet, and therefore cannot change.

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  40. I can't believe how jaw-droppingly obtuse Ahmed is. If you want to lose your mind -- or your temper -- look no further than the modern university!

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